Being Honest: This is Why I Write

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One of my favorite Dr Seuss quotes is, “Be who you are and say what you mean [feel], because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

I tell you, while this fellow wrote children’s books and poetry, I find his words just as inspirational as Tony Robbins’ and as comforting as chocolate chip cookies. This one in particular is a healthy reminder that people are going to say things to you and sometimes it’s going to be painful, but you can’t stop saying what you mean. I know, I really reached deep for that one.

Yet I point out this quote today because lately, I’ve been letting it all get to me. An important individual at work is pretty ferocious with attacking words these days, and I’m growing weary (hence the slow down in posts lately). Additionally I’ve mentioned in a previous blog some of the struggles I’ve had in wedding planning and realizing that I’m just not going to make everyone happy. Which is kind of a bummer.

But most of all, I’ve been learning a lot from you, the readers of this blog. I want to thank you. While I realize this is a relatively small audience in the grand scope of public writing, it matters to me what people think and I care about your opinions and thank you for sharing them.

With all that, I’m learning why occasionally Conan O’Brien or Jay Leno will talk about a celebrity’s latest Twitter outburst after they’ve been heckled, put down or argued with one too many times. It’s challenging to put yourself completely out there and then realize that not everyone is going to like what you have to say. What?!

To just about everything I’ve written so far, no matter how benign I thought it was, it’s been met with opposition in some sense. I am a novice in this whole public writing thing, but I have learned quickly that voicing an opinion means putting a target on your forehead. I am asking directly for comment and to be totally honest, it’s thrown me on my back a few times.

I wonder…is that what progress looks like?

I think so, but only if I can get back up and keep going. One of my grad school professors once said that “Rhetorical criticism is society’s homework.” And to simplify what that means is – pay attention and think about it! Why did Wendy Davis stand for 11 hours? Is it helpful to society that Justin Timberlake’s new video is a boob-fest? What’s going on in Syria and should we intercede? Why would someone eat 69 hot dogs on the 4th of July?

Then comment on it. Say something about it. I have opinions on all of those items, and trust me I’ll get to them.

My point is, what I’m trying to accomplish on this blog is to get you to think critically about what’s happening around you. You deserve a raise, why won’t you ask your boss for one? Are you intimidated or are there social constraints that are causing this stymie? Why are you (or your partner) changing your (her) last name after your wedding? Isn’t there some kind of importance to a female’s family name too? Or why can’t you ever be taken seriously in a meeting with people 20 years older than you, even though you’ve proven that you can keep up with similar work?

I spend a lot of time thinking about these things and about a bzillion more. I’ve counted once, and I actually got to a bzillion and one. So I use this blog to talk it out, and hopefully get some constructive feedback that will help us all understand our world a little better.

That said, I realize that there are things I have said, and am going to say, that are offensive. I’m not out to offend but if it’s going to bring more understanding or alternative thinking, then so be it. I can’t be intimidated.

(yes, this is just as much a pep talk for me as it is for you)

I have had a lot of people in my life who have genuinely tried to control my life, my mouth, and my body. I realize that sounds like an exaggeration but it’s absolutely true and I won’t let it happen anymore. One time when I told my Dad I wanted to be a doctor, he said, “Why can’t you do something more lady-like? Like be a nurse?” Another time, my slim 13-year-old self reached for a candy bar and my older brother grabbed it and put it on my skinny thigh and said, “You might as well just put it right here. Pretty girls don’t eat candy bars.”

You’ll see that I have a lot of opinions with regard to gender equality. Another thing to note is that I was born in Texas in a mostly white community. One time the black boy in my class wrote me a love letter and I showed it to a family member who said, “I don’t ever want to see you talk to that boy. White girls don’t talk to n——.”

Therefore, I have a lot of opinions in favor of racial equality. I have stories with regard to religious oppression, political nonsense, and animal rights too. And if I am paying attention, would it be right to stay silent so as not to rock the proverbial boat? Should I have just gone along with what I was told to do? I say no, and my words are my most powerful asset and therefore I will use them to try and make this society a better place.

I realize that some of you will not like what I have to say, but my point today is that I want to express that it’s coming from a good place. I try to keep it light with humor, but even that can bring further offense. Yet at least I’m out here trying, and I encourage you to do the same.

While I’ve ranted a little about how I’ve been affected by some of the responses, please don’t misunderstand me and think I don’t want to hear it. I encourage your feedback no matter how sharp (or friendly!) it is. We all have a voice, and my point here is to get those of us who are traditionally silent to stand up and really be who you are and say what you mean.

After all, “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” (Dr. Seuss)

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Mission Accomplished: Challenge Accepted

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About a week and a half ago, my world turned upside down. Actually, it turned right side up. It was Sunday morning and I woke up at 3:30am, excited, nervous and energized. I had all my clothes laid out the night before and semi-quickly threw them all on. I popped my sprouted wheat bagel in the toaster and a minute later slathered it with peanut butter. By 4:15am I was out the door and headed to the train that would take me to downtown San Diego.

Sitting on the train, I munched away at the peanut buttery pastry and gabbed with fellow passengers about the event of the day. “I see you’re doing the full,” stated the woman who sat in the seat facing mine, “how many have you done?”

“This is my first,” I replied with nervous yet confident energy.

“Wow! What time are you going for?” asked the friend who sat next to her.

“Honestly, I’m just hoping that I don’t die.”

We laughed. That joke was my standing reply to just about any question regarding the marathon I was about to take on that day. Along the train ride to the event, I was comforted by waves of strength, allowing my muscles to assure me, “We are ready.” Conversely, I was assaulted by waves of concern, as I recalled images of marathoners collapsing from years before.

But alas, I arrived at Balboa Park, where behind the starting line 30,000 participants in the ½ and full Rock and Roll marathon were collected. Music was blasting and the buzz in the air was exhilarating. Everyone was friendly, from the medics dressed as Elvis-es, to the lady wearing a garbage bag to keep herself warm in the porta-potty line.

I eventually found my boyfriend, who 6 months earlier had agreed to follow me in training for the event. We made way to our corral, 4, and met our two other friends who we had done our training with. All of us had the same look on our faces – unbelievably excited but also realizing 26.2 miles is crazy…so a bit mad-hatter.

At 6:15am, the gun went off and we finally hit the pavement. .2 miles into it, a man dressed as a court jester was dancing in the middle of our path. He was dancing and cheering, holding a huge sign that said. “.2 down, only 26 to go!” My friends and I all looked at each other and laughed.

About another mile in, we hit Hillcrest, and in the center divider 8 or 9 men were dressed as female cheerleaders, donning short skirts and having stuffed their shirts with huge boob-like balloons. They danced and flailed their pom-poms, cheering louder than probably any of the many, many groups of cheerleaders along the way.

Just after mile 7 we were headed out of Little Italy, and into a tunnel under the 5 freeway. A DJ was blasting just outside the front of the tunnel, and as I descended into the cave, her beats cascaded through the hollowed concrete like enveloping sound waves. The air was pulsating all around me as I ran through the normally dark tunnel. The darkness was no longer, as instead lines of LED lights flashed everywhere, whose coordinated movement made that Sunday morning feel like the late night hours of San Diego’s hottest club.

I was feeling great. The streets were lined with supporters, and around every mile there was a band or DJ blasting music. The bib pinned to the front of my shirt had my name on it, and supporters often took the time to read my name and cheer, “GO JONI!!!!” The support from complete strangers was honestly one of the driving forces that kept my legs moving.

And that was very needed by around mile 16. Up until then I had no trouble flying up and down hills, but somewhere around Clairemont I was starting to feel my legs. That’s when the real mental games began playing, as I came to realize there’s another 10 miles to go and I was really nowhere near finishing.

But that particular wave of fatigue passed, and I made it to Friars road. Friars is a long stretch of garbage nothing in Mission Valley, so that’s when I realized I had better put in my headphones. After a few songs in, the My Chemical Romance song Welcome to the Black Parade came on. I promise my taste in music is normally more sophisticated than that, but I do love that poppy-ass song. It very anthem-like and epic, so I let myself get into the lyrics and forget that I was still running:

We’ll carry on,

We’ll carry on

And though you’re dead and gone believe me

Your memory will carry on

We’ll carry on

And in my heart I can’t contain it

The anthem won’t explain it.

It took some effort to stop tears from falling down my cheeks, as I looked up and knew my Dad was somewhere in the clouds watching me run the greatest physical challenge of my life, cheering me on as he had all the years before. What can I say, I was on mile 19, anything was going to make me emotional. I instead channeled that energy and put it into my legs, stepping it up to hasten my pace a little quicker. I am confident he gave me that extra boost, with his hand on my back urging me to press forward.

At last I made it to the end of Friars but knew what was next…mile 20 and the 163. For months I had been dreading the 163, the portion of the race that covered the steep freeway, and the biggest hill of the marathon. This was certainly my monster to be reckoned with, as I really, really ridiculously am terrible at running hills. My hips lock up, my knees really start bitching, my breath quickens to the pace of gasping and my heart threatens to explode.

But dammit I made it and found myself in the last stretches of the race. Around mile 23 people started cheering that I was “Almost there!” I was ready to stop and slap each and every one of them, as I knew damn well there were 3.2 miles to go. But they handed me water and Gatorade so I let them yell their nonsense.

At last, I saw the jester from mile .2…but this time he was at mile 26. He was cheering and dancing with just as much energy as he had 26 miles ago, but this time I was happy to see that instead his sign said, “26 down, only .2 to go!” I smiled and laughed, and am pretty sure I have ever been so happy to see anyone again.

I looked up and in a small crane directly above me, cameras were flashing. I spread my arms wide and made peace signs with a giant grin. One of the cameramen gave me a thumbs up in approval, who I saw got the shot.

The crowd was now densely thick with people, as I learned later that 90,000 supporters turned out to line the streets with colorful signs and good will. Music was pumping, the commentator was screaming, and I could finally see the finish line. I reached deep into my now heavy wooden legs and with fury and exhilaration I stepped it up to a sprint. Complete strangers cheered me on those final steps as at last I crossed the finish line.

“I FUCKING DID IT!!!” I gasped to myself. One volunteer heard me and laughed as she handed me a water. I allowed another volunteer to place the coveted medal around my neck, and somehow I mustered out a “Thank you.” The area was absolutely packed with volunteers, supporters and runners. Everywhere I turned someone was trying to hand me something to hydrate or feed me, from Powerbars to chocolate milk to more glorious Gatorade. Camera people were frigging everywhere asking to take my photo. I realize they worked for the race and would try to sell me the shots later, but I decided to pretend I was a famed athlete and they were ESPN trying to get a good shot from my race. I posed and enjoyed the attention.

I decided I should try and find my friends. I knew from a Facebook invite my boyfriend had created weeks ago that many were going to turn out to support us. When I arrived at the family reunion section for letter S, I spotted a couple of my friends – one who did the marathon and one who did the half. “We did it!” I shouted as I approached. They turned around as quickly as they could, which wasn’t quick at all, and were both beaming smiles of pride. I learned the one who did the marathon had PR’ed (runner speak for Personal Record) and the other who did the half was handed beers that he accepted for the last few miles of his race. I was equally proud of both.

As the minutes passed, more and more of my friends appeared, congratulating me on my run. I was often asked my time, which I proudly could say was 04:18. Not too shabby for a first marathon in which you were hoping not to die. I chatted and bantered, but was anxiously looking for my boyfriend. He was nowhere.

“Where’s Scott?” I kept asking. I learned he was at the finish line and had wanted to see me cross. It was nice to realize that I ran faster than other people’s expectations.

“He’s on his way over here,” one of my girlfriends assured me confidently. So I chugged some more Gatorade and considered if I would ever bother doing another marathon again. While I was arguing with my exhausted muscles who pleaded with me never to put them through that again, I saw my tall, sweaty boyfriend approaching. “Finally!” I thought.

He was making his way through our now large group of friends and I couldn’t help myself but squeal, “WE DID IT!” I had my hands up in the air and gave him an awkward high five that somehow morphed into a hug.

He nodded, “Yeah” to my comment, but then didn’t seem to really want to talk about the race when I asked him about his time.

“Joni, there’s another reason why all our friends are here.” He said somewhat loudly and clearly nervously. All our friends heard and backed into a very neat circle around us. “Joni, we have been through everything together, highs and lows, we have now even run a marathon together.”

This is when I realized what was happening. My eyes widened and my already fatigued heart completely stopped. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my friends reacting similarly, holding up their phones to take pictures and slapping their hands over their mouths. A man with a giant camera was also filming, and I decided not to let my mind wander into what and who the hell that was.

Scott said some more words I honestly can barely recall, and then got down on one knee. All around me men were cheering and whistling while women were cooing, as I stood there with my jaw dropped and my legs about to collapse. Scott opened a box, exposing a gorgeous diamond solitaire, simultaneously saying the iconic words, “Will you marry me?”

I swear that I searched and searched for my voice, but it must have run off to the bathroom or something. Giving up I nodded as quickly as possible a “yes,” smiling and determined to make sure he knew how excited I was. Now for every other girl in my situation that’s not very difficult to muster, but I had just run a marathon and I was just trying to see straight.

My now classic head nod was accepted and he placed the ring on my finger. My eyes were still locked on his as he somehow was able to stand up and we hugged the greatest embrace I have ever felt. I forgot that there were other people in that general area, and when I came to, I realized that a crowd had formed about us. I started waving and stammering, unsure what to say but wanting to say it all.

Turns out the guy with the giant camera was a newsman from NBC, and I was happy to learn that the little snoop had caught the whole thing. Trying to hold back Anchorman jokes, I accepted when he promptly requested an interview. I am confident that I sounded like a complete moron, but I was thrilled that my emotions and moronic-ey were captured to always remember.

I am fairly decent at being able to articulate myself, but I will never be able to describe the cocktail of emotions I felt that day. After the newsman had left, my friends and I went to celebrate downtown. Somehow later I was at a rooftop pool, surrounded with amazing people, a diamond on my finger and a medal around my neck. In the same day I had met my greatest physical challenge and accepted the greatest love of my life as my lifelong partner. I don’t know how I have become so lucky, but all I can say is…YES.

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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.” 😉

Switching Gears by Taking Back What’s Rightfully Ours – Monday

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I don’t know about the rest of you, but no matter what is going on in my world, it is the biggest challenge of my week to peel myself out of bed on Monday morning. It’s not that I hate my job, because I don’t, there’s just something about switching gears from life unplannned, to a scheduled regimen of when to be in the office, when to take lunch, when to go home, etc.

Regimens are easy once we are in them – it’s just getting them started. Think about how easy it is to go to the gym when you are used to going, but when you haven’t for a while, getting to that first workout is the hardest task on earth.

And every single week, the majority of the American labor force makes this gear shift every week from weekend to work week. To help me with my gear shifts, I’ve been testing what exactly makes me happy on the weekends and trying to apply those things as much as possible to the work weeks – especially to Mondays. Dammit I don’t want to have a case of the Mondays every single week for the rest of my working life, and I’m on a mission for all of us.

Considering this mission, I was putting on my makeup this morning composing an ode to my beloved coffee, when this song came on my Spotify station. The lyrics that struck me so hard that I literally poked my eye with my mascara wand were the following:

“I stand here in front of you today all because of an idea
I could be who I wanted if I could see my potential
And I know that one day I’mma be him…
See, I observed Escher
I love Basquiat
I watched Keith Haring
You see I studied art
The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot
I will not be a statistic, just let me be
No child left behind, that’s the American scheme
I make my living off of words
And do what I love for work
And got around 980 on my SATs
Take that system
What did you expect
Generation of kids choosing love over a desk
Put those hours in and look at what you get
Nothing that you can hold but everything that it is…

Cause the moment is now, can’t get it back from the grave
Part of the show
It all fades away
Lights go to black
Band leaves the stage
You wanted an encore but there’s no encore today
Cause the moment is now
Can’t get it back from the grave”

I put the majority of the lyrics here because I think it’s more powerful in context, but these words keep ringing in my head this morning,

“The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot.”

Macklemore studied art. And he is 100% right to study those who have succeeded in something that you want to do. I have zero desire to become a rapper, and if you know what I look like and how awkward my general mannerisms are, you’d really find that hilarious. But I think observing and learning from what he has accomplished could help me in my craft(s). Which is easy for me to do, given that he too is a Seattle native and I love to see fellow Seattlites succeed.

In doing so, I’ve noticed a pattern in his music. He has his demons and he works every day to fight against them. I do too – they are different but they are there, fighting with everything they have to stop me from composing. To stop me from believing. To throw me on my back every time my dream starts to get a little momentum.

And what I love about Macklemore is he is a fierce fighter who is winning his battle, and inspires me to be more. Give more, write more, fight more.

He is pushing forward, and encourages me to as well. His regimen is ongoing, it doesn’t start or end on Monday. For me, the battle of Monday and the switching of gears is one of my demons, when it really doesn’t have to be. I shouldn’t switch gears at all! I don’t have to take the weekdays off to live my dreams. Succumb to the monotony of an office working world. Sure, I could easily feel like a number, a drone, a desk jockey – but I’m not. I’m creative, artistic and passionate, and while I drive to work on Monday mornings just like millions of other Americans, there’s something different about me. Because even in my Mondays, I search for inspiration to compose art, and keep my heart open to my dream.

And I think you can too. I think we all have that inner person who taps out during the work week, who really should never have to sit out at all. That true being that we really want to be. Whose talents, if realized, could propel us to joy and success we can’t even imagine.

So for this Monday, I put on my prettiest dress, even bothered to curl my hair, because this isn’t just any Monday. Today is the beginning of something big. I know this because I’m going to make it happen. Great painters became great because they paint a lot. And I will become great because I write a lot. Even, and especially, on Monday.

Schoooool’s OUT. for. SUMMER!

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I always have that song stuck in my head this time of year. “Schoooool’s out…for…SUMMER!” sings Alice Cooper to me whether I’m brushing my teeth or writing marketing copy. If I let myself daydream, I can see images of the kids from, “Dazed and Confused,” tearing out of their classrooms in freedom and a fat Ben Affleck running around trying to beat up that freshman kid that got away.

The reason this happens to me is it’s graduation season. That predictable time every year where your Facebook blows up with complaints about finals, and Instagram fills with photos depicting proud scholars at either study sessions or graduation parties.  CNN, Fox News and NBC will regularly run stories calculating the likelihood of these weary academics landing actual jobs. More talk about “the economy” will fuel over-makeuped newscasters, as they express concerns that Bachelor’s and Master’s alike may very well go back to barista-ing in the coffee shop concocting double tall, nonfat, extra hot, sugar free vanilla lattes.

Most of us on the other side look back fondly as well as with relief. “Ah, I remember that moment, I had the whole world in front of me.” “Damn, I’m glad that shit is over.” “Sssssssuckers!!” I’ve marched my last pomp and circumstance, but I still get that hopeful anticipation of summer that I had every year since joining the ranks of formal education.

I think we all do. That’s something we all have in common, that dream of what we would/will do when we graduate[d].  I recall in my final semesters of school often frequenting Lestat’s, a cliché coffee shop filled with mismatching antique furniture and hipsters with overgrown mustaches in an artsy district of town.  I’d plop myself down on the largest available of the mismatching furniture and surrender myself to long afternoons of composing, editing, crying over, yet another 30 page research paper.

I vowed to myself as I’d gazed over at the girl on the nearby couch with a giant scarf plucking away at her tiny guitar…? ….Mandolin? Ukulele…no…what the hell was that thing…?  Sorry, I just never figured out what that small stringed instrument was.  Anyway, I vowed to myself every time Scarfy and I sat in the overstuffed furniture that once I graduated I would come to coffee shops and just write what I wanted.

Or I would pick my guitar back up and maybe jam with Scarfy, strike up a scarf-a-riffic friendship wherein we would talk about birds and plan to hitchhike around Europe.  Maybe we’d meet some guys who also liked scarves and stringed instruments, and we would eventually be all the talk of art district coffee houses.  Eventually VH1 would do a documentary on our remarkably humble beginnings that eventually lead to folksy stardom, and our patented guit-mando-lele would make us a fortune.

But what really happened was that I graduated, spent the first month job hunting, tanning, and Happy Houring. I told myself I needed a break from writing and any kind of high-level thinking, and the most time I would spend in any kind of book was the mimosa menu at brunch. I fortunately landed a steady position at a start-up company, and have been quite busy with that ever since.

It’s a gift and a curse having gainful employment.  I don’t have the worries I had in that month between graduation and my first day of grown-up work…I know now that I can pay for those brunch mimosas.  But it’s a bit of a curse lacking the flexibility of time. As I type this I glance at the clock, buying myself a few more minutes before I absolutely have to start getting ready for the day, and sometimes my thoughts drift to…”Now when is that first meeting? Wait, do I have any meetings today? What am I going to make for lunch…”

Work takes a lot out of you, and often it takes away our zeal and time to be creative. I know that’s what happened to me for the last year. Typically when I make it to Friday after a hard week (and that’s every week), I’m all, “YEEEAAAHH!!!! The weekend is HERE!” The delirious joy I get when the Seattle college station I stream KEXP plays “the Friday song” on my drive in to work follows me throughout the day as I fantasize of the adventures I’ll have that weekend. There’s always something to do, a distraction to indulge in.  I live by the damn beach, and those waves just beckon me to them…once I get close enough the sand turns into quicksand, forcing me to stop, set out my beach towel and just lay down.

Then Saturday is gone. Sunday arrives and most of it is consumed with dread that the very next day is Monday and ruh-roh, that means back to the refinery.

But let’s go all the way back to the young college hopeful in the overstuffed antique chair. Is this they way she would appreciate me spending my time?  She was so trapped, burdened with deadlines and stressed out professors. She would often say, “I can’t WAIT until I have a 9 to 5er! When I’m done for the day, I’ll be done. Then I’ll have every late afternoon all to myself to do whatever I want. And the weekends will have no call to homework! It will truly be freedom and I’ll really be able to get all my projects done.”

I dreamed of returning to those overstuffed chairs with no due date or assignment. And at the time of this writing, I have let exactly 12 months pass since my last visit to that glorious little hole, spending my weekends instead focused on “resting” from my work week or dreading the work week ahead.

So in homage to that burdened young hopeful that was me this time last year, I will finally do it.  I’ll return to some kitschy coffee shop this weekend. I’ll just sit there and sip my coffee. Maybe I’ll bring a book, my computer, or a guit-mando-lele.

And when I gaze over at a stressed out academic, whose eyes are bagged from pulling frequent all-nighters and hands are shaking from caffeine overdose, I’ll smile and take a deep breath. One, because I don’t have a single fucking final to be worried about. And two, that I’ll have finally made it to the peaceful side of the coffee shop.

So here we are at Friday! Congratulations to all of you who are graduating this year, whether it’s high school or some level of university, it’s a huge accomplishment. And for those of you who finished your scholastic march in years past, enjoy your weekend. But let’s make this weekend count so that when Monday comes, we know that we invested time in not only relaxing, but taking those steps we dreamed of when we were still in school. After all, there’s still the whole summer ahead, and every weekend is practice to make it a good one.

Sex begets Babies, Discipline begets Discipline

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Alright, alright, so discipline is not a very sexy topic, so I snuck sex into the title like a devious little writer searching for an easy hook. Sue me. In the next paragraph you’ll realize you won’t get nuthin’.

Allow me to brief you on the latest.  Since my last post 10 months ago, I’ve been hustling like a hustler.  I decided in October that $71,000ish dollars of debt was unacceptable foolishness and it was time to get my shit together.  I’ll have you know that next month I will have knocked out all of my consumer debt totaling $22,000, and will only have those tyrants that are students loans to go (yes I can hear you cheering Dave Ramsey).

But a weird thing happened when I decided to quit spending like a moron.  I started to shape up in other places.  Shortly after I began my yes-I’m-carrying-a-flask-to-the-bar-because-I-won’t-buy-the-house-wine journey, my already decent work ethic kicked up a notch and my boss noticed. Got a raise.

I woke up a couple months later and decided…you know what?  I’m going to run a marathon.  After all I used to be a sprinter, maybe this time I just won’t stop at 100m. And now 2 half marathons and a 15k later, I am just about ready to run that full marathon on June 2nd (insert internal alarm bells, “why am I DOING THIS?!”).

I started to become a better girlfriend.  I call my mother more. I even bother to walk my dog once in a while.  Ok, ok, so far I’ve just been marching to my own parade here, but what I’m saying is that WOW.  This. Feels. Good.

But on Monday I got thrown off my giant Joni-shaped parade float.  Every morning we have a company meeting called a “standing 10,” where we talk about the happenings in the company. It’s kind of like a grown up show-and-tell regarding both business and personal endeavors. So our ever-so-trendy graphic designer decided to pipe up to share a personal win.

Meekly yet excitedly she offered, “Welllll, this weekend we finally shot my video! It’s been a long road but it was awesome. Our videographer came down from LA, had a makeup artist, lights production, it was really full on…I’m excited about it.”

Everyone cheered happily and rejoiced at her accomplishment.  “That is so awesome!” piped our data entry girl.

“We have our own in-house celebrity!” shouted my boss.

And me? What did I do?  I smiled and followed along as a good actress would, but I couldn’t shake it.  Those green bony fingers wrapped around my heart, holding back true happiness for her and instead turned me inward to focus on myself and my own short-comings.  The jealousy that enveloped that moment was shocking and disconcerting, violently shoving me into the reality that I live in.

What is wrong with me?? I’m not a singer. I don’t want to shoot music videos. OK fine, if all the Beatles came back and decided to shoot a flashy reunion video and implored me to be their muse, I suppose I wouldn’t decline.

But why couldn’t I be happy for her?  Wasn’t I trying hard enough? After all, I’m in control! I have my life in order, I’ve survived my 20’s without going to jail, I’m a success!

It’s not enough.  I’ve come to realize, it’s just not enough.  Paying the bills is just being an adult. Exercising is just being sensible. Having a steady day job is how I am participating in society, and yes, reaching the dream of buying a house. But I’m just not devoting the time to the things I truly LOVE.

Were you ever asked by a high school or college career counselor, “What would you do if you weren’t paid anything for it?”

For me, the answer is to write. I just fucking love to write.  It’s the thing I love to do when no one is watching.  I remember in grad school a professor told us that the worst part of putting together a research paper was the writing, and I was genuinely offended.  Could she possibly mean that people really enjoy the researching part?

The truth is, I never enjoyed the research, but I love the art of the written word.  It is what makes me a true artist.  And that is why I didn’t go on for my PhD. That is why I was overcome with jealousy the other day – because she was pursuing her artistic expression and her dreams were coming true. All the while mine sat quietly in the catacombs of my mind.

“Well no more!!” I say.  I saw a meme posted on Facebook, I dunno, 4 months ago that said something like, “I have friends that spend their weekends partying and living it up. And I think to myself…what exactly is it that you are celebrating?”

See the truth is, after college, you feel as though you have arrived. The time to relax has come.  We do what we want, spend what we want, get married, have babies, whatever it is that you want.  But what tends to take the back seat to all of those things are our dreams. Those desires and talents that sit silently waiting for you to return and spend time with them.

And achieving those dreams sometimes take discipline.

Maybe you played guitar, or the flute.  Maybe you painted, or thought about learning how.  Maybe those Instagram photos you shoot so “likeably” reveal that you really should just get that SLR and do it.

What I am saying is that the time is now to spend time with our dreams.  There is plenty of time to work the day job. Exercise. Budget. Fall in love.  But I hope that those reading this don’t fall into the same trap that I do again and again in my life.  I abandon my best friend who has always been there for me.  My writing.

Therefore I ask – what is your dream?  And if you’re not actively pursuing it…why not?