Rejecting a Resume Builder

I might have done something dumb.  Or I might be getting the hang of self care.  The line between the two, at least for me, is occasionally hazy.

The email came from out of the blue, with Congratulations! in the subject line next to the name of the University Lit Journal.  I’ve been published in this journal before (2 stories in one issue, actually), and submitted to it multiple times…but not this past semester.  I hadn’t had time to work on anything I felt confident submitting.

Confused, I clicked.

They had accepted my piece for publication, pending revisions, and needed a bio and headshot of me by Friday.  I didn’t recognize the title of the piece they mentioned, but the girl who had emailed me knew me from previous classes and one of my other friends was the managing editor, so it probably wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.  I texted Editor Friend.

“Um, it’s the piece you wrote for Professor C’s class,” he said.  “Last spring?  Here, I’ll email it to you.”

Vague memory dawned.  It was a creative nonfiction piece about my time abroad the summer before, but I was thoroughly “meh” about how it turned out.  Professor C, though, loved it.  He had encouraged me to submit it to University Lit Journal and, when I wasn’t sure, asked if he could at least use it as an example for his creative nonfiction editors.  I said that was fine, and maybe I would revise and submit it for publication eventually.  I never got around to it – had forgotten all about it, actually.

And now University Lit Journal was offering to publish it.

I remember how it felt getting the email saying that not one but both of my previous (fiction) pieces had been accepted.  I was exhilarated.  Over the moon.  Skipping down the sidewalk (well, I do that anyway because I’m basically a 5-year-old pretending to be a college student, but you get the picture).  The meeting with the editors to go over revisions was one of the best workshopping experiences I have ever had, and I was truly proud of the product when it came out in print.

This time around, all I felt was panic.

I did not have time budgeted for this.  I did not have a spare hour to meet with the editors again, much less several afternoons to devote to revising the piece to a point where I would be happy to see it in print (again, this was not my favorite thing I’ve ever written, and though when I reread it I could see some potential, it would take a while).  And I had no desire to carve out that time.  I didn’t want to rush to a meeting where my own writing would make me feel harried and inconvenienced.  I didn’t want to spend energy that I needed for class, work, thesis, feeding myself.  I didn’t want to pick up a project that someone else had started on my behalf.

“How much would you hate me if I said no?” I texted Editor Friend.

Some people might think I’m crazy for retracting my piece.  “How much time could it really have taken?” they might cry.  “You should have jumped at the chance to get published again!  I’m sure if they wanted to print the story it would have been fine no matter how you felt about it.” And maybe, being a young almost-graduate who’s hoping to get an entire book published eventually, I should have been grateful for the chance to have another printed piece on my resume.

But I just wasn’t.  And I have enough of a sense of ownership of my writing that I wanted to be excited if I was going to have something printed.  I didn’t want it to feel – well, like this.

So I retracted my “submission” and immediately breathed a sigh of relief.  Now I could focus on the stuff I want to write – like my thesis, my manuscript, and this blog.  Maybe it wasn’t the best choice for my resume, but it was what I needed to do for myself right now.  And I’m okay with that.

The Blessings Jar

I can’t work in clutter.  My room, in the upheaval and un-routine-ness that accompanies a new semester, had been in an Uneasy State of Chaos for a while, and I was sick of it.  So, working counterclockwise around my room from the door, I Cleaned – and yes, the capital is warranted, because it was no mere 10-second tidying up.  I dusted and organized and rearranged and adjusted until everything fit Just So.

I was on a roll until I got to my nightstand.  One of the Random Things that had come to rest in obscurity right next to my bed was a pickle jar with the label peeled off and many slips of multicolored paper inside.

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My Blessings Jar.

I’d forgotten about it, failed to keep up the habit, since last year when Bird gave me the idea (which I think she got from Pinterest).  As I swiped the dust rag over it, I thought now might be a good time to empty it, start fresh, swear to myself that I would chronicle at least One Good Thing each night from now on.  Settling criss-cross-applesauce on the floor, I poured out the tiny scraps and began to read.  Some made me chuckle, like liquid dishwasher soap from when the Commodore and I finally ran out of that awful powdered stuff and bought a gallon of the liquid we preferred.

Some, like Bird’s smile when she saw me in the chapel after her retreat, made me cry.

It amazes me, sometimes, the magnitude of things that can be tethered in tiny characters inked on paper.  The moments I had found worth recording were instances of love, support, and shared strength from my parents, my sister, the Commodore, the Southern Belle, the Engineer and his family, my friends from church, and my coworkers.  All the people in my life had contributed to these scribbly bits of paper showing me how many families I have looking out for me.

So often it’s easier to remember the one bad thing that happened at the end of an evening, or late in the afternoon, and let it erase all the silliness and contentment of the morning and lunchtime.  A whole day can be colored by just one negative thing.  But when I force myself to think of just One Good Thing, it’s funny how more Good Things start to come out of the shadows, shyly raising a hand to say, “Remember me?  You didn’t have such a bad day after all.”

I tucked the old blessings away in a box and set the empty, hopeful jar on my freshly dusted nightstand.

I think this is a habit worth attempting again.2016-01-19 19.38.25

Confessing to Depression

I was vaguely aware that there was probably something wrong.  My friend and I had sat on one of the lower bunks in our somewhat crowded retreat cabin for almost half an hour, talking. She kept asking me questions – how was I eating, sleeping, focusing in class, feeling about spending time with the Engineer?

“Just one more thing,” she said. “Are you reading?”

I shook my head.

“That,” she said, looking me in the eye, “does not sound like you.”

I hadn’t felt like “me” for weeks, but I was slogging through, wasn’t I?  I was still helping lead this retreat.  I was still maintaining my grades.  I was still fun to be around at our weekly church dinners, even if I did sometimes hang out quietly in a corner or slip out early.  But I was probably just tired.  Everyone gets tired.

These were the thought processes that kept me from telling anyone, from thinking about it too much, from pushing too hard against the curtain that had fallen between me and the rest of the world.  Because that’s what it felt like.  I was just numb, all the time.  Nothing really seemed worth the effort of pushing through that.

Besides, I was probably just tired, or maybe not getting enough vitamin C.  I didn’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, even in my own head.  Why make a big deal about something I was “handling” just fine?

Somewhere, in my two decades on this planet, I had picked up social habits that informed the way I thought about my own mental health.  These habits led me to believe that as long as no one could tell anything was wrong, there wasn’t anything wrong.  Furthermore, these habits led me to fear others’ reactions when I admitted to this “fault” of mine, this depression.  Every time I told a friend or family member my shameful secret, I flinched at the words, preparing myself for the comments I’d already heard so much from myself.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad.  Just cheer up.”

“Focus on positive things.”

“You’re just having a bad week.  It’ll pass.”

“Wow, overdramatic much?”

I had only told my friend about my feelings on a whim – something she’d said about her own experiences in counseling had stuck with me despite the numbness, and I just wanted to see if there were any similarities between our cases.  Or rather, if I was being honest, I wanted to know that she saw those similarities too, that I wasn’t just making it up.

But even though she asked every day for the next week if I’d made an appointment with a counselor, even though the Southern Belle said I didn’t seem like myself lately and the Engineer expressed his worry for me, it took me another two weeks to actually go in.

And when I did?  “If I had the textbook open in front of me to Depression,” the counselor said, “it would say all the things you’re telling me.”

“But nothing’s happened,” I wanted to say.  “No one died.  I didn’t get fired.  There’s no trauma that should have caused this.”  Apparently, my brain didn’t care about my need to legitimize my depression to others.  This was just what was happening, regardless of events in my life.

Not one of my friends or family members said anything dismissive when I finally opened up to them.  They gave me nothing but love and support.

But I still dismissed my mental health.  I compared my own numbness to what I thought of as “real depression,” the struggles of people suffering from physical illness or devastating loss.  I felt like an impostor, and, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I thought others would see me that way too.

I worried I was talking about it too much – that the Engineer or Bird or any of my friends might secretly be rolling their eyes and thinking, “This again?  Isn’t she over it by now?”

Our society does not do well with mental health.  For one thing, it’s invisible – I can’t count the number of times someone has said (in the nicest possible way) that I “always seemed so happy.”  And the stigmas surrounding mental health issues encourage us to keep it invisible.  As John Green said in a recent video (which I highly recommend you go watch – the relevant part starts at about 1:00), “The central way we imagine sickness, as a thing that we must conquer and then put behind us, doesn’t really apply to chronic illness.”  I don’t blame anyone for wanting to assume I’m “better,” but every time I have to re-admit to having depression, it opens me up to that fear of disappointing them, as though I’ve failed to attain something, even though that something is actually out of my control.

This is why I want to talk about my depression – because those stigmas and those fears stemming from them make me so angry.  The way our society deals with mental health is preventing people from admitting to themselves that something might be wrong.  It’s preventing the friends and family of people with mental health issues from finding the best ways to help.

And this fear of talking about it isn’t helping any of us.


Some food for thought:

“Explaining My Depression to My Mother” by Sabrina Benaim (an excellent poem about an experience I was blessed enough not to have)

HPWritesBlogs, especially her post “Depression is a Liar”

10 Depression Myths We Need to Stop Believing from Huffington Post

A New Year’s Post

I’m trying something new this year.  Well, multiple new things, really.  In looking at my schedule, taking on all 27 or so of my proposed resolutions at once just isn’t going to happen.  For one thing, I have zero free time until the end of February, when I present my undergraduate thesis (further freakouts regarding the state of this ginormous project will be forthcoming, I’m sure).  For another, trying to implement a billion new pieces of a routine simultaneously just doesn’t work.  I’ve tried it.  It’s like carrying an armful of cats.  You want to hold onto all of them, but one or two are bound to wriggle out and go scampering off somewhere.  And you end up with a lot of claw marks from the ones that are left.

So my theory is that gradually adding clusters of new habits every two weeks or so might be easier to manage, particularly since my schedule is already going to drastically change about halfway through the semester.  My loose idea for this organizational tactic is as follows:

Immediate

The daily changes I want to make right away – drink a full water bottle daily; get outside once a day; journal every evening; read for pleasure; write literally anything, even just a sentence, for my own personal manuscript

New Semester

The stuff that will be easier to start when I get back to school and therefore has been pushed back until then – cut out mindless snacking; don’t skip Zumba classes; set up a real workspace instead of just sitting on the couch with Netflix on in the background; do homework the day it is assigned; incorporate daily Bible readings into my new semester routine; block out specific times to work on my thesis; don’t forget about meals

Post-Thesis Haze

The bigger picture things that will undoubtedly nag at the back of my mind but that I physically cannot spend time on until my thesis is done – start applying for post-grad jobs; devote an hour minimum each day to my own manuscript; get certified as a Zumba instructor; seek out freelance editorial and authorial work, even unpaid internships; focus on online professional development

Post-Grad

Honestly, I haven’t really dared to think this far ahead.  But if I’m still not skipping Zumba and I’m eating healthy and staying hydrated and working on my manuscript and feel like I’ve got my job situation sort of under control for the moment, then I’ll probably focus on my general theme for the year: be present.

I’ve fallen down many a stress spiral before, particularly this past semester, and these are frequently brought on by focusing too hard on the future.  I will never be completely happy-go-lucky or loosey-goosey with my schedule (I love my planner too much!) nor do I think that thinking about and planning for the future is a bad thing.  But when it makes me forget about how happy I am in the moment with the Engineer or how much I’m enjoying this particular sentence in my book or how great this writing session is going, it does become a problem.

And, as stressful as it may be at times, I really am looking forward to the year ahead, so I want to hold onto that and appreciate where I am in the life I’m building for myself.

Decision

the act of or need for making up one’s mind
something that is decided; resolution
the quality of being decided; firmness
I make lists.  I run a pencil down the edge of a ruler and divide my cardstock into two columns, one Pro, one Con.  I begin jotting, neatly at first, then scribbling as it becomes a stream of consciousness, leaping from one side to the other like a Highland sword dance.
I ask advice.  I gather opinions like berries, examining each one for ripeness, letting them dye my fingers and adding my stained fingerprints to the already constructed lists.
I consider myself, my own head and heart.  I still have trouble with this one – for a long time, emotions had very little to do with my major choices, unless it was to tip a balanced scale at the last minute.  Choosing a high school came down to academic reputation.  Picking my college came down to finances.  Making a decision based on feelings didn’t seem “smart,” and I was all about making the “smart” choice.
Which is probably why I was so stuck.  Why I couldn’t articulate to my friends, my family, even to myself what I wanted.  Why my heart still beats a little faster when I say it out loud, much less type it out.
I’ve decided to stay in my college town for the next year after graduation.  I can keep my apartment and my job, both of which I love.  I can be near the Engineer while he finishes up his last year of undergrad (switching majors sophomore year throws things a little out of whack).  And I can work on my own writing so the next time I pitch a manuscript to someone and they want to read it, I’ll actually have something to send them.
And I’m pretty excited about all that.

Sexism and Smoothies

“Do I want a smoothie?” I mused aloud.  One of my coworkers looked up from the couches in our hangout area.

“Is that even a question?  Smoothies are always a good idea,” he said.

I laughed.  “You’re right.  I do want a smoothie.  The real question,” I said, waving my wallet at him, “is whether I want to spend the money.  Because that would make my wallet very sad.”

He shrugged.  “Why would you pay for the smoothie?”

For a moment I thought he was suggesting I somehow blend and steal my own fruit drink, but after a moment he added, “Just ask people for the money.”

I raised an eyebrow.

“No, seriously,” he said, leaning forward, “just tell people you forgot your wallet or you don’t have any money and you’re thirsty and can they spare you any change for a drink.  Now, if I tried to do that it would take me all day.  But you – you could probably find someone offering to buy you a coffee within – ” he thought for a moment ” – fifteen minutes.  Tops.”

Incredulous, I just stared at him.

“Oh yes,” he said, seeing my expression, “sexism is alive and well, and you can exploit it!”

I laughed.  We didn’t know each other well yet, this coworker and I, but I knew enough to realize that he was merely commenting on the sorry state of our collegiate society, not being sexist himself.

As I walked to the student union, I half-wanted to try out the experiment, just to see what would happen.  My coworker, however joking his tone, had a point.  I’ve joked with the Engineer before about using such tactics; whenever he worries that I won’t know how to put chains on my tires going over the pass for winter break, I just bat my eyes and say sweetly, “I’m cute and helpless.  Someone will stop.”  In reality, of course, the thought of playing Damsel in Distress makes my eyes want to roll out of my head.

But here, on the same campus where I’ve had male classmates say they don’t hold the door open for girls anymore because “they might get mad,” I could probably have flirted my way to a smoothie.

We females are still thought of as Damsels, just with varying degrees of receptiveness to Manly Heroics swooping in to save the day.  Many boys don’t let girls do things for themselves because they see us as equals, but because they’re afraid of us snapping at them.

Can’t we all just hold doors and lend money for smoothies regardless of gender, because we’re all humans trying to navigate the madness that is college life?

A Thought on Mailbox Disappointments

I like getting mail – real mail, the kind with my name lovingly written in a familiar hand with a sticker on the back holding the flap down even though it has that special glue.  One of my favorite little moments of the day is checking our mailbox, jiggling the key back and forth until it relents and lets me open our tiny metal door.  The possibility of getting mail, even a postcard, is exciting.

But more often than not, all that tumbles out are circulars with fruits and vegetables printed on newspaper, proclaiming the grocery store’s LOW, LOW PRICES.  They don’t even have coupons to clip, just advertisements listing the products for sale.

Two things bother me about these fliers:

  1. They waste paper.  Each one uses at least two sheets of newspaper, and I see the other tenants’ copies tossed carelessly in the laundry room trash (because who wants to carry it all the way across the parking lot or back to one’s apartment to recycle it?).  No one is even opening them, much less reading or using them, so why waste the materials?
  2. There is no way to stop them coming.  On unwanted email advertisements, I can hit “unsubscribe.”  On magazines, I can cancel my account or simply wait until it runs out.  But these aren’t even addressed to me – they’re sent in bulk to “Resident” at each apartment number, and probably in every other apartment complex in town.  I don’t know how to stop them, except to write some strongly worded letter to the Grocery Store Powers That Be to explain that all they’re doing is wasting paper and no one (or at least no one at this address) wants their unsolicited circulars anymore.  But what good would that do?  They’d probably forget to take us off the list, and they wouldn’t stop printing them.  At best I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for only recycling my own copy anymore.

Something I ponder frequently on my way from the laundry room to the recycling bin.

Too Loud to Be Heard

Walking down the mall to work this past week, I had to veer around a medium-sized clump of people ringed around a shouting man.  The man shouted about damnation, Jesus, and sin.  Sometimes he stood on a milk crate.  Sometimes people shouted back.  Mostly they just laughed.

But then I got to work and I heard the conversations inspired by this man and his shouting.

“Christians are so judgmental.”  “They’re all just a bunch of hypocrites.”  “This is why I hate religion.”

“Would you say I’m judgmental?” I wanted to ask.  “Would you assume that I condemn all those who don’t share my beliefs?”

In my fantasy, they answer, “Of course not.  You are tolerant and good.”

“Well,” my imaginary self responds, standing to make a dramatic exit, “I must not be a very good Christian then, since you say they’re all so awful.” The less charitable part of me wants to leave them spluttering, awkward, wishing they hadn’t made assumptions about their audience, ashamed of drawing such broad conclusions about a large group of people the same way they say Christians do.

But instead I bit my lip, because I had a shift in five minutes and not enough time to explain how they shouldn’t judge the whole from the part, viewing all of us in the same way as the yelling fundamentalist.

Catholics, traditionally, shy away from street corner evangelism.  We are not comfortable with tabling in the student union, or even handing out candy in front of our own church door.  But I wear my cross necklace, and if someone notices and wants to have a respectful discussion of belief systems with me, I will gladly sit down with them.  I seek more to understand, and to allow the other person to understand my own beliefs, than to convert them.

And this is the problem I have with people who shout one the mall.  They are not fostering discussion.  They are not leaving their audiences musing to themselves that perhaps there’s something to this whole God thing after all.  There is nothing productive about the conversations stemming from seeing this shouting man because those conversations only reflect the judgment that people feel from him.  His content may be solid, but the method of transmission is off-putting to say the least.

So, if anyone cares, I’m open to discussion.  But please: no shouting.

Doodling Gives Me a Sense of Power

I’m facilitating four 1-credit English classes this semester.  These are meant to be workshop times, a space for students to bring their writing in and get peer feedback, with a slightly more trained supervisory peer (me) keeping track of attendance and offering clarification along with the general class discussion.

Which means that when students are determined to remain taciturn, I struggle a little for something to fill our 50 minute sessions.

It doesn’t seem that hard to me to talk about writing for 50 minutes, but I recognize that not everyone is quite as obsessed enthusiastic with words as I am.

So I usually end up doodling on the board.

At the beginning of the summer, I bought a pack of Expo markers specifically for these classes.  I keep them separate from my workplace’s other, dried-up, capless, mismatched markers.  I encourage my students to write on the board, to color code, to use more visual representations of their ideas if words aren’t working for them.

“I don’t know about you guys,” I say, “but writing on whiteboards always gives me a feeling of power.”  They nod, smile a little, and sometimes it works.  Sometimes they write one word and then sit back down, but sometimes it works.

And sometimes I end up just writing on the board so they’ll see the fruits of their discussion, the growth of the list, the effects of the edits we recommend to each other.

Or I just doodle while they read.  (I’m a speed reader.)  And I end up with things like this:

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If I’m lucky, this leads to even more discussion, with everyone swapping organizational ideas and sharing how they get from prompt to polished paper.

Or, “Can we play Hangman?”

But even when I think class hasn’t been terribly productive, one of the students will toss out an absolute gem of a sentence, or just a quiet, “Thank you,” as they walk out the door.  That, even more than the chance to write on a whiteboard, makes it worth it.

Things I’m Trying to Be Better About

Praying.

Calling home.

Making healthy dinners.

Awareness of how much I’m spending on coffee.

Awareness of how much I’m drinking coffee.

Posting on this blog.

Posting on Changeling Scribbles (actually no don’t go read it because I haven’t posted anything in weeks).

Reading for pleasure.

Working on my own writing.

Doing laundry before the basket overflows.

Not overscheduling myself.

Eating a real breakfast, not just a protein bar on the way out the door.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because he gets grumpy when he doesn’t get to bed before 11.

Leaving the Engineer’s at a reasonable hour because I cannot actually replace sleep with coffee.

Pulling myself out of stress spirals about what to do with my life post-graduation.

Going out and doing things occasionally.

Loving myself.