WORK IN PROGRESS: Tallahassee (1)

NOTA BENE: Submitted on January 25th to Midtown Reader’s Story Slam. Read at Midtown Reader’s Story Slam event on February 1, 2018. Process notes below the piece. 

TALLAHASSEE (1)

I’m afraid that when I leave Tallahassee, I’ll lose it.

I treated this city like a lover. I flirted with it, yearned for it, got dressed up and went out on dates with it. It took a few years, but I fell for it. Tallahassee would have been my forever.

But a city can’t really love you back, so I tried loving the men who were born here. Men that complained to me that they could never escape, that they’d never amount to anything because of the super magnet or the sinkholes or the alcoholism that runs in their family.

Tallahassee rears boyish men that claim you make them too happy to write music, make them absolutely crazy, make them want to buy you a house–only they never do. Boyish men that I wanted so badly my chest ached and my bones hurt and I wrote so much terrible poetry. I was convinced by their tattoos and their hands between my thighs and how much this city loved them that I must be worthy of loving too, that they could somehow love me back. The men and the city.

Jane Eyre is my favorite book. All three of my copies are rotting in the trunk of a 1990 Mercedes 300E, white with leather interior. Four years ago, a man I loved let it get towed away to a junkyard without telling me.

In this city, you can only lose things you never wanted to be rid of.

Loving this city is going to the springs on a Tuesday, having completely forgotten that there are people wearing business casual and going to offices, running the state capitol and major universities. You sink your toes into the mud and wonder how many dead bodies and alligators are floating beneath the tannic water.

Loving Tallahassee is taking a writing workshop, in a beautiful house with a big screened in porch, where you’re the youngest by 15 or 20 years. You bring your drunk prose about the boy you love (who doesn’t love you back) that isn’t very good at all, but the women you read to are kind and wise and they understand. They teach you more in one month than your four years at Florida State ever did.

But this city is at its best when it’s just a hub connecting back roads to other small towns, where the thrift stores aren’t so picked over and where you never run into anyone you know or used to sleep with. You’re nothing but a sweet stranger.

People ask me why I’m moving, why I’m leaving after eight years, and I can’t tell them the whole truth. I can’t tell them I feel like I’ve lived a hundred lifetimes in Leon County and I didn’t do a great job with any of them. That nothing feels the same, the magic is gone, this city isn’t what it used to be because the people I loved while I was here keep leaving, fading, disappearing and I can’t take it anymore.

I can’t tell them it’s because I stopped wandering into the woods alone two years ago, just to be somewhere that felt big enough to swallow me whole, that felt more powerful than the thoughts in my head. I wanted the Spanish moss to suffocate me.

I love Tallahassee, but you can’t make someone miss you and you can’t make this city care that it’s finally worn you out.

PROCESS NOTES: This is the piece I wrote for Midtown Reader’s Story Slam and read the day before I left Tallahassee. Thinking about the place I wrote this piece from feels so far away from the place I’m at now, but I wanted to get this version of the piece catalogued before I try editing it with the new perspective I have.
This original version of the piece was created from two different free-writes on the Story Slam provided topic of “love and loss” that were not strong enough to stand on their own.
The most surprising thing I learn every time I read a piece out loud is that people think my writing is funny. In my head, it doesn’t sound funny. I can understand why other people find it funny and I am glad that it gets a reaction out of people. But I do wonder if my reading style versus the written cadence has any bearing on the reception of my pieces.
I wanted to submit this to a publication but it’s about 125 words below the preferred word count and I can’t bare to stuff this piece with fluff just to make it fit some submission guidelines.

WORK IN PROGRESS: Camellias (Version 1)

NOTA BENE: I’ve resisted the urge to post this. I’ve resisted the urge to share any of my work lately because I don’t know how to give it context, I’m not sure what the point is or if anyone cares. But for now, I care. I care about doing the work. I care about documenting the process and about the progress. So I’ll post the versions of pieces as they evolve and let you guys in on how I work through them. PROCESS NOTES AT THE END OF THE PIECE.

 

CAMELLIAS (1)

I want to talk about the red camellias. I want to talk about how, when they are soaked with rain, they look like fruit and I want to bite them. I imagine the juice is bitter and cold. The yellow pollen is gritty and gets stuck between my teeth. Someone calls the cops on me because I am in their yard in the rain, eating camellias from the bush that was planted in soil mixed with the ashes of their grandmother.

I feel like I have never been given the same freedom to fuck up that other people have. My mistakes are always just the right size to only negatively impact myself and only for a few weeks at a time. I was raised too well. I am too aware of others. I am not the type of woman that can be loved unconditionally. I have to be good.

Camellias should be edible. I thought all flowers were when I was young, because honeysuckle was sweet and sticky on the end. I remember eating jasmine and the crumbling innards of a stick that looked like cinnamon and gnawing the tart stem of a weed, shaped like a Y and fuzzy on the ends. Weeds don’t grow around here like they used to and you are not supposed to bother other people’s camellias.

When I was a girl, my mind was vast and quick and it stayed busy with love stories that I thought were plans for the future. I was so exquisitely bored that I tried to make my life into multiple lives at once and I think about the way my chest would burst into bloom when a boy would respond to my fairytales, as if their participation meant I had somehow succeeded in splitting my life into multiples.

A mouthful of other people’s camellias would taste better if my toes were sunk into the mud. I could never eat a dry camellia or a pink camellia and I could never eat a red camellia on a sunny day, even if it was cold.

I think about how I want to live with you and how you could push me up against the kitchen counter and fuck me whenever we felt like it and how no matter bad the bad days get for us, I always want you to fuck me. I wonder if that is because I can’t think of a way to get closer to you or to accept you more. Bringing you inside my body is all I can do.

If I accept writing as my life and stay home to do it, will you let me plant a camellia bush to eat from and will you leave a muddy patch in the yard for my toes and if you come home one day to find me with yellow pollen in my teeth, will you still love me?

I’ve never had a reason to fuck up big time. I have only done it bit by bit, so no one else will notice unless I tell them about it. When things get really bad, my mind gets vast and quick again, I wonder who could love me enough to plant things with me or make plans with me or fuck me in the kitchen, even on bad days, like this one.

I know bad days will pass and I know, in the end, it will be you.

PROCESS NOTES:

I wrote this piece a couple of days before the person I thought the piece was about broke up with me via text message. I guess you could call it a swan song. When I reread it now, tinker with edits and play with word choices, I can see where that original person fades and this becomes some kind of open letter to the person that will still love me with pollen in my teeth. 

This first version has one round of printed, analog edits and one round of reread, on-screen edits. I mostly tweaked where my word choice diverged from my vision of the piece. The tone fluctuates  from internal dialogue to external conversation and in some places I faltered, had to clean it up. I’d like to eventually expand this piece and make the visions more cohesive/robust.

A Body at 26

I should have known that trying to build up routines around my diet, fitness, skincare, mental/emotional development, etc. would lead me down a rabbit hole of Pinterest research and near-blind google searches.

My 26th birthday in 2017 came with a sudden appearance of fine lines between my eyebrows and little wrinkles under my eyes and–wouldn’t you know? My maternal genetic heirloom of varicose veins are also beginning to bloom.

Heading towards 30 feels a lot like a second puberty.

I know it’s natural and wonderful for my body to change, aging is a beautiful process and I’m lucky to continue living in this mortal shell for as long as I can, especially in the relative good health.

I recognize I’ve been dealt a really good hand. My body responds quickly to new, healthy routines by tightening up and perking up without too much effort. My skin is predisposed to being clear and unproblematic. Besides my pesky anxiety disorder, I have no chronic health conditions and even my periods are pretty manageable. I don’t love my hair, but it’s really fine, all considered.

All of that to say, I know I’ve got plenty of privilege already, so I’m not here for a “woe is me” session.

In fact, it’s the deep knowing that I am not dealing with any of the challenges so many other people (specifically women) face that has made me pretty shy to ask for guidance or even go to the doctor’s office for the smallest things as I sense my body changing.

Really, I’m fine. I can manage. It’s not worth the fuss.

But, honestly, there are a lot of things I’ve half-assed in the forever-young and carefree ways of a 20-something millennial. Now at 26, it’s clear to me that if I want to continue this relatively low-maintenance existence into my golden years, I’ve got to start some preventative and preservative routines.

Since I’m sinking a lot of time and effort into the research, I figure I’ll take you fine friends/readers along for the journey, in case you too are inching towards 30 without a night serum or a daily stretching routine.

Where to Start

If you’ve been living life like it’s one long happy hour or weekend like I have been for the past five or six years, waking up to the realization that you won’t always be young and beautiful (a la Lana Del Rey’s hit song from the Great Gatsby) in the age of Instagram gurus and SELF CARE and Goop and Whole30 can be demoralizing at best, absolutely terrifying at worst.

Between being on Pinterest long enough to have seen it all already and my experience with one really unhelpful friend who tried to “coach” me into holistic wellness when I was just so not ready for that transition that I am, by default, paranoid and halfway over it already.

It took getting some distance from what I had been consuming on the internet and removing myself from unhelpful and unhealthy environments/relationships for me understand what I want to maintain about my youthful existence and how I want to age.

QUESTION: What would you be sad to wake up and realize you’d lost because you weren’t taking care of yourself?

ANSWER: My unproblematic skin and the current distribution of fat and muscle on my skeleton.

QUESTION: How do you want to age? What kind of beautiful would you like to be at 30, 40, 50 and beyond?

ANSWER: I want to stay strong enough to stay active. I’d like to age gracefully, meaning I don’t plan on dying my hair if (when?) it goes grey and I would rather spend my money on things other than cosmetic surgery (although I do not have anything against people who do spend their money that way!)

WHERE TO START: Skincare and exercise. Also, I need to read more books and look at screen less.

So that’s where I’m starting. Skincare. Exercise. Reading.

SKINCARE

Here’s my starting point for skincare:

  • Established good thing: I already wear sunscreen any day I plan to leave the house or walk outside. It’s EWG certified and budget-friendly. Proud of developing this habit in 2017. Also, I wear try to wear hats if I’m adventuring outdoors for long periods of time.
  • Habit to develop: taking my makeup/sunscreen off EVERY NIGHT before bed. I do it most nights but… not as often as I should. This is vital (or so I’m told.)
  • New stuff, phase 1: Toner before moisturizing. I stocked up on Pixi glow tonic because it’s cruelty free and budget-friendly. I also have a backlog of cotton balls to use up while I knit myself some reusable cotton beauty pads and face cloths.
  • New stuff, phase 2: night serum + silk pillowcase. Probably going with Moonlit Skincare because I trust CB and I love lavender stuff.  
  • Seeking expert advice: I want to make an appointment at a nice spa or a dermatologist to make sure I’m using the right kind of cleansers for my skin and that none of my beloved freckles are in danger of morphing into skin cancer.

DON’T GET CRAZY: I had to stop myself from buying an ENTIRE kit and kaboodle’s worth of AM/PM skin care. Why? It’s expensive and I have not done nearly enough research yet to know what would be the best choice for me. Besides, I have plenty of moisturizer and cleanser at home that I can use up in the meantime. I also have to routinely tell myself to CHILL when I start looking at jade face rollers or fancy face masks.

EXERCISE

Here’s my starting point for exercise:

  • Established good thing: I don’t follow fitness accounts that make me feel like garbage. I have basic mobility and understanding of fitness terms. I have a few go-to exercises that I can manage without much fuss. I am up to 3 workouts at home per week. I’m a devotee of Claire Fountain and her chill, no-nonsense approach to strength and softness and researching every damn thing before investing.
  • Habit to develop: I would like to move or stretch every day. Not always a hard workout (as was prescribed by some of my early attempts at getting in shape), but at least a walk or some sun salutations.
  • New stuff, phase 1: My planned reward for working out 4 times per week in March is getting myself Claire’s Built & Bendy 2.0 program. I’ve followed her for years and cannot wait to finally invest in her work.
  • New stuff, phase 2: Join a gym, probably the new YMCA, for weight access and cardio motivation. Also, I need to meet new people and it’s an easy way to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law.
  • Seeking expert advice: Going to a GP and getting some recommendations for generally diet and nutrition guidelines.

DON’T GET CRAZY: I’m not pairing this exercise ramp up with a huge diet change. I’m pretty happy with how I eat, I’m not trying to lose weight and I know that once I get moving more often, my body will tell me what it needs. I’m also not buying a cute new blender (even though I really want one) or stocking up on fancy protein powder. I’m going to use up the stuff I have already and make sure that my routine makes sense before I sink a lot of time and money into overhauling my kitchen.

READING

Reading is a much shorter process, but I’ll share it to.

  • Tracking screen time with Moment.
  • Made a goal for less than 3 hours of screen time per day.
  • Have to fill that mindless scrolling time with something, why not MORE BOOKS?
  • I try to read while I eat and before bed instead of scrolling.
  • I want to have a “phone free morning” eventually, but I think I’ll have to get a watch and an alarm clock to make that a reality. That’ll be the next phase.

I’m working on a worksheet/journal prompts for y’all if you want to investigate this weird phase of life for yourself! I’d love to talk about it with you if you need a sympathetic ear.

No matter what phase you’re in, you’re wonderful and I love you! Thanks for reading. xo

Write About What Hurts

There’s a misattributed quote that I’ve seen floating around the internet for years: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” Supposedly Ernest Hemingway said that, but I’ve never found a source.

When I decided to finally start this blog last summer, I had very ambitious plans and goals. I wanted to grow this body of work into a platform that I could eventually invite other writers to contribute to and pay them fairly for their work. Somewhere that celebrated the hard and beautiful things about living life in the south in the times we’re in.

I know now that it’s going to be a much longer road to that goal than I originally had envisioned.

I’m still wrestling with questions of propriety around sharing intimate details of my life and my story when I know the people I’m writing about are in the virtual audience.

If I had set out to process my most recent heartbreak and ongoing angst through writing a few decades ago, the subjects might have never known that there was work out in the world that revealed the scabbed-over stories of our time together. They’d have to find the magazine or literary journal or personal ad in the paper and pulled out a phone book and called my landline and hoped I returned their voicemail. They could have sent me a letter with a clipping, begging me to please stop writing about this because what if their new girlfriend or wife sees them reading it with their coffee in the morning and how will he explain that to her? They could see my name in the bookstore someday and know I did what I set out to do, which has always been to write. They could smile, buy a copy and tuck it neatly into a shelf without ever having to read it.

But that’s not the reality I’m living in and it sounds laughable to consider the benign alternate reality that my work and my ex-lovers might exist in.

This is not the piece I wanted to sit down to write today, but I’m not ready. I know I have important things to say and there are women I desperately want to talk to through the piece I wanted to write today, but the work still needs so much more time and edits and cycles before it’s worth the risks. I need more time to process and digest it. Can’t we talk about the whole process?

I know Hemingway never said that silly quote, but it still bugs me. The idea of writing about the hard things and the true things, the burden of sharing, I feel it every day and with it comes the guilt of possible narcissism but simultaneous neglect of my sweet friends/readers who have come to me with gratitude for writing about things they want to read about.

I wish I had a mentor. I emailed my old writing group leader and her inbox was full, my note bounced back to me. I’m too chicken to reach out to any of the other writers I met in Tallahassee, because who would remember me? I have no idea where to look for other writers in Pensacola and my mother thinks I need to “diversify my interests.” I might start taking ballroom dance classes or something.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll keep coming to the blog and asking you to be patient, to email me if you have an idea of how you’d like to read what I write or you can try to find me on the street and tell me to shut the hell up. 

I really wanted to write something else today. Thanks for reading anyways.

Striving vs. Thriving

I feel like I’ve been running on survival mode for months. Maybe years.

One of the big worries for a while has been trying to “thrive” where I am. How do you get around to “living your best life” when you’re hardly paying your bills every month and you’re constantly moving or dealing with death or managing your mental illness? Who has time for thriving? Does that mean you’re failing if you’re not?

I’ve finally reached some kind of plateau in my life. Conceded a few good fights, surrendered to the reality of situations that ultimately broke my heart, allowed myself the space to sleep and cry and eat my mom’s cooking for a few weeks without feeling like a slob.

I woke up today and wondered what it will be like to thrive now that I’m in a place to do so. What kind of different creature will I have morph into to be more at peace with myself? I keep seeing butterflies in my tarot readings. I want that transformation. I know it feels more like molting, like a snakeskin in a place it shouldn’t be.

What I’m reminded of every morning, as I move through my regimen of making my bed and making coffee and making myself sit down to journal, even when I don’t want to, is that this is the molting, morphing creature now.

Striving. A more aggressive, active, sweaty version of thriving. Trying to revel in the doing instead of in the being. Verbs instead of adjectives.

I try to be grateful that I’ve finally got the energy and the fortitude to give my life the forward motion I’ve been craving. It feels like I’ve spent months building momentum, regaining muscle mass behind my willpower and my motivation and my confidence.

I have to actively forgive myself throughout the day when things don’t work perfectly. I have to be kinder, set myself up for success instead of failure to meet impossible standards. I leave more space for bad days.

It’s not sexy. I know you’re all probably sick of me saying stuff like that, but for such a long time I wanted everything to click. I wanted to be able to wrap my perfect days up in silk ribbons and lay them in the archive of my life like rewards for just waking up every day.

The internet likes to tell us we deserve that, when in reality, we earn a few perfect days and the rest are work. That’s okay. There is plenty of nobility and beauty in that.

The fact is that I was never going to get more of those perfect days if I didn’t start doing things differently. I had to accept what wasn’t working.  I had to accept that I wasn’t doing enough to get the results I want to see.

 

Being a Better Boss

I’ll admit here that the big relief that’s fueling this post today is that a client payment I’ve been waiting on has finally come through and I’m able to rebuild my life this week on a solid foundation of cash. I was very excited to catch up on bills and run errands.

Being your own boss sounds really great and it can be fun, if you’re willing to accept that you trade fun for funds and that your money problems (and ultimately the majority of your life’s stressors) are absolutely your own fault, always.

I’ve basically been treating myself like an unpaid, unsupervised intern for about a year. I get my work done because I’m smart and I want to do good work for my clients, but behind the scenes? Things have been an utter mess.

I don’t have systems, I barely have a schedule, “goal setting” has been nothing more than an excuse to spend an afternoon drawing with markers and designing cute stuff in Canva. I’m not following up on them, I’m not staying accountable to myself, I’m not reprimanding myself when I don’t hit the milestones I say that I need and want.

So now, things change.

There will be longer days, less goofing off, more real work, less wishful thinking and more follow through. I’ve designed this month to be tougher on myself than any month before, but I’m also actively planning to take Fridays “off” for fun, creative projects or collaborations.

Knowing that my days and ultimately my future success relies on my ass getting out of bed at 6am four days a week means that I have to get to sleep by 10pm four nights a week. It means I can’t look at my phone for half an hour before rolling out of bed or when I get discouraged half way through the morning. It means I have to be efficient and purposeful with how I move from one task to the other if I intend to get everything done.

The biggest challenge is accepting that I’m not always going to be happy while I’m at my computer and that some days are going to totally suck, but I’m responsible for showing up on bad days too. I’m in control of the situation and the only person I can come to if I fail is myself.

I made it over a year doing it the old way. I honestly am shocked that I made it this far without giving up on myself, but now I can only imagine what the next year will look like if I actually show up and do the work.

As for life outside billable hours, I’m working from the knowledge that how I wake up and spend my free time and attend to my spiritual/emotional needs is directly tied to the results of my work. My success with work allows me the freedom and resources to attend to my spiritual and emotional needs. It’s all connected.

I still plan to check in here at the end of every week as an act of accountability. I want to document the process and be able to trace the progress later in the year. Maybe one day all of these posts about the growth and the changes will become a resource for someone else that needs to hear the other kind of truth, that doesn’t want to ache for thriving but is striving to just show up to the work every day.

Where to Share

So here’s the funny thing about being a writer in 2018. You have all the options for self publishing, sharing your work, connecting with other creatives–or so they say.

No one talks about the crippling insecurity of trying to carve out a space for yourself in front of hundreds, if not thousands of people that you’ve amassed before you decided to “get back into writing.”

You’re just as tired as anyone else of the personal branding, the guru worship, the algorithms and the self-proclaimed expertise of people that just decided to give your long term passion/craft a try (in hopes of making a few extra bucks a year.)

But you’re working, there are things happening for you creatively and you still feel torn. Torn between not wanting to seem braggadocious and the aching need to get these pieces out of your drafts and out into the world.

You look for writing groups, you look for resources online, you ask a few friends to read your work over email.

You submit something to a local reading night and your work gets selected and you read it and it’s well received.

You want to keep going.

So you start writing more, working harder. You get your heart broken and you end up with a few of the best pieces you’ve written in years that you think are important because there is some girl, 21 or so, going through her first heartbreak and you know if she comes across this piece, it has the potential to really help her.

If nothing else, you know that when you write, people tell you how relieved they are to know they aren’t alone. That’s all you want for them and for yourself. You don’t want to have to live this alone, write it alone, leave it alone. At least bring it out, into the light.

The blog is too public, it feels. There are no boundaries there. You want to know that the people who read these new things, these pieces that continue to evolve and improve, you want to know that these people actually give a shit and aren’t just scrolling, bored on their phones, reading about the raw hems of your life lessons.

But then again, what right do you have to censor yourself?

If people want to read your work while they’re on the toilet or screenshot it and send it to their friends via group chat, you don’t really get to object.

Can you post something online and then try to submit it later, when it is strong and solid and you’ve sunk hours and hours into editing it? Can you stand having that work rejected? Do you even know where to begin in that process?

You know they didn’t teach that process in college. They don’t really want you to know how to enter those spaces, unless you get the degree and preferably an MFA. You are afraid your work reeks of independence and that what you consider polish and revision to other people just reads as self-indulgent dribble.

You consider if any of that matters to the people who read your work and are comforted by it. You wonder if that makes you just as bad as the banal, bearded Instagram poets. You wonder if wondering that makes you a judgemental bitch. You wonder if maybe you’re over thinking all of this.

The fear of being not intersectional enough in your deeply personal essays and your heartfelt, ardent advice to your younger self will result in your being skewered by the communities you consider yourself a part of. You wonder if you have any right to share, to create, to do anything as just another cis white girl struggling with the very normal cycles of life.

Sometimes you miss writing in your notebooks as a kid, by yourself, for hours on end, at the same desk you’re sitting at now. It’s a black Singer sewing machine cabinet. It used to be a refuge. 

You miss the freedom of writing as a hobby. Then you wonder what it would have been like if you had actually focused on school, finished that degree. Do they hand you a packet with instructions on how to be a writer in the world with your cap and gown? Will you ever get over yourself for not finishing college?

You make a mental list of the possibilities:

Patreon: Would people pay a dollar a month to see these other pieces? Do I have any right to charge for access? Can I explain to people that I just want to know they aren’t reading out of morbid curiosity?

Newsletter: Will people even trade their email addresses for this work? Can you feel brave enough to hit the send button once a week on a piece that feels like a nude photo? What if someone forwards it to the person you are writing about? Why are you so afraid?

Submissions: Can you figure out how to submit to publications? Are you able to put your ego aside and ask for help? Can you reframe rejection as a practice of tenacity and contact management and deadline agility?

Blog: Will people care or notice when you post something different? Something nearly unhinged and a bit rough and potentially oversharing? Do you have any right to talk publicly about the men in your past and the memories of your childhood and the very unsexy parts of being nearing 30 with a bunch of banal baggage?

Zine: Can you save it all up for a season? A year? Then put it in a combined PDF and get it printed and then what? Sell it? Leave it around town in tree branches and bathroom stalls? Will people tease you like you teased that girl who does the interpretive dance that you secretly love and want to be?

You decide to toss all your inane worries into a single blog post and put it up for now and see how you feel tomorrow.

Overdosing on Self-Care

I’ve only got 20 minutes to write this morning.

I woke up in a bad mood. My cat knocked my bulletin board down and that’s how I woke up, only to then realize I’d overslept by about 45 minutes.

The first words out of my mouth were “God damn it!” I proceeded to drop yesterday’s coffee grounds all over the floor. When I texted my boyfriend, he informed he was in a bad mood too.

I sat down to write feeling grumbly and tense. Didn’t help that it’s overcast and gray but warm and humid today.

I know I want to feel differently, but I’m too pissed off to meditate or do yoga or any of the practices people suggest for this sort of day. I am tired of forcing myself to be happy when no one else is watching.

It’s exhausting. It’s distracting. When things continually are not going well, it can be especially demoralizing.

Performing Positivity

There is a heckuva lot of advice, even commands, on the internet to be more POSITIVE. Love yourself MORE. Meditate and BE BETTER.

Of course, those types of tools and advice can be valuable for people. That sort of approach has worked for me in the past.

But, I have to confess. I got so wrapped up in self love and self care that I let other, more important parts of my life take a back seat because I was following what felt good. I was giving time and money to people who told me they could help me feel better. I was convinced that happiness or, at least, calm contentment was the secret to overcoming my personal issues and surviving whatever life threw my way.

Here to say: it did not work.

Not because the teachers weren’t good or that the practices don’t work (are y’all tired of me talking about how much journaling has improved my mental health?) but because I was so obsessed with feeling better that I wasn’t working on being better.

The reality that no one seems to want to talk about is that you can do all the woo woo, self care, put-yourself-first shit and life will still suck. Jobs will disappear, people will die, the worst parts of life will continue to chug along whether or not you did a face mask or meditated or said your affirmations.

But if you’re not showing up in a space that says “I’m doing the THINGS!” people are quicker to judge nowadays. They suggest you try this essential oil or a new work out or maybe this new app? They want to fix your bad feelings. Please don’t get that anywhere near me, unless it’s funny and #relatable.

I’ve been recently working on the idea of acceptance. Just letting my bad moods be bad and not fighting my to-do list or trying to make my situation more comfortably Instagrammable.

People in recovery communities have just nodded along as I’ve shared this personally major revelation that “Holy shit I don’t want to fight anymore.” But as I’m not in recovery, I’m trying to figure out how to do this on my own in my life every day.

Right now it looks like an almost militaristic morning schedule. It looks like being honest with people when they invite me to do things that I cannot afford. It looks like getting through my whole to-do list even when I don’t feel like it or nothing seems to be working.

It’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t inspire gratitude or sappy Instagram posts and what I’m here to tell everyone (but mostly myself) is that you don’t owe anyone the performance of positivity.

It Is What It Is

If things are hard, let them be hard.

If things are great, let them be great.

If things are fine, let them be fine.

If it changes every day, so be it. Who cares?

Waking up and surviving another day sometimes is all that you can do. But frankly? I’m rescinding my free pass to bum around and wallow in it. You can keep yours, especially if you’re clinically depressed or otherwise indisposed. That’s reasonable.

But I’ve disguised laziness and irresponsibility as “self care” and “radical self love” for long enough that it’s truly fucked my life up in some pretty scary ways.

My new focus is on actually taking responsibility for my actions and choices, therefore eventually rebuilding my life into something that I don’t need to self-medicate with wine or a face mask or too many hours of TV.

I want to earn my relaxation, I want to cultivate self-respect through hard work, I want to develop routines and habits that help me grow.

These next few months are not going to be pretty, but they will be good. I’m going to be busy, sleep like a rock, take care of business before I take care of myself. It’s going to be a process but I welcome the challenge.

 

Spread Too Thin

I had a pretty big epiphany the other day regarding the way I work every day. Namely, how I seem to always be working but never getting closer to my goals or accomplishing much of anything at all.

I don’t know if it was not drinking for a few days or being flat broke once again, but it hit me as I was getting ready for bed that I’m only putting about 50% effort into my two main goals and not putting 100% into anything at all.

When I worked with my amazing and wonderful business coach, I gave her two “long-term” goals for my dream work life.

  1. I work 50% of the time with content and strategy clients that I love and the other 50% of the time is spent pursuing creative/journalistic writing opportunities.
  2. My income is $70,000 a year and I’ve paid off my car and credit cards by the time I’m 30.

When I had two long term clients at once, with a healthy amount of work and income, it was easy to maintain that 50/50 split between writer dreams and business dreams. It felt like I was making fine progress towards both of those goals.

But now that things have shifted with my client work, I’ve spent about a month trying to get some momentum on the business side of things but I wasn’t getting anywhere. At the end of every day, I had some major task I’d “run out of time” for or otherwise avoided.

I just felt stressed, exhausted, insecure and overwhelmed every day.

When I had the epiphany, I realized it was because when I’m in the pitching and inquiry phases of both business and writing dreams, I’m just stuck in the fear and imposter syndrome all day, every day.

I wasn’t focusing on either thing long enough to get a momentum or make any real progress because my motivation and willpower was split.

What I had finally realized was that I can’t devote 50% of my work day to writing goals when I’m not making a living. It’s not sustainable and it’s not conducive to me getting anything creative accomplished.

I’d been ballsy in asking around about tips for pitching companies and how to get the gigs without turning into an utter slime ball from some of my absolute biggest role models on the internet. They gave me amazing advice, but I realized that the only cure of making this work wasn’t phrasing the emails just so or picking the right time of day to send a pitch, it was actually just doing the work consistently.

I knew the same thing was true about any writing gigs I’ve had my eye on. There was no way I was going to be as successful as I hoped to be if I wasn’t devoting serious time and energy to developing queries and getting them out the door.

The reality is that I can’t get both of those things moving at the same time. It’s like trying to push two shopping carts or swings at once. Not going anywhere fast.

So, what I’m going to do is this:

  • Focus 100% on my business dreams until June 30.
  • Limit writing to a before/after “office hours” pursuit, with a focus on reading and writing to develop my voice and work through some of my blocks.
  • Check in via this blog every week to give an update on how all of my goals are going and what I’ve been working on.
  • Publish an almost TMI report once a month on what goals (both professional and personal) I hit, which ones I didn’t and what’s working/what’s not.
  • I’ll also probably start sharing tools and resources that work for me via an email newsletter of some kind or a Patreon feed, but I’ll keep you posted on how that goes.

I don’t know if any of this will be useful to you, but hopefully it will be.

This isn’t to say that I’m giving up on being a writer. I’m still journaling daily, writing for this blog daily, reading daily. Eventually I’ll start submitting pieces to publications for consideration, but I want to take it easy and focus 100% of my “office hours” on my business for the next few months.

 

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.