Control

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Today, Marcus expressed the concern that I’m stressing myself out too much about the little things – meal prep for the week, running out of time on the weekend, organizing and cleaning everything, etc. It got me thinking about why I feel more comfortable when things are organized and planned. First of all, I just like being organized. It’s part of my personality. I was the one throughout school with all my homework assignments written down in a planner and color coordinated. I was always the one with ten million (give or take) post-it notes on my desk reminding me of various tasks and appointments. Checklists are seriously one of my favorite things in the world. While it is in my nature to a certain extent, I think the issue right now is that so much of my life feels a bit out of my control. I work at a job that I don’t love but have to keep for the money and everything important in my life – family, friends, church – is all about forty-five minutes to an hour away. While neither situation is permanent, they are getting very discouraging.

So far, my way of dealing with the uncontrollable nature of life at the present moment is to organize and structure everything else to my own specifications. Unfortunately, that means that I frequently get stressed out when I run out of time to get everything on my agenda accomplished. I guess sometimes you need someone else to point out your crazy in order to recognize it yourself.

While I can’t promise that I’ll never get stressed out when my checklists are left incomplete, I am going to try to let go of the inconsequential to-dos and focus my organizational skills on correcting the two things that are actually making me feel out of control. I mean, really, will it kill anyone if I don’t dust off my books or get my meals planned out this week?

Concerts and Mexican food

Over the last few years (I want to say seven or eight…), Marcus, Stephen, and I have had many adventures. One of our most constant and favorite activities has been Mewithoutyou concerts. Marcus and Stephen have been to at least two together, Stephen and I have been to one together, Marcus and I have been to one together, and last night, we all three went to one together. In less than two weeks, Stephen will be moving away to Alabama, so this was sort of a last hurrah kind of concert. Except that, it won’t really be our last hurrah. It’s just one adventure in a long, on-going list of hurrahs yet to come.

This particular adventure included most of our usual favorite elements – aimless wandering in shops, coffee, a lot of terrible food, a great band, and late night chats over Mexican food spanning from stupid TV shows, literature, and everything in between. It’s going to be hard when Stephen moves away, but I know that we’ll have many more stories, probably including Mewithoutyou concerts and food. So, here’s to our next upcoming adventure. Knowing the three of us, it won’t be far in the future and it will be wonderfully memorable.

Thoughts on reaching the age of twenty-three

Today is my twenty-third birthday. It’s not a very exciting age – I can’t yet rent a car, I’ve been able to vote and drink for several years, etc. – but if this year is anything like last year, boy am I lucky. Twenty-two treated me very well. For anyone else, twenty-two and twenty-three are equally unexciting birthdays, but for me, this last year has been extraordinary. Over the last year, I graduated college, married my best friend, did some writing I’m more or less proud of, and got a hedgehog. And those are just the everyday life highlights. Thank you so much to everyone who made this past year spectacular – dear friends, professors, loving family, and especially my dearest husband. You’re all the reason this was such a magnificent year.

As far as twenty-three, so far, I’m hoping it includes lots of traveling, adventure having, writing important things, reading important things, and probably lots Netflix watching (seriously, though, how did it take me this long to get on the West Wing train?). I’d also really like to get a dog, if at all possible. That’s falling pretty high on my to-do list. Overall, it’s been an excellent year and I’m excited for what twenty-three holds for me. For now, though, I’m going to eat some chocolate, drink a glass of wine, and go to bed at a reasonable hour because it’s my birthday.

Thanks, Mom

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When I was little, I wanted to climb trees, build forts from the American Boy’s Handbook, ride horses, and jump on the trampoline. All while wearing a pink ballet tutu. I wanted to do ballet, then gymnastics, then start a small-town newspaper featuring stories about our chickens, then write and illustrate a novel, then become a veterinarian, and on and on and on. My mom’s mentality was always “if you want to do something, then give it a try.” Because of this mentality, I had a wonderful childhood, filled with strange outfits, poorly written prose about Louis the iguana, climbing trees, feeding the horses while wearing plastic dress-up heels, and especially laughter. I know my brothers would agree with this assessment of our upbringing, even though their childhood probably involved more go-cart building. When people talk about my brothers, they always remark, “Is there anything they haven’t done or can do?” I think they say that because we were raised to “just give it a try.”

It’s mother’s day today, so I just wanted to write and say thank you to my mom (and my dad, obviously, but his day is in a month) for allowing me to do crazy things and supporting my harebrained ideas – even when the neighborhood wasn’t particularly concerned about the backyard chicken beat.

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Five (new-ish) books you ought to read

I don’t usually post recommendations here, but I’ve been thinking a lot about what books have influenced the way I think and write, so I thought I would share a few. I was an English major after all. This list could have easily sprawled to a hundred books, so I decided to limit myself to five fiction books from the last fifty years or so, in no particular order. Maybe I’ll gain motivation to do this again in the not-so-distant future. I tried to pick books that most people haven’t already read to keep things interesting. So, buckle up, folks, it’s going to be a long one.

  1. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989): This book will break your heart in so many ways, but one of the main reasons this book makes the cut is the structure and planning of the narrative. From the very beginning, Irving lays the groundwork for the ending, down to every detail. Some people say they guessed the ending part way through, but there’s no way to guess how everything ties together until you get to the end. It really is masterful. Also, if you’re interested in literary theory at all, I would suggest reading Owen Meany through a Bakhtinian lens. Irving seems to have written the whole book with the dialogic nature and unfinalizability of literature in mind. The one downfall to this book is that it could possibly be about fifty pages shorter, but I’m willing to forgive. Even with the fifty-page surplus, though, Owen Meany will change the way to think about structure in novels.
  2. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger (1961): While most people read Catcher in the Rye, I think this book is much better and more interesting. Not only does it give Salinger the chance to play with voice as there are two storylines, but it also is another example of compelling structure. The book is divided into two sections, each named after its primary character. Although the two intersect at certain points, they tell of decidedly different struggles. There’s a great amount of pathos in both stories, but Franny and Zooey have unique voices. One of the most interesting things in this book, from a style standpoint, is Salinger’s use of italics. While most modern writing guides advise that you stay clear of italics because they can be overused and become cliché, Salinger uses them to denote tone and vocal inflections which differ between characters. No two characters use italics the same way. There’s really no one who writes dialogue like Salinger, in my opinion, and Franny and Zooey is easily his most intriguing work.
  3. Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy (1985): I’ll be honest, I don’t actually like this book. I do, however, think it’s important for anyone who wants to write well. Though he’s known for The Road and No Country for Old Men, I found both books a bit lackluster in style. In this book, though, McCarthy really gets to show off his language ability combined with his storytelling ability. The language in this book literally sings from the page, even while describing more violent atrocities than you can even imagine. There’s a jarring quality to the novel because the beauty of the language is juxtaposed against the horrors it describes, which plays into all manner of post-modern conversations. Honestly, I only ever read the novel once because it is very difficult when you spend all your time thinking about words and their meaning to then be in an environment where the beauty of the words so greatly contrasts with their meanings. Eventually, I will probably revisit Blood Meridian because I think it can teach me a lot about writing, but for now, once is enough. You should at least read it once.
  4. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952): This book will change the way you think about race riots, personhood, discrimination, and manipulation. Besides telling a compelling story about a man’s descent into invisibility, this book tackles a lot of huge questions that everyone should wrestle with at some point. Even if you ignore the racial side of the equation (which you really shouldn’t), Ellison has a lot to say about how people treat each other and how that affects one’s personhood. Unlink the H.G. Wells novel of a similar name, Ellison’s sense of invisibility is a construct of societal treatment of personhood and importance. The novel opens up with the invisible man – who’s significantly never named – being treated as an animal. It then traces a whole manner of ways in which he is treated as non-human. Eventually, he is brought to complete invisibility. Invisible Man is both a masterpiece of literary fiction because of its style and intricacies and an important lesson in humanity.
  5. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (2004): I’ve saved my favorite for last. I first heard of this book several years before actually reading it because I didn’t know what to expect. I’m including it here because you shouldn’t have that excuse. It will change your life. Robinson’s ability to understand a character’s voice and personality is unparalleled. The narrator, John Ames, an elderly Congregationalist pastor with a younger wife and son, is truly a treasure. While there’s a lot of humorous and witty bits in the novel, there’s also a large amount of sage wisdom, insights into faith and life, and deep emotional resonance. For me, Marilynne Robinson has set the bar for great literature in this century, and it’s a very high bar to reach. Not only has this particular book won the Pulitzer Prize, but Robinson is also an accomplished essayist and novelist, so if you enjoy this novel, there’s more to enjoy. One thing that amazes me about Gilead and her other novels is Robinson’s ability to fully understand a character. When you sit down to read, you will feel like John Ames is sitting down across from you, telling you about his life and beliefs. I would encourage you to have that conversation. It will most likely break your heart, but it will also change you for the better as all great literature should.

 

 

A new adventure

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future as a writer and editor, partly because my current job doesn’t exactly push me to learn or advance my skills. After weighing my options, I’ve decided that, in addition to my own projects and working full-time, I would try the whole freelancing thing. One of the major issues with freelancing though is that you just have to start by making close to nothing. One of my closest friends (shout out to Michayla) thinks that we should really just take the word “free” out of “freelancing” because it seems to give people the wrong impression. I’m inclined to agree on that one. While I’ve had an Upwork profile for some time, I’ve really only started using it in earnest lately. It’s a dog eat dog world out there for freelance writers, let me tell you, but when you do find a project you’re passionate about, it’s all worth it, even if the pay isn’t everything you ever dreamed of.

Ultimately, besides making a living, what I really want is to be my own boss and have some freedom with my writing. Unfortunately, that means starting at the bottom of the totem pole for writing gigs and just building a reputation. One step at a time, as they say. Who knows what could happen really? Maybe I’ll hit a great streak and be able to follow my wanderlust while still being able to feed myself. Right now, I’d just like the freedom to get a dog, though. Baby steps. If you’re out there, struggling with the freelancing thing, just keep plugging away. I can say from experience that it’s very stressful to work in something you don’t love. At this point, I feel more fulfilled doing a small writing project for myself than I do after a ten-plus hour day at work. Why not pursue the fulfillment rather than settle for the mundane?

 

(In related news, I have this editing gig posted on Fiverr right now if anyone’s interested: https://www.fiverr.com/s2/78720d9618.)