It Ain’t Even a Problem (a year in retrospect)

“It has been a year since [your last post] was published…” Eeeek. Actually, make that a year plus a month and a half, if we’re getting technical. And getting back into writing—or, more specifically, writing where others can see it—feels just as hard as it felt to begin this thing in the first place.

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Dash, zero, and zero. Thanks for the stats, WordPress.

But, I’ve always been a big believer in new beginnings, and it’s week one of January of a new year, which means I can still pretend I’m going to stick to my New Year’s resolutions, be they ever amorphous. I tend to just roll the same ones over from year to year. Be healthy, be mindful, obviously write more, be kinder to myself, and new this year: give fewer fucks. (In the past I called this ‘worry less,’ but it’s essentially the same). I recently read Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, full of so much simple but genius country wisdom, and one line stuck with me: “I’ve told my deputies more than once that you fix what you can fix and you let the rest go. If there aint nothin to be done about it it aint even a problem.” In other words, don’t worry about what you can’t change.

Well, I can’t change the fact that I’ve neglected my writing for over a year now, but I can pick up where I left off. In all fairness—and now comes the being kind to myself part—there were quite a few things that happened in 2016. Since I want to have something to show (here) for this past year, I’ll go ahead and list them. I helped my newly retired parents clean out the home I grew up in and move across the country. I wedding-planned like crazy and got married. I helped my sister and brother-in-law move into a new house, and then they had a baby and made me an aunt. And in between all that, there were three good friends’ weddings, bachelorette parties and bridal showers and baby showers oh my, classes, big job changes for both me and my husband, a honeymoon in Italy. So, major events and big life changes. It was one of the busiest years of my life, but also happiest, filled with so many good things and lots of time with family and friends. 

And now, I’m back, bitches! Another year older/wiser, as they say. Although I prefer to think that I never actually left, just took a little hiatus.

dont-call-it-ho1fgu

I’ve been here for years.

Making time to write and allowing my ideas to grow and breathe is still challenging, and perhaps it always will be. But I’m determined to keep going. And I’m still working towards that MFA and getting a novel on its way to the bookshelves. I have to write it first, of course.

Cheers to all the other turtles out there who are moving at their own pace. Here’s to writing more often and more freely this year, and ignoring the aint-even-problems. Happy 2017!

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What am I doing with my life? Sarah’s Hallmark special

I questioned my life choices twice yesterday.

The first was after my fiancé and I met with a potential photographer for our engagement and wedding photos. She had this amazing studio/living space in trendy South Boston. It had a loft-type feel: wood beams, exposed brick, big windows, the works. The building was full of artists; paintings and photos adorned the walls.

I grew up visiting art galleries and openings with my dad, hanging out in the studio space where he taught his classes, going to strange places to salvage colorful materials for the potential art projects of our dreams. That studio space feels like home to me, in a way. I used to love to draw and make collages, to make anything. I still do.

vintage artist ad

If only.

Walking back to our apartment, I said to Krys: “Doesn’t being in a space like that make you want to make art?” He is a fellow creative soul. “Yes,” he said, without hesitation. “What am I doing with my life?” I cried. “Why didn’t I become an artist?” “Sarah,” he said. “You’re writing. You’re on the right path. You’re doing just fine.”

The second time I questioned myself was later on in the day, watching made-for-TV Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel. A guilty pleasure. I was recovering from a cold, and amidst blankets and Kleenex, watching Matchmaker Santa, I moaned, again, this time to myself: “Really, what am I doing with my life?”

I see your disapproving look, the mom from Home Improvement. (Hallmark movie: Snow Bride.)

Can our engagement photos be this? I see your disapproving look, the mom from Home Improvement. (Hallmark movie: Snow Bride.)

Being sick can make you feel delirious, which might be why I was being so dramatic. But it can also force you to sit down and relax. If you can. Of course, even lounging isn’t as fun if you’re sick. Your tastebuds are off, you’re sneezing every five seconds, and you’re watching those Hallmark movies through an added layer of fog (which is probably for the best). But, if you’re like me, a chronic multi-tasker with a million things to do and a high stress level, doing nothing on a weekday can seem perplexing, even troubling. (Note: on weekends and holidays, or after a long day, I’m perfectly content to morph into a vegetable on the couch.)

The previous day, I left work early because I was sick, so I went home to crash on the couch…but not before making a pit stop at the grocery store, throwing in a load of laundry, and getting out my homework. It was only 1:30 in the afternoon. So many hours ahead of me! I should clean, I thought. I should wedding plan. Catch up on my reading. Catch up on correspondences. Am I too sick to go for a run? And then I should work on my novel. Then—

What? I said back to myself, my rational side kicking in. Sarah, you feel like shit. Make some tea, get a blanket, wholly embrace this bad movie, and sit the fuck down.

Colin from Fir Crazy

Come on. How could watching this be a poor use of time? (Colin graduated from Whose Line Is It Anyway? to a Hallmark movie called Fir Crazy.)

Yes, even when I’m telling myself to relax, I’m really hard on myself. And thinking I can conquer the world with a few extra hours of time is deluded. But free time is so hard to come by, it’s hard not to get overly ambitious when I have it. And then I beat myself up if I don’t use it properly.

Doesn’t relaxing kind of negate itself when you beat yourself up for doing it?

I’m learning that stress, or having a high level of it, all the time, is its own sickness. My mind is going constantly, and there are times I don’t know how to stop it. I don’t truly think I chose the wrong career path (and I don’t need a studio space in South Boston to create art) and there are worse things you can do than enjoy the occasional poorly-acted Hallmark movie. But I know I need to be kinder to myself, know that I’m doing okay, and that I’m on the right path. Even if it gets interrupted by a cold now and then.

A Lego Year: Little Girl Blue

It has been the year for Legos. I bought The Lego Movie as a Valentine’s Day present for my boyfriend; we watched it at least twice that weekend, and rocked out with Tegan, Sara, and the Lonely Island. (When you’re snowed in for several weekends in a row, these things happen.) I continued the theme for his birthday, getting tickets to a Lego fest and gift subscription to BrickBox, a monthly mailing of a Lego tee and toys and stuff every month. I also won girlfriend of the year; we can just acknowledge that briefly.

I’ve gotten into Legos myself a bit as a result. I mean, you can build anything you want! They make Lego everything. I’m now the proud owner of little unicorn lady, which I love, and a build-your-own figure, who has become my little personal totem. Legos are fun. They allow you to be creative and it’s important for, you know, that whole inner child thing. (Yeah, we’re in our 30’s, so what?)

Unicorn Lego lady

Where can I get this outfit in real life?

Krys and I went to the Lego store this past weekend, and couldn’t resist the build-your-own figure bin. While we were hard at work assembling our little people, or creatures, or whatever, a young dad with his little girl came in to put together a figure. I heard him explain to her: “Well, it looks like they don’t really have a lot of parts for girls, so you can’t really build a surfer girl, but you can make a surfer boy. Here’s the surfer outfit, and, well girls don’t wear tank tops like that, do they?”

I gave that cute 7-year-old girl a conspiratorial glance, and said, “I do.” She grinned.

The dad, to his credit, said, “Oh! Well, see? She does! So you can be like her.” Hell to the yes. It just hadn’t occurred to him before. Putting a female head on a male-looking torso? Craziness! I wonder what would have made the torso more feminine…little detachable Lego boobs? I almost forgot, they do make Legos for girls now. (Except I’m not going to lie: the Dolphin cruise ship looks pretty awesome.)

lego friends dolphin cruiser

All I want this Christmas.

Two things that he said really stood out: You can’t and Girls don’t. Here’s the thing. Even when talking about something as seemingly innocuous as clothing, saying “girls don’t” is harmful. Kids absorb that shit, and now she’s going to grow up thinking she can’t a) wear certain clothes, and b) build something however she envisions it. And by the way, this is what my bad-ass Lego surfer chick looks like:

Lego surfer girl

“But why don’t I have boobs?”

Girls and women are told all the time we can’t do things. One of my very first memories is from preschool, when I declared to the world that my favorite colors were pink, purple, and blue. A little boy told me I couldn’t like blue because it was a boy’s color. (I hated him and still love blue.) Just the other day a man told me, “jokingly,” that “men are better at giving speeches than women.” Thank God he told me that so I don’t ever embarrass myself!

I didn’t play with Legos when I was little, and I loved my Barbies and PollyPocket. But it’s never too late to get in touch with your inner Lego self. And make whatever the hell you want to.

S is for: springtime, scooters, sentiment, and Stella

It’s springtime in Boston, and when the weather turns warm, my thoughts always wander back to my first love: Stella.

Me in France, circa 2008.

Me in France, circa 2008.

When I was living in a little French coastal town where trains didn’t go, buses were rare, and where I often relied on co-workers for rides or a borrowed bicycle, renting a scooter was my key to partial freedom. I don’t remember what brand it was and it didn’t go very fast, but coasting by the glittering Côte d’Azur seashore, riding the winding stretch of road between my lonely apartment and my somewhat directionless job, became the best part of my day.

forrest gump

Damn straight.

I felt like I had purpose, like Forrest Gump after discovering the joy of running.

A few years later, after I had moved to Boston, buying my own scooter gave me those familiar feelings of freedom and joyous independence. I’d had a rocky couple of years dealing with that whole trying-to-figure-out-life thing that occurs in your mid-to-late 20’s (or the entirety of your 20’s, for some of us)—and I was in limbo, not really knowing what the hell I was doing. I hated my job and was terrified of getting stuck in it, and was living on the outskirts of town where public transportation wasn’t the best with a volatile, bizarre set of roommates I had found on Craigslist (they always seem so normal at first, don’t they?). It was a strange time. The bus from my weird apartment to my weirder job came about once an hour, so you were kind of screwed if you missed it; the commute took over an hour, and it was, well, the bus. Even though a couple of years had passed since France, I found myself back in the same situation, albeit with more friends and family nearby.

So I decided to buy a scooter. This time I wanted the real thing: a Vespa, and one with a little more oomph. And this one would be all mine. It was a black one, an LX 150  (which means it can go up to about 60 miles per hour as opposed to a 50cc scooter, which only reaches about 40. Technically the higher speed ones are classified as motorcycles, so I had to get a motorcycle permit, which is pretty bad-ass…but I digress). I got a pink helmet, and I even convinced the sales guy to swap out the seat with pink lining from the all-pink Vespa to match.

She was perfect. I named her Stella.

It had been a few years since I had last ridden a scooter, so I was a tad nervous about jumping back on the wagon. Before leaving with my Vespa the sales guy said to me: “If you’re feeling nervous, you can just ease out of here the back way; there won’t be as much traffic and you can go a little slower.” He paused, I considered. Then he said: “Or, you could just ride right out onto Comm Ave. into the sunset like a fuckin’ cowboy.”

Well. When you put it that way…the decision was obvious.

Riding Stella was amazing, if I could put one word to it. Others that come to mind: invigorating, ridiculously fun, and again—freeing. I don’t think I stopped smiling during that entire first ride.

Actual me, circa 2011.

Actual me, circa 2011 in Boston.

Stella and I were inseparable. I rode her all around town; she took me on errands and to work every day, even when it got pretty cold or was raining. Just like when I was living in France, that commute turned into the best part of my day. I have never owned my own car. I know that people who love their cars will say, “it’s my baby.” Stella was mine.

Naysayers told me how dangerous it was, a silly, impractical purchase. My mom was, of course, freaking out. Contrary to popular opinion, it was actually really practical (I could go on about easy parking, the incredible gas mileage, much lower cost and less maintenance than a car, etc…), and I reasoned that it couldn’t be any more dangerous than riding a bicycle or even walking in Boston. And I would be careful.

Then one sunny August day, I was riding along happily, on my way to work (correction: semi-happily), and I pulled up behind a landscaping truck with a trailer hitched to the back at an intersection. We were sitting at a red light, waiting for it to turn green. Then, suddenly, the trailer started going in reverse, without warning (because WHO BACKS UP AT A RED LIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF AN INTERSECTION? The answer is Boston drivers). I sat there for a split second in shock, because I couldn’t process what was happening, and it happened so fast. Even when they hit me, I thought they would feel something and stop, but they just kept on going. I jumped off and got out of the way, standing there at the side of the road, waving my arms and screaming at them to stop, stop, STOP!!!!! and “What the fuck are you doing??!” They dragged my poor Stella a good ten feet before the idiots finally saw me, a sobbing, madly gesticulating girl in a pink helmet, face red from fury. One of my shoes had come off.

I was fine, save a minor sprained ankle and my feelings. A fire truck came needlessly and they made me take an ambulance ride to the hospital, which was quite exciting. But Stella. Poor, poor Stella. Done for. The only visible damage was the scratch on her side, but it was enough. She was totaled. I was unspeakably sad.

I'll get over it eventually (sniff).

I’ll get over it eventually (sniff).

The best part is obviously that I was unhurt; also, the landscapers were clearly at fault, so the cost of everything was covered and I got a decent settlement, so you could actually say I came out ahead. But I still miss Stella dearly. She and I had a good run for about a year and three months.

It wouldn’t really be practical now for me to get another scooter. I’m lucky that I can walk to work, and can ride the T or my boyfriend’s car anywhere else. I’m happy with my life and the direction it’s going. But I get sad and happy and envious all at once when I see someone riding a scooter. Because I know what it feels like.

Maybe one day I’ll get Stella 2.0. I still have the cover and a bunch of Microfiber polishing cloths, wax, and tire shine spray (impulse purchase) that I never used.

And I still have my pink helmet.

Someday.

Someday.

Do what you love, and watch Ally McBeal

That a month and a half has passed between my first post and this one goes to show how tough it is finding time to write when you work full-time. It can be a frustrating, fragmented process, in which multi-tasking skills are truly put to the test. This post alone took several sittings, and I had no idea what the hell I was even writing about. I know what you’re thinking, because I’m thinking it, too: But Sarah, you have to make time to write. It’s true, and I do waste a lot of time just getting sucked into the internet hole. But besides the internet, that other thing, life, gets in the way.

Inspiration strikes at some of the most inconvenient times and in awkward places. The other day I was taking on the T to work, post-gym, in full-out bag lady mode with my gym backpack and my work bag and my purse, standing up, packed in with the rest of the cattle, and sweating under all of my confused Spring weather layers…and all of these ideas started coming to me. Not a great time to want to write. Ideas also grace me with their presence during my harried walk to work, teasing me, inspired in part I’m sure by all of the crazy characters one encounters in any city. I keep walking, excited to jot down ideas and notes as soon as I get to my desk…

…and then I open my work email and the workday begins, and those ideas scurry away and hide like shy little animals. (See further elaboration on what work does to my ideas)

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Me at work, most days.

When I get home, inexplicably exhausted from sitting in front of a computer, well, I usually don’t feel like writing then either. If I’m not doing laundry and all that other necessary household stuff, my inner petulant child kicks in. I rebel against my self-assigned tasks (and my diet) and zone out in front of Ally McBeal reruns, my Netflix fix as of late, with some wine and a box of Cheez-Its. Writing suddenly feels like homework, and chores and homework are less appealing than being lazy, which I have a right to do, dammit!

The Onion has it right, though: “Do what you love…in between work commitments, and family commitments, and commitments that tend to pop up and take immediate precedence over doing the thing you love. You deserve the chance—hell, you owe it to yourself—to pursue those dreams when you only have enough energy to change out of your work clothes and make yourself a half-assed dinner before passing out.” (Yep. Sigh.)

In all seriousness, though, I love writing. So finding making time to write is part of the reason I have decided to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. I hemmed and hawed about it for a long time for many reasons, but I couldn’t be happier about my decision to do it! It will provide me with the structure I need, motivation to pursue writing as an actual vocation, and a network of actual published authors with a lot of experience. I already know that many of the professors are awesome, and the school is covering the cost, because I work there.

So here’s to pursuing your passion in between work hours and sleeping, between bill-paying and dishes, and everything else that tries to get in the way. And relaxation time IS important too. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go catch up with Ms. McBeal.

Embracing imperfections with Nutella

I’m a huge procrastinator, and a perfectionist, two qualities that can paralyze a writer. For me, they go hand-in-hand. The other day I sat down, gave my computer a cursory nod, and then jumped up to make tea and a snack. As I sat on the couch paying more attention to my homemade Dunkaroos than my keyboard (Biscoff cookies + Nutella: the refined, Italian Dunkaroos), I convinced myself that this was all part of the creative process. I was writing about my year in France, where I used to binge eat Nutella, among other things. I was waxing nostalgic; the Nutella was totally helping me get into that mindset. I could talk more about my procrastination methods, which are more complex than junk food consumption, but that’s boring, so I’ll move on to the perfectionist part of the equation.

What a delightful little presentation.

What a delightful little presentation.

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for some time now, but would find any number of excuses as to why I shouldn’t. Blogs are self-serving and egotistical, I thought, so smug in my humility. Why is it that people think their shit is sooo important that others would want to read it? In reality that was self-conscious me thinking: Who would want to read MY stuff? Other silly excuses consumed me: My blog needs a theme. I really need to have a content marketing strategy first (that’s my work life talking). And so on.

I talked about the perfection thing with my dad, a wonderful professor and talented artist, who knows firsthand the desire for creation. I said, “I can’t just put something out there that’s not done yet! I want to wait until I have something ready for people to see.” I was really attached to this idea, that I would work on a novel quietly and then unleash something beautiful and perfect to the world. “Where in the world have you been hiding?” The critics would sing my praises, literally, to that tune from Phantom of the Opera. (And I thought blogging was egotistical? I was in my 20’s then; I knew nothing.) My dad shook his head, and said, “If you wait until you think something’s perfect, it won’t happen. You can’t do that to yourself.” I have the same problem with my sketchbooks, too, even now—I love to draw, so why can’t I just let myself draw? It’s not like I’m being commissioned to create a freakin’ masterpiece for the Louvre.

In the writing workshop I’m taking, my professor challenged us to think about whether or not we would critique others’ stories so hard if we knew who wrote them. For example, if you read a story that’s just so-so, but it has F. Scott Fitzgerald’s name on it, would you think it’s amazing? The same story written by a budding writer might be ripped to shreds by critics. He said that, sometimes, a writer just needs that first stamp of approval by someone important in order to be accepted by others. He’s right, if you think about it (and that concept is pretty annoying). So, before I’m discovered by David Sedaris and he takes me in as his protégée, and then writes the forwards to my books, I have to put myself out there. So I think that’s what blogging is, or can be: giving yourself that first stamp of authority first, and say, I have the right to write; I give myself the permission to tell my stories. If people want to read them, great, and if not, that’s fine, too.

This is getting long, but one last anecdote: The other day my friend and I were laughing about stuff we used to write when we were younger, and how embarrassing it is to think about now: those passive-aggressive away messages I would leave on my AIM in college, thinking I was so coy, or song lyrics that I thought were so deep and meaningful (eeeeek…); that drunk Facebook message you sent to an ex, or the email rant you sent to a friend when you were mad. (At least those away messages are gone; Facebook messages and emails you can’t delete.) All cringe-worthy and embarrassing stuff. But, at the same time, if that’s how I was feeling at the time, then so be it. I’ll probably look back in 10 years on things I write now, and think, What the hell was I talking about? How young and naïve I was, and how wise I am now, ho, ho, ho. 

But imperfect me, and imperfect blog, here we are now, and that’s what matters. There will probably be feminist rants (get over it) and curse words (sorry, Mom); random stories, and absolutely zero “content strategy.” Working things out “on paper” and evolving is part of the creative process. And, of course, Nutella.