4 Things I’ve Learned (So Far) From #The100DayProject

When I first left my full-time job back in July, I knew I needed to rest and spend time with family, but I also knew that I just had to revive my creativity. After a lot of aimless journaling and randomly taking Skillshare classes (both useful in their own right), I decided to take on a structured creative activity by way of #The100DayProject. In case you don’t know what #The100DayProject is, here’s a helpful little summary from the website

#The100DayProject is a free art project that takes place online. […] The idea is simple: choose a project, do it every day for 100 days, and share your process on Instagram with the hashtag #The100DayProject.”

For my project, I chose to write short, free form poetry, at least four lines each day, but never longer than what would fit on an Instagram story. I would like to make it very clear here that I am not a poet. I took a few poetry classes in college in the mid 2000s, and that’s the extent of it. But I wanted a challenge, and to do something outside of my comfort zone, so poetry it was! Officially, #The100DayProject usually takes place in the spring, but I’m doing mine now, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to bust out of a creative rut or stretch themselves a little. Now that I’m about halfway through my project, I wanted to share a few things I’ve learned so far: 

  1. Sometimes you have to just shove your ideas out into the world. When people talk about deciding to have kids, veteran parents always say, “you’ll never really feel ready.” I agree with this, but I think it applies to so many other things as well, including starting a business or announcing to the world that you’re just trying something new. One of the things that drew me to doing #The100DayProject was the fact that you had to share your project. With other people. Publicly. Even if you didn’t feel ready. Eek.

    Sharing my work is what I struggle with most and the hurdle I knew I needed to overcome if I was ever going to put anything else creative out into the ether. I had essays and ideas I was really proud of, but I felt like I could continue tweaking them forever. I knew if I never got over my fear of sharing with the world, for people to praise or criticize or completely ignore, those things I had written would never see the light of day, and would likely just end up edited to death. So I chose my project as a low-stakes way of getting over this hurdle. As I introduced my project, I let everyone know that I wasn’t taking myself too seriously, and I knew I was not a poet, but I was going to just try something. And after the first poem I posted, it got easier from there, and I stopped worrying so much about whether what I was writing was “ready.”
  1. Sometimes what you create won’t be good, and it might even be pretty bad. I agonized as I was posting my first poem. This is so terrible. Why did I ever think I should punish the world with my messy attempts at poetry? But then a lot of friends told me they thought it was a cool idea, and they admired what I was trying to do, even if they didn’t exactly praise the poem itself. Then, a few poems later people even told me they really liked a couple! And then, other times… no one said anything. Which was fine. Literally no one (so far) has said, “Boo, you suck, what are you even trying to do?” Maybe they’ve thought it, but almost 50 poems in, it doesn’t really matter anymore.
  1. You care more than anyone else. See point #2. I could leave it at that, but seriously, no one cares that you’re trying to do something new and creative, even if it’s an utter failure, unless what you’re doing is harmful to someone else. People might think that what you’re doing is dumb or a waste of time or self-involved, but they will never care as much about your idea or project as you do. Even if they say something mean, they will probably move on with their day, and not think about it again. I took forever to even start posting my poems because I worried about how to format it just so, and how to introduce it, and I just overthought it in general, so much so that my poetry writing was about two weeks ahead of my actual posting. But then, I realized that no one cared, and I just started throwing my poems out there. And the worst that has happened is that I don’t like the poem and no one comments and we all move on. 
  1. Consistency is key. You know how I said sometimes, the work you do just won’t be good? Well if you keep at it, sometimes what you create might just be OK, or even kinda great! I don’t think my poetry, for the most part, is even close to good, but I have had a few poems that I will admit I’m a little proud of. Poems that I thought about throughout the day or that just struck me or that were inspired by something I was really feeling in the moment. But I don’t think that would have happened if I hadn’t been writing something every single day because of this project. For every good thing I write, there are probably 10 (or 100) terrible ones, but I was able to get to a few poems I liked because I kept stumbling my way through. 

Have you done #The100DayProject? Tell me about your project!

If you’re interested in checking out my project for #The100DayProject and my very amateur poetry, check out my Instagram highlights on my Insta page.

Why I’m Not a Mommy Blogger

When talking both about my writing and about things I’ve learned about parenting, I’ve had a few friends say to me, “OMG, you should be a mommy blogger!” I do love to talk about motherhood, including birth stories, nursing/feeding, sleep schedules and tricks, and the weird things that kids love to play with that are not toys. I’ve recommended tips, tricks, and products that my friends who are parents or parents-to-be have reported back on, saying, “this saved us! Thank you!”

Photo by Kristina Paukshtite from Pexels

But I am not going to become a parenting blogger. A few reasons:

  1. My kid has been (so far) pretty easy. I do not say this to brag, but really, in his whole 22 months of life, he has had maybe 4 weeks of really bad sleep. And with the exception of when he is teething, he eats like a champ and is pretty happy. We have some toddler meltdowns over here, but they really don’t seem like anything out of the ordinary, and once he lets it out, he’s back to playing happily. He has not yet faced any developmental issues, and he has been on track (if not well ahead of the curve) on growth milestones. I’m not saying he’s perfect by any means, but with the exception of the funny things he has started saying or doing, or the dumb parenting mistakes we’ve made (ahem, being smug about how easy your kid is? IDK), it’s not that interesting! He eats, he sleeps, he poops, he says funny things, he’s fine and pretty delightful! But what I’m more interested in writing about is how parents’ identities (especially moms’) change when they welcome a child into their lives, and the conflict there, not what I fed him for breakfast (oatmeal, for the 243rd morning in a row).
  2. I’m not a “stuff” person when it comes to my kid. This child outgrows things in mere weeks sometimes, so we tend to not buy him a lot if we can help it (hand-me-down clothes and toys have been our saving grace here). This is not to say I don’t like stuff. I am not immune to the high that comes with the perfect new pair of booties or the random kitchen gadget you didn’t know you couldn’t live without (that my husband makes great use of). But I can probably count on two hands the number of things that I felt were must-haves for my son in the past almost two years of his life. Will I maybe do a roundup of those things at some point? Sure, why not? But could I talk about a product or service I liked for my kid every week or even multiple times a week? Probably not, and I don’t want to force it, when there are so many people who are already good at it and who do it genuinely. But for those curious, I will say: Taking Cara Babies, Peanut changing pad, and maternity leggings worn well after your baby is born for those who hate nursing tanks but also dislike being cold.
  3. I want to write about other stuff. And not have to tie it back to being a mom somehow. When I’m writing, I first and foremost think of myself as a writer, as a person who tells stories and works through things with words. And sometimes, those stories are about my son, or I work through my complicated feelings about motherhood in my writing. But my writing has never been about one thing, and now that I’m a mom, I don’t want that to change. So while I have huge respect for the women who have carved out a niche for themselves in the parenting space (and I have benefited hugely from your recs and experiences!), that is likely never going to be me. I will write about being a mom, but I will also write about high school and college memories that I’m excavating and examining later in life and about the struggle to determine what exactly I want to do with this life I’ve been given. For some parenting bloggers, writing about this one, somewhat broad topic is so freeing and life-affirming. For me, it’s limiting. Both are OK.

So being a mommy blogger is not for me, despite being a writer who happens to be a mom. But bless the moms (and dads!) that can write about parenting and their kids every single day, when I can barely get out a post a week about whatever the hell it is I think about on a daily basis.

5 Things I’ve Learned About Myself at 35

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

The cliche thing to do here would be 35 things I’ve learned about myself by 35, right? But let’s be honest – no one wants to read through a list of 35 things unless it’s a “35 Ways You Know You’re a Millennial” on Buzzfeed (dunkaroos, dial-up, and Delia’s). Plus, it would probably get a little repetitive. So here is a non-exhaustive list of things I have come to know about myself at the age of 35 (and some change)

1. I am not funny

Sure, I say a funny thing or two occasionally. I have brief flashes of wittiness. And I can be very goofy and downright weird, which might elicit a laugh here or there (however uncomfortable). But I’m not generally funny, and I am OK with that. I don’t think that not being funny makes me any less intelligent or fun to be around – you just won’t bust a gut laughing when we hang out. I think timing and the ability to not completely overthink things are key to being funny, and I don’t have either, at least never at the same time. So you can be the funny one, entertaining the group. I’ll just be over here having unnecessarily serious conversations with one person at a time. 

2. I like flexibility but need routine

Having done a little freelance work in the past, and now trying to start that back up, I will say that I love not having a full day of meetings and immediate client needs. I really enjoy being able to do things when the mood strikes or when they make sense to me. Working out at 2pm? Sure! My son is napping. Am I struggling with the motivation to write in the afternoon? No problem, I’ll just shift my day around a bit and write before bed when I’m feeling really inspired. 

However, I still need a routine, and by this I mean, I still need to know I am going to do something every day or a set number of times per week in order to keep up any sort of momentum. When I was on maternity leave last year, I started a few simple habits in order to give my days some sort of structure. I told myself that all I had to do was do 10 squats, 10 pushups, and write a half-page in my journal every single day. In total, these habits probably took 10 minutes out of my day, but they made me feel like I had accomplished something. But I found that if I missed more than a day, I was totally thrown and would feel a little less in control. When I got back on track, I was much calmer, thanks to the consistency, no matter when I did those things during the day. (Side note: I also tracked these habits, and still do, thanks to my friend Rachel’s book “Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide: How to Start and Keep the Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That’ll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together. Highly recommend.) 

3. I’m an introvert

In college, I would have told you that I was tooootally an extrovert. I loved going out and meeting new people, I lived in a house with 72 other women, and was in no less than four extracurriculars at a time. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that this is not the case and that I need downtime by myself. Even when we have guests whom we love staying with us, I need a little time to sit by myself with a book or go for a walk alone. And I do love meeting new people and having conversations, but it’s usually one-on-one, and rarely two days in a row. 

For a while, I thought that perhaps my personality had changed since college and high school, but looking back, I think the early 2000s were just an era of extroversion – being a loud party girl was a sought after “personality,” so that’s what I tried to claim as my own. But in all honesty, while I did love parties and making new friends, I tended to gravitate toward one or two people and hang with them for most of the night. And if my ode to sitting alone in coffee shops didn’t make it clear, I’ll say this: I really, truly hated studying in groups, whether it was at the library or in a cafe. Even when friends would stop by to say hello at one of my regular study haunts, I felt like my private space – my sanctuary! – was being invaded. How did I miss this very obvious aspect of my personality? 

4. I will likely never be early

Look, this isn’t one I’m super proud of, but I’m also not terribly ashamed either. I used to be VERY late to everything, and I came from a family of folks who were chronically late. It was never malicious or an intentional disregard for others’ time; rather it was a very skewed sense of time borne out of optimism. For most of my life, I always thought things would take me wayyy less time than they actually did, and that I could get far more done in an hour than I really could. So then, I would be racing toward the predetermined hour, either just getting out of the shower or frantically attempting to finish the time-intensive project I had started. 

Over time, I’ve gotten a lot better about this. Having lived in two large cities where I relied on public transit, I’ve learned that all travel needs a buffer. And as the years have gone by, I’ve increased those buffers, both on the travel and getting ready side. Whereas before, I would leave exactly 25 minutes before I needed to be there because that’s what Google Maps said, these days I give myself at least 30 extra minutes in order to account for getting lost, Metro mishaps, and parking snafus. (I would also be remiss if I didn’t give my husband, a very punctual person, a little bit of credit here, but I really was working on this on my own before we met and he kind of sped up the process.) I probably will never be the person who gets places 10 or 15 minutes early, but now I am generally on time for most things I attend.

5. I will never be satisfied

This is not a Hamilton thing, nor a commentary on how driven I am. Really, it’s just understanding that I will always want for something. A little more time to perfect something I’ve written. Another piece of cake. A chance to go back in time and do more traveling, taking advantage of the fact that in my 20s, I had friends who briefly lived abroad and a back that could handle broken down pull-out couch mattresses. 

But me never being satisfied doesn’t mean I can’t be happy with the life I have. It just means I have to be OK with sending things I’ve created out into the world before I’m 100% ready, accept that most times one dessert is plenty, and acknowledge that traveling in your 30s when you have a little more disposable income and/or work pays for it is way better anyway (helloooo, business class seat to Madrid for a medical meeting). 

So some stuff I wish I had learned sooner, and some things that I’m continuing to learn about myself. I’m pretty happy with my level of self-awareness these days, but I know there’s no end to the learning about oneself. Maybe in five years, I’ll have a list of 40?

Am I a Writer?

Even though I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, sometimes professionally and sometimes simply for the fun of it, I still ask myself all the time, “Am I a writer?” And I think when I ask myself this, I’m really saying, “but am I a good writer?” and “am I a real writer?” Questions to which I do not – and may never – have the answers. 

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom from Pexels

I have a voice, yes, and I have a good grasp of grammar and sentence structure. I can write technical, dry material, and also more engaging, informal content. I’ve written web copy and press releases to explain the importance of clinical trials, and I’ve written about my opinions and experiences for fun online outlets (someone paid 25 year-old me to write a lot about online dating and weird fitness trends). But still, am I a writer? 

The problem with this question is that, to me, it feels so subjective. Do I write? Yes, objectively, I put words on a page. What I get hung up on is, “well, would anyone actually pay me to do this? Or even like what I’m writing?” Or really, “if writing isn’t ALL I do, am I still a writer?”

I recently chose to leave my job at a healthcare PR and communications agency, and although my entire job consisted of being able to nail down the right words, I often struggled with calling myself a writer or describing myself succinctly outside of my PR title. I led a team of communicators to drive communications strategies for our clients at a large company, where they sat in communications roles. Sure sounds like I wrote, right? I wrote emails and annual plans and internal communications and implementation guides and web content on advances being made in various areas of healthcare. But I did a lot of other stuff too that made me wonder if I was actually a writer. If no one but my team members and clients knew that I wrote those things, if my name was never on the final product, and nothing I wrote was in my voice, was I writer? Over time, I kept asking myself this, and it was like I also forgot I wrote those things, and that I could write other things. And I started to doubt I still had the writing chops I once prided myself on. 

As I’ve thought about this question over the past few weeks, I’ve realized that a lot of this has come from imposter syndrome (hi, yes, this probably was obvious to you, dear reader, from the jump) and a place of self doubt. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel wildly confident in calling myself a writer (even if I published the next great American novel, I might still be questioning my status), but if my main concern with calling myself a writer is that I haven’t put my stamp on enough writing, I guess this is as good a place to start as any. So here I am, writing, and…being a writer. 

Have you ever been hesitant to claim on a title for yourself? Writer, poet, photographer, sculptor, general creative person? 

Dear Me

Recently, I started a 100 Day Project, and I decided to go way out of my comfort zone and write short poems every day. While I don’t think I’m winning a Pulitzer anytime soon, it’s been fun to stretch myself, and it encouraged me to break out my old poetry textbooks from college (and they say an English degree isn’t useful). 

As I was flipped through one of my anthologies, I started to take a closer look at the notes college me had scribbled in the margins, and I have to tell you, I was…a little impressed? I read her notes as she interpreted, questioned, and identified with poetry spanning a century. I was amazed that she had these opinions and insights, and that she shared them so freely – aloud and in writing – and without worry that they were right or wrong. Even now, I can close my eyes and remember sitting in a seminar in Angell Hall, telling my fellow students what I thought of Wordsworth and Plath and Eliot, and asking questions about poetic form and word choice, entirely unembarrassed by my curiosity and excitement about our reading for the day.

That brief time travel was both heartening and a little sad. This young woman was really cool (even if she didn’t think so at the time), and I wondered where she had gone, or if, maybe, she was still hanging around somewhere. And then I started thinking about all of the things I admired about the me of yesteryear, and what I wish I could tell her. 

From the ages of eight to at least 13, I constantly told people that I was going to be a Diva when I grew up (VH1 Divas Live was huge at the time). I had gigantic glasses, terrible teeth, frizzy bangs, and didn’t hit puberty until I was a sophomore in high school, but damn, if I wasn’t confident in the fact that I would be a singer. But then in high school, when I put myself out there and my peers and teachers recognized that I actually could sing, I started to shy away from taking myself as seriously. I scoffed at a girl in my class for trying out for American Idol (I was jealous, let’s be honest), and rolled my eyes when other kids in choir would show off, singing down the halls. As I had earned a reputation as the smart kid by this point, I told everyone I was going to be a doctor when I grew up, laughing at suggestions of attempting music as a career or even a course of study. Even in college, when I sang in an a cappella group, and a few of the musical theater kids in my dorm asked if I was studying music too, I laughed, said no, and secretly told myself I wasn’t special or talented enough to even think about something like that. I wish I could tell the earlier version of me that I admired her gumption and her confidence, and that if she really loved something, there was no harm in trying. 

For 20 year-old me, writing was (and still is) the passion. As I’ve mentioned before, I really loved holing up in a coffee shop every weeknight in college and digging into all of the reading I had to do for class. I loved taking notes, absorbing information, and scribbling down my interpretations of theories and essays and poems. I lived for it, and I felt so alive as my head was overflowing with ideas. And when I got to write, especially creative essays, I felt like I was doing what I was always meant to do. One of my professors told me that she thought I should seriously consider a career in writing, and I remember glowing for the rest of the week. But then I got scared, and I didn’t even apply to write for the college newspaper, didn’t show anyone but my classmates my work, and didn’t seek out any internships except for a local alternative newspaper in my hometown, where there wasn’t a ton of competition for the summer arts writer job. I made (and sometimes still make) excuses that I couldn’t pursue writing in and immediately after college because I couldn’t afford to do unpaid internships in big cities or didn’t have the connections many of my classmates did. While privilege is a very real factor in getting started in certain industries, today’s me knows that 2007 me was just really, really scared to try. 

I wish I could tell college me, and 20s me, (and sometimes early 30s me) that my insights and opinions and whatever amount of talent I had were worth sharing, that being scared of trying (and I mean really trying, not starting two blogs and abandoning them just when I was starting to gain a following) was never going to get me anywhere. I want to tell younger me that avoiding rejection was not protecting me, but setting me up for future disappointment. That opportunities were meant to be seized, even when it seemed a little scary to take them. That while doing what you love seems hard now, it’s a lot harder when you have responsibilities and other people who rely on you. 

The point here isn’t to tell you (or past me) how talented I was and how much potential I squandered (I’m doing fine), but to tell us both that fear can really do a number on you. And that I wish I hadn’t let it hold me back the way I did. I guess I just really want to tell younger me that she needs to be scared but still try. Not just try at the things she knows she’ll be good at, but at the things she could fail at, but that she genuinely loves. I’m not a big proponent of the “your career must be your passion” philosophy, but I do think that having something you’re excited about – at work or in your free time – makes it a lot easier to get up in the morning. And I want to tell her to hang onto that, even when things seem like they’re not going anywhere or there’s no point, or it’s not what’s paying the bills. I want to tell her to hang onto those things that make her HER.  

Reading my old notes and journals is sometimes incredibly cringey, but sometimes it also feels like a perfect distillation of me. Things I still believe, along with things I know better about now. While I wouldn’t change where I am now (I have a great life with a wonderful partner and really cute kid in a city I love), part of me would love for younger me, in another universe, to go off and do the things I never did, to see where it landed her. To give things a go that I was too nervous to. To say yes to unlikely opportunities earlier than I started to. To just…try and see what happens. At 16, at 22, at 35.

The body I need right now

Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I looked at my legs while I stretched, and I thought, huh, these are just my legs. And I thought about how 15 years ago, I was embarrassed by my legs, thinking they were too big, too bulky, too athletic, despite being told otherwise, honestly, quite often. I remember one friend being surprised I didn’t like my legs, and saying to me while we were at the beach one summer day, “but you have beautiful legs, why would you not like them?” And I just thought, how is that I can look at my legs and shrug now, when years ago, they made me nervous to take off my shorts at the beach?

I am no longer the athletic, small person I was in college. Not even close. Yet I have more acceptance of my body – both what it looks like and what it can do – and that acceptance seems to build with each passing year. But this year has really brought into sharp relief how okay I am with my body. Sometimes neutral, sometime positive, and rarely and naturally the slightest bit negative. Despite having had a child that has widened my hips and dropped my boobs, I look at my body and mostly just shrug. And on occasion, give her a wink when I’m looking strong or feeling particularly saucy in a favorite dress (probably one I am just trying on in the middle of a pandemic to make myself feel some semblance of normal). 

I sometimes wonder if I am accepting of my body because I’ve settled into a good place with it, an equilibrium of sorts. I work out or don’t, eat well or don’t, and I might go up or down 5 lbs, but that’s it, and with no real conscious effort anymore. And when it does change, I am not really pleased or displeased, one way or another. I am not small, but I am not big, I just am. I don’t use either word pejoratively, just as relative descriptors. And that “am,” that equilibrium, has put me in this medium place where I am bigger than my college-aged, compact yet insecure self, but smaller than I was for the majority of my 20s, than before I had my son. And I think, am I ok with my body because I am closer to my former ideal than I was say, five years ago? Or perhaps it’s because I am closer to the very normal body I had before I started thinking about my body so much? Or because I am actually just good with this body? And today’s answer is this: I am ok with today’s body, because it is the body I need right now.

This is the body I need now. It is strong enough to lift my gigantic toddler and soft enough to be a nice place to snuggle while watching Sesame Street. Athletic enough to run a mile or two when I want or need to, but not so obsessed with working out and fine tuning that I have no energy left for creative or emotional pursuits. It can be pushed, but knows to yell out when it’s in pain and needs a break, because now I actually listen to it when it tells me to slow down.

The body I had in college was not the body I needed then. It consumed my thoughts and allowed only so much time for me to not consider what it looked like. It had to work so very hard to be what it was. Conversely, the body I had in my early and mid 20s, after I went on antidepressants and gained a significant amount of weight, partially due to the medication and partially due to unresolved issues I tamped down with food, was not the body I needed then either. It didn’t know how to tell me what it required to function physically and let me function emotionally (and to be fair, I would not have known how to listen even if it had shouted my name).

But since my late 20s, my body has worked with me and for me, it started talking to me again, telling me who and what it needed to be. Maybe it’s the pandemic (I think we could all stand to sympathize with our bodies a little more right now, and at least try to listen to them in this weird time) and all of the uncertainty in the world, or maybe, for me, it’s just age and being tired of fighting with myself and who I am naturally, in body and in mind. But here it is. A body (and a whole self, really) I am still building a relationship with, but a body that is becoming the one I need, more and more every day.