That First Blank Page

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I’ve recently started a new journal – the most exciting and daunting step. There’s something terrifying about a blank page. What if I misspell something on the first line? What if I start with pens that bleed through? Do I want to do the same things I need in my last journal? Do I want to try something new?

I use my journals for a variety of things. This wave of journaling started in college when I wanted a place to put all my cards and notes and photobooth pictures. I bought a cheap journal and taped in each piece so that they weren’t floating around my dorm room. I repeated this habit my sophomore year. I bought a notebook and started to do the same process when I studied abroad in Australia (those bits and bobs are still in a bag somewhere waiting for me to tape and glue them in). I was more successful with the journal I used in Sweden – I organized it in order, placing all of the ticket stubs and plane tickets from each weekend trip together. My senior year of college it was a nice memento from school and I happily taped everything in.

It wasn’t until I moved to London for grad school that I expanded my use of journals from travel mementos to an actual journal. (This was around the time of the bullet journal fad so it’s not surprising I wanted to get in on that.) This journal was filled with cards and ticket stubs, grocery lists and rants. Taped and glued and highlighted together, this journal went beyond that experience, blending that year with the one following it.

I recently filled the last page and started a new one. I’ve used it less frequently because it’s still so fresh. There’s no mistakes so far, no bend in the spine. It sits closed nicely and doesn’t have pieces of paper sticking out in weird directions. This new notebook doesn’t hold the same memories as the last. At least not yet.

And like the beginning of anything new and exciting, I find myself overthinking. But with a new decade, maybe it’s time to dive in.

So I wrote a to do list on the first page, copied over from the end of my last journal. I taped in a ticket from a show I saw. I marked a page with a highlighter.

And suddenly, it’s a lot less daunting…

Creativity for Creativity’s Sake

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I’ve been thinking about the benefits I get from being creative in a variety of ways. I sang and played instruments for years; I tried cross-stitching and embroidery; I wrote prose and poems and blog posts; I spent hours making little watercolor roses. I have artsed and I have craftsed. And I was never amazing at any of it.

But I’m starting to realize that that is quite alright. If I find joy (regardless of the outcome), isn’t that enough?

I think I grew up placing a lot of pressure on myself to perform to high standards (set both by myself, as well as by my education and my upbringing near a city like Washington, DC). If I was going to do anything, I wanted to do it well and I wanted to do it with purpose. Because of my mentality, I struggled to be creative if I wasn’t “good”. Writing or painting or crafting seemed to only be worth it when I liked the outcome, regardless of whether I enjoyed the experience. I could never start a creative project if I was concerned about whether the outcome would be good.

(If you haven’t yet seen Set It Up, it’s a rom-com on Netflix with a scene where the main character’s roommate encourages her to write the worst article of all time in order to break her writer’s block. 10/10 recommend for any rom-com lovers out there.)

Now that I’m a little older, I’ve accepted that I will probably never be a professional artist or a professional crafter – and that’s okay. I like where I’m heading career-wise.

But I miss the feeling of creating. So the other day, I pulled out my paints and a mini canvas and started painting for the sake of painting. A layer would dry and I wouldn’t love the outcome so I would paint another layer. After a while, I felt comfortable with letting this cheap canvas sit. It won’t be on the walls of the Louvre any time soon but I enjoyed the feeling of a paintbrush in my hand.

A lot of this reflection is related to November being right around the corner. Each November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Nanowrimo is an online challenge where participants write throughout the month with a word count goal (usually 50,000 words). Fun fact: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen was a NaNoWriMo book. The idea is to get in the habit of writing everyday and in the habit of writing without self-editing. The challenging part is getting everything written without giving in to the urge to edit each paragraph – that’s what December and January are for. The organizers set up writing meetups around the world and have accounts designed to challenge you to write in different ways over different chunks of time. I’ve participated with various levels of success in the past and am debating trying this year.

But it fulfills my desire to creative without an expectation of perfection at the end. I don’t think I’ve looked back at what I’ve written during past Novembers, but that’s alright by me. (I may look back in ten years and die from laughter and/or embarrassment) but at the time those were the words I needed to form.

Will I succeed in writing a novel (with no edits) by the end of November? I don’t know. Will it spark my creative juices? Perhaps. Will I expect perfection? Hopefully not. Happy NaNoWriMo, y’all.

Let me know if you’re planning to participate or if you have in the past.

Not Quite Wanderlust

Travel, Uncategorized

I wouldn’t call it wanderlust – I think I just wanted to see how far I could get away before I had to bounce back. The first step had been the Midwest – would I come running back to the East Coast or would I want to go even further?

There’s a different mentality in the middle of the country. Folks from the Coasts would label it complacency or a lack of curiosity. The desire to explore far flung places wasn’t ingrained in every decision amongst the cornfields.

But I’d come this far. The next step should be easy. I’d done quick trips – vacations with supervision, first to France and Spain and second to Italy and Greece. Neither was particularly challenging – I knew that by the end of the two weeks I would be home; I knew that my lack of foreign language knowledge could be brushed away with a snarky comment about “American tourists”. It was all quite safe.

But then came the big leap. A twenty-something hour flight with layover that would take me from my East Coast home to the other side of the planet. The safety net had been pulled away, it was time to take a proper leap and not know when I was gonna hit the next ledge.

But I didn’t hit the bottom. Instead, I got my extrovert on (kinda) and met new people. I learned about a country so similar yet so different than mine. I saw fish swimming in a coral reef and stood in the middle of the desert staring in awe at the full Milky Way hanging above me in the sky. I shared my new life with my parents and explored two new countries with them while I was at – a “I must come back” trip to New Zealand and a “totally overwhelmed yet amazed” trip to Phuket in Thailand. As I boarded my plane away from Australia, I couldn’t help but think how quickly can I get back here?

The turn around was quick – a month or so to sit at home and realize I was ready to go far, far away yet again. This time the plane ride was much shorter, the stress was much less, but the destination would be much colder. It was a challenge – to fight against the seasonal depression of four hours of sunlight a day.

The cure was to move, jumping from plane to train to ferry over and over. Flights to France and Germany, Norway, the UK, and Denmark; trains and buses to Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic; the infamous booze cruises to Russia and Estonia, Finland and Latvia.

In the constant rush, I looked up and there was twenty-two hours of sunlight, not four. I had been everywhere except the “here” that I had traveled so far to see. I told myself I’ll be back, but it’ll never be the same. The people will have shifted, the places will have grown, and who will I be?

Once you’ve left a place, it’ll never be same.

So with a brief layover in Iceland, I returned home. My East Coast had shifted beneath my feet and the cornfields had grown while I was away.

People had drifted away and together. Buildings had been torn down and build.

So I kept going – forward momentum pushing me further and further. Until I paused. In my rush to get as far away as possible, I’d made a loop back to the start.

Working From Home

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As a currently fun-employed 20-something, I’ve found myself sitting at home scrolling through the endless job offerings on LinkedIn, hoping for a diamond in the rough posting that will perfectly fit my qualifications. While I continue that, I wanted to share my realizations about working (or simply being) at home all day. These tips (for lack of a better word) can apply to the unemployed, the self-employed, the telecommuting, or the retired.

Get Dressed

It’s such a simple step that makes such a difference. If I spend the morning in my pajamas lazing in bed, nothing gets done. Even if it isn’t until 11 a.m., get out of bed and get dressed – nothing fancy, just something new.

Distance Yourself

Speaking of bed, get away from it. Distance yourself from distractions in your apartment/house/dorm. If you can, get out of bed and sit at a table or even on your couch. Other distractions I’ve found include the kitchen, my phone, any televisions, and messy places. Anything that could give you a task or a temptation other than work has to be left in the other room. If you’re really motivated, head to a coffee shop or a library nearby.

Leave the House

Distancing myself from my apartment can mean distancing myself from the stress or anxiety that comes with applying for jobs. Waiting for an email? Take a walk. Can’t think of the right words for your resume? Run an errand. Partly, new environments spark new thoughts, but it’s also nice to leave every once in a while. Folks working at offices get to leave the stress at the office; you should distance yourself from that every once in a while. (Maybe the “stress” of retirement is not exactly applicable in this conversation, but being cooped up isn’t good for any of us.)

Give Yourself Days Off

Just like you should depart from your home every few days for your sanity, taking a break is important too. I find that due to social interactions, my weekends often become my days off, but it can be any day of the week. It also can be just when you finish what you’re working on. Though it helps to get out of bed and put on real clothes every day, it’s also nice to take a day to sit in your pajamas and watch Netflix. You’ll come back refreshed.

Be Social

I mentioned social interactions – you should be having them. As an introvert, I can happily spend days in a row by myself, but it’s nice to talk to someone every once in a while. Call your mom. Text your pals. Go grab a drink with your fellow unemployed millennial. They might spark an idea or give you a hint towards a job opening or make sitting at home alone sound like a dream.

Make a To-Do List

Maybe this is just me, but I have to have everything written down or it doesn’t get done. I make daily, weekly, monthly to-do lists. Everything from laundry day to apply to a job to vacuuming to my super busy (non-existent) social calendar gets written down. It feels really nice to cross things off the list and means you won’t walk away forgetting to hit send on that email.

Finish One Task a Day

I’m stealing this one from my grandma – give yourself one task a day to complete… and then complete it. I make a goal of applying to two jobs a day or finishing my laundry. If I’m super motivated more things get crossed off the to-do list, but if I’m not feeling it, I can cross one thing off and the day isn’t wasted. For low motivation days, I focus on something simple like clearing all my emails into “important” and “clothes websites that I don’t have money for” or taking out the trash or decorating a corner of the apartment.

Have a Creative Outlet

For a while, my roommate would come home from work to find I had hung something new or moved something to a different corner of the apartment. It’s slowed down for now, but having a creative outlet gave me all sorts of stress relief. My mother quilts, I’ve taken up crafting or cross-stitching, others knit or paint or draw (or if I’m being generous here, write blog posts about riding their bike….). Creative pursuits (even poorly executed ones) are worth a small portion of your time.

Pay Attention to Your Productivity

Everyone works differently. Some people are night owls, others prefer the morning. Some people need to get everything done at once, others have to spread the task out. Some people require breaks between tasks, others need rewards for a full day’s work. Whatever your style is, follow it. And ignore all those Facebook articles about how the smartest people are most productive at 6 a.m. or whatever. You’re most productive when you’re most productive – pay attention to you.

Take a Shower

Last tip: take a shower. Showers are a nice refresh from the day before or the last job application. Also, you might not realize it, but you could smell. Just saying…

Binging/Bingeing

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I binge. I watch hours of the same television show multiple days in a row, and then I forget about it for months. I read the same book from start to finish, and then I go weeks without even reading a magazine article. I devour YouTube videos locked away in my room, and then I completely move on.

It’s not that I lose interest or something else comes along, but my brain prefers to scoop up all the information or entertainment that it can before shifting focus.

It’s the same with writing.

When I first started a blog, I thought I would write weekly. I needed to get all my feelings about traveling out to the masses at weekly intervals so that they would be both satisfied and not overwhelmed. But then I myself became overwhelmed.

I moved home. I got an internship, working 9 to 5 everyday and commuting 2 hours everyday. I didn’t have time to come home and reminisce on the travels I was fortune enough to experience years ago. My focus was on staying calm as I dealt with regular social interaction on a daily basis, while also taking on the stress of what I’ll be doing after the New Year (I’m an introvert, through and through. I recharge by being alone, which is something of a challenge when working in a social office and then living with your parents.).

All this stress and cover letter writing, and the month of September flew by, and here comes November. Last year, I completed National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).

Over the month of November 2017, I wrote 50,000 words of a “novel”. It was a rough, rough draft, much of it simply the result of brain dumps that vaguely related to a topic. I haven’t looked at it since, but I enjoyed the sensation of finally giving in to what I had been thinking about writing for years. It was on paper (well, on a word document, but same thing) and not written on scraps of paper (well, iPhone notes, but same thing) fluttering about.

It was probably not my best idea, as I was also in the middle of a Master’s and was stressed enough without an additional burden. But that was always my excuse. NaNoWriMo is every year, every November. There would always be something to keep me from writing.

So as I sit here on my semi-abandoned blog debating whether I will be too stressed/busy/overwhelmed/social to write 50,000 words of a “novel” this year, I can’t help but think this would be a good binge. Write 50,000 words in a month and then take a few months off. But at least I’ll’ve caught that focus before my attention went elsewhere.

P.S. Is it binging or bingeing? I can’t decide since neither looks quite right. If you have any input on this debate, I’d appreciate it. ktnks.

Study Spots

london

Like most, my summer will be filled with adventures and sunshine and friends, but there will also be dissertation writing. One perk of choosing to do my Masters in the U.K. is that it only lasts a year, but while many students get to spend their summer away from the library, that’s where I’ll be finding myself each week. Though I’m done with exams and classes, I have 15,000 words due at the end of August.

So naturally, I’ve been procrastinating. I keep telling myself I just need to find the right spot to study, somewhere not too loud and not too quiet. It can’t be my room because despite having a perfectly good desk to use, my (semi-)comfortable bed is just so close. I can’t work in my kitchen because the table is too wobbly and there’s too many people walking through. I don’t really drink coffee, so coffee shops are sort of out of the question, especially when I start to feel bad for hogging a table for multiple hours at a time.35922705_10214503902725209_6669531920843407360_n

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The last few months, I’ve been studying in my university’s library. The Maughan Library is one of those beautiful monuments of academia and was perfect for long days reading through endless journal articles. But after a while, the walk there and the uncomfortable chairs just aren’t as appealing. (It’s pronounced Mawn like Lawn, apparently. Have I used the difficult pronunciation as an excuse to not study there? Maybe…)

As it’s now summer and my motivation is fried, I’ve come up with a new trick to get me writing. I’ve searched out some more Instagram-worthy spots. I figure if it’s pretty, maybe I’ll be more motivated to actually get out of bed and get some work done.35733525_10214503894365000_508092002596814848_n

Thanks to the interwebs, I’ve begun complying a list of adequate places, starting with the British Library. I stopped by for four hours on a random Tuesday and while it was busy, it was calm enough that once I plugged in my headphones I had no problem getting to work. (Though I did have a few quick study breaks to watch random tourists wander through and take pictures.)

In two months, you may be hearing from me again, complaining about how I ended up back in the same spot in my university library all summer, but for now I’m adding a little bit of adventure to my academia.

Wish me luck (and send me recommendations, please)!