Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Whether You're Ready or Not

Writing is hard. I think this every morning when I get off the graveyard shift and push myself to sit down and write for four hours. Lately I've been excusing myself due to feeling tired, needing to ride the bus home, not wanting to plug in my laptop, and other weak excuses that I glom onto like my life depends on it. I wish I could hit the pause button for a while, and only worry about working and sleeping until I've made the money I need to coast for a while. But that's the thing, isn't it? Life keeps rolling along, even if you didn't get enough sleep, or aren't quite ready to work, or just want to sit for a moment. Whether you're ready or not, your life is happening right now.

So here I sit, in a cold restaurant, with a headache, pushing myself to write just a little bit longer before my shift starts and I get caught up in the grind again. Sometimes it feels like life is spinning out of control, what with the dirty laundry, long to-do list, and bills that keep showing up every month, but I try to remember that these are the cogs I need to keep clean and turning in order to enjoy the things I want to, things like dozing in the sun, holding my husband's hand, and yes, even writing in a cold diner. I might not be completely ready for the next twenty-four hours of my life, but it's happening no matter what, so I'm going to do my best to make the most of it.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Fifteen Year Old Self

I've been scanning all my letters, class notes, photos, yearbooks, and mementos lately. A lot of it is kind of unpleasant to go through, and I'll be glad when I only have a computer file of it, not a physical page I stumble upon every now and again. (Why keep these things, or bother to digitize them? I feel a compulsive need to scan everything before I recycle it. It's part of my process, do what I can't do and let it go)

But there are good things too, sweet things that remind me of good friends and fond memories. Looking back, there are some things I wish I'd worked harder at, but there are a lot more things I wish I'd been able to say, "Fuck it, I'm going to have fun". If I could give myself the gift of hindsight, beforehand, I'd go back to my fifteen year old self. I was old enough then to get the advice I list here, had been in high school long enough to have established good work habits, but was young enough to avoid a lot of the mistakes I've made. I'm beginning to understand that everyone has regrets, but the key is to not hate yourself for having them. Some things still sting to think about, some make me want to bury my head in the sand, and others I can laugh at. Still, if I could go back, this is the advice I'd give myself.

  • Don't save so much stuff. It will only weigh you down.
  • Serving people who don't respect you isn't service, it's just abuse.
  • Depression is going to hit you, and it's going to hit you hard.
  • See a sympathetic dermatologist about your acne. It's worth the cost, because a good dermatologist will figure out what's going on in one or two visits, and you will feel so much better about yourself when you have that under control. On the other hand, having acne for years and years will teach you a lot of lessons about self-perception and confidence.
  • Look up minimalism, environmentalism, and good writing. These things will be very important to you in a few years, and you're going to wish you had known about them sooner.
  • Your family will be much less frustrating when you don't live with them. You will even miss them, and look forward to visiting, until you stay somewhere together for a week. Then you'll want your independence back.
  • Greek yogurt is more delicious than you think.
  • Don't stay in Utah, it's a trap, at least for you.
  • Approach college like you did  high school, at least in terms of how hard you work, and how scared you are of getting a low GPA.
  • When you start finding out about media (movies, TV, magazines, music, the internet, etc. and all of it), it's going to blow your mind.
  • Your awkwardness will fade, and your confidence will grow. One day you won't worry about being weird in public, and it will be an incredible relief.
  • Until you have a full-time career, be incredibly frugal. You can stretch a little money a long way, but only if you know it has to last.
  • That milk-chugging contest? Don't do it.

Honestly, I've enjoyed my life as it is, but I would only relive my past to avoid making the mistakes I did. Of course, then I would have made different mistakes, and I would have a whole different set of advice to give myself.  So what about you, if you could, what would you tell your fifteen-year-old self?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Collective Work

Lately I've been doing pretty well with getting most of my daily tasks done (things like dishes, laundry, making it to work on time, writing, showering, yoga, and keeping up with all the media I let into my life). This is an odd and precarious time for me, so I do everything I can to keep it going. I bribe myself with Nutella. I cook complicated meals that use up all my dishes, then clean the entire kitchen afterwards. I draw little pictures in my journal even though they are laughably crude. It's a generally happy time, marred only by the anxiety that it will end.

I think a number of other people are going through the same thing right now. New Year's Resolutions are fresh, the hustle of the holidays are done, and it's much more appealing to finish inside to-do tasks than deal with going outside to shovel the snow. The best part of me thinks that everyone being productive at the same time will boost our collective self-esteem and happiness, but the truth is that my Google reader has exploded with posts from usually less-than-regular writers. I would be more frustrated, but I know the out-pour will taper off as the months pass. This year I'm just hoping my writing will be part of the trickle that remains.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hello 2013

This year, like every year, is the year I'm going to get my shit together, become responsible, and make the life I want for myself. As has been on the list for the past four to seven years, this will all be accomplished by decluttering all my stuff, getting out of debt, moving to a big city, finding a job I love, and generally becoming a healthy, nice, well-rounded person. I would feel like a lone failure for having the same new year's goals since the early aughts, if a little voice inside me weren't whispering that most people face the same problems every year. We change and grow, but often it takes a lot longer than 365 days for those changes to become permanent and satisfying.

I could be all zen about this and realize that I can let go of goals and still grow as a person, that changing my mindset is more important than checking off a silly to-do list, or that perhaps not everything needs to be perfect in order for me to be happy.  I say screw that; 2013 is the year I'm going to get all this crap off my to-do list once and for all, or die trying.

2013 will be the year I actually haul my cast-offs to the thrift store, instead of dedicating a corner of my house to piles of junk I no longer use. It will be the year I keep a job and stay focused on my budget so I can finally get out of debt. It will be the year I start being consistent in my writing and work to make money at it, rather than having little bursts of creativity every eight months, then wondering why I'm not more successful.

I'm confident that I can do these things this year because I'm angry, I lie to myself, and I've already changed my behavior. Let me explain.

I'm Angry
I feel as if I've wasted the last five years of my life on depression and anxiety and general laziness. It upsets me that I'm very dependent on the kindness of others for a place to live, food to eat, and even the internet I use. I hate that I've had the same goals for years, but never quite get them checked off my list. All of this has simmered on the back burner for a long time, but I think that pot is finally going to boil over. Rather than ignore my anger, work on managing it, or trying to stifle it, this year I'm going to use it. I'm turning it into a tool to motivate me, and a reminder to keep me on track.

I Lie to Myself
I used to tell myself little lies, like "I'll do it tomorrow, really", or "It's not that much money, I'll be fine", or even "They're a nice person, they won't hurt me again if I give them another chance". I've worked hard to stop hurtfully lying to myself, but I find that this is another negative thing I can turn into a positive tool. For example, if I set my clocks ahead by five minutes, I usually don't remember that I've done this. That way a lie past Kimber told helps present Kimber to be on time. I now tell myself "You just have to wash one plate and wipe down the counter, then you can quit", knowing that I'll be compelled to clean the whole kitchen after that. I get myself out of the shower in the morning by telling myself I can go straight back to bed; the lie works because once I get dressed after the shower I feel less sleepy.

All of those little lies add up to help me, but the biggest--and most helpful--lie I'm telling myself this year is that I'm twenty-seven. I'm  really only twenty-six, but for some reason being twenty-seven in 2013 sounds fortuitous, and I feel like I've gotten a bonus year. Twenty-six can be rolled into the ball of wasted time in my early twenties, and I get two years of being older, wiser, and more productive at twenty-seven.  It's definitely  odd that this comforts me so, but when I'm facing a long to-do list, a cold walk to the bus station, or a blog post I'm scared to write, I tell myself, "It's okay, you're twenty-seven, you're old enough to do what needs to be done, and confident enough to know that doing it will make the life you want for yourself". Honestly I think I sound a little bit like a Viagra commercial, but that's okay, because I'm twenty-seven, and if my truth sounds like a boner-pill, then so be it.

Behavioral Changes
I used to be a pack-rat who never kept track of my money and paid no attention to how my daily decisions affected my long-term goals. I still managed to go to school and keep a job, but as my depression worsened it all became too much. School and work suffered in part because I had no idea how much stress my lifestyle was causing me. It took years of effort, but I now have and use very little (not counting the mountain of boxes and bags of stuff I need to take to the donation center), stick to a responsible budget  (though I have yet to make enough money to cover more than the minimum payments on my debt), and take public transit as if I live in a big city. To make things easier on myself I pushed aside the accumulated debris of my previous life, but I've gotten to the point where I now need to deal with the backlog. This is overwhelming, and starting to bring back the same stress I had in my previous lifestyle. But, once I bite the bullet and get rid of the leftover debt and junk, I've already got the much harder-earned behavioral changes. Plus I'll have less to haul when I do move to the metropolis of my dreams.

Between these three things, I think 2013 is going to be a pivotal year in which I change my life for the better. Or at least get a hell of a lot of shit done.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to Get Your Life Together in Three Simple Steps

It seems that when things get really  tough, the item "get my life together" always makes it on my to-do list. I would venture that this is the  case for a lot of people. I always feel like if I had my life together, my library books wouldn't be late, my laundry would get done, and I wouldn't constantly be flaking out on my family and friends. "Get my life together" is a cure-all balm for every ail in my life, no matter what stage or situation I'm in. If I had my life together, all my problems would be easily manageable.

I know that this is mostly nonsense. No one really has their life together, but like the model with artfully tousled hair or the Ikea catalog where everything is perfectly lived-in and perfectly neat, I can't help but idealize and sigh.

Wishful thinking was only getting me so far though, so I started to look at the systems in my life that did work, like regular credit checks, DVD organization, and grocery shopping. I know the list is haphazard, but these are the things in my life that work like magic, with low investment of my time and high yields of enjoyment and/or functionality. After a few days of analysis, I've developed a simple three-step process to get your life together.

1. Figure out what you love.
2. Eliminate the junk.
3. Go forth and do.

That's it. That's how you get your life together. Before you start yelling at me though, remember that simple and easy are two different things. Easy requires little work, but unless it was set-up with care, easy things often have disposable results. Simple things require effort, but focused effort with purpose, effort that will yield clean, clear, satisfying results. Before you can easily prepare dinner from scratch, you need to do the simple work of de-cluttering, organizing, and stocking your kitchen. Just because something is simple does not mean it's easy, but when you're establishing a routine or behavior, simple preparation will make future execution wonderfully easy.

Let's look more closely at the three simple steps to getting your life together.

1. Figure out what you love.

If you don't know what it is you want to do with your time, why are you bothering to free it up? Do you want to be with family, leave your dent in the universe, or just be free to enjoy a nice drink and a good book on a lovely day? What are your priorities, and how do they fit with both your goals for yourself and the basic necessities of life?

Having a hard time figuring this out? Look at what you like to linger on. Is it a good meal? A relaxing soak in the tub? Your favorite movies? Time spent with friends? What makes your heart sing? What do you "waste" your time on, but don't regret doing?

For myself, I love to cook, knit, garden, read, watch movies and TV, explore the world, keep in touch with family and friends, and spend time with my husband and our dogs. I don't care much for changing my home's look with the seasons, dancing, sporting events, eating fussy hors d'oeurves, quilting, rock climbing, painting, or spending much time with cats. All of these are valid activities, and can be enjoyable, but some I like, and some I don't like. Most importantly, I know which is which.

2.Get rid of the junk.

Junk is anything that gets in the way of your life. It clutters your home and mind, and hinders you from doing what you love, so it must go. Junk includes actual stuff that you don't use or love, routines that take longer than necessary or accomplish more-than-adequate results, behaviors that stifle your enjoyment of things and activities, and relationships that bog down your day or emotions. It will take time to get rid of all the junk, but you'll feel lighter, happier, and more content with each weight you shed from your life. Best of all, when you start to get rid of junk, you'll learn to recognize it quickly, and so be better equipped to keep it from entering your life in the first place.

It's easy (or at least easier) to identify physical junk, but behavioral and emotional junk is a little harder to root out. Do you hate doing dishes? Loathe chatting with your co-workers? Reluctantly do your grocery shopping? Or maybe things that are useful become junk when they're out of place. Are you tripping over clothes on your floor? Always stubbing your toe on that end-table? Frustrated with that floor fan when you don't use it in the winter? Lastly, and most difficultly, maybe your junk comes in the form of important relationships. Do your parents demand too much of your time? How often do your kids come to you when they're bored or hungry? Are there friends in your address book that you don't enjoy seeing anymore?

Once you've found junk in your life, it's important to eliminate it effectively. Purging paperwork is only helpful when you establish a system to keep it under control in the future.  Picking your clothes up off the floor once won't solve the long-term problem. Perhaps you need to place your hamper differently, or designate a corner of your room for a dirty laundry pile. If cooking's not your thing, embrace that. Buy frozen vegetables, canned sauces, and easy-to-prepare pastas and rice. You need to eat, but you don't need to spend a lot of time throwing a healthy meal together. Come up with standard replies to decline things, events, and activities you'd rather not deal with. If I don't want to say "Hell yeah!" to something, I often say "I don't have room for that, but thank you", "I'd love to, but that's just not my thing", and "I'm sorry, I need to ________ right now, but maybe later". Don't worry about explaining yourself; it's your time and resources that are being requested, so it only matters to you why you don't want to spend them.

If your relationships are what cause you problems, you'll need to get rid of the junk more carefully. Getting your life together isn't a good excuse to be insensitive, and some relationships are unavoidable. Setting clear boundaries, not acknowledging petty or belittling comments, and having a firm start and end time for activities are some good techniques for dealing with family members and work superiors.  Finding a different, better-tempered person  helps for clerks, cashiers, and customer service (it also does wonders if you're polite as well). For some relationships, firmly cutting off all contact may be the best solution, though I recommend you try the previous techniques at first, however, I've had to resort to this method for some more extreme, damaging relationships, and though I wish the person all the best, I entirely believe my life is better without them.

Cutting the junk out of your life doesn't mean those things or activities aren't valid or valuable, and limiting time with people doesn't mean you care for them any less; getting rid of junk is about making room for what you love, so that when you do let something into your home or share your time with some one, you can give your best.

3. Go forth and do.

Once you've figured out what you love, and gotten rid of the junk that's in your way, go out and live your life. You keep your house clean so you can have friends over and let your children play without worry. You've prioritize relationships that matter so you can spend time with those people, even if it just means taking an afternoon to talk about nothing in particular. You've streamlined household chores so you can spend more time creating something you love and want to share with the world. While you may have to repeat the first two steps often ( I know I do), don't become bogged down with dreaming and maintenance; go out and enjoy your life. Getting your life together may be a singular item on your to-do list, but maintaining your life is an everyday affair. Once you've invested in the simple work, take advantage of the easy routines to actually live a life you love.