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Week 4: Adult Tantrums and Monkey Orchids

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12 week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Week 4: Recovering A Sense of Integrity

According to the author, I grappled with changing self-definition, was catapulted into productive introspection, and integrated a new self-awareness this week. Cameron warned that all this might be both very difficult and extremely exciting.

First, the extremely exciting:

We got deeper into why the Morning Pages are so important and why you might be experiencing toddler tantrums about doing them every day.

“We discover our boundaries. As we clarify our perceptions, we lose our misconceptions. As we eliminate ambiguity, we lose illusion as well. We arrive at clarity, and clarity creates change… Over time, it becomes a call for action and then an action plan… In short, the Morning Pages point the way to reality: this is how you’re feeling; what do you make of that? And what we make of that is often art…We become original because we become some specific: and origin from which work flows. As we gain—or regain—our creative identity, we lose the false self we were sustaining.”

A few points I took away from how the Morning Pages (more specifically) change us:

  • Once we engage in the process of morning pages and artist dates, we begin to move at such velocity that we do not even realize the pace.
  • There will be a change in energy patterns. Your dream will become stronger and clearer, both by night and by day.
  • Many areas of your life that previously seemed to fit will stop fitting.
  • You may find your candor unsettling.
  • In short, your taste and judgements and personal identity will begin to show through.
  • The snowflake pattern of your soul is emerging.
  • People and objects may have taken on a different meaning to you.
  • The Morning Pages symbolize our willingness to speak to and hear God.

As for me, I haven’t had any tantrums with the Morning Pages practice yet.* In fact, being a private person (yet an external processor), the Morning Pages have become sacred to my self-care. They are my bubble bath and face mask, my mini vacation, my glass of wine on a summer evening. They are my gift to myself. Dumping out a days’ worth of thought-garbage is hella cathartic, creating space and clarity in my head for new thoughts and ideas. The Morning Pages are my personal air filter. As the negative junk leaves my head and goes through the pages, it gets processed, aired out, and disperses.

Thanks to the Morning Pages, I have more confidence about how I feel about things. I’m more willing to sit with the good and bad experiences, since the pages are a great way for me to keep them or let them go. My dreams of a writing career are clearer, when before this, I wasn’t sure I had any career ambition other than to have a book published. Stronger personal boundaries are revealing themselves, and as I understand my needs I’m bravely solidifying them with myself and others. I care less about my possessions, replacing some of my go-to retail therapy with writing, realizing I would like to have less (Less clutter! Less to clean!).

It wouldn’t surprise me if I continue to sing praises of Morning Pages week after week. Year after year, even.

And now, the very difficult:

Oh man. Cameron assigns a week of reading deprivation. “By emptying our lives of distractions, we are actually filling the well…if we are not reading, we will run out of work and be forced to play…We gobble the words of others rather than digest our own thoughts and feelings, rather than cook up something of our own.” With her decades of experience, Cameron claims that those who have most resisted it (and even yelled in her face about it) have come back a week later as the most smugly rewarded for having done it.

Desperate to be smugly rewarded, I conceded to the assignment of book destitution. After all, it was only a week and I was curious about the results. However, I did not agree to keep from having a daily tantrum, whining to my husband, or being generally miserable during this challenge of not reading my beloved books. How would I get through the mundaneness of exercising without listening to an interesting book? How would I pass the time doing chores (or eating a meal) without being swept away to a magical world where dishes and laundry don’t exist? How would I keep my mind quiet enough to fall asleep at night without the illuminated pages of a novel?

Let me answer your burning questions of how I made it though this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad challenge:

How did I exercise? I pumped up my tires and dusted off my bike. For an hour, I rode around a local park while listening to music, instead of my usual indoor exercise routine of listening to a book while riding my Peloton or lifting weights. Also, I spent all weekend working on a family project: cleaning, sanding, painting, more cleaning, hanging pictures and curtains, rearranging, organizing, and more cleaning the kid’s bedrooms.

How did I do chores? I didn’t. I ignored the laundry this week. I let the dishes sit in the sink for two days before I did them. I was consumed with finishing the girl’s bedrooms, so I was definitely distracted.

How did I fall asleep at night? Exhausted from waking up every morning at 4:30am, making sure I have time alone to write and do Morning Pages, I was unable stay awake past 9pm. I fell asleep within minutes.

Did I cheat? No, I did not crack open a single book. However, I did find myself clicking articles on social media that I wouldn’t normally check out. Lucky me, I now understand the life and career of Anna Wintour (editor of Vogue magazine), and know which celebrities—one of the Olsen twins— is getting divorced. Thanks to my “research” for my book, I now know the basic parts of a sailboat and how to cleverly name your sea-faring vessel, which birds are the most talkative (the African grey), and thirty facts about island flowers and monkeys (please do a Google image search of Monkey Orchids and thank me later).

What Helped? My husband was great in not letting me bend or cheat the assignment when I learned of it. He let me whine, bitch, and moan, but he wouldn’t let me give in to temptation. Getting help from people who care about you is highly underrated, even for silly things like this assignment.

What did I discover about myself? How important books are to me. Like, damn girl, get-a-room important. Reading is my absolute favorite, main source of entertainment. Social media is my far away second. TV and movies are an even further third, as I don’t watch much TV or movies at all (with the except of maybe a binge every once in a while).

How did I treat myself during the misery? What did the toddler tantrums look like? I treated my daily misery to the Little Debbie’s that were left over from last week. (See Week 3). So there!

What were the results or biggest takeaways of this assignment? I finally did it! I jumped back in and actually wrote two chapters of my book…the whole freaking reason I started this challenge in the first place! Instead of being lost in my research and plots, or someone else’s characters and fantasy world, I wanted to know what would happen in my story and how my characters turned out. Aw yeah! 

While the reading deprivation assignment this week had it’s rewards, I might buy more Little Debbie’s, you know, just in case.

What I Did This Week:

  • Morning pages and task every day. My hour-long bike ride was my Artist’s Date.
  • World building as character development study, did a lot of researching game maps for inspiration.
  • Researched and complined names, since I’m having trouble coming up with names for everything, everyone, every place, and every animal in my book.
  • A character development study of magic, trying to create the rules and figuring out how it fit into my story and helped it.
  • Wrote a one page synopsis outline of my book
  • Edited a short story to submit to a contest this upcoming week.
  • Critiqued other’s short stories.
  • Shared my erotica piece with a few friends and family.
  • Attended the Erotica open mic salon online. It was new and interesting, especially while stuck home and bored during this quarantine. I didn’t read my piece but resolve to at the next month’s meeting.
  • Wrote two and half chapters for my book.
  • Wrote a blog post.

*I’ve only missed doing the Morning Pages once: the third morning of Week One, after a night of drinking. I haven’t had a drink since, due to seeing how it impacts my commitment to this process! So, go ahead, question my dedication again, I dare you! 

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Week 3: Kismet, Curiousity, Zebra Cakes and Erotica.

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12 week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Week 3: Recovering a Sense of Power

Wow, my title sounds so promisingly dirty. Spoiler: it’s not, although I do question and slightly make fun of religion, so there’s that.

Chapter three (actually) promised work on shaking up and overcoming the illusory hold of previously accepted limits as you come into your power.

Despite not being able to fully grasp those spiritual, mumbo-jumbo descriptions of the chapters, I can confidently say this whole process is working, regardless. My morning pages are now treated with religious fervor, not only by making sure to do them every day, but by waking up earlier and writing for longer sprints in small increments. As of today, I’ve reached a 4:15am wake up time and spend an average of 5 hours writing or working on my book. I crave more and more of this quiet, alone time (while trapped at home during this Quarantine) to write before I start my day with the kids and other duties at 12pm. The reward has been exponential growth and output, plus heightened awareness of self and feelings, however, the consequence is 7pm yawning with an inability to stay awake past 9pm, and a marked decreased interest in everything else.

The first section of this week’s chapter was about synchronicity, and how if you express your desires to the universe (or ask your God, whatever), with it’s all-powerfulness and all-knowing, you will get an answer. Call synchronicity what you want: an answered prayer, Oprah’s The Secret, a coincidence, or serendipity, but it show ups when you show up.

I did, in fact, experience synchronicity this week. A friend contacted me at the perfect moment, and suggested we finally share our short story fairy tale rewrites we had challenged each other to do a while back. After digging up my short story and sending it, that same day I reinvested time into my author Instagram community, and came across a summer contest for short stories, with a theme easily similar to the short story I had just sent my friend.

It was kismet, and I responded to the Powers-That-Be by signing up posthaste. Likely, had I not stumbled across it, I wouldn’t have summoned up the motivation to spend hours searching for an applicable contest, wasting the precious time I could have spent writing. Or if I had found a contest, I’d have second guessed myself, and wouldn’t have submitted anything at all. C.G. Jung loosely dubbed synchronicity “a fortuitous intermeshing of events.” Indubitably, bro.

Julia Cameron says in this chapter, “In my experience, the universe falls in with worthy plans and most especially with festive and expansive ones…Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace, and power in it.”

The second section was on shame, and how it controls and sabotages us, pushing us into our fears and dark places. Creativity (art) airs it all out and brings it into the light, making it less scary. This section was validating to me, especially to little Emily. I grew up a pastor’s kid in a very conservative religion and learned that a large amount of my curiosities were shameful.

Like, what if there really isn’t a God, and we are just crazy people wasting time together every Saturday because being a part of something feels good and/or is just part of being human? What if church is just egotistical nonsense, or an excuse to get together and feel important or less alone?  Let’s say there is a God, but what if He really doesn’t care about the things you think He does, like your boring, scripted services and who you love and have sex with? And who are you to decide? What if the Bible was just written by a bunch of ancient, white frat boys pulling the world’s greatest prank on their future generations? (That’d be amazing, tho).

Curiousity is my DRIVING CREATIVE FORCE. It makes my introverted-ness extroverted. I have so many questions for you, dear Reader, and genuinely want to know everything about you until you get sick of talking. Thankfully, in this creativity recovery process, nothing is sacred or taboo. And it’s de-freakin-lightful.

I still think about that 80-year-old pastor of our church who preached Satanist conspiracies about Harry Potter, mostly because of an Onion article he came across. We all assumed he didn’t know their articles were satirical. But, really? Every week you preach about a God of the Universe with unlimited power, living in a heavenly, castle-mansion with streets of gold, who commands an army of warrior angels and also has a strategic, nemesis devil archangel who, in turn, has minion demons that scour the Earth trying to get us humans to sin? But Harry Potter is destructive garbage? Please.

I liked this quote in Chapter Three from Mae West: “Whenever I have to choose between two evils, I always like to try the one I haven’t tried before.”

The last two sections of the chapter were on dealing with criticism and the movement of growth. I’m working on both, so these sections were obviously helpful and encouraging.

I didn’t enjoy this week’s daily tasks—except the part where I was instructed to buy and eat the treats I loved as a kid, which were Little Debbie’s Zebra cakes—and ended up writing my own exercises. My “What If” exercise focused on my future and things I’m currently struggling with: “What if you become successful and famous very quickly? What would that look like and feel like?” or, “What if you didn’t feel so uncomfortable sharing your work?” or even as simple as, “What if you finish your book?”

Did I shake up and overcome the illusory hold of my previously accepted limits as I came into my power in this third week?

Um, yes? Sure?

What I worked on this week:

  • Morning pages and tasks every day
  • Increased from 3+ hours to over 4+ hours writing and working per day
  • Spent 6 hours replotting my YA fantasy book (hooray!)
  • Wrote two Character Studies for my book’s main characters
  • Edited my short story for the summer contest
  • Tried my hand at writing Erotica for an Open Mic event next week (OMG that was quite the experience to write at 6am! Found it an easy genre to write, tho)
  • Wrote the Week 2 blog post
  • Posted to my author Instagram account
  • Did some online Oreo critiques (praise, feedback, praise) of other people’s work
  • Read:
    • A Small Place by Jamaica Kinkaid, and rethought traveling as a tourist
    • Thunder and Lightning Natalie Goldberg, and kept inspired to write my book
    • Started reading Purple Hibiscus  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche and This Savage Song by V.E. Schwab
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Week 2: Destroying My Office

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12 week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Week Two: Recovering a Sense of Identity 

Early in this second week of The Artist’s Way challenge, a longing consumed my thoughts and burned in my chest. I needed to destroy the walls of my office. Immediately.

Don’t be alarmed, reader. These urges from the universe are not new to me. Experience has taught me that I need to attempt something in order to satisfy the ache and release the pressure. For the last two weeks, I had been exercising in my office while listening to “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind” by Natalie Goldberg and “Untamed” by Glennon Doyle. During breaks, I’d spastically cover the mirrors with inspiration, quotes, and ideas with dry erase markers. Eventually, I ran out of room, and contemplated writing on my light gray walls. The walls were so nice and neat and clean and free of holes and perfect compared to the others in my old house that I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

In order to feel free to write on them, they had to be less precious so I wouldn’t hesitate to make mistakes on them with Sharpies. I longed to figure how to create space in my head, my heart, my laptop, with my time, and on my walls, to write whatever I wanted, where ever I wanted, and however I wanted. I wanted that freedom for my writing, and the only way I knew how to learn it was to just do it, starting somewhere safe.

The destruction began with short bursts of metallic gold spray paint. Hello, glam and gorgeous! And then white, teal, and blue, but it looked too pretty. Too safe. I started adding in purple as I moved towards the second wall, then eventually let loose, adding in short squiggly lines in every friggin’ color of the rainbow.

Once my finger cramped and I almost passed out from the fumes, I grabbed duct tape. On the last wall, I made a shiny, navy strip start diagonally from the corner of the right ceiling shoot all the way across and down to the opposite corner. Next was purple and white, crisscrossing and slicing the wall, across the ceiling and down to the first wall. I took a step back and was surprised by tears of delight and the light fluttering in my chest. What a glorious mess.

If you saw it, you’d probably guess I locked my toddlers in the room with some materials on the floor and told them to have at it. It is gross and wild and silly and amazing and exactly what I needed. It is my own grown-up, mental play room, where I can go as crazy as I want.

It is the start to helping me tune out the idea that I have to make something normal and comfortable and nice and neat and basic and boring. My work can be original and mine, uniquely showcasing me and my voice.

After showing Onteejo (my fabulous artist aunt and Artist’s Way Challenge accountability coach) she said: “You know, Em, diagonal lines insight energy. It’s the elements of 2D design…vertical lines insight stability and horizontal lines insight calm.” And I felt the Master Creator in her words, nodding encouragement and giving me energy to finish this challenge.

This week Chapter Two tackled trusting our creativity, tackling self-doubt by with safety and self-acceptance, working through skepticism, making sure you surround yourself with the right, gentle supporters, and paying attention.

A few excerpts I sticky-noted all over the house:

“…Survival lies in sanity, and sanity lies in paying attention…The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight [I love this line as it connected deeply with my playful soul]. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention…The reward for attention is always healing… More than anything else attention is the act of connection…”

“Each moment, taken alone, was always bearable. In the exact now, we are all, always, all right.”

“The poet William Meredith has observed that the worst that can be said of a man is that “he did not pay attention.”

Chapter two also has a set of “Rules of the Road” to follow in order to be an artist. The three that stuck out to me this week:

  • Be alert, always, for the presence of the Great Creator leading and helping my artist
  • Choose companions who encourage me to do the work, not just talk about doing the work or why I am not doing the work.
  • Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity, you take care of the quality.

Overall, I head this message loud and clear: Pay attention to all things, stay away from the crazies and unhelpful right now as you recover, and DO THE WORK.

What work I did this week:

  • 7 days of daily Morning Pages and chapter tasks
  • The Artist Date
  • A timed brainstorm of possible endings for my book and fleshed out a few scenes
  • Fleshing out a SCIFI book idea that came to me in the shower
  • Week one blog post
  • Wrote two essays for my ongoing memoir essay book. One funny and one sad.
  • Edited a previously written short story (a modern fairy tale – I turned a mix of Goldilocks, Cinderella, and Snow White into a creepy thriller) to perhaps submit it to contests for fun
  • Light research on publishers, agents, and querying.
  • Averaged three hours a day of writing by waking up at five or earlier
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The 12 Week Artist’s Way Challenge: Week 1

Quick Recap: I’m getting through Quarantine 2020 by doing the 12 week creativity recovery challenge in the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Week One: Recovering a Sense of Safety

Rearranging my office for the zillionth time during this Quarantine 2020, I randomly grabbed “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron off of the bookshelf. Bored, and mostly curious about why I had never read it before, I peeked at the first chapter. It was a 12-week creativity recovery challenge! Immediately smitten, I sat down and read more. I did need to recover my creativity, Julia! Damn!

Later that day, while exercising and listening to Samantha Irby’s newly released book “Wow, No Thank You,” I got even more inspired. This nobody became somebody just by writing about her life. I could do that too, Sam! The urge to write burned hot in my chest and dominated my thoughts. These intensely passionate, all-consuming ideas pop up often for me, so experience alerted me that I urgently needed to get an accountability partner to keep the fire going.

The most creative person I could think of was my Aunt Joanne. Known as Onteejo in our family, she’s my mom’s fabulous artist sister, but more importantly, she’s the one to whom little Emily loved sending her short stories. While riding my Peloton, I precariously texted her my proposition. After a quick phone call to figure it all out, she was down to help as my weekly accountability partner and coach.

 The 12 Week Creativity Recovery Challenge:

Like any good 12 step program, there are mantras and lists of beliefs to live by in order to be a member. The Artist’s Way challenge had a few I printed out and hung in picture frames near my writing space. Then, there are the tasks and steps to benefit from the program, in this case: Morning Pages, Artist’s Date, Weekly Tasks, and Check-Ins.

The Morning Pages: Every day, you must write three, stream of consciousness pages without stopping. It’s not exactly journaling, its more like brain dumping all the biggest nonsense swirling in your mind, so that you can move on and get to work on other things. The rules are that you never read what you wrote and no one does either. It’s a fantastic, safe space—free from pesky opinions, judgements, and labels—where you can free write and let loose.

Artist Date:This task requires you to select a day to put in your calendar to be creative. It could be anything: rocking painting, writing a song, playing the piano, knitting, baking, going to a concert, reading a book, etc. So far, I thinkthe idea is to be intentional and get used to prioritizing your creativity, while making space for it in your life, and noticing how it feels and what it changes. (I will hopefully be able to confirm that once I’ve finished the program).

Weekly Tasks:There are new 10 tasks for you to do each week. They range from listing your 20 favorite things to do, writing a letter, or various Time Travel tasks where you think back to a specific event and write about it, etc.

Check-Ins:The end of each week has a few questions about how you did and how you felt.

Week One:

Morning Pages:I love them! And have been waking up earlier and earlier to do them, despite the lack of necessity and that it only takes me twenty minutes to fill three pages. I’m surprised at my excitement to get out of bed in the morning to do them, and I hope that this is a habit I continue for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t be mad about that. I live in my head and am not great at cleaning house in there when needed. The Morning Pages give me a ritual and space to do that. At some point, I wouldn’t mind deleting them, but for now, I like seeing the work build up in my laptop folder.

Artist Date:This week I chose to sign up for our friends online Collage Workshop. I was surprised to discover that one of my dream jobs (one of the Weekly Tasks this week was to list 5 other lives/careers you’d like to live) is to be a magazine editor, and thus the collage workshop peaked my interest. I remember enjoying cutting, pasting and creating copy for my junior high yearbooks, and wondered if that would translate to working for a magazine.

My husband did the workshop with me, and it was a blast. We heated up some coffee, set up supplies on long table in our basement studio to watch the Zoom call workshop with 300 other people, and got to work. It was a bit intimidating, as I don’t have a design or art background, and there are some fundamentals that I didn’t know much about. Our friends did a great job explaining things, and I had fun creating pieces from ripped pieces of newspaper, cut out pieces of magazines, and glue. Creating something, getting lost in the process, and then having something to show for at the end felt good, and helped alleviate our rainy Sunday Quarantine boredom.

Weekly Tasks: A few of this weeks tasks got me thinking, and here are some of the stand-outs:

  1. I haven’t had a past negative experience with sharing my work. It hasn’t been torn apart, scoffed at, or ridiculed. As of yet, no one has told me I wasn’t good enough or that I should quit while I’m ahead. While I think that is a good thing, it also made me think that I don’t have any negative experiences because I haven’t shared my work enough. It also led me to believe that all the negative ideas I have about my writing (see #2) come from me. Yikes.
  2. Writing out self-affirmations over and over bring up the negative little voices in your head you may not have realized were there. I guess I got got at ignoring them, but they were still there, not dealt with or replaced. And those negative voices told me that I had no idea what I was doing, often asking “who do you think you are?” whenever I would get far along in my work. They constantly reminded me of how bored I get with things, undermining my beginners effort. The worst offenders were the questions about how uninterested and good my work was, causing me to doubt my ability and worth. Eww. Luckily, the challenge designed is to help override such thoughts.
  3. Now for some good stuff. I realized I have a lot of champions, people who have supported my writing over the years, those who continue to do so, and others. I never quite took in their compliments and listening to Natalie Goldberg’s book “Writing Down the Bones” helped me recognize how silly it was for me to be surprised by compliments and feedback. I still have a hard time believing that I’m a brave, hilarious writer. But I’ll take it, and hopefully one day it will sink in.

Check-In:

This first week was great. I missed one day of Morning Pages, due to a night “out” with friends. There was a lot to be excited about and take in, and I loved every bit of it. It wasn’t hard or overwhelming at all for me. This feels like what I was born to do, and thanks to this challenge, I now have more direction on how to do it. A few bits from this week:

  • After two years, I was finally motivated to organize my laptop. I’m reaping the rewards of that endeavor, enjoying all my work having a home and knowing where to put the new stuff right away. My head feels clearer, organized, and easier to jump in and out of when needed.
  • I realized I was wayout of practice with sharing my work. Especially out loud.
  • I discovered if I wrote in a notebook, it was easier to keep writing throughout the day while the kids were around. I felt less guilty.
  • I wrote for 1.5-2 hours every day. Sometimes more.
  • I had way more ideas for books, characters, plot lines, and scenes. Yay! This is where I have been blocked, and I feel that door opening up. That is hella exciting.
  • I am writing all over the place. Mirrors, walls, sticky notes, my phone, journals, notebooks, etc.
  • Listening to a book about writing make me inspired and feel like I’m a part of a community of people who love it as much as I do. I want to change that to the real world with real writer friends once the Quarantine is over.
  • At first, I felt guilty taking up so much space and time for myself to write. I should be cleaning, playing with my kids, exercising, cooking, spending time with my husband, talking to friends and family, reading a book, running errands. Once I made the space though, it just felt so good. I think I can make more space for it with my mind and time, and so can my family and home.

I’m letting the dishes not be the most important thing.

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Comedy Set List

I just finished Jessica Pan’s book “Sorry I’m late, I Didn’t Want To Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes,” while surviving the COVID-19 quarantine. In retrospect, reading this right now was a bit ill-timed. The author’s journey inspires the reader to be more outgoing and meet new people, however, currently all of us are actively trying to not go out at all and avoid contact with everyone.

Regardless, I was entertained by her stories of getting out of her comfort zone and trying new things (my favorite!), especially the bits about her attempt at improv and stand-up comedy. It inspired me to also attempt  writing and performing a stand-up comedy set, as being stuck at home has forced me to get creative to prevent insanity and boredom.

A tiny bit of backstory before I share my set

I am perhaps a confusing, outgoing introvert. I have no problem putting myself out there, meeting new people, and trying new things, but consequently need large amounts of alone time. I figured if this painfully shy, introvert author Jessica Pan (who has very little comedic talent) can do it, why couldn’t I? How hard could it be? With very little googling, I found a few sites on how to write a comedic set. I chose an exercise that began with listing things I hate, then going back and writing out why I hate them.

I tried reading my list out loud. I was way too embarrassed to let even my family hear this nonsense, so I locked myself in the bathroom and did a hair brush iphone video. What ensued was terrible, and full of awkward, minute(s)-long pauses. I found myself trying on voices and idiosyncrasies of my favorite stand up comics (I’m sorry Angela Johnson and Ali Wong. I know I am neither a sassy Latina nor a snarky, tiny Asian woman and only sully your amazing talent and hard work).

I did rewrites while listening to my soon-to-be-deleted stand-up video, and found myself just wanting to write a comedic essay, like my favorite comedic writers ( Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling). While I don’t see them doing Netflix stand-up comedy specials, I do see them performing on TV shows that they wrote and holding gleaming, golden awards afterwards. That realization felt more like me and my INFJ (i.e. Meyer’s Briggs personality profiles) proclivities of feeling like I express myself best through writing, and also showcases my love of a long, passionate rant.

Here we go.

My comedic essay attempt

I’ve lived in the Northeast (which to me, does not include New England or any state below the city of DC) for most of my life, and we Northeasterners are survivors. Not only are we amazing at adapting to volatile change, but we know how to survive better than the Doomsday Preppers. These preppers swear they’re better than those of us who, you know, reasonably buy just what we need for like, a week or two into our future.

Doomsday Preppers prepare for social collapse like the apocalypse could happen at any time. They stockpile food all intensely intentional and diligent, like serial killers, with their underground bunkers and knowledge of how to eat earthworms to survive. I mean…I wouldn’t say no to being friends with them (because what if, you guys), or to every once in a while sharing a glass of their funky moonshine or the weird barrel wine they’ve been aging since they were in diapers. 

In the Northeast, you have to be prepared inside and out just to leave the safety of your home, especially in the winter. You’ll know you’re good when you see the snowflake crystals all over your car in the morning and know that means it’s not going to start today. You have prepared for this with so many layers of clothing that you’d have to turn the steering wheel like a stiff-armed zombie who can’t feel their frozen face, never mind touch it before your nose falls off.

Layers are our only chance for survival here. Ladies start out with their bra as a base layer. You pick the soft one, that not only isn’t sexy at all, but doesn’t chafe, dig, or excavate the shit out of your delicate, winter-dry baby skin, nor does slice it with with metal wires and sharp hooks like a paper shredder. On top of that you add a sports bra for protection, or more for in case you have to randomly sprint for that last cronut and you don’t want your boobies bouncing around like they’re trying to save themselves and can’t figure out which way is up from down to escape. 

A tank top goes next, with tiny, useless spaghetti straps, that will pop off the minute you bend over to get your cronut off the floor. Because in this part of the country, if we have 3 seconds to choose between a broken spaghetti strap or a delicious pastry, sacrifices will be made for our daily dose of carbs.

On top of that nonsense, you throw on an office appropriate, sweat-absorbing t-shirt. This layer is to prepare for Jessica, that twenty year old, tiny-ass grandma in your office that feels a sudden “chill” everywhere and cranks the temperature up to tropical. “It’s my hypothyroidism.”

No, Jessica. It’s the ghost of your horrible college choices relentlessly haunting you now and forevermore. While Jessica shivers and pulls on her knit shawl, the equatorial office heat causes you to literally die of thirst. On your deathbed you pray your ghost isn’t as basic as Jessica’s, and at least has a badass toolbox of torture techniques other than lame goosebumps and cold drafts.

You are now sweating in February and forced to head back out to the cronut store to get an iced coffee to revive yourself, running with titties all in a tizzy again, wishing Jessica had just been a good little nerd who spent her weekends studying and getting straight A’s instead of a becoming an iron-deficient, murdering psychopath you now have to share a Caribbean office with. Love you, girl. 

Next up in this lasagna of layers, you have a long-sleeved shirt that says “Go Eagles.” It’s thin enough you can fit a turtle-neck over it, the kind that keeps you warm and chokes the shit out of you but, again – and I can’t stress this enough – not in a sexy way.

Then on top of that, you throw on a faded Old Navy hoodie that has a greasy, lo mein noodle stain on it kinda shaped like Jesus’s face so of course you can’t wash it. Instead, you zip up a thick, puffy vest over it, because how dare you neglect the warmth of your nipples and belly button. The absurdity. Your arms are totally fine dangling out in the cold, fending for their damn selves. 

Lastly, the most important item of all: a king-sized, alternative-down stuffed, puffy jacket that reminds your of your bed and makes you feel like a real idiot for ever leaving it’s warmth and joining the world’s arctic temperatures. Yes, it has to be alternative down, for two reasons:

First, because East Coast allergies prove that nature is trying to slowly kill each and every one of us with its high pollen count. Not only will you not be able to see out of your itchy eyes or breathe out of your runny nose holes, the allergens will try to slowly suffocate you by inflaming your lungs. Nature’s hatred runs deep out here.

Second, the alternative-down choice is definitely not to save any geese and their fancy feathers. We are clearly not on nature’s side, nor is the goose considered our majestic friend. We have no love for our visiting geese from Canada and their green and white poops you can’t avoid in any single, random square foot of grass.  “Geese Management” is a proper vocation out here. Single girls be like, “ Oh, you’re a doctor, and your side hustle is Geese Management? Nioce.” We hate these geese the way we hate the Spotted Lantern Fly that ate our trees last summer. Men, women, and children of all ages banned together as a coast-like Gaston and the angry mob that wanted to kill the Beast-to stomp and murder all of them immediately upon sight. It was a collective massacre and we’re proud as hell of it. 

Except, we can’t do that with geese. Geese are terrifying. They will attack you and chase your toddlers. They will honk at you until you let their whole damn family of 50 slowly waddle across the road. They will breed like bunnies and it will be adorably, horribly awful. 

Evil nature with its allergens, geese, and spotted lantern flies aside, the perfect, North Eastern winter jacket has to be a floor length gown, that can be converted into a -55 degree-proof sleeping bag. You do not want snow that is yellow, black, (or any colored snow, honestly) touching your delicate ankles or soaking into your boots while you waddle-run like a burnt burrito down the street to the cronut store. To avoid dirty looks or spit in your food, buy it in black to match our dark, sunshine-less souls, (plus the dark color hides the dirt longer) thus proving you are one of us. 

Once you’re all geared up and wearing as many items of clothing as a college kid in an airport, it’s time to look yourself in the mirror and go over the next three important things before you step foot outside your home. No, my dear, vain-ass West Coasters, it’s not to check your nose, teeth, and hair to make sure they’re perfect. That is not a thing here. You crazy. 

First, you need to check your smiling ass at the door. Get that happy-go-lucky attitude out of your system, and make sure you have none of it left before you walk out. If you show up to the cronut store with a smile on your face, you will not be trusted. At a minimum, you will get an eye roll and whatever paper-bagged item they decide to give you other than the one you wanted. You will not be seen as normal member of this society, and if we as good citizens see something, we will say something. Most likely to the police and our friends about your weird happy ass. 

Second, remind yourself that you aren’t going out to make friends, and that realistically, no one will like you nor will they pretend to like you. Boost your own confidence now. Go ahead and do a quick tally of friends, family, and people that actually seem like you. We have no love for geese, and we have no love for strangers. We will not like you, nor feel a need to be liked by you. That is off the table, and if you try to put it back on, we will smell that mess a mile away and you will regret ever leaving the house. Which leads me to our final survival checkpoint…

Third, and perhaps most important of all, look in the mirror to make sure that you are not actually invisible. No one will randomly wave or smile at you, they won’t see your car when they cut in front of you, no one will make eye contact with you on the subway, and no one in the service industry will immediately serve or acknowledge you. You are no one outside of your own home. Prepare to be very patient, or better yet, prepare your mental toolkit of obscene gestures and things you are comfortable shouting to get attention.

Here in the Northeast, passivity will get you nothing, while aggression will at least get you a cronut.  

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Nice vs. Kind

While doing some Fall cleaning and organizing, I found a small, worn piece of paper from high school. At the top of the page was my name, and under it was a few words or sentences from each of my classmates, saying something positive about me. It was from one of those team building exercises teachers do for fun, in hopes that it would make us feel good about ourselves and each other. I had a lot of “she’s nice” or “she’s sweet and smart” on my paper. I even got a surprising (to me), “she’s funny.”

While I don’t expect my teenaged, high school classmates to possess a great ability to be descriptive or know me very deeply back then (what the hell did they know? What the hell did I know?), I did wonder about their perceptions of me. Was I really that nice? Am I really that nice? What the hell does NICE mean?

Then few days later, I asked my husband for his thoughts on an email response I wanted to send to someone, and he replied: “I think you’re being too nice. Why not just say what you want to do or  not do?”

Huh? I didn’t even think I was being nice at all. But since the nice word came up again, I began questioning everything. (Que existential crisis).

I don’t think of myself as nice. In fact, I think I’m more blunt and honest than most people are, and I find no one attributes those qualities with nice. When I think of people who are nice, I think of push-overs. I think of people who willing to do things for you regardless of how they truly feel about them, or people who act a certain way because they really, really want you to like them. I often feel skeptic of their motives.

As I do love a good quibble over semantics (who doesn’t, tho?), I turned to the Great Internet of Things to see if I’m alone (i.e. justified) in the world with my thoughts about nice people.

In Thought Catalog’s post, “Why You Should Be A Nice Person”, Ryan O’Connell says:

“It seems like everyone holds being nice in a high regard but no one actually wants to be known as The Nice Person. And who could blame them? It has been engrained in our culture that being nice gets us nowhere. We finish last, we become the boring friend in our social circle. It’s like the kiss of death. And in some cases, it’s a fair assumption. People are interesting because of their opinions, because they have something to say. Nice people are often assumed to have no opinions… I used to not care about nice people. Like many others, I found them to be dull, but then I realized I was only seeing a specific breed of nice. Believe it or not, there are people who are both kind AND interesting…”

I found a lot of posts and articles about why you should be nice (it’s good for your health, it’s better for the world as a whole, blah, blah, blah). Sure. But I think they are using the wrong word, or using it interchangeably with “kind” when they shouldn’t, and should instead use something like “generous” or “altruistic”.

Side note: I discovered that the word “nice” has some suspect origins: “The English word nice came from an Old French word with the same spelling that meant “foolish.” [Heh]. This Old French word came in turn from a Latin word nescius that meant “ignorant.” At first, English nice meant “foolish” or “frivolous.” Later it came to mean “finicky” or “fussy.” Not until the 1700s did nice come to mean “pleasing” or “pleasant.”

Here’s what it boils down to: there is being nice (pleasing; pleasant) and there is being kind (wanting or liking to do good and bring happiness to others; considerate).

The Huff Post’s “Why You Should Stop Being Nice and Start Being Kind” categorized the two words into two different types of people. I think both types ultimately want do and be good, but the approach and the outcomes are different. I geeked out and made the article into a chart to see the differences side-by-side:

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Others agree that “nice” and “kind” are totally different. Kayla Matthews, in her article on Life Hacker says,

“You can have strong opinions and still be a kind person. You can stand up for yourself and still care about what someone has to say. Human beings are dynamic like that. It’s not in anyone’s best interest if you go out of your way to be nice. In fact, being nice can be detrimental to you and those around you in a number of ways.”

The earlier mentioned Huff Post article ends with a “simple” solution for us nice people to fuck nice-ness and become more like the kind people:

“The solution for the nice person is simple: he must stop looking outside himself for love and approval. Once he takes responsibility for his own self-worth, he’ll start working on developing his own positive self-regard. When he begins to love and accept himself, he’ll be able to let go of needing to please, and he’ll notice that interestingly, others are responding to him better.

A positive spiral is created, whereby he’s in charge of his self-worth, he’s treated with more respect, his anger diminishes, his feelings of trust and connection with others increase and his self-esteem improves even more. Eventually, without even thinking about it, he’ll shift from being nice to being kind.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to work on being kind. The kind of kind that isn’t nice.

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Emily vs. Elderly Man

I was disrespectful to the elderly today. Specifically, an older man in my spin class who approaches me every class despite my attempts to get him to stop.

It started a few weeks before Halloween, when I entered the spin room at my local LA Fitness to procure a bike before the (usually full) class started. I have been attending this class religiously for the past year after having to go through trying a bunch of different classes and teachers before finding this one, and loving it.

The only free bike was next to the Elderly Man. As I was minding my own business, cleaning and adjusting my bike, he turned to me and said, “You wearing your Halloween costume early?” I was surprised, and thrown off by him speaking to me. I am not someone who enjoys chit chat or small talk, especially at 7:30am on a Saturday morning. I looked at him with my brows furrowed but a smile on my face, mirroring his.

“What?” I managed. (Did he just insult me?)

“You’re not wearing a smile!” He said jubilantly. I immediately stopped smiling. Not only did I not want to smile, I didn’t want to talk to him. Especially if he thinks I should be as happy and smiley as he was. I do not enjoy being told what to do.

“I don’t need to smile,” I said with a stank face (you know, the one you make when you smell something stinky). Elderly Man proceeded to jest, and offered to juggle or stand on his head to get me to smile. Getting more annoyed, I just shook my head and left. I returned later when class began, and felt bothered & flustered the entire time, wondering if there’d be more stupid comments once class was done.

There was.

“See, that wasn’t so bad was it?” Elderly Man said to me as I ignored him and gathered my things.

The next few weeks, he continued to approach me and say stupid comments.

“Where’s the smile today?” “Fun, fun, fun!” “Are you having fun yet?”

After talking about it at length with my husband, I tried a few various passive aggressive tactics, hoping he’d get the hint and leave me alone. Here’s what I tried, and didn’t work:

Week 1:  Tried just making an angry stank face when he approached and not responding.

Week 2: I made sure to have headphones on when I set up my bike and kept them on until class began. That worked, until I forgot to put them on again right after class, and he approached me while I was stretching and cooling down.

Week 3: I tried ignoring him and pretending he wasn’t there when he was standing in front of my bike.

Week 4: Ignored him again by turning around as he approached me.

Week 5: I sat in the back of the class, which I never do because I like being up front near the fans.

After the Week 5 attempt, Elderly Man yet again approached after class, and I was caught off guard. I didn’t say anything as he came up and said something stupid to me. I went to the bathroom afterwards and fought tears. As I splashed my face with water, I berated myself for being so bothered by this “sweet, harmless old man” who wasn’t actually doing anything to me. I felt stupid. I felt powerless. I felt like if I said something, I would be an ass for being mean to an old man who “means no harm.”

Here’s the kicker: My religious upbringing has ingrained the “respect your elders” slogan in my brain. Always be polite, listen, and heed your elders… no matter who they are. Which basically translate to: do as they say unquestioningly and immediately. Not to do so means you’re being disrespectful. My dad was a pastor, and anything I did wrong was immediately reported to him and frowned upon… affecting me and his job.

biblereasons.com says this about respecting elders and sounds exactly like my 18 years of religious education:

“We are to always respect our elders whether or not if it’s our parents. One day you will grow up and be respected by younger people just like them. Take the time to listen to their experiences and wisdom to grow in knowledge. If you take the time to listen to them you will see that many elderly people are humorous, informative, and excited. Never forget to take care of your elders helping them with what they need and always be gentle showing loving kindness.”

The site then lists ways to respect your elders, and quotes a few verses such as:

  • Timothy 5:1-3: “Never speak harshly to an older man, but appeal to him respectfully as you would to your own father…”
  • 1 Peter 5:5: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  • Leviticus 19:32: “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged. Fear your God. I am the Lord.”

Thus, this situation had me torn. I know I should be respectful. I get it. But what if there are exceptions to the rule? What if there are elderly who should not be respected? What do I do then?

I googled it, and the women who made suggestions on what to do seemed to have none. The best suggestion seemed to be to put something gross in your teeth so that the harasser would be disgusted and stop. (That will teach him!) Ugh. The more I thought about how upset I was, the more I felt that fear – that what if fear – that we women often feel but don’t always acknowledge.

“What if I say something and he gets upset and follows me to the parking lot?”

“What if I get hurt?”

“What if i say something and I get in trouble?”

“What if I lose my job?”

“What if I speak up, and people think of me as mean, as the bitch-who-doesn’t-smile-and-is-mean-to-sweet-old-men?”

“What if I become the outcast or the group if I do something about it?”

“What if people look at me like I’m crazy for being bothered by this?”

“What if I am being crazy for being bothered by this?”

I texted my husband “just in case” something happened and let him know I was upset. I was so frustrated and angry that I didn’t want to go to class the next week. My husband suggested different things to try, but ultimately I didn’t feel like he could understand. He sweetly offered to come to class with me every week. But that didn’t feel right, like putting a bandaid on something that needed surgery.

And then a few days later, like lemon on a paper cut, Donald Trump became elected as President of the United States. A man that is a notorious womanizer. A leader of our country that shows little respect to women. And my fears felt more founded and real, and I became worried that this type of behavior would happen more often, and even become acceptable. I worried about my safety (and my daughters, and loved ones, and about all women in general and their safety, too… lots of worrying going on here). 

But you guys, I’m a strong woman. I’m not weak, I’m not one to shy away from conflict, something I disagree with, or a good fight. And once I remembered that, and took myself out of this yucky, victim mentality, I thought… FUCK THIS.

I’m not going to stop going to this class that I love – that I look forward to it every week – because I didn’t do anything wrong. What Elderly Man was doing (knowingly or not) was UNWANTED and UNWELCOME, which is straight up HARASSMENT. And it’s not okay.

This wasn’t clear to me right away, if at all. I thought I was just being sensitive or something. And that’s a shame. That needs to change.

——-

Now, on to today and how I spurned my religious upbringing:

Week 6: I got pumped on my way to the gym. I chugged my coffee and gave myself a pep talk. I practiced out loud some things I could say if he bothered me this time. I wasn’t going to put on my headphones unless I wanted to. I wasn’t going to sit in the back of class unless I wanted to. I wasn’t going to just shrug Elderly Man’s behavior off as silly and humorous.    

I walked into the room, and sure enough, Elderly Man was there. I made sure there were at least a few other people in the room, and I took a deep breath and chose a bike I wanted in the front. I set up my bike, and squatted down to get my headphones. Sure enough, elderly man came over to me and leaned his arms on two bikes, hunching over me. My heart started pounding and I started shaking. But before he could get a word out, I said loudly:

No. I’m not interested in talking to you, so stop bothering me and leave me alone.”

He didn’t say a word, stood up, and left the room. I was still shaking from adrenaline, and I felt guilty for being so harsh. But I also felt good, and chose to dwell on that instead of the guilt. I felt like I stood my ground. I felt empowered that I did something outside of my comfort zone, and stood up for myself. I felt like I made my worth known, even if it was only to myself. I felt like I did my best.

Elderly Man didn’t come back for class later. I felt a pang of guilt, as I didn’t “speak to him respectfully” as I was taught. But I refused to feel sorry for him. Considering the circumstances and how hard it was for me to speak to him at all, I did what I had to do. I did nothing wrong.

If what I said to my harasser doesn’t stop him, then my next steps will be to include the authorities. But I will go to class next week. I will not feel guilty for what I did, despite my upbringing. I will not live in fear of being harassed. I will not let my daughters live in fear of being harassed. I will empower them. I will support them. I will support anyone else who feels they are being harassed. I will not judge you if you stand up for yourself. I will step in if you need me to. I will empower you now, to do something. To say something. If aren’t doing something because you are afraid, take the steps to make sure you can do it safely. Ask for help. But don’t choose nothing. You have rights, you have freedoms. Don’t let someone or something take them away.

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Adulting

I don’t feel like I’ve fully adulted yet. I don’t know I will ever feel like a proper Ah-dult. It’d be worse if there was a state issued license for it, complete with age regulation, like an ID for drinking or getting your driver’s license.

Continue reading “Adulting”

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Special Editions

At the airport recently, I grabbed a copy of Glamour magazine, the one with a beautiful, dark haired woman in a flowing red dress on the cover. I didn’t think anything of it, until the cashier said to me, “You know this magazine costs $12.99, right? It’s the Plus-Sized Special Edition.” And I stared at her, and even skeptically squinted my eyes while I considered what she said. Why does this magazine cost more just because there are bigger women on it? It’s not like they needed bigger sheets of paper or more ink to make it. Ridiculous.

Continue reading “Special Editions”