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Week 9: Playrooms and Protests

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.

Chapter 9: Recovering a Sense of Compassion

“This week finds us facing the internal blocks to creativity. It may be tempting to abandon ship at this point. Don’t! We will explore and acknowledge the emotional difficulties that beset us in the past as we made creative efforts. We will undertake healing the shame of past failures. We will gain in compassion as we reparent the frightened artist child who yearns for creative accomplishment. We will learn tools to dismantle emotional blocks and support renewed risk.”

The first sections of the chapter are Fear and Enthusiasm. “Fear is the true name for what ails the blocked artist. It may be fear of failure or fear of success…The need to be a great artist makes it hard to be an artist. The need to produce a great work of art makes it hard to produce any art at all.”

Cameron continues to drive home the point that art is childlike: “Enthusiasm is grounded in play, not work…In order to work well, many artists find that their work space are best dealt with as play spaces.”

This made me feel validated in my reframing last week of my idea of “fun” this summer, and the work I did in the beginning of this challenge to mess up the walls of my office, or what I will not refer to as my playroom. The walls are spray painted in rainbow colored squiggles, crisscrossed by bright duct tape and sticky notes, and covered in quickly scribbled quotes with colored Sharpies. It’s a hot, glorious mess. “Most little kids would be bored silly in a stark, barren room. Our artist child is no exception.”

The last two sections are Creative U-turns and Blasting Through Blocks. They were helpful this week as I have found myself slowing down and spending less time writing. I’m on the last act of my book which is getting complicated and harder to manage in my brain, never mind even getting it out on paper! It’s stuck in there and swirling around like a confused drunk that can’t unlock a door.

Thanks to this chapter, I realized that I actually didn’t have the mental space to write my book, and I wasn’t giving myself permission to create more space. The Artist Dates have been the most difficult thing about this challenge for me, as it’s been particularly difficult being in quarantine and not wanting to burden anyone with my needs.

“To recover from a creative U-turn, or a pattern involving many creative U-turns, we must first admit that it exists. Yes, I did react negatively to fear and pain. Yes, I do need help…Remember, your artist is a creative child. It sulks, throws tantrums, holds grudges, harbors irrational fears…it falls to your to convince your artist it is safe to come out and (work) play.”

By the end of the week, I recognized my block and asked my kid’s grandma to take them overnight. This gave me the mental space to sit and read my Morning Pages from weeks one to eight, which I printed out (A whopping 85K plus words! It’s basically a short, boring novel…but full of personal insight and actionable items). I also took a delightful afternoon nap and enjoyed a completely clean house for the first time in over three months.

I asked for help and was able to create mental space for myself. And it felt good, like I could bring my creative self to the writing table again.

“We learn to do something by doing. There is no other way.” – John Holt (Educator)

—–

This week, I:

  • Did my Morning Pages and chapter tasks every day
  • My Artist Date: an hour and a half bike ride on the Delaware Canal Towpath where I yelled at geese and turtles that blocked my path. I also got a hitch put on my car and added a bike rack so the family can ride together now, too!
  • Finished Chapter 14 and half of 15 of my WIP
  • Spent on average an hour or two a day working and writing
  • Wrote my kids three, one-page chapters for a book we started. It’s a about them, their super dog, Max and his summer adventures. They can illustrate or act out the stories, and my oldest has taken to helping me with the plots and characters. She likes seeing them printed out, so we punch holes and put them in a binder, along with blank sheets of paper for them to illustrate on or write story ideas
  • Did a peaceful Father’s Day protest march with The Dad Gang for the Black Lives Matter movement in D.C. with my family
  • Finally booked a weekend in Cape May, now that we are in the green during this pandemic (it’s been distracting me every morning as I scour the internet for places to stay instead of finishing my book)

 

 

 

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Week 8:  Mountain Climbing and Cannonballs

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.

Chapter Eight: Recovering a Sense of Strength

 “This week tackles another major creative block: time. You will explore the ways in which you have used your perceptions of time to preclude taking creative risks. You will identify immediate and practical changes you can make in your current life. You will excavate the early conditioning that may have encouraged you to settle for far less than you desire creatively.”

This week addressed some of our greatest struggles as blocked artists: Old wounds and patience.

“We must remember that our artist is a child and that what we can handle intellectually far outstrips what we can handle emotionally. We must be alert to flag and mourn our loses…We are childlike, not childish.”

I love that quote. I feel like in the last eight weeks, Cameron constantly refers us to our little selves, reminding us of that elusive moment in time when we didn’t have adult insecurities and were proud of things like nonsense scribbles and cannonballs.

The section that I got the most out of: Age and Time: Product and Process

Cameron says, “Focused on process, our creative life retains a sense of adventure.”

The overwhelming task of completing a book has felt mountainous to me, and nothing like a fun adventure. I felt like it was just too big to climb. I was already exhausted from the hundred little hills I had to hike in my busy life. It was too much to take on. Too high. Too scary.

“Instead of allowing ourselves a creative journey, we focus on the length of the trip. ‘It’s such a long way,’ we tell ourselves. It may be, but each day is just one more day with some motion in it, and that motion toward a goal is very enjoyable…creativity lies not in the done but in doing…The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner’s humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishment. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step.”

I decided instead of envisioning myself climbing a scary, gigantic mountain, I would imagine I was on a fun journey to the top of a mountain with friends, enjoying the exploration, scenery, and camaraderie in each step.

For my first step, I’ll simply agree to the journey. “Why yes, I would love to go on this journey of writing and finishing my book.” Saying it out loud, telling people about it, being held accountable once making the decision is exciting and thrilling in itself. Will I or won’t I be able to do it?

Then for the next step, I’ll start the “doing,” the walking, one step at a time. I will write my book one word at a time. I’ll focus only on each step, one foot after another, enjoying the hike, the scenery, the energy, the momentum, the progress. One word, one sentence, one paragraph, one page, then one chapter, one act, then another. And I’ll trust that in doing so, I’ll eventually get to the top of the mountain. I’ll only worry about this step for right now. I won’t worry about what I will do at the top until I get there.

As of writing this, I am halfway through Chapter 14 of my young adult book and can now say I am closer to finishing than starting. The adventure hasn’t been easy so far, but it sure feels good.

Linus Pauling says, “Satisfaction of one’s curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life.”  

“When obsession strikes—as it will—about how the damn thing is not any good, you tell yourself that this is a question for later and turn back to doing what is the next right thing… As a rule of thumb, it is best to just admit that there is always one action you can take for your creativity daily,” Cameron continues.

I took that advice to heart this week. When my Onteejo (my amazing auntie artist and accountability aficionado) asked if I wanted to see the comments and edits she made on the rough chapters I sent her, I said, “Yes, but not right now.” I wanted to honor her interest and thoughts on my work, but I remebered now isn’t the time to do that, as it is “a question for later” as Cameron puts it.

My beginner’s goal is to focus solely on finishing this rough draft and completing it. And once I’m finished, I will take the next step: editing. On my way back down the mountain, I’ll take in all the comments and suggestions I can as I fix my story to make it great. Right now, however, it doesn’t have to be great. The next right thing is: just getting it done!

—-

This week, I:

  • Did the Morning Pages every day, along with the chapter Tasks and my Artist Date (made bracelets charms with the kids out of modeling clay).
  • Finished Chapters 11, 12, and 13 of my YA Fantasy WIP.
  • Wrote a blog post.
  • Spent on average three and a half hours a day writing/working on this challenge and my book.
  • Celebrated my youngest daughter’s Kindergarten graduation (with only grandparents) in our driveway with takeout Thai food and smore’s.
  • Started a summer story book for my kids about their adventures with their puppy. I’ll write them a few page-length chapters a week for them to draw, act out, or write themselves.
  • Did an hour and half bike ride with a friend, and finally made the appointment to get a hitch put on my car for a bike rack. Woohoo!
  • Enjoyed a fantastic weekend alone for the first time in over four months with my husband. We spent one day exploring the Philadelphia navy ship yard and the empty stadiums, getting takeout from one of our favorite restaurants near Rittenhouse. We spent the another day with a couple of friends lazily tubing down the Delaware river.

 

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Week 7: Compassion and Keychains

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.

Chapter Seven: Recovering a Sense of Connection

“We turn this week to the practice of right attitudes for creativity. The emphasis is on your receptive as well as active skills. The essays, exercises, and tasks aim at excavating areas of genuine creative interest as you connect with your personal dreams.”

A few sections in Chapter Seven that stood out to me this week and helped me grow creatively:

The section on listening: Instead of thinking something up or coming up with something, she suggests thinking about it as coming down, as if from a divine creative source. In the last two weeks, it has come hard and down clear that we as non-black Americans haven’t listened to the black community. Stella Terrill Mann says: “Listening is a form of accepting.” In this section, Cameron is talking about listening to divine inspiration and letting yourself be used creatively, and I think it applies. “We can learn not only to listen but also to hear with increasing accuracy that inspired, intuitive voice that says, “Do this, try this, say this…” The black community needs us to not only listen, but to act.

The section on perfectionism: This topic always hits hard for me, but I have been working on it the past few years. “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead…Instead of creating freely and allowing errors to reveal themselves later as insights, we often get mired in getting the details right. We correct our originality into a uniformity [blech] that lacks passion and spontaneity.” (emphasis mine).

This challenge has changed the way I attempt to write a first draft. Now, whenever I find myself wanting to go back and fix a chapter I’ve written, I don’t let myself. I just move on to the next chapter. The goal right now is to get it finished, and next goal will be to go back and fix it. It does NOT need to be anywhere close to perfect right now, especially since I don’t know exactly how it will end. “That is a normal part of creativity—letting go. We always do the best we can by the light we have to see by.”

The section on risk: In the last few years, I have worked hard and trained myself to be highly risk tolerant. It is coming in handy with my goals right now. By constantly trying new, uncomfortable things, I have accepted the possibility that even though I might not be incredible at something on the first try, it is still worth the risk. What if I love it? What if I found something I’ve been missing because I was too scared to try? And if I don’t love it, at least now I know and I’ve learned something.

And an added bonus: I am always doing something interesting and have things to talk about. Talking about something you’ve already done is less interesting then talking about what you are currently doing. It has more life and energy.

I have this quote by Ben Franklin posted on the wall in front of my face right now: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”

Since “do[ing] something worth writing” about is severely limited right now because of the pandemic (Philadelphia slowly re-opened this week, but the virus is still at large with no vaccine), I have chosen now as the time to “write something worth reading.” However, doing so is particularly tough in this season since I tend to look forward to playing during summer break and taking it easy.

Thanks to another sticky note on my wall that says: “Creativity lives in paradox: serious art is born from serious play,” I have reframed my ideas about taking a break and playing in the summer (lazy days with drinking with friends, playing with the kids, and spontaneous beach trips). Writing isn’t work, it’s my true form of play, and I will make it my priority this summer. Every thing else is a bonus.

And lastly, one of this week’s daily tasks was to make this phrase a mantra: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.

I tend to think that being hard on myself will make me stronger—the Artist’s Way Challenge has shown me that I am the hardest on myself—so I am also going to reframe how I treat myself. I bought this book by Kristen Neff, Ph.D, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself, to give me tools on how to treat myself better.

Neff helped me realize how much unnecessary suffering I experience by continuing to be hard on myself. She talks about how we all experience pain, which is unfortunately unavoidable, but the suffering that comes from our pain can be lessened. I have a lot to learn, and am already putting into practice Neff’s advice and tips, especially the parts on how to talk to yourself when experiencing hardship.

This week, I:

  • Did the morning pages every day and after eight weeks of this, I recognized a pattern: the word “grumpy” shows up in the first few sentences every day during the weeks I am hormonal. Heh.
  • Spent on average 3.5 hours a day writing and working. This week’s hours were lessened (significantly lower than my rise to 5-6 hours two weeks ago) as I tried to practice treating myself like a precious object. Some days were tough as I didn’t want to write at all, but I did the work anyway.
  • Finished chapters 9, 10, and almost 11 of my WIP.
  • Realized I might be finished my first draft in July. And did a little dance.
  • Submitted my writing for the first time to a short story contest! Did another little dance.
  • Did a character study for my main character for my WIP.
  • Artist Date: Fixed my brakes and took an hour long bike ride, going further than just the safety of my neighborhood.
  • Took an hour long walk, and wasn’t mad that I got rained on the last five minutes.
  • Had Zebra cakes and a White Claw or two almost every night. This is a treat for me as I don’t usually eat sugar nor drink by myself. I also bought myself a keychain of a Bermuda Moped (scooter), similar to my favorite one I had as a kid.
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Week 6: Amplifying, Unifying, and Dividing

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.

Chapter Six: Recovering a Sense of Abundance

Chapter Six is about “tackle[ing] a major creative block—money. You are asked to really look at your own ideas around God, money, and creative abundance.  The essays will explore the ways in which your attitudes limit abundance and luxury in your current life. You will be introduced to counting, a block-busting tool for clarity and the right use of funds. This week may feel volatile.”

This week was hella volatile, and not just because of this chapter’s focus. Not only are we in the midst of fighting a virus pandemic, but we are also in the midst of fighting the pandemic of racism. The death of the innocent black man, George Floyd, by the police went unpunished and uncharged, and caused violent and peaceful riots all over the world. It has forced those of us with privilege to finally wake up to the injustice and start doing the work —the work we should have been doing all along—to change systemic racism. Those of us who have stayed in our lane—our comfortable lane of privilege and ignorance— are ashamed, and are riding up to fight alongside our fellow Americans and black community.

This moment in history is both unifying and divisive. We are seeing those who stayed home during the Covid-19 pandemic to not only protect themselves, but to protect their communities, and consequently, we are seeing those who selfishly didn’t. We are also seeing the pandemic of racism more clearly than ever before. We are seeing how we haven’t supported the black community, and are seeing who is choosing to taking action and change that, and who isn’t. Because of what we are seeing, we are unifying and amplifying, and yet at the same time, we are dividing. We are using our judgement, and making hard cuts of those things and people who are toxic, close-minded, and displaying the traits narcissism like self-centeredness and actively remaining ignorant. We are making our circles smaller, letting go of relationships that aren’t healthy for us or for equality as a whole. We are standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves and making it known.

Community and taking care of each other is more important than it has ever been before in America, the land of the individual and independent. Making changes, lifting each other up, and fighting for equality have become the most important thing in order to keep our fellow citizens alive. The importance of human lives is at stake; we are finally opening our eyes and seeing how our individual way of life supports or denies it in high definition.

This week, my “sense of abundance,”—my white privilege—was revealed loud and clear. Because of the color of my skin, I have the ability to think about what I want to do with my money, outside of keeping me and my family alive. With white privilege, I can contemplate my abundance. I expect help even if I don’t need it and can get help easily when I do need it. I can get loans, I can ask my family for money; I have more choices than others do.

This lack of equality is unacceptable. Everyone should have the same privileges and be treated equally.

The quote that stood out to me in this chapter:

“The actual block is our feeling of constriction, our sense of powerlessness. Art requires us to empower ourselves with choice.”

I choose to change and to be an active advocate for the black community. I apologize for not listening, not paying attention, and not doing enough to help. I apologize for not caring enough, because I while I do care about them, I have not done the work show it. It was not enough. I want the black community to have the same freedoms and privileges that I do. I want them to not fear for their children, I want them to have the same amount of opportunities, and I want them to have a life of abundance. I will support and create change by:

  1. Showing up: paying attention by attending rallies, conferences, and concerts, voting for leaders that are fighting for change, and by reading books and exploring art by black artists.
  2. Listening: watching black-made movies and documentaries, reading news and articles, talking to the black community, and most importantly, not making it about me.
  3. Financing: donating to causes that help the black community, shopping at black businesses like restaurants and retail stores, and hiring black.
  4. Speaking out: amplifying them on social media, continuing to be open and vocal about racism and injustice (even if I get it wrong and need to be corrected). I will not stay silent.

“Every time you state what you want or believe, you’re the first to hear it. It’s a message to both you and others about what you think is possible. Don’t put a ceiling on yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

This Week, I:

  • Educated myself on racism and the black community
  • Brainstormed ways to support and amplify the black community not only right now, but forever
  • Spoke out on social media and talked to my friends and family about the systemic racism and how we can do our part to change it
  • Did the Morning Pages every morning and completed the Tasks and Artist Date
  • Wrote chapters 7, 8 and half of 9 for my YA Fantasy
  • Spent on average 4 hours a day writing/working rather than my usual 5-6, as I was very distracted with the state of the world and black oppression
  • Hung up two more giant wipe board walls to use when I brainstorm
  • Filled up a garbage truck of household junk and furniture and made space
  • Got angry. Felt stressed, overwhelmed, ashamed, and at times helpless and powerless.
  • Took long walks and bike rides with my kids
  • Had long and tough conversations with my husband and friends and family
  • Made hard and necessary decisions to let go of close-minded, toxic relationships until something changes
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Week 5: White Claws and Video Games

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.

Chapter Five: Recovering a Sense of Possibility

I nicknamed this the Childish Week, as I felt silly, defiant, and in tune with what I wanted to do regardless of whether it was right or wrong.

Cameron says this week I examined payoffs in remaining stuck, explored how I curtail my own possibilities on the good I can receive, examined the cost of settling for appearing good instead of being authentic, and found myself thinking about radical changes, no longer ruling out my growth by making others the cause of my constriction this week.

Me and Onteejo (my artist aunt who is doing this along with me) both agreed this was the best quote of the chapter: “The true self is a disturbing character, healthy and occasionally anarchistic, who knows how to play, how to say no to others, and “yes” to itself.”

With 70 days of Covid-19 Quarantine putting large limits on my “inner child,” this week was particularly rough. I did find myself more anarchistic and desperate to play than normal. My husband got visibly distraught with me about not wearing a helmet on our slower-than-walking bike ride through our neighborhood, and also upset about my decision to visit a friend who just turned 50 (outside and six feet apart!) while the stay-at-home order is still in place for any non-essential activity. I bought only foods that could be eaten immediately or microwaved at the grocery store and I played video games (the source of inspiration for the book I’m writing!) while drinking White Claws one afternoon instead of doing laundry and other desperately needed housework.

My whole life I have lived in a way that makes sure everyone else is comfortable. My empathic nature and religious upbringing instilled the sense that being selfish is wrong, and thus, I never learned the right way to balance my needs with the needs of others.

This chapter of the Artist’s Way journey showed me how in doing so, I unknowingly abandon myself. So, despite feeling a bit strange at first, I practiced choosing myself this week. I gave myself permission to play, and to take small steps—calculated, daring risks—towards correcting those destructive notions.

What I found was peace, joy, and freedom in being and doing what some may think of as “wrong.” I experienced the delight in playing my favorite childhood video game, the elation and freedom of feeling the wind whip through my hair and the sun burning my cheeks while riding bikes with my kids, the healing joy of belly-aching laughter with two friends after months of deprivation.

In choosing to say no to others, I said yes to myself. I found I didn’t emotionally caretake my husband for his feelings about what he considered “unsafe” actions. I didn’t feel the usual guilt when saying no to a friend’s group phone call that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy, or canceling plans to get together with others later that week. I was willing to accept the consequences and aftermath, because—and most importantly—I was only willing to do and choose what was right for me. And now in this moment, looking back on this week, I realized I made choices based on what needed.

“We listen to other people’s ideas of what is self-destructive, without ever looking at whether their self and our self have similar needs. Caught in the Virtue Trap, we refuse to ask ourselves, ‘What are my needs? What would I do if it weren’t too selfish?’”

Cameron spends a large portion of the chapter addressing another important need (or “selfishness”) of an artist: alone time.

“An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing. Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resiliency. Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family and friends as a withdrawal from them. It is.”

Five weeks in, my family has definitely felt the withdrawal. However, being endlessly quarantined together for the last two and half months has made this challenge extra difficult, as none of us are ever truly alone. I’m beginning to let go of the guilt I’ve felt when I try to make space for myself, and because of that, I’m starting to reap the benefits and enjoy the change. With the first three weeks of this challenge being the hardest, it’s taken a lot of adjusting from all of us. In the next two weeks, as the quarantine lifts, we will likely have to do it all over again.

“An artist requires the upkeep of creative solitude. An artist requires the healing of alone time. Without this period of recharging, our artist becomes depleted. Over time, it becomes something worse than out of sorts…For many creatives, the belief that they must be nice and worry about what will happen with their friends, family, mate if they dare to do what they really want to, constitutes a powerful reason for non-action…What we really want is to be left alone. When we can’t get others to leave us alone, we eventually abandon ourselves…Afraid to appear selfish, we lose our self. We become self-destructive. Because this self-murder is something we seek passively rather than consciously act out, we are often blind to its poisonous grip on us.”

In Glennon Doyle’s recently released book, “Untamed,” she says to her kids: “It’s your job to disappoint as many people as possible in order to avoid disappointing yourself.”

I now have a sticky note on the wall in front of me with my new mantra: It is not your job to make people comfortable.

Leslie M. McIntyre says: “Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive.” Yeah fuck that.

What I did this week:

  • Morning pages and chapter tasks everyday, averaging about 5-6 hours of writing/work time total per morning
  • An artist date (video games!)
  • Wrote a blog post (this!)
  • Wrote three chapters of my young adult fantasy book (YES!)
  • Spent Saturday morning brainstorming
  • Submitted a short story for critiques
  • Posted to my author Instagram account
  • Research for my book
  • Finished the book “Still Writing” by Dani Shapiro and loved it.
  • Came up with a new idea for a cozy mystery series

 

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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.