March has us all feeling some type of way this year. Tired, hopeful, bored, in disbelief, at our wit’s ends.
I personally feel all of the above. And while I’m trying to get past these and through them and acknowledge them and absorb all of these feelings, today I am also trying to find the glimmers of beauty and wonder in the mundane.
So today, I am grateful for our coffee pot that keeps the coffee warm without burning it.
I am thankful that Zingerman’s cinnamon raisin bread freezes so well, allowing me to pull out the loaf my in-laws sent us a few months ago to experience a little novelty in my breakfast routine, when nothing else feels new.
I am grateful for 60-degree weather that has my two-year-old running up and down the street and across our tiny city yard, chasing after bubbles and chalking our entire front porch in thick layers of blue, pink, and purple dust.
I am thankful for open windows that let the neighborhood sounds float in, even if they also let ants in.
I am grateful for books that zoom across the Internet and onto my Kindle as soon as another reader is done with them at the library, giving me a place to escape to when the outside world and social media are what I need escaping from.
I am thankful that the songs my son likes to fall asleep and dance to are not annoying (yet), and I don’t mind when they get stuck in my head when he’s not around.
I think sometimes the big things we’re thankful for – health, family, friends, jobs, roofs over our heads – are easy to rattle off and then ultimately take for granted. So today I’m attempting to see the trees rather than the forest, the drops rather than the ocean, the crumbs rather than the whole (Zingerman’s) loaf. I hope as you’re slogging through this home stretch, you can find the little miracles for yourself, too.
In between all of the “I’m fine” and the “You know, as well as can be expected” responses, how are we all truly doing?
I’ll tell you how I am.
I’m lonely. I’m not alone, as I have my husband and very cool two-year-old to hang out with, but I am lonely. I crave seeing my girlfriends for an occasional wine or coffee date. I want a hug from my sister who lives an hour away. I’m even desperate for annoying coworkers, so I have something to talk to my husband about that is not “this thing I saw on the Internet.” I am so very, very lonely.
And my loneliness is what makes me scroll endlessly, looking for community on the Internet, staying up too late to read or watch or comment on just one last thing to make me feel connected. It’s what makes me prod my husband into saying he’s not bored or annoyed with me, even though we spend literally 24/7 together, and I am sometimes annoyed with him, despite the fact that he is the type of person that literally no one has ever called annoying (me, on the other hand…). It’s what makes me talk and talk, hoping for a response from someone, anyone, even though the only someones in my house are my husband and the aforementioned two-year-old, because I just can’t stand to hear myself think about this pandemic and the state of our very isolated world and how long this has been going on anymore. It’s what makes me want to write, but also not write, because maybe I don’t want to put pen to paper and let all of this come out, to admit these things to myself. Instead, I shall admit them to strangers on the Internet, dribbles here, drops there, but never the waterfall that probably needs to flow freely to just get. it. all. out.
These past 11 months have really shaken things up for everyone, huh? Obviously, this has been an incredibly tragic time in the nation’s and the world’s history, but it’s also just been…weird. On top of finding ourselves doing things we never thought we would have to do (homeschool/supervise distance learning, set up makeshift offices, keep face masks on us at all times), I feel like we’ve found ourselves doing things we never thought we would want to do. People across the US became bread bakers, interior designers, amateur mask makers…the list goes on. We found our worlds turned upside down and adjusted and coped as best we could. I know I, for one, did a lot of things I never expected to in a million years.
I cut my own hair: Full disclosure, I had totally trimmed a split end here or there, but I left the big cuts to the pros. About a month ago, though, I got really desperate as my hair was unintentionally reaching mermaid territory, and not in a cute way. I was looking…is feral the right word here? I’m not sure. But it was taking forever to detangle and dry this mane, so something had to be done. So I found a random video on YouTube, and cut several inches off my hair, and even added layers. Is it a professional cut? No. But does it look pretty good when curled? Actually, yes.
We got a TP subscription service: Like, toilet paper wasn’t something I really enjoyed shopping for, but it was an afterthought, something I picked up at the store when we were running low. But right before the pandemic started, I decided to get our household on a greener path, and looked into bamboo toilet paper. I signed up for Reel TP, along with Blueland hand soap, in probably late February, and boy, am I glad I did! Knowing TP and soap were going to be delivered to me, and I wouldn’t have to fight someone at Safeway for them was a real relief. Still, I didn’t expect I would ever get literally everything delivered to my door.
I took up a bunch of creative projects (like, more than normal): I’ve always loved to write nonfiction, and always have a million other ideas floating around in my head, but this pandemic, I actually started a novel (then started another after I scrapped the first idea), wrote 100 poems, and even contemplated starting a TikTok (I legit have a video script written out, we’ll see if I work up the courage to do it in the next 5 years). Follow-through rate is not super high, but actually starting some of my more random ideas is new for me.
I went on a podcast: I joined Jenn from the “How Did You End Up There?” podcast to talk about my career in PR and communications, which, funny enough, had just come to a screeching halt. (I laugh to keep from crying at what the pandemic has done to women’s careers over the past 12 months). So we talked about my job, less than a month after I quit, but we also had a great conversation about the sacrifices women have had to make – both with their families and with their careers – during this really strange time.
I quit my job: Speaking of which…I’ve talked about this before, but I had been looking to make a change, to see what else was out there in the field of communications for a while. I did not, however, expect to completely quit my job with nothing lined up because of a global pandemic that left parents the world over scrambling for childcare (or attempting to work while watching kids and overseeing distance learning). It came down to feeling like a good mom or a good employee – and at the time, I felt like neither – so I picked being a good parent, who wasn’t constantly so stressed and anxious that she also started to layer on the worry that she was missing out on so much, not only because of work, but because her stress was messing with her actual long-term memory. Permanent SAHP life (or even part-time freelance like I’m doing now) is probably not for me, but I am really glad I made this decision.
What have you done this pandemic, whether you wanted to or not, that you never expected to in this lifetime?
I love writing. I love getting the words, the stories, the thoughts out. I love writing the things that I wish I could have read at a different time in my life, that I could have related to, that would have made me feel more understood and less alone. I love working out the tangled ideas in my head and putting them down in a coherent way on paper.
But I don’t really have a niche. I don’t have one thing I like writing about a ton, and every time I try to narrow it down, I start feeling claustrophobic. I feel scattered, even though I know what I want to say when I sit down at my computer. I’m a mom, but I’m not a mom blogger. I like clothes and beauty but I’m not a lifestyle blogger. And I don’t feel like an expert in anything – I couldn’t tell you how to become a PR pro or how to organize your life or even how to write a blog post. The only thing I have become an expert at is abruptly changing my mind about the direction of my life, and somehow sticking the landing, even if it’s really ugly. Though I can’t tell you how I do it, so maybe I’m not an expert, and it’s just privilege and luck.
Anyway, I’m struggling to find my niche and to establish my “personal brand” as a writer, because, honestly, I’m a dabbler. I have a lot of random interests, and I like to talk about a lot of different things with different people. With some friends I talk about skincare, with others I talk about books, and with others I talk about mental health. And with strangers on the internet, I talk about pretty much everything.
So if you have a niche, how’d you find it? How did you decide that you were an X writer or blogger? Share your secrets!
You know the fun little icebreaker, where people ask you to say something unexpected about yourself? I usually tell the group something about how I got to sing backup for a favorite mom crooner in college or how I randomly went to Vegas two days before Thanksgiving my junior year of college (I was very straightlaced and my parents were shocked and unhappy!). But one thing I always forget to mention is that once upon a time, I was a cheerleader.
While some might not be super surprised if they met me only at one point or another in my life, friends who have known me for a long time understand why this might make them laugh. But alas, the awkward pictures of 13-year-old me sitting amongst the blue and gold pom poms do exist, so despite the fact that it was a short-lived phase, and I wasn’t all that good at it, there is no escaping that it happened.
I was always an athlete (and I very much consider cheerleaders athletes, this post is no shade to them), but I was more of an individual sports kinda gal. Swimming and track were my chosen athletic pursuits for most of my life, because I got to be by myself and, aside from relays, no one directly relied upon me for their own success. I was a pretty decent swimmer, but still, not having that external pressure was part of why I enjoyed it so much. I also was incredibly shy for most of my adolescence, and talking to new people or being the center of attention made me blush and stutter. While I did end up being a theater/choir kid later in high school, that felt so different – I was either playing someone else or only the center of attention for the length of a solo I had practiced and practiced for.
Now, growing up, I always had friends, but I was never what you might call “popular.” These days, I’m pretty thankful for that, actually, but in middle school, I desperately wanted to be cool. Sixth and seventh grade in particular were tough as friends all around me were growing up at different rates – both physically and emotionally – and it felt like there was a major reshuffling of the social order. Being smart and having niche interests were no longer cool – but being able to do your hair, talk to boys, and make the latest Limited Too fashions fit into our Catholic school dress code were, like, the coolest. So my bespectacled, late-to-the-puberty-party self, who was terrified of the opposite sex but the proud winner of all spelling bees despite my classmates’ rolling eyes, didn’t know where she fit anymore.
In seventh grade, though, I had the chance to become a cheerleader. Blame all of the 90s teen romcoms we all watched, but I thought that this was my chance. I could reinvent myself, get the boys who played football to pay attention to me, and officially become cool. Friends, try to act surprised here, but that was not to be. I was still me, but now I had to wear a short skirt that only emphasized my knobby knees as I was thrown into the air (and dropped a fair amount, if we’re being honest) in our more impressive stunts, which made me even less confident about speaking to aforementioned football players on the sidelines. It was…not what I imagined it would be. I kept it up, since – often to my detriment – I refuse to quit things I hate, but I decided that cool just was not in the cards for me. I settled for simply making a few new friends before high school and continued on my nerdy way outside of cheering, winning spelling bees and showing off in English class.
Sometimes I still think about how I was sure certain things in high school and middle school were going to change my life, or at least my social standing, and I get such horrible secondhand embarrassment for teen me. Like cheerleading, like asking a boy I barely knew to freshman year Sadie Hawkins (he said no), like rolling my eyes at people in my honors classes who I genuinely thought were nice and interesting, just because the rest of our grade deemed them “nerdy.”
I don’t know why I was so convinced I needed to change (and I am really glad my “AP class mean girl” schtick didn’t last long), because I was fine where I was, the way I was. I wasn’t an outcast, but I marched to the beat of my own drum a lot of the time, and it just wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Few actively disliked me, but I was sort of a benign curiosity to folks outside of my friend circle. I was an athlete who was weirdly obsessed with 60s fashion, got good grades, and surprised everyone senior year by trying out for the musical and getting a lead role (“what’s that girl’s name? The one who can sing but I didn’t even know went here?”). In short, there was good, there was bad, but ultimately, it was all just fine. I didn’t have to endure the trauma of being mean-girled but also, sometimes people in my homeroom (that we shared for four years) forgot my name and called me Megan. And I wish I would have known that it was all fine then – that I was just who I was meant to be at the time. That I didn’t need to try so hard and that I could just like the things and people I liked. Maybe if I had known all of that, I wouldn’t have tried out for cheerleading and bruised my tailbone so many times.
I think we were all kind of hoping for a fresh start in 2021. But, uh…that certainly didn’t happen, huh? I think with COVID numbers soaring, unemployment numbers continuing to look pretty bad, and an attempted coup on our government, we’re all feeling a little unmotivated, worried, and ready for a change. Living in DC, especially, I have been anxiety spiraling pretty regularly, so needless to say, not a whole lot of writing has been happening over here. However, I recently connected with a virtual writing group for a little inspiration, and we’re giving each other writing prompts, which has already been extremely helpful. Today’s post is inspired by such a prompt.
When I think of the color red, I think of special occasions. More specifically, I think of getting dressed up. I like fashion and beauty, but I can’t say they’re really driving forces in my life. But for every fancy occasion I can remember, where I can recall exactly what I wore, every event I’ve felt really beautiful, red has been there.
I think my first instance of feeling like red made things extra special was Sadie Hawkins my sophomore year of high school. Off the top of my head, I don’t remember who I went with, but I do remember that I wore a red fringed mini dress with matching red strappy sandals (ah, what 15-year-olds think is appropriate footwear for winter dances in Michigan). I was one of few girls to wear a short dress that year, and I felt like a star – despite the fact that barely anyone outside of my honors block classes knew I even existed. But newly free from my orthodontia, and creeping a little closer toward puberty every day (I was an extremely late bloomer, to say the least), in my little red dress, I was full of sass and confidence.
My love affair with red continued throughout high school, especially as I became obsessed with early 60s glamour and Jackie Kennedy. Senior year homecoming featured a black, tee-length, tulle dress, a couple strings of pearls, and red lipstick to match the fake red rose pinned to the hip of my dress (Macy’s early 2000s fashion, you know?). I was really committed to my chosen esthetic, so despite being annoyed that a junior girl was wearing my same dress (again, Macy’s, not exactly known for exclusivity), I felt every bit the old Hollywood starlet.
And then there was the coat. Toward the end of high school, my friends and I got very into thrifting, and would spend hours going through the racks putting together “looks.” I cringe every time I think of the t-shirt I ripped the sleeves off and paired with torn up jeans and a silver metal belt, the texture of which I can only describe as a cross between chainmail and fish scales. But the coat was different – it was a true diamond in the rough. While searching Goodwill one weekend, I came across a knee-length, bright red, funnel-neck, wool coat for $10. While I did appreciate the price (as a 17-year-old using the rapidly dwindling funds saved from her summer lifeguarding job), I really fell in love with the rich color and the way it made me feel. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was for me. Its clean lines, strong shoulders, and high collar made me feel powerful, and it fit like a glove. From then on, I knew that coat would be my “fancy” coat. And it absolutely was…until I left it at my sorority house one summer in college, and it was thrown out while they remodeled.
I still think about that coat sometimes (OK, literally every winter when I look for a new coat that might come close), but I also think about how it made me feel, and how I want every other important piece of clothing to make me feel. If I’m actually spending money on something for a special occasion, it better make me feel like a more powerful, more self-assured version of myself, who lifts her chin a little higher when she walks into a room. Whether it’s a killer pair of boots, a dress cut just so, or the perfect lipstick, I want it to make me feel the way that coat did, the way red does.
I haven’t been writing as consistently as I would have liked this past month, but since we’re on the cusp of the new year, I did want to take a moment to reflect a little.
At the beginning of 2020, I decided that my word for the year was going to be more. I had big plans, and I was excited. I had survived year one of motherhood, was moving along in my career, and was feeling more confident in my own skin. But then…ah, but then. March hit, and all of our (the collective our, really) plans were shot to hell.
In some ways, though, I still did achieve more, albeit in ways I hadn’t expected or might not have considered achievements in the past. And in some ways, I really went hard, the opposite way, toward less. I spent more time with my immediate family, especially my toddler son, who seemed to change before my eyes. Since we didn’t go anywhere, we saved a lot more money toward future goals (despite me leaving my job halfway through the year!). I wrote a lot more, through various creative projects and journaling, and I read more than I had in years. And I was a lot more honest with myself about what I needed, and what was important for me and my family. Which really involved a lot less.
I quit my job, which resulted in less stress and anxiety around not being a good parent, if I was on the right career track, and what a year at home was going to do to our son. When I eventually started freelancing, I decided to take on less than my maximum capacity. I put less pressure on myself to figure it out and improve and be productive every second of the day. I started to care a little less about about what people thought of me – especially when it came to decisions about my career, speaking out for what I feel is right and against what is wrong, and about my creative pursuits. I started a blog (again), completed #The100DayProject (with really, moments to spare in 2020), and let myself try things even if I couldn’t finish them or they didn’t work out like I had hoped (not sure what I was thinking with starting a NaNoWriMo project in the middle of a pandemic with a two-year-old at home!). In doing less, I also cut myself more slack when something wasn’t achieved on my designated timeline – or at all.
If you’re reading this, you and me, we survived a terrible, terrible year. Not saying 2021 is going to magically be better, but we got through this one – by doing more, doing less, however – we made it. Maybe we learned something new – a new skill out of boredom or a painful lesson the hard way – either way, no one is leaving 2020 unchanged. I hope 2021 treats us all a little better, and that you have something on the horizon to look forward to.
You weren’t all bad, 2020, but I will not miss you a bit – Happy New Year!
We’ve all got those friends, right? The ones with an interesting POV or who always know the best thing to eat/wear/read or who are always out doing something incredibly exciting (in the before times) that you never would have heard of. The ones who seem 100% confident in their opinions and comfortable in their own skin. Do we think they know how cool they are? I’m sure some do, but I often wonder if some of my friends realize their level of cool.
I’ve been thinking about this because I have some really cool friends, and even though my communication hasn’t been great in 2020, they are still seemingly happy to hear from me when I do reach out. One friend has impeccable taste, and a witty, wry sense of humor I can only aspire to. Another is an author a few times over, and always has the best recommendations for making your home your favorite place to be. Another has such energy and zest for life, constantly completing athletic feats and randomly appearing on national TV on top of her full time job, that I really don’t know how she fits it all in. And that’s just a few of my cool friends! Yet, when I text or email, all of them respond with enthusiasm, expressing excitement about when we can get together in 2021 (fingers crossed!) or asking to make plans to Zoom.
To be clear, I am not a bad friend (at least usually, but who hasn’t had a not-great period of time or two?), or even the token weird friend, and this is not a post where I am going to wonder aloud, “wait, what if I am also the cool friend and I don’t know it?” I think it’s important to know yourself, and I am not, have never been, nor will I ever be, the cool friend. I am many things, but “cool” has literally never been a word anyone has used to describe me. Maybe fun, or thoughtful, or bookish, or talkative, or sometimes athletic, or easily excitable about kind of nerdy things, but, again, never “cool.” Which is why I think I’m still so surprised that cool people want to be friends with me, ya know? Sometimes I even want to ask them, “do you know how cool you are? Do you know how surprised I still am that you still want to be friends with me?!” But, of course, in the spirit of playing it cool (see what I did there?), I don’t.
This entire past week, I have felt terrible (not COVID, don’t worry!).
As someone who rarely gets sick, this was pretty jarring. I’m used to getting the sniffles, powering through, and then being back to 100 percent in a couple days. But this time, I was confined to the couch, living on Saltines and Vernors while trying to keep an almost-two year old entertained. Luckily, we ordered in on Thanksgiving, and my husband had a good chunk of last week off, but it was still quite the blow to all the plans I had.
I wanted to write more, make fun desserts for the holiday, clean our closet, do a little yoga, go for walks with my son. Instead, I can’t tell you how many afternoon couch naps I took or how many bad holiday movies I watched or how little I actually moved. It was like I was shutting down all functions that didn’t have to do with absolute survival.
But…this year, in 2020, I was oddly OK with it. Pre-2020 me would have been really upset, would have tried to go into overdrive the following week to make up for everything I hadn’t done while sick. But 2020 me? While a little annoyed that my plans were messed up, I kind of shrugged and am now moving on. Not going crazy trying to play catchup, but just…starting where I left off.
This year has been terrible for so many (and some much more than others), so I won’t tell you that we should all be looking for silver linings and lessons learned. But for me, if this year has taught me anything, it’s this: it’s OK to step back – in your career, in your social life, in your weird household organization ambitions, even in your holiday cheer. One year seems really long (especially this year), but in the grand scheme of things, stepping back for one month, one season, one year, in order to survive, in order to make sure that the necessary parts of your life are still functioning, is not going to be the end of the world. Everyone’s situation is different, but if you step back in an area that isn’t absolutely essential, you might even be better for it.
I’m not totally back to 100 percent over here, but right now, I don’t need to be.
I know everyone who blogs has their own reasons for doing so, and I don’t think any are better or worse than the others (unless you’re using your blog to spread misinformation or cause harm, but let’s assume for the sake of this post that that’s not the case, OK?).
But let me tell you the reason I blog – and the reasons I don’t.
I didn’t start a blog (this one or the many other blogs now peacefully resting in the blog graveyard) for fame or acknowledgement.
I didn’t start a blog to become an influencer – I also don’t buy or recommend enough stuff for that to make sense, but that’s besides the point.
I didn’t start a blog to show the world what a brilliant writer I am or to put out a perfect product.
I started a blog, specifically this blog, to create a habit – consistency in a time where nothing feels consistent, some routine in a time when everything feels upside down. I started a blog to build my creative writing muscle, to keep it in shape, to remind myself that when I’m not struggling with writing, I actually really enjoy putting words on paper in my own way. It’s public practice, a forum where I put out imperfect work and work on getting over my fears that if I release something flawed into the wild that I’ll be incredibly embarrassed or mad at myself or that someone will hate it and tell me so (none of these things, for the record, have happened – yet). I started a blog to hold myself accountable, to finish what I started in a very public way, even if no one else actually cares. In short, I started a blog for me.