The Secret to Lifting your Mood No Matter What

Kasia and I getting our sing on

It’s been a stressful few weeks.  Work has been crazy busy. I’m stressed about my first ever marathon on Sunday and praying I don’t do anything like trip and fall off the 163 bridge. I’ve also decided to put my whole self out there and truly live my dreams –  but with that comes the risk of failure…a stressful assertion indeed. Then you can add the average life stresses like sibling quarrels, bills and landlords. Frankly, I’m tired.

So I was driving to work yesterday and I was trying to decide what to listen to. I’ve lately been listening to a lot of talk radio and inspirational speakers. I have a pretty solid rotation of NPR, Dave Ramsey and Tony Robbins going, who normally cheer me right up. But that morning I was all….”Sh. Stop talking.”  I just wasn’t in the mood.

Fussy and a bit annoyed to be driving to work anyway, I plugged in my iPhone and started scrolling through the music. I drive a piece of shit car, so I use a cassette tape adapter that plugs in my MP3…that being said the sound quality is about as good as tin foil being stuck in your ears.

But I came across some music I hadn’t listened to for a while. I hit play, turned it up and to my surprise the little speakers-that-could actually reached the decibel level I was looking for without sounding like the aforementioned tin foil ear. And that’s when my inner Tina Turner let the air around me have it.

It was just the song I needed to hear – semi-pointless, included electric guitars, some yelling, a bit powerful, and gave me the platform to simply belt it. Loudly as I drove 75 mph on the 5, I sang:

“I’m tired, so tired.

I’m tired of having sex (So tired)

I’m spread, so thin

I don’t know who I am…

 

I’m beat, beet red,

ashamed of what I said (What I said)

I’m sorry, here I go

I know I’m a sinner

but I can’t say no (Say no)”

(Weezer, Pinkerton, 1996)

I’m not tired of sex, but I was tired that day, that’s for sure. I made the choices to be where I am and I’m not sorry, but I need to vary my outlets for releasing the pressure once in a while. And turning up a song I listened to in high school brought me back to those formative years of reckless freedom, unsure where I would wind up or what I would do. That whole Pinkerton album can do this.

So what I am saying to you is – sing! It is the one trick that I always forget about, but once I rediscover it, my world is healed.  I am by no means a great vocalist, but I do come equipped with a voice. And that’s why the best place for me to sing with all my soul is in the car. There is nothing like it in the world to turn up the volume, and give that song everything you have.

Now there is a risk…people might see you. I think that is one of the benefits! Don’t be afraid to be that person. First of all, being concerned with what strangers who zoom by on the freeway think of you is a problem, and overcoming it can bring a new sense of freedom. Self expression doesn’t need to happen in a vacuum.

I’m not the only one who believes in singing. In fact, there are real health benefits to it. Some of these include boosting immunity, alleviating stress, lung benefits and breathing easier. Fantastic, right?!

There is a caveat – you can’t just sing with your throat. You have to, in order to get these benefits of release I’m talking about, sing with everything you have so that the air comes from your belly. Your diaphragm should be moving up and down as you take in and release air. Open your mouth wide and enunciate.  There’s likely no other time in the day that your lungs will fill with so much air as taking in those deep breaths and releasing those exhales. That’s why smoking and yoga have been found to calm people – it’s not the carcinogens or the downward facing dog, but it’s breathing deeply. Singing provides the same benefit, and is in my opinion, more fun.

So friends, I challenge you today. Sing! You may have already arrived at your destination for the day, but you will likely be traveling somewhere else at some point today or this weekend. Find time to sing in your car. Turn on a song you haven’t heard for a while but you know all the lyrics to and makes you feel good. It certainly picked up my week, and gave me the momentum I needed that day. And today is an easy day to get your sing on, it’s Friday, so here’s the perfect song to get you started.

Powering Through…Even When You Don’t Wanna

Scott-Cheering

Getting traction going for anything is absolutely impressive. I realize it’s unbecoming to pat oneself on the back, but why don’t you go ahead and do that right now. You got up today. You made it to work. Or you finished school and you get a minute to relax before you join the ranks of real world bosses and bills. Or your kid was crying and you were up at some ungodly hour only sea monsters should be awake for.

But you did it! You’ve accomplished something already today. And I think we need to spend more time celebrating our victories.

A teeny tiny victory in my humble little life is right around the corner. Hopefully. I have spent the last several months training for my first ever marathon, and this Sunday I’ve surrendered myself to go ahead and make that 26.2-mile trek.  I was never a long distance runner, but I was a sprinter and I played soccer. Cake, right?

NOPE. Long distance running is an entirely different game than sprinting. Getting started is the worst part. You have all of the 15-mile Saturday run ahead of you. Then after about 2 miles you get into a groove.  You’re jamming, feeling great, but then around mile 6…owie! Your body decides this is far enough, aches, it’s thirsty, and starts with the complaining.

“Can we stop pleeeease?” cry the knees. But you take a swig of water, tell your griping body to shush, power through and get into a groove again. And it ebbs and flows like that, in and out of grooves, each more difficult than the last all 10, 15, 20 miles.  It doesn’t matter because you can’t stop – that’s not an option. You paid $120 dollars to run this damn race and you are going to get your money’s worth. You will have that medal, you will hang it in your living room, you will show it every person that walks into your house, and they will like it.

Life is exactly the same way, except we don’t always get medals for our accomplishments. We do however get in and out of grooves. Think about whenever you have set your mind to accomplish something. You’ve submitted yourself to writing regularly in a blog as well as a side manuscript <ahem>, it’s going well, but that’s when the proverbial “knees” decide to kick in. Your car starts acting up, your dog needs to go to the vet, half of your friends are having career or relationship crises and you want to help. You need to stop for “water” and it’s difficult to get the traction going again.

I swear there are angels up above that watch over and guide us. Then next to them are their freckled step-cousins who never grew past 4’ feet tall. They are sneaky little buggers, armed with an arsenal of distractions to throw at us just for their entertainment. You may have had the biggest breakthrough at work and your boss just gave you an accolade in front of everyone, but that’s when your tire goes flat in the middle of the freeway and the officer who shows up to help serves you a ticket for having tinted windows.

Like I said before, when you are training for a marathon, those crazy long runs are a persistent ebb and flow of strength and weakness. It is a mental challenge as much as a physical challenge. Now, all of that is just in reference to flat land – when things are going fine and your car is running smoothly and all your friends are getting along.

But then, up ahead, you see Torrey Pines. For San Diegans you know what I mean, but for those who don’t, Torrey Pines is a state park in between Del Mar and La Jolla up on a bluff. And by “up” I mean high enough to reach those angels and slap them for throwing shit at you all the time. Now to get to that bluff there is a hill.

Did I say hill? I meant massive hill. And by massive hill, I mean the gods of the earth combined all of the steepest and longest hills in all of San Diego county and tied them together for this incline. I ran this blasted hill once in my training and am proud to say I did it, but it was a bastard and I am really not sure I ever want to do it again.

But hey. I did it!  Now, there is the second largest hill – in my opinion, don’t quote me on that – right by my house that I am required to run up anytime I go train. It’s called Lomas Santa Fe, which in Spanish means “God Hates You.” (Don’t quote me on that either.) Every time I approach that hill it is a mental and physical feat to work myself up to make that climb. I don’t get up it fast and it always burns with so much lactic acid that I’m certain my sweat turns to acid rain.

But hey. I do it! I always remember something when I see a hill that one of my running buddies told me in the beginning of our training. He knows damn well how much I hate hills (can you tell by now?), and he reminds me when we’re running, “For every uphill, there’s always a downhill.”

Sweet, right? Well, he is also charming enough to also mention on the down hills, “Oh don’t worry, we’ll be paying for this downhill with an uphill soon enough.”

Dammit.

But such is life. Getting traction going to make it the long distance is fucking difficult on it’s own. That’s without the hills. But you know that there are always hills and you don’t have a choice but to climb them if you want to get to where you set out to go.

I struggle with motivation in every capacity of my life, some days more than others. But somewhere along the way I either bully or sweet-talk myself into continuing the climb. Today I have to do that and work a little harder, as it’s been a difficult couple weeks and I just feel like lying down and eating a burrito in bed.

But not today – I got up. I’m going to do this. I’m going to run a marathon on Sunday and it scares the hell out of me. People have died doing that!  Or my writing…what if it’s not interesting or I don’t ever get anywhere with it? People have died from depressive failure!

Welp, I’m going to have to find out if either kills me. I’ve worked too hard to get here. Likewise, you’ve worked too hard to get where you are. We can’t give up now.  It’s time to power to the top of the hill so that we can get to that glorious downhill, knowing we deserve every ounce of success – because we earned it.

Memorial Day, Luxembourg and Saluting Am’urca

20130524-002627.jpg3-day weekend. Can you feel it? We have made it America! Memorial Day is this weekend and that means summer is HERE. Plus, we have 3 whole days to do whatever we want.

What are you going to do this Memorial Day weekend? Out of towning, hiking, beach-bumming, hot dog eating, kite flying, sweater knitting? Who cares, do whatever you want, it’s a 3-day weekend.

How about some memorializing while your face is stuffed with potato salad? Maybe even a eugoogily? If you don’t get that Zoolander reference then you’ve made Ben Stiller cry. And we don’t like seeing Ben Stiller cry, so make sure you watch Zoolander at some point in these 3 days of freedom.

Admittedly, I was half joking about the utter excitement of the 3-day weekend filled with kite flying hot dogs. I love a 3-day weekend as much as anyone, but I think the hype around Memorial Day weekend is a bit out-of-control and has rolled a smidge off track. The big chain stores always have some kind of Memorial Day sale, and we all plan parties on Sundays because for once we don’t have to worry about work on Monday. You can spend that Monday nursing a hangover instead if you want to.

But if JCPenny didn’t tell you on the weekend sale commercial, the purpose of Memorial Day is to remember those who served in the United States Armed Forces. Specifically it is for those who died while in service. So why is it when I Google “Memorial Day,” the top 5 searches retrieved regard rooftop pool parties, vacation planning, and local to-dos such as farmer’s markets, more drunken parties, and giant store specials?

That’s kinda fucked up.

I don’t personally know anyone who died in battle, as in, I’ve shaken their hand and heard them say, “how do you do,” only later to learn of their death in combat. I have a great uncle who died in Pearl Harbor (1941). Unfortunately I never had the chance to meet him, so that’s as close as I get.

So for me on Memorial Day, I have to dig a little deeper to get to the memorializing. I do think about my uncle and wonder what exactly happened…according to my Dad he was a pilot and was shot down in air, but I don’t even know if American planes were up yet since it was an ambush? Maybe he reacted quickly. Or maybe he was going for a swim with a Hawaiian cutie, but the family didn’t like that story so they put him in a plane. Nonetheless, the details are hazy and I instead reflect on his bravery for even being there.

The biggest memory I now return to for Memorial Day, however, is when I was in Europe a couple years ago and went to Luxembourg. There is a large military cemetery there where General Patton is buried, aptly named Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial. Visiting that memorial was one of the most moving experiences of my life, and the second time that I’ve cried in a military cemetery, the first being my father’s funeral.

We had toured a few different sites of World War II, but this was something different. The soil was given to us from the Luxembourgers and is officially a plot of American land. So naturally we joked on the lines at the gate, one foot on either side, “Now I’m in Europe! Now I’m in the US! Europe! US!”

But reading about the war plan, how Hitler really did fucking take over Europe, and how desperate the situation was, gave me goose-bumps for the duration of my time there. Walking around from grave stone to monument to grave stone, you could literally feel the powerful strength these soldiers had as they gave their lives to thwart the forces of evil.

And that’s what Memorial Day is about. We all like to try and somehow relate to ourselves, our families and puff up our own pride with what we have done. But Memorial Day has absolutely nothing to do with us who aren’t dead from fighting in a war. It has everything to do with those whose lives were cut short, whether they believed in the cause or not, and paid the ultimate price to fight for our country.

Memorial Day is important America. Even if you are anti-war, guns, or think that we could just have a conversation with our enemies and things would be alright, sometimes fighting is necessary. WWII is a perfect reminder of that. In 1944, concentration camps were ramping up to be an even more effective form of genocide, as that was when they installed organized gas chambers and ovens to fucking incinerate human beings on a massive scale. That was when the Battle of the Bulge occurred and one of the biggest turning points of the war. On the very soil I stood, 5,000+ American soldiers remains are buried there, most of whom died in that important battle.

What would have happened if General Patton and his army didn’t march in and kick some ass? I don’t even want to play that game. The game I will play is one of gratitude and solemnly consider the circumstances under which they fought. And with that, thank you to God for our military. Thank you to our Vets – I am so happy you are still here with us. Thank you to the men and women who died in battle, who starved, froze, were shot or stabbed to death fighting for my country. I wouldn’t have the life I have without you, and I am absolutely grateful for your service.

Thank you. I salute you. RIP.

As the Girl in a Brother’s Band

Brick

I love sleeping in. I find great joy in slowly awakening as dreams naturally transition out and reality fades back into consciousness. No alarm jolting this progression with immediacy. Just a soft, gentle stirring when my body whispers, “ok we have now fully recharged, let’s go boss.”

Saturdays have largely been removed from the ranks of restful slumber, as I have spent the last several months training for a marathon and it’s too damn hot to run 10+ miles in San Diego’s late morning/afternoon. It’s not so bad though, I can normally get up around 8:30am to meet my small running crew on time, and these days I consider that sleeping in.

However last Saturday, my dream-filled state was slapped into reality by the hand of my cell phone, as over and over again it was blowing up with texts around 6:00am.

Rolling over with as much urgency as I could muster, I tried to silent the inconsiderate device. I vowed that heads were gonna roll if someone wasn’t on fire and somewhat within driving distance so that I could actually do something about it. Thoughts of burning buildings flashed through my mind as I fumbled over my nightstand trying not to knock over my water glass.

Once I finally got to the obnoxious little computer, I discovered no such emergency. Turned out instead World War III was in full effect as my brothers, who so thoughtfully included me on a group text message thread, were ferociously assailing unspeakable insults towards each other. Name calling, personal attacks, and thoughtless verbal canonballs were hurled back and forth with only seconds between each injurious message.

The first thing I did was lay back down, slap my hand to my forehead and groan. “What a bunch of babies,” I said out loud to the empty room. It was a group message that included my three brothers and myself, two of whom were in the middle of this bloodless battle.

I’m more or less used to this behavior by now. So I sent a couple of texts calling for peace, but my efforts were, as usual, ignored. Each of the fighting brothers felt their words, texted with about as much thought as it takes to realize a poopy diaper smells like poo, were valid. Both felt justified tearing down the other mercilessly in front of me and my other brother, who surprisingly wasn’t involved in the fighting whatsoever.

It was an annoying way to start the morning to say the least. After spending a few hours trying to sort them out, the brothers concluded the conversation by blocking the other’s messages and vowing never to speak again. With a sigh, I went on my 12 mile run with friends at 9:00, but it was clouded by the negativity I experienced that morning. I felt sickened and sad, crippled with worry that either or both of today’s foes were sitting at home alone, severely wounded. What I hated most was that there was nothing I could do to stop it and had no real way to fix it.

Why is family such a pain in the ass? I remember when I was little and my Mom would tuck me into bed, she’d always tell me to be grateful for my brothers. Some nights I agreed with her, others I stuck my tongue out and wished they were sisters. You can borrow sister’s clothes. There are only so many options when it comes to your brother’s clothes, and a lot of those clothes are jerseys, and most jerseys are never washed. And that’s just gross, so I was shit out of luck and had to fend for myself with my own wardrobe. Regardless, she always said, “The best gift that I could give to my children was each other.”

Oh brother [cheap pun, sorry, couldn’t help myself].

I figured that every family must be this way. Family = fight, fun, football, being funny, folk music. My immediate world was comprised of us four siblings, my three brothers and myself. I have a half sister as well but she is a bit older and tends to stay out of the drama, probably because she knows the rest of us are morons. So between the remaining 4 of us, we definitely have the most fun together I have ever had in my life, but that’s when we are all getting along. There is unfortunately always a pair in our group who are either not speaking, pulling each other’s eyebrows out, or talking shooby behind another’s back. It’s absolutely ridiculous, and you would think we were the cast of Mean Girls thrown in a martini glass with the Real Housewives.

This is because my brothers and I have a real gift. We have earth-shattering tempers, not measurable by the Richter scale but will likely be responsible when California finally breaks from the main land and drifts off to sea. Through the same vein we also love each other with the same intensity. We didn’t have the easiest collective childhood, and often times all we had were each other. I have distinct memories with each of them individually, holding each other sobbing to get through the latest of round life’s nonsense. So when I moved out of the house and went on to college, I carried with me this love, the temper, the ability to hold my own in a house of 3 boys, and a pretty good sense of humor. These were the ingredients required to survive as an Erdmann.

I came to find out that the temper doesn’t go over well in the real world. Apparently people don’t like it when you yell at them. Shouldn’t they just yell right back and you both hug later and then get some ice cream? Guess not. I got in trouble those early years for behaving like a pugilist, and learned fairly quickly that whoever yells the loudest is not the one who necessarily wins the battles.

For some reason, gosh I have no idea how it became an interest of mine, I got into rhetorical studies and focused on argumentation strategies. I was really into learning karate for words, and have spent most of my years in formal study honing how to craft a logical argument and effectively express my ideas.  I wanted to be able to communicate better with my brothers and create a more conducive environment to healthy discussion.

Some of the first times that I would come home, I’d take my suitcase of words and try them out on my family. Surely this new briefcase of tools would help us communicate better. I outgrew my Mother’s vocabulary by the time I was 15, but I was excited that my brothers would be proud of how calm I was and had tactful ways for us to get along with each other.

Yeah, no.

Apparently when you go back home, you resume the same position you always had. I’ve come to realize that no matter where I go in life, no matter what I’ve learned or how ever-so-wise I’ve become, I am always the baby sister to my two older brothers. To my younger brother, I will always be his bossy big sister, and he will always be my best friend (it’s not that I play favorites, it’s just that he’s my favorite).

I realize also now that not every family is like mine. My last few boyfriends all, oddly enough, had probably the sweetest families that exist on this whole fucking planet. They never EVER fight, cry every time they leave each other, and have deep bonds with each other built on a solid foundation of cotton candy, pillow fights and Lucky Charms cereal.  I love them all dearly to this day but come on…not ONE argument? Suspicious.

But I used to get jealous when I met families like that. And I would really wish I had a sister a lot of times growing up. But, I have my three goofy brothers, and I guess my Ma is right…they are a blessing.  I don’t think any quadra-sibling unit has ever been through as much as we have together, and I wouldn’t trade those silly monsters for anyone else on earth. It would be nice though if one of them were a cross-dresser and happened to be my size, it really would be lovely to share a closet with a sibling and double my wardrobe.

For those of you that don’t have siblings, I’m sure you have friends that pretty much are. And for those that do have siblings, you likely have some crazy-ass stories that likely directed what you studied in school and who you are today.  I think we should all be grateful for whatever situation we happen to be in. So in conclusion of last Saturday and many of the wars of our past, this song makes me think of my beloved brothers today. “So brother, raise another pint!…I still look out for you no matter what you’ve heard…I know there [are] better brother[s] but you’re the only one[s] that [are] mine.”

Love you all, Choey

I’m a Barista, But I Want To Be a Ninja

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This weekend I found myself in several situations where I didn’t know every single person in the room/backyard/boat.  As is normative social decorum, I engaged in get-to-know-you small talk.

“Where are you from?”

“Seattle.”

“Oh, I hear it’s nice there. I’ve never been.”  (No one in California has been to Seattle.)

“Yeah, it rains a lot, but the music’s great.”

There is also…

“Where did you go to school?”

“UW and SDSU.”

“What’s UW?”

“The University of Washington.”

“Oh…well SDSU! Go Aztecs!”

Seriously California. There are other states up north you know. Stupid…surf…culture…anyway, those are two conversations I am always having. The third is of course:

“What do you do?”

“I work at a start-up internet company.”

“Oh cool! What is it?”

“We do online reputation management. We’ve only been around for 2 years, and no you haven’t heard of us.”

“How exciting! What do you do there?”

“I do training and development. But it’s a start-up, so I do a lot more than that.”

I think I’ve narrowed it down pretty well and I try to keep it to that. My job is pretty challenging to explain, and I don’t like to go on and on about it, because then I’m the girl talking a lot about herself, and that’s just weird in the small talk get-to-know-you convos.  However, people seem to find what I do interesting.

Does that mean I’ve “made it?” When I first got the job offer a month after I graduated, I was stoked. I’ve been there for a year now and I must say, it is rewarding.  Working at a small company has a lot of great perks, but there is one thing that makes it just like every single job I’ve ever had – I’m working for someone else’s dream.

I was in Trader Joe’s two weeks ago and the ringer-upper guy asked me what I do.  I told him the standard, “I work at a start-up internet company,” answer, and surprisingly he responded, “Oh wow! Your own?”

Sadly I admitted, “No.”

That really got me thinking. Joe there, not knowing one thing about me, had enough faith in me to think that I could possibly be an entrepreneur. That I am so dedicated to my ideas and have enough drive and determination to get an idea off of the ground and start my own company.

After that experience, I’ve really been thinking about this whole, “what do you do,” thing.  I’ve always been the type to resist being put in the box of my profession.  When I worked as a barista for a billion years in every coffee shop in the greater Seattle region, I never really thought of that as my “identity.” I mean sure, I kind of liked it. I was in my teens and early 20’s and it was around the time The Barista was sort of a cool thing to be. So me and my tattoos, dark-rimmed glasses and poetry books would make coffee and use big words to prove I that I was doing this gig just to get through college. “Nope, just making coffee, this is not who I am…but yes you can compliment how well I can make a latte.”

Damn a latte sounds good right now…

Anyway, now that I really think about it, I have never taken a job I would have been ashamed to tell other people about. I worked at a TV station, casting agency, newspaper, university, you can pretty much name any sort of profession that doesn’t happen under a bridge and I’ve done it. And while I genuinely liked each of those jobs to some extent, every single time I always had this bit of a divider like, “This is just what I DO, but it’s not who I AM.” I figured work life would always be that way.

Then I stumbled upon a thought.  When you meet any of your friends who are really doing what they want to do, they are excitedly proud to tell you that what they do is who they are.

“I’m a musician.”

“I’m a photographer.”

“I’m a firefighter.”

“I’m a basketball player.” (OK fine, none of my friends are basketball players)

“I’m a lawyer.”

“I’m an author.”

That last one has a little sting to it, because that’s the one that I want. While I have a pretty rad job, it’s not what I dreamed I would be doing as baby Joni. I was the kid who learned how to read well before any of my peers, and quickly began writing the second I found a sharpened pencil. All throughout school my teachers told me about my “gift,” and I shrugged it off hoping the other kids didn’t hear how big of a nerd I was.

“Ssshhhh!!” I thought, as I tried to drown that talent with cooler ones like sports or music. Those decisions to seek flashier, more lucrative professions, and not be the writer my 2nd grade teacher saw, brought me here. My belief that writing was a silly hobby, and work was adult career life, is to blame. And now when someone asks me what I do, my answer is still not quite what I’m looking for. Jon Acuff, a young writer who is starting to see some success, brings up a good point:

“We end up thinking that we can really have two different versions of ourselves, ‘work me’ and ‘life me.’ …When you think about it, the ‘it’s just a job’ belief is crazy. Imagine telling a friend, ‘I have to go somewhere five days a week, dedicate the majority of my waking hours to it, let it control my vacation and travel plans…but I don’t consider it part of my life.” (Acuff, 2011, p. 230-231)

By the way, this excerpt is from a book called Quitter and I do not recommend brining this book to work, and then getting caught by your boss reading it…that was not a fun week.

Anyway, he is right. We are one, whole person. And I think that this is the big career crisis that my generation faces. We are blessed more than any other generation to have the means to see beyond the “if I don’t work my family will starve to death or wind up eating rocks,” crisis that has plagued most of human existence.  We are the most coddled generation, whose parents have the ability to help us if we fall.  We have always been encouraged to chase our dreams, never give up, and be all you can be.

And I think that’s why so many of us are so bummed out by our jobs. I think I can safely say that most of my friends live for the weekend, and I can’t really exclude myself from that conversation.  As much as I enjoy my work sometimes, I hate Mondays and love Fridays.

The problem with that is, I clearly have a problem with work if I’m saddened by the very thought of 5 whole days of it ahead of me.  Or am thrilled with the thought of 2 whole days that I don’t have to go there.

So that leads me to believe that I in fact haven’t made it yet. Mom told me to be what I wanted to be, and I’m not being it yet, and that bums me out every Monday. When Trader Joe asks me what I do, I want to answer confidently, “I’m an author.”  He will then answer, “Oh! What do you write?” And so on and so forth.

How cool would that be?!?!

For now, I have a pretty good answer. But there’s still a “but” in it. “I work at a startup company in training and development, but I want to be an author.” I’ll bet there’s a lot of you out there that have the same predicament.

So play a game with me. How would you fill in those blanks?  “I’m a ______, but I want to be a ________.”  I have a feeling getting to the second blank is a reality you can make happen.  What are you doing to get there?

As for me, I’m reading like a crazy person, working hard at a job I like (notice, not love), and planning for the next step by saving skrilla and writing early in the morning and late at night. I’m doing it because the opportunity is there if I want it, if I’m willing to fight for it. No one is going to hand me a book deal just because I think I have talent. I’m not going to be walking in the park one day and a man in a beret will shout from across the courtyard, “Hey you! Hey you there! You are clearly a beautiful writer and belong on the New York Times Bestseller list! Come with me and I will make you a star!”  But if that does happen I’ll let you know which park.

We are a generation that has been encouraged to dream, and we easily get depressed when we feel we haven’t “made it” to remarkable fame, wealth, whatever it is that you want. But the opportunity for artists of all kinds is available. Tradesmen/women can get into a technical college when they are willing to do the work. Entrepreneurs have a chance to make that purse-for-cats idea a reality if they try.

The only thing separating us from that, sometimes, is our dichotomous “work me” and “life me” identity crisis.  We tell ourselves that our “life me” can never be our “work me,” so sometimes it can be hard to make the blanks of who we really want to be happen.

But I encourage you to try.  I mean, I really want to see a cat carrying a purse one day, so I’m hoping you’ll go ahead and step it up to make that happen.

Tying the Knot…then Sometimes Untying It

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The Internet is a pretty incredible thing. You can easily get the traffic, clicks, and hits to your blog and other social media sites with simple reporting tools like WordPress stats or Google Analytics. As a budding writer, I’m quickly and neurotically learning the ropes to find and use this important data.  It helps me understand what topics people like to hear about, and what only me in my nerd queendom seem to care about.

Most of the time it’s fairly predictable. People like topics about life, sex and surviving work. But to my surprise I discovered the other day that the top search that included my name was “joni erdmann divorce.”

Yikes.

Y’alls just loves the sticky stuff, don’t ya? That’s ok. I don’t hide it and it’s not a secret. I’ve just never been one of those people who fancied bringing it up. I mean how fun is it, you’re out having a good time, and then after someone playfully makes fun of the divorced horse in the room about a totally unrelated topic they quip, “Yeah I do that, haha, that’s probably why I’m divorced!” All laughter stops.

And they never miss an opportunity to bring up the ex-husband or ex-wife, “Oh yeah, I’d come to happy hour but I need to meet with my ex-husband to pick up my mail.” I dunno, I just don’t care to label my ex that way. I call him my friend because I think that’s the most appropriate label for him now.  I get that it’s rare, but we are friends, and that’s where our relationship is right now. So shit, I’m going to opt for a kinder term that doesn’t bear harsh connotation and questioning.

Divorcees bring up their D-word because often times they think they have to. They assume people are wondering and choose to bring it up to show that they are OK with it. I’m more than ok, but I don’t think I have to walk around with a label on my status, no matter how much society wants me to. I personally avoid labels for everything, but especially on this subject.

I always check the “Single” box instead of “Divorced.” It is so hilarious that the form gods have created this useless box just to make fun us. No, there aren’t tax breaks for divorce, we treat you just like a single person…but we want to know about it and make you check our arbitrary box.  Dicks.

I never straight up lie about it, but I’m not going out of my way to bum others out by bringing up that little detail about me. And besides, if it all happened in your early to mid-20’s I don’t think it counts.  Ok it absolutely counts, but I’m 29 now and most of my friends are just now getting married, so I think it’s almost inappropriate for me to bring it up. “Yeah I’m divorced and am living proof that sometimes marriages end…but good luck with yours, here’s a gravy boat!”

If you were in my shoes, which you very well might be, you[‘d] understand.  It’s not a badge of honor like a degree or a track medal.  It’s a title akin to a scarlet letter, begging to shame you, like you did something wrong. Which is weird because we loooove marriage so much and there’s a lot of pressure to do it. Every time Americans hear about a couple getting married, we rejoice, “Congratulations!!” followed by a plea for every detail thus far. I’m totally one of those people, partially because I know the game pretty well and mostly because I absolutely believe in love and commitment.

And because we are so in love with marriage, we don’t rejoice when people announce their divorce. Which I’m not suggesting.  But when we hear the news of departure, we always respond sadly and slap our hands to our faces, “Ooooh, wow, they have been together for [insert years of adhesive glue], that’s really sad.”

A couple years ago, however, a friend of mine was telling me that she and her aunts were throwing her Mom a party.  I naturally asked what kind of party it was.  “A ‘Happy Divorce’ party!” she squealed.  My brain couldn’t process that information, and my silence requested that she go on. “Well, my mom was with this total loser for the last 7 years, and nobody liked him.  But we never could say anything to her as she just changed to conform to his lazy son-of-a-slut ass. Finally she is leaving him and we couldn’t be happier!”

She’s absolutely right. Comedian Louis CK also puts it well:

“Divorce is always good news. I know that sounds weird, but it’s true because no good marriage has ever ended in divorce … That would be sad. If two people were married and they were really happy and they just had a great thing and then they got divorced, that would be really sad. But that has happened zero times.” [Louis C.K.: Hilarious, 2011]

Right?? So why the hell are we automatically crazy sad for people when they announce their divorce?  Maybe it’s not so sad. They made a, yes very difficult and thought out, decision to move on with their lives without the other person. Good for them?

Now I must insert the mandatory caveat. Some divorces are very heavy, very tragic, and absolutely terrible.  Sometimes it is someone who was perfectly happy, they come home, and their spouse announces they are getting divorced. That’s sad. I don’t really want to play the blame game in hypothetical situations, but I have a very hard time believing someone could be entirely oblivious in a marriage where the other person was totally unhappy.  I might suggest that the person living in the lie of bliss may not be tending to the needs of the unhappy partner…and the unhappy partner needs to get a backbone and fucking say they are considering packing their Pruis before it’s too late.

There are certainly those situations, but we decide to apply them to every case of divorce.  We automatically assume it’s the most absolute tragic scenario and with heavy hearts we mourn.  We do the same thing with marriages, assume that it’s the most romantic fairy tale of a union, and that rainbows are going to shoot out of their eyeballs for the rest of their lives.

These assumptions are stupid and we need to knock it off. You can keep the happy rainbow assumption about marriage, but when people get divorced, it’s not always a terrible thing.  Sometimes it really is a fantastic decision for everyone, and life is going to be a lot better for the two after they stop killing each other trying to make it work.

I know that there are the religious people out there who completely disagree with me. I know that all too well because they are the ones who begged me to stay in my marriage for so long. I knew the marriage was over fairly early on, but because I made the commitment to God, I stayed. I made a lot of mistakes during that time – getting caught up in a legalistic church, drinking the Kool-Aid, marrying the first guy that asked, and waking up one morning married to someone I hadn’t even known for a full year.

Whoops. I don’t mean to sum up the seriousness of those 4 years and pretend it didn’t matter to me, because it did, but I don’t think I have to feel bad about it for the rest of my life. I spent 3 out of those 4 years in and out of counseling, Bible studies, reading relationship books, studying healthy marriages, doing everything I could to make it work. But I was still unhappy. It wasn’t my time to be married yet, and that’s completely my fault. Then I invested everything I had into trying to make something work that never had a chance in the first place.

That’s a little bit of my story.  I realize it’s less tragic than some, but it does give me some authority to speak on the subject of marriage and divorce.  I will never write a book on how to have a perfect marriage, just like I will never write a book about how-to-not-fear-spiders. But what I can say is how important it is to love who you are with, and that includes yourself.  When I was in that silly church that loved to call me a horrible sinner for even considering divorce, I told them I was miserable and unhappy. They replied, “Marriage is about holiness, not happiness.”

My best friend at the time said this, and I didn’t believe it then but I’ll say it now. “That’s a bunch of BULL SHIT.”

Marriage is about a lot of things, and I don’t think you can sum it up in a trite little phrase like that. I don’t want to go into the depths of my misery, but what I can say is that one of the best decisions in my life was my divorce.  And I know I’m not alone on that one. There are a lot of very difficult decisions to make in life, and divorce is one of them…but sometimes it’s the right one.

And while society thinks that they can label us who believed enough in marriage to try it, sometimes hastily, we absolutely do not have to bear the damning titles they want to give us.  I’m single, not divorced. I’m a woman, not a divorcee. Once we can shed these sad and miserable titles, we are free to dream again.  Sure, we need some time to lick our wounds and put ourselves back together again so that we can be a whole, single person. But once we do, there is hope again.

Just because you may have been in a bad marriage, doesn’t mean all marriages are bad. Just because you may have been divorced, doesn’t mean you fail at life. If you fall in love again, you shouldn’t have to be afraid of wearing a yellow dress because you aren’t pure enough for a white one. Fuck that.

Life is too short to get caught up in meaningless labels and shaming each other.  I for one am excited about my future in love. And maybe marriage.  I believe deeply in commitment, and love the institution of marriage. I also believe everyone should get a fresh shot at marriage, even if you’ve tried before. Marriage is a celebration of love. I think of all things to focus on, I think it should be love, not labels.

Now go on, you can change your search to “joni erdmann blissfully happy.” 😉

What’s so wrong with the “F” Word?

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No, I don’t mean the four-letter “f” word. But while we are on the subject, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the word “fuck” either. It’s short, and it has a nice sharp sound to it enunciating that you really mean that thing you are saying. It draws instant attention. And there’s something nicely taboo about it.

As a lady, I’m not expected to say, “fuck.” If my mother ever figures out what a blog is, that I have one, and gets to reading it, I can guarantee that she will make the 1,200 mile trek that separates us to wash my mouth out. It’s just “un-ladylike,” and no one will marry a girl with a foul mouth.

What the fuck does that even mean? I suppose you could make the argument that no one should say fuck, man or woman, because it’s just a vulgar word in your opinion. I’ll buy that. But to say there is a certain vocabulary women are disallowed from using is a whole different ballgame, and the very ballgame I intend to play.

The aforementioned “f” word is “feminism,” a word as taboo as “fuck.” There’s something inherently terrible about the word that makes my generation of iPod listening hipsters roll their eyes instantly and pray for a swift change of the subject. Like punk, many believe feminism is dead. Things are better than they used to be right? Quit whining, what more could women possibly want? Things are equal. After all, women can wear pants now.

So then, if things are just fine now, we can assert that we no longer need feminism. But before we have the funeral, what exactly is/was feminism?

In one of my first classes in graduate school, my professor asked us that very question. This wasn’t an undergraduate class of squeaky faced 18-year-olds carrying their Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift posters. GRAD students were labeling feminism a band of angry, bra-burning, man-hating lesbians who wanted their XY chromosomed counterparts eliminated from the planet altogether.

If students in the top 10% of the education system believe that feminists are simply angry homosexuals, what in Flying Spaghetti Monster’s name does the rest of the country think a feminist is? Perhaps many still conjure a “Feminazi,” a term coined by friend to egalitarians everywhere, Rush Limbaugh. Hopefully you caught my sarcasm. Rush, no friend to equality, started calling feminists “Feminazis” in the early 1990’s, accusing women who want to be equal to men just a terrible as Nazis. Nazis. Equating people who seek equality to people who are responsible for the genocide of millions.

Yeah, that sounds about right. <- Inserting another dose of sarcasm.

Perhaps from these small examples you can begin agree with me that feminism has taken a lot of crap in the last 20 years. Sure, in the 60’s and 70’s there was great progress in what most scholars agree to be the 2nd wave of feminism. But when the 1980’s showed up, there was a giant backlash against feminism. Feminism was blamed for the problems of the day, responsible for the supposed death of chivalry, the arguable increasing instance fornication, and the normalcy of women wearing stupid pants. What a bunch of ball-busters.

In my humble opinion, we are still in the backlash. Some scholars say that we are in the 3rd wave of feminism, in that feminism is lesser holding giant protest rallies and more so a covert effort behind curtains, quietly still pushing onward in the pursuit of a greater equality. But I’m not very convinced.

The big reason I think we are still in the backlash is because, again, the word “feminism” is a word as taboo as “fuck.” If we can’t even SAY the name of the movement, is there really a movement at all? The fact that I’m even writing this may suggest that feminism is alive and well, but I’m honestly nervous about posting this piece because I know that I am eliminating an audience by coming out feminist.

But I have to. I have to keep the conversation going. I have way too many hilarious stories about the ridiculousness of my being female in the workplace, bar, grocery store, and street. I have to share these stories with you, but before I do I want to lay the premise that I’m a feminist, because well, you’ll get my humor more easily.

I’m a feminist. I think I, being woman, should be equal to men. Boom.

I shouldn’t be called, “sweetheart,” by my subordinates. But because I’m female, it happens. I have an older colleague who doesn’t hesitate to call me, “beautiful Joni,” each and every time he addresses me.

So, I playfully call him, “beautiful Eric,” every time he calls me that, over and over pointing out the irony of such a statement. We always laugh, and that is that. I accept it when men hold the door for me, I think it’s awfully polite. I am not offended. However, in the name of feminism and equality, I hold the door for them too. While this almost always confuses them, they accept it, laugh, and we all successfully make it to the other side of the door.

See, I think feminism is more playful than many people believe it to be. Given that we are still stuck in many of the confines of gendered behaviors, playing with those lines always gives way to a laugh. What I’m saying is, we can be feminists in our own covert ways, and enjoy our small victories when we successfully cause someone to consider the WHY of the way things are.

But as covert as we can be, I want the conversation to continue as well. If 3rd wave feminism is our own feminism done in our backyards, blogs and neighborhoods, I think it deserves a name. Many feminists have the discussion, “well maybe we should change the name of the movement, since ‘feminism’ has become such a bad word.”

Ah hell no. That’s our word. That’s your word if you want it. And feminism is for everyone, men and women. As a matter of fact some of my favorite feminists are men, who remind me not to back down and fight even harder than I do currently to perpetuate equality.

At the end of the day, feminism is simply a movement for equality. It was born when women wanted to vote in the 1800’s, so yes it bears the gender specific root fem- in the name. But feminism is for equality in every regard of humanity. Feminists believe in equality of sex, gender, race, and class.

People, I’m a fucking feminist. And while you may find those words offensive, I hope that you at least know that what they mean. Fuck is just kind of a silly word in my opinion, used for punctuation of a point. Well sure it also means doing the ditty, but that’s beside the point.

Feminists are equality proponents. And I wonder – if you thought about it hard enough – perhaps, maybe, possibly, you could be a feminist too and not even know it?