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.

How to Start Journaling

Journaling has always been one of my favorite feigned habits.

I’ve kept a myriad of diaries, notebooks and journals since childhood, but it’s only been the last two years or so that I’ve actually developed any meaningful consistency.

I’ve been trying to force myself into a “miracle morning” type routine for two years now. Ideally, it would look like:

  • Make coffee
  • Meditate
  • Read tarot
  • Journal
  • Write (as in write for writing’s sake)
  • Yoga
  • Work out
  • Healthy breakfast
  • Bonus points for making my bed and actually getting fully *ready* for the day

And I would be damned if I wasn’t going to do all of that before 9am. Every morning.

Because–I don’t know if you’ve been on the internet lately–but that’s what your mornings are supposed to look like if you’re an evolved and interesting human.

Especially if you have the freedom and privilege to work for yourself from home, or find yourself blissfully roommate and live-in partner free. What a treat, right?

Well, I’ll tell you what my morning looks like right now:

  • Wake up because the cat is literally poking me with his paw
  • Pee, while the cat whines at me
  • Feed the cat
  • Make coffee
  • Get back in bed for about 30 minutes and scroll around on my phone
  • Check my bank account and get a nice reality check
  • Then I finally journal and pull a card (Right now that’s from an oracle deck called Moon Angels)
  • Sometimes I meditate (I do love Lacy Young’s meditations and will happily do them when I’m feeling particularly evolved and mature)

After that, I head downstairs and try to write before I get started on my “work” for the day.

As one of my favorite writers and teachers, Sarah Von Bargen, finally got through my head in her Make It Stick Habit School: You can really only establish one good habit at a time.

Something that I’ve noticed is that journaling is really the thing for me. It’s the closest I can get to therapy without getting my eyes wet and it’s way cheaper–about the cost of one Moleskine notebook every 90 days because it’s one thing I get to be picky about.

I know you’re probably so thrilled to hear the nitty gritty details of my morning routine, but I know you’re here for the goods so let’s talk about journaling.

How to start a journaling habit

Pick tools you actually like.

This is honestly the key for me. Once I found a pen and notebook I really loved, I started genuinely looking forward to sitting down at my desk every morning.

I’ve since switched notebooks and now am partial to Moleskines because they really are just my favorite for writing, but even the little notebook that was a very sweet souvenir from a good friend’s trip to Paris had its own unique personality.

Also, pens are important. I’m currently experimenting with a fountain pen, but I’m partial to a Pilot G2 or a Bic Atlantis if I’m really honest.

 

Make it fancy.

All I mean by this is do a little something special to your space or time to ritualize journaling. It’s like a preemptive reward for sitting down to journal on the days when you don’t really feel like it.

I have a candle I only light when I’m journaling and I let myself indulge in my very typical Bon Iver/Iron & Wine playlist until I actually open up my laptop.

You could have a special mug or wear fancy slippers or stay in bed a few extra minutes if that’s what butters your biscuit. Whatever makes you feel a little indulgent and selfish is a good choice.

 

Pick a goal.

For me, the first goal that really worked was to commit to filling up an entire journal.

It was that journal I mentioned earlier, one that I really loved that I bought at the Denver Botanical Gardens that I decided I was not going to squander by only writing in a few pages and then abandoning it.

When I did that, I moved on to the Paris notebook, then I allowed myself to buy a new Moleskine because I didn’t have any other blank notebooks waiting in the wings.

I’ve tried writing three pages every morning, but I’ve found that as long as I write every day, the length will naturally fluctuate depending on what I need to write about.

 

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Seriously, sometimes journaling seems stupid and you’ll be writing “I just really don’t feel like writing because I’m hungover/bored/busy/content.” over and over until you think of one thing you did want to write about that maybe you thought of in the shower yesterday or something.

It’s not supposed to be poetic or prophetic. It’s easy to hope that your journals will be witty and devastatingly authentic so that someone will just have to publish them posthumously. Chances are it’s not ever going to be like that consistently.

Sometimes it’s drudgery and sometimes it’s personal revelations that unlock big things for yourself. That’s just how it is.

Like I said, this is a cheap and private alternative to therapy. Not every session is going to be a breakthrough.

 

Don’t censor yourself.

This is something I worry about. I even went through a phase in high school after a fight with my high school sweetheart when I was certain the One for me was still out there and not that guy that I started a notebook as a series of letters to my future husband.

That lasted all of four days.

Spoiler alert, the high school sweetheart was not the One for me and the jury is still out for my future husband, but I do not write to anyone anymore.

Sometimes I think about what I will want to have access to when I’m old or when I need to remember what it was like as a 20-something because my future daughter is doing something that’s driving me crazy or got me worried sick (sorry mom.)

But if you write with an audience in mind, you keep the good stuff locked up. You keep the bad stuff locked up too, and the selfish stuff and the creepy stuff and the fucked up stuff.

The only thing that comes out when you start writing with any audience or dream of future publication is just hifalutin nonsense that won’t do anyone any good.

(Sometimes you’ll write hifalutin nonsense anyways, but it will be good for you specifically when you catch yourself doing that and can dial it back to what’s really going on for you. Again, therapy.)

 

Allow for lapses.

Sometimes you’ll go a few weeks without writing in your journal and start to feel foggy and jumbled. When you notice you haven’t been keeping up with your journal, you’ll be able to go back to it.

The journal will not judge you or charge you for missed sessions. It does not ask you where you’ve been. It’s just there when you need it, which is more often than you think.

 

Try it out.

If you’ve thought about journaling but are freaked out by former attempts or think you don’t have time, I’m going to challenge you to do one page a day for a week and see how you feel.

You might still hate it or be stressed out by it, in which case, forget it. You are not going to be less successful or interesting if you don’t keep a journal.

Chances are, you’re doing something else in your life that is giving you the documentation you need to keep tabs on your own mind and that’s great. Stick to what works for you.

But if you do find your mind is less crowded and you’re uncovering stuff to work on through your writing, pick a goal and go with it.

Don’t get caught up in any rules or standards, just show up when you need to and remember that you can’t fail at this habit. You really can’t.

That’s the beauty of journaling for me, unlike other habits. Journaling is not a compound effect. You can’t get better at it, you can’t lose it if you get too busy or lazy for a few weeks.

Is there potential for journaling to improve other areas of your life if you do it regularly? Absolutely. I know my writing and anxiety have both been positively affected by journaling regularly.

So, give it a shot.

If you do decide to give it a try, feel free to tag me on instagram or shoot me an email if you want to share your experiences. I’m happy to talk about routines, notebooks, prompts, whatever! Good luck, y’all.

Procrastination Isn’t Cute Anymore

There seems to always be someone a few steps ahead of me, when it comes to creative pursuits. Someone who has take the story I wanted to tell, or made the blog I want to make or gotten the byline I covet.

It’s hard not to react to those discoveries as if I’ve been scalded or scolded.

My friends are unfailingly kind and patient with me when I lament about yet another project that seems to have passed me by. They try to remind me that’s just my ego, that there’s plenty of space for me at the table, for everyone.

Those are comforting words that I have no problem saying to other people about their own pursuits. It’s easy for me to cheer on everyone else in my life. I struggle with seeing those truths when it comes to my own work.

Imposter syndrome is something I’ve talked to my business coach, Michelle, about quite a bit in preparation for finally making this blog public. My lack of confidence is rooted in the preconceived notions of how other people measure success or authority.

I don’t have a college degree, I’ve never had my creative writing published (not counting my high school lit mag glory days,) my life holds no unique set of lived experiences that qualify me to talk about anything at all.

But something inside me reacts to the potential of creation, to the sharing of stories and the mere observation of life. It’s an opening, an expansion that I don’t feel towards anything else in this mortal life. Maybe it’s not much, but it’s something.

What have I been so afraid of?

I’ve been rejected and critiqued plenty, that was never the worry. The fear I have is abandonment, of finally putting something out there and getting no return on the investments of time and support I’ve made in other people’s work.

Not only do I realize that’s both selfish and illogical–because I know my community is an incredible and loving one–I also know that the risks aren’t significant enough for me to continue worrying myself into stagnation. Or at least, continued stagnation.

I’ve had this domain registered for over 2 years at this point.

Delaying and suppressing myself any longer would have just made each new discovery of my creative ideas reflected in the work of others more painful and demoralizing.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t want to turn myself bitter about work I’m just choosing not to do, especially when that bitterness is so easily weaponized against other creatives.

Because, honestly–what’s the worst that could happen?

Nobody reads my work.
People talk about my work behind my back, ask “Who does she think she is?”
Someone labels me a fraud.
I give up after only a few weeks of work.

Worst of all would be giving up my domain and seeing someone else use this space, after years of letting it sit dormant.

So I figure I’m left with one option–risk my pride for the sake of my psyche.

Lately, I’ve started asking new questions.

Why not me?
What if?
How can I not?

New ideas and concepts are already starting to push these old ideas loose, like sharp baby teeth ready to be wiggled free in return for some pocket change and glitter under my pillow. 

Guess I have no choice at this point but to grin and bear it.

Return of the Writing Self

A handwritten musing.

This is not the glamorous return to my writing life I had pictured in my head.

This is not the notebook, the preferred pen or my first choices of setting.

But the day is drawing to a close and I want to give my writing self the satisfaction of one hour on the surface.

My writing self looks and feels a lot like my middle school self. Fantastical and hopelessly romantic, a voracious reader and questionable dresses. Obsessive and innocent. Carefree and wildly under-scheduled.

I remember the hours and hours of uninterrupted time at my little desk in my bedroom, the gutted Singer sewing machine cabinet. Bare feet on the cool iron of the pedal, pulling notebooks from the cubby that once held the machine itself.

I remember my stories, every one of them. There was a very well constructed and tastegul Harry Potter fanfiction. A sweeping novel-style piece I was writing on a steno pad that I passed among my friends, my first taste of what having fans felt like. The magical realism attempt in a Dollar Store composition book. The historical fantasy on that busted up Dell desktop my dad let me use as a glorified typewriter.

I would have rather had a real typewriter, but it wasn’t until I was 21 that I inherited my great-grandmother’s Corona.

My middle school self, my first writing self, would spend what felt like entire days immersed in those pieces. Different containers, different worlds. It was an evolved version of spending entire days out in the yard, playing make-believe stories out in thin air. I just channeled it into writing.

My writing self is a solitary girl at play. Not participating in a sport or a game–there were no rules, no spectators and no competition. It was joyful, explorative and engrossing.

My writing was motivated only by the love of writing and the need for creative expression. I didn’t know about blogging and had no ambitions to publish my work. I wanted to be a teacher, or a youth minister, or a metrologist.

Writing stopped being play when I allowed spectators. In middle school, it was just spectators–still no rules or competition. In high school, rules and competition began to surface. I appreciated the structure and found an editing self. I wanted to work for a publication. I started interning.

As I got older, I found it more and more difficult to make-believe. I started taking long drives and recording my dreams so I could write about them. This is when I started writing about my love life. I started journaling.

It wasn’t until I went to college that I began to see writing as a trade. Editing, organizing, researching were before the writing in the trade. But I first dared to see writing as my bread and butter then.

Once I left college, it’s hard to pinpoint when my writing self dropped below the surface, became a shadow. Possibly during my sophomore year, when my class load became cumbersome and my free time was devoted to a job, a boyfriend, a group of friends that partied.

I don’t regret any of that time spent, but that’s where the marathon writing stopped and my poems slowed to a trickle. I went from writing when I should have been doing anything else, to doing anything to avoid writing.

My writing self was also now in competition with the writing selves of other students. My work was critiqued, graded and rejected. It was also published, paid for.

All of this is not to say that critique and technique are bad or harmful. I created some of my best work under the pressures of internships and course work.

But writing as play, as a life affirming activity that filled what the world had emptied? I forgot what that was like.

 

I knew my writing self still existed because I saw her surface in January, during the writing workshop I took on a whim here in Tallahassee. She is ready to get back to work.

My writing self is less innocent than my younger self. She’s scared that she won’t remember how–or worse–she’ll be too old to play.

Her biggest fear is her seemingly endless competition. She’s been out of the race too long. Everyone else, it seems, has continued to write. That is just who they always were.

I know I am going to have to move past these fears and ego trips. I will have to make sure I’m not choking out my writing self by being broke, hungover, heartbroken.

Trying to come to terms with the oversaturation of the writing landscape, silence the constant comparison and breakneck speed of production on the internet is something I know I’ll have to master.

My writing self is my best self. It’s not a hard thing to nurture, this writing life. Not for me. All I need is somewhere comfortable to work, background music, some decent coffee.

I can’t recreate that best self through sex, romance, socializing, success–none of those things are play. Those are past times, just passing time. Distractions and escapes, endless loops of fueling one kind of unhealthy coping mechanism for another.

Play is important because play can be messy, it can get you hurt. No one is looking out for your every move.

You win nothing, gain nothing, prove nothing when you play.