Merry and Bright

I started using an old wine bottle holder, the kind that can sit on a counter, to display Christmas cards. I noticed that many of them bore the phrase "may your days be merry and bright," a lyric from one of my favorite holiday songs, "White Christmas." Normally I start listening to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving, but this year, I somehow forgot until this week... then I had an Oh Shit! moment where I realized I only had a few days to get my money's worth, so to speak. Merry and bright. That sounds good, right? We all want our days to be merry and bright, and in the months leading up to the holidays, with all the traffic and present-buying and holiday parties and packed schedules and overeating... sometimes it feels like madness instead of merriment, like a blinding sense of "too much" instead of an illuminating "just enough."

And we usually respond in one of two ways:

  1. Grinch
  2. Norman Rockwell

If you're a Grinch, Christmas annoys you to no end. You just want to press fast forward to the new year, minus the stupid party at midnight... I mean, who stays up that late anyway? Also, champagne is expensive, yo.

If you aspire to Rockwellian standards, you want Christmas to be PERFECT. Like this:

rockwell christmas

But that's not real life.

If the picture above could tell its hidden stories, I'm guessing it would look something like this:

Dad has already had one two many whiskeys, and he fell asleep during church, so Mom is pissed (again). Not to mention she stayed up all night wrapping these presents with no help, as well as cooking Christmas dinner on a budget. It took two hours to get little Tommy to put his boots on because he wanted to wear flipflops in the snow "just to see what it felt like," and he's been screaming his head off with an ear-splitting rendition of "grandma got run over by a reindeer" the entire car ride. Debbie called her older brother, Johnny, every name in the book for spilling milk on her new party dress, which Dad bought for her to make up for missing seeing her sing in the school pageant. Johnny is super thrilled that they got a dog -- named Scout, naturally -- for Christmas (complete with a bow around his neck!) because he's wanted one FOREVERRRR and promises to take care of it always. (Mom thinks that is bullshit and fully anticipates taking care of it after one week, plus the dog obnoxiously jumps on everyone.) Also, whoever's house they're walking into is like, no family in the history of ever walks into a door all smiling at the same time. That's impossible in a seated group portrait, let alone a spur-of-the-moment entrance. WTF is about to happen here.

You... get where I'm going with this.

We want the holidays to be perfect because our real lives are far from it. It's easier to focus on making everything look good instead of acknowledging that maybe some parts don't feel good at all.

As a child, it seemed like there was so much merry build-up before Christmas: the days of patiently waiting for Santa to bear gifts, the road trips to see grandparents and cousins at pre-parties, the advent calendars and long church services. Then Christmas came, and it felt steeped in tradition and ritual. Getting dressed up to go to dinner with my family at our favorite restaurant, followed by midnight mass and carols sung on the ride home as we gazed out the windows at twinkling lights on the fronts of homes rushing by. Opening presents in pajamas around the Christmas tree and fireplace with my parents and sisters, while eating cinnamon rolls and drinking hot coffee. And so on.

All my previous Christmases were blessed, to be sure. But in addition to all the Christmas card loveliness, I remember the behind-the-scenes emotions and moments as well, ones that... well, sucked.

Like the time I put all the gifts I bought on a credit card and felt stressed as each person opened theirs, because I wanted them to feel loved and thought an expensive gift was the only way to show it. (Note: don't do this.)

Or the time I cried during midnight mass upon hearing an a cappella rendition of "Silent Night" because my heart felt irreparably broken from the implosion of a romantic relationship, and the song was too pretty to bear.

Or the time my parents went through a rough spot in their marriage and everyone walked on eggshells around each other pretending everything was okay.

Or the time my grandfather drank himself into a stupor, angrily throwing away all the paper cups of milk on the counter because he wanted everyone out of his house.

Or the time my mother and I were barely speaking after months of hurtful dialogue and sharp differences of opinion.

Or the time we drove back home late Christmas Eve in an effort to "do it all," crashed into several deer, and had to wait on the side of the road for a cop to drive us to the car dealership at 2 a.m. (Okay, that one is funny in retrospect.)

In the bright cheer of the season, it's easy to forget the darkness that lurks.

I forget all of the above when I turn the Christmas music on. I hold onto tradition like it will save me from any hardship or negativity. Let's be honest, I want to forget a lot of that. It's uncomfortable to remember, let alone write, because it didn't align with the "merry and bright" holiday I feel like it should have been.

That's the tricky part, the word we always get stuck on: should. Instead of is. 

Christmas is merry and bright. Both at the same time, brimming over with dark and light, sadness and joy, anxiety and peace, fear and happiness. Over and over, back and forth, off and on, from bitter to sweet. The reason I like Christmas so very much is because it offers a duality -- biblically speaking, as a Christian, I celebrate the meaning of the birth of Christ, while holding the hardship and brutality of the rest of His story in the back of my mind and heart. That balance of celebration and remembrance is something we all do, or actively avoid, this time of year, regardless of the details of our stories.

This year, I'm aiming for less "doing," less avoiding the imperfections, and more "being," more embracing what is real.

I'm trying to celebrate all the sweetness of my life while remembering the bitter.

The love, the friendship, the accomplishments of goals set, the adventures taken to new places, the weddings of dear ones, the home-building, the good health.

And.

The failures, the heartbreaks, the challenges, the plans dashed, the confusion, the mistakes, the panic, the overwhelming loss.

And for people in my life,

I cherish the joy of loved ones who are expecting new babies in the coming year, who chose to declare their love publicly, who took on new careers, moved to new cities, and strove to higher heights.

I honor the sorrow and pain of those who lost parents, shook under tight finances, worried about illness, felt depressed and lonely and lost, dropped dreams, had their hearts smashed into pieces.

Together, we celebrate and remember. And we know it's hard, but we do it anyway. We don't pretend life is a Christmas card. We acknowledge life's realness: the bitter and sweet moments that can blind us with brightness and make us feel like our cups runneth over, for better or worse.

This Christmas, I invite you to breathe and slow down, to celebrate and remember. 

merry and bright

May your days be merry and bright, indeed.

FOMO and Family

IT'S DECEMBER. Holy moly. It's also 16 degrees outside, which I despise, but next week I will be on the beaches of Aruba for my best friend's wedding, so. I can deal with winter for a little bit.

Beach-Aruba

I would be jealous if I weren't me, too.

Thanksgiving flew by, and I focused on eating all.the.things plus four pies (not by myself, of course), watching movies on tv, playing around in handstand, and napping. Loads of napping. I also spent several hours around a table with my favorite cousins, reminiscing about old times, celebrating one's news of a baby girl on the way, and catching up on each other's lives.

Seriously, I ate a lot of pie.

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One cousin mentioned how she loved reading my blog posts, which reminded me that I need to, you know, WRITE more here. And another relative brought up the subject of how lucky our family is, that we all want to get together for the holidays. So, instant post idea.

I am lucky. My family -- immediate and extended -- pretty much always wants to be together.

  • My parents couldn't make it to the extended family Thanksgiving this year, and my great-aunt greeted me at the door by saying, "I am SO sad your mom isn't here this year, tell her I love her and I miss her so much." I am lucky that I know my presence would be just as missed if I had not been there.
  • I lived with my grandparents for a summer in college, and then for about six months after I left Chicago. I liked chatting over coffee early in the mornings, watching Seinfeld with my grandpa, listening to my grandma tell me about her day while she made dinner. I'm lucky to know my grandparents, their stories of heartache and joy, and to learn from them.
  • I'm around the same age as five of my cousins, and we communicate in some fashion at least once every few weeks, and we get together as much as possible. We are all technically second cousins, but none of us ever emphasize that detail, because it truly doesn't matter. I'm closer to them than I am to other first cousins. I could call any of them in a heartbeat, in the middle of the night, or show up on their doorstep unannounced. I'm lucky to have a group of best friends for life, ones that knew me when I had crazy eyebrows and braces and gangly legs and a squeakily high voice.
  • My sister's boyfriend was on call for work this year, so my parents drove five hours to host Thanksgiving at their place. They brought a cooked turkey with stuffing and gravy, two pumpkin pies, plates and silverware. My mom made mashed potatoes using three pots -- because when you're 24, you have a weird set of cookware -- while we watched football and drank wine and joked around and simply enjoyed being in the same room as each other. I'm lucky to have parents and siblings who are healthy, happy and present whenever possible.

***

But I've learned that my family's definition of "together" and our understanding of the frequency of that togetherness differs greatly from a lot of other families. I used to feel overwhelmed by this, and it honestly caused tension between myself and my parents as I tried to balance creating my new, independent, adult life while staying deeply involved in the lives of family members. It was generally kind of expected that I come home to my parents' house at least once a month, and as I moved further away, that became less practical, which caused hurt feelings all around. I also spent a lot of time trying to prioritize my friendships: my best friends who now live out-of-state, my Chicago friends, my Des Moines friends. As you can imagine... things -- people -- fell through the cracks.

The hard reality of growing up: people who are important to you, whom you love, don't always stay in your life either by choice or force or circumstance.

If you want valuable, real relationships, they require loads of time and energy, and you cannot give that time and energy to everyone. Even if you want to. The more people on your list, the harder it is to remain authentically present and involved. Slowly, you discover that who you prioritize shifts -- based on life events or location or convenience -- and it can feel sad and hard and scary, to let go of people or recognize they are no longer in your life the way they used to be.

Writer Shauna Niequist frames this concept more positively. She writes in Bittersweet*:

home team

She continues, "If you know who your home team is, then you know who your home team is not. Everyone else is everyone else. You may be tempted to have about a hundred close friends and relatives on your team. You may need a village to feel close and connected or you could live perfectly well with about three other people on the whole planet.  And it doesn't last forever, that team. It shifts when you move or as life changes every few years. That's not wrong. But at any given season, you've got to know, essentially, who you're responsible for when it all falls apart."

She suggests that we get clear on who is on our team and who is not, and we can do so with kindness and love and empathy and honesty.

***

And I found that I was looking at these family "obligations" all wrong. I had both feet in the "have to" world instead of stepping into the "get to" mentality. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am, to be so loved and have so many people to love.

The truth is, my family is my home team, plus a number of friends I can count on both hands. That's it. It has shifted, and the people who are no longer on my home team? I miss them, but I accept it. I know that I'm probably  not on their teams anymore, and I don't take offense to that. And I know that by focusing on my team, I am a better version of myself, with more to give to those who need it.

As my sister put it,

"I don't have FOMO (fear of missing out) with my friends, with them, I'm like, eh, oh well. I have FOMO with my family!"

So this holiday season, I remembered how lucky I am, to have a team so composed of family. I remembered that I grew up with parents who exemplified the importance of family togetherness, but now, I choose it. Freely. Whenever possible. And knowing that I make this choice, over and over again, helps me make other choices that allow me to refocus on what's most important in life.

holiday to do list

*Paraphrased and condensed for clarity

The Lost Art of Noticing

smartphone 3 Last week, I stopped in my go-to coffee shop for a morning toddy before driving to work. Normally I dart inside with only my phone, since I try to use Dwolla to pay locally whenever possible, but that day, I just pulled cash out of my wallet and left my purse and phone in the car. (I know, Mom and Dad. Never leave your purse in the car. I'm sorry. I've gotten way too trusting during my time in Des Moines.)

I ordered and stepped to the side to wait for my coffee. Immediately and automatically, I reached my hand into my purse to ... grab my phone. Oh yeah. I didn't bring it inside.

So instead, I looked around as I waited. I looked at the people working behind the counter in their tan aprons, bustling to take change and make drinks and plate egg sandwiches. I looked at the customers, in sweatpants or yoga clothes or suits or high heels, sitting at the long bar or the small, circular tables. I looked at the people in line, waiting to place their orders.

And I noticed that almost everyone had their head down, looking at a screen. At their phone, while scrolling, scrolling, scrolling or frantically texting. At their computer, while typing furiously. At their iPad, scrolling again.

With the exception of the employees, almost all of the people in the coffee shop, whether they were alone or with another person or with a group -- almost all of them had their eyes turned down at a bright screen.

smartphone 2

I felt a shiver of recognition and embarrassment, too, because I do the exact same thing all the time. In fact, I wanted to do it that very morning, but I couldn't because I had left my electronic distraction in the car.

But I absolutely do it: at a stoplight, waiting for the light to change, I check social media. ("Check" it for what? I wonder.) During a lull in conversation, I look at my text messages "just real quick." At home over dinner, I catch up on my favorite blogs, side-by-side with someone I love, who is also often in front of a screen. Many nights, we watch a movie or television show -- yet another screen -- together, but not really, because we can fall into the trap of using our phones while watching something else at the same time (to look up reviews of the movie, to figure out that actress's name, to post a picture on Instagram). Sometimes I'll even be ON the phone with someone, like my mom or friend or sister, and I'm multitasking on another screen. (Because it's harmless, right? I'm still listening, right?)

I know I do all these things. I'm just like you, trying to avoid the bullshit of the busy trap, but also trying to do all the things, be all the things. Sometimes I get on my own case about these bad habits, but too many times, I don't even notice that I'm doing it in the moment.

So that day, being in the coffee shop, witnessing a collective group do what I do much too often -- it felt different. I felt sad and self-righteous and surprised all at once. This isn't what it really looks like, is it? Don't they know better? 

smartphone 1

***

In college, one of my favorite English professors offered a creative writing course, except it conflicted with another course that I had to take to graduate. I think it was economics or statistics or something. *Shudder* But I really, really REALLY wanted to take this class, so I outlined a proposal for an independent study version of it during a different time slot. I asked her if we could make it work, and she said yes.

We spent most of the semester working on a few essays, doing the usual writing/re-writing/editing, but my weekly homework involved bringing in my "noticings." Ms. B asked me to carry around a little notebook to capture all the things I noticed, and to be as specific as possible; looking back, this is not an uncommon habit for a writer by any means, but it served as the first time I was not only given permission to do it repeatedly but expected to report back.

I loved it. And it really helped, in terms of writing.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped this practice of noticing. I got busy. I wanted to move as quickly as possible. I paid attention to the world around me when I felt like it (i.e., occasional journaling) or when it was asked of me -- on Thanksgiving, on Christmas, on someone's birthday, on a Sunday at church -- but it stopped being a practice, an art.

Yoga, among other things, brought me back. I learned how to notice my breath, and guide others in the same way. I learned how to pay attention to my body, my mind, my spirit, and when I teach, I invite others to become more aware of their bodies, their minds, their spirits. I started to cultivate a practice of awareness, one that I fail at miserably some days, and it helped me really notice how often I'm not present and how often others are not present with me and how shitty it makes me feel in response. Trust me, when you start working at being more present in your life, you notice really quickly who is your life is the exact opposite.

You can read those lines and write it off as hippie-dippie la-la talk, but ask yourself: if you're not noticing yourself and the world around you, what is the point?

What's the point of being a human in this life if your eyes are downcast, stuck in another virtual life all the time?

What's the point of having relationships if you're too distracted to connect in the real life moment?

When did we get so focused on "capturing the moment" instead of, you know, living it?

These are not new questions. But in light of all the articles about being overly busy and how we need to stop and just put down our smartphones ... our emotional connection to technology is disturbing, and it continues. Part of this, I think, is because we're human, and one of our very broad failings is that we do things that we know are bad, ranging on the spectrum of smoking and eating poorly to lying and stealing to killing others. But being overly attached or addiction to screens, can't we fix that problem, one person at a time? I hope so.

Because when I look back on my life, hopefully many years into the future, I won't wish I had spent more time on my phone. I won't wish I had watched just a few more episodes of the Mindy Project (even though that show is the bomb). I won't wish I had Instagrammed more pictures of my pets or friends or dinners or cups of coffee (even though Instagram is fun, to be sure).

I will wish for more time with my loved ones. I will wish to see more: a bright blue sky, how the edge of a building slices into the sunshine, the wrinkles in the corners of the eyes of my parents. I will wish to hear more: the sound of my sisters laughing, the cry of babies, the pained secrets of friends, ocean waves, my favorite song on the radio, the trickle of wind throughout a forest, the hum of cars and sirens in a city. I will wish to smell more: flowers and apple pies and my grandpa's sweater and winter candles. I will wish to taste more: the lips of a lover, beef tacos, a strong margarita, mint gum, dark chocolate and red wine and cheddar cheese. These lists go on and on.

I will wish for so much at the end of my life, and very little of it will involved a screen.

Consider how it feels to look at the above photographs, of people with each other but not really. Are you paying attention to your life, to your world? Do you realized that real life is infinitely better than the siren song of our phones and computers?

(Photos -- and an excellent essay on smartphone addiction, which prompted this post -- courtesy of Babycakes Romero)

Weekend Edit

Lately I've been a little bored by the whole "list all your favorite links" weekly posting trend, even though I do love collecting favorite articles and Internet reads/finds. I stumbled upon this edit prompt a while back, and I think it will be fun to bring my own version into rotation. It feels very old-school, AIM, "fill out this survey" and I like it. making //  Farfalle with chicken, mushrooms and spinach. Zucchini-carrot muffins. Chocolate chip larabars. Green juices. Almond butter cookies.

drinking // Pinot Noir (anything in Abbe's 10 under $10, really!) and Blue Bottle coffee. Trying to drink much more water plus a juice here and there.

reading // I finally enjoyed a whole weekend with zero plans, which meant catching up on the stack of magazines on my desk. On the Kindle: Stephen King's On Writing and Robert Galbraith's The Silkworm.

wanting // To figure out the next phase of my career/calling.

looking // At all the pretty holiday stuff in Real Simple. So many jewel tones! And centerpieces! And dresses for parties that aren't on my calendar!

playing // With a laser pointer because Stanley and Stella love it, and it's hilarious to watch them.

sewing // Nothing. I have no clue how to sew. But I did start knitting tonight to finish the scarf I started ... last year. Thank goodness for teenage bloggers who share all their how-to's on YouTube, amiright? Because I could not remember knits and pearls for the life of me.

wishing // For time to slow down.

enjoying // Every moment as much as possible. And the people in my life.

waiting // To be sure about a few things.

liking // Sundays at home with no plans, curled up on the couch with sleepy pets, all my shows and things to read. Sundays that involve napping and no exercise. So, today.

wondering // What to get loved ones for Christmas.

loving // Cold weather and bundling up in sweaters and scarves and boots.

hoping // To finish paying off my credit card ENTIRELY this month (!!!!).

marveling // At the beauty and selflessness of other human beings in the face of difficulty or loss.

needing // Hugs from my mama and daddy. Can't wait to see family over these next two months.

smelling // A new orange clove candle and fresh autumn flowers.

wearing // Um, ratty black Victoria's Secret leggings that have holes in the knees but are oh-so-soft, slippers, a blue tank top and a navy thrifted cable-knit Marni sweater.

following // The mid-term elections, and the potential repercussions in each state based on the results.

noticing // My breath.

knowing // That I'm right where I'm supposed to be, for now.

thinking // About writing and abortion rights.

feeling // Really, really tired.

bookmarking // This amazing highlight of a valuable program at my former church in Chicago. 

opening // Too many tabs.

giggling // At the pets and their funny antics. On the phone with my best friend earlier this afternoon.

Save Me, San Francisco: Part Two

(Catch up on part one of my trip here) After I had tasted everything at the Ferry Building, I decided to walk around a bit more before catching the ferry to Sausalito later Friday afternoon. Vesuvio is a famous bar known as the place where the Beat Generation -- Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassady -- came to drink and write.

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I didn't stop in, but admired the murals adorning the alley between Vesuvio and City Lights, the bookstore across the street. On a rainy day, there's nothing I like more than poking around in an eclectic bookstore, and this one was no exception.

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Its layout is remarkably similar to the UChicago Seminary Co-op bookstore (the one on 57th) in Hyde Park: winding staircases, dim bookcases, bookshelves literally everywhere. Being at City Lights brought back lots of memories, fond and bittersweet, of holing up on a chair in the co-op in between classes, spending hours thumbing through stacks of novels, reading bits and pieces, and ultimately heading down to the street for a cup of coffee and a chocolate croissant at Medici.

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I headed upstairs, the staircase framed by Ginsberg memorabilia, and sat for a while reading Frank O'Hara poems. Reading poetry with nowhere to go, nowhere to be, completely alone made me feel like my 23-year-old self, a self tucked away from years ago. It was nice.

When the rain let up, we took the ferry out to Sausalito, gazing at the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz along the way.

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Sausalito, a city right across the bay, is small, quiet and picturesque. There weren't many people milling around, and the weather still sucked, but the views made up for it. It almost reminded me of Galena, lllinois, minus the topography.

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The pier, full of sailing boats, was lined with tiny shops, and eventually we needed to warm up from the cold. Such an effort necessitated wine, and this little art gallery slash wine shop fit the bill.

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I kept forgetting it was Halloween, even though one of their managers kept handing out candy to people passing by on the street while wearing a witch hat. And yes, the pug pillow in the photo above did find its way back to Des Moines. Whoops. Not sorry.

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Again, the views? Spectacular, especially as the sun set.

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With an hour remaining before the returning ride back, we sipped cocktails at Barrel House Tavern. (Very different from the Barrel House of the Quad Cities, ha!) I had something called a Freddy Kruger: bourbon, vermouth, bitters, and blood orange quince jam. Crazy drink.

The rest of the evening involved walking down to Fisherman's Wharf -- which was as touristy as I expected, the Navy Pier of SF -- and had oysters and fish for dinner.

Then called it a night. I know, it was Friday night, the city was hoppin' AND it was Halloween ... but sometimes you can only take so much exploration. Plus, a day-long Napa trip awaited the next morning.

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NAPA. Wine country was my one "must do if at all possible" item on the trip agenda, and it happened. Even though it rained so much the prior day, the sun shined brightly and a crisp breeze set the tone for the day. All of the views? Gorgeous, naturally, and the company was even more enjoyable. Many thanks to a friend who coordinated the entire day and made sure it was excellent.

An hour-long limo ride later, complete with pops of champagne, we arrived at our first stop: Delectus, a family-owned winery specializing in reds. Our host graciously allowed us a look in their barrel room, where we tried more wine around a large, glass-top table. Different types of soils related to the wine industry lay under the glass; it was not only a beautiful decorative piece, but also informative.

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Next up: Paraduxx, where we (duh) drank more wine and enjoyed lots of wine and cheese. The grounds were massive and elegant, with people gathering around little tables on a covered outdoor patio.

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Finally, we visited Silverado Vineyards, my very, very, very favorite.

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Silverado is basically a castle on a hill, with epic views, delicious wine, and most of all, a private stone patio that we were lucky enough to enjoy. That actually made a big difference, being able to hang out as a group and not feel rushed or in the way, and it served as the perfect way for us to round out the day trip.

Fun fact: the winery was originally purchased and owned by a couple named Diane and Ron Miller. Diane was the only biological child of Walt Disney, and Ron served as the former CEO of The Walt Disney Company. Pretty cool, huh? (I didn't know this at all while we were there, but a friend filled me in earlier this week.)

We headed back, sad to leave but knowing we'd all be back, and picked up pizzas and more wine for the road. Then we hung out at a friend's condo for the rest of the night, talking and laughing, eating more food and drinking more wine (hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time!) and glimpsing the city by the bay from a special view.

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Thanks to so many new friends for their hospitality and warmth. I'm so glad to check this trip off my bucket list, and hope to return someday ... to check out more of wine country, of course!

Save Me, San Francisco: Part One

I visited the city by the bay -- and the West coast -- for the first time last week. After a 5 a.m. flight, a quick layover in Chicago, and a nosedive into Bad Feminist, I arrived around lunchtime with my luggage intact at a downtown BART station, desperately seeking coffee. I automatically presumed I could walk the 0.8 miles from the station to the hotel, no problem. The sun was shining, my carry-on didn't weigh that much and I was wearing flats. Right? IMG_2804.JPG

WRONG. Within 0.2 miles, I joke you not, I put my stuff down on a street corner and requested an Uber. Hills, man. I couldn't hack it. I waited a few minutes, and feeling impatient (I'm in SF! I need to go explore!), grabbed my things and continued on.

Another 0.2 miles, and I was d.o.n.e. Requested another Uber. Felt mildly embarrassed because: 1) I actually do love to walk everywhere, and I wish Des Moines was much more walkable, 2) I especially love to explore a new city on foot, 3) I was literally four blocks away from the hotel.

I came to the base of yet another hill (see picture above, imagine facing the opposite direction) and wanted to puke. Sweating through my light leather jacket, straining with my now-a-million-pounds bag, I slowly started up it and basically gave myself a pep talk every step while internally cursing the entire time.

It didn't help that I kept passing people sitting on a sidewalk stoop looking at me like, Girl, have you lost your mind? and women pushing strollers with babies in them UPHILL. So, there's that.

But I made it. The Fairmont stood proudly and exquisitely upon the top of Nob Hill; I checked in and momentarily collapsed on the plush, white bed. A quick shower and change of clothes later, I was off to Tartine. (Fun fact: the Fairmont has a neat, storied history, so look it up if you're interested in that sort of thing.) IMG_2794.JPG

If you're a foodie at all, you've likely heard of Tartine; it has what Michael Pollan calls the "best bread he's ever tasted." I didn't quite know what to expect, but after a 30+ minute walk, I felt famished. The bakery was much, much smaller than I anticipated, but completely packed with folks snagging real estate on the dark wooden tables inside or perching on the mishmash of chairs outside the windows.

Insider tip: there are two lines, one for the pastries and bread and one for the lunch menu. I made the mistake of getting in the wrong one and then it took twice as long to order. But when I got up to the counter, I ordered a chocolate salted rye cookie and a cappuccino to start (don't judge me), followed by a prosciutto and provolone hot pressed sandwich. Of course it was amazing.

I sat for a while -- tired of walking already, happy to have a place to sit in the busy room -- and just people-watched for a while, which is one of my favorite pastimes that I'm normally too much in a hurry to do.

To my right sat a ridiculously thin, blonde woman, downing a bowl of coffee and picking at a large croissant, all while reading fashion articles on her iPhone in French and pawing through her Louis Vuitton (Note: the tables were really close together, so I wasn't being a total creep).

To my left sat an elderly couple, sharing a fruit tart and both drinking coffee. They wore -- I kid you not -- the exact same thing: flat black shoes, khaki pants, short-sleeve white button up shirts, and hats. The only difference was that she flung a black cardigan around her shoulders and topped her version off with a black beret, while he opted to go sweater-less and covered his head with a tan fishing hat.*

The cutest part? After a few moments, he moved from across the table to sit right next to her. They both crossed their legs while sipping their coffee and pointing out things in the cafe to one another, laughing. At one point, she set her cup down, turned to him, placed her hands to either side of his face, and kissed him tenderly.

All I could think was, I want that. It was beautiful to witness.

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Eventually I left the bakery and strolled through the Lower Haight and Alamo Square areas, stopping in a few shops and mostly just looking around. I walked up to the de Young Museum (where the main exhibition featured Keith Haring!), passing through a beautiful park and a white-haired woman jamming out on rollerblades on a tennis court. By this time, a chill had set in and gray clouds abounded, so I figured I had done enough walking for that day and called a Uber to return to the hotel. (Notice a theme here yet? Ha).

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That night involved wine-tasting and bar-hopping through the Financial district. Too much fun.

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The next morning, after a brief stop at the crowded Blue Bottle and Dwolla SF, I made my way through the pouring rain to the Ferry Building, determined to enjoy the day despite the weather.

OKAY. It hadn't rained in like, months, and so naturally it does during the 3.5 days of this trip. Super frustrating, even though all the SF folks were thrilled, and I know California is in a drought, but.... What are the odds?!

I will say that people were definitely still out and about, probably because of the massive Giants celebration parade, but my point is the rain didn't stop anyone and it wasn't going to stop me.**

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Anyway, the Ferry building was a dream. I bought some olive oil and black truffle sea salt, granola and dried fruit, and taste-tested almost everything. Delicious highlights included cheese at Cowgirl Creamery (I wanted to take it all home and the guy let me sample everyyyyything which was sweet) and XOXOC beans from Rancho Gordo.

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Then, since the rain continued, I grabbed another coffee and a cranberry scone and sat to journal for a bit.

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Stay tuned for part two...

*This is my favorite anecdote of the entire trip.

**Thanks to my mama for teaching me how to rally regardless of circumstance.

Book Review -- The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

waldman When's the last time you read a romance novel written by a woman with a male main character?

For me, never -- until Adelle Waldman's The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.*

Waldman explores what it's like to be Nate, a young man living and working in the literary world of New York City, as he navigates a dating world fraught with contradictions and comparisons. His pattern: he likes a woman, dates her for a bit, then slowly things unravel due to his behavior.

The unique twist here, is that, none is his behavior is outlandish or unusual. We witness him forgetting to call someone back after a first date, avoiding the "what are we" conversation with a new lover, or slowly fading out of a relationship a few months after it begins. Basically, things that happen all the time, for men and women, but things that are frequently poised as "what men do."

His interactions with one girlfriend serve as a shining example of the old maxim that people want what they can't have, and when they get it, they tired of it easily. With Nate, though, we're given a front row seat to the inner workings of his thoughts and emotions -- as he asks himself why he is losing feeling for someone, as he realizes he's being a bit of an asshole but can't quite make it right, and so on.

See this exchange between Nate and Hannah, the "smart and nice" girl he likes, but not enough. Instead of breaking up with her directly, he gives her the silent treatment, picks fights and eventually finds himself in this conversation:

Nate: "Sometimes I think I've lost something, some capacity to be with another person, something I used to have. I feel pretty fucked, to tell the truth."

Hannah: "I feel like you want to think what you're feeling is really deep, like some seriously profound existential shit. But to me, it looks like the most tired, most average thing in the world, the guy who is all interested in a woman until the very moment when it dawns on him that he has her. Wanting only what you can't have. The affliction of shallow morons everywhere."

What Waldman provides is a different sort of commentary on dating and relationship, on sex and love and attraction. Parts of the novel are, admittedly, kind of sad and the ending isn't a happy or clear one. Regardless of your gender as a reader, you'll recognize many of the situations that Nate finds himself in, and either feel as though you've been in his shoes before or you've been in the role of his romantic interest in question before. For example, this line about people "being the new person versions of themselves: attentive, polite, and good-humored." Who can't relate to that?

We know the games we play in relationships and dating; we know the falsehoods and trap doors; and yet, we aspire to be understood and loved more than we usually aspire to understand and love another person. Nate repeatedly views himself with derision and empathy, with kindness and frustration -- just as we see ourselves in our own lives, and just as we see him as a character in the novel.

Waldman isn't afraid to base dialogues or parts of the story on strong stereotypes, most of which are male-oriented in a us v. them (them being women) theme. Nate's friend, Jason, declares at one point, "As a rule, men want a reason to end a relationship, while women want a reason to keep it going." As a woman, I automatically want to call bullshit on that ... and I will ... but at the same time, I get what he's saying because I've seen that stereotype play out before.

Consider, too, this train of thought Nate has after talking with his only platonic girl friend, Aurit:

"They [Women] were as capable of rational thought; they just didn't appear to be as interested in it. They were happy to apply rational argument to defend what they already believed but unlikely to be swayed by it, not if it conflicted with inclination or, worse, intuition, not if it undercut a cherished opinion or nettled their self-esteem. So many times, when Nate had been arguing with a woman, a point was reached when it became clear that no argument would alter her thinking. Her position was one she 'felt' to be true; it was, as a result, impermeable. Even self-consciously intellectual women seemed to be primarily interested in advocacy, using intellect to serve a cause like feminism or the environment or the welfare of children, or in the interpretation of their own experience. . . . The fact that something made her [Aurit] feel bad was reason enough to reject it. She didn't even like it when Nate mentioned things outside her ken. If he got to talking about philosophers she hadn't read--which is to say, most of them--her face would grow taut, tight-lipped, with a pulsing around the temples, as if Nate, in talking about Nietzsche, were in actuality whipping out his cock and beating her with it."

It's hard to like Nate very much after that passage, and at the same time, you can feel his frustration trying to figure out how to talk to Aurit in the same way he talks to his male friends on certain levels. I think Waldman intends to apply pressure here from Nate's standardized point of view, so that her readers ask themselves, "Is this true? Who do I relate to in this scene, Nate or Aurit, and why?"

Waldman shines the brightest during these little exchanges, all of which serve to underscore her point(s): that relationships are murky and difficult, that man of our gender expectations are confusing or unfair or incorrect, that men have the same anxieties and hesitations as women about dating, that mixed signals continue to be the foundation of many romantic interactions, and that communication in general can be fruitless and challenging when it comes to love.

The best excerpt, which arrives as a cold, sarcastic zinger from Aurit:

"Dating is probably the most fraught human interaction there is. You're sizing people up to see if they're worth your time and attention, and they're doing the same to you. It's meritocracy applied to personal life, but there's no accountability. We submit ourselves to these intimate inspections and simultaneously inflict them on others and try to keep our psyches intact--to keep from becoming cold and callous--and we hope that at the end of it we wind up happier than our grandparents, who didn't spent this vast period of their lives, these prime years, so thoroughly alone, coldly and explicitly anatomized again and again. But who cares, right? It's just girl stuff."

Depressing? Maybe. True? Absolutely. Even though a female author writing for a male character is nothing new, the fact that Waldman specifically explores these topics -- often considered (wrongly) by too many to be the realm of "women's lit" or "chick lit" -- from an unlikable, male character is refreshing.

*If you've read other male-POV books by female authors, please share! I'm sure my experience is limited.

Book Review -- The Goldfinch

tartt The Goldfinch quickly became the must-read novel of 2014, with people adding it to their book lists and Kindles while lamenting the page length or raving about its worthiness of a Pulitzer. Some literary critics deemed it a new "Harry Potter" for adults -- and not in a good way -- that lacked beautiful prose, a sturdy message and well thought-out characters. You can read more about those criticisms here; it's certainly worth asking why a specific book becomes such a hit. (I know I asked it in light of Fifty Shades of Grey and Twilight, for instance!)

Although I write short book reviews on here, I'm not a book critic -- and there's a significant difference between the two. I read things that challenge my normative ways of thinking, educate me, or flat-out interest me for one reason or another. Sometimes I read books that I don't like very much, but I don't usually blog about those unless there's a reason for my distaste that I want to explore. Sometimes you just don't care for a book, even if its popular, and that's okay. (Post to come on that topic!) But I'm not a critic in the sense that I'm reviewing books based on language, form, style, etc. Right now, I'd rather share what I've read, why it speaks to me, and why you might consider reading it, too.

So, The Goldfinch. I never heard of Donna Tartt before this book came out. There are a ton of recommendations about her first book, actually, called A Secret History, that I will likely read one day. Honestly, I'm most amazed at the fact that it took her 11 years to write Goldfinch11 years, people! That's incredible diligence to a concept and a writing project.

Goldfinch starts with Theo Decker, our first-person narrator and protagonist, and follows him throughout the core of his life. At age 13, he lives with his mother in New York City, and adores spending time with her. His mother is beautiful and smart, and his father walked out on them ages ago, so it makes sense he would lean so heavily on his one parental figure.

One day, they stop by the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see his mother's favorite painting: The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius (note: this is a real painting). Theo notices two people in the gift shop, a little red-haired girl and an old man, and falls in love with the girl from a distance. Seconds later, a bomb goes off, destroying Theo's life as he knows it. He discovers the same old man in the shattered museum post-explosion, who hands him a ring and a confusing message. In a panic, Theo grabs The Goldfinch off the wall, thinking that's what the man wanted him to do. Once he leaves the museum with the painting, hiding it in his backpack, his life takes a series of twists and turns, and Tartt carries her readers along for the ride.

The focus of the novel isn't that Theo stole a priceless painting; it's more general, in the sense of, what do our small actions add up to over the course of a life? Can one decision made as a child influence and affect all decisions going forward? (Tartt says emphatically, yes.) How do we cope with gigantic loss? Are certain mistakes too big for redemption?

A few favorite quotes:

"What if maybe the opposite is true as well? Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions--? Where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions? Maybe sometimes--the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right? I have to say I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between 'good' and 'bad' as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can't exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing the best I know how. But you--wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking 'what if,' 'what if.' 'Life is cruel.' 'I wish I had died instead of.' Well--think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no--hang on--this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can't get there any other way?"

"Caring too much for objects can destroy you. Only--if you care for a thing enough, it takes on a life of its own, doesn't it? And isn't the whole point of things--beautiful things--that they connect you to some larger beauty? Those first images that crack your heart wide open and you spend the rest of your life chasing, or trying to recapture, in one way or another?"

"We can't choose what we want and don't want and that's the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it's going to kill us. We can't escape who we are."

I felt enraptured by the story all the way until the very end, where Tartt turned quite subjective on themes of beauty and art. I don't think is a negative aspect of the novel, but it did make it hard to remain engaged in finishing it -- especially after hundreds and hundreds of pages. If you're interested in reading The Goldfinch, don't rush it. Take your time, enjoy the plot and characters for what they are, and consider the duality of your own choices within the context of your own life. The Goldfinch isn't the best book I've ever read, but it's a very good book, and one worth reading.

Weekend Reads

A few days late (SF recap to come!), but here's what I've been reading. Oh, and if you haven't voted yet, GO NOW. Here are 5 reasons why.

A personal story that about size and weight that will likely make you uncomfortable. Or maybe that's just me. I recognized myself at points in this essay, even if I'd rather not admit it. I admire her attempt to cut through the bullshit of the game of pretend women sometimes play: that staying fit and healthy -- or specifically, thin -- does not take work. I like that she asks why some women play this game for the benefit of others (namely, men). I don't prefer her particular version of fit/healthy for my own life, and I think there's some concerning paths of thought here that I wouldn't promote to my, let's say, 16-year-old sister, but I do think it's powerful that she basically owns up to the fact that she makes an effort -- something I think a lot of women wouldn't actually do. Related: see this Instagram.

Two things I do, in fact, want to eat soon, and my new favorite snack bar (discovered at a coffee shop in Iowa City).

"There is nothing wrong with celebrities (or men) claiming feminism and talking about feminism. I support anything that broadens the message of gender equality and tempers the stigma of the feminist label. We run into trouble, though, when we celebrate celebrity feminism while avoiding the actual work of feminism." -- Roxanne Gay, whose collection of essays I devoured on a recent plane ride

A theme in my yoga classes lately.

A HILARIOUS flow chart to help you practice the art of not giving a shit.

6 ways to deal with rejection, if you've been served up big heaping bowls of No lately in life. #3 and #6 particularly resonated with me.

A different perspective on posing nude from some badass Playboy alums.

Oh, and I'm a new convert to Baldwin denim. I usually spend $40 at Gap on a pair of jeans, but that was six years ago, so I sucked it up and invested in some quality pairs, all thanks to Kiley.

Another great interview with Mindy. I could sit in a room and listen to her talk all day long.

So again, if you have time to read this post, you have time to go vote. The end. And if you voted, YAY YOU! You're awesome.

How to Work Your Best: Step 3

bizladies_how_you_work Step 3 of figuring out how you work your best means taking all the information from steps 1 and 2, and turning it into a plan.

Here are the tips offered by Design*Sponge (paraphrased by yours truly):

  • Block out your most productive, creative times on your calendar, and plot out priorities.
    • I'm literally blocking out my calendar for 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. every day to focus on my top priority, most creative projects. At the end of every day, I'm going to try to write my top 3 priorities for the next day, too. Often I'm rushing around and then arrive to work unfocused, then get distracted by email and "this must be done now!" stuff, and things get out of whack. Same with weekends -- I still want to relax and rejuvenate on the weekends, but I also want to set aside 1-2 hours for priorities I can't get to during the week. Like, free/creative writing and blog stuff, basically.
  • Work ahead of schedule.
    • This is really hard. But it feels oh-so-good to be on top of things.... so I'll try.
  • Create energizing space in your day.
    • I accidentally make this some sort of New Year's resolution every year, I've realized. Creating space can easily mean "doing absolutely nothing with a glass of wine in hand while watching Scandal because wine helps me relate to Olivia Pope better." That's okay, but I need to create energizing space. I usually do that through yoga but I want to include daily reading/writing space as well.
  • Let go of expectations.
    • Soooo pretty much a life practice in all areas, over and over.
  • Plan for the next day, energy-wise: what fills you up v. what sucks your energy away.
    • Sometimes I just set my schedule and agree to things without really thinking it through. For instance, I keep making plans on Monday nights when I know by 5 p.m. Monday I want nothing more than to go to yoga, do laundry and hang around the apartment. I never want to be social on a Monday night; I want to be a homebody to the max. Anything else steals my energy, whereas planning to be social on Wednesdays-Saturdays feels much more fulfilling and fun and I actually follow through on it. Same idea with work -- if I notice my tomorrow is full of meetings, I need to proactively think about how I can avoid momentary burnout throughout the day.
  • Know how you work best (because now you do!) and don't apologize for it.
    • I actually just had a performance review and got feedback about being a "quiet leader." I've struggled with this over the years, but honestly, I'm tired of apologizing for it and trying to be somebody I'm not. I'm a naturally quiet person; I'm a natural listener and thinker before a speaker and actor. It's good for me to push against this, but I also know that it's simply who I am. And I've done quite well thus far being that person!

In a week or so, I'll be back with an update on how this effort is going. If you're participating in this exercise, share your plan going forward!

How to Work Your Best: Step 2

bizladies_how_you_work Update on Step 1: I did not get enough sleep. Sue me. I'm on vacation in San Francisco the next four days (expect a fun trip recap soon!) and had to catch a plane by 5:45 a.m. today Which meant waking up at... 4 a.m. And I went to bed way too late because I was trying to do all those last minute things that I originally intended to do like, a week ago. WHATEVER, West Coast, I'm on my way to you.

Onto step 2 of discovering how I best work: finding patterns.

What times of day do you do your most creative or brain-taxing work?

Between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and then between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. (depending on the day). So, mornings and early afternoons. Mondays are usually a crapshoot; I prefer to do lots of life tasks at the start of a week. Fridays and weekends, I try to devote to creativity projects and recharging needs... which is hard since I tend to travel/schedule a ton of stuff on those days.

When do you feel like your energy is waning?

Late afternoon and evening, early mornings. Sundays and Mondays. Thursday nights.

What sorts of activities fill you with lots of energy and which ones leave you feeling flat?

This was pretty obvious.

I feel energetic when I am creating in solid chunks of time, reading or watching something for fun or inspiration, connecting with at least one friend or family member or doing something new. When I am able to switch it up throughout my day, include some physical exercise (fresh air, woo woo!), help someone with something.

I feel flat when I am receiving too much information in scattered bits, working on too many things at once, having too many tools at my disposal (a million Feedly tabs, my phone, Gmail), trying to give to too many relationships at once (in person or on the phone, like trying to call several friends and family members on a single night, or saying yes to a social obligation every night of the week). If I wake up and immediately look at my phone, my mind pounces to all the million things I need and want to do, and I immediately feel low energy and like I want to procrastinate. If I say yes to everything, I inevitably cancel something because I just can't deal with it the day-of, and I end up bailing on people or not getting things done, which I don't like. Ugh, and I feel flat when I spend too much time on social media instead of, you know, living my actual life.

Who fills you with lots of energy, and who leaves you dry? This could just be clients, or it could be other relationships. What’s common about the people who fill you up?

Hmm. For me, it's the same on a personal and professional level. People who leave me dry tend to complain, only talk about themselves (one-sided conversations don't do it for me), avoid asking questions or carrying out a conversation, aren't interested in exploring new things or their community/world. I don't like people who bitch about coworkers or leadership or their own lives repeatedly (everyone is entitled to bad days, of course), who note problems instead of offering solutions, and who are focused on praise and approval rather than teamwork toward a joint goal. I don't care for people who are jaded or rude or dishonest.

I'm energized by people who are storytellers and visionaries, talkative about anything and everything, thoughtful about all kinds of subjects (ones I'm familiar with and ones I'm not), curious about big questions and small decisions and life in general.  I prefer interacting with people who are good at what they do, care about relationships, and seem to genuinely want to make a difference for others somehow. I want to be around people who tell the truth, even when it's hard, who believe in creativity and a meaningful life and being dorky-level excited about things.

Your turn!

How to Work Your Best: Step 1

bizladies_how_you_work As part of writing my previous post about figuring out a career versus a calling, I came across this awesome exercise for discovering how you work best, courtesy of Design*Sponge.

It involves three steps:

  1. Think about what gives you energy, and what doesn't.
  2. Look for patterns related to time of day, day of the week, type of activity, people involved, etc.
  3. Make a plan.

I decided to turn mine into a blog post, naturally, starting with step one.

Describe 3 activities you undertook today that left you feeling recharged and energized.

  • Getting enough sleep the night before. I often think I'm fine on five or less hours of sleep, but I notice a huge difference when it's more like 6-8 hours.
  • Working on my own timeline, at my desk, based on my own to-do list of deadlines and priorities.
  • Making time to read and write on a personal level.
  • Teaching yoga or at least getting to my own mat. (Okay, that's four, but still.)

Describe 3 activities you undertook today that left you feeling depleted, flat and like you need to retreat.

  • Meetings and conference calls. Oh my god. I hate meetings. I feel antsy and tired and annoyed in most of them. I just want to go work and move on.
  • Multitasking too much. I'm getting a little better at this, though. I turned off email notifications and I'm better about not leaving Gchat or my phone up and running at all times. I get easily distracted and that depletes my creative energy really fast, even though I like switching gears. I always think I'm more productive doing lots of things at once, and sometimes I am, but energy-wise, it's a killer.
  • Small talk with coworkers. I know, I'm awful. As an introvert, sometimes I come off as standoffish or unwelcoming or rude, but really I'm just in my own head listening and thinking. I've realized with other jobs how negatively this can impact the vibe of a work family, though, and so I try really hard to set aside time to chatting and getting to know colleagues (energy-building!) as opposed to the ambushed, run-away feeling I get when someone wants to chat by the copier or my cubicle.
  • Sitting for too long. (I had to do four to match the first list.)

List 3 things you can do tomorrow to bring more of the list that fills you up into your day.

  • Easy. Go to bed instead of staying up to watch another episode of something on Hulu. Set my own priorities proactively instead of reactively making choices based on email. Make time to read and write, even for 15-30 minutes each (I always fail to do this; even though it is a top priority, I always think I can push it to the back burner). Practice or teach yoga.

List 3 things you can do tomorrow to bring less of the list that depletes you into your day.

  • Cancel meetings and conference calls whenever possible. (Not in a "I'm bailing on this sense," but asking, "Is it productive for me to be in this meeting? Do I have to be in it? Do I have anything to contribute? Do I need to be on this call?") Focus on one thing at a time by setting aside calendar time, shutting down distractions. Focus on the positive aspects of talking with coworkers (I don't think I should bring less of this into my day, just shift my mentality a bit). Move around by switching environments or just walking around the office.

Prioritize the list above – what’s the number 1 thing you can do tomorrow to feel more energized?

Put down the Hulu/Kindle/iPhone. GET ENOUGH SLEEP. 

Join me for Step 2 tomorrow!

Career v. Calling: What's the difference?

career-vs-calling Lately I've been talking and thinking a great deal about my career -- where I am now, where I'd like to be in a year or five years, and what kind of work best suits my interests and skills. I've explored several different paths in the marketing, communications, development and design worlds, at a variety of nonprofits, and it's becoming hard to figure out where I should and want to go next. It's also continually challenging to navigate the ever-changing job market, where introductions now trump resumes and job applications feel like like they're drops of water disappearing in the online abyss.

I've also noticed I've gotten in a habit of consuming instead of creating, of being busy in a way that feels a little depleting rather than energizing, of checking things off my to-do list rather than cultivating time for what inspires me. My friend Laura calls this the hamster wheel of the Internet, and writes about it eloquently here, and I could not agree more. It's like I have my job, and then I have all the other things I'm doing and thinking about doing and having all the feels about doing. The former is a given for me; the latter emphasis on vocation seems a bit like a luxury.

Here's what I'm wondering: what's the difference between a career and a calling?

passion calling

In your twenties, there's this weird dichotomy. You're essentially given a permission slip to try it all on: jobs, cities, lovers, friends, activities. I can't tell you how many times someone has said to me, "Well, it's early in your career, you'll figure it out." Or, "Well, you've got plenty of time to get married and have kids, don't sweat it." (HAHA JUST KIDDING, if you're a woman between ages 20-30 and you're not dying to pop out a baby/buy a house/get a ring on that finger, people think you're weird. It's fucking annoying, but more on that another time.)

You're also expected to know what you want in all of those arenas, and to be actively moving toward it. As you get older, society is less and less forgiving of those who aren't sure, and that journey of "figuring it out" can feel really stressful and fraught with anxiety. I often find myself asking, "Am I trying on the right things? Did I miss a step? Should I say yes to this opportunity? If I keep feeling a No in this area, does that mean I should leave it alone? What should I leave behind and what should I return to?" And so on.

The illusion of perfection and confident set forth via social media doesn't help. Other people's lives look shiny and together and like they make sense. I know that isn't always true, but it's hard to remember that fact when you're struggling to articulate your own vision. I don't think these people have it all figured out, whatever that means, but what I don't hear is conversation about the not knowing, the not being sure. I hear about goals and successes and wins and confident elevator speeches, but I wonder about the process behind it all, the getting there, wherever "there" is for someone.

LinkedIn is kind of cool for this reason, because if I notice someone in a role I'd potentially like to have, I can sometimes see a little bit about where they came from. Nowadays, people don't "find" a career and arrive at it to stay forever fulfilled. There are new versions of this model -- people who have taken an entry level job someplace and worked their way up, or people who stay in roles longer than 1-3 years for various reasons -- but that's less of the norm and more of the exception. More and more, I encounter people who are indeed jumping from job to job, either for money or experience or excitement or just because.

I've done the same. At 28, I'm in my fourth "real" job. I don't advocate this approach to others, but it's also been very realistic for me. I graduated college with what some might call super useful, lucrative degrees -- english and political science -- and then I went on to get a master's in an even MORE useful, lucrative field -- religion and literature. Along the way, I worked at an urban church, a chamber of commerce, a foundation and a healthcare organization. I picked up side gigs teaching yoga, teaching writing at a community college, freelance writing about technology and entrepreneurs and more. I'm proficient in graphic design, event marketing, fundraising communications, project management, social media marketing, and I'm excellent at writing and editing and content strategy.

But I'm not just one of those things. This is a little bit of a problem, because I keep feeling like I need to pick a track and stick with it for my "career," as well as absolutely LOVE whatever it is I've picked. And I don't really know what I should pick, if I should pick something in general, yet I have the nagging sense that I'm not in the right place doing the right work.

You've heard these common threads in career advice. "Follow your passion." "Think about what you liked to do as a kid; that's probably what you should be doing with your life." "Your work shouldn't feel like work."

career v calling 2

I take real issue with these sentiments for a few reasons and pretty much want to call bullshit every time I read or hear about it, because:

  1. Passions change.
  2. Kids don't have the same constraints and responsibilities as adults.
  3. Work is called work for a reason.

I know, I sound super jaded. I get what people are trying to say with these phrases: don't waste your life in a job that you hate, do something that interests you and makes a difference in the world, bring your unique voice to the table.

I mean, as a kid I made up entire lives (pre-Facebook profiles, really) for my Beanie Babies, and then developed mini soap opera storylines for them. I read voraciously and felt a ridiculous sense of pride at spelling words correctly and winning free mini pizzas at Pizza Hut for checking books off my to-read list. My best friend and I spent all of recess every day in fifth grade playing a game called Twins, where we pretended we were twins (surprise!) and essentially talked about what we looked like, what we wore, who our friends were, what our families were like, etc. We honestly spent more time setting up this Twin story than actually being the Twins, but no matter...

In no particular order, I wanted to be a ballet dancer, a book publisher, singer, a writer, a nurse, a lawyer, a teacher. I never wanted to be just one thing, but I also see the key threads that still exist today -- the desire to tell and make up stories for entertainment, the inkling to orchestrate communication for other people, the perfectionist tendencies to know as much as possible and get everything right. These qualities have inspired and benefited my career thus far, but I still think this emphasis on following one's passion is problematic.

Its problematic because it underscores the old model that posits the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I mean, do cleaning ladies and janitors grow up wanting to be cleaning ladies and janitors? Did truck drivers play with trucks as kids? Are CEOs passionate about change or making money? Does everyone who genuinely feels like they're on the right career path wake up feeling sunshine-y every morning? (This gets into a political/economic discussion about the job industry in general, but you get what I mean.)

For example, my dad just retired as a police officer and detective after 27 years of work in the same city at the same department. He was excellent at his job, but he didn't grow up wanting to be a cop; it's just how it worked out. He was newly married with a baby and needed a job, so he got his associate's degree in law enforcement, heard about a job in southern Illinois, applied, took it, and they moved. There was no debate about whether or not police work would "fulfill" him, or if it was his "passion," or if it was the "right" thing to explore. Some of those things came along the way, but that's not where he started. And I think that's true for a lot of people.

So why do those terms dominate today's conversation about work? Is this a good thing? What's the difference between a career and a calling?

To me, career so far is what I've been doing -- accepting jobs at various organizations to strengthen skills and get experience. Calling feels like something different, something much harder to land on. I feel called to write my own stories and help others write their stories, but those things don't pay for my student loans, you know? I'm passionate about writing, but some days, it totally sucks and it's hard and I think I should probably never write another word again; aka, it's work.

Lots of questions, lots of words on this topic today. I'd love to know what you think -- what's your current career, and does it align with your calling? Do you even believe in feeling "called" to something, and if so, what is it? Is a career different from a calling in your mind, or are these just semantics?

Weekend Reads

After a mini blog hiatus, I've been fully tugged into fall. This is my favorite time of year, not because of pumpkin spice lattes and boots and colorful leaves -- and liking those things makes me basic, right? -- but because it reminds me of going back to school, of newness and exploration concurrent with rooting down and warming up from the inside out. It's a busy period, and right now I'm continually reminded that a full calendar is not the same thing as a full life. My calendar is filled with yoga classes to teach and college writing lessons to plan and work projects to finish and conferences to attend and friends to visit and freelance articles to write and family to see and art center meetings to prepare, and some days, it feels like too much. Because it is a little too much, even if it's all good. Seeing 21 unfinished blog posts in my drafts folder forced me to check back in with my own priorities... somehow writing is always one of the first things to fall off my list, even though it's one of the most important.

That being said, let's officially kick off this season with a round of weekend reads ...

"It’s OK to want what you want. In fact, if you don’t start there, with actually owning your desire, you are doomed. Own the wanting. Without apology. And all good things will start to flow from claiming the desire.” -- Danielle LaPorte

How to do a life audit.

Kate Conner says to stop collecting advice that support your natural bent, because you need to actually do the opposite:

give live

 

A history of the bucket list phenomenon: "What if, instead, we compiled a different kind of list, not of goals to be crossed out but of touchstones to be sought out over and over, with our understanding deepening as we draw nearer to death?"

Working on this: Commitment based on HELL YEAH.

7 questions to find your purpose.

"Adulthood as we have known it has become conceptually untenable. It isn’t only that patriarchy in the strict, old-school Don Draper sense has fallen apart. It’s that it may never really have existed in the first place... Which raises the question: Should we mourn the departed or dance on its grave?" -- A.O. Scott

"It's kind of a set-up. The world tells us to be selfless and then hands us a self."

A powerful, thoughtful meditation on death, dying and modern medicine.

"Our friends, our people, are who create the stories of our lives with us, and who will tell those stories in our absence." -- Allison Slater Tate

#makedesmoines

This week I was honored to be a part of a neat photo series called Make Des Moines by the talented Justin Meyer. I met Justin about a year ago, and he's one of those local folks that everybody seems to know. He is clearly dedicated to both his family and his photography, and just an all-around nice, genuine guy. Justin said he started #makedesmoines to not only improve his own photography skills, but showcase the people who make Des Moines a vibrant, creative community. He particularly wanted to focus on individuals on the fringes -- the people who are perhaps a little more obscure, yet still doing their part to help Des Moines thrive while exploring their own passions and hobbies.

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The funny thing is, I wouldn't have considered myself someone who "makes" Des Moines. It actually took me a solid year and a half to like living here! I had moved in 2012 for a relationship and a job -- and both are fine reasons to relocate -- but I didn't realize how long it would take to make new friends and find my personal footing on a lot of levels. It eventually happened, but it took a while.

That's why I so enjoyed being a part of #makedesmoines. Over the past year, I dug much deeper roots here. The things I had slowly chosen to be a part of started to come full circle, started to flower, and it made me appreciate this community more than ever. That's how life works sometimes, right? You take one step down one path and it leads you to places you never imagined or intended. And usually, that's right where you need to be.

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I started this blog, and made writing much more of a priority. I joined the Art Noir board, and now I'm a co-chair for an awesome event fundraiser next year called Big Hair Ball. I discovered Power Life Yoga, and decided to embark upon the teacher training journey, and now teaching alongside practicing is a fundamental part of my life, of my happiness, of my sense of service. I threw my hat in the ring to teach composition at DMACC, and realized how much I enjoy helping other people learn how to put their viewpoints on paper. A meeting from my first month in Des Moines turned into an opportunity to freelance for Silicon Prairie News, where I get to share the stories of all sorts of people doing cool, important things in their own communities.

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But all of those things -- those relationships, connections, goals, opportunities -- took a lot of time to develop. There were many moments when I felt unsure about being on the right path, or I wanted to give up. So the biggest lesson I've learned in Des Moines thus far involves patience. The value of showing up, despite failure or unmet expectations, and dedicating yourself to the process. Trusting that the work matters whether the effects or outcomes are immediately visible or not.

During the shoot, Justin and I talked about how we witness so many people doing cool things in this city, and the striking thing is that nobody seems afraid to fail. People start a new project simply to see how it plays out, with the goal of bettering this community somehow or just because they're excited about it, and more often than not, it works or succeeds. And if not, on to the next thing. All the people I've met here are insanely committed to their creative endeavors, and they carve out time for those efforts, which is incredibly inspiring.

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That's why I value yoga and writing so much. I am certainly not the only yogi in this town, and there are many, many others with more experience and skill than myself. Likewise, there are plenty of writers producing quality work. But all these people inspire me to show up to the page or to my mat every single day, and do the work to discover the joy involved, and hopefully make a small difference in the lives of others. For that, I'm grateful.

See Justin's full post and check out the rest of the series here.

Weekend Reads

Happy Friday, friends! If you can listen to this song and not bounce around, then fine, you are allowed to dislike TSwift. But you're missing out!

How you can be nice and still self-promote or throw your hat in the ring. In other words, be a tiger.

Tell me you've never heard these awful (albeit hilarious) mantras in a yoga class...

Use your words.

A cool new song from one of my favorite artists, with a beautifully intimate video.

"The great thing about life is—the terrible thing about life is—that everything is mixed up. All the things that you thought were one way suddenly turn out to be another way. . . So it’s very weird. But nobody’s perfect."

Why I'm lucky to have two fantastic sisters.

"You feel how you feel. The things in your head are the things in your head. You can’t change either directly through sheer force of will. You can only change what you do."

One writer's journey to find his voice.

There are many touching, thoughtful and heartbreaking stories about Robin Williams going around lately, but this journalist's defense of covering the actor's death is an important lens.

The claim that we should eat less fish.

A critical, long piece on why Syria is terribly dangerous for reporters and journalists.

This 75-year-long study says men who have good relationships with their mamas make more money. 

In defense of typos.

Ask for what you want.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 12: Balance

balance

bal·ance (noun) \ˈba-lən(t)s the state of having your weight spread equally so that you do not fall, the ability to move or to remain in a position without losing control or falling, a state in which different things occur in equal or proper amounts or have an equal or proper amount of importance

Oh, the oft-mentioned, rarely-attained dream of balance. I like to imagine that balance is similar to my favorite breakfast -- peanut butter toast. I wake up most mornings with the intention of having breakfast in general, and specifically, peanut butter toast. It goes with everything, which I appreciate when deciding between iced versus hot coffee. It is nutritious and tastes delicious. It's relatively cheap (unless you decide to swap out peanut butter for overly priced almond butter, which sometimes is necessary) and easy to make. It's portable; I can eat it standing up in the bathroom, sitting on the couch, at my work desk, in my car. It can also sub for lunch or dinner in a pinch.

(Stay with me.)

On ideal mornings, my peanut butter is distributed evenly and perfectly across my toast, which I eat as slowly as I like. But most mornings aren't "ideal" in the least. When I spread peanut butter across a piece of toast, it's rarely even. It often depends on the type of butter purchased -- smooth and creamy, crunchy and thick -- and inevitably it gets too thin on some corners of the toast and overly slopped on others. Every day, the peanut butter spreads a little differently, but it's still delicious and still counts as breakfast. And some mornings, I don't have time to make or eat it at all; it just doesn't happen, even if I want it to.

Balance is kinda like that. According to the above definition, it's a state where our weight is spread equally so we do not fall or lose control. So we don't fall off our bicycles. So we have the perfect ratio of peanut butter on our toast.

But if I imagine a balance scale, my life needs about 25 little bowls. Like you, I've got multiple categories vying for importance. Family. Friends. Health. Faith. Career. Relationships. Bills. Cleanliness. Rest. Activity. Inspiration. Creative Output. Appointments. Pets. Homes. Food. Community. Hobbies. Schedules. Etc. Not to mention how these categories adjust based on the time of year, with school and sports and vacations and holidays.balance scale

And I'm supposed to keep them all at the same level, all the time? It's impossible. Usually one is overflowing, one is totally empty, one's chain snapped in half, one is half-heavy, two are aligned at the same level, and one has completely disappeared. I mess up and say the wrong thing and forgot my to-do list and don't live up to my intentions and eat too much chocolate and sleep through alarms and spend money over budget, and more.

Which basically means that I "fail" at balance all the freaking time -- because I fall and lose control a lot. That's okay. The problem is that "balance" is too big of a concept. We hear "balance" and think "do all the things, perfectly and at once."

In yoga, we practice our balance during certain poses and the temptation is the same -- hold balance with ease, without a single wobble. I may try to move to handstand by gently lifting my leg instead of throwing it or kicking it up. I may try to find a slight pause, stacking hips over shoulders, and when my feet reach skyward, I may press into my hands to feel more grounded. I might pull my core in tight, flex the soles of my feet toward the ceiling and focus on all the little things I can do to STAY UP AS LONG AS POSSIBLE. And usually after about one breath, I come down, and think about all the ways I didn't do it "right." I admire the yogis who can go up in handstand easily and hang out there for what seems like forever, and handstand seems like such an "ideal" yoga posture -- because, all "good" yoga students need to be able to do handstand, right?

This is how we typically think of balance -- as if it's a place we can get to, if we do everything right and carefully, and once we arrive, we STAY there with all the other good, perfect people who have managed to figure it out.

Except ... we're wrong. Balance isn't a place; It's an ideal state, an archetypal idea. Balance isn't a set point of arrival; it's a back-and-forth, short-term position. Really, I think the only thing we should be aiming for is the third part of that Merriam-Webster definition, in which balance is when different things have an equal or proper amount of importance. But what happens when something is important to you, and yet you only prioritize it half the time? Does that mean you're not balanced? Does that mean you're failing?

dr. seuss

No. Lots of things are likely important to you, and these are probably the things that theoretically you want to give equal weight in your life. Maybe some days you do, but lots of days, that's probably not the case because it isn't realistic. Nobody can give 100% at all times to multiple priorities. That's why you must make choices as you see fit; balance shifts all the time -- based on different periods of your life, different times of year, different challenges and endeavors. Balance also looks different on every person; the things you might choose to prioritize may look like the opposite of balance to someone else.

Life also gets in the way. How often have you planned out your day to be just so and then the universe doesn't adhere? That happens to me constantly, and it can be frustrating, until you accept that balance is only an intention, and you can only do your best at prioritizing what's important to you each day as it comes. Sometimes that priority takes shape for an hour, or five minutes.

In yoga, poses always balance each other out. Inhales are followed by exhales. You push your body, and then you pull back to rest. Over and over. You find strength from the ground up, whether your feet are on the ground and everything looks normal, or your hands are on the ground and your world is upside down. You make small adjustments here and there, and learn where to hold on, and where to let go.

Balance is really a dance. So as you seek that equilibrium, in life or in your practice, find peace in the fact that it'll always be fleeting.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 11: Comparison

(One of my best friends from Chicago shared the above quote with me a long time ago, when we worked side-by-side in a tiny downtown office overlooking Michigan Avenue. We met as strangers fresh out of college -- eager to make a difference, passionate about words, curious about our faith-- and when we both moved on to other endeavors, stayed close. She is a soulmate friend; we don't talk or see each other as frequently as we'd like, but when it happens, it's like no time has passed at all. And every time I read or hear this quote, I think of her, grateful for our deep connection and the different things she's taught me.) comparison

In today's world, it's easy and tempting and common to get distracted by how something looks instead of how it feels. We pin our dream kitchens and brilliant craft projects. We tweet our accomplishments and funny jokes. We post professional photos of our families and positive life changes. We instagram our beautiful meals, our perfect relationships, our uncluttered desks, our carefully curated outfits, our commitments to exercise or positive thinking. We like to share using these mediums because we think it allows us to connect, and we end up spending an inordinate amount of time looking at what other people choose to share.

A fine line exists between connecting and comparing; the two may look identical, but one feels good and the other doesn't. It's that simple, and yet, it's more complicated. Connecting can bring about feelings of warmth, vibrancy, inspiration, closeness, joy, love, humor. Comparing often results in jealousy, pettiness, bitterness, angst, depression, paralysis. And every time we're presented with the snapshots of someone else's life, we likely feel the comparison part FIRST. Because we're human, and human beings are always on the lookout for ways to be better and have more.

  • Maybe you read something fantastic by a writer, or see some incredible photographs (insert creative product here), and think, Wow, he/she is so talented, this novel/photos are great, which means I should probably never try to do XYZ again because all the good things have already been said or done and it'd be a waste of time.
  • Or maybe you go to a yoga class, and the person next to you is offensively flexible, choosing all the up-levels for every single post, in a trendy yoga outfit, or you see a cool yogi picture online somewhere, and you think, Must be nice to just go to yoga all the time, this person probably doesn't have responsibilities or a job and that's why he/she can look so good and spend so much time being good at yoga, plus he/she was just BORN flexible which isn't even fair, how come I can't do handstand that gracefully? I suck. 
  • Or maybe you get a text from your college friends at a party six hours away from where you live, and think, Now they've got all these inside jokes that I won't ever be a part of, why do I live so far away, I hate that I can't go to everything and see all my friends all the time, my friends here are just not the same so this weekend I'm just going to stay home and pout about it, I mean it's cool that they had a good time but they didn't have to flaunt it all over Facebook.

Truth time: all those examples are my own. I'm human so I think not-nice thoughts sometimes. I know you do, too, because we all do.

But do I really believe that because other people wrote great books, the universe is like, "Oh, sorry, our quota has now been met for books written, you're out of luck." Of course not. I remind myself that someone else's creative journey or output has nothing to do with my own. The time I spent feeling sorry for myself? Could've used it for writing. Can I still be inspired by the things I read? Absolutely. But I want to use it as fuel for fine-tuning my own voice and encouragement for sticking to my writing habits and goals.

Do I really believe that I am terrible at yoga because of the person's practice next to me? Of course not. Focusing on someone else during yoga is the opposite of the whole POINT of yoga. It can also be the quickest route to acute distraction, or maybe even getting hurt, and therefore cultivating nothing positive out of my own experience. I remember one of the first classes I ever went to, where I felt dumb because I didn't know where to put my stuff in the studio, and self-conscious because the lady on the elevator was all decked out in expensive yoga clothes whereas I was wearing a t-shirt and random capri pants, and embarrassed because I had to take about 47 million breaks in class because I forgot water and didn't know it was even going to be a hot class plus could hardly hold myself up in plank.

Seriously -- I came across this anecdote in an old journal recently, and laughed out loud at my pitiful self. Because the thing is, that lady on the elevator probably didn't even give me a second thought. Everyone in that class probably didn't give me a second look, because they were (hopefully) focused on their own practice. It's not like that teacher from so long ago says to her friends, "Ha! Remember that one girl who came to class once and totally sucked? Man, I hope she's not out in the world, still practicing yoga." I mean, at the time, thought I was terrible, but it had nothing to do with anyone else. Other people spend way less time thinking about you then you think they do.

And do I really believe my friends should never get together unless I'm in town, and that they should hide evidence of doing so online to protect my delicate feelings? Of course not. I just miss them, that's all, and I wish I could be there, too.

highlight reel

On the other hand, I also forget that the highlight reel I choose to share can cause other people to have these same reactions. For example, during a recent dinner with friends, we got on the topic of the mermaid pose I had put on Instagram. Someone said, "Oh, I saw that, and then I thought, great, good thing I just sat on my couch all day like a loser instead of working out. Thank goodness you said how long it took you to get that pose!" She said it with kindness and laughter, but it got me thinking: when I share things online, I don't think about how it might make other people feel. I assume everyone else is just living their life. What I choose to share online is the good stuff of my life, the I-wanna-share-this! stuff, and the same goes for everybody else. So why do I insist on an apples-to-oranges comparison, one that brings me down?

I mean, I want a life that feels good to me, no matter how it looks to anyone else. And I want that same thing for the people I love as well as total strangers. How things or people appear is just that -- how they appear. Maybe true to real life, or maybe not. What we highlight in our quick conversations with coworkers and friends and family, what we share on social media -- those things are usually completely different than the behind-the-scenes footage of our lives.

Here's another example, one that has to do with minimalism. I love to think that I want a white, empty home with beautiful furniture and glossy countertops and everything in its ideal place, and I will pin the shit out of those images online for some reason. In my mind, that kind of style equals a type of person I want to be, or a point in time I want to reach -- one that is clear and direct and without mess or fuss or distraction. Which is an illusion, because I've never been that type of person.

living room

I'm a let's-take-the-long-road kind of person who sometimes isn't as direct as she needs to be, who often creates messes and enjoys the spontaneous nature of them, who likes stories and vibrant people and big love and exciting adventures, who is constantly distracted by the thirty different projects she's got going on. That means my home is always going to be a bit cluttered and eclectic and lived in. Do I ever wish I weren't like that? Sure. Am I always like that? No. I'm a complicated individual, just like everybody else.

All those people you've ever been jealous of, that you've compared yourself to? They've got their own smudged facets of life. Their own stories of love lost or deep depression or fear or loneliness or insecurity. When I remember this fact, I stop the comparison game. I can make all the assumptions and judgments I want about a person, but I actually never know what else they might be dealing with. I don't know all their stories, and vice versa. Still, our minds immediately jump to comparing, so it takes real mental strength and sense of self to slowly back away from that negativity. It's also a never-ending practice. Your ego wants to fluff itself up and hold fast to the comparison; heck, sometimes it's even satisfying to give into the jealousy and spite for a short moment. But it's not productive.

Or think of it this way: there's literally ALWAYS going to be someone that is "better" than you -- more attractive, smarter, funnier, richer, more organized, kinder, more stylish, more eloquent, more popular, more talented, and on and on. Always. So let the comparisons go, because you can't win. Which is sort of a relief -- when's there's no prize, you get to stop playing the game. In the game of comparisons, when you stop, you get to simply be you. 

All that time you've spent in the past comparing yourself and your life to other people is gone. You can't get it back. You wasted it. All that time you spend throughout your present days scrolling, scrolling, scrolling through all kinds of feeds to see what everyone else is saying, thinking, creating, doing ... that's also gone. And you have little to show for it. All that time you spend considering the future, when you'll be better or more than, is a distraction.Because all you have is right here, right now, with the body, mind, heart and soul you were given.

Don't let comparison steal your joy.

#YogaEveryDamnDay 10: Rest

rest 2Wednesday night, I went to dinner with a few awesome girlfriends. Our conversation veered in all kinds of directions: blogging, digital strategy, writing, co-working spaces, career goals, conferences, social media and so on. I noticed two things.

First, the subject of relationships hardly came up (except for a quick Tinder story and a breakdown of "significant other" v. "life partner" titles). I found that refreshing; though I love talking about relationships, sometimes there's an assumption that that's all women do talk about. Which isn't true. I remember watching Sex and the City in college and thinking, don't they talk about anything else, ever? One of my favorite episodes is when Miranda calls her friends out for that exact thing. I talk about all sorts of things with my female friends, and while sometimes relationships dominate the conversation depending on what's going on, there's also plenty of other things to discuss, both mundane and serious.

Second, one friend shared an excellent tip for business brainstorming: read as much as you can, on all sorts of topics, and then use post-it notes to jot down the key concepts, ideas or thoughts you come across. Save notes in one place, and every so often, just look at all the notes together. Notice patterns and see where your mind wanders, because you might stumble onto something novel. (This is apparently how the founder of Priceline came up with his idea.)

I like this idea so much. There is so much to read, all the time -- articles and books and stories, online or not -- and it can be hard to remember to go back to the things you've already read and actually use the tips, think about the ideas, and so on. You have to take time to see how the pieces of information might fit together. It's why creative types recommend taking long showers or walks or breaks throughout your process -- because you need time to just let it all sink in, and that's when you usually have the next breakthrough.

pause 2

Similarly in your life, it's so important to take the time to reflect what you've already done or experienced, instead of moving full speed ahead with blinders on. And in yoga, savasana is one of the hardest poses because you're not supposed to do anything during it. Your only job is to ... relax, rest, and enjoy the benefits of your practice.

So instead of fitting in a yoga class on Wednesday, I did a couple Sun A salutations at home and then focused on nourishing a few new friendships. And there was a moment at dinner, with our wine and pizza, where I looked around the table and felt grateful to be surrounded by such bright energy. Physical rest rejuvenates our bodies, but resting in the presence of other people sustains our spirits.