Sunday is coming, and so is wine

Easter is this Sunday, and you know what that means? Yes, that Jesus raised from the dead and such, but also that I can drink again soon!

Though I’m not Catholic and it’s not required of me (and am as Protestant as they come), some years I choose to participate in a Lenten sacrifice, for different reasons each time.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, in early 2009, I was in a period of transition: I’d gone through a bad relationship, whose breakup lasted longer than the actual relationship, and was mired in anger; been laid off from my job; and gotten a new job in a new industry. I gave up alcohol for Lent because I had too much going on and wanted to give myself the unblocked mental space to get things in order. I wound up meeting my now-husband the week before Palm Sunday, and my job wound up leading me to business school. I’d say it all worked well.

This year, I went into giving up alcohol for Lent for the same reason—transition, reassessment of life, etc.—but this year, I was able to examine what’s important to me and the role the alcohol plays in my life.

I was fine for the first couple of weeks of March. I didn’t even really think about alcohol at all. But around the third week, I realized that I was super anxious. Even physically, my body felt different, almost constantly trembling.

Now, I am not alcoholic, and it’s not my intention to make light of those who struggle with addiction, so I wasn’t going through the tremens or anything like that. What I was going through was a heck of a lot of anxiety, and I was forced to admit to myself that it was there because I couldn’t use my usual coping mechanism: a glass of wine at the end of a long day.

Giving up alcohol for Lent was easier in my twenties because, while I had a lot going on, it wasn’t the magnitude of what I have going on now. Now, my career and I are ten years older, and trying to sort out our relationship. I’m married, and while happily so, marriage takes some work, even if it’s because someone else is sharing my space. My friendships have evolved in a lot of ways I wasn’t expecting. My writing leads me to think about things I hadn’t had to ponder, making me think about my life’s experiences as I experience them. On top of all this, my body is ten years older, and though I exercise kind of a lot (way more than I ever did in my twenties), my body responds differently to anxiety: it’s as if I feel it in my bones now, and that never happened before.

I realize the magnitude of importance of that glass of wine at night, mimosa at brunch, beer before my Sunday Afternoon Golf Nap, in taking the edge off a lot of the sharpness of my life. I told my therapist this, and he assured me that I don’t have a problem and that it’s okay to have a drink to take the edge off sometimes, as long as you’re not reliant upon it. And I think that’s my fear: that as life gets more dynamic and challenging, I’ll run out of ways to cope.

Yesterday, I avoided images on the internet of Notre Dame burning. But when I went to the gym, CNN was on in the locker room TV, so I couldn’t avoid it, really. For some reason, a sentence a friend told her three-year-old daughter came to me: “You can cry if it hurts, sweetie.” And so I did. I cried in the gym locker room about the burning of 850 years of history. And I was embarrassed as all get out, but I had to do something. I couldn’t drink about it.

This Lenten period has taught me that it’s okay to acknowledge my feelings, especially anxiety. Ignoring doesn’t make it go away, and saying it’s not there is lying. I’m encouraged by my faith: I am a Christian, therefore, I have prayer in addition to wine. And I remind myself that God doesn’t give us anything we can’t handle. I don’t understand why a lot of things happen, but they’re all working together for good, with a glass of wine or without.

 

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#AWP2019 Recap and Vacation Scare

AWP 2019 was my third and busiest AWP. Don’t get me wrong—it was fantastic—but it was waaay different from my first AWP in DC and my second in Tampa.

If I had to choose a theme for my AWP, it would be “How do I suddenly know so many people?” I can’t tell you how much of a joy it was to walk into the colossal, overwhelming bookfair and coincidentally run into people I’d met at workshops and conferences in the past year and before. I even ran into my good friend Lauren Harrison, who I haven’t seen a year and a half!

At dinner one night, Lauren said, “You remember when we had dinner at AWP in DC? I was only just thinking about MFA programs, and you were still in the first draft of your book, and now look at us!”

I’ve been a bit down on myself the past few months because I haven’t published anything due to my attention being pulled in other directions, but when she said this, I had to stop and think: at AWP 2017, I was still a writing novice, and had a headache for four days straight, so overwhelmed. I felt better at AWP 2018, but Lauren wasn’t able to make it due to some other commitments. But everything seemed to have come together in 2019: by then I’d done to so many prestigious workshops and felt so validated, and Lauren’s now getting her MFA at Indiana University. I was suddenly so proud of us both. Even my spouse noticed that I came out of this AWP more confident.

Some of that confidence came from—honestly—not going to that many panels. I either didn’t have time to go, or wanted to take the time to pace myself, so I only really sat through one panel, Crafting Narrative Identity with Unreliable Memories. I’ve been stuck on Chapter 5 of my memoir rewrite for four months for this very reason: I can’t remember a thing about one of my sisters, the one the chapter focuses on. The panelists offered some great explanations of why we can and can’t remember certain things, and some tips on how to tap into memory. But not going to panels kept me from comparing myself to more accomplished people. Funny how that works to boost confidence.

This AWP was a big night for VONA, when we announced the new board members, including myself, and the retirement of Elmaz Abinader, the longtime program director. The reading went so well, and Elmaz was beside herself with joy at everyone honoring her. The board had also had a long meeting that morning, so most of my Friday was delightfully consumed by VONA. When I told people that I was on the board, their heads exploded with delight and they congratulated me immensely, which I wasn’t expecting, but made me feel good, knowing that my work as a literary citizen is so highly respected.

Friday also included a generative Tin House Intensive Workshop, which I was thrilled to have been selected for. About ten of us worked with the great Melissa Febos, who walked us through some prompts and gave us some great writing tips and strategies. It was such an honor to be in the same room as some of the writers there, people I felt a bit intimidated by, but had to remind myself that I’d been chosen, too.

In conclusion, after three days of people selecting, congratulating, and being happy to see me, it’s no wonder why I felt so good. I know I shouldn’t depend on external validation, but man, does it help.

Quickly, post-AWP, my spouse and I spent another day or so in Portland, seeing friends, then drove out to the Hood River, where we spent a couple of days in a cabin in the woods and it was AMAZING. Then went attempted to drive the scenic route to Seattle, where we spent another day or so with friends, but our good friend Google didn’t tell us that the road wasn’t yet opened for the season.

So after attempting to drive through this, we turned around and used the interstate like normal Americans.

AWP is always an adventure, as is life with my spouse. This summer, I’m going to the Juniper Summer Writing Institute to work with Mitchell S. Jackson, which I am TRHILLED about, so I can’t wait to see who I’ll bump into at AWP 2020 as a result!

Readings Galore: My Very Literary Week

I might as well have moved into Politics & Prose this week, friends. One of the great joys of living in our nation’s capital is that some pretty fine authors make their way through during their book tours. With all of the conferences I’ve been to and the amount of Twittering I’ve done, I feel like so many authors are my friends, so it’s great to get to see them in real life. I also *have* to ask the author a question—this is a leftover from business school, where, as one if not the only Black person in the room, I felt the need to make myself known for something other than the color of my skin. It’s also a way to break any feelings of shyness, which are rarely helpful. But as a writer, it’s been a great way to glean writing advice, too.

First up, last Friday, were readings from Ink Knows No Borders contributors JoAnn Balingit and Elizabeth Acevedo. JoAnn is my VONA and Bread Loaf fam, while Elizabeth is a bit of a literary celebrity after her YA novel, The Poet X, won a National Book Award this year.

I asked these authors, “One thing I admire about both of you as artists is that you both do more than one genre; JoAnn writes nonfiction as well as poetry, and Elizabeth does both poetry and fiction. It’s easy to see how poetry influences the other genre, but how has the other genre influenced your poetry?”

Elizabeth said poetry had always been a part of her life, as a fan of hiphop since she was very young, but as she writes more fiction, she’s noticing her poetry becoming more narrative. Her current work in progress is a narrative poem based in folklore (about a woman who eats men, if I’m remembering that correctly, but I might have made that up; either way, it sounds awesome). For JoAnn, writing her memoir has required a lot of research, and she’s found that research helpful in building new poems about her family.

JoAnn Balingit reading a poem from Ink Knows No Borders

Elizabeth Acevedo reading a poem from Ink Knows No Borders

Last Thursday, I went back to P&P at the Wharf to see T. Kira Madden read from her new memoir, Long Live the Tribe of the Fatherless Girls, and Mathangi Subramanian debut her novel, A People’s History of Heaven. I’ve been a huge fan of Kira’s since I read her Guernica essay, “The Feels of Love,” which is still my favorite essay ever, as harrowing and traumatic as it is. I was just being introduced to Mathangi, but I loved the lyricism and richness of her prose.

I liked these authors, “How did you develop the lyricism and cadence in your voices?” And added for Kira, “I’ve found the brain has a mechanism to forget traumatic things; how were you able to get yourself to recall these things to write your memoir?”

About cadence, Mathangi said she reads a lot of poetry and novels by poets, which really makes sense, and I made immediate mental note to do (right after I get over my intimidation of poetry). Kira said she also reads a lot of poetry and was a musician growing up, so she pays a lot of attention to the rhythm of words together, sometimes even counting the beats of the syllables of a sentence. INCREDIBLE.

About remembering traumatic events, Kira said she is one of those people who remembers her childhood more vividly than yesterday. Her brain didn’t repress the trauma, it held onto it. Now, I found myself really jealous for a moment—do you know how hard it’s been remembering things that happened more than 25 years ago when you’re 33?—then reminded myself that my brain handled things the way it needed to, just like hers. She just had an easier time writing a book!

Mathangi Subramanian reading from her novel, A People’s History of Heaven

T. Kira Madden reading Bugs, from her new memoir, Long Live the Tribe of the Fatherless Girls

T. Kira and me: how friendships develop from Twitter!

On Friday night, I headed to P&P at Union Market, to Elizabeth McCracken’s rescheduled reading of her new novel, Bowlaway. (She’d initially been scheduled for last month, but got stuck in the Iowa City airport for, like, 10 hours, in a snowstorm. Pobrecita.) I met Elizabeth in January at Tin House Winter Workshop; she wasn’t my instructor, but there were only three of them, so we got to chat. What a lovely and HILARIOUS woman. She is a fiction writer, but she wrote a memoir in only 3 weeks several years ago, about losing a child.

I asked her, “How did you develop the emotional distance from the vulnerability of your memoir to being able to sell it, since books are ultimately products?”

“I had to develop a type of amnesia,” she said. She just wouldn’t think about the fact that people were reading what she’d written. If she had, she wouldn’t be able to sleep.

I thought if I could do this with my memoir and I realized that I couldn’t—I’ve workshopped it so much and so many people have read at least portions of it, that I can’t trick myself into thinking that no one will read it. I can, however, blow caution to the wind and say, “Eh well, I’ve got no control over what they think of it, so I’ll just go about my business, I guess.” Which is the same thing Elizabeth said, only in Vonetta words.

Elizabeth McCracken reading from her novel, Bowlaway

And finally, Sunday evening, I went back to P&P at Union Market (thank God none of these at P&P on Connecticut Ave; that would be a lot more commuting since I live nowhere near Upper NW). Mitchell S. Jackson read from his new memoir/essay collection Survival Math, and was in conversation with Merita Golden, the founder of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, which does great work with and for Black writers in DC. I’d never met Mitch, but I’ve read his work (most recently his story in VQR last year, but his New Yorker essay is in my Pocket) and I LOVE his voice, which is—arguably—the most authentic and confident I’ve ever read.

I asked Mitch, “How have you maintained the authenticity of your voice, knowing that you’ll probably have white editors? How have you combated any calls for you to change your voice?”

“I knew my best shot was to be the most me, all the time,” he said. He wanted his readers to know that he wrote this piece, so he had to ask himself and determine, “How are they going to know that I wrote this?” To find one’s voice, he said think of home: “What’s the cadence of home? What’s the language of home?”

I thought about one of my works in progress, a short story I’ve been working on for years that features two elderly aunts. They speak the way my elderly aunts spoke when they were alive, in a Black Vernacular English that I could almost clap with rhythm of their language. When I write an essay in my voice, I remind myself to think of them because they’re very much still a part of me. I have to remember that my confidence comes from their approval and no one else’s.

Mitchell S. Jackson reading from his memoir/essay collection Survival Math

My very literary week was both entertaining and highly educational. I feel like I grew at least an inch in good writerliness.

I leave tomorrow for AWP. I’ll largely stick with last year’s strategies because it was so effective. I’m on vacation in the Pacific Northwest after that, so I’ll report back on everything on April 9! Til then!

My First (well, second, actually) Public Reading!

You got no blog post from me last week because I was sick. I know everyone loves DC’s cherry blossoms, but they are the absolute worst when it comes to allergies. So, no, I wasn’t lamenting the fact that I haven’t had a drink since March 5; I was on my couch watching a marathon of Project Runway season 2, barely able to breathe.

Anyway, last night, I went to Readings on the Pike,* a reading series featuring local writers. It was, of course, awesome, but it made me realize: I forgot to blog about my own reading experience! I was one of the featured Readings on the Pike readers for February, my first real public reading (Well, the first one that was planned, not spontaneous) (And, actually, I guess it depends on if you count the one I did at Bread Loaf as public. Anyway…).

I waited until the Friday before the reading (they’re always on Monday nights) to choose what I was going to read. I didn’t mean to wait that long; life just kept getting in the way. I asked a friend who’d also done it what she recommended.

“Don’t staple your pages together; it’s awkward when you’re up there,” she said. “Print it out single-sided and in at least a 14 point font. Go over it once and you’ll be good.”

I wasn’t nervous until she said that last part.

“Only once???” I replied.

“Yeah. You don’t want to overdo it. And there will be wine, so you’ll be fine.”

I chose to read the beginning of “The Right of Way,” my most recently published work. I thought it might be weird to read aloud because it’s a braided essay, meaning, more than one thing is happening over the course of it: I slow down the instance of getting hit by a car to reflect on other times that I’d been angry. I like the essay as I wrote it, but I thought it would be weird to read it since it goes back and forth in time.

But then I remembered a key strategy from my public speaking class in business school: When you want to change a subject, pause and then physically shift your body to a new location. This will allow the audience to know that you’re about to talk about something different. (And is also why you shouldn’t pace back and forth all willynilly. You confuse your audience that way.)

Of course, I practiced the piece more than once because I couldn’t trust myself to only do it once. I had to shave down some of it, too, to fit the 7 minute time limit. I practiced in a callbox in my coworking space. I can only imagine how I must have looked and sounded to onlookers.

On the night of the reading, I was thrilled that my spouse and some folks from my Writer’s Center essay class came out to support me! It was great to see friendly faces in the crowd, though, to be honest, everyone there is a friendly face. I could be wrong, but I think the majority of people who attend Readings on the Pike are writers themselves, so they’re a sympathetic audience. But I was so glad they all made the effort to come all the way out to Virginia – VIRGINIA – to see me read!

As the two readers in line before me read, I felt great, but as it got closer to my turn, my hands started to shake. Which was weird because my brain and the rest of my body felt fine, not nervous at all. When I went up the mic, I felt good. And then I realized that the mic was too short and that I couldn’t actually move the way I needed to because the mic was in a stand, and when I was doing that business school presentation, I had one of those body mics.

But I reminded myself that none of that mattered. Everyone was there to hear what I had written, regardless of where I stood while doing so.

So, I read.

I took pauses in the places where I would have shifted my body to signal the new sections, and I read.

And it went great!

Everyone who read after me was fantastic, too. And I had this moment of saying, Hot dangit, I am a writer, a real one, who has this great community of other writers who are supportive, and of readers who are supportive, and of my spouse who is supportive. And I could have cried.

But I didn’t, because I’m not a crier. I’m a laugher.

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Photo by Hannah Grieco

*Readings on the Pike occurs the third Monday of the month at Josephine’s Italian Kitchen on Columbia Pike in Arlington, VA.

47 Days of Sobriety Ahead

Happy Mardi Gras, all!

I was thinking this week about what I might give up for Lent, the 40 days (minus Sundays) before Easter. (Sundays are considered their own little resurrection day, even during the period, so fasting only has to happen the 40 days. And I’m guessing it’s 40 days to reflect the number of days Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan before Jesus formally started his ministry…if I’m remembering that correctly.)

I’m not Catholic, so Lent isn’t a “requirement” for me, but I like to do it anyway. For the past couple of years, I haven’t given up anything, though, because I’ve been buffeted by the passing of time so much that Lent’s arrival always came as a surprise (it’s not the same day every year, like Christmas).

But this year, I’m 33—there’s something about this year that makes this Lenten season all the more important to me.

Jesus was 33 when he was crucified. So basically, he was the age I currently am, causing a ruckus by telling people to love each other and to pay their taxes [the only thing Jesus said that I take issue with] and by respecting women as humans and by being generally a nonviolent revolutionary (minus that whole turning tables over in the temple. But even that was because he was offended that they were selling things where women and Gentiles were trying to pray. Jesus was the original feminist/woke one.). And roughly 45 days from now he was killed because of it.

If you’re a consistent reader of this blog, you’re no stranger to my career-related existential crisis that began when I was 30, when I left my NYC finance job. As a result, I sometimes find it hard to believe that someone who would in today’s terms be defined as a Millennial spent three years changing the course of human history, the magnitude of which upset people so badly that he was executed for it. I can only ask, What on earth am I doing with my life?

I’m not God incarnate, as Jesus was, so I’m not putting that level of pressure on myself. But it is remarkable to think that someone my age was out there changing things.

I sometimes feel powerless at all the horrible going on in the world. I feel powerless to change the way I am perceived by society, white men in particular. And so, to cope with these feelings, I do things like lift weights (the heavier the better), go to spin class, write, go to therapy. But I also indulge, mostly in wine and cocktails.

So, this year, I am giving up alcohol for Lent, in recognition that I lean on it a bit too much for a feeling of peace, or something close to it.

I gave up alcohol for Lent ten years ago, in 2009. I was 23, had just started a new job, and felt that I was on the cusp of a new type of life. It was really hard not drinking for 40 days; my friends and I went out a lot in our 20s. But it was during that period that I met my spouse, who’d also given up alcohol for Lent. It really was the start a new era for me.

I can’t say that I feel that way now, but I want to. I want to make the shift from writing back to full-time work. My spouse and I are interested in becoming parents at some point in the near future. I’m still working on my book. I’m still on the ground of the pending upslope, if that makes sense, and I want to be prepared for the ride.

So tonight, I’ll have a nice cocktail, then that’ll be it. It will more challenging this time than it was at 23 because now I attend writerly functions, including AWP, which involves lots of parties and free drinks. But I’ll stand my ground, rooting myself in sacrifice, honoring the one I’m trying to be like, the one who turned the world upside down at tender age of 33.

Happy 10-year Anniversary of My Great Recession Faith Growth

The ten-year anniversary of losing my job to the Great Recession was on February 8.

On that day, a Sunday in 2009, I’d gone to a sales associate meeting at my second job at Banana Republic downtown DC. As I left the store, my phone rang. It was my boss, the one who lived in Oklahoma.

“I’m so sorry, Vonetta, but we had to make some really difficult choices, and we have to let you go.”

“Oh,” I said.

It wasn’t a surprise: two months prior, everyone at the company had taken 20% paycuts and started paying the whole bill for our health insurance, not great during the holiday season, but at least they’d tried to help us keep our jobs.

“It’s okay,” I continued. “Something is going to work out for me, for all of us.” I swallowed. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to see something you’ve worked so hard for going through hard times.”

With that, she cracked. Her voice had already started quivering, but with that, the modicum of empathy I was giving, she spilled over, crying into my ear.

Again, since it wasn’t a surprise, I wasn’t horribly broken up over it.

The next day, I went into the office to give them my laptop, office keys, and company credit card. Others who’d been laid off cried openly, and I felt bad for not feeling worse than I did. I didn’t feel worse because I knew something great was going to open for me.

I had lunch with my friend Rachel that afternoon, then went to the Library of Congress for the first time, since I finally had time on my hands. I called my managers at Banana Republic to ask for extra shifts, and they honored my request—I worked eight days straight, eating into any unemployment I got, but work money provided much more anyway.

The following Monday, President’s Day, it hit me—I’d lost my job and all I had was my part-time retail job. I went to BR that day, then came home to my apartment and literally drank myself to sleep (Southern Comfort. A horrible idea, all of it.) I woke up with a hangover, but, when my phone rang, I answered it.

It was the HR woman from a job I’d interviewed for a month prior. She was calling to see if I was still interested in the job because she was rounding up final candidates.

Sitting up in bed with my head in my hand, I said, “Yes, I’m still interested. And I can start sooner. I was laid off last week.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Vonetta.”

“It’s okay,” I said, “something is going to work out for me.” And I believed it.

She called me the next day to offer me the job, with a salary well above what I’d asked for. I have never been so relieved in my life.

I began work at that job on Wednesday, February 25, 2009. It was the job that would seal my interest in finance and lead me to business school.

It was that one faith-filled belief I held—“something is going to work out for me”—that literally changed my life.

Since, in 2016, my career took a turn I wasn’t expecting, I’m reminding myself of this because I need that faith again, to know that not only will something work out for me, but that it is already in the works.

If you’d asked me ten years ago, what I would be doing on February 25, 2019, I would have said, “I hope I’m on track to be a partner in investment management!” Not, “I hope I’m a writer, a nonprofit finance director, and associate editor of a startup online literary magazine!”

But something is working out for me in this awkward place I’m in. I’m holding onto that until my promise comes through completely.

Who I Want to Be & Forgiving White Men

This weekend was a moving one on a number of levels.

First, my spouse’s aunt, Frances, passed away two weeks ago, and her funeral was held on Saturday. We drove up to Philly for the service. I knew Aunt Frances (and referred to her as such, “Aunt Frances,”), but I’d only interacted with her a few times over the past 10 years of being with my spouse. But I couldn’t help but cry at how warm and loving her funeral was.

The last funeral I went to was my father’s, over three years ago, and it wasn’t at all moving. It wasn’t about a celebration of my father’s life, it was about showmanship—who could say the most the loudest? Who could get the most attention? Dad’s funeral was depressing, not because my father was dead, but because it seemed that everyone but a few were celebrating the lie he lived—the beloved pastor and bishop—not the person he actually was.

Given how weirded out I’ve been about the concept of time recently, after Aunt Frances’ funeral, I felt more inclined to think about how I want to be remembered. I pray it will be a long time before I am only a memory, but when the time comes (and it will, unless Jesus returns first, but God only knows when that will be… [See what I did there?]), I want to be remembered for my joy, my laughter, my love of learning, my authenticity, my enjoyment of challenges, my desire to break down barriers and blaze trails for women and people of color in business, my resilience, my emotional fortitude. And they will all be true. The most true thing anyone said about my father at his funeral was, “Al…He was Al.”

I realized that I also want to be remembered for not holding grudges. Though it comes naturally for me, I don’t want it to be so much a part of my character that people recall it as one of my top character traits.

On Sunday, the sermon at church was about being Better Together, Despite Our Differences. I’ll be honest: it was clearly aimed at white people, encouraging them to build bridges with those who aren’t like them. But I felt convicted, too. I realized that I’ve allowed my heart to harden toward white men, those who have caused me harm or facilitated it or stood aside and let it happen. The Holy Spirit spoke to me and said that I needed to forgive white men the same way I forgave my father—knowing that they may never apologize or come to any type of reckoning with their wrongdoing, but forgiving them for me, so I don’t become bitter and resentful and allow those negative feelings to pervade my body and life.

So, I made a step toward it. I went to the altar and asked God to forgive me for holding on to feelings of resentment toward white men. And then I prayed with a white man, humbling myself before the Lord. Perhaps writing about this sounds like the opposite of humility, but trust me, it’s an additional part of the humiliation exercise. Admitting this is risky, as it makes me sound subservient, but in reality, it’s the opposite—I’ve gained a level of power by being obedient. I’ve found that forgiveness takes time, though, and it’s not like I’ll pretend the past never happened. I’ll just have way more internal freedom, which is what matters most.

I’m not a very emotional person, so the fact that I had these encounters back-to-back took a bit out of me. It almost feels like I went through a growth spurt, and suddenly my head feels miles above my feet. It’ll take some getting used to. Then I’ll move onto the next leg of the journey.

Busy is the Millennial condition

You didn’t miss a post from me last week—I was entirely too busy to write one. So, today, I wanted to talk about busyness.

When I read Anne Helen Petersen’s viral essay on Millennial burnout, I couldn’t say I related. I don’t generally get errand paralysis because my mother drilled it into my head, in so many words, that “adulting” isn’t something you do, it’s who you are when you get to a certain age. I’m baffled by my peers who even use that stupid word, “adulting,” as if they are not actually adults themselves.

But what did strike me was the overall theme of the piece—that Millennials are so freaking busy that we can’t even get basic errands done.

I realized that I actually have to take a day off from work every couple of months to complete them. And they’re nothing crazy: going to the drycleaner (which is just a hair far enough away from my coworking space that it’s not always easy to go on work days), going to Target (instead of ordering supplies on Amazon, like I did yesterday), going to the dentist or my annual check-ups, maybe cleaning my bathrooms.

So, for me, it’s not that I don’t do these things, it’s just that I have to take time out from doing work in order to accomplish them, which is just the other side of the coin of what Petersen was talking about.

I’ve shared on this blog before that I often feel that I’m on a treadmill: going and going and going, but without actually going anywhere. At least on a treadmill, I’d be improving my cardiovascular health. Instead, I feel I’m just wearing myself down with nothing to show for it. (Ironically, going to the gym is one of my “busy” things. I go three to four times a week because I believe in taking care of myself, but that’s easily six hours out of my week gone, just by trying to take care of myself.)

I know my generation is known for our entitlement and our strongly held subconscious belief that everything must come to us quickly. (Sue us, we were raised with microwaves and Chef Boyardee.) These things definitely play a part in my restlessness. I’ve been working on a memoir and building an author platform for over two and half years. I’m still not done with the book, and the platform will only be built over time. I left my job two and half years ago and haven’t found another one, and can’t fully explain why not, but I only feel [anxiety] that I should have had one by now. I should have all of these things by now. And yet, I don’t.

Older generations, including Gen Xers like my sister, who aren’t that much older than me, probably think we’re idiots. But I think Millennials are just young still. We’re young in a time of the internet, when working doesn’t mean 9-to-5, or even getting paid. Like I said in my last post, we haven’t done this thing called life before, and we don’t know how to do it.

I’m finding ways to come along, though. I’ve set some boundaries with the nonprofit I’m helping out, and it’s coming along well, so I won’t have to spend part-time job hours on it. I’m seeing my schedule for what it is: making time to exercise in the evening calls for waking up earlier. I’m making time to restore my dreams and vision of what I want out of life.

I’m not complaining, just coping. Not even coping. Living. I’m living.

My Mind-Boggling Epiphany

I thought coming back from a great workshop and vacation would be easier because of the four-day week that followed. Man, was I wrong.

I was glad to get the time to get my bearings last Monday; my spouse and I did laundry and planned out our meals for the week. We had one extra day together before descending into our regular schedules in which we might not see each other for a day or two.

And then real life started again, and my vacation glow vanished, not even slowly dissipated.

I became my usual amount of inordinately busy. I’m helping out a literary arts nonprofit, and I had to catch up on everything I’d missed over the course of 10 days; when so much happens every day, it was a lot I missed. I physically ran to and fro, getting things done.

At the same time, I wanted to get some of my own work done. I told myself I would do my own work in the morning, then nonprofit stuff in the afternoon. This way, I was able to polish off Chapter 1 of my memoir and my synopsis to apply to Tin House Summer Workshop. I cobbled together a draft of an essay to exchange with one of my writing groups, and I felt bad because I wasn’t able to refine it at all. I also started revising the short story I workshopped at Tin House Winter, which I’d like to use to apply to another summer workshop.

All the while, I fell behind on nonprofit stuff. And because I’m prioritizing taking care of my body, I still went to the gym, which took up even more time.

My perfect schedule failed me, as it always does. And time continued to pass, as it always does.

While talking to my trainer on Friday, I had a startling epiphany: we only get to do this thing once.

Intellectually, I’ve always known that you only get one life. You have to “live it to the fullest,” blah blah blah. But, in my heart of hearts, I’ve always felt that those older than me, particularly my mother, had done this before. I’m not saying reincarnation, but something in me felt that they’d lived more fully than I had and, therefore, were living their current lives more accurately or better than their previous one.

I know that makes very little sense, but at the end of the day Friday I finally felt, truly, that we really only live once. I KNOW.

I think the next logical step would be for me to say, “So, I’m going to make the most of every day!” But I’d be lying to both of us.

As I check off items on my to-do list and add more on, a Sisyphean task if there ever was one, I keep feeling this sense of, “Is this enough? Is this really what I’m called to do?” I have no regrets, really, but I do wonder if being insurmountably busy is actually accomplishing anything. I sometimes think, maybe if I were working a paid job I’d feel more fulfilled because I’d see the fruits of my labor in my checking account every two weeks. Writing is a slow business, and publishing is often slower, so I’m in a season of wondering if it’s all worth it. How Millennial of me.

But for now, here’s to checking these items off my list, in faith that they’re pushing me toward my mission and purpose. Trying to remember to do all of these things, even the smallest, most insignificant, most annoying things for the glory of the one who created me and my path.

 

Tin House Winter Workshop & Vacation Recap

I’m a day late on this post because I wanted to hold on tight to my vacation for as long as I could, then life got superbusy on my first day back in the saddle. But I’m here!

I had the best time at Tin House Winter Workshop! Like I said, it’s the smaller, cozier, more intimate of the Tin House workshops. It takes place over a long weekend, Friday to Monday, at the Sylvia Beach Hotel in Newport, Oregon. It was about 55-60 degrees every day; *heaven* compared to DC’s 10 inches of snowfall that weekend.

SBH is the *cutest* inn on the beach with rooms themed after authors. I was in the Virginia Woolf room, which was quite cozy and had a nice view of the ocean. (The Jules Verne room was kinda creepy and the guy who forgot to choose his room during his allotted time got stuck with it, haha!) It was perfect for writing!

The Virginia Woolf room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel

The view from the Virginia Woolf room. I forgot to open the curtain below.

Writing and whale-watching in the attic Reading Room at the Sylvia Beach Hotel

I usually have a hard time writing at these sorts of conferences, but this time, the strangest thing happened: I took a walk on the beach to think about a couple of stories I’ve been working on, one for months with no resolve, and out of the water or in the wind, solutions to both stories came to me. Like, total clarity on plots and character development and all that jazz! So I ran back to my room and wrote down everything that came to me. I started working on the first one, but didn’t get to finish, but I’m so glad to have gotten clarity in the wind, as it were. And that was before the conference had even started.

When it did, it was transformative. I don’t say that to be dramatic, but to express the thing that happened in me over the course of the workshops. As you probably know from previous posts, I have PTSD from a traumatic work experience. For more than two years, I have struggled to find confidence in my abilities again. But over that weekend, an assurance I’ve never felt in my life came up for me. I felt it in my chest, almost like one of those balloons that keeps your arteries open. Not only was I telling myself, I actually *believed* that I was there to learn, not to impress anyone, and that being myself was sufficient, and if anyone didn’t like me or my work that that was fine, but I was there to expand my professional network as a writer and learn how to improve my short story [a different one that was also giving me grief because it’s been rejected 15 times].

You don’t know how proud I am of myself for finally reaching this conclusion. I know time heals all wounds, so maybe I just needed 2.5 years of feeling kinda shitty to finally feel capable. I’m also solidly into my 30s now and there’s something about this decade that makes you feel a lot more comfortable with not caring. I thank God for that mechanism that finally seems to be kicking in.

So, after that life-changing experience, I met up with my spouse in Cabo San Lucas for five glorious days of sunshine, margaritas, and being sedentary by the pool. We stayed at the Solaz Resort, which I could not recommend more because it was freaking gorgeous and the service was the best I’ve ever encountered, no exaggeration. And we saw whales! But they were really far out in the ocean, so I don’t have pictures. 😦

The pool deck at the Solaz Resort, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

THEY UNPACK YOUR BAGS FOR YOU, Solaz Resort

My spouse in the infinity pool

The beautify of a peninsula: gorgeous sunrises as well as sunsets

We also took a romantic sunset cruise that resulted in my getting a bit seasick, though not actually vomiting. But the ambiance was ruined a little more by an older white couple who insisted we all *must* listen to Jimmy Buffett as the sun set, including “Cheeseburgers in Paradise.” Oy. Bless their hearts.

Us on the boat before I got seasick

God showing off with an excessively beautiful sunset

God showing off with my spouse during an excessively beautiful sunset

I swear on a stack of phone books that time is going faster now. The workshop and vacation went likethis. My spouse said he thinks time is actually going faster, that somehow, maybe global warming is making the Earth spin around its axis a little faster. I said I wasn’t sure about that; we’re adults now, so that’s what’s throwing things off. We’d have to ask a kid, since they have the best perception of time, knowing how to hold onto it for as long as possible and always being bothered by the world around them.