Whirlwind Work Week

In the midst of perhaps the busiest work week of my life, I got worried that my little blog was growing stale without a new post. What a sweet surprise to return to it today and see your overwhelmingly supportive comments – and most of them from readers I’ve never met! (I get a little thrill from finding new friends on here.) A little time away is good for blogging, apparently. Thanks for your supportive words and for sharing your thoughts. It’s great to know I have so many kindred spirits out there.

This week was an exercise in proving myself capable. Most days my work is the same series of tasks:  write and post a press release or two, monitor social media stats, direct inquiries, write content for our publication or website, email intermittently. On Wednesday my organization held an inaugural event that featured a former U.S. president as the keynote speaker. Exciting, right?

In the days leading up to it I was terrified. Working for Communications means that I’m responsible for helping with public relations and marketing efforts. It’s a big responsibility when you’re trying to attract more than 1,300 attendees. Among my responsibilities were proofreading print ads and brochures and programs, preparing press releases and story pitches, coordinating interviews with business leaders, dignitaries, faculty, staff and students, preparing questions for the interviews, conducting the interviews, collecting quotes from the keynote address and moderated question and answer sessions, promoting the event through social media, and doing any other task my boss requested of me.

I was worried that things wouldn’t get done. I was worried that I’d forget to communicate with people on changes made or that I’d miss glaring errors in our press pieces or that I’d say the wrong thing to our media contacts or that I wouldn’t be able to read my handwriting well enough to quote people accurately.

Well, there were things I didn’t finish. And of course there were changes made even in the midst of the event. There were a few missed interviews and yes, I really couldn’t read half of my handwritten notes past the third page.

But. We made it. It’s over. I’ve caught up on sleep and more importantly, we accomplished all of our primary goals though this opportunity and even discovered some surprising results along the way.

Driving home on Thursday I felt a sudden urge to weep. I can’t imagine what it’s like to hold a position where you handle these things on a regular basis, but for my first time participating in a project of such magnitude I feel like I’ve come out on the other side of this with a deep sense of gratitude and relief and surreality.

Did I really just do that?

And also this thought,

Let’s do it again!

As exhausted as I’ve been this week – physically, mentally, emotionally – I feel totally exhilarated. I’ve always been attracted to journalism, but this experience gave me a glimpse of what it would be like to dive into it and commit to it fully.

I love asking questions and hearing people communicate value. I love listening to leaders, entrepreneurs, and creative people talk about what makes them tick, the principles that inspire them in their roles, the concepts that move them to lead. It’s a powerful thing to hear leaders speak candidly about their mistakes and failures and lessons they learned through them, as well as the moments that affirmed their potential. In a room of more than 1,300 people, I felt the energy rise as the audience caught a glimpse of the surprising challenges and rewards of leadership.

In a strange and unexpected way, this experience was an affirmation of what I discussed in my last blog post. This side of it, how could I settle for anything less than what I am passionate about?

Every person has been given a passion for something. It could be writing and journalism, it could be culinary arts, it could be design, architecture, gender studies, teaching, music, theater, ministry. Whatever it is, we’re called to pursue to it. When we’re in the moment, it doesn’t matter how exhausted we are. The exhilaration of doing what we love and doing it well will tell us what we need to know:

This is what you’re meant to do.

The Dream Job : Going the Distance

It’s never good when you get a text from your best friend that says,
“I don’t know if I feel like going out tonight. I’m all weepy and crabby today.”
Knowing her, I realize I have two choices:
1. Take her word for it, because when she says she’s in a bad mood she means it. No use arguing with her; things will only get worse.
2. Test the waters. Feel her out. Maybe what’s bothering her is worth confronting, debunking, even comforting.
I bit the bullet and chose option two.
“What’s wrong, love?” 
“Oh, probably the weather and I started freaking out about school earlier.” 
She has decided to quit her full time job working as a customer service representative for a hearing aid manufacturer [what joy] to go to culinary school. The risks are real – she’s taking on school loans, she’s going to try and juggle school work and a part time job to support herself,  not to mention that she’s quitting a full time job when more than 8 percent of the country can’t even find a part time job. She has every reason to be terrified.
And yet. I’ve seen her in a slump, exhausted of repeating the same conversation with customers more than 100 times each day. Personally, I’d rather see her bustling around a bakery, whipping up delectable pastries we can devour, even if we gain 100 extra pounds in the process. Hey, since we’re talking sacrifices, right?
But it’s a toss up, a whole lot of “I don’t want to do this part” no matter which path she takes. She doesn’t want to work the job she has forever, but she doesn’t want to take on debt, risk her financial well-being and her stamina to make it through school.
“What if I fail?” she asked in the car on our way to see my husband play on Friday. Thankfully, she had changed her mind and decided not to wallow in worry over something that’s months away.
“I’m sorry, what? You? Fail school?” I asked.
“Yeah! What if I get so frazzled trying to support myself and get through classes that I flunk out?”
A silly question, in my opinion. She, of all people I know, is least likely to fail.
But as I’ve spent the last several months fiddling with blog ideas and freelance work, I’ve asked mself the same question about nearly everything.
Grad school: what if I flunk out? So I decide to wait until life “settles down” a little bit. [I have no idea what that means, either.]
Freelancing: I’m not a business person – what if I can’t handle the responsibility?
Blogging: what if they don’t like what I wrote? What if no one cares about this but me?
I’ve come to the realization that with any dream job or career path we chose, we have to keep in mind the journey and not just the destination. We have to be willing to ask, how will I get there? And we have to be willing to go the distance.
Freelancing and blogging require a lot of capabilities that I wish I didn’t have to think about. I’ve had to work on a business plan for my freelance work. Did anyone else know that this requires math?! Even with a calculator and guidance from other freelancers I know, my brain hurts. It’s excruciatingly painful to admit that my teachers were right [although I have yet to use algebra, mwahaha.]
I’ve also had to learn HTML coding. Don’t get me wrong, I only know a handful of code thingys [is “code phrases” the proper term?] but still, who knew that ugly series of letters and symbols actually did things, and that if you can’t figure it out things might disappear?!
And apparently “not being a morning person” is not conducive to productivity. If I could change my biological make up, I would, but for now I’m just trying to find some sort realistic incentive that will convince me that God created 6 a.m. for anything other than sleep.
I can’t tell my best friend not to look at the big scary numbers or not to think about how she’s going to be able to support herself on a part-time job while she’s getting her degree. I can’t be a successful freelancer and blogger without coming up with a business plan and crunching my own numbers. I can’t even tell her where she’ll be at the end of it; she’ll have a degree, but will that mean she’ll find a job right away?
And will I want to be a freelancer forever?
I mean, aren’t I a little young to be thinking about being my own boss?
And think about all the taxes and invoices I’ll have to keep track of if I’m going to do this!
And is this blog going to be a part of my writing career for the next 30, 40, 50 or more years?
There’s so much responsibility involved, and how will we know for sure that the destination is worth the journey it takes to get there?
We don’t have the answers. I don’t think we’re meant to. But if we’re too scared to even ask the question, to pursue the “what if I try this?” then we are choosing to live in the void, the unknown of what could have been.
So here are a few inspirations from around the web to keep you motivated :
I’m officially a Midnight Hustler, are you?
Part of pursuing our dreams requires being selfish.
Writing as an expression of life. I need to read Natalie’s book (and Melissa’s blog!) more often.
The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life. A great article and a book I need to get my hands on.

Why I Write : A Good Read.

Sometimes, in the simultaneous business and laziness of daily life, I forget how truly delicious it is to devour a good book. For as much as I love writing and reading, I don’t read books as often as I’d like. Several dozen of my favorites lay waiting on my shelves, gathering dust and whispering to me,

“Have you forgotten the moment when Michael discovers Hanna’s secret? Have you forgotten the scene when Claire and Henry meet in the library for the first time? Remember that favorite line you read over and over in Stafford’s poem, ‘the signals we give-yes, or no, or maybe- should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.’ Or the sensibility you felt when you finished The Great Divorce? Open me. Read me.”

I neglect them, thinking, I’ve read you before. I need something new, something that will take me by surprise. At the same time, I have an annoying habit of buying or borrowing books that I don’t finish. Even classics that others rave are their favorites lay half-worn and dog-eared to page 54, and the next 200 pages lay completely untouched.

So when I grabbed Bernard Schlink’s Homecoming to take with me on the train downtown this weekend, I wasn’t expecting to get caught up in it. I loved Schlink’s The Reader from the page one, but Homecoming, with all its intricacies and seemingly unrelated circumstances that surround the life of Peter DeBauer, did not earn my momentum as easily and so it lay discarded and half-read on my shelf for two years. It was the lightest book I could grab on my way out the door to spend the day in the city – just in case I had a spare moment of boredom and found myself in desperate need of distraction. Somehow in reading it this weekend I was able to push through my disinterest and finally understand Peter’s voice in the story.

I don’t think it was Schlink’s writing that was to blame for my previous neglect; I am woefully immature when I open a book. If it’s from an author I’ve read before, as is the case with Homecoming, I have a set of expectations that need to be broken down and replaced with something better than I could have imagined. The author needs to simultaneously break my expectations with something entirely different, and yet they also need to offer me pieces of them that I found fascinating in their previous works. For Schlink, he has this habit of creating highly introspective characters that take the time to ask the questions that the reader is wondering, too.

“Why? Why does what was beautiful suddenly shatter in hindsight because it concealed dark truths? Why does the memory of years of happy marriage turn to gall when our partner is revealed to have had a lover all those years? Because such a situation makes it impossible to be happy? But we were happy! Sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever? Because things always end painfully if they contained pain, conscious or unconscious, all along? But what is unconscious, unrecognized pain?”

“What is law? Is it what is on the books, or what is actually enacted and obeyed in society? Or is law what must be enacted and obeyed whether or not it is on the books, if things are to go right?”- Bernard Schlink, The Reader

Schlink does not do readers the disservice of trying to offer an answer. That his books revolve around post-war Germany and their attempts to rebuild after the World Wars tells us : we may never have an answer to these questions, whether on the larger scale of reconciling past mistakes as they pertain to feuding countries, genocide, or law, or on the smaller scale of personal relationships between men and women, parents and children, strangers and friends.

And Schlink has a knack for plot twisting. You can sense as you read that pieces of the puzzle have yet to fall into place, that beneath all the questions and examinations of law, culture, society, and archetypal themes, an unforeseeable truth lies waiting for you and the protagonist. Once revealed, the effect is stunningly perfect; the beguiling maze of its progression now makes complete sense, even while you wonder, mournfully, why it had to end that way for the characters.

Needless to say, I’m enjoying Homecoming so much that I almost didn’t take the time to write this post, yet reading it is so inspiring that I couldn’t help but write about it.

That’s what a good read will do for a writer, and that’s why it’s so important to continue to feed our imaginations with as many stories as possible.

Reading spurs me on toward new ideas and possibilities, and soon my well of inspiration is overflowing onto the page.

Feed your hunger for a good read, and your own page will never starve.

O’Hare, Earl Grey, Apologies and Poetry.

What a day I’ve had, friends. (And it’s not even Monday.) First, I’ll mention my utter frustration with myself. My severe penchant for untimely tardiness really distresses me. This statement seems ridiculous, but the reality is that while I am not a morning person, I really don’t intend to oversleep by nearly 40 minutes on mornings when I need to get to work early. My alarm did not go off; God only knows why. I’ll refrain from the hashing the details about the crazy dream I was having when, inexplicably, I woke with a start and realized I was late. Let’s just say it wasn’t as bad as the dinosaur dream from Tuesday night. Yes – dinosaurs.
Second, the five hours that I was actually in my office today can be described in a single cliche: time to put my foot in my mouth. This is no different than any other day when I readily express my opinions before I think about how to say them tactfully, but this morning was worse than usual. It was the kind that has left me wincing and cringing for the rest of the day. Did I really say that? 
I am trying to rectify this ever-present flaw in my personality. To those who received the brunt of my mouthiness today, take comfort in knowing that my feet taste disgusting and I am truly sorry.
Third, I love Chicago and nearly every thing about it. I also love doing whatever I can to help a friend, which is why I offered to drive my dear bff to O’Hare this afternoon so that she could hop a plane to Cali for vacation. I love her, which is why I’m not upset that she didn’t take me along. My love for her is also the reason I’m simply grateful that I survived the whole experience because believe me, I almost died. Several times. Lots of wailing and pointing involved as I continued to miss exits and swerve away from other vehicles. Chicago rush hour traffic is the one thing I truly hate about living here.
Sigh. It is now 7 p.m. and I am safe and sound, sitting in Starbucks and enjoying an Earl Grey Latte while contemplating life. Our days are a series of decisions and distractions, and all we really want is to follow our calling, fulfill our purpose. It’s so easy to let things stand in our way – other people, our selves, our bank statements, our schedules. It’s easy to make excuses about why we’re never the best version of ourselves or why we said one thing when we should have said it differently (or maybe avoided making the comment at all?)
It’s also easy to be too hard on ourselves. We set the expectation that we are super-human, that because others depend on us we have to hold it together no matter what the circumstances are. We have to be on time, be prepared. We have to perfect our craft and our work before we share it with others. We have to have everything figured out.
Both ends of the spectrum keep us swinging back and forth, avoiding the middle of the road where our expectations can connect with our reality:
We are imperfect, yet we are capable.
Tomorrow is another day to try again to be the better version of ourselves. If we mess it up or say the wrong thing or receive criticism on our work, then we can continue learning and growing from it.
And so, with that thought, I’m going to make a commitment. For the first time ever, I am going to submit my writing for a local poetry contest. (Yes, I write poetry.) It’s a baby step, but a movement forward nevertheless. Enough with my expectations. Time to do.

If I Look Like One, Maybe I’ll Be One.

I have an addiction. An addiction to blogs. And not just any blogs. Design blogs. Fashion blogs. It’s a wonderful thing to be addicted to – I can preoccupy myself by reviewing others who dress better, design better, than myself. They have the money and the means to wear all the things I can’t and drape their house in fabrics and furniture and prints that I can only dream of. And the blogs themselves – gorgeous!
I have visions of making my own blog easier on the eye than what I have at this moment. My hope is that before the end of the year, I’ll have a custom design for my blog to introduce to you. A friend is working on it for me, and I can’t wait until that day when my writing finally has a space that visually reflects the same quality.
However, like any addiction, my design-blog obsession has distracted me from what I really want, which is to delve deeper into the world of self-published writing. I’ve found a plethora of writing blogs, but I hardly ever read them because the designs are often nothing less than detestable. I don’t care if you’re the greatest writer to come along since Shakespeare. If you’ve posted your words in lime green over a cerulean background, I won’t get past the title before I click over to something more appealing. (Is there something wrong with taking the basic templates and messing with the color? Live a little, people.)
And so, I have this fear: if my blog isn’t visually appealing, it’s not worth reading no matter how well I write. Which means that my real problem boils down to this thought:
Maybe if I look like a writer, I’ll become one.
I hinge my success on how I appear to others. I may write well for my blog, but to be a successful blogger, I need to grab your attention, right?
Understandable. Proven fact with world wide web analytics. “Content is king” doesn’t matter if no one can read it.
But I can’t allow that to be my excuse not to write, right? Waiting for a better blog design is not a good reason to refrain from posting.
Once again, I find myself peeling back the layers of unnecessary negativity in my life in order to see what’s really there. Underneath it all, I have something good going for me and I need to unearth it. I need to let it out. I need to write. I need to create. I need to share it with others.
Here are some posts that have propelled me forward in my hope for my writing:
Jess Constable at Makeunder My Life has a fresh batch of wisdom every day – I can’t get enough. Read her post about why managing your business is like high school (no cringing necessary!)
Jon Acuff has some interesting things to say about selling out. What is your definition of a sell out? How do you impose that on others, and how do you allow others to impose their opinions on you?
bad review isn’t the end of the world, right?
I found this blog today – I need more poetry in my life. And maybe I should start posting photos from my idea journal… what do you think?
Tools for writers. Exactly what I need.