current status

Popping in to share a little life update:

  • We bought a house! Whoa. Much more to come on that experience, but we've mostly spent the past month working with our realtor, negotiating, closing and moving. And spending money, because apparently that's part of being a homeowner. It has been equal parts thrilling and overwhelming.
  • Our dog doesn't know what to do with a fenced-in backyard. He stands outside the door and looks around like, "Is it safe? What am I supposed to do, run around?" A cautious pug, indeed.
  • Though I haven't done a drop of personal writing (so much for that "write 500 words a day toward the novel" intention, whoops), I've been putting out a lot of work I'm proud of for The Everygirl, such as: what not to say to pregnant women, how to reduce stress during big changes (guess I should take my own advice), thoughtful ways to be a better ally to the LGBTQIA community, all the sexist shit I've heard over the years (*eye roll*) and all the places where icky germs lurk in your home.
  • Waiting on a couple of opportunities, so fingers crossed everything works out! (Yes, I'm being that mysterious blogger who will share more when I can . . .)
  • On that note, today I had a fantastic coffee-and-conversation morning with my friend Laura, who reminded me we all need a pep talk now and again. Creating is hard, lonely work. You get lots of no's for one yes once in a while, but the work is worth it.
  • I recently shared a whole bunch of personal stories on the Catch This Mama podcast, which was wayyyy outside my comfort zone but SO fun. Give it a listen if you have the time.
  • I'm an ambassador for the Des Moines Women's Half Marathon in May, though chances are very high I'll only run the 5K.
  • Working on two fun freelance projects with my friend Jami: one is a portrait + essay series of grandmothers and another is a story about siblings who run their own businesses. If you've got any good people for us to interview, let me know!
  • I got Invisalign. At age 30. It is really cramping my drink-coffee-all-morning style. How cool am I, though?
  • We had two birthday parties to celebrate Ezra turning one. I got real Pinterest-y and bought a sweet balloon set as our one decoration (going with the "one" theme, obv) and then promptly forgot to use it. He loved the boxes his toys came in. #winning
  • I'll be speaking at the next Des Moines Register Storytellers Project, on motherhood and ambivalence! Another speaking event that is not usually my norm, but I'm incredibly excited to participate.

It's going to be a busy spring <3

How to Live a Meaningful Life

I graduated from college in 2008, and as I continue to meet people with fresh degrees and bright eyes looking to find their way in the world, I frequently hear some version of this sentiment:

How do I do something meaningful with my life?

It's a big, powerful question, and I admire anyone who struggles with it. If you're thinking along those lines, that means you're curious about extending past your comfort zone and you're interested in making a difference to some degree.

What I know for sure, being 7 years into the "real world," is that people who do meaningful things with their lives are extraordinary, and they all have two things in common.

They are experts at follow through, and they are service-oriented.

The first part is really that simple -- following through is the single quality that will set you apart from anyone else in every single aspect of your life. Being reliable matters SO much, and an ability to be resourceful to complete actions is worth more than any other talent or quality.

Extraordinary people do not necessarily have better ideas, more access to resources, a trust fund, or unusual talents. But they do follow through on their efforts in the sense that they get shit done. They respond to emails. They show up for the meetings. They say yes when they mean yes, and they are honest about saying no when it's not a good fit. They make time when they can. They take notes. They call people back. They keep moving forward even when they get a million no's.

Slowly, over time, all those minute efforts add up to something incredible, something meaningful, something extraordinary.

I've noticed this quite a bit lately, as related to some local service initiatives. My community is full of big dreamers, of people who have lovely ideas and are quick to say, "Wouldn't it be great if we . . .?" and "I wish that . . ." or "I would like to get involved with . . ."  And yet, time and time again, those same people do not follow through. This pattern creates a negative cycle: the same people end up doing the same work within a community, and they get totally burnt out, then frustrated, then jaded and then efforts begin to trail off or cease entirely. 

I get it, I do. Everyone has constraints on their time, money and energy, and it's vital to respect that for yourself and for others. What's valuable work to one person may not be to another, which is actually fairly important, because each community needs different people to utilize their strengths in diverse ways. Most of the extraordinary people I know here in Des Moines are in fields totally outside of my expertise or interest; they're creating change or adding support in technology, finance, photography, homelessness, art, etc. Truly, I respect people who can say "that won't work for me" or "I don't have the capacity for that right now, but I appreciate you asking"; I think it shows integrity.

Except . . . I know a lot of people who don't prioritize giving back to their communities in a service-minded way. And I don't understand it. I find it challenging to accept such choices, and it's hard for me to relate to those mindsets.

Perhaps the difference is that I grew up extremely service-minded. My high school required 200 hours of service before we could get our diploma; my sorority mandated service hours; my first job out of college occurred at a large church with service-minded programming. In every aspect of my life thus far, service is a non-negotiable -- it's just part of who I am and what I do. 

Which is why I feel quite bold about this next part: if service is not a part of your life in some way, you need to check your priorities. If your life feels really comfortable and awesome and all about YOU, then you need to check your priorities.

We forget this, sometimes. (I do, too, trust me!). It is unbelievably easy to assume that you don't need the help of other people or organizations . . . until you do. Until you lose your job or your kid or your house or your sanity. We get on high horses, even with our service projects, thinking we're being so good and so great at helping other people (when it's convenient for us, of course) -- and then, when it gets hard, we're like, "I don't really need to do this" or "I don't have time for this" and return to our comforts as quickly as possible. And it's a gray line, because we all have to care for and honor our minds, spirits, bank accounts, bodies, families, relationships, and more.

But . . . we need each other. And we need to use our skills to help other people, however we can. Serving your community means that you're making it a better place to live, for yourself and your family and all of us. And if your service efforts do not feel uncomfortable or challenging or difficult, at least a little bit, you're trying to have your cake and eat it too. That's not the point.

Shauna Niequist puts it like this:

So these days, I’m on the lookout for grace, and I’m especially on the lookout for ways that I withhold grace from myself and from other people. At first, showing people grace makes you feel powerful, like scattering candy from a float in a parade—grace for you, grace for you. You become almost giddy, thinking of people in generous ways, allowing for their faults, absorbing minor irritations. You feel great, and then you start to feel just ever so slightly superior, because you’re so incredibly evolved and gracious.

But then inevitably something happens, and it usually involves you confronting one of your worst selves, often in public, and you realize that you’re not throwing candy off a float to a nameless, dirty public, but rather that you are that nameless, dirty public, and that you are starving and on your knees, praying for a little piece of sweetness, just one mouthful of grace.
— Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

We often draw a line between "us" and "them," when it comes to service and getting things done. We assume other people will do the work or show up, so we don't have to. We forget that even if we don't need the grace of service today, we might need it tomorrow. 

If you find yourself asking, how can I live a meaningful life? Start with service. Start following through on what you said you would do; say yes when you can and no when you can't, and mean it. What can you do for other people in your community? How can your strengths or talents make a difference? And why do you keep thinking you'll consider it tomorrow?

Start today.

Hitting the Reset Button

Naturally, I boldly stated last week that I would write ONE HUNDRED BLOG POSTS in honor of #The100DayProject . . . and then we moved, two weeks earlier than planned. Then my phone decided to stop working. And we've had no consistent Internet.

What did I wrote? Zilch. Nada. Nothing at all. A few Instagram posts, but that's it. Which, whatever, right? I always laugh at the bloggers who are like, "Sorry for not posting in two days!" I don't have a big enough readership wherein people are impatiently tapping their fingernails at home, eagerly awaiting another blog post from little ole me. I write because I like it. I blog as a creative outlet. When real life gets in the way, and posting doesn't happen, I don't stress about it. 

HOWEVER.

This challenge was about discipline. While I'm quick to remind myself of all the excuses of the past week -- but we moved! It was hectic! My phone broke! I was tired! I needed extra sleep! -- and all those things prove true, but still. Real life always gets in the way of creativity, doesn't it? That's sort of a mainstay. Hence the need for practicing creativity -- not in the moments when I have no to-do list and am listening to the perfect song and the words are just flowing at my perfectly arranged desk. It happens when I'm waking up early or staying up late to edit a shitty first draft and the dog is barking and I really don't have time for this and watching tv seems way more enjoyable.

Either way, instead of writing, I was living without the Internet or a working cell phone and in the process of moving apartments. I learned a lot, this past week.

I learned that renting a U-Haul doesn't cost, like, a thousand dollars (not sure why I thought it did) and it is so seriously worth it for moving purposes. This comes from the girl who always just moved what would fit in her four-door car and donated the rest. I also realized I've moved every single year for the past 10 years, minus these past three in downtown Des Moines. Sweet math, I know.

We now live on the 3rd floor, which means I get lots of exercise taking Stanley in and out. Actually, Stanley and Stella (the cat) are obsessed with exploring the apartment . . . which is pretty cute during the day and not so much at 3 a.m. when they are racing down the hallway at top speed.

Other pros: way more space. Room for an actual kitchen table. Tons of closets! Nice neighbors across the hall who let us back in the building after we accidentally locked ourselves out at 10 p.m. after moving. Getting a new couch. Redecorating. Decluttering, big time. Having a second bedroom. I repeat: tons of closets! Windows! Every time I walk into the apartment, I feel light and airy and happy.

Cons: Bringing a fully packed U-Haul to the new place and forgetting your keys and getting in an argument about who is responsible for this oversight. Discovering that you own way too much shit. Figuring out a new way to keep the dog out of the kitty litter. The loud noises of the bus station nearby. Grass that hasn't grown in yet, making the yard very muddy. Not having internet at home for 20 days. Not having a couch yet because grown up couches take six weeks to be delivered, I guess. Eating take-out for dinner every night (wait, that's kind of a pro at first). Buying new stuff for the apartment based on your taste and then your partner responds with, "But, the teal doesn't really 'go" with the purple . . ." (You: Really? Since when do you care about things 'going'?)

I learned that living without a (smart) phone is . . . kind of amazing and illuminating.

Turns out I check my phone approximately 47389243 times a day. I use it for yoga -- finding music, creating playlists, responding to sub requests, checking class schedules. I use it for work -- checking email, reviewing calendar appointments. I use it for, well, life -- listening to music, calling people, making to-do lists, looking at social media, texting, checking email regarding volunteer commitments and catching up with friends and wedding planning and whatever else.

And even though I didn't think I was "attached" to my phone -- I mean, I'm not that kind of person -- I am. I absolutely am. Know how I can tell?

When my phone stopped working, I felt actual panic. When it continued to not work, in the form of working for five minutes here and there and then basically acting "dead" for most hours of the day, I felt disoriented. When I took it to Best Buy and the salesman told me I would get my new one in "Oh, about 10 days," I had to refrain from sighing loudly and rolling my eyes. It is embarrassing how many times I literally reached for my phone before remembering it was essentially useless right now. 

So weird. 

At first. Then I really liked it.

I stopped "checking" it every five seconds at work, and got more done. (Shocking.) I stopped feeling scatterbrained in general. We went on a dinner date, and spent the whole time talking to each other (the horror!) instead of letting phones interrupt every now and then. I didn't wonder who was trying to reach me, because, well, they couldn't. Without the constant barrage of social media, email and texting, my mind had more space and freedom to wander, think, create, delight, consider.

Case in point: last Saturday I drove to my sister's for a Ragnar team meeting. It's a 2 hour trip, both ways. Without my phone, I realized I couldn't: 1) call people to catch up, 2) multitask, 3) listen to what I "wanted" to when I wanted to. I listened to the radio, flipping channels. I stared out the window. I made mental lists of ideas, and furiously jotted them down on a piece of paper when stopping for gas. I couldn't call my sister to say "10 minutes away!" which meant I had to . . . you know, rest on the assumption that I would indeed arrive and she would know I was there . . . when I arrived. 

We've also been without Internet at home. Instead of watching television shows and browsing on our phones and whatnot, we ate dinner at our new kitchen table. We put together chairs and organized closets and talked about colors for the bathroom and walked the dog outside and drank wine. 

I learned that I didn't miss being constantly connected, once I got over the hump of attachment. 

I remembered that most things can wait.

I remembered that cars are not phone booths. 

I realized that too many of my connections and relationships are technology-based instead of face-to-face.

I remembered that writing best starts with a piece of paper and a pen.

I remembered that wanting and needing are two different things. I need a lot less than I want, and sometimes what I want doesn't align with what I need. 

I remembered that I don't need constant inspiration from blogs; my mind is fertile ground for quite a lot on its own.

I knew all that stuff, but I forgot. I got distracted. 

At today's yoga class, our teacher suggested a theme of sensuality -- of remembering what feels good about being in our bodies, of rediscovering energy and letting it build, of ridding ourselves of old stories and ideas. How, as women, we forget to tune into our sweetness and our strength, but we can remember on our mats and out in our lives. 

I forgot, but this past week, I remembered. I hit reset.