New year, new plans

For the last couple of years, I’ve made some resolutions that have been a little outside the box, I suppose you could say. For 2014, I resolved to become the person I used to be. Yes, to some that sounds a bit odd, I’m sure, but somehow after college I started morphing into this quiet hermit of a person who wasn’t intrusive, wasn’t offensive, wasn’t obnoxious. Wasn’t anything, really.

But, you say, isn’t it good not to be offensive?

Of course! I don’t mean storming around shouting swear words in church or racial slurs in crowds or anything like that. I mean, I started going out of my way never to hurt anyone’s feelings in the slightest, even when that meant withholding necessary truths or even allowing myself to be hurt. I wanted to be the person I used to be, because I used to be someone who was outgoing, confident, funny, adventurous… but I suddenly realized I’d become the opposite of all those things. I don’t know when it started or why, but I knew I hated it and wanted to change.

So in 2014 I decided to start identifying places in my life where I’d allowed myself to become a doormat again, and either change my own behavior or start cutting out the people who abused my silence.

I got a tattoo.

In 2015, I made a more concrete resolution: Stop giving other people so much control of my thoughts and actions.

It’s good, to an extent, to care about what others think of you. Really, isn’t that what stops us from doing a lot of things we really want to do but shouldn’t? Like finishing that box of donuts by yourself or texting your ex or fill-in-the-blank. It helps us keep the reputation we want. I don’t want people to think I’m a cruel and heartless person, but I also don’t want them to think I’m easily manipulated, waiting to be used for their purposes.

I forced myself to sit down and think about the areas of my life where other people’s opinions didn’t and shouldn’t matter:

  • My appearance
  • My career goals
  • My educational goals
  • My writing
  • Our family planning decisions

It’s stupid, I know, but I was letting worry over what people thought of me and my choices dictate almost everything I did. I didn’t get another tattoo in 2015 (I wanted to) but we did buy a new house and a new car and make plans for me to go back to school, plans I’ll be acting on very soon.

I got two new piercings. (Just my ears, piercings are the worst)

I dyed my hair every color I could think of, sometimes changing it multiple times a month. It’s now a point of conversation when I see someone at work that I’ve not run into in a few weeks.

So for 2016, I’m continuing in the same theme. This year, I’m going to stop coddling everyone around me at my own expense. I’m not going to cause needless drama or seek out confrontation, but I’ve spent the last several years bowing my head and biting my tongue and hiding my tears when what I really should have done was say what needed to be said, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable. The truth really does hurt, even when you choose not to expose it. I could go in depth about what brought me to this decision, but it was a hard one to make, so I’ve spent enough time already trying to parse it.

Women's Do No Harm Shirt

My mantra for 2016. Buy the shirt here.

I feel I’m making the right choice. It’s time to stop putting myself last just so everyone else feels safe and happy no matter what. It’s time to stop excusing every offense with phrases like “that’s just the way s/he is” and “it’s okay, I don’t mind” or “things will be different next time.” But what’s right isn’t always easy, so I know this year’s resolution may be more difficult than last year’s. But I think there are better and brighter things ahead, and I’m excited to see them arrive.

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Stages of Grief, or Stages of Writing?

This morning I read this post by Chuck Wendig. Of course it made me laugh, but it also made me realize something about my own writing process: I think I may be stuck in the “Depression” phase. And that makes sense, sort of, in the grand scheme of the things that are my life and personality.

I’m prone to depression. Notice I didn’t say I “have” depression. I think that may be because a large part of my family still harbors some of society’s stigmas toward depression. I’m not sure why that is, but I know it’s affected me and the way I talk about myself and my emotional and mental struggles.

I get depressed over the strangest things. You may have noticed, for example, that my posts fell completely off with no warning and no reasoning. I made a very brief attempt at weekly review posts rather than biweekly ones, and it proved more stressful than I thought. I like reading at a slow pace and giving myself time to process what I’m reading; otherwise I find myself reading just to be reading, and I don’t retain anything at all. Months later I may even entirely forget I’ve read a book if I read it that way.

When I realized that weekly posts were probably going to be too strenuous, it hit me hard. Harder than it probably should have. Instead of telling myself, “that’s fine, just adjust the schedule again. People will understand,” I told myself I was a failure, a horrible writer, and no one followed my blog anyway so what difference did it make. Of course, these are horrible things to tell yourself, and I know that, logically. But that doesn’t stop Scumbag Brain from being a scumbag.

So of course the conclusion Scumbag Brain reached was to just. Stop. Blogging. And somehow, I was mostly okay with this. I would get a twinge of guilt here or there, or really miss writing, or have a great idea, and yet somehow I’d dismiss it all with some lame excuse or self-deprecation.

But then I read Chuck’s post. And I get that it wasn’t specifically talking about my situation, but it seemed so relevant. It really struck me that this is what I’ve been doing with my writing for years; I get started, somehow get discouraged, and I get out. I put it down and never go back to it.

I’ve decided in recent days that I want to change all that and let myself be the person I want to be. I need to get out of my own way, basically. So I signed up for Habitica — which is already making a difference in the way I think about my free time and my priorities. I did some research on online graduate schools and got some input from some of my career mentors. And most terrifying of all: I signed up for NaNoWriMo. I’ve signed up for it before, but this time, I mean it. I work at my alma mater, so I enlisted the English department chair to help keep me accountable, and I added daily writing to my Habitica tasks. Plus, last fall I was able to attend an excellent character-writing workshop with Mary Robinette Kowal, and I’ll be drawing heavily from what I learned there, not to mention using the completed excerpt I ended up with as a basis for my concept.

I’m really excited about what’s in store. I’m just hoping that I can hold on to this momentum, because life isn’t always a stroll down a sunny lane. Recently, husband and I moved into a brand new home and, while of course it’s exciting and wonderful, it’s also very stressful and a little scary. Part of me wants to stay home all day in my pajamas and enjoy it to the fullest, and part of me wants to be ten years old again so I can stay at the home I grew up in in my pajamas and not have anything to worry about, apart from which flavor of Ramen I’ll eat for lunch and whether I can sneak a second soda.

Chibird's penguin encouragement :)

Chibird’s penguin encouragement 🙂

But that won’t do either. It’s time for the Acceptance phase.

I can do this.

So now I’m going to go do it.

Let’s talk about those six months

Let’s all pretend like I didn’t just completely vanish for six months there.

Okay, well, I tried.

I completely disappeared on you all and that’s stupid of me. It’s not to say I’ve been too busy; I’m always busy, but rarely too busy. But there have been a lot of things happening! No photo updates this time, but I’ll give you a quick run-down.

I got a new job at my alma mater. I’m working in statistical analysis, which is interesting and completely not where I thought I’d end up. But it’s fun and who cares, because I’m working here. Seriously. I would sweep floors here, I love it so much. I have excellent coworkers, I’m back among friends and getting opportunities to teach, which as you know, makes me happier than a kid at Christmas.

I went to see Mastodon and Gojira in concert, which, if you follow me on Instagram, you probably got flooded with pictures and video of. It was an amazing show, it’s really your fault for not being there.

I chopped all my hair off again. Oh wait, I do have a picture for that.

Plus a cameo by Husband’s Thumb!

I’m just excited that my new job lets me dye my hair weird colors. Last time was purple highlights. I’m hoping by mid-spring it will be long again, and I’m planning to bleach it again and probably do some pastel highlights. Maybe lavender, grey, who knows. I love it!

Hm. What else. Oh! Christmas was great. It was over in a flash, but it was tons of fun. Sadly, no pics for that. I got a new phone, what do you want from me?

Then January brought another Year of Me resolution, which is going pretty great so far (refers back to hair picture). I have tattoo plans again but may not get them carried out this year, which is sad. But next year it will happen, I’m sure. Also in January I got to have Second Christmas with my mom, sister, and brother-in-law. That was fun! My mom invited me to sing with a band she was in here and that was terrifying but super fun. So fun, in fact, we’re doing it again at a block party in April. No, I do not have photos. Or video. Nope.

February sees birthdays for both my grandparents, so that’s fun. Also my aunt and uncle’s 25th wedding anniversary. We threw them a big party and it was so great. I made them this fun wreath!

It's a phone pic, cut me a break.

It’s a phone pic, cut me a break.

And really, the biggest thing going on right now is that Kris and I are selling our house! Yay! That’s exciting. Also nerve-wracking, but not as bad as I was expecting. We’ve been packing up and hopefully will be out of it soon. We’re staying with family while the house is on the market, and we’re really hoping that doesn’t take long … we’ve decided to build! We’ve picked a plan, a neighborhood, a builder … basically everything. Just need to change “For Sale” to “Sold!” So keep that in your thoughts for me. (That’s also why there’s probably no tattoo this year, in case you were wondering.)

Also I actually do have plans for upcoming posts, although the Breaking Bad idea I kept dangling over your heads may not happen. I have no idea what I’m doing.

But I love you guys! Go out and do something great today.

Finding my way back … to myself

People always talk about finding themselves and to be honest, it was something I thought I’d never experience. But you know how a few months ago, I just disappeared, and I told you I’d explain it later? Well, here we are.

I have never really been someone who stood out. I’ve just been myself, mostly quiet when surrounded by strangers yet annoyingly extroverted and shameless when I’m with friends. In high school I had my punk rock phase, my goth phase, my preppy phase, and then my “who really gives a crap about any of this” phase. (I fluctuated between all of these, but the last one was basically my default setting. It was always running in the background.) My best friends were mostly older than me, I hated everything (now I guess you’d have called my high school self a hipster), and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

I still don’t.

And the honest reason for that is I just generally do what people expect me to. I made good grades because my teachers expected me to based on (most of) my older siblings. I went to a local university because I thought I was supposed to. (I do freaking love my alma mater though. I am super proud of that school.) I took all the classes I was told to take, pursued a degree everyone told me I’d like (I did enjoy it, and in some alternate reality I probably did stick with that path). I look back sometimes and wonder what I’d have done differently if I had done all the things I’d really wanted to do. Some of those things were incredibly stupid ideas, and sometimes I think I’m glad I didn’t do them. But what if I had? What stories would I be able to tell my eventual kids?

Did I ever tell you about that time in high school, when I …

Did I ever tell you about when I was in college …

But I don’t have any crazy stories to tell my kids. I never really did anything bad or unexpected or scary. That’s not an exaggeration, not me pretending to be the perfect kid. I wasn’t. But probably the worst things I ever did were miss curfew by an hour or slam my door during a one-sided screaming match with my grandparents. Nothing extraordinary. Nothing awe-inspiring.

And now I realize I’ve carried that into adulthood, and it’s sadder now even than it was then. I don’t take risks, I don’t really do anything that scares me or excites me or inspires someone. I think too much about: well, what will people think? What will people say about me? What if they think I’m a failure or a fraud or just stupid?

So in January I decided that this year, as my New Year’s Resolution, I was going to do something a little different. Instead of resolving to lose weight, hit the gym more often, cut back on sweets and soda, I was going to start living for myself. (And Kris of course. We’re a team, obviously.) I was going to stop bending to what I thought everyone wanted and expected for me, living the life and being the person that I perceived I should be. Because the reality is, no one was putting these weird pressures on me but myself. My family wouldn’t love me less and my friends might give me side-eye but they’d support me no matter what, and anyone who wouldn’t doesn’t deserve front-row seats to my life, anyway.

It was a good goal, I thought. One that would require real changes and serious effort on my part. Step 1: Do something scary that I’ve always wanted to do.

Ink by Matt Skin

Ink by Matt Skin

So I got a tattoo. I love tattoos. I only had one, and it’s relatively small and no one really notices it, even though it’s not hidden at all. But I’d wanted this design for a long time, I knew I would be happy with it, but I kept getting held back. It’s too big. I’ll get bored with it. Everyone will hate it. What if I don’t find the right artist, and it turns out poorly? I ran through every excuse in the book, even while I researched local artists and shops, settled on the perfect guy, and doodled hot air balloons on every page of every notebook I wrote in for over a year. Finally, just before Christmas of last year, I printed out the painting I liked, took it to Matt Skin and asked if he could do it. Obviously, he could.

It took awhile to do (of course) and after the first sitting I went into panic mode. I completely shut down and freaked out like I haven’t in a long time. After a few weeks I realized my freakout was normal, and reminded myself how long I’d wanted the tattoo. I got some predictable responses, but by the time they arrived I had discovered a part of myself that I thought was lost: the part that cared more about what I wanted and what I liked than about what other people wanted for me. So when I heard the first “but your legs were so beautiful” comment from a family member, I told her I hadn’t gotten in a car wreck, I’d just gotten one of them painted, and if she wanted to see a plain leg she could look at my left one instead. Not even a month before that happened, I’d have broken down crying and left.

In the months since I got the tattoo complete, I’ve been making strides toward my goal that are visible even to myself. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m doing well. So it was time for Step 2: Make big decisions based on what’s best for myself, not on what I tell myself is expected of me.

So I put in my two weeks at my job. I know some of my coworkers might read this, but that’s okay. I don’t really have much to say on this front, just that it became startlingly clear that it was time to move on, and work-related stress was wearing me thin and disrupting my relationships and my personal life. I do think that my anxiety disorder has worsened in recent months, but it’s a chicken-or-egg question at this point. It’s scary for me, because I don’t have any prospects. But I know that I’ve made the best decision for myself, and if it upsets someone’s apple cart, then that’s their responsibility, not mine.

I know for a lot of people, these things all sound like common sense. And for high-school-me and even college-me, it would have been common sense, too. But somewhere along the way I really lost myself in the sea of projected and perceived expectations, I stopped pursuing things that made me happy, and I became someone I wasn’t really proud to be.

But the old me—the one who didn’t care about being called a bitch as long as she was with people she liked, who wore clothes she thought were cool even if no one else agreed, and read manga tucked into her history book as if her teacher didn’t notice—the old me I think would be proud of this new me, this me that I always really wanted to be anyway.

Paper lanterns

Vegas, Solo Flights, and Trying New Things with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Paper lanterns

Paper lanterns. Art by me!

I like trying new things.

Well, not all new things. I’m not going bungee jumping, and no I won’t taste that mayonnaise, and seriously you cannot convince me to watch The Purge.

But I like tasting (most) new foods and visiting new places and learning new things. I actually enjoy flying and I don’t mind driving, so visiting new places is especially fun. However.

I also have an anxiety disorder. I tell myself it’s not that bad, but it’s cost me a lot of things in life. A Master’s degree, I know that much. Probably a few friendships here and there. Definitely some new experiences.

Something changed with the New Year, though. I decided not to set some BS resolution I was never going to keep and instead decided on something more practical. I decided to allow myself to make decisions based on what I really want. Not what I think other people want me to do or what I think will keep my nerves in tact. So when my jewelry team started talking about going to convention in Vegas, I decided to go. And not just go, but to leave Kris at home.

I know.

It wasn’t bad at first. He couldn’t get off work to drop me at the airport, so my grandparents took me and we said our goodbyes and I sat in the terminal, watching ESPN and listening to soldiers fresh off the local base comparing station orders and I tried not to throw up. I’d never flown solo and I was no longer excited about it.

The first flight wasn’t bad. It was a short trip, just under an hour and I’d be in Charlotte. I scored a few Mii friends on my 3DS and played some games and it was no big deal. The flight from Charlotte to Vegas, though, was terrible. I had nice neighbors who were just chatty enough but once they fell asleep I got sick. I stayed sick through the entire flight.

#

I’d never been to Vegas either. Guys, it is beautiful. It didn’t hurt that we stayed at Bally’s, right on the Strip with a view of the Bellagio fountains.

Bellagio's fountains

They’re awesome.

The room was nice, the company was nice, but there’s something else I didn’t mention. I’ve never been a big sorority person. I was in one in college and still have some great friends and memories of it, but it just wasn’t my thing. So a weekend surrounded by women I didn’t know half as well as I knew my old college girlfriends was, to me, not the idea of a vacation. My nerves started fraying  just thinking about it. And don’t get me wrong, they are great ladies, all of them. But to my frazzled, air sick, and jet lagged self, the weekend was stretching out before me like a long highway through Awkward Town, population: Me.

Things got better and I kept trying to put myself out there but I am super awkward in real life. Seriously. It’s not that I’m shy or introverted, I guess I just don’t like small talk or feigning interest in things I don’t like, and so people tend to think I’m stuck up or something. Who knows. If you find out, let me know?

#

Convention was pretty fun once I let myself enjoy it. My nerves got the best of me one night and I spent the majority of it texting my sister and a few friends who completely understand life with severe anxiety. It’s not just being uncomfortable in a new place. It’s being utterly convinced that you’re a sham who shouldn’t be here and everyone around you knows it and why are you even still here, because no one in this room likes you.

I wish I had made myself enjoy it more.

#

One of the women took me shopping and it was crazy fun. I got along with her like a house on fire, and I think that was the turning point for me. But Sunday was the big test. I was going to have the hotel room and the whole day to myself, and I could do anything I wanted. Part of me, the anxious part I’m sure, wanted to sit in the room all day and watch movies. You can’t walk around the streets alone, people are crazy, you’re not from around here. Cabs are too expensive and cabbies are weird. Didn’t you see that episode of SVU? Nope, no cabs. No walking, either, or someone will just snatch you up off the sidewalk and you’ll never be seen again. Better stay inside and watch Disney Channel.

But then I reminded myself this was the Year of Me, not the year of my nerves getting the best of me or the year of letting opportunities pass me by. I called Kris, tossed some stuff in a handbag and got dressed.

“How far is the Venetian? Can I walk there?”
“Sure. Cabs are too pricey and it’s a pretty cool area. If it’s a nice day, you should walk.”
“……..But is it safe?”
“Jess, yes, it’s the middle of the morning out there, you’ll be fine.”

Okay, maybe that’s not exactly how it went, but close enough. I grabbed my 3DS and headed out.

#

It really was a beautiful day. I walked to the Venetian, back to Caesars, to the Miracle Mile and then the shoe store in Paris. I didn’t buy much; just a wispy maxi dress from BCBG and some shoes to match from the Paris shoe store. I took tons of pics, texted my friends while I was out, and kept my earbuds in just so people wouldn’t talk to me. I don’t think anyone even noticed me and it was awesome.

Back at the hotel that night, I had dinner with the only other woman from my group still in town and got ready for my flight the next morning.

The flight home was much better, despite being a total idiot and missing my flight out of Charlotte. I got home okay, just late and pretty pissed (mostly at myself, but don’t tell anyone) and actually found myself wanting to go back.

“Kris I was right,” I said. “Vegas totally looks like a Carnival cruise ship.”

#

Vegas Strip

14th floor view of the Strip

Paris LV sign

Happy New Year!

Mer-horse?

I want this fountain.

Chinese New Year display

Chinese New Year is a big deal here.

Caesar's Palace

“Did Caesar actually live here?”

Caesar's Palace fountain

I also want this fountain.

Good morning starshine!

This is probably my third attempt at regular blogging. I always get into it with the best of intentions, tell myself I’ll write more regularly, welcome input from others, enjoy the exposure. But somewhere along the way I always let my head get in the way of all that.

Full disclosure, I struggle with anxiety disorders. The idea of really putting myself out there is frightening, despite the fact that most of my hobbies require baring my soul to an audience. I love to teach. (I am not a professional teacher.) I love to sing. (I am not a professional singer.) I love to write. (I am a professional writer. But not in the way I would like.)

But this time something is different. Somewhere along the line while everyone around me made New Years’ Resolutions about losing weight, working out more, blah blah blah, I decided that my resolution was going to be a little different. I was going to resolve to stop being my own worst enemy. And I want to start heading toward that goal by writing more regularly, not being my own worst critic anymore, but instead being my loudest cheerleader, but also my most honest critic. Seeing things for what they really are, not what I fear they are or what I want them to be.