Friday, September 21, 2012

Turning 28

I'm turning 28 this weekend and the only real thought I’ve given to the fact that my birthday is coming is that my driver’s license is expiring and I am now going to be forced to get one of the “new” licenses where they don’t let you smile and they mail you the new card so you have a fake paper one for a while. I know other states do this, but ever since I was 14 and got my learner’s permit, I’ve loved the feeling of the brand-new license, still hot off the machine, examining my picture while I walk back out to my car. I don’t know what it is about a fresh license but I’ve always loved the new-ness of it. I don’t like that I’ll have to wait for a new one to come in the mail, or that if I manage to have a good hair day tomorrow I’ll probably try to squeeze in a DMV visit over lunch and get it out of the way, therefore relegating myself to a weekend of getting carded and having only a black and white printout of an unflattering picture to show for it. I suppose I could wait until Monday… you have 30 days after the expiration to get a new one, right? Unfortunately, once I get it in my head that something needs done, I am absolutely restless until I accomplish it.

Also, the no-smiling thing irritates me. I don’t WANT to look like a scowling bitch in my primary means of identification, but…I guess they yell at you if you try. Although someone on facebook told me that you can smile as long as you don’t show teeth. I practiced a little bit in the mirror this morning, smiling without really smiling, and quite frankly, I just look ridiculous. A lot of people hold the theory that it’s because you won’t be smiling when you get pulled over, but I know someone who was told that it was so they could more easily identify you if they found your corpse in a ditch or something. So, that’s cheery.

It’s all irrelevant, anyway. It’s just a new driver’s license, it’s not the first time I’ve renewed it and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to hold out this long on the new design. Whatever, it doesn’t matter.

What’s interesting is how I’m so totally ignoring the fact that, hey, it’s my birthday.

We were always big on birthdays in our house... I think it was largely my mother’s doing, to make sure we had some sort of tradition in place. To this day, we still get together at the house I grew up in, have a nice dinner, and make homemade ice cream on the back stoop. When my grandfather passed away, my dad took over the reigns and was the Chief Ice Cream Maker. In past years, my brother-in-law has been lending a hand. It’s almost ironic that it was my mother who was all about the forming of a tradition, and now she doesn’t even get to participate in that bit. Divorce will do that, I guess. We’ll have to figure out our own new tradition, since she moved down to my area of the state and lives close by.

My 12th birthday.
Which has nothing to do with anything, but I recently found this picture and it's funny.

Birthdays aren’t as exciting when you’re older. When you turn 21, it’s a Big Deal because you can legally drink. Except when I turned 21, all my friends were still 20, and my boyfriend at the time decided to get drunk at his friends’ house so he couldn’t even take me out for my first trip to the bars. (He was so thoughtful, like that. I should have taken it as a cue early on but I continued to date him for another few months.) I’ve had pretty low-key birthdays since then – my 26th birthday stands out to me the most, because it was a perfect, fun night out on the town with my best friends and the best pizza in town and crash helmets and, well, I don’t know. I just remember having fun and enjoying it.

Last year was pretty fun too – though I could feel the onset of old age and the lack of wanting to go out and get crazy. We had dinner and played Adult Mad Libs and then ended up across town at the fanciest bar in town (to my knowledge)(which isn’t saying much, but, y’know, in the context of being a college town, this was a “grownup” bar) and were probably home by eleven.

Twenty-seven was good to me… but I’m kind of giving the side-eye to twenty-eight. Next year will be my last birthday that starts with a 2. I feel like I should have my shit together more than I do. My apartment is eclectic and messy and it feels, well, young. Like it belongs to a young post-grad artsy professional. Which it did, when I moved in. But I’m no longer in my early to mid-20s and I’m really not that artsy anymore. I feel like a fake – why do I still have all these design books? Why do I cling to the illusion that I could still be a graphic designer or photographer? Who am I kidding? Myself, mostly. I have all these ideas, sure, but I have no energy or method to execute them. So I’m sitting on thousands of maybe-good photographs with no destiny other than to take up space on my already-full hard drive, and all these design books that make me wish I could just design a stupid poster for something. I have lots of clothes I don’t wear or can’t fit into. I have so much organizing to do, that I both simultaneously want to get started right away and hide under the covers forever until it goes away on its own.

I have the most wonderful boyfriend that I sometimes feel like I'm still imagining, I have a good job that I enjoy and coworkers that I adore, I have friends that I love and a mostly-well-behaved kitty cat that doesn’t get near enough of my attention. My rent is affordable, I don’t use all that much gas anymore now that my 40-minute-away boyfriend is now 5 minutes away, and I’ve decided that I’m stable enough to start putting most of my bills on auto-payment. Best of all – my credit card debt is gone. GONE. That deserves its own post, but it was kind of the crowning achievement of this particular life stage and almost feeling like an adult.

But I’m still sorta flaky and chaotic and sometimes I really want to be spontaneous and spend my money on stupid shit and eat ice cream for lunch and stay up late reading blogs and roll out of bed at the last minute and haphazardly groom for work so that I look about as worn out as I feel. I take advantage of the dress code that allows me to wear jeans and t-shirts as often as I want (not just Fridays!) even though I know it would be professionally advantageous to try and dress nicer on a regular basis. I’m still emotionally stunted, I don’t know how to open up (I’m getting better!) and I’ve apparently reached an age where I will cry at the drop of a hat. Good cry or bad cry, doesn’t matter. I cry at weddings, I cry at movies, I cry when I’m stressed, I cry at any perceived insult or injustice. It really needs to stop, I felt more in control of myself when I could pretend I was an emotionally closed-off bitch. Alas, those days are GONE.

In fact, these days, I’ve been going around in a perpetual state of personality crisis, because I've been thinking about things like money and the words “financial planning” stress me out in the way that wondering if I was going to be able to pay all my bills each month used to, because OMG I should really start focusing on my retirement plans and I should really think about increasing the monthly payments on my student loans so I can pay down that debt faster, and maybe I should set strict monthly budgets for coffee and Target and books/music (the danger zone). I’ve started exercising 3-4 times a week. I have considered getting up early to squish in some activity before work, and the one sign that I haven’t completely become a grownup is that I always choose to hit the snooze button instead.

There are other things, too, but I'm sure they deserve their own post on a different day when I can make sense of them all. For now, all I know is that I should be a grown-up by now but I don't feel like it. Some days this bugs the hell out of me, other days I wish I could just get a ticket back to college when life wasn't this hard to figure out. Feeling like I'm 24 when I'm about to turn 28 just kind of makes me feel stunted, somehow, or like a failure. Except I know I'm worlds away from where I was back then, so I don't know what I think anymore. I'm more mature than I was, but maybe not mature enough? I have no idea. There were no textbooks for this.

Ugh, this sucks. I'm going to file all these thoughts away and focus on more important things like what to wear this weekend. Decisions, decisions.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shameless.

"It was a dark and stormy night."

Biggest cliche in literature, right? But at one point, it was a brilliant opening line to a story. In fact, the first line of a story or a novel is considered to be the most important. It's what draws the reader in and sets the tone for the rest of the literary journey.

In my quest for some sort of legit literary publication to which to send my craptastic fiction, I stumbled upon The First Line. It's a publication with a bit of a twist - they provide the opening line, and you finish the story with your own interpretation. Their website describes it as "an exercise in creativity for writers and a chance for readers to see how many different directions we can take when we start from the same place."

I was intrigued... I've been struggling with my fiction writing something terrible, and it was like the clouds parted when I found this. I've only attempted it twice - once last year, once this year - but both times, the given line was the spark I needed to get going. The stories poured effortlessly from my fingertips and suddenly I had completed something.

What's more, I finally had something to submit somewhere. The act of submitting a story was, to me, the first step in trying to be a "legitimate" writer - and, of course, get used to rejection. I even added it to my list of 30 Things (write a story, send it in, frame the rejection letter), although it's not quite as fun as getting an actual rejection in the mail would (probably) be.

I mean, to be fair, both stories were likely crap, as they both got rejected, but that's neither here nor there. I will, someday, get into that damn publication, you mark my words. Until then, though, it's fun to try.

Recently, they held a contest for people to submit their own potential first lines to be used for the 2013 series. Imagine my delight when I got an email saying that one of my entries was one of the runner-ups.

But I'm not content to be just a runner-up, not without trying. So I need your help. They have opened voting on the ten runner-up lines, to be used as Prompt #4 in 2013. I kind of hate contests like this where you have to bug all your friends and acquaintances and scrape up votes because it feels like one big popularity contest, and let's be frank, I've never been good at those.

But since is the closest I've gotten to getting published or featured in a publication, I'm going to give it a shot. Vindication, if you will. The next best thing.

You can find out all the details here but I'll keep things short and simple for you. You don't have to create a login anywhere, you don't have to jump through any hoops, and you don't have to "like" a facebook page. You merely have to send an email, and it takes like ten seconds, and you're not going to get spammed by them because you have to voluntarily join their email list, because they are good peoples.

All you need to do is this: paste the following line into an email and send it to contest@thefirstline.com. Only one vote for email address. (If you're feeling super generous and/or bored, you can probably vote from multiple email addresses. You know, if you want.)

This is my entry:

It took me longer than it should have to realize that I wasn't like the others.

I would be very much appreciative. I don't even remember but the prize is (maybe like $20 and a copy or two of the issue that features that line) but it would make me feel much better about the whole sucking-at-writing bit.

And, hey. If you're feeling stuck and trying to write, you could/should also try your hand at this publication. It's kind of fun, even if you don't end up submitting whatever it is you write. Though you should. It's easy, it's all by email, and they award cash to their selected stories.

Anyway. Thanks in advance for your help. I ain't too proud to beg, especially on this blog.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Remember.

As though there's any chance we could possibly forget.

We are scarred, but as with any scar, we remember, and we heal, and we get stronger.

I made the mistake of pausing too long on the History Channel, who was showing footage from that morning. Footage I hadn't seen in eleven years. I couldn't make myself change the channel, even though I really didn't want to watch it. Who would? It's horrible and it's already burned into my mind forever.

But something felt different, watching it, now. I had the perspective of age. When the towers fell over a decade ago, I was a junior in high school, smart but naive, and I had no idea what any of it was going to mean. But it almost wasn't real, it was happening a world away, to people I didn't know, lives I couldn't understand, horrors I couldn't fathom.

It's different, now. I work a 9-5 job in an office. I travel. I still can't wrap my head around what it would have been like, to go about your business, same as any other day, and suddenly have it be your last. Or to have your family ripped apart because one of your loved ones was in a tower, on a plane, or was a police officer or firefighter. I could relate to these people in New York, now, going about their business, just another Tuesday morning, not expecting the Infamous Event of Our Lifetime. (God, please let it be the only Infamous Event of Our Lifetime. I think the sky would fall down on all of us if it was only the first one.) I can start to grasp, start to understand, the bone-chilling terror of being on an airplane, headed to wherever, and then to realize what was happening, and God, the sheer awfulness of what those final minutes must have been like. (I just want to use the word horror over and over but I'm supposed to be a writer, I'm supposed to have more words than that. But I don't. Not today.)

It's worse, now, now that I can understand it, now that I can relate. The world is much smaller than it was when I was seventeen. Geographically, I haven't gone far, but that doesn't matter. The world has shrunk around me and I feel like I'm a part of it now.

Maybe it's better, that it happened when I was young. I was able to hold onto an optimism that is hard to come by anymore. I believed in better things, I believed things would turn out okay. Because at that age, all you know are happy endings, for the most part.

It doesn't matter. What matters is that sudden feeling of complete empathy that shot through my being as I sat there, clutching the remote, staring at a screen. It suddenly was no longer just a terrorist attack that catapulted us into this strange, new world of fear and power-struggles, it was no longer something that happened thousands of miles away. It's no longer about politics or war or everything that came after. For me, suddenly, it was about the people. The people in the towers, the people on the planes, the people on the streets, the people on the public transportation shooting amateur video out their window, the people running from the lower levels, the people reporting for duty. It was the emotions and the uncomprehensible surreality of it all. It was senseless and awful and the cause and effect ripples are still sending aftershocks to us today.

There was a shot of a lady sitting on a park bench, purse in her lap, tugging on her hair, burying her hands in her face. It said it all. It was happening in front of her very eyes, and she had no idea how to process it, what it meant, what to feel. That same feeling echoed across New York and across the country, as radios and televisions were turned on and a hushed silence fell over the country.

Yes, we all remember. We remember where we were, what we were doing, how we found out. We remember watching the towers fall and being scared and suddenly being especially grateful that our loved ones were safe.

We won't forget, because we can't. But eleven years later, I have a better understanding, a better sense of empathy.

It's weird, growing up.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The New 4-Letter H-Word


I’ve turned into the exact type of person who everyone wants to punch in the face right now. I’m trying really, really hard to keep my opinions to myself… but I have a really itchy share-button finger and a (however unwitting) platform to use as a digital soapbox. I try to be as open-minded as possible, but it’s REALLY hard when one side of the aisle has a firm closed-mind policy. Because it drags me down to the level of lowest-common denominator and forces me to be close-minded against their close-mindedness, and really lock down solid stances when part of the thing I used to like about myself is that I was always learning and exploring and trying on new ideas to see how they fit.

It’s hard to be open minded when so much of the world insists on seeing things in black and white. It forces you to take a definitive stance, when life would be so much better if we could take an ala-carte view to things. And yes, I'm talking politics, if you somehow missed it. 

There are things I feel well-informed about, and things I don't. I am not smart in the nuances of economy and finances, though I suspect that giving special breaks to super-rich people and corporations and then raising taxes on the middle class – if that is a factual representation of the plan – is not a good thing. I don’t understand every last bit of the health care reform, but I do know that I’ve seen it help people. My mother, for instance. Thanks to some of the parts of the ACA (the phrase “Obamacare” does not sit well with me, even though when he was at my alma mater last week, he claimed it was growing on him (“I DO care!”), and, um, close parenthesis here) that were enacted more immediately on the timeline, she is able to go to the doctor and see specialists, something that her truckload of pre-existing conditions has long prevented. She can get treatment without going into crippling amounts of (additional) debt. She’s healthier and happier, and maybe the people opposed to the health care reform can’t see that it truly does affect people and improve their lives. Acutal, real people, with families and limited bank accounts. So I’m biased. I’ll admit it. But I've noticed that a lot of people find my political viewpoints and opinions to be more valid if they're coming from a place of self-interest, so... there's that. (I feel like I'd be much more effective at arguing for gay marriage if I was, in fact, gay.)

Do I think it should be mandatory for every person to have coverage? Not really. But I do think it’s nice that it’s affordable for people who do want it and couldn’t maybe afford it otherwise.

When I graduated from college, I got booted off my dad’s insurance plan. I was 23 and was working retail because the job market sucked and, suddenly, I had no insurance. It was mildly terrifying. Because while I – thankfully – remained healthy, what if I’d broken a leg or gotten cancer or something? I was working AT TARGET. I would have been financially ruined for life. I was barely making enough to pay for my rent and my bills as it was - not to mention the student loans that were looming over my head. Fortunately, I eventually put in enough time to qualify for insurance, and I even kept working part-time at Target until the insurance at my current job kicked in, because I was so afraid of a lapse. It killed me to work seven days a week for an entire month, I was exhausted and stressed out but hey, at least I was covered. Just in case. With the reform, I would have been able to stay on his plan until I was 26 – time enough to find a “real” job and get my own coverage. It’s not like I was a welfare queen or some bum that would have been mooching off the system, like I’m sure everyone just assumes would be the benefactor of such a plan. I was a well-groomed, college-educated, lower-middle class female who was working her ass off to try to get by. I was (then) a blonde-haired, blue-eyed good ol’ Iowa girl with a Midwestern work ethic and a determination to succeed. My criminal record consists of a small handful of speeding tickets. I’m involved in my community. I coach softball and serve as a role model to pre-teen girls. I patronize local businesses when I can. I’m not overly religious but I try to be a good person. I adopted a cat from an animal shelter. I visit my family when I can and I send cards on birthdays. My biggest personality flaw is that I struggle with punctuality and sometimes I’m a bit flaky, but I always have the best of intentions.

What I'm saying is, I’m your stereotypical girl next door, the embodiment of someone’s idea of the average American.

It’s almost embarrassing how little I have to complain about. I’ve got it pretty good. I’m not overly privileged and Lord knows I don’t come from money, but I don’t have a lot of things working against me right now. I am able to complain about very firsty First World Problems – my biggest problem in life right now is that I’ve gained too much weight that I’m afraid my hips have gotten too love-handley for the bridesmaid dress I need to wear later this month. I’ve got a nice job with a stable company and I can pay my bills every month and maybe splurge on a completely unnecessary pair of shoes or something else equally frivolous. I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from or if I’ll have a place to sleep. I don’t have to worry that I’ll be bullied or terrorized when I walk down the street because of how I look or who I'm with. I don’t have to worry that I’ll have a hate crime committed against me or my family. Perhaps I take for granted the life of ease that comes from being a straight white female – the next best thing, it would seem, in the eyes of politicians, to being a straight white male like themselves. (I mean, it would be better if I couldn’t drive or vote or speak or make my own health care decisions, but at least I’m genetically similar to them, right?) I'm pretty vanilla. I forget what movie it was (or maybe it's a tv show, I don't remember) where someone accuses someone else of being "beige" and it was funny but now that I think about it... I'm pretty beige myself.

If I was a good girl that lived up to the stereotypes of my station in life, I'd go along with whatever the influences in my life tell me, and I should probably be inclined to want to keep the status quo.

Unfortunately, I’m terribly na├»ve and idealistic and want the best for everyone. It’s skewed my perceptions and I know I’m not seeing any clearer than anyone else. There seems to be no middle ground anymore. This election cycle has definitely polarized me, and I haven’t really had a chance to step back and examine what that means.

In the meantime, I’ve gotten so preoccupied with social issues, that it almost doesn’t matter to me who says what about economic or foreign policy or whatever other important issues pop up. I’d love to learn more about sustainable energy and what sort of neat things we could be doing as an evolved humankind… but we’re too busy shouting at each other with our keyboards and our cell phones, that we’re not listening to each other. Nothing is ever going to get done, because people refuse to work together, because compromise is a dirty word. There is no common goal, no common good, and frankly, that worries me. We’re disagreeing simply because we do not want to agree with what anyone else says. We’re going to implode on ourselves, it’s only a matter of time. United we stand, divided we fall.

I have my set of opinions, and whether they are wrong or right, who is to say. I find myself shouting in a sea of other voices that are shouting, too, hoping to find more people that will hear me, so maybe we can find some common ground somewhere. I still have hope for that.

There are things that are more important to me than others. I want our educational system to succeed and be given the proper resources to do so. I want the government to stay out of private affairs and out of the doctors’ offices. I want everyone to be on the same playing field, as far as what legal benefits their life partner is entitled to, regardless of their gender or yours. I want women to make the same amount of money as men. I want everyone to be able to marry who they love. I want fair taxation and I would really like if everyone had the same opportunities available to them. I don’t think people should be mired in a lifetime of debt for either (a) attending college or (b) being hospitalized. I want money to stay out of our government, for our politics to not be so heavily influenced by the wealthy elite or private corporations. A government should not be able to be bribed, should not be a for-profit practice. It should be about the people. By the people, for the people. I think the founding fathers were a bit idealistic, too. Or maybe they just couldn’t anticipate the level of greed that would eventually permeate our society.

I hate that decisions get made based on who will pay the most money, rather than what is best for our society. There is no place for that, here. We live in a society of greed and entitlement, and I absolutely hate that.

I think it’s Jimi Hendrix who is quoted as saying: “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”

Love - not romantic love, but a humanitarian sort of love - is a funny concept, these days. Seems all we know is hate and envy and selfishness. But that’s another tangent and I’ve already rambled long enough.

I’m not saying our society is great. Far from it. There are a lot of things I hate about our society. I cringe at the fact that we live in a culture where “Honey Boo Boo Child” is one of the top-rated shows on the air, where we care more about celebrities’ marriages than we do about our own, where athletes make more money than teachers, where we’ve forgotten how to communicate in real life, in real time, because we’re so affixed to technology. I hate how much of our lives are digital, now – we’re practically living in our own dystopia. Ray Bradbury was perhaps on to something, but instead of the walls, we have computer screens. Maybe we should just let ourselves self-destruct so we can start over. I don’t know.

What I do know is this: I’m not satisfied with the status quo, even though right now, it mostly works in my favor. I have hope for my idealized version of America, where people are more important than power and money. I have hope that we’ll start treating each other as equals and neighbors and partners, not upper/middle/lower class castes. I have hope that we can fix this mess of a place that we live in.

I still have hope left. And that’s why I will not shut up.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Earrings, IRL.

About a million years ago (approximately), when I was only in a mildly-excessive state of Pinterest usage, as opposed to my unhealthy levels of must-check-multiple-times-a-day usage that I am experiencing now, I found these lovely earrings, and I decided that I needed to own them.

I don't know why. I don't usually wear post earrings like this. The bigger and the danglier and the sparklier the better, in my book. Except if I'm really dressed down or something. Then I'll wear simple hoops from Target. (I have been wearing hoops since high school. One of my sister's friends even told me that she was going to start wearing hoops with her hoodies because it looked cool when I did it. It was totally my only Regina George moment.)

But I needed them. They were calling out to me, with all of their sophisticated loveliness and mint-aqua-ness. So I did what any normal person would do in this situation: I clicked the source link to go buy them.

[via]

Unfortunately, whoever pinned them, did so from Wanelo, which, at the time, was one of the biggest pain in the ass sites of all time, because it never pins directly to the item page, and you have to be logged in to even see an item page, if you're lucky enough to not lose the item you were there to see, in the process of trying to figure out where it came from. Even then, it didn't send you anywhere that you could buy the item. (As of writing this post, this thankfully seems to no longer be the case, the site actually makes sense now, but at the time, I remember I had the WORST time trying to navigate it and it took me FOREVER to find these guys. Also: hyperbole.)

So I did the next best thing and went to Etsy. I think there are a bunch of variations of this out there now, but I used my super-sleuthing skills and, with only the little bitty watermark in the corner and a visual of the item (also, they were listed as "mint" and not "aqua" because Pinterest is FULL OF LIES).... and I found them.

I think the price has gone up a couple dollars since then (which, if something I was selling suddenly got popular on Pinterest, I'd do the exact same thing.) (Also, I find it irritating that Blogger does not recognize Pinterest as a word yet. GET ON IT, GOOGLE.)

Either way, I placed my order and I waited and lo! One day my package FROM UKRAINE arrived.

Not only did I get my lovely little earrings (which were a little bigger than I was expecting, but it's all good), but they had the added bonus of being extra awesome because they came all the way from Ukraine.



I really have no point to this post other than "OOO PRETTY" and also "LOOK LOOK I ACTUALLY BOUGHT SOMETHING I FOUND ON PINTEREST" even though it was like six months ago and I'm a lazy and forgetful person.

Also: international mail FTW!

Actually: any mail FTW!

I want to start doing more snail mail. It's the best.

Have you actually ordered anything you've found on Pinterest? Was it as awesome in person?