Becoming Janus

Happy New Year’s Eve! It’s the time of year to sit down, reflect on what’s gone by, to look forward to the future, and to attempt to mold that future through a resolution or two. It sounds daunting because we’re talking about, yanno, a year, and it sounds daunting because we usually have BIG IDEAS and BIG PLANS for that year, and often, it’s easy to fall off the saddle before January has even wrapped up.

I have some friends who don’t do resolutions. Not just the ones who don’t do resolutions at all, but those who simply have a different approach. My friend Nu Yang names her years: she gives herself a theme and focuses each year to make sure everything she does is supporting that theme. I love that idea. It’s not one I can embrace for myself, because I need more direction, but I love it. However one approaches a new year, if it works, hats off to you!

As for me, it’s time to reflect: what happened, where I am now, and what I hope to maybe accomplish in 2015. If you’re interested, just click the cut. If you’re not, Happy New Year! May your 2015 be better than 2014.

I sure as hell hope mine is.

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Ban Bossy

So there’s a campaign that’s caught my eye: BanBossy.com is sponsored by Lean In and the Girl Scouts of America, just to name a few, and its message is to promote leadership in young girls while educating the world about the double-standard that exists: boys aren’t bossy, they’re leaders. Girls aren’t leaders, they’re bossy. And that very message is something that silences girls through-out the years, and in some ways teaches them to be passive, though often disguised as teaching them to be polite.

It hits home.

I was definitely called bossy as a kid. But what I remember most about that isn’t the simply the fact I was called bossy (and nosey: those were the two main criticisms leveled at me during my formative years), but rather I remember the people who leveled the criticism at me, and those people were my friends.

Those people were girls.

I never realized how easily those labels held me back, mentally and socially and developmentally. Oh, I was certainly a leader when I was a youth, but I was a deferential one, always: I lacked the self-confidence to really stand for what I believed in because I didn’t want to be aggressive. I also didn’t want to be wrong.

And I remember those criticism, those labels, so clearly: they’re a thorn in the memory of my childhood, and as an adult, I can now fully recognize the power those words had on me: they, in short, shut me up. Because god-forbid I did something that made me less likable. I already felt like an outcast as a kid, so any criticism was taken to heart almost immediately: in order to be liked, I had to be normal. And normal wasn’t bossy. It wasn’t nosey or curious.

This campaign hits home because I wonder now, as an adult, how different I might be if not for those labels. While lately I’ve been working really hard to break my brain of the “What-If” game, I’m quite cognizant of the fact that my interactions with people, everyone from strangers to acquaintances to friends to loved ones, from readers of my blog over the years to my very own husband, are all based on my being able to accommodate, to put my needs aside, to feel like in order to be heard, I have to be super calm and rational and sweet. Don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing wrong with learning how to put other peoples’ needs before your own, so long as you know where the line is, so long as you know when you need to be number one. There’s nothing wrong knowing how to finesse an argument: there’s a time and place for anger, but it’s not always needed, nor is it always necessary to prove that you’re right.


But one of the things I’m realizing this year is that I’m at my most confident at work: I know my job, I know what I’m good at, and I have no trouble seeking help or second opinions when necessary. I’m direct and forthright because I’m an expert in my field, and while sometimes I have to “rounding the edges” a bit, that’s part of learning the art of compromise and finesse. I’m not perfect, but my role as a leader in the workplace is about learning when to lead and when to follow, when to be direct and when to be subtle, what to fight for and what to let go of.

Why I feel this way at work rather than other areas of my life is a story for another day, and probably not an interesting one. However, my point is this: how much braver would I be, right now, if I hadn’t grown up being afraid of being bossy? If curiosity hadn’t been ridiculed? If I hadn’t been taught that in order to succeed, I had to hold back?

Ban bossy. If I had daughters, I’d be right there with Jennifer Garner: I’d teach them to roar. In the meantime, I’ve got some catching up to do.

You can learn more about this campaign, and check out all of the awesome graphics, at BanBossy.com.

Be Brave

We didn’t have senior quotes in the yearbook at my high school. There were, in short, just too many of us graduating, because I hailed from a large graduating class in a large high school. However, because I was co-editor of the yearbook my senior year, I got one page to design as I wanted, as a kind of send-off. I designed the page for a lot of pictures, and in the very center, I put in a quote.

I am not afraid of failure.
I am afraid of succeeding at something that does not matter.

I stole that quote from from the quote board at Volunteer Girl’s State back in the summer of 1998. I don’t remember who wrote the quote up there, and I don’t recall it being attributed to anyone. What I do remember is reading it for the first time, feeling it resonate in me with all the power of a church bell, and rushing to write it down immediately.

I thought, that is it. That’s how I’m going to live my life.

Looking back, over fifteen years later, I have to laugh at that quote, at the girl who took it so dearly to heart. It was an ideal to strive for, not a motto that encompassed everything she believed in at the time. Because truth be told, I’ve never been brave. Half of that quote is a lie.

Because I’m afraid of failure. I always have been. And I’m also afraid of success in any form, because no matter how well I do, there’s a part of me that feels it’s simply not deserved.

It’s called, by the way, imposter syndrome.

Last year, I started the “Me Project,” a project all about focusing on myself (naturally): it was about accepting myself for who I was and getting better at what I do. And on some level, I’ve done that. But it’s been a very passive experiment up until now. And now, thanks to 2014’s startling lessons, I realize that it’s time to stop being afraid. It’s time to stop being afraid of myself, of my interests, of change. It’s time to start admitting that yes, I do have issues, and some of those issues are deeper than I ever realized. It’s time to start admitting that yes, I do sometimes need help and that yes, it’s okay to ask for help instead of standing up as the stoic enigma that everyone else can rest their heads on. I can do both. I can be both.

It’s time to start being brave. And that’s not going to happen overnight. But it’s time to stop fearing rejection. It’s time to start embracing all aspects, elements, and people in my life, instead of trying to fit them into neat little categories. Like a kid separating all the items on her dinner plate: thou shall not touch!

I’m done. That’s over. It’s time to stop looking to the future, looking to some sort of ideal of having “arrived” and just being. Just living, and accepting that life is change. Some change is good, some change is bad, and some change is worth fighting for.

It’s time to be brave.

A Year in Reflection: 2013

Every year, I struggle to believe that it’s already over. I remember when I was a child, when my year was structured into definitive patterns: school, break, vacation, etc. Now the months just slide on by, because every day of every month is marked with more of the same. Work, eat, sleep, repeat. When I was compiling addresses for Christmas cards this year, I always felt at a loss when people asked what I’ve been up to lately, because for me, the answer is, the same old thing. I don’t look at my life as anything interesting or exciting, and as a result, when people ask what’s up, all I do is shrug, you know?

I realized, a few days ago, that such a response is somewhat disingenuous of me. Because while my life is not filled with the crazy ups and downs (we don’t have kids, we’re not having marital difficulty, we’ve not moved or had major job upheavals, etc), there are things I should be really, really proud of this year, things that are worth talking about. So I thought I’d share them here, with you.

1) I retired the book blog. It was a bittersweet event, but one I knew needed to happen, because it was a major source of anxiety for me, and I found I was getting more and more jaded by the books I read, rather than simply enjoying them for what they were. Looking back, I’m very proud of all the work I did there and the community I fostered, but I don’t regret closing it. I can’t believe I found the time to read so much or write so many reviews. But that’s because I’ve filled that time with other things.

2) I’m slowly getting over my cooking-phobia. It’s a running joke in mine and my husband’s families: I don’t cook. I can do a few things, sure, but any more than those few things I’m likely to screw up somehow (like the time I put the Hot Pocket in the microwave without its cooking sleeve). My husband and I have a handful of things we argue about, and cooking is one of them. However, ever since I discovered the Andes Mint Cookie recipe, I’ve been starting to branch out and getting a wee bit more comfortable in the kitchen. Mostly cookies, and cake-mix cookies at that. However, I’ve also tried a few glazes for salmon, and of the meals we usually make, I started helping out more and have gradually gotten to the point where, if need be, I can do it myself. I know I need to branch out even more, but this year’s been a good step.

3) I’ve actually developed an exercise regimen and I’ve stuck to it. Mostly. The spring got me walking again, and my employer’s walking initiative kicked my motivation into competitive mode so that I can reach and pass 10,000 steps a day. Not only did that get me walking daily, but it also got me on the elliptical every morning before work for 30 minutes. The walking initiative is over, and with the time change and colder weather, walking is on the back-burner until the weather warms up again, but I’ve kept up the elliptical, which is something of an amazing accomplishment for me. I’d like to find something to complement it next year, and that’s going to take some digging, but working out on a regular basis has been an amazing thing, not because I love exercise or anything, but because I’ve kept it up (we won’t talk about the recent holiday gorging on sweets or the days I’ve been skipping due to my cold, no sir).

4) While I can’t talk specifics, we reached a great milestone at work, and as a result, I was treated to an all-expense paid trip to St. Louis to visit headquarters and attend some fantastic sessions to keep upping my game at work and sessions that I could also apply to my own personal life in terms of, well, just being better. Learning how to undo negative thinking and trying to take more positive routes isn’t something that’s done overnight, but trying to take the more positive route in my head instead of the negative one has been really helpful and uplifting. I find myself more cheerful and less stressed. That doesn’t mean NO stress. I’ve had a few late nights at work where it felt like everything was piling up on me, but the difference is before, I would’ve gone home with a migraine, and now I’m not. This is something I’m still working on, but that trip to St. Louis taught me a lot about myself and my job and what I want to accomplish, and that’s a good thing.

5) This is more nebulous, but I realized I’ve got to stop compartmentalizing my life. I’ve always treated my life like a little kid treats their dinner plate: things must not touch! So I had college friends in one box, writing friends in another, family in another, my interests in a billion different ones, and so on and so forth. Do you know how draining it is trying to be one person for each of things things, rather than embracing it all and saying if you don’t like it, fuck it? Seriously. Growing up, I groomed myself to be the kind of person that is accommodating and to be what other people want and expect. And to some extent, that’s a good trait to have (especially when you work with the public on any level), but everywhere else, it’s exhausting. I shouldn’t be apologetic for my interests, no matter how disparate they appear, and I need to stop living in the mind set of “One day, when I grow up, life will be THIS.” Fuck that. I’m 33 years old and living life NOW. What, exactly, am I waiting for? It’s time to take who and what I am and take the cards life’s given me and play the best hand possible, rather than waiting on the magical winning hand that’ll give me the ever-elusive jackpot. And on that note:

6) Like Minute Maid’s slogan says, “Put good in, get good out.” Where I live often gives me a crushing feeling of isolation. None of the people I would call good friends or even best friends are local, and all the writing events or readings I would love to attend aren’t even remotely local, which means in order to visit the people I love, or attend the events I want to, I need to travel, which costs vacation time and money, both of which are not limitless. As a result, I’d find myself feeling bruised and chafed when friends would talk about things they did on Facebook, things I would’ve loved to do but I wasn’t able to (or wasn’t invited). But I realized: what do I expect? I’m not reaching out to these people, I’m not making my interests or wants or desires known. I’ve let my relationships go stagnant, so how can I expect them to include me when I’m probably just an occasional reminder on a Facebook page? I have to start putting myself out there. I have to start re-cultivating these relationships. I have to stop looking at my local friendships as less superior and embrace the time I have with these people, because while I am an introvert by nature, I require a healthy dose of social interaction. In person, online, whatever: put good in, get good out. Time to stop looking in and start looking out.

7) Part of that “put good in, get good out” philosophy is something I’m attributing to myself as a writer. Last year, I finished the crap-draft of a fantasy novel that, in 2014, I’m going to sit down and really hammer into shape. But for 2013, I’m close to finishing a prequel novel to my thesis novel (code name Telepathic Soulmates for those of you who are following up on that). The prequel wasn’t originally going to be an actual novel, but it’s kind of turned into that. I would kill to have it done by the end of the year, but that means I probably shouldn’t be writing this blog post, because I’ve got a decent chunk to churn out if I want to meet that deadline. Regardless, I’ve been happy with my progress this year. I’m starting to take myself a little more seriously as a writer, and I’m trying to look ahead about what I want to accomplish, when I want to accomplish it, and how. The Telepathic Soulmates world is a big one, and I realize it’s not something I want to rush out, because I’m still making discoveries that are molding and shaping the world and its characters. That’s why I’m going to polish the fantasy novel (code name: Magic Elves) next year so that I’ll have something to shop around that isn’t my precious, you know? Also helping shape my writerly frame of mind is the weekly podcast Writing Excuses (15 minutes, because you’re in a hurry, and they’re not that smart–>that’s their slogan. If that doesn’t make you want to listen to the podcast, I don’t know what will). If you’re a writer of any sort (hobby, amateur, want-to-be-professional, whatever), start listening to this puppy. It’s free, and it’s worth it.

8) On December 30th, my husband and I will celebrate our 15 year Together anniversary, and our 5 year wedding anniversary. That’s right: we got married on our ten year dating anniversary. The plan, provided this cold I’m fighting doesn’t get in the way, to go to our favorite fancy-pants restaurant and enjoy good food and good drinks. But 15 years together without killing each other is an amazing thing, and hell, so is five years married. We’ve got each other, and we’ve got the cat. Things are good.

9) I got off the pill. Women know of what I speak. While the hubby and I aren’t trying to have children, being on the pill for so long was doing things to my hormone levels that frankly wasn’t good for me mentally. I’ve been off the pill since June, and that, combined with the exercise and various tweaks I’m making to my diet, have me feeling far, far better, which makes everyone happy.

10) No list is complete without 10 items, right? So last but not least, I’m trying to be more decisive. It’s not that I wasn’t before, but you remember what I said about being accommodating? It’s a bad thing when you’re doing it all the time, or when you think your wants aren’t as important, or you feel like you shouldn’t have the things you want for whatever reason (but namely reasons that are all in your head and involve you punishing yourself). So to that affect, I’ve been trying to be a bit more assertive in the little things: if I want something (for dinner, to listen to on a car ride, to watch a particular movie), I say so. If I definitely don’t want something, I say so. It doesn’t mean I get my way every time, but at least I’m making a clear declaration, you know?

BONUS ITEM: I served on a jury for the first time this year, on a murder trial no less. It was fascinating, and if you missed my break down, you can read all about it here.

That’s my 2013. There were other minor ups and downs, but nothing to expound upon here (though I could put up a post from my cat’s point of view of the year. That would be mighty entertaining). I’ll probably try and put up a post about what I hope for 2014 or what I look forward to, but that’s gonna have to wait. Right now, I’ve got laundry to do, reading to do, and a book to finish writing.

How was your 2013? What was your biggest accomplishment? Any regrets? Things that you want to make better?

The Me Project

It’s hard to pinpoint when, exactly, I made the conscious effort to “get better.” By “get better,” I mean realizing that waiting until I grew up to do things has long passed, and that I don’t want to look back on my thirties like I do my twenties and wonder what the hell I was doing with my life.

If I had to pinpoint, I’d say the impetus for this decision was born out of my father’s death (no sympathies needed, please and thank you; we were estranged). I wouldn’t have imagined his death would’ve shaken me the way it did, but shake me it did, because any chance for us to really get to know each other is long gone, you know? It did allow me to get to know more members of his side of the family, and it allowed me to get some real answers about his and my mom’s marriage from my mother. I see my childhood in a far more complete light now, which allows me to see my decisions and myself in a far more complete light.

Which brings me to the here and now. I’m thirty-two, and still wondering what I’m going to do with my life. I know I’m not alone in this, but I realized it’s time to make a serious, conscious effort to make changes. Continue reading