The New Normal

If you had told me four years ago–even six months ago–that after obtaining my BA, I would move to the small town of my alma mater, where I would run a non-profit and work at a gym, I would have laughed hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. But that is exactly what has happened.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Two months ago, I was a freshly diploma-ed  freelance writer who was living with her parents. It was a comfortable in-between, but it wasn’t somewhere to be permanently. While I love my parents, my temperament is different from theirs, which makes for uncomfortable living arrangements, especially since they were both retired and I worked from home. Also, all of my high school friends had moved away, had gone to college or gotten married or some such, so I was rather alone. I made friends with ladies at church (great friends), but they all have children my age, and so it wasn’t the same as friendships with my peers.

So when I received a phone call from my freshman roommate informing me that she had heard of a job opening in the town of our university. The program director of the local literacy council was retiring and sought a replacement. I then discovered that another friend had an acquaintance who was hiring at the gym she owned. A few weeks of unbearable tension later, I was moving into a one-bedroom apartment and starting two jobs.

It’s been a crazy two months, but I’m learning to adapt. My schedule means that I don’t have much free time in the evenings, so any errands have to be run in the morning before work. Being the program director of a literacy council is definitely something that has required adjustment:  I have more responsibility than I’ve ever had before, and much is expected of me. At the gym, I am studying for my certification to become a fitness instructor. If you knew me as a teenager, that is quite laughable–I skipped P.E. throughout much of junior high, and haven’t attempted a sport since elementary school.

There are good changes, too. I live in a town where I know several people, so I have the opportunity to be social (although almost all of those people are married, so I am a perpetual gooseberry). Having time away from my parents has improved our relationship immensely. Having full-time employment is invigorating, if at times exhausting (a paradox, I know, but it’s true).

In short, the past two months have been terrifying, but I finally feel that I am beginning to be an adult–or at least that I am beginning to pretend.

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I Sold My Childhood for $100

Last week, I sold my childhood. By that, I mean that I boxed up most of my childhood books and took them to Hastings to sell. My reasons for doing this were twofold:  one, I needed the space on my shelves. I currently have four bookshelves that are still full, and I am hoping to move into a one-room apartment soon. There are only so many books that can be fit into a one-room apartment. Reason two is that one-room apartments cost money, and every little bit counts. One hundred dollars is a great help.

Besides, these were old books, books that I would probably never read again. Even if I did re-read them, would I appreciate them as much now as I had back then? If I sold them to Hastings, they could go on and have a new home, a home where maybe—hopefully—the owner would appreciate them as much as I had.

The transaction was very businesslike. I’m not sure what I expected—after all, it was a business transaction. But these were my books, the books that had kept me company when I was a kid. I didn’t have a lot of flesh-and-blood friends as a youngster; I had books. I kept some of my favorites, books that I hoped to share with my friends’ kids when they have them, but there were some good books in those boxes:  Artemis Fowl, The Dragonriders of Pern (I didn’t always read age-appropriate materials), and other books that I had read over and over, including most of my manga.

I brought in the four heavy boxes and a few large hardbacks that wouldn’t fit and browsed Hastings for a couple of hours while two young cashiers went through my treasures and picked which ones they would take. They didn’t take all of them. In fact, they didn’t take Artemis Fowl or Dragonriders, but they took most of my childhood loves.

 I’m still a bit melancholy about it, but I know that now these books have a chance to be another kid’s friend.

Climbing out of Limbo

Over the past few months, I have been slacking. Not just on my blog (though you may have noticed a lack of recent posts), but life in general.

While in college, I was doing well:  I worked out three times a week, ate four to five meals a day, wrote, read whenever I had time away from studying. My GPA my last semester at HU was 4.0, I helped three student organizations run, and I walked a dog during my lunch break.  I did all of those things and still had a strong social life that was filled with people of all different majors, even people outside the state. My day had a strict schedule, and I stuck to it. I got things done. I was awesome.

What happened?

Now I’m lucky if I work out once a week, I eat perhaps two meals a day, write only for work, read maybe every other day, never study foreign languages, and my social life is minimal (though I still Skype my out-of-state friends). I don’t set my alarm clock, and have trouble getting up in the mornings, even when I go to sleep early. My planner buried itself under a pile of papers; it’s not like I used it. The most I do for myself is attend personal development seminars once a month, and smaller business plans (for the same program) once a week. This isn’t enough.

The problem is lack of structure. Because I don’t have a schedule that revolves around other people (classes, clubs, etc.), I haven’t scheduled out my day like I used to do, and the result is that I never get anything accomplished.

Today, I resolve to change that. If I want to be successful in any aspect of my life, I need to change my habits. I need to be internally motivated rather than using the external motivation that I have always used. Starting today, my days will be strictly scheduled. I will wake up at 7:00 a.m. and work out six days a week. I will eat at least three meals a day. I will write five hundred words a day that is not for work. I will write at least two blog posts a week. I will maintain my business’ website as well as the websites I maintain for work. I will practice my French twice a week, and I will study German three days a week. I will read a personal development book for half an hour every day, my Bible for half an hour every day, and a novel or short story anthology for half an hour every day. I will listen to four educational podcasts or CDs a day (which I can do when I get dressed in the mornings and while I eat meals). I will make more local friends (most of my friends are long-distance).

To keep this list of promises to myself, I will spend every Saturday night planning out my week, and half an hour every evening planning the next day. To keep myself accountable, I will write a blog post every weekend to document my progress (if I am out of town, it may be posted on Monday, but only if I am out of town).

A Bond Stronger Than Blood

The concept of family has been on my mind lately. For the past several years, members of the older generation, especially in the church, have begun to complain that the power of the nuclear family is waning. They claim that this is the primary cause of many of today’s societal problems. While parental guidance is vital to a child’s formative years, is drifting away from the family unit when one is an adult really the catastrophe that many claim?

I’m not talking about individuals who break away from the family unit and remain solitary, but rather those who seek a tribe outside their kin. There are many people, myself included, who find that they cohere less with their blood relations and more with other groups. Are harmonious belief systems, temperaments, and attitudes less important than DNA?

Did not Jesus  tell us that blood is not the defining factor in family? In Matthew  12:50, Jesus says, “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Christianity is founded on the idea of a stronger bond than blood, the bond of Christ. Why then does the Church insist that blood ties are the strongest there are?

I have many parents and siblings that do not share my blood, but who are family to be nonetheless.

What do you think of the family unit:  is it defined by DNA sequences or spirit?

A Jumble of Thoughts on Death

I have been blessed with more family than I deserve. There are so many people in my life who have taken me in and treated me as their daughter or sister despite the fact that I have no blood ties to them. One of them died two weeks ago.

There are different types of secondhand death. There are the people with whom you occasionally associated, but didn’t really know. They die suddenly, shocking you out of your routine. Their deaths make you realize how precious life is, and for a few months, you make sure to tell people that you love them.

There are the close friends and family members who are sick or old. Their deaths do not surprise you. In a way, it’s a relief–you know that they aren’t in pain anymore. Their deaths, as their lives, make a lasting impression.

Then there are the sudden deaths of those you love. This experience somehow mixes the numbing shock of suddenness with the intense pain of loss. It’s not real for days, weeks even. They’re not gone, you see. They can’t be.

I’m not sad for my friend. He is safe in God’s hands now, just as he was in life. I am sad for us, those who are left behind:  his wife, kids, friends, and colleagues. I’m sad for the thousand-plus people who were at his visitation and funeral, and those who couldn’t make it. As one man said at his funeral:  “I know that if he were here, he would tell me that he’s okay. But I guess what I really need to hear him say is that I’m going to be okay, too.”

On Tuesday, many of his friends went to Starbucks to honor him. We all ordered his favorite drink and gave his name to the barista (the poor man was confused when the café was filled with Jeffs, some of them female). Then we toasted our friend.

Dislocation

The good news:  I didn’t break my toe.

I sat in the x-ray waiting area as the technician finished what she was doing. When she finally turned to me and smiled, I gave her my name and she led me back to the x-ray room, a stark, white and grey space with a counter for equipment and a hard bed, which I was to lie on while the bone pictures were taken.

“What did you do?” she asked.

I explained about the couch, how I didn’t turn on the light when I got home and ran straight into my mother’s blue couch. Then I signed a piece of paper that assured everyone involved that I was not pregnant and took my place on the sterile bed. I was unconcerned until the event was over, when I saw the blue lead apron hanging on the wall, and the thick partition that separated the technician from the radiation. X-ray machines are dangerous things to keep in a clinic.

After it was done,  I was lead back to the examination room. I am usually a fast walker, but I struggled to keep up with the nurse as I hobbled down the hall. I suppose I should have used the crutches in the attic, but I hate crutches. They make me feel conspicuous, more so than limping around while wearing one shoe. I sat in a plastic chair and was told that the doctor would see me in a moment.

Surprisingly, it was only a moment before my general practitioner rapped on the door and entered. She is a pleasant woman with a strong South American accent and stronger maternal instincts. After a few pleasantries, she gave me the good news. “I don’t think it’s broken; just dislocated. My husband is a podiatrist, and I’m sending the x-rays to him, for his opinion.” She examined my actual foot, just to make sure, then taped it up and gave me further instructions and the promise of a prescription (anti-inflammatory, for the pain and swelling).

Now I sit at my desk, my swollen foot elevated, the rest of me restless–it is my right foot; I cannot drive–and I am thankful it was not a break.

 

Excuses and Happy Accidents

“[T]he moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I know I’ve been MIA for a while, but I have a good excuse, really.

Over the years, there has been an ever-growing list of things I wanted to be when I got out of school and had to join the real world. The list was as varied as my interests were: Egyptologist, secretary, editor at a major publishing company. Under all those things, though, was my love of books and writing. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer. I knew, however, that writers didn’t make money (neither did archaeologists or secretaries, for that matter), and so I needed to find another profession, one that could feed and house me. After all, I am fond of food.

When I accidentally became the on-site coordinator for RJ‘s wedding (and loved it!), I realized that I could be an excellent event coordinator. It requires organization, the ability to multi-task, and flexibility when it comes to working hours. In many ways, it is the perfect job for me. Those of you who know me know that I tend to take on too many projects at once. I love being busy, and I like to be actively involved in organizations of which I am a part. This lifestyle of acquiring stray assignments means that I have all of the prerequisite traits of an event coordinator. The only flaw is that I hate crowds; parties, therefore, are not my ideal setting. I was determined, though. I had found a job that I could do. The only thing I needed was a client base (and a network of vendors).

Then one day, around two months after I received my BA, I was approached by an acquaintance of mine who owns a business. He needed someone to write articles and do website maintenance for his business, and a mutual acquaintance informed him that my degree was in English, and that I enjoyed writing. This began my career as a freelance writer and editor.

Since that time, I have been working to build a website to advertise my freelance services, as well as taking up writing and editing jobs that come my way. The work that has been my dream since I was eleven has finally become reality, partially through hard work on my part and partially through happy accident (also known as God). I now have the job that I have always believed was my calling.

What do you think? Is it a good enough excuse?

Amandine Rose

If you are a tea-lover and have not been to a Teavana, you are depriving yourself of a wonderful experience. If you are not a tea-lover, then you will find this post utterly boring.

Teavana is a magical place filled with delightful smells and lovely tea accessories. There are sample stations scattered around the store so that you can sip while you shop (in every Teavana I have visited, the samples are the same). They have cast-iron teapots, British-style tea sets, special tools for making the perfect cup, and even books about tea. The salespeople are rarely hover-y, but if you ask, they are more than willing to discuss their favorite teas with you. I give only one rule to poor tea-lovers like myself: do not look at the prices. If you do, the spell will be broken. Checking prices in Teavana is akin to touching treasure in the Cave of Wonders. If you refrain from peeking at the little white stickers, the experience will be wonderful.

I go to Teavana whenever I get the chance, just to take in the sights and scents. The employees at the one in Memphis are beginning to recognize me. Last week, however, was the first time I bought anything.

I was online the morning of my visit, looking up various types of teas, not just on Teavana’s site, when I came across it: Amandine Rose. Teavana’s site describes it thusly:

“Travel the globe to faraway Scandinavia where we’ve found the creamiest of marzipans and added a scrumptious decadent mix of toasted roasted almonds from the West, nutty cinnamon and sweet saffron from the exotic East. This truly delicious dessert tea adds a pale blush of red rose petals taking you far away on a decadent black tea journey…Full-bodied nutty infusion with cinnamon and rose undertones.”

I was in love. I was already planning to go out that day–in fact, one of my errands was right across the street from Teavana. My parents needed to go to that part of town as well, so they dropped me off and said they would meet me later. When my errand was finished, I couldn’t resist the call of Amandine Rose. I made the trek across the street (which was made more difficult by construction, a busy intersection, and a decided lack of sidewalk). Once inside, I asked the saleswoman if I could examine the Amandine Rose. It smelled as amazing as its description promised. “I’ll take two ounces,” I told the saleswoman. She measured the appropriate amount into a canister and pressed on a label with instructions for brewing.

I exited the store triumphantly, my first Teavana purchase swinging from my arm. When I returned home, the first thing I did was prepare a cup of it. The result was heavenly. As I told a friend, my firstborn will be named for this tea. The photograph below is of me with my tea (and my tea ducky, because my tea ducky is adorable).

 

 
 

 

Crime Drama and Feminist Paradox

I do not consider myself an avid watcher of television, but there are a few shows that I make a point to watch, and several others that I’ll watch if they happen to be on when I want a distraction. The Mentalist is one such program.

It was on the other night, and my parents were watching it, so I joined them. I had only seen one or two episodes before, so Jane was the only character I could identify. I watched the episode for some time before I realized that Teresa Lisbon was the senior agent. This came as a shock to me, and I immediately asked myself, “Why are you surprised by this?” There are plenty of crime dramas in which a woman is in a position of administrative authority. After a few moments of reflection, I figured it out:  Lisbon has long hair, and is, in general, feminine. In most shows, powerful women have short, masculine haircuts. Director Shepherd on NCIS is a good example of this. Her relationship with Gibbs is the only facet in which she is shown as a feminine figure. Her short hair is a symbol of her masculine authority. In Bones, Cam has long hair, but it is pulled back when she is at the Jeffersonian. She may be a woman in her personal life, but at work, she is a masculine figure.

This is an interesting aspect of our culture. For a woman to have power, she must masculinize herself. Even in the mainstream feminist movement, this is the case:  many feminists display their feminism by becoming masculine. Women who are feminine are sometimes scoffed at for being weak. This strikes me as odd. Isn’t feminism about celebrating the feminine and placing it alongside the masculine in value? So why do we take the feminine out of feminism?

I’m not saying that women should live in the kitchen and spend their lives waiting to be saved by a man. I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with women having short hair or other attributes typically associated with the male—on the contrary, I have short hair because I look ridiculous when my hair is long. I am wearing a tie as I write this, because I look good in them (actually, I look more feminine in a tie than I do in a plain t-shirt). What I am saying is that women should not be looked down upon by butch feminists for being feminine. Being masculine so that you can be considered equal to men is devaluing the feminine. Femininity has different strengths than masculinity, but that is not to say that femininity is not just as strong.

I believe that true feminism is giving women value equal to men without removing their feminine nature.

 

Single, Not Broken

As soon as I began college, it started. My friends paired off and married, two by two. There was a period of almost a year in which I attended at least one wedding a month. While I still have some unattached comrades, most of my friends have said their vows and joined the League of the Married™*. I believe that for them, that was the right decision. It fit into the life that they wanted and involved attaching themselves to someone who was good to and for them. I am happy for my married friends. But I want something different.

Twenty-one and single, however, is not something that my culture accepts. Since I was in high school, I’ve been pushed toward relationships:  relatives ask at every family gathering why I don’t have a boyfriend, and friends take on the responsibility of telling me who to date. Now, most of my friends are engrossed enough in their own romantic lives that they leave mine alone, but the stigma of singleness remains. One friend of mine frequently told me that he was afraid that I would be a crazy cat lady, and so always tried to set me up with his friends.  I’m not even seeing anyone, yet my mother wanted to buy a coffee mug for my future husband. I won’t even start the list of people who have talked about my future as a mother. I feel like Eleanor Dashwood, pitied as a spinster despite her age of nineteen. When I look at the expectations pertaining to marriage in this culture, I can’t help but wonder, “Why?”

The current couples’ culture that exists in the States devalues the individual by declaring that if someone, especially someone female, does not have a significant other, that person is somehow defective. If a person does not place the same irrational value on romantic relationships as everyone else does, they are viewed as hard-hearted. I don’t agree with that view. I believe that a single woman (or man) has just as much value as a married one. I don’t have to be married to be a good person—or an important one. Marriage isn’t my focus in life. My focus is to learn, grow, and establish myself as a writer and a member of my community.

Being single doesn’t mean that you are a bad person; it means that you are moving in a different direction.

*The League of the Married is not an actual trademark (at least to my knowledge).