I Want It All

OK, with a title like that, I know I’ve created some expectations. So here it is, for your enjoyment:

Now on to the real content. I’ve realized something: I am Jay Gatsby.

The Great Gatsby has been one of my favorite books for years. I first read it, like so many other Americans, in high school, in my junior year English class, and I fell in love with the lushness of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose, the elegiac plot, the picture-perfect depiction of the American Dream.

So I’ve read the book. I am the proud owner of a T-shirt printed with its text. I rushed to the theater when, last month, the new Baz Luhrmann version of the film came out, and I read the book again after, just to see how the two compared.

But it wasn’t til recently that I realized why, exactly, I loved The Great Gatsby – and, for all my English major-ing over the years, I have to say it wasn’t why I thought.

It was because I completely, 100% refuse to accept the ending as an ending. Because, optimist that I am, I saw the epic failure of the American Dream presented in the book as a failure, yes — but only for Gatsby. Of course I saw his personal failings; of course I saw the shallow opulence he so blindly followed after; of course I saw that what he was doing was wrong, and could never, and should never, succeed.

For him, that is. But for me? For me, it would be a completely different story.

I still believe in the American Dream. I still picture my future all in rosy hues, with me living the dream of the modern, educated woman in the post-feminist era: married, with kids, and flourishing at the top in my career. I, like so many others in my generation, have grown up being told that I could do anything I wanted, if I just tried.

And I have tried, and so far, it has seemed true. I sailed through college. I found rewarding (though unpaid) internships in my field. I landed a Fulbright scholarship. I  traveled. I  found at least a steady trickle of paid work in my field. I formed meaningful and loving relationships with some absolutely incredible people.

But the more I look around, the more discouraged I get about the future of my American Dream. I read articles like this one, which bring to my mind my college sociology professor, telling the class that women today absolutely cannot have it all — they always take a cut, either in family life or in professional life. It worried me then, but I pushed it to the side. But if, as recent studies show, even women in “liberal academia” get marginalized for having a family, how much worse must it be in the business community I hope to join?

Because, of course, I must join the business community. I am passionate about the publishing world, to begin with, and want nothing more than to join in; beyond that, though, it is equally important to me to have a career that I love as it is to be able afford to live the life of having a career and a family.

And being able to afford it is the trick: to have it all in today’s society, it’s generally accepted that traditional domestic roles will be, at least in part, hired out to others. Nannies will help with the kids; gardeners will help with the yard work; housecleaners will help with the chores; restaurants will help with the meals. I don’t want to be affluent for affluence’s sake; I want to be affluent so I can have a family as well as a career. As Nancy Folbre put it in her recent article in The New York Times:

Affluent couples are more likely to marry than other Americans, perhaps because they don’t need to renegotiate gender roles; they can purchase substitutes for wives’ traditional domestic work in the form of restaurant meals, child care and cleaning services.

The stakes, for women, are high. The choice is this: Have an incredible career which can support your desire for a family, or forget the idea of a career altogether. All or nothing. No pressure.

This is, I’ve realized, is one of the reasons I love Seattle so deeply: It shows me what my life could look like, if I get it right. I have spent the majority of my time in this city in some of its richest neighborhoods, working as a nanny, providing one of the many services that make it possible for the women here to have everything.

Here I see the rebuttal to the claim that women can’t have everything; here I see women who are succeeding in their careers and in their family. As a nanny, I have seen what a household looks like where both spouses have careers they enjoy and that pay well; I have even had the privilege of seeing families who manage to do that without sacrificing their children’s wellbeing. I’ve seen those who make it into that exclusive club; I’ve seen that it is possible for a woman to have it all.

And I want in. That is my Daisy Buchanon, with money in its voice, ever beckoning me on to an imaginary future. But will it be imaginary? Or will I make it in; find that elusive job that will allow me to work in an industry I love and succeed, even as I, eventually, have a family, too?

Am I as blind as Jay Gatsby, chasing an illusion that can never be caught? Or will I, as I have always chosen to believe, succeed in my pursuit?

Can the American Dream be caught? Is it possible, in today’s society, for a woman to have it all? It is; I have seen it — but will it be possible for me?

These are unanswerable questions, I know. The only way to answer them is to stride forward, pursuing my dreams in the best way I know how — and hope there is no Nick Carraway lurking around the corner, ready to document my hopeless chase.

The Question of Brazil

In the past few days, my Facebook has blown up with posts having to do with Brazil.

(Yes, I know, Facebook should not be my primary source of news, but for better or for worse, right now it is. I  am a part of enough international communities, and communities that care about international issues, that major events tend to end up there anyway–via my Brazilian friends this week; my expat friends in Turkey starting a couple weeks ago; my Taiwanese friends last month… They’re the best news source I know!)

And, as I’ve begun reading about Brazil, both in what friends post and in other reports across the web, I find myself wondering: What is the answer?

For those who haven’t seen everything coming out of Brazil, here are a few links to get you up to speed:

A good article from The New York Times on the topic.

And this wonderful, thought-provoking video produced by a native Brazilian:

 

 

What it boils down to seems to be this: People in Brazil are fed up with years of inequalities, most recently made worse by the stadium builds going on for their upcoming role as host to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, and so are protesting for a better, less corrupt country that will do more for their people and less for the world stage.

Now, I have to be honest, I don’t know enough about Brazilian politics as a whole to comment on their government, either how it is or how it should be. I’ll leave that discussion to people who are from Brazil, or who live there or have been following the issue for longer than the last few days. I won’t do those issues the dishonor of my having an uninformed opinion on them; they deserve better than that.

But for me, as an American, another question surfaces, one that I feel compelled to at least consider, even if I don’t have a pert answer for it: How should international sporting competitions be arranged?

Because, to an outsider, it would seem that hosting not one, but two massive, worldwide events would be good for Brazil. To an outsider who has, for the past seven years or so, heard nothing but glowing praise for the burgeoning economies of places like Brazil and China, it would seem only natural that they would begin hosting events. To an outsider who has heard, time and again, that people from places like Brazil–indeed, Brazil seems always to be the go-to example of this–often find themselves disappointed by the relative poverty of places like the US compared to their home, it would seem indicative of Brazil moving, justifiably, into the world’s spotlight.

But then you look at the details. You watch things like Carla’s video that I linked above, and you realize that having international events costs billions of dollars, and those costs come down on the country’s people, whether they want them to or not. You look at things like the 2008 Beijing Olympics and their controversial eviction of 1.25 million citizens to make way for the games, and you see them coming up again in Brazil. In fact, many have argued that hosting the Olympics is actually not good for the local economy at all.

The abandoned beach volleyball courts from Beijing 2008, circa 2012

With conditions this rough, it would be easy to make the argument that all major international sporting events, if they continue to exist at all, should be hosted exclusively by countries with a proven track record of financial and social stability; countries that can absorb the shock of a difficult hosting job. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, Germany–first world countries.

But can you imagine the fallout if the powers that be actually did that? If you put economics to one side, what would be the implications of pushing all the World Cups, all the Olympics, into the countries that are already in the metaphoric 1%, handing yet another wand of power into the hands of the already powerful?

There would be outrage. Horror. Cries of institutionalized discrimination against developing countries; charges that growing countries could never fully blossom without the opportunity to compete on their own home turf. Accusations that the Powers that Be were further complicating the preexisting prejudice in favor of the favored few by directing all the world’s interest and money elsewhere in yet another venue.

And they might be right. In terms of educational value, having international sports shifting from country to country highlights the diversity of the world; children grow up seeing each unique culture of the host countries exerting influence on their favorite sports, learning about the unifying nature of humanity in friendly competition. And isn’t that the point of international sports, anyway? They show off athletes in the peak of their abilities, certainly, but isn’t it equally important that they show off each country in the peak of their abilities?

I don’t have an answer for this any more than I have an answer for the protesters in Brazil. There is clearly a problem, and it becomes more obvious with each new country left scurrying before and after the tornado of the international sporting spotlight touches down on its shores. I feel for the people of Brazil, and I sincerely want the best for them.

But what is it?

Out of my head

“Bekah, have you ever considered…?”

“But Bekah, what about…?”

“Have you ever thought of that before?”

Let me stop you right there: yes. Yes I have. I have considered that possibility; I have thought about that thing. What’s more, I’ve probably thought of the next 10 things you’re going to throw out at me, too.

Why? Because I am, irrevocably, a thinker. And I don’t mean that in the abstract; no, I mean that, according to the Myers-Briggs personality index, I come out strong on the “T” side– “thinking.”

For a long time, I liked this fact. I liked what it said about me: that I thought things through; that I was logical; that I followed rational thought above all else. As an academically-minded person, it made sense: of course I was a thinker! Why wouldn’t you be?

No longer, though.

Because here’s what no one thinks of when they start listing the pros of being a strong “T,” rather than an “S” (sensing): you can’t stop it.

Imagine that you are standing in line, waiting to buy yourself some lunch. When you walked into the restaurant, you had an idea of what you wanted to buy–a big French dip roast beef sandwich just sounded like perfection. As you stand in line, though, you see a sign for the special, a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with sprouts and avocado.

Instantly, your brain starts working. A French dip does sound good, and that is what you came in for, but then you do like turkey, too, and you’ve read recently about the amazing health benefits of the avocado. You check prices: the French dip is cheaper. But it’s on white bread with cheese, and then what about all those studies you’ve read on how beef is just a heart attack waiting to happen? But then that other article said good beef is actually good for you, and maybe this is good beef? The turkey is on whole wheat bread, which you know is good for you, and tastes better, too, and it has no cheese, which is bad for you. But the turkey might have more tryptophan in it; you can’t afford to fall asleep at work! And aren’t avocados pretty fatty, too? But it’s on special!

You begin a pros and cons list in your head:

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 11.05.40 PM.png Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 11.10.50 PM.png

By the time you reach the register, your mind is whirling with a million little factors which may not even be relevant to your sandwich choice at all, but which call your entire life’s purpose into question. Will the French dip end up dripping on my clothes? Will my friends judge me for eating meat? How important should price be to me relative to deliciousness? Do I care about my diet? Should I care about my diet? Am I too fat? Am I too skinny? Am I overthinking this decision???

And the answer is yes. Yes, you are. ALWAYS. There is no way an everyday decision like this deserves this much thought. IT’S JUST A FREAKING SANDWICH. But there’s no way to get away from it, if you’re a “T.”

If you’re an “S,” you are probably laughing right about now. For you, I imagine, the choice would be much, much simpler. You came in wanting a French dip; you walk out with a French dip, unless something about the turkey sandwich piques your interest enough for it to supplant your original sense of what sounded good. Easy-peasy. Just know: your “T” friends are in a minefield of thought where even the simplest of decisions can turn into an impossibility with the addition of just one simple special.

Just imagine what the bigger, more complicated decisions look like. Let’s just say they’re not pretty.

The day college decisions were due for me, my parents took me out of school for the day–because I hadn’t made a decision yet and I needed a full day to process and, eventually, choose one. Choosing classes always involved a massive chart of times I had free, classes I needed, classes I wanted, and how many hours I could reasonably dedicate to classes and work. Choosing a country to apply for for Fulbright was a four-month task that involved reading each and every country description and creating detailed pro and con lists for the ones I had shortlisted, which got expanded with each new cut. Last summer was a quagmire of near-depression as I chose between Seattle and Redding.

And those are all this-or-that choices. Pull in some unknown variables, like, say, other human beings, and my brain kicks into a high gear, spinning at a NASCAR-esque speed with no traction whatsoever.

Of course, when others hear you’re trying to make a decision, they try to talk you through it. And it can, in theory, be helpful. But when your brain has already identified each and every contingency of each and every possibility of each and every choice, talking through it all, again, does absolutely nothing to help.

Know what does help? Getting out of my head. Taking a break; watching a comedy; reading a book; getting coffee with a friend; writing a blog post. Being in the present. Making a conscious choice to STOP thinking, and to trust what you’re sensing and feeling and forget about thought–even for a moment.

Because any personality trait, taken to the extreme, becomes a negative trait. And every personality, when worked on, comes closer to balance. Getting out of my head is a matter of great importance, not just for my decision making, but for my happiness.

So, just a word of encouragement to my fellow “Ts”: turn it off for a bit. Get out of your head. It’s getting musty in there, and the gears are starting to spark. Let’s shut this whole thing down, and step out for a bit. It’ll all be there when you get back.

Being Present

Everyone’s been there. You’re in the room, but you’re not really there. Your friends are around, but nobody’s talking. Instead, you’re all staring into little, colored screens.

I’ve been thinking of getting a smartphone for a long time, now. It’s been on the top of my to-buy list since early 2011, and my contract’s been up for nearly that long, too. So why haven’t I bought one?

There are dozens of reasons for me to buy a smart phone. They’re convenient. They give directions. They make it so you never have to plan ahead again. They settle any argument in a heartbeat. And with them, you never make real, human contact again.

Because, after a full year spent as one of the only ones in my friend group without a smartphone, that’s what I’ve seem the most of: smartphones, not faces. When you’re immersed in updating your status and posting your meal to Instagram, it seems like the most natural thing in the world. When you’re the one in the room with just an average intelligence phone, though, seeing everyone else glued to their phones is just plain strange.

I’ve been learning a lot in the last couple years about living in the moment, even without the distraction of a smartphone. See, naturally, I’m a planner. I think things out way in advance, and set in place any number of plans to get me from A to Z.

But, when you plan your life eons in advance, a couple of things happen:

  1. You get fixated on your plans, and suddenly any variation from them is terrifying and world-shattering, whether it should be or not.
  2. You live in your dreams, and forget about what’s happening right now.
  3. You put important things like friendships and relationships on the back burner in favor of where you want to be in 5 years.

That last one is what killed it for me. I love people, and I have a very high value for relationships. If you’re my friend, I will defend you to the death. And oh, if you’re not sure if you fall in that category or not, because we used to be friends back in the day but it’s been so long and I just don’t know–STOP. I will still defend you to the death. Just TRY to shake my loyalty. It won’t work.

And so I’ve been learning. Learning how to put people first; how to put first the people I am with, in this moment, right now, and how to put my goals on the back burner when necessary. My friends this year may still describe me as a workaholic, but the truth is, over the last 10 months, I’ve chosen friends over future more times than I can count.

I’ve learned to healthily compartmentalize my life: over here, friends. Over there, goals. To the side, things that must be done immediately. And yes, those do still get done immediately; I am not describing my slow descent into lethargy and a poor work ethic. Instead, I am finally learning what can be described as a good work-life balance, one in which there actually is a balance, instead of a weird overemphasis on the work/school/goals bit.

I’m learning to be present in the moment, rather than get a jumpstart on the future. If I’m working, I’m working. If I’m with friends, though, I am with friends. They are more important to me than anything else that could come creeping into my mind. Being there and fully experiencing our time together matters more than any thoughts I would have been giving to the project I have sitting on my desk at home, or the email in my inbox, or the blog post in my drafts, or the text on my phone.

And when you make it a goal to be fully present in every situation, you suddenly realize just how disconnected our connectedness has made us. It’s amazing to me that, in our world of immense connectivity, we so often lose track of the person in front of us. Nothing is official until it’s been Facebooked and Tweeted and Instagrammed, and everyone ends up crowded around phones, too busy documenting their lives to live them. 

Now that I’ve begun to kick the habit of living in the future, do I dare to tempt myself by living in the uber-present, the present of media at your fingertips with such ease that you can’t tear yourself from it long enough to be present with the people you are with? I might. But it’s tempting not to. The present is here for a reason. Why shouldn’t we live it?

Parkinson’s Law

Since I started this blog last year, I’ve learned something about myself. Basically, that without a solid schedule, self-imposed or otherwise, everything in my life grinds to a halt.

Case in point: my blog postings, and lack thereof. I can write everyday, if I want to. I proved that in Taiwan, when I blogged daily for an 11-and-a-half-month stretch, Internet access or no, with minimal damage to my sleep schedule or mental stability. Then I came back from Taiwan, engines raring to go, and started this blog. And Idid well at it at first–I posted often, and I was Freshly Pressed after just a month on the scene. I was elated.

But, over time, my life got more cluttered, and my postings got more erratic, to the point where they stopped for months together. I’ve just come out of one of those stretches, in fact. Looking at my archives links now makes me depressed.

My posts have lost all meaning...

My life has lost all meaning…

So what happened? I lost the structure in my life.

In Taiwan, I blogged. Daily. It was what I did. It was a murderous self-inflicted posting schedule, an imperative I had dared myself to do because it sounded hard, and I knew I would never be willing to let myself down by failing it. And, rain or shine, eventful day or dull one, I would sit at my computer and I would write–something. Anything. Sometimes good, sometimes laughably bad. This, they tell you–and, indeed, I told myself–is what writers do. They write, full stop.

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I didn’t realize, though, that writers write because of a decision they make to write. Writing will never just happen. Writing must, always, be a choice, a challenge, a conviction that writing for the sake of writing is worth it. It needs dedicated time, a dedicated mind, and a dedicated purpose: to improve.

After last summer, I lost that. I forgot. My life came at me willy-nilly, and I left it at that. I started freelancing, with my clients rarely sending notice beforehand, on the expectation that, whenever their manuscript came across my desk, I would drop whatever else I was doing and finish their work, pronto. And I did. I skated from deadline to deadline, indulging myself in the luxuries of unspecified work schedules by wasting hours of my time and spending late nights finishing things I should have finished days ago.

I never missed a deadline. My work was good. But, by ignoring the necessity of structure in my life, I lost hours upon hours of my life, hours that could have been spent with friends or reading or in advancing my career or writing blog posts, all poured down the drain of unstructured time; all left at the altar of procrastination.

All lost in the sands of mixed metaphors...

All lost in the sands of mixed metaphors.

Yet even then, I did at least have my class schedule. I knew I had to be somewhere from 10:30 til 3:45 daily, and my freelancing work had to fit around that.

But my classes ended in mid-May, and as the last vestiges of my structured life fell away, I noticed something: I was getting less done. It made no sense. For the first time since I began freelancing, I was having trouble meeting my deadlines. Sure, some of them had shifted up a bit in the week, but that wasn’t enough to explain it. I could actually feel my work getting less efficient. Simultaneously, I felt myself growing bored.

And then it struck me: I’d lost my structure. I’d suddenly been handed my days, wide open, on a platter, and I had no idea what to do with them, so I did nothing. I was experiencing Parkinson’s Law, and the answer to my dilemma suddenly became clear: make myself a schedule. Put in place artificial time constraints. Maybe install Anti-Social.

Yes, we are now at the point where society has dubbed it necessary to pay people to stop us from social networking...

Yes, we are now at the point where society has dubbed it necessary to pay people to stop us from social networking…

So I began blocking out my days, with specific and achievable work goals for different portions of the day, and the same sorts of work at the same times of day. Now, for instance, I write my freelance articles after lunch. I wake up around the same time everyday, and go to sleep approximately eight hours before that. All my work is set to be finished on an orderly timetable of my own device, and well before my official deadlines.

What productivity looks like.

What productivity looks like.

And, already, it’s working. This post, in fact, is part of the fruit of it.

Blogging is important to me. Blogging well, and constantly improving my writing, is even more so. And I am now making the decision, once again, to blog regularly. Not daily this time, but at least twice weekly: I will now publish at least one post on Tuesday, and one on Saturday.

(Yes, I know this is being published on a Sunday. I couldn’t wait til Tuesday. Besides, I said at least twice weekly!)

I refuse to waste my days, or to get done in four hours what should be done in one. In high school and college, I overloaded my days with classes, work, and extracurriculars, and became an expert in getting a lot done with no time. (This is not an uncommon effect; it is part of why studies show that students who work get better grades than those who don’t.) I spent years learning to multitask and learning how to get a lot done with no time; now, I am learning to get a lot done regardless of how much time I actually have.

Paradoxical? Perhaps. Necessary? Definitely.

My life is now scheduled again, and my stress and boredom levels have dropped as my productivity has skyrocketed. Case in point: this is my second post in three days. With my structure back, my life has returned to regular operating capacity. Life is as it should be.

And even if it weren’t, I’ll be back to a regular daily routine next week, as I start a new job. Parkinson’s Law, your days are numbered.

Brothers

I have dozens of brothers. No, not biological brothers–I’m not a part of one of those 20-person families that get reality shows based around them; of biological brothers, I have just two. But men who I care about deeply and who I know care about me? Of those, I have dozens. If only I hadn’t wasted nearly 20 years getting back here…

This is decidedly NOT my family.

I started out alright. Growing up, I was a tomboy. I had two brothers, no sisters, and we lived in the country and were homeschooled when we were young–what else was a girl to do? (For the record: NO, I did not get to do school in my pajamas, and NO, we were not one of those families who dressed in matching denim and never left the house. See caption, above.) But as a result of hanging out with my brothers a lot, for the first many years of my life, most of my close friends were boys. It just wasn’t a big deal; we had a lot of fun together, and that’s all there was to it.

Until I reached 2nd grade, that is. In 2nd grade, my already-logical mind came to an apparently logical conclusion: I was a girl; therefore, my friends should be girls, too. So one Sunday after Sunday school, I marched up to my best friend at the time, Micah, and told him I was going to start hanging out with girls instead of him.

Sooooo, never speak to me again. Mmkay?

Potential psychological scarring to Micah aside, I was pretty happy with my decision for the next couple of years. I became more “girly”–though not much, as my hatred of dresses, pink, and other stereotypical “girl” things proved, together with the “tomboy tests” I put my friends through–and pretty much avoided the boys who had been my best friends before. I learned to live in a world where girls were friends, and boys fell into one of three categories: relatives, cute boys, and my brothers’ friends. (For reasons related to the growing up and ew-gross-my-brothers’-friends-have-cooties process, those two last categories were–usually, though not always–kept pretty separate.)

This lasted for far too long. I kept guys in boxes well into high school; looking back, I can think of one good male friend from high school (another Micah, oddly enough), and just a few male “friends” of any sort. Mostly, the guys I was friends with were my friends’ boyfriends.

And then we would stand around posing for color-coordinated group photos.

College was hardly better. Like many small liberal arts schools, my university suffered from an ever-increasing gender inequality, by which I mean that when I entered school, the women-to-men ratio was roughly 60-40; when I left, it was rounding 70-30. Then there was the fact that I was an English major, further skewing the numbers to the point that, as my floormates and I joked in an on-campus skit competition, I would see more male landscapers on campus than male students.

Add to that the fact that it was a small private Christian school in which a good portion of the women attending (not me) were determined to get a “ring by Spring,” and what you got was not exactly a healthy environment for making male-to-female friendships. Any contact with the opposite gender had the question of a romantic relationship implicitly present; I rarely saw girls and guys hanging out together for any other reason, though I was jealous of those who did. And, as in high school, most of my own male friends were my friends’ boyfriends.

It’s only awkward if you make it awkward!…or if they break up during the photo shoot and you’re left just standing there…

As an upperclassman the dynamic shifted slightly, as I drifted into a few extracurricular activities where there were–gasp!–men involved, but in general, my paradigm for male friendships was very much as it was when I was 7: I was a girl (or “woman,” as I would now be quick to point out), so obviously I hung out almost exclusively with other girls.

As it happened, this was one of the only areas in my life that was not shifted by my time in Taiwan. Our group of ETAs in Fulbright consisted of 12 people, of whom just two were men–and I rarely saw them. Apart from them, my friends and I had a guy friend in Taipei we would visit occasionally, but that was it. My co-workers and roommates were all women, and so were the vast majority of people I got close to there. No brothers to be found.

A small portion of our group. Note the overwhelming female majority...

A small portion of our group. Note the overwhelming female majority…

Then came this year.

I spent the year (after much deliberation) at a ministry school in California, and my one year there taught me more about having brothers than I had learned in my previous 23 years of experience with *actual* brothers.

It’s odd, really: ministry schools are notorious for the same spirit that permeated my university; even the school I was at is jokingly called a “school of marriage” instead of “school of ministry” by some of its attendees.

But that was not my experience. No; instead, for my nine months at school I was surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of some of the most quality men I had ever been in contact with–truly incredible guys, who were confident in who they were, knew how to take responsibility, knew how to respect and love others well, were proactively improving themselves, and were incredibly attractive, to boot–and I wasn’t dating them. Any of them. Ever.

Instead, I was forming some of the deepest and best relationships of my life. I was learning to be a sister, and learning what it was like to have men who valued me deeply for who I was, no strings attached. And I learned how incredible it is to have wonderful relationships with men–to have brothers. If any of them were interested in me, I don’t know, and to a larger extent than ever before in my life, it didn’t matter*: I just loved, and love, these men, regardless, and I knew they loved me.

And they just kept adding to the ranks. There were the guys from my “brother” house, an obvious addition. Then the guys from the newspaper crew we formed. And the guys from our core group of 70. And friends of friends. And friends of roommates. For the first time in my post-7-year-old life, the men in my close group of friends may actually outnumber the women.

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A few of the amazing men (and women) in my life…

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A few more of my awesome friends…

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…and a few more!

And that’s just a small sampling of the many, many incredible men in my life. Men with whom I can hang out, and with whom I can share life, and whom I love and know love me, no matter what. And having those friendships, those brothers, is one of the best things I’ve ever discovered.

So, to my brothers: thank you! Thank you for being you; for being my friend; for teaching me so much about what real men look like, and what it looks like to have healthy relationships with them.

And, to my seven-year-old self: What were you thinking?!?!

*A post for another time: why the “friend zone” doesn’t, or shouldn’t, exist.

Piecework

What do you do?

It shouldn’t be a difficult question. It never used to be: I was a student. For years, I was a student–for as many years as I can remember anyone would be asking me that question, I was a student. Sure, I was some other things, too–college is certainly not free here in the USA–but explaining my modgepodge of jobs then came secondary, if it came at all. What did I do? I was a student.

Then, I graduated. And then, for a year, another easy answer: I’m an English teacher. Or, if I thought it would mean anything to whomever I was speaking: I’m a Fulbright scholar.

Now, though? Now, such facile answers seem like pots at the end of a rainbow; now, an answer to this question requires a few minutes of your time, and possibly more than a few clarifying questions.

Or, “What do I do, what do I dooooo?”

What do I do? I’m a hyphenate. To be more specific, I’m a writer-writing tutor-college application consultant-transcriptionist-proofreader-editor; oh, and also, a student at a ministry school. A very difficult-to-describe ministry school, as luck would have it. (I should add blogger to that list, but clearly, with all these hyphens, those that come sans pay have been slipping.) And I’m applying to graduate schools, since you’re asking, and therefore obviously care deeply about my personal life.

My personal life. Not pictured: me

So, it’s complicated. When people ask me what I do, I prefer to turn abstract, and to tell people that my job is like a patchwork quilt, with dozens of little squares sewn together to create a motley arrangement that somehow, (usually) pays the bills.

My life, everybody!

It’s funny, though: when I began this post a month ago, I began it with somewhat of a sour attitude, somewhat of a sense that my crazy, hyphenated world was something to be looked down upon, or to be avoided at all costs. But the truth of the matter is, it isn’t. The truth of the matter is that it rocks.

Why? Well because, ultimately, all this piecework means one thing, and one thing only: I’m doing it.

Right now, I’m making a living doing what I want to do. I’m using my English major, consistently and in several different venues, and getting paid for my expertise in each of them. Sure, none of them are full time jobs with benefits, but they are enough, and they allow me to be one of the apparently tiny proportion of college graduates who are actually using the skills they learned there out in the real world.

And, beyond just being allowed to use my expensive education for something, I’m doing what I want to do, at what is likely to be one of the only times that I’m free to do so. Honestly, what I scrape in through my jobs isn’t much–but it is enough to finance me, living on my own with roommates, taking little trips every now and then, going to a school that I chose, and applying to other schools that I’m choosing. I can flit about and do what I please–on a limited budget, sure, but how many other jobs do you know of that allow you to work from wherever you happen to be? Freelancing may not be steady money, or a lot of money, but it takes the “free” in its name seriously.

My life now isn’t easy, and it isn’t the typical “success” I was taught to strive for. But it works for me, and for where I am right now, and it has provided me with the amazing opportunity to be fully me, doing what I fully want to do, right now.

What do I do? I follow my dreams. And you?

Why Doing NaNoWriMo Was a Terrible Idea

It’s simple, really: I shouldn’t have done NaNoWriMo this (last, now!) year. Why, you ask? Well, let’s start with the fact that this is my first post in over two months, and go from there…

The top 5 reasons why doing NaNoWriMo was a terrible idea:

5. It gave me permission not to blog. As it turns out, writing yourself a blank check to not write on your blog for a month is not just a bad idea, it’s an idea so bad that if it were a song, it’d have to be sung by Rebecca Black.

Yes, THAT bad.

The whole “I’m writing a novel this month so I obviously have no time to do any other sort of writing” excuse is powerful because it’s pretty accurate, really. My Nano would suck hours out of my every day, days that were, to begin with, unbelievably full.

Yet, when you’ve given yourself permission not to blog for a month because you’re going to be too busy because of a specific reason, it creates a rationalization pattern that enables you to keep on creating specific reasons that your busyness means you don’t have to blog which, when compounded with the hecticness of the holidays and a genuinely increasing workload, means it’s always okay not to blog. And when that happens…

4. It killed my momentum. I’m not going to lie: my momentum was dying a little before November hit, what with the departure of summer, the increase in jobs and other responsibilities (read: grad school applications), and the end of the wave created by being Freshly Pressed back in August. Still, I had the motivation of always having posted at least a couple of times a month, and I had the fresh memory of having posted every single day from August 1, 2011-July 12, 2012, so even doing it only a couple times a month made me feel slightly guilty.

You can tell this is more important than blogging because I’m using an old-timey fountain pen.

Give yourself a month off scot-free, though, and you kill whatever guilt and motivation you had built up that way. This is especially true when…

3. You feel like you’ve accomplished something extraordinary every time you actually post. I did actually post in November. Once. On the elections. Using a recycled-and-repurposed post from back in 2008. So, yes, a post that used only the minimum requirement of creativity or thought–and which you might recognize as the post that’s been hanging about the top of my blog for two months now.

Look familiar? Sickeningly so, perhaps?

Why? Well, because my expectations had been lowered so far by my blank check of not writing (see above) that posting anything, at all, made me feel oh-so-accomplished, like I’d done something extraordinary and unusual and deserved a medal or something. I didn’t. It was just a quickie post, worth no more than a minute of your time, and certainly a sorry excuse for representing the entire month of November. Which is really a shame, considering that, Nanowrimo aside…

2. I am actually a nonfiction writer, not a fiction one. I’ve covered this before. Nonfiction is where my heart lies; it’s whence the words flow; it’s how I best express myself. So why did I think it was a good idea to stop that so I could explore a different genre? What on earth made me think that I’d be more motivated to work on my second-best genre by encouraging myself to stop working on my best one? Really, it was inevitable that…

1. I didn’t even finish the stupid thing. Yep, you read that right. I made it precisely 7,195 words into my novel–the official recommendation for 4 1/2 days of writing–before I crashed and burned into the fiery inferno of work and grad school applications, always intending but never actually managing to go back in and salvage my suffering word count.

So yes, this is my official, shame-filled confession: I failed at Nanowrimo, AND managed to let it drag me into a two-month writing lull. Beyond that, it forced me into something I swore I’d never do: a formal internet apology.

So, I’m sorry, Internet. Sorry that I failed at Nanowrimo, sorry that I failed at blogging–but, mostly, sorry that you now all have “Friday” stuck in your heads.

Warning: this image could cause self-inflicted eardrum-gouging. View at your own risk.

A Nonpartisan Note on Grace

Hey everyone! I’m still (in theory) Nano-ing, but I felt the need to post something on the US presidential election–a few days late, of course, but at least I’m posting. I originally wrote what follows just after the election in 2008, but I feel like it’s just as relevant now as it was then–with a few details updated, of course, marked by strike-throughs and red ink. Please enjoy:

So, the election is over and our entire country is now either celebrating or mourning. As we do this, I thought I’d put out a few thoughts I’ve been having on the topic, for both camps, about grace. I mean grace in the non-theological sense, the grace that involves courtesy and sportsmanship; the grace I think both sides need to learn. How to win, and lose, gracefully.


To Democrats:
You won! And everyone knows you’re excited; you deserve to be excited, and anyone who tells you otherwise deserves whatever crap you give them. It was truly a historic election.It’s always exciting when your candidate wins a close race.
But.
In the midst of your excitement, please remember that, for all the disparity of the electoral votes, in the popular vote your candidate only won by 7% 2%. Which means, there are a fairly significant number of people in this country right now who are as dejected as you are elated. Our president-elect says he wants to unify the country, and that’s a noble goal–so please, support it by being empathetic to the losers of this race. If nothing else, think back to 2004, when the race went the other way, and imagine (or remember, if it happened) what it would be like to have people gloating to you all the time. Be graceful winners, and you’ll do more to bolster the country’s confidence in their choice–and therefore give him a greater chance of being reelected in 2012 your party a greater chance of electing their candidate in 2016– than gloating ever will.

To Republicans:
Yes, you lost. Again. And you have every right to be disappointed, and maybe even to be a little angry at the jubilant Democrats you see all around you.
But.
You now have to deal with the fact that we don’t have a new president, and he isn’t the one you wanted. Being bitter won’t change anything, and it certainly won’t help any hope you have of reversing the situation come 2012 2016. Not only did the president-elect win, he won by a landslide in the electoral college, and regardless of what you think of him he is the new president, elected democratically for our country and BY our country. It’s our duty as a nation to support him now–and if that’s hard to do, remember Bush-bashing, and how much it bothered you. Being down on the president accomplishes nothing–he’s there, and he’s not leaving for at least four more years. Maybe by then your graceful loss will have re ingratiated you with the nation enough to win in 2012 2016. If not, at least you’re on the right track. Be a graceful loser, and everyone will respect you for it.

No-write November?

So here’s the deal: I’m about to disappear for a while.

Or, at least, that’s what I’m guessing might happen. I’m actually not sure. I’ve never done this before. Done what before, you ask? This. NaNoWriMo.

For the uninitiated (or the still-uninitiated–I mentioned this briefly back in “Confessions of a (Nonfiction) Writer”), NaNoWriMo (na-no-wry-mo) is short for National Novel Writing Month, which, in America, is actually a thing, and also happens to be November. So, every November, a giant group of wannabe/lapsed/functioning/experienced (maybe?)/aspiring writers take on the totally-unrealistic-yet-somehow-still-achievable goal of writing a 50,000 word novel–in a month.

The rules are simple enough: over the course of a month, write 50,000 words that add up to a single, completed story. You cannot begin before November 1st, or finish after November 30th. You can research and outline ahead of time (I’ve done neither, unfortunately), but that’s it. If you stick to the schedule, you write an average of 1,667 words a day. It’s a bit strenuous. It’s a bit insane. It’s also a bit of a time-suck.

Which brings us to the topic of today’s post: I’m doing it this year. Yes, me, she who feels accomplished if she somehow manages to post once a week; me who hasn’t actually accomplished that feat since August. Me, whose one post deemed by the blogosphere to be worthwhile was one describing just how difficult and painful writing fiction can be. I’m going to write a novel. In a month.

So, maybe, don’t expect to be seeing a lot of me this November. Unless you’re on NaNoWriMo yourself, that is. Then, expect to see me posting daily, adding to my word count like (famous sports person) adds (points/goals/scores/touchdowns) to their (set/match/game). Because YES, I’m going to finish this thing. Time to conquer my fiction rut, with the help of the writer friend who got me into this and the massive writerly community that will judge me if I fail. Peer pressure for the win!

And, if you’re a NaNoWriMo-er, feel free to look me up–my handle on there is bekahg. I’m sure we’ll all need a little encouragement at some point of the month! Sixteen-hundred words a day is a lot no matter what’s going on in your life; with my schedule, it might just mean the end of every nonessential behavior, like blogging.

Or, you know, the beginning of every nonessential behavior. As I write this post, I’m very aware that I’m doing it solely because I have something else more important to work on that I don’t want to do. Procrastination is a powerful force, too.

Peer pressure versus procrastination: which will win? Stay tuned to find out.