My Nomadic Spring

What do you do when your lease is running out and you are out of a job? You embark on an adventure. Well…that’s at least what I decided to do.

In mid-February, as the experiential marketing company I worked for prepared to close their doors, I was laid off. If you follow me on instagram you might remember this selfie from my last day. I was awash with a chaotic mixture of emotions: resignation, sorrow, fear, excitement, confusion… With only 2 weeks notice before I was laid-off and lots to do during those last weeks, I barely felt like I could catch my breath–let alone start thinking ahead–until my first jobless weekend.

As a long-time believer in signs, I felt that my lay off was a pretty strong sign that it was time for me to leave Michigan. All my friends there knew I hadn’t stopped missing the east coast. Even when I was happy, I still struggled with the feeling that moving back after graduating from Fordham had been the biggest mistake of my life so far (yes, I am that dramatic). My feeling that it was time to leave was confirmed further as my job hunting efforts in Michigan were consistently met with silence. During my last 2 1/2 months, I tried to see as many friends as possible while simultaneously trying to figure out a low-budget exit strategy as the end of April approached.

Just a couple weeks before I needed to move out, everything fell into place. My favorite former client reached out to me with a new freelance copywriting project–perfect timing since it’s hard to collect unemployment when you don’t have a home address. Two of my best friends–one in Farmington, New Mexico and the other in Stamford, Connecticut–invited me to stay with them for a while. One of my aunt’s offered to take my car, which is nearing the end of its usable life and quickly declined this winter so that now it’s only roadworthy for driving around town, off my hands. Then I found a dirt cheap plane ticket from Detroit to New Mexico and then from there to the east coast.

One month ago today, exhausted and sleep deprived from packing up my apartment, throwing most of my stuff in storage, and struggling to fit everything I couldn’t part with into suitcases, I boarded an insanely early flight headed to Albuquerque, NM. This last month homeless and jobless has been quite an adventure. God keeps surprising me with little blessings almost everyday. I’ll tell you more about all of that soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with some of the pictures that didn’t make it on Instagram.

To keep up to date on this adventure, feel free to follow me on Instagram.

Feeling Like a Flaky Failure

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve written for you! Well…I can’t and I can.

Do you ever have those times when you avoid looking in a mirror because you feel like an absolute mess and can’t bear confronting your reflection? Or have you ever dodged seeing a friend because the last time you saw him/her you were yammering on and on about some new project or job and now that it didn’t end up panning out you are embarrassed to admit it to your friend? If you’ve ever done either of these things than you might understand why I’ve been avoiding my blog so much for so long.

The thing about writing about your life—especially when you’re an in-the-moment person like me who doesn’t always wait until something is certain or successful to share it—is that when you look back on what you’re written you can feel like a big, flaky failure. Every time you log into your blog you might think too much about all the projects you talked about starting but never finished, the dreams you shared that have gone unfulfilled, the jobs you were so excited to get but then quit, and the lessons you learned that you seem cursed to keep re-learning. All of that might make you feel like an embarrassing mess.  You might decide that it’s more prudent to stop writing altogether. Especially when the last blog post you wrote is yet another example of something you didn’t follow through on. (Yep, I definitely didn’t focus on dating this fall. More on that later).

Holding myself back from writing, which is one of my favorite things, was foolish. Most of all, I was foolish for viewing myself so critically.

There is nothing wrong with the process of figuring things out that I’ve gone through during the last four years. There is no good reason to be ashamed of changing my mind or re-directing my energy. Most importantly, there is nothing wrong with me. In retrospect, it’s easy to see that most of my abandoned projects were attempts to turn myself into someone I’m not, most of my un-achieved dreams were tied to a life I don’t really want and am not suited for, and the jobs I’ve quit weren’t good fits for me. The only thing I’ve really failed at is being someone that I’m not. While that can feel like a bad thing, it actually isn’t.

If you’re thinking: What?! I thought you were more self-assured than this. And didn’t you make peace with having a non-storybook life back in August?

You would be right that I have made peace with the path that I’ve chosen. I no longer regret walking away from a potentially prestigious academic career and deciding to pursue a career in marketing instead. I love promoting products, interacting with people, managing my staff and coordinating events. I am very passionate about and feel very at home in the field of experiential marketing. Am I entirely comfortable with the fact that I don’t have complete narrative control of my life? Not exactly. It bothers me less than it used to and that’s progress.

I definitely am not as self-assured or self-aware as I can come across as. Accepting that I am not the character that I imagined I would become has been far harder than learning to appreciate the unpredictability of life.

I haven’t just wanted my life to be like a novel, I’ve wanted to be like a literary character. Not any old character either. There is a part of me that wanted to be like Dagny Taggart: rigidly disciplined, insanely decisive, and unstoppably confident. But rigid and disciplined are two words that will never aptly describe me. I think that is true of most people who are more relationally motivated than monetarily motivated. I achieve my goals through persistence, flexibility and charisma. I can be decisive but I’m also very adaptable and open to change. Though I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin, I will always be my harshest critic. While these differences between Dagny and I might explain why I wasn’t at home in academia, they aren’t actually flaws. It’s a bit ridiculous how long it’s taken me to see that.

The most ridiculous thing is how much I struggle to forgive myself for being human. Of course, not all of the things I’ve been beating myself up about are strengths in disguise. I can’t say I’m perfectly happy with every decision that I’ve made but who can honestly say that? What sane person doesn’t have areas that they know they need to grow in? I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that I’m imperfect. It is about time that I stopped being so embarrassed by my non-humorous imperfections (I’m probably a little too comfortable with my foibles that are funny—like my satirical love life).

Right now we are in the midst of Lent. This season is when the new year begins in earnest for me. As I’ve said for years, January is the most illogical inaugural month—at least for those of us in the Northern hemisphere. By this time of year, the days are finally getting noticeably longer. You can feel the approach of spring in the growing warmth of the sun and hear it in the songs of the birds that have returned already. It’s when I begin seriously thinking about what I want to accomplish in this new year. One of my resolutions is to view myself with more grace.

I am not a flaky failure. I’m human. And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Feature image by Chris Barbalis.

Giving Up On A Storybook Life

“Lindsey, you know how you and I have often talked about the literary quality of life? Do you think we are in control of our stories or not?”

“I’m pretty sure we’re not.”

A friend of mine recently started off our phone conversation this way. It was a great hook. This is something that I’ve written about and thought about for years. Every time I feel that this subject is tired, that I’ve said all that I can say, I see an ad for Donald Miller’s organization Storyline and I know I have to write about it again. While Miller’s right that life is made up of the elements of a good story (setting, conflict, climax), the uncomfortable truth is that we aren’t the authors of our own stories. While mapping out your life plan like a story chart sounds wonderful, the frightening beauty of life is that it rarely cooperates with our plans.

Working in the business of in-store promotions, a majority of the staff members that I train and work with are retirees. I love that I so often get a chance to hear their stories. We have a woman who was a flight attendant. She’s traveled all over the world and lived in Italy for years. We have another woman (one of my absolute favorites) who owned and ran three different types of businesses and sold them all. She has tried almost every profession you can think of because she loves a new challenge. She did most of it while raising three children on her own. We have another woman who was a social worker who spent years living in New Orleans and California. And on and on the variety of stories go. What is common to most of them is that life took them in directions they never would have expected or planned.

Most of you know that my life hasn’t gone how I planned. The same friend who posed that question said to me, “I could tell when you were in grad school that you weren’t going to be happy in the life you imagined.” It’s so funny to me how some of the people in my life recognized that long before I did. Though not all of them were as insightful, which I’m glad about because it makes me feel better about being wrong (it’s so much easier to be wrong in good company).

The most valuable thing that I am learning is that you can live an intentional life without living a storybook life. Clarity of both purpose and pursuit isn’t always necessary.

This truth really freaks me out! I can have a laissez faire attitude sometimes but that’s usually when it comes to other people’s lives. Not mine. I remember telling a friend who graduated college before me not to worry too much about what profession he would have because “life has a way of figuring those things out for us.” Then I spent practically three years freaking out about the same question. While I was mentally exhausting myself asking big questions and trying to compose a beautiful outline of my life, I was completely oblivious to the fact that I am already living out a story. A story that I’m far more suited for.

Since my senior year of high school, I have been in the business of planning and orchestrating events, training, managing and leading people along with writing, public speaking and teaching. These are the things that I excel at and that I love doing. I almost can’t resist them. What frustrated me is that they don’t fit neatly under one job description (at least none that I’ve come across so far). Student Affairs seemed like a good fit but it wouldn’t have left enough time to write. Teaching seemed like a fit but it wouldn’t make use of my event planning or management skills. The politics of academia doesn’t suit me either. Being an Event Coordinator & Regional Trainer is great but it doesn’t make sense of the intellectual half of me. Et cetera ad nauseam. Not being able to settle on one job that brings together these two halves of myself—the  thinker/writer/teacher and the event planner/manager—frustrated me. I kept thinking that I’d be so much happier and more productive if only I could find one job with these facets.  But I’m starting to see that I like having separate spheres of my life. I like having one occupation that takes me out of my apartment, stretches me past my comfort zone and utilizes my extroverted side and I like having one occupation that lets me stay at home and feed my introverted side.

My literary nature was also hungry for an obviously meaningful and impactful career. I’ve envied Christa who is a nurse that primarily serves the underprivileged and Nichelle who is a teacher in an underprivileged area. I wanted to be a part of saving people’s lives just as they are. What meaning is there in the promotions business? When I expressed a little of this to my mom, she said that she’s realized that my work will always be meaningful as long as I work with people. As I look back on the many wonderful conversations I’ve had with my coworkers and customers, I see what she means. Bringing simple joy to people’s lives and listening to their stories is meaningful. In a culture in which people are increasingly neglecting those in front of them (because we are staring at our smartphones instead of talking to each other) it is an even more valuable thing. Maybe I’m not saving lives but that doesn’t mean my work has no value or significance.

While I am learning that I can’t follow my intentionally plotted out course for my life, there are things that I can be intentional about: Actively looking for the good in people, even in the people who annoy me. Treating everyone with kindness and respect even when they smell awful or are physically disfigured or offend other cultural standards of beauty (these are the minorities that I think face some of the worst discrimination). Allowing people to take precedence over my plans and giving my attention to them in its entirety when we are talking–as much as possible, of course. Giving myself permission to relax and re-energize when I need it. Sparking deep conversations about life and God and relationships. Seeking to see God’s hand in my life and others. Seeking to see God’s face in my life and others. These are the things that are in my control. This is the type of intentionality that will matter when I’m laying on my deathbed.

It’s pretty obvious to me that my life will never achieve the storybook standards that I have for it. But it will continue to surprise me in wonderful and meaningful ways like when Saundra reached out to me to join her on that first promotional tour or how I was recently surprised when Huffington Post Live reached out to me to be a part of a segment (I probably should’ve mentioned this before). While I’ve lost all surety that I know where my story is headed, I have a better sense of who I am in this story. That’s good enough.

My favorite pastor, Rick McKinley, often talks about how we are all characters in God’s story. God doesn’t write predictable stories. He likes to subvert our expectations and surprise us. He likes to challenge us far more than we would choose to challenge ourselves. But He also makes the ordinary extraordinary. He bringing meaning into the mundane. Though I can’t promise that I’ll stop wrestling for narrative control of my life, I’m gaining a far greater appreciation for its actual author.

Feature image by Adriana Velásquez 

The Problem With Hinging Your Value On What You Do

Recently, I researched what makes a good name for an organization or brand. In the process, I thought about the virtue of Imago Dei Community Church’s name. Pondering it was unexpectedly convicting. It made me aware of the distorted lens I’ve been viewing myself through.

Imago Dei is the church founded by my favorite pastor, Rick McKinley, out in Portland, OR. Not only does it have a name that flows nicely off the tongue, their name conveys the ethos of that community. Imago Dei is Latin for “Image of God.” It points to the theological doctrine “that human beings are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value independent of their utility or function” (Wikipedia). From the sermons preached on Sundays to the ways that they serve others inside and outside their church, the community of Imago Dei affirm that we are all equally valuable, equally intended for a life rich in meaning and connection. Whether you are a vagabond or sell bonds you are worthy of love and grace.

This is a doctrine I claim to believe. My obsession over the last year with “what I’m doing with my life,” my growing defensiveness of my singleness and my stress over gaining back weight are all evidence that I haven’t been seeing myself in this way. I’ve been measuring my value by my function and utility, by my success and finding myself wonting.

By our culture’s standards, I need to get my shit together. I’m living with my parents. I’m constantly struggling with my weight. I’m working multiple jobs instead of having a comfortable, six figure salary at a job with benefits. I’m single and not looking or dating.

If I’m honest, I’ve felt like a loser and I’ve dealt with a fair share of people implying I am one. I’ve had people say to me, “So, going to college really didn’t get you anywhere, huh?” “You have a master’s degree, why are you working for a demo company?” “So…do you also have a real job?” I had a trainee, a blunt middle-age retiring RN, tell me that I should have found a quality guy in college and imply I need to put more effort into finding a man right now before it’s “too late.”

Lindsey Renee Demo-ing

 That’s me in my uniform demoing.

Sometimes it seems like everyone is either pushing me toward a “normal” job or pressuring me into online dating. While I’m too stubborn to let other people’s opinions dictate my choices, I’ve started to see myself through the lens of their disappointment. On top of that, I’ve been wrestling with my own.

Last winter I read Karen Swallow Prior’s article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Getting Married Young.” The life that Prior describes—marrying  in college and having that relationship as the cornerstone of her life as she went on to get her masters degree, PhD and become a professor—is the life I’d imagined for myself. While on one hand I feel blessed by the richness of my life, on the other hand I’m jealous of Prior. Jealous of her stable, intellectual career. Jealous that she has the companionship and support of a spouse to share her life with.

I have been immensely frustrated with the fact that my life has not met my expectations and I have not met my expectations. Not only am I alone, I am not the woman that I envisioned. Something that is becoming blatantly clear to me is that I will never be the fervent scholar or reclusive author that I imagine. I’m too social and I have too much of a need to make something besides words on a page.

My frustration has made me foolish and defensive. It’s why I started that happiness project in September. The grand goal I set for myself was really to direct my life back to the path that I, and other people, had envisioned for me. Before the end of the month, I realized that I was trying to turn myself into someone I’m not.  I do want to be a professor someday but not now (academia is much like a monastic community; it has beautiful values and is a world onto itself—I’m not ready to be so confined).

My happiness project did lead me to start working on starting a business (Narrative Manifestos) with my friend Krista that will combine my passion for conscious capitalism, my knack for promotions and my diverse communication and interpersonal skills. Even though I’m stoked about our business, Narrative Manifestos, reflecting on Imago Dei reminded me that hinging my worth and value on it isn’t a real solution.

Something I’ve learned through losing weight is that you never “arrive.” No matter how good you look to other people, you always see areas for improvement. You never get passed having crisis of faith in your new lifestyle. Relapses will happen when making the “right choice” just doesn’t feel worth it. No matter how much weight you’ve lost, there will be times you feel like a miserable failure. If your worth and identity hinge on your success, you will constantly oscillate between empowerment and despair. The same is true about hinging your value and identity on your career or your relationship status.

Even if Narrative Manifestos is wildly successful, I’ll find reasons to feel bad about myself if I keep tying my identity to what I achieve instead of who I am. Who I am is not some list of shifting attributes. I am a child of God who bears his image. I’m valuable and lovable simply because I am.

When I think about the people I love and respect, it isn’t because of what they do. It is because of who they are. Even when they’re frustrating beyond belief, or doing something that is not the best reflection of who they are, I don’t believe their value is diminished. I look for the good in them because I believe they bear the image of God.  Why is it so hard to do this when it comes to me?

Do you struggle with feeling like your worth is determined by how successful you are?

Feature image from Jordan Whitfield

My Physics of the Quest: Finding Your Path Through the Familiar

After an unplanned two month absence, finally I’m back to writing!

I always feel like I owe you an explanation for my periods of silence but all my explanations are usually inadequate. This time, mostly, I just needed some space. I’ve hardly spent a minute longer on my computer than I’ve absolutely needed to. I’ve been terrible at responding to facebook messages (though I’ve continued to drop by fb semi-regularly on my phone to browse images and statuses). I’ve gotten behind on all my favorite blogs. The project I alluded to in my last post has been collecting virtual dust. While I feel a little guilty about all of this, it’s been a refreshing vacation. Now, it’s over.

A lot’s been brewing during this time. I’m going to launch right in.

*  *  *

At the end of the film “Eat Pray Love”, Julia Roberts’ character, Elizabeth Gilbert, talks about how she now believes in “the physics of the quest.” If you leave behind what is familiar to you and set out on a journey, in which you are seeking a clue (to who you are, to happiness) and accept those you meet along the way as your teachers, and if you are willing to wrestle with your personal demons, then you will find truth. This has been on my mind since re-watching the movie the other day.

The idea that you have to leave home to find yourself, to find peace or purpose or God, is ingrained in our culture. It’s at the heart of Western fantasy. It’s the theme of Jack Kerouc’s novel On the Road and Donald Miller’s Through Painted Deserts. It’s something I’ve bought into myself. Over the last few months, I’ve been overwhelmed by how coming home, returning to what was familiar, has been as enlightening for me as any quest away from home.

I told you two years ago that I felt like the character Larry in the TV show “Numb3rs” after he returned from space and found himself floundering in his old environment. I resonated with his words when he said, “In the past one doors closes and another door opens. Now it’s like I’m caught in some vestibule of indecision.”

He thought that running away would help him to find clarity. On the way to the airport, his tickets flew out of the car. When he stopped by the road to gather them up, in the middle of the desert beside a large plot of land for sale, his attention was caught by the stars. He wandered onto the vacant 15 acres. For months, he lived out there rediscovering his wonder for the heavens that initially inspired him to become an astrophysicist. He returned reinvigorated.

When I first told you about Larry, I was longing for the serendipitous moment that would bring me to my 15 acre lot where I’d rediscover a sense of purpose and direction. Instead of setting out on a purposeful journey, I put my faith in the fickleness of the wind to guide me. I had a lot of experiences that year. I found a lot of healing, but few answers.

This January, I still felt stuck in a vestibule of indecision: torn between a nagging belief that I should work in academia and a strong desire to make a meaningful life outside the confines of higher education. I purposefully set out on a quest to find my career (and make up my mind about whether or not I wanted to return to higher education). Instead of leaving home, I stayed here. I allowed my friends, both old friends from high school and college as well as new friends, to be my teachers as I hunted for opportunities around me. Everywhere I went, I was looking for signs.

A wanted a job title that I could say proudly and feel encapsulates me. I was anxious to find a profession that would make sense of my job experiences and education. I hoped to settle into a vocation that I could commit myself to wholeheartedly like Nichelle’s committed to teaching and Christa’s committed to nursing instead of feeling splintered by two professions: freelance writing and promotional marketing.

I was much like Gilbert when her friends in Italy ask her what her word is. Searching for something adequate, she lists off the typical American words: “daughter,” “wife,” “girlfriend,” “writer.” Her friend points out that she doesn’t understand the question. She needs to strip away those easy descriptions to find a word that encapsulated who she is, not what she means to other people or does. I came to realize that I was searching for the wrong thing.

In early February, when I was debating the pros and cons of returning to higher education with my friend Emily, she said, “Lindsey, you’re such a free spirit. I can’t see you being able to be tied down to an institution. I know you think that working in academia will give you a sense of meaning. You bring so much to anything that you do; you’ll always be able to make your job what you need it to be.”

I knew deep down that she was right about academia. All professions come with different politics, if you can’t cope with the politics of your profession then it isn’t a good fit for you.  I’ve never been able to buy into the politics of academia. Wrestling with those politics from within is what left me feeling drained and discouraged when I left grad school. I could feel that it was time to give up on the idea of returning, but I still didn’t totally buy that last bit she said. It was a little too flattering. Then I was offered the supervisor position at my demo job.

Since mid-February, I’ve continued to gain more responsibilities, more opportunities and more job titles within this company (I am now a Regional Trainer & Event Coordinator — for those of you who like specifics). Ironically, this job that I was so willing to step away from, back in January, has accomplished what I was hoping: it has brought together and built upon my experiences, throughout college and grad school, working in student affairs from leadership development/training to event planning. It has given me something I didn’t even realize I needed: renewed confidence in my leadership ability.

Stepping back into a leadership role has allowed me shape the nature of my work more. While adhering to our company’s standards, I have been able to make this job what I need it to be. My focus has been on developing relationships as much as on driving sales. That makes my work meaningful to me. Through this, my friend’s words have been coming true.

Conversations with other friends and experiences at my job (from running successful Tastes of Meijer to training new staff) have helped me to realize just how much this industry, promotional marketing, suits me. I enjoy learning about new products and companies. I love the opportunity it gives me to meet tons of different people. I’m invigorated by the opportunity to coordinate events and create an organized work space. I thrive on the amount of autonomy it affords me and the relative control I have over my schedule. Most of all, I am passionate about working with people. Training, mentoring and assisting my team as well as developing relationships with departments and vendors in Meijer are the highlights of my job.

Over the course of the last six months, the truth I’ve found is that what I needed was not a career change but peace with the path I’m on. What I am doing, from working in promotional marketing to writing in my spare time, is what I want to be doing. I don’t have a job title that encapsulates me, my job description will most likely continue to evolve and shift, and that’s okay. I’m doing work that suits both my passions and my strengths. That’s what matters.

What has surprised me is that returning home has been the quest I needed. Surrounded by the familiar, I’ve found the confidence to continue on this route that I hadn’t anticipated. 

Feature image by Simon Rae

What’s Wrong with Being a Little Unsure of Yourself?

A while back, when I was wandering through Garance’s archives looking for some inspiration, I found this quote from Emanuel Ungaro that she quoted from a 1973 issue of Vogue:

“I like women who are not sure of themselves. I like the moment when a woman thinks she is not good enough, pretty enough. It’s wonderful. It’s like I’ve scratched the surface and discovered something…”

I felt immediately that I needed to write on this for you. But I couldn’t articulate then why. I couldn’t even put words to why I like it so much.

Scribbling in my journal last night, I became very aware of how much pressure I’ve put on myself, unconsciously, to always be sure of myself. To always think I’m good enough. Pretty enough. Smart enough. Capable enough. Desirable enough. Likeable enough. To have the unwavering, unbreakable confidence and self-assurance of Dagny Taggart.

Not that I want to have too high an estimate of myself. My aim is simply to have a crystal clear image of myself–flaws and faults included–that is perfectly, and as entirely as possible, accurate. That allows me complete self-assurance. The type of self-image that frees you from the need for any validation or the risk of being brought down by someone else’s disregard. (We’ve covered that I was a philosophy major right? So I think in terms of ideals).

In short, I’d like to be impervious with no potential for any scratches or breaks in my surface.

The last few years have really shattered my belief that I could ever be so perfectly cold and unmovable. Still, I find myself judging myself by this standard. I feel like there is something wrong with me when I’m hurt after someone has been hurtful. Like I’m weak if I admit that I have limits to what I can carry, put up with and excuse. Like I’m terribly insecure if I admit that my confidence is not complete.

What my friends have taught me throughout these years is that these aren’t flaws. I get hurt because I’m human. In fact, if I respond to it appropriately, that pain can help me prevent further harm. I have limits because there are things that I, in fact, shouldn’t carry, put up with or excuse. My confidence is not complete because I was made to be completed in community. My desire for appropriate validation, my need to see myself accurately reflected back in the eyes of my friends, is what helps to draw me into relationships. Just like everyone else.

I think this moment, when a woman is unsure of herself, is so beautiful to Ungaro because it is so true. It’s the moment when his Muse’s humanity, with all of its inherit vulnerability, becomes apparent. It is the moment when she can’t be reduced to an object or an ideal, when he becomes aware that she’s a person with all of the complicated depths that entails.

Learning to be a Good First Person Narrator

The other day on facebook I saw a quote from Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Since my life itself has been a sort of critique to that book, especially lately, it’s about time I finally challenged it.

The book is about how our lives are stories. Like all our lives consistent of the elements of story (setting, plot, character, and conflict). Therefore, he challenges his readers to actively write a meaningful life for themselves instead of passively letting their story happen to them. It’s not a bad challenge, but it’s an incomplete revelation. I couldn’t help but think that this revelation was a bit too new to Miller for him to be able to write on it maturely.

Okay, maybe that sounds a little condescending but my first thought as I read his book was “Seriously?! You’re a writer (in your thirties?) who just had the revelation that life itself is like a story?! Come on, I figured that out in late middle school/early high school and I’ve been trying to write my life ever since.” I’m not kidding. My friend Jessica and I were both aspiring fantasy writers in middle school. As we transitioned into high school, I began to realize that the primary story I was interested in writing was my own.

While hanging out at Jessica’s one summer during high school, she told me that she imagined that in heaven she and God would sit around telling awesomely fantastic stories to each other—being that He made the mind of J.R.R. Tolkien and Roald Dahl, plus created the universe, He must have the greatest imagination of all. I said that God and I would sit around talking about all the twists and turns in my life He’d created that foiled my perfectly planned out plot. I’d playful scold Him for being a pain in the ass and He’d delightfully laugh at how utterly and impossibly foolish I’ve been in my quest to have complete narrative control of my life.

That little story illustrates the problem I have with Miller’s book. My second thought was, “Your next lesson, or revelation, is going to be that God is the primary author in your story, you’re only the secondary author. So you better prepare yourself for the fact that He might be constantly altering where you think this story is going, or even the type of story you think it is. The setting, characters and conflict He introduces may all be different than the ones you’re imagining.”

You all know, this is the lesson that God’s been teaching me since high school. I used to think that my life’s story would be some sort of epic romance. A tragic epic romance at that. You know, something on par with Buffy and Angel. He’s totally foiled that plan (while also helping me realize how much that isn’t really the life I’d want). Throughout the last year, He’s been disrupting some of my other plot lines as well. I think it’d be safe to say that He’s done almost a complete re-write.

The “processing” I told you I was doing last week had a lot to do with this. It really got through to me that I have to accept where I am in my story, and cultivate some gratitude for God’s craftsmanship as a storyteller. Maybe my story won’t end up being epic, but it is turning out pretty damn good. Without even realizing it, God and I have begun to work more in tandem. Primarily in terms of my relationships. Especially the romance growing between Sergei and I.

You can see in my blog this obvious progression over the last year in which I was getting ready to move from pseudo-dating to actually dating. It wasn’t entirely an intentional progression. It was mostly the result of a necessary process of healing and self-reflection that led to some needed changes in my perspective and approach to relationships. I could feel that I was ready for that transition. In the spring, I picked out an option for myself that seemed sure and safe. God vetoed that. He gave me a man I wouldn’t have chosen (I say that just because he’s so much younger than me), but who is a much better fit for me. While I’d told you all back in April that “it’s becoming non-negotiable that love manifest itself through care, affection and tenderness instead of obsession,” I almost settled again for something like obsession. God didn’t let me. He has given me a relationship that fits that description (though I’d hesitate to use the L-word so soon). In this relationship, I’m working with God instead of against him. Looking at how He’s crafting this part of my story, I can’t help but admit that His narrative gifts far exceed my own.

Over the weekend, it struck me that I’m a little like Charlie in the perks of being a wallflower.* First of all because I’m also a writer who is learning how to participate. I haven’t exactly been a wallflower all these years. Instead of living on the sidelines, I’ve been living too much in my own head and in my sort of alternate reality.** It’s similar. Just like him, I’ve had to step up and really take part in my life instead of spending all my time trying to write it.

Also because I realized that my role in my own story is much like his. Charlie isn’t the author of the perks of being a wallflower, he’s the first person narrator. His voice is distinct from the author, who is ultimately directing the story, and yet it’s through him that the story comes about. Both through his narration and his role as the main character. He can’t control the other characters in the story, he can’t make them love him, he can’t even entirely make them see him, but he can make his presence more visible and let himself be loved by them. He can respond, he can make choices and he can tell the story he’s been given. The same is very much true of me, of all of us.

Maybe Miller’s next book will be something along these lines because this is certainly the next lesson that he has to learn. It’s a very important one. I agree with him that we all need to be aware that our lives are a story and, if we want our lives to be meaningful, we have to be active participants. But we can’t step into the role of being the author of our lives. All we can do is play the part of that first person narrator.

End Notes:

*I saw the film this weekend. I must say it’s one of the best book to film translations I’ve ever seen. Even if you haven’t read the novel, I highly recommend it (as long as the trailer entices you-if it doesn’t then I do believe its magic will be lost on you).

** Through this last year I think you’ve been seeing how God’s been curing me of my “Passion of Mind.” You know, how I used to let my wondrously overactive imagination and utterly romantic sentiment make my obnoxiously uncertain pseudo-relationships appear like soon to be romances. How I used to try to control the uncontrollable in the only way we can, through the art of illusion which eventually results in some delusions.

Finding Meaning in A Less Glamorous Life

I’ve been in the mood to watch “Forces of Nature” for a while. I really didn’t know why this Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck flick had been on my mind. I hadn’t seen it since high school. I didn’t even remember that much about it. All I knew was that I kept finding myself compulsively checking Netflix to see if it had been added. Tuesday, I stumbled across it at the mall with Sergei (okay, there you go. That’s the new guy in my life, more on him later). It was marked down to $4. How could I resist? Taking a break from working Wednesday, I watched it. I understood why I’d been drawn to it.

On the surface, this film is completely irrelevant to my life. I’m not getting married anytime soon. Not wrestling with attraction to some wildly interesting stranger amidst a string of natural disasters (though I’ve definitely been thinking about my friends living with the aftermath of Sandy). But it is about struggling with the fear of getting stuck. It’s about that realization that you have to commit to the people in your life. It’s about embracing the life you’re choosing, whether that life is glamorous or not, even though it scares you a little and comes with no guarantees. This is where I find myself.

I’ve been pretty discouraged lately. Like Ben Affleck’s character throughout the majority of the film, I’ve been scared and second guessing myself a lot. And wrestling with the un-sexiness of my life.

Not too long ago I wrote an entry, I didn’t like enough to post, about how I’ve been struggle to appreciate the work that I’m doing. The truth is that I feel like I’m just biding time till I’m ready (and am more financially secure) to continue on for my PhD in Philosophy. My demo-ing and freelance copywriting, though they can be worthwhile, feel like filler jobs for me. Ways to pay my bills and keep me busy through this down time. I don’t think of them as my career. Some days I just feel like I’m completely wasting my time and my life. When work is slow and I’m scrapping to get by, I start panicking that this season is going to turn into my whole life.

Plus, it bugs me that I’m still living with my parents. And I hate how much work it is to have a social life since all my friends are still at least 30 minutes away. There are times when I feel like my life is totally boring and bleak.

Last week for me was much like Ben’s trip down to Savannah in the film, everything seemed to be going wrong. A big client dropped out. Another potential client fell through. My computer decided to stop charging (aka stop working). Then that party I thought would be fun and give me a chance to make new friends (which I went to completely tired because I hadn’t slept well all week since I was so stressed) was entirely disappointing. As a result of that dumb choice of mine, the dog I was watching chewed on my glasses while I slept off my stupidity.

I called my best friend Nichelle on the way home from work last Sunday absolutely in need of a good pep talk. All I wanted to do was cry and sleep. But I was too dehydrated for the former and still too stressed for the latter. When I pulled up in front of my apartment, I stayed in my car for an extra half an hour to keep talking. For me, our conversation was a little like that moment when Ben sees his fiancé at the end of the movie and finds the courage to move forward.

What our conversation made me realize, more than anything else, is that I have to stop second guessing the life that I’m living right now. I might be struggling, my job descriptions might not be sexy, and my social life might not be as hopping as I wish it was, but I do have a good life here. My copywriting can be rewarding and gives me an enjoyably flexible schedule. My demo job gives me lots of good stories, allows me to have some great conversations with different people and is responsible for introducing me to my boyfriend. My friends here might be further away than I wish they were but if I was in grad school they’d be even further. Right now, these are exactly the people I want in my life. If I want to be happy, I have to commit to this life I’ve chosen. I have to work to make it what I want it to be (like reaching out to my friends here more frequently and getting up the courage to send my actual writing to magazines and journals so I can move out of copywriting one of these days).

In the film, Ben wraps up his story by paraphrasing a quote from Bishop Jeremy Taylor: “Marriage has less beauty but more safety than the single life. It’s full of sorrows and full of joys. It lies under more burdens but it is supported by all the strength of love and those burdens are delightful.”

I am not married, but I feel like this is true of my life, of many people’s lives. Though our days may be more mundane than we wish they were, our lives are more meaningful because of the relationships we cultivate that sustain us through our struggles and triumphs, through our best days and our boring-est days. The result is a life that is maybe less glamorous than the one we imagined for ourselves but more valuable.

It’s too Easy to Breakdown

The Bell Jar wasn’t what I expected. Everyone describes it as being a book about a girl who goes crazy. That’s even what the blurb on the cover says. That isn’t what it is though. It’s a coming of age novel like Catcher In the Rye or The Perks of Being a Wallflower except while those books end just as the narrators are breaking down The Bell Jar’s narrator takes you through her breakdown.

At the end of the book I kept thinking about how amazing it is all of us don’t mentally breakdown when we’re going through the transition between childhood and adulthood. Heading into your senior year of high school or college or last year of your master’s program (or whatever is your last hurdle before you launch out on your own) is daunting and for a lot of us it continues to be even after that year. I could sympathize with Esther:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.

 From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, another fig was a famous poet and another was a brilliant professor…and another was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions…and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out.

 I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Simultaneously she feels as if she has no real marketable skills and wouldn’t even be able to grasp one of those figs if she tried. When she eventually stops eating and stops sleeping, because she’s too overwhelmed to try, it almost makes sense. Like how Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation) said sometimes she felt like she was forced to withdraw into depression because it was the only rightful protest in the face of a world without rules and a life that was lawless. I don’t think these emotions are crazy. They almost seem natural.

But The Submarines are right:

Here we are with all the pleasures of the first world
Laid out before us, who are we to breakdown?
Everyday we wake up…
And we try, it’s too easy just to fall apart

Starving is easier than eating and it’s as wasteful of ourselves as of the figs before us. As hard as it can be to make a choice, it’s more rewarding than wasting away. The analogy is also an inaccurate picture of reality even if it reflects our feelings. Ahead of us aren’t prepackaged futures that are mutually exclusive. Life is more dynamic than a fig.

This last year I’ve been learning that. When I decided to attend Fordham’s Master’s program I thought I had grabbed a future in academia. The choice made me nauseas. I couldn’t get passionate about my work in Student Affairs and was so disinterested in the masters students around me I couldn’t bear the idea of having people like them as colleagues. Nor could I stand the idea of my life’s work being so confined and confining. But my choice didn’t condemn me to that future.

Right now I’m assisting a financial planner: helping him make his office more efficient, assisting with general tasks, interacting with clients and learning his industry. On paper it may sound boring but it enlivens me. I love bringing order to chaos and learning new things. Interacting with people as well keeps me sharp and takes me out of my own head in a good way. I’m also about to begin an interesting semester of classes and prepping for a small groupI’ll be leading starting in September. Along with my friends and roommate my life is both full and fulfilling. When I come home from work for the first time in years I’m hungry to read and thirsty to create. I’ve been doing both more voraciously than ever.

I’ve begun to hate when people ask me what I want to do with my life. Not because I don’t have any idea but because I know that we can’t choose predetermined futures off a tree. Insead we are creating our futures through a series of choices. That’s not easy to articulate but it’s the only way to live a fulfilling life. Choosing a perfect picture is neither possible or satisfying. Instead we have to keep choosing what will sustain and nourish us at the times we need to.