Happy Everything, Lovelies

Two weeks ago I thought I should really, definitely, surely write a post for Christmas. And then I really didn't feel like it.

One week ago when I thought about writing a Christmas post, I thought about titling it "Happy Everything, Schmucks." There are people who will yell in public. At a retail worker. During the holidays. Over absolutely nothing. There are people who will wait through a line, get to the front of it, wait until all of their items have been scanned, and then suddenly realize they don't have their wallet, or their debit card, or whatever. There are people who will do this, say they'll just run out to the car and grab it, hold up the line while they do so, and then never come back. There are people who will complain about how long something is taking (gift wrapping, processing an online return, looking for a different size), when you are already going above and beyond. There are people who will tell you "hey, what's that?" point to the ground, say "you dropped your smile," and then laugh when you are 1) confused, because you're tired AF and don't have full brainpower, and/or 2) angry, because it's sexist and not funny. There are people who get angry when you don't accommodate them when they read something incorrectly, because that's your fault somehow. There are people who will interrupt you while you're helping another customer, talking to a customer on the phone, putting away an armful of clothes, clocking out for your lunch break, and ask if you can check them out because they don't want to wait in the short line that's formed, when clearly no, you cannot check them out right then. There are people who think that somehow you should make everything happen instantly for them when they have groceries in the car, or when they have a place to be, or when they were supposed to be at a place 10 minutes ago.

And yes, those people are absolutely terrible. Not to the core, probably, but they need to learn to check themselves in public. Have some empathy. Have some perspective. Have some human freaking decency. And have some goddam holiday spirit. It's not all about your party dress or what's under the tree, you know.

But there are also coworkers to laugh with, to commiserate with, to dream with. There are boys who will text you and ask how your day is going. There are friends who invite you to parties even when you're always working, friends who will hook you up with job opportunities, friends who will take care of your dog so you can go out on a date, friends who will write you long, kind, inspiring letters from afar. There are customers who have utmost gratitude for everything you do for them. There is family to coordinate pot luck dinner with, and pups to soothe you on the days, weeks, months when you constantly feel like crying because of all of this accumulated stress. There are mothers to cheer you on.

When it comes down to it, holidays are all about spirit, and sharing that spirit with the people in your life. The other stuff is tradition, decoration, potpourri. But the holiday itself is feeling. Every holiday celebrates love and gratitude in a different way.

So Happy Everything, lovelies. Go out and spread your love and gratitude and light the best way you know how. Share a tasty treat with someone you love. Play Parcheesi. Sing as loudly and poorly as you want. Sip a festive beverage. Send a thoughtful text (or two or three).

Be merry. Be bright.

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. Some things to do if you're flying solo for the holidays this year.

5 Tips for Looking Pulled Together When You're Running Late

Being late to school was always a major source of stress for me when I was growing up. I found it mortifying, plus I would get punished by the school for my parents not getting me there in time, which seemed unfair to me.

I hate being late, and yet, lately, I always am. I'm using my tips for having an awesome morning to help develop a solid morning routine and kick the habit, but in the meantime, these are my favorite tips for making sure I looked pulled together (a must for me by nature, but also in my job description) when I'm short on time.

1. Choose key areas of your face to focus on. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT try to do a full face of makeup if you are running late. Because once you start it, you really can't not finish it. Trust me, I've been there many times before. Instead, figure out what you need to do to feel polished. Try to stick with 3-5 products. For me, I'll usually do a tinted moisturizer (2 steps in one, plus much quicker to blend than foundation), fill in my brows, line my upper eyelids, and swipe on some mascara, then throw my lipstick in my bag so I can put it on in the car or when I get where I'm going. It's such a good idea to practice this face and time yourself so you can feel super confident on your rushed mornings.

2. Master a go-to hairdo. True story: I am not good at putting my hair in a ponytail. Putting my hair in a ponytail I'm happy with actually takes longer for me than just styling it so I can wear it down. This is a great go-to for lots of people, but not for me. Find the thing that works for you! I'm most confident when my hair is down, and my daily style takes me 5-10 minutes to do and usually lasts me 2-3 days. On day 3 or 4, if I don't have time (or, honestly, am just too lazy) to wash it, I can throw it up in a topknot real quick.

3. Prep your purse. I am notorious in my friend group for having a huge, Mary Poppins-esque handbag on me at all times. I like to be prepared, and I like to have the extra room to be able to throw my laptop, camera, water bottle, book, lunch, or whatever else I need in there and go. BUT, you do not need to have a huge purse to have a prepared purse. Think about the things you often wish you had or end up buying on the run and see if you can stock them in your bag. For me, having a go-to lipstick, a nutrition bar, a pressed powder, a pack of gum, a water bottle, and a battery pack for my phone helps me feel more confident about getting through my day. Confidence is the best accessory, after all.

4. Save your favorite outfits. Take the opportunity on mornings when you have plenty of time to get creative with your wardrobe and save your favorite, go-to outfits for mornings you're lacking in energy or time so you can throw them on and feel and look good. Bonus tip: I like to dress a little nicer on days I'm not feeling well (which includes days I'm feeling stressed or frantic). I don't want people to be able to take one look at me and know that I'm a hot mess that day.

5. Eat Breakfast. Hungry is not a good look or a good feeling! Take a moment to eat a granola bar, bowl of cereal, cold piece of pizza, or piece of fruit. No matter how late you're running, taking a second to drink some water and get some food in your belly is a non-negotiable step in my book. You can always pack something and eat it on the way!

What are you favorite time-saving tips? Share in the comments below! I'm always looking for new strategies to add to my arsenal.

One Year

One year ago, I brought this little girl home. It's hard to believe it's been a whole year, and also hard to believe that I haven't always had her in my life. She is the way I begin and end every single day, and she is the greatest source of joy and frustration currently in my life.

We've both learned and grown a lot in the last year. We've had our love and we've had our fights. We've had to learn not to be selfish. We both struggle with this sometimes. We've learned how to communicate. We know how to pull back when the other is about to reach the breaking point. We've both cried a little. We've cuddled a lot. I've cleaned up messes, groaned over chewed up water hoses and measuring cups and paper anything. She's suffered through long work days home alone and injuries that kept me from exercising enough with her and laziness, too. We've forgiven each other. We've walked it off. We've seen many a beautiful sunrise and sunset together.

Happy Halloween, everyone, and Happy Anniversary, Olive.

Yours Truly, Jen

What I'm Listening To | iTunes Shuffle

I have owned exactly one iPod in my life, and this is it. I bought it in college, refurbished, around the same time I got my first car. I wanted to be able to listen to something other than the radio in my car and in between classes on campus. I rocked a discman all through high school, so this felt like a huge step up, a chance to diversify my listening experience.

I was downloading music like crazy then, trying out new music constantly and building up my collection. Before then, my music library consisted mostly of my parents' CD's and ones that had been gifted to me. The iPod was the home for this changing identity, this exploration. 80 GB of sound experimentation.

With the limited storage on the iPhone, I mostly stream music now, through Pandora, through Spotify, through Apple Music. Even the music I own exists in the cloud somewhere. It's changed the way I listen to music a lot, put me in habits of listening to the same over and over because shuffling through my whole collection, or through a category, isn't available anymore. You have to work to find something new, it feels like, when shuffle would just find something for you that you didn't even know you had. It's almost like going back to the discman, in a way.

The iPod still works. If you plug headphones into it, it will only play music in one ear, which makes it a perfect dock player. I'll put it in a drawer for months at a time and forget about it, but currently I use it as part of my wake up routine, selecting music on it to play in the morning when my dock alarm goes off.

Digging this old iPod out has inspired me to shuffle through my iTunes songs from time to time while I get ready in the morning or putter around after work. I've re-discovered some gems  and some forgotten tracks, and re-visited some favorites. I've put together a playlist of songs that have come up in my shuffle in the last couple weeks that I listened to all the way through. Maybe you'll discover something wonderful in here too.

What songs have you been re-discovering lately?

Yours Truly, Jen

10 Tips for Making This The Best Morning Ever

Mornings have a way of tangling themselves up into a snarled mess of a thing that the cat bats away until it's totally lost. This time can be harrowing and hurried and preoccupied with this idea of preparing for the next space you're going to be in, be it work or school or whatever.

And frankly, it sucks.

Mornings like that, where you don't know where they've gone, where you're rushing through, where you're checking the clock constantly to see how late you now are, are the absolute worst, and they set up the rest of your day to be stressful and terrible. Let's stop having them, hmm?

Let's reclaim the morning. Let's make morning it's own time in our day, rather than a time to prepare for another. Let's find ways to eliminate guilt and frustration and stress and rushing. Let's use adjectives like fun, peaceful, and productive to describe our mornings. Let's make them everything we want them to be.

That's a power we have. Let's use it.

Below you'll find 10 tips I've used to make my mornings better. Maybe some of them will work for you too? Remember, this is a process, and not every morning will be perfect. But we can move them in that direction.

And, please share your own favorite tips!

1. Find an alarm that works for you. And also know that in order for it to keep working, you may have to switch it up. Setting the same song as my alarm every day has ruined songs for me, so I don't do that anymore. Right now I'm actually using two alarms, and it's working pretty well. My sunrise alarm starts gently waking me up about thirty minutes before my alarm, my iPod starts playing music (that I selected the night before) 10 minutes before I actually want to be up, and then the sunrise alarm beeps at the time I actually set my alarm to. Sometimes I only use the sunrise alarm, but I like adding in the music to get my mind going.

2. Pick one good reason to get up in the morning. Maybe it's a good cup of coffee. Maybe it's quality time with your dog or kids or significant other. Maybe it's time to read or practice your craft. Maybe it's the love of quiet. Maybe it's getting to the gym before it gets crowded, or going for a run before it warms up. Maybe it's simply important to you to be on time. Pick one special thing that you can get out of your morning if you get up on time, write a keyword on a sticky note, and put it over the time on you alarm clock. That way when you roll over to hit the snooze button, you'll think about that reason instead of how early it is. Then if you roll over and go back to sleep, you're saying that sleep is more important to you than this thing. Some days it will be, and that's okay.

3. Create a morning ritual. If you haven't written down what your ideal morning would look like, you should! This process will help you identify what you'd like to get out of this time, how early you actually need to get up, and help lock down the order in which you should be doing things. This could be as loose as a brainstormed list or as detailed as allotting time for each activity. If you can stick to doing the same things every morning, your schedule becomes a ritual and thus easy and automatic. Don't be afraid to consult your brainstorm or create a checklist until you get your ritual down!

4. Make the bed as soon as you get up. This helps eliminate the temptation to get back into it later in the morning (am I the only person who wants to lounge after breakfast?) and is a quick way to make your bedroom look more clean and organized. I have definitely found that my mental state directly correlates to the physical state of my home, so this is a big one for me.

5. Get the must-haves done first. Have you ever had one of those awesome mornings where you cleaned your kitchen and made the bed and took your dog on a long walk and read the news and worked out and did all of these great things and then were late to work because you started getting dressed too late? After you've created your morning ritual, look back and figure out what your can't-leave-the-house-without-doing list items are and try to put these first in the queue for the morning. You can probably stop in the middle of loading the dishwasher, but maybe not with eyeliner only on one eye.

6. Listen to something great. I used to like to watch TV in the mornings while I ate breakfast and did my makeup, and I still do sometimes, but it slows me down and takes me out of the present, which isn't what I want from my mornings. It's so much easier to move from room to room, indoor to outdoor, when you're listening to something on your phone instead. My mornings usually include a mix of music and podcasts/audiobook.

7. Do one productive thing. For some reason I generally prefer cleaning in the morning, so I like to give myself time to do the dishes. Your productive thing could be catching up on emails, getting dinner in the slow cooker, straightening up your bathroom counter, or working on an independent project. Having a productive morning sets a good tone for the rest of the day.

8. Do one thing for yourself. Meditate. Do yoga. Make pancakes. Sit on the balcony and drink a cup of coffee in silence. Take some time finding the perfect thing to listen to during your morning commute. Read a book, or make a dent in your blogroll. Watch Good Morning America. Whatever you want it to be, and it may be different things different days, take a few minutes out of the busy and just be happy doing whatever you want to be doing in that moment.

9. Have fun getting dressed. Take this out of the realm of obligation (I have to look a certain way for my job/school, or I have to look a certain way to be happy with myself, or people expect me to look a certain way) and have fun with getting ready. Be creative. You get to choose who you want to be today, and your outward appearance is how you signal this choice to everyone else. Upbeat music and dancing are two great ways to liven up this process.

10. Set an alarm for 15 minutes before you actually need to leave. This will remind you that it's getting close to time to go, and still gives you time to put on your shoes, make your lunch, rinse your breakfast dishes, brush your teeth, find your keys, or whatever little last minute tasks you have to do. You may also want to set a second alarm for when you absolutely need to leave the house if you tend to run late. Nothing ruins a good morning like the stress of rushing to work.

Yours Truly, Jen

Being Present

Right now I am sitting up in bed, my legs tucked under the covers. I should have made the bed this morning when I got up but I didn't. I had a feeling I would want to crawl back into it later, when I'd earned the right to lounge a bit, after playing with the pup and having some productive time at my desk, before showering and getting ready for work. I was right.

My blinds are open, and pale, late morning light filters in through the tree outside my window. Fan blades chase each other overhead, softly whirring, and the dangling light and fan speed chains dance a little in place. My back aches from my often poor posture and my shoulders are tight from stress. My full-length mirror leans against the wall across from me, waiting to be mounted in its new location. A piece of paper tucked in the corner of my dresser mirror bobs; a necklace hanging on a hook on the wall twitches. There is movement in this still moment.

My breathing is shallow except when I think about it, and then I take deep breaths. I roll my head a little from side to side, note how dry my hands are, catalog all of the things that are out of place in this room–an open drawer, a sweater at the foot of the bed, the pillows I tossed on the floor last night. The fan is the predominant sound in the room, but sometimes I can hear a car passing on the road beyond my apartment complex, a bug chirping, Olive shifting in her crate, a dog barking from the balcony of a nearby building. My back crackles as I straighten. The out-of-place mirror reflects the open drawer, saying please come shut me. I acknowledge the drawer, know that I will shut it when I get up, let the thought go. A car passes below my window. My hands make shushing sounds as I rub them together, an absentminded gesture that often accompanies thinking. I stop. My hair crinkles as I run my fingers through it. My toes wriggle, my legs shift. Restless. My body is telling me it's time to get up, to move my limbs. I stretch, re-settle, wanting to finish my thoughts before shifting spaces. The sounds the keys make as I press them is pleasing, marking progress.

I am present in this moment.

Occasionally, I will wonder what time it is, wonder if it is getting away from me, if I need to move on. I will think, should I wash my hair today, or wait until tomorrow? I will wonder how much money I have in my checking account, and my stomach will seize, and I will feel guilty about every dollar I've spent in the last few days and worry over all the bills I need to pay and chastise myself for not spending more time on job applications this week. This will all happen in a minute or less. And I'll breathe it out, return to the sound of the fan, the feeling of wisps of hair tickling my face, the smell of clean air, the simple joy of sunlight.

Being present can mean different things to different people. For me, it means living in your senses. It means taking in this moment, not living in one that will come or has already gone. It means being thoughtful but not preoccupied. It means self-awareness and self-acceptance and self-acknowledgement. It means living here in this world, not in a dreamscape, not in a stress space, not in an emotion.

Is it possible to be present 100% of the time? No, I don't think so. We consume television and film and literature to step out of our bodies for a while, to practice imagination and empathy. Art and music put us in thoughtful headspaces. And it's important to process emotion, to sometimes indulge nostalgia, to consider our histories, to plan ahead, to set goals. But, in the living of our lives, it's important to check in, to ask ourselves, am I here right now, or am I just going through the motions?

If you would like to be more present in your life, find those quiet moments to check in with yourself, and know that sometimes you will have to create those quiet moments for yourself. In moments between tasks, stop, take a deep breath, exhale completely, and ask yourself how you are feeling. What do you need right now, if anything? What can you do to fill that need? When you find yourself becoming consumed by an emotion, stop, breathe, and ask yourself, is this a valid emotion? Is this something I've gotten myself worked up about, or is this really important? Is this something I can address right now? If so, do so and move on with your life. If not, accept that this is something beyond your control and let it go. When your thoughts return to it, when the feeling creeps back up (and it will), acknowledge it and again gently push it away. Check in with each of your senses to ground yourself. When someone asks you how you are, take a moment and really think about it for yourself, even if you don't want to share the true answer with that person. Find the cues and spaces in your own life that will remind you to check in, find balance, become grounded.

And, when you can, take a few minutes to just be here in your body, in your senses. This may be through creating space in your schedule for meditation, or simply incorporating it into steps already in your routine, like showering or dog walking, anything where you can keep your stimuli and need for response low.

Resolving to be more present is the easiest, kindest thing you can do for yourself, and you can start at any time. You don't have to have a yoga practice or a meditation schedule to do it. You can spend one minute every day being more aware of and grateful for this moment and be happier. And it won't cost you a dime.

I hope that something in here rang true for you. This is a practice I've been working on most especially in the last year or so

Do you practice some form of this in your own life? Has it yielded any positive results?

I'm Only Sleeping

I went to German Kindergarten. That's something you may not know about me.

My dad was in the Air Force when I was young. My older sisters did the whole army brat (do you still use the term army brat when it's a different sector of the military? I don't think I've ever heard anyone say Navy brat. Or Air Force brat. Right?) thing, but I was mostly spared. I was born in Virginia (did you know that about me? I returned to my "home state" for grad school) and we moved around some when I was a baby and then we spent some time in Germany. My first memories are set there. My two younger sisters were born there.

When I really young (three? four? Mom, help me out here) I woke up and went wandering down the street in the early hours of the morning because I was awake and it was obviously time to go exploring. When my mom woke up and I wasn't in the house, she freaked out. I don't remember how this story ends. Maybe it doesn't have an ending. Maybe the only thing everyone says over and over when they've told this story is me getting out of bed, creeping out the door, disappearing into the dark, the luck of me not being kidnapped.

From Germany we moved to Texas, my dad retired, and except for my (almost) four year stint in Virginia, I've been here ever since. 

Another story: One time, probably around 5 in the morning, I went banging on my neighbor's door (I would have been in elementary school at this time) because I wanted to hang out with my friend who lived there and I woke up the whole household, which they were not very happy about. My parents had to talk to me about what hours are acceptable for going over to people's houses. From then on if my neighbors invited me to go to church with them (I went to church with my friends lots as a kid, mostly to get out of the house, partly because I liked the sense of community, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I'm sure I was figuring out my feelings on religion, too.) I would hang around in my back yard until I saw signs of movement in their house, lights flicking on, doors opening, and I would scurry on over.

To the rest of the world, the morning was a silent time, a time to sleep, a time they wanted me to restrain myself and stay in bed, or at least to tiptoe around and not get in any trouble. I wanted to get up, to expend energy, to let loose my imagination, to eat breakfast. I woke up fresh and yearning and new when other people seemed to wake up burdened with the residue of yesterdays.

I put myself to bed no later than 8:30 through the fourth grade. I was very serious about this self-imposed bedtime. If my siblings or parents were being too loud and keeping me from going to sleep, I would go out and tell them it was my bedtime and they needed to quiet down. I know, I was a strange child. 

In middle school, I was hit with really terrible insomnia. I filled my nighttime hours doing sit-ups and reading books and writing stories on my DOS computer that had a word processor and some games and that's it. I started writing novel after novel, stories inspired by the books I read, stories that I wanted to read and couldn't find anywhere. I started to (day)dream of becoming a writer. One time when I pissed my dad off he took my computer and said he was going to wipe it if I didn't do whatever it was that he was wanting me to do. I cried for so long. It was the cruelest thing he ever did to me.

In high school and college, I sometimes had insomnia and sometimes I wanted to sleep all the time. At some point in there, sleep stopped being a thing I had to think about a lot. By graduate school I usually fell asleep pretty easily, and I got up in the morning pretty easily. Because I was sleeping next to someone who set his alarm later than mine (my morning routine took a lot more time), I would shut the alarm off as quickly as possible to keep from waking him up, and then because it was off I had to get up or I wouldn't necessarily wake up on time again.

In the ~18 months since that relationship ended, I've struggled to get up in the morning. Part of it was the removal of that external motivation. Part of it was emotional exhaustion. Part of it was a lot of other things, I'm sure.

When I moved back to Texas, I wanted to sleep all the time. I was exhausted from lack of sleep and too much physical exertion and I wasn't eating well, or enough, really. After I settled in, I tried setting my alarm earlier, making time for meditation and yoga in the mornings, or maybe even just a little writing or journaling. And I kept failing, which would lead to me feeling guilty and down on myself, which would start the day off in a bad way. Then, I decided maybe I could just stay up a little later and be more productive at night and sleep later in the morning. But that made me stressed in the mornings because I was always rushed and always running late. I decided I needed to start setting my alarm again.

Earlier in the year I brainstormed what my perfect morning would like. I re-visited that brainstorm recently and found my feelings remain mostly the same. I want my mornings to be productive but peaceful. I want to go to work knowing I've already had a good day, that if I come home exhausted and do nothing more than walk the dog, I'm good. I want my mornings to be energizing. I want to be present in these mornings. I want to wake up fresh and yearning and new.

I wanted to share some tips for having better mornings, but it seems, in order to write about that, I had to get this out first. I needed to reflect. I needed to remember my complicated history with sleep, that struggling to make these miracle mornings happen every day is natural but overcomeable. I needed to remember, and to share with you, that there is a morning person inside of me, but also a person who's had a terrible time with mornings, too. So I've gotten it off my chest. And I'll have tips for you next week.

Have you struggled with sleep? What is your favorite way to wake up?

Yours Truly, Jen

Breakfast for Dinner Guest Appearance

One time, I dressed like a friend of mine for Halloween. She was hosting a party I had promised to attend, and she insisted that costumes were mandatory. So.

One time, I abandoned everyone I knew and moved to Virginia and earned a ~fancy~ degree.

One time, I started an audio-journal.

One time, I was a guest on the fantastically fun podcast Breakfast for Dinner, which is hosted by two fellow St. Edward's University alums, Nicole and Dago, and I talked more about all of these things and more. I honestly had no idea what a joy it would be to sit at a friend's dining room table and effectively have a recorded chat (with a little planning ahead of time), but it was an absolute blast.

You should definitely check that out. Tweet your feedback at them (and me!) and then go back and listen to all of their other episodes. Perfect way to spend a weekend.

And those are all of the words I have for you this week. Next week I'll be sharing some tips for having better mornings and some thoughts on being present, so stay tuned for those!

Yours Truly, Jen

What I'm Listening To | Ryan Adams' 1989 & Switched on Pop

I am a big Ryan Adams fan. This you may not have known about me.

I haven't been super tapped into culture news (or really, any news) lately, mostly because my work schedule and doggy schedule keeps me from being on my computer basically ever. So I had no idea this album was happening until it dropped.

And then it was everything.

I confess: I have mixed feelings about Taylor Swift. I'm fairly ambivalent, I guess. I don't think she deserves the mega fame she has. And by deserve, I mean that I think there are tons of other more talented individuals who should rule the world and don't and she does. I also don't think she has a super great voice, and she has writing ticks (as all writers do) that drive me crazy, mostly because I hear her hits a million and a half times on the radio. However, I think she has some really great songs, and her not really great songs are at least earnest and catchy, her career has had an interesting trajectory, she seems to be a genuinely good, though perhaps naive, person, and whether you love her or love to hate her, she has gotten in your world and that's a talent. I listen to her music but don't usually go out of my way for it.

I like a lot of the songs on Taylor Swift 1989 album, and Ryan Adams transformed them from pop, sing along tunes to mood music, which is exactly what I wanted. I can listen to this while I'm getting ready for work, while I'm writing, while I'm walking the dog. It fits in with my music catalog. It soothes my soul.

Basically, you should definitely check it out, and then buy the album.

Also in my ears lately, a new favorite podcast: Switched on Pop. Two guys, a songwriter and a musicologist, get together to discuss your favorite pop songs and pop artists. They dig into the inner workings of the music, comparing contemporary to classical, they sneak in some music education, and ultimately, they make you feel good about being hooked on pop music. This is the least hipster music media I've ever followed, and I dig it. Plus they tweeted back at me the other day, so of course they're my faves now. They seem to put a new episode up every other week or so, and most are 15-45 minutes long, so it's easy to keep up with!

If you are interested in hearing people who are smarter than me talk about Taylor Swift, listen to Switched on Pop's episode on Blank Space or their episode on her entire catalog so far.

What are you listening to lately?

Yours Truly, Jen

Let's Talk Attitude & Gratitude

I had a nickname when I was young: Thunder Thighs.

I was a fat, unattractive baby, and my two older sisters were beautiful babies, and everyone was confused/upset/amused by what an ugly, roly poly of a baby I was.

These are just facts, people.

My other childhood nickname (besides, Jennie-the-pooh, which was silly and endearing and I have no real qualms with): rhinoceros girl.

I was a fat baby who grunted a lot. I also screamed and cried incessantly.

This is all to say that I was born with a bad attitude. Lucky me.

And actually, yes, lucky me. Because I could have been born with Down Syndrome. There was a chance of it, and at the time, my mother's doctors encouraged her to terminate the pregnancy because of it. Which is a sad thing. She did not, and though I was fat and ugly and had a bad attitude, I was healthy and without handicap. She was terribly grateful for this.

When I was an adult, she admitted to me that when she was pregnant with me she thought that my father would have left her if she had kept me and I was born mentally disabled. Which is probably true. He's not a terribly patient or supportive person, and they never had a very good relationship.

I told her that the person I am today would have understood if she had chosen not to go through with that pregnancy because of everything she was dealing with in her life then, that I will always support women having that option open. But that, of course, I appreciated my life. It was her best and bravest gift to me.

I am grateful for what I have.

And yet, this gratitude is often forgotten, pushed aside. I remember a distinct moment in high school when a boy I had a crush on told me I complained too much. He said it teasingly, jokingly, but it was true, too, and those words hit me like a slap in the face the way words only can when they are both true and describe something you had never seen in yourself before. 

It was an uncomfortable moment for me, but I'm grateful for it.

I still complain too much sometimes, often times. It's something I've spent time working on, through practicing gratitude and journaling and avoiding gossip and negative conversations. Through acknowledging and being aware of my privilege. I've been more successful at certain points in my life than others.

And lately I've been struggling. I've always been very critical, very hard on myself. I've always expected a lot. And working in retail is not where I saw myself after getting a master's degree. I've been getting down on myself for not spending enough time applying for other jobs, for not spending enough time writing, for changing my mind about what I want to do next every five minutes. I find myself saying, when people ask what I do, this is where I work "right now," as if to say, this isn't me, this is just a temporary resting place. As if to say, I'm better than this.

Then, a couple of days ago, I listened to this podcast while on my lunch break at work and it was perfectly, exactly what I needed to hear right now. Jon says that you don't have to be ashamed of having a "day job," that working somewhere to make a living, rather than having made it in your craft or opened your own business, is not a bad thing. He says that calling it a "day job" sets yourself up to be unhappy there. Which is exactly what I've been doing.

Listening to Jess and Jon's conversation reminded me that there are plenty of opportunities to learn and grow where I am. It reminded me to get the most possible out of my time there, and that I can develop my career toolkit while being there, which will ultimately help me decide and move on to the next great thing. It reminded me that attitude is everything.

Suddenly, without anything external having changed, I felt so much better about where I am in life. Yes, I want to continue moving on, moving up. But that doesn't mean that I can't and shouldn't do my absolute best, be my absolute best, right now, where I am. That doesn't mean that I can't be grateful for all that I have, rather than disappointed or bitter over the things that I don't.

The truth is, I'm lucky to have a job. I'm lucky that trying on clothes is part of it, that helping empower women through finding the right fit is part of it, that working with other amazing women is part of it, that learning about fabric and style and designing outfits is part of it. Attitude=Gratitude.

Thunder Thighs is not an empowering, body positive nickname for someone. Don't do that to your children/siblings/nieces, please. But, I'm glad I had people to love me, to tease me, to give me nicknames.

I love my body. I honestly wouldn't trade it for anything.

I don't scream and cry too much anymore. Mostly just in the car when people drive badly. The struggle is real.

Upgrading attitude is not easy. It's something I have to remind myself of every single day, in every moment of frustration, in response to every negative thought, in answer to every unwelcome emotion. 

But it's good, worthy work, and I'm equal to the challenge.

Yours Truly, Jen

What's Going On In There?

One time I went on a date with a guy I liked a good bit. Then he said he didn't like NPR's weekend programming, and it was all downhill from there.

I'm kidding just a little bit but mostly not.

I mostly listen to NPR programs in podcast form now, in the car or while I'm doing chores or eating a meal, but there is joy in randomly turning on the radio and tuning in to whatever interview or story is playing. There were times in my life when I knew exactly what time it was based on what NPR segment was on. Which is to say, it's played a pretty big role in my life.

This last weekend's episode of This American Life came so close to perfection that I had to share it with you. No tears were shed in the listening to this podcast, but they very well could have been.

The theme of this show is this idea of what people think is going on in a situation they're looking in on versus what's actually going on, and how different those perspectives can be, but language is the common thread between these stories for me, the thing that made them so poignant. This was an episode that made me want to stop what I was doing and just listen. I rewound multiple times, when my brain lost focus for a moment, or when I was interrupted. I wanted to hear absolutely everything.

Act One is one of my favorite pieces of journalism in recent history. A teenage girl reports on what it's like to be inside an abusive relationship with an older man and she does an absolutely phenomenal job. She has a poised radio voice, and yet sounds so young, so herself. She is honest and vulnerable and real. Her goal in reporting this story, we learn, is to help herself understand why she has had such a hard time shaking this relationship, why she is putting herself through this. She is hoping that telling the story, reporting on it, seeking the perspectives of the people in her life, will help her understand it, and maybe once she understands it she'll be able to overcome it. This is what language, what story, is to me. It's a way of processing. It's a way of examining life, of finding significance and understanding there. So I connect with her there, and while my own high school experience was nothing like hers, it feels terribly familiar, and is heartbreaking, and I found myself rooting for her from the beginning.

Act Two is the story of a language boundary between father and son. So many of us feel like we can't communicate with our parents, that they don't understand us, and this is actually the case in this story. I know people who cannot speak to their grandparents because of language differences, and this disconnect between parent and child seemed frustrating and isolating and lonely. Language is connection. Language is understanding. Language is love. Language is empathy. Language is relationships. Without language, father and son were strangers in the same home, and with it, hundreds of miles away from one another, communicating over the telephone with the help of a translator, they find so much love and interest and warmth. There is always time to connect, to re-think a relationship. There is always the ability to find help in finding the words.

Sometimes I feel like my skills as a writer, that my love of language, is unimportant. Sometimes I wonder if I have wasted my time pursuing this passion. And then I listen to stories like these, and I remember. I remember that language and story are so essential to life, to the human experience. I remember that sharing our lives and our struggles with each other can help others with their own. And I remember that this life is hard and we are all entitled to those things that bring joy and fire and enthusiasm into it. That perhaps that is the most important thing of all.

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. What's inspiring you lately?

What I'm Reading | Which Brings Me To You

Girl goes to the library, full of hope and joy and enthusiasm. Girl walks through the library, smiling at all of the reading people, and sidles up to a computer with the library catalog open. Girl pulls out her Goodreads app, scrolls through, selects a book that she'd like to read, types it into the catalog search. Book is not available. Girl repeats this process approximately 20 times. Book is not available. Book is not available at this location. Book is only available in ebook format. Book is on hold by approximately 1 million other people.

Girls weeps.

Or actually, really, girl (metaphorically) throws up her hands and *almost* leaves the library.

Girl takes a deep breath.

Girl decides to take a stroll through the library stacks and try to find a book to read the old-fashioned way. Which is to say, by choosing a book by its cover, essentially. By waiting for a title to jump out. By reading book jackets. By taking a chance. By diverging from the already 100 mile long to-read list and picking something at random.

Girl picks up a few books, puts them back. Then, Girl finds this book. The spine is covered in fun colored stripes. The name Steve Almond sounds familiar. The subtitle is "a novel in confessions," which is intriguing, and the cover art indicates that some letters are exchanged. Girl reads book jacket, checks book out.

Girl exits the library satisfied.

I have a love/hate relationship with the library, ya'll. On the one hand, it's free, not buying books reduces the number of things I have to schlep from apartment to apartment, and it reduces the amount of waste there is in the world (we've all donated tons of books to our local thrift stores, haven't we?). These are all good things. On the other hand, it can be challenging to get specific books, especially in a city like Austin where there are a million tiny locations, and the hours of operation are limited. I really need to plan ahead and reserve books and figure out how the ebook/audiobook system for the library works, but I haven't gotten that far yet.

Anyway. All of this is a terribly long preface to the actual reason you're here, which is to hear about this book, Which Brings Me to You, by Steve Almond and Julianna Baggott.

This book is fantastic.

I tore through it, which is saying a lot since I have such little reading time. I read it on my balcony, in my bed, on my lunch break at work. I read it as quickly as possible because 1) I enjoyed reading it, and 2) I really needed to know what happened at the end.

Let me back up. The basic premise of the book is this: Girl meets Guy at wedding, Girl and Guy almost hook up in the coat closet but Guy backs out and says he really likes her and proposes they exchange letters, confessions about life and previous relationships, the real nitty gritty life stuff, 100% honesty, and if they still want to see each other again and possibly pursue a relationship after exchanging these letters, they will. So they write each other.

The promise of honesty means that we get to see two very real characters reveal a lot about themselves. Some of these things are just terribly embarrassing moments, or insecurities, or bad behaviors, and some of these things are taboo, strange, private things that one would not normally ever voice or admit to, even though we all have these thoughts sometimes. This is terrifically refreshing. You really get to know both characters. You invest in them. And you want to know, after everything is said, how they will feel about each other when (if!) they see each other again. What strange kind of awkward that will be. What that will look like. Where they will end up.

If the name Steve Almond sounds familiar to you, too, it may be because you too are a big fan of Dear Sugar, a former advice column on The Rumpus and currently an advice podcast. Steve Almond was Sugar before Cheryl Strayed was, and co-hosts the current podcast with her. If you like Cheryl's writing, and especially her writing as Sugar, you will enjoy his too. It's capricious and caring and encouraging and honest and personable, and he never misses a detail. Sadly, I don't know much about Julianna Baggott, but I definitely want to read more from both of them.

This book is like an indie rom-com. It's what I always want rom-coms to be and they never are. It's not the most serious thing you'll read this year (in all likelihood), but it's probably not the silliest thing you'll read either. It deals with some real, heartbreaking life stuff. It has tough moments. And also fun moments and nostalgic moments and laugh out loud moments. It's a reminder that relationships are messy, and life is too. It's a voice in the ear saying it's okay if you haven't figured it out yet, but you will. It's an inspiration to send real letters in the mail. And it's exactly what I needed.

Please pick this book up at your local library or bookstore, lovelies. I promise you won't regret it. And let me know what you're reading, too.

Yours Truly, Jen

26 Before 26

Last year I did not make a birthday bucket list. I meant to, I started to, but at that point I wasn't really blogging and honestly, I wasn't feeling terribly inspired. I was working and not making enough money to cover my bills and not sure where I wanted to be in a year and going home every day and binge watching Netflix until I fell asleep. It was a pretty rough time.

This is not to say that times are especially easy now, but things are looking up. I'm blogging (and in my own way), I'm working and just covering my bills, I'm actively thinking about and searching for the place I want to be in the next year (after making a big move to get closer), and I have (mostly) replaced TV with inspiring podcasts and reading time.


I'm pretty stoked about this year's birthday bucket list. And I've decided to be kind to myself with it in two particular ways: 1) I will check in at the halfway mark, and if there are any things I know I will not be able to accomplish, either because I am no longer interested in them or life just isn't making them possible for whatever reason, I can then post a revised list with those subbed out for different tasks. And 2) I am only putting things on it that can be legitimately crossed off. No recurring tasks, no ambiguous mastery of a skill.

My hope is that by adding in these two concessions, it's not unreasonable to really strive for 26/26, which makes it that much more fun and challenging. Who doesn't want perfect attendance? And so, without further ado...

26 Before 26

1. Buy a pair of cute walking shoes- I am living a much more active lifestyle lately, and getting some new walking shoes is necessary. What are your favorite, most comfortable, cutest walking shoes?
2. Take Olive to a dog-friendly restaurant- We've never done this before, mostly because Olive still gets super excited around people and likes to jump on them and super excited about food and likes to try to get it in her belly. But, she has to learn, right?! Maybe we'll go at a slow time and see how she does.
3. Tour the state capitol- I haven't done this since I was a kid (or possibly ever?!) and it seems like a thing a person should do in her life.
4. Incorporate 3 new ways to reduce waste in my life- I was really into environmental issues in college and got lazy about it in grad school, but this podcast lit a fire under me to really start being intentional again about my impact on the planet.
5. Go to 2 museums- I have big love for museums, and this will be a fun way to re-get to know Austin, connect with friends/family, and get out of the house in an affordable way.
6. Try 5 new restaurants- Food=life and I'm trying to break away from my old college haunts.
7. Send 2 stories out to at least 2 different publishers- I just hate the publishing game so much, but I want the stories I've worked so hard on to be read. And, you know, it's good for my career.
8. Attend a conference and/or networking event- I haven't decided what I want this to be yet, but I'm really excited to connect with people who are passionate about the same things I am and start building contacts in my city!
9. Host a dinner party- I didn't manage to get this done this summer, and I still want to. Catering parties was something I did on a regular basis in Blacksburg, and I want to make sure that tradition follows me here.
10. Take a trip to Ikea- I keep going back and forth on exactly what I need to get for my apartment, but regardless, I definitely need to go to there. Plus, a small confession: I've never been inside of an Ikea before. Day trip!
11. Plan a weekend vacation & do it- This was one of my favorite things from my 24 Before 24 list, so I definitely wanted to include it again.
12. Buy a piece of art- This has been on my list forever. I want to support awesome artists, and I also love the idea of having an art collection. Right now I'm itching to invest in an affordable focal piece for my bedroom.
13. Lose 10 pounds- I went back and forth on including this, and on including it in a number of pounds way. I may change this later. But long story short, I've lost about 15 pounds this year, mostly by being more active, so I want to keep that momentum going and get back to my pre-grad school weight. As always though, being healthy is the most important thing.
14. Learn some basic knitting skills & knit something- I have always loved the idea of being able to sew and knit, but never had anyone to teach me growing up. Hopefully this will be the year to make it happen!
15. Take a dance lesson- I am not a good dancer, so this is a pushing myself out of my comfort zone goal. It seems like a fun thing to do and expand my skillset (maybe?) a little bit. Who wants to be my dance partner?
16. Help Mom decorate & organize her house- This is something I've been excited about doing since I got back to Texas, but I haven't had the time to even begin to think about starting on it. I love to decorate and my mom does not at all, so this is a perfect meetup and need and ability.
17. Buy a planner & write all over it- I have been dying to get this planner for years, and just haven't had the dollars for it ever. I also have not bought any other planner because I feel like it can't compare to this one. It's time to save up or settle.
18. Read 25 books- My goal for 2015 was to read 25 books, which I may or may not be successful at. I think I'll stick with that number for the next year!
19. Eat vegan for a week- My sister, Erika, went vegan this year, and has had a really positive reaction to it in every possible way. I don't have any real intention of going vegan, or even vegetarian, but I'm interested in seeing how different my life would look, and my body would feel, on a vegan diet, and I have a sneaking suspicion it would teach me a lot of good eating habits that I could carry over into my everyday, regular eating life.
20. Learn a new go-to hairstyle- I wear my hair basically the same two ways every day and it's really time to mix things up a bit. Re-visiting my hair board on Pinterest.
21. Send out cute Christmas cards- I talked about wanting to do this last year, but hadn't really thought about it until too late. I still have (a little time) to plan ahead.
22. Start a balcony garden- My sweet sister sent me organic seed soil and an awesome mix of seeds to do this, so I need to do some research and make this happen.
23. Find a volunteer activity I enjoy- I haven't done much volunteer work since college, and I would really like to get back into it. A goal for the heart and soul.
24. Apply to a job I’m really, really excited about- I'm still hunting that dream job, whatever it may be. Sometimes the pressure to apply to things that I feel I could reasonably get an interview for is too real, and I need to allow myself to stretch and apply for jobs I truly adore, even if I feel like there's a snowball's chance in hell of getting any traction for it.
25. Start (or re-start) a long-form writing project- My love of writing started with the novel, and I didn't really move to short form writing until college. I'd like to get back into my original love and take on a new long-form writing project, OR dig up an old one and finish it.
26. Post 95 blog posts- My goal at the moment is to post 2x a week, so if there are 52 weeks in the year, and I subtract 4 weeks (to give myself a grace period) and multiply that number by 2, I come up with 95. So rather than telling myself I have to post 2x a week, giving myself a number to shoot for seems like an easier goal to be accountable to and give myself some flexibility.

I think I have a pretty good list here, and I can't wait to get started! What are your goals for the next year?

Yours Truly, Jen


This morning I spent about 45 minutes in bed past my alarm, something I've been doing a lot of lately. I've been weary and probably unexcited for the day beyond my bed. But the moment I stepped outside for my morning walk with Olive and felt the cool breeze of Fall rolling in, I felt new. I smiled our entire walk. I took deep, cleansing breaths. I felt big love for her and this day and this season.

When I was a kid, I always said Fall was my favorite season. I'm not sure why, since there's not much to show for it here in Texas. I guess I liked the back-to-school bustle, and my birthday, and the relief from the heat. I was always bored in the summer as a child, and Fall brough release, busyness.

As an adult, I've found myself feeling much nostalgia for summer. I think this has something to do with having been in Blacksburg for those years and missing out on that Texas heat. A summer there is a Texas Spring, and I yearned for swimming pools and margaritas. I have been glad to have been here this summer, though I haven't made the most of it like I could. It's been a strange couple of months. But sometimes, life does that.

In truth, I really love all of the seasons. I get tired of the same thing every day, and each new season brings change and fresh perspectives and fashion and activities and foods. Each new season makes me feel new again, too.

When we went back inside, the apartment felt stuffy, so I turned off the air conditioning and opened our big sliding door and all of the windows. Do you ever do this? It's something people do in Virginia a lot. Many homes don't even come with air conditioning there, still. The duplex Andy was living in when we met didn't have it. We'd sit Saturday mornings in front of the kitchen window eating eggs and toast. Those are some of my fondest memories from that time. It feels good to feel fresh air moving through a space, airing it out.

Olive loves windows. We sat on my bed by the one in my bedroom after I'd opened it and she lay perfectly still while I petted her softly. Between the breeze from outside and the overhead fan, the room was perfectly cool. She was calm, I was calm. I recognized that this was a perfect moment.

I think we each get a perfect moment per season, though we may not always recognize or remember them. Doesn't that seem right? I'll be on the lookout for them now, and when I feel them, I'll share them with you.

Yours Truly, Jen

P.S. I've been out sick this week, but next week I'm sharing my birthday bucket list and a book review!


I've talked recently about the importance of marking the years, about how important things happen to us all the time, whether we realize it or not. I've tried to mark some of them here, with birthday bucket lists and year end reviews.

And yet, my birthday always sneaks up on me. This is the way it's always been. My birthday tends to fall on Labor Day weekend, which made it hard to have a party growing up because my friends' families had their own plans. And one of my best friends had her birthday the following week, so she'd have her party that following weekend. My parents weren't the type to be on top of those kinds of things anyway. Then, I spent 4 of my birthdays in Blacksburg, which I celebrated with new friends and colleagues, but not with my family, which felt strange.

And, you know, I've seen a lot of the people I wanted to see after coming back to Texas in the last couple of weeks. It feels silly to say, well, now it's my birthday, so let's do that all over again.

25 feels like it's important, a quarter of a century. It feels round and whole and present. To say it aloud feels strange. 25. Like I should be somewhere by now. Where that is, I don't know.

I never was one of those people with a plan. I mean, I've always known what I wanted, and those things haven't significantly changed since childhood. I've wanted to be a writer. I've wanted a beautiful, inspiring home. I've wanted space, and I've wanted people who love me, whom I love dearly, in my life. Some of these things I've done, I have. Some I'm still working on. The dreams have always been there, but the plan never was. I never thought, oh, I'll be married by this point. I never had a wedding planned out. Maybe this is good. I never had a career mapped. I never did the math. Math and numbers aren't my strong suit, you see. I'm really good at dreaming, not as good at pinning dreams down, wrestling them into squares and boxes. That feels sad in a way, trying to corral a free and shapeless thing. And yet, how can one hope to materialize those dreams if they are made of smoke and air?

I think I've gotten off track somewhere in the writing of this thing. But then, that isn't unusual for me.

What it comes down to is that today I turn 25 and it feels significant to me, all of the sudden, though I can't reasonably explain why, since I had never loaded it (consciously) with significance before I came to it. I feel pressure to get somewhere in this year, to tip into the latter half of my twenties with a plan, with concrete dreams. Or perhaps simply to live more hopefully, more presently, to work to live, to get out there and beat this life with a wooden mallet into a shape that is beautiful and recognizable and worthy of at least my own admiration.

I told a friend of mine recently that I felt there was a lot of ground to cross before I reached 30, and I didn't see how much of it would happen, and she said, look at how much has happened in the last five years. And it's true! I moved across the country twice. I graduated from college and got into and graduated from a graduate program. I started and ended a long term relationship. And plenty of smaller stuff in between.

Plans or no plans, I'm taking these two thoughts–that life should be lived more fully, and that birthdays should be better celebrated, to celebrate and mark the passing of time–and I'm rolling with them. I'm conducting #birthdayweek, during which I will do at least one small, lovely thing every day of this, my birthday week.

How do you feel about your birthday, and how do you celebrate, dear reader?

What I Ask Myself After Going on a Date

Two weeks ago, I shared some of the conversation I have with myself before going on a date. These are moments of alternately being critical of and being kind to myself. These moments are vulnerable and filled with anxiety. Maybe you were able to empathize. Maybe you saw yourself in that conversation. Maybe this helped you understand what the person on the other side of the dating spectrum might feel like.

This week, I thought I would share some of the conversation I have with myself after going on a date.

I ask myself, was he kind?
I ask myself, did he seem interested in you?
I ask myself, did he ask good questions?
I ask myself, did the conversation feel natural?
I ask myself, did he seem nervous?
I ask myself, did he put some effort into his physical appearance for this date?
I ask myself, did the time go quickly?
I ask myself, did you find his personality attractive?
I ask myself, did you find him physically attractive?
I ask myself, is there anything you talked about that you want to follow up on?
I ask myself, is he relationship material, or only good for/looking for casual dating?
I ask myself, can I see him fitting in with my friend group?
I ask myself, did you feel more anxious or happy while you were with him?
I ask myself, did he respect your boundaries?
I ask myself, did he seem open to talking about himself?
I ask myself, does he have ambition?
I ask myself, if you had met at a party, would you have been interested in him? Why or why not?
I ask myself, was there a connection?
I ask myself, would I rather just be friends with this person?
I ask myself, if he doesn't want a second date, would I be disappointed because I really wanted to see him again, or because I feel rejected?
I ask myself, did he seem honest?
I ask myself, is he your "type?" Is it okay if he isn't?
I ask myself, did he make his intentions clear?
I ask myself, did smiling during the date feel easy or forced?
I ask myself, was he polite?
I ask myself, are we too alike?
I ask myself, are we too different?
I ask myself, where can we go from here?

I would love to hear some of your pre and post-date analysis!

Let's Talk Using the Term “Twentysomething”

Twentysomething is a word I see floating around all over the internet. It's a way that people, particularly women (it seems to me) describe themselves in profiles, posts, and about me sections. Twentysomething is like an identity, a way to quickly place yourself in space and time.

And yet, I can't help but wonder if this term is harmful. I will turn 25 in a couple of weeks. Every year I have fought my battles and gained ground. Every year I have grown, doubted myself, lost friends, made friends, changed my mind about things, changed my style, changed my priorities. If you tell me a year, I can tell you something important that happened to me during it. I can tell you 5 things, probably.

To me, twentysomething almost wipes away the struggle of each of those years, blends them into one. That decade becomes one long, playful year, and when you reach 30, you're ready...for what? For the years to start mattering again?

We have likely all heard about the lost 20's. About people taking longer to grow up. About people using their 20s to explore, delaying career and family decisions until their 30's. About people taking more time with their education, with identifying identity. Lost meaning delayed. Lost meaning "life" has been pushed back a decade, in lieu of (?) something else.

Maybe this is where the word twentysomething comes from. Twentysomething means, I'm there in that mess somewhere. Twentysomething means, I'm figuring it out, maybe.

Or maybe twentysomething is just brevity. Twentysomething is, it doesn't matter to you whether I'm 20 or 24 or 29; that number doesn't tell you about my struggle, my story. Twentysomething is, I don't update this bio very option, so it will stay accurate much longer this way than if I posted my actual age. Twentysomething is, you don't need to know my actual age, a protection of privacy. Twentysomething is, here, you get the idea.

It is likely that I've described myself in this way before, with this term, as a twentysomething. Many of you likely have this word attached to yourself in some way. Good, let's talk about it! My aim is to start a discussion. My aim is to encourage us to think about the ways we identify ourselves, to think about the language we assign to ourselves. We live in a culture of buzzwords, of word vomit. We consume it all day and it becomes us. It is called word vomit because it comes out without thought, because we cannot help it. I don't want a key descriptor of myself to by involuntary.

And yet, there too is the word 30's, used earlier in this very essay. Is this the same as twentysomething? I could almost say yes and shut my mouth about this whole thing...but the connotation seems different to me. It's something with the word "something," I think. It's the way it dismisses the latter part of the age where a 4 or 8 or 1 should be with a wave of the hand. 30's doesn't attempt to guess. It admits to its scope.

After I passed my thesis defense, my advisor asked me what my plans were after graduate school. I told him I didn't know. I told him, I'm only 23. He said, don't do that.

In fiction workshops, we always ask, what does this character want? We ask this because desire is the primary driving force for action. This is an important question for life, too. Perhaps the most important question. That's what he was asking me that day.

I have been asked this question many times since then, mostly in regards to career, and I still don't have a great answer to it, but now it's not because I haven't thought about it. I have, and I'm reading, and I'm trying things out, and I'm thinking about it every.damn.day.

Perhaps I have digressed a little. What I mean to say is that your years matter, and whether you are making big decisions or small decisions, whether you are on a career path or not, whether you've started a family or not, whether you have a 10 year plan or are still figuring out this question of what you want in life, you are moving forward every day. Or at least, I hope you are.

Maybe your age doesn't tell your story to anyone else; everyone has their own path in this world. But, those years matter to you. That number means something to you. Be aware of the passing time, be present, be thoughtful. And don't let anyone–not culture, not yourself–rob you of that.

What I Tell Myself Before Going on a Date

I tell myself, ask good questions. Don't let the conversation lull too long.
I tell myself, smile.
I tell myself, it's okay to be nervous.
I tell myself, you are too fat for anyone to love you.
I tell myself, you are a catch and anyone would be lucky to have the opportunity to be with you.
I tell myself, just enjoy the process.
I tell myself, this is good research. This will come in handy for some writing project down the road.
I tell myself, if you change your attitude about dating, it will be easier and more enjoyable.
I tell myself, I don't like dating.
I tell myself, don't drink too much. You need to be able to drive yourself home.
I tell myself, don't forget to send the address to a friend.
I tell myself, not everyone will be your soulmate.
I tell myself, it's okay to be with someone who is good for you right now.
I tell myself, more awkward people than you have done this.
I tell myself, he's just as anxious as you.
I tell myself, laugh at yourself.
I tell myself, don't wear the lipstick in case it goes well and there's a kiss at the end.
I tell myself, don't wear the lipstick in case it moves while you're eating.
I tell myself, wear the damn lipstick because you'll feel pretty in it.
I tell myself, guys don't expect a woman to be perfect.
I tell myself, this guy will not be perfect either.
I tell myself, people are inherently interesting.
I tell myself, it's your job as an interesting person to draw it out of them, to find their story.
I tell myself, you are so boring.
I tell myself, you're allowed to leave early if you're not having fun.
I tell myself, you're allowed to stay late if you are having fun.
I tell myself, you can survive anything for an hour. That's all you owe him. One lousy hour.
I tell myself, sit up straight.
I tell myself, listen, and look like you're listening.
I tell myself, this outfit says everything about you that it needs to.
I tell myself, you are too dressed up.
I tell myself, embrace the awkward. Lean into it.
I tell myself, he doesn't expect you to be hairless.
I tell myself, you can laugh about this with your girlfriends later.
I tell myself, you will never meet people sitting at home every night.
I tell myself, one of these days, one of these things will lead to something real.
I tell myself, maybe even this one. Maybe even tonight.
I tell myself, if it doesn't work out, it wasn't meant to be.
I tell myself, act like a lady.
I tell myself, screw being a lady.
I tell myself, you are not terrible for hoping he pays.
I tell myself, check your account balance just in case he doesn't pay.
I tell myself, you never know who Mr. Right will be.
I tell myself, he did not take that thing you said on the last date/text/message the wrong way.
I tell myself, it's okay to make mistakes.
I tell myself, love yourself. Be kind. Give yourself grace.
I tell myself, breathe.

Let's Talk Struggling with Work & Identity

I've been in a bit of a funk lately. It started with some hellacious PMS, and then with a period that never showed (I'm not pregnant, I just skipped a month, something I don't think has ever happened to me before). I'm exhausting myself working two jobs that barely cover my bills, and I'm not doing a good job applying for jobs that won't be so exhausting/will more easily cover my bills because I can't seem to figure out what I want to do. Or what I'm qualified to do. Or what someone will hire me to do.

I've also been struggling with the fact that I haven't been working on my own projects, a trend that started with school burnout and continued through some mild *depression* (I am not diagnosed, but it feels this way to me. Malaise may be more appropriate. Sadness. Disinterest in life. Perhaps I should stick with funk), busyness, lack of energy. I've been thinking about writing a lot lately, started feeling those whirrings again in my brain, rethinking while in the shower or falling asleep some of the things I've written but never felt were finished, starting to look at the world through a writer's lens again. That feels good. But, no real writing as of yet. No sitting in front of the computer and knocking a few pages out. I haven't even dug out a notebook to start writing ideas in again. But, this morning, I did get up when my alarm went off, early enough to write before getting ready for work. I did not write, I cleaned. Well, I am writing this. Hopefully, tomorrow I will get up when my alarm goes off and actually sit down in front of my computer and open a word processor. This is what progress looks like.

Then, there is the question of blogging. I've been asking myself, why haven't you been able to keep up with this blog? Is it because I don't actually care enough about it? I don't think so, because the idea of not having this blog makes me feel strange–guilty or sad maybe, I'm not sure which. Not free, which I feel like I would if I truly didn't want to do it anymore. I listened to this podcast the other day and Gabrielle used the term essay blog or essay bloggers in reference to what she wasn't, and something about that phrasing clicked with me. Those two words: essay and blog. I thought, maybe that's me. I thought, maybe that's what I actually want to be doing.

I wasn't a blogger in the early days of blogging, and I never really liked the idea of those strangely personal, diary-like posts (and yet, here I am). But I also find myself feeling unexcited about creating the pinable, audience-targeted content that has become so popular either. Which is not to say that content is bad–I still love consuming that content, I still appreciate it, I learn so much from it–but I've been trying to force myself to create similar content to the stuff I like to consume and I've stopped being terribly excited about writing it. This may not always be the case, and I like the idea of having a space that is open and I'm able to share a makeup post or whatever if I feel like it, but mostly I just want to write. I want to write about being a person in the world right now, and I want to talk about it with you.

Is that something any of you readers out there are interested in?

This has been terribly long and rambly, but that's where I am right now. I guess this is finding yourself in the 21st century. That will be the title of my first memoir, haha. I've thought about creating a new blog, a clean space to start with new content and new voice, but I'm also a little hesitant to slough off everything I've done so far here, because evolution is life. I'm also really excited to rekindle another online project that fell by the wayside, but I have to do a little research and backstage work and put a little money in before I can get that going. I'll share more when it's ready.

If anyone of you have stuck with me through all of this, I would love to hear your feedback. How have you pushed through your doubts and insecurities? How do you motivate yourself to pursue projects in your limited time? What job seeking secrets do you have?

Yours Truly, Jen

What I'm Listening To | Female Vocalists

While I was working on an all-time favorites summer playlist, I took a detour and just could not stop listening to atmospheric, soulful, talented female vocalists. The heart wants what it wants, okay? So I made this playlist instead.

Most of these songs are on the slower side, though if you check out these artists' bodies of work, many of them are typically more upbeat. I was just wanting something more chill and gorgeous right now. Get ready for these women to tear your soul open. Close your eyes and breathe.

What are you listening to lately? Also, what are your all-time favorite summer songs? 

Yours Truly, Jen

Friday Favorites

This week has been exhausting ya'll. Adjusting to a new work schedule and being on my feet all day has taken its toll (though I'm not complaining!). I have so many posts I'm excited to share with you, but for one reason or another, I wasn't ready to publish any of them this week. Disappointing, but I'm giving myself some grace.

I get my first paycheck tomorrow and I am so stoked! First order of business? Crossing #4 off my Summer Bucket List and paying down some personal debts. That is going to be a huge weight off my shoulders. Anyway, onto some lovely links.

This episode of This American Life will make you cry.

Hold the phone, Amy and Tina are at it again. YAAS.

Oh, and I'm such a sucker for the J. Law David O. Russell films. Joy comes out this Christmas!

This picture will make you smile.

A new song by Lana del Rey?! You know I'm on it.

As someone who has recently had a first day at a new job, this video hit close to home (in a sympathetic but also funny way). And I'm not even famous.

I have all the googly eyes for this coat rack and this perfect date night outfit.

What were your favorite links and moments this week?

Yours Truly, Jen

Friday Favorites

I love A Cup of Jo's beauty uniform post series, and this one is the picture of elegance. Can't stop looking at these photos!

Need to pick up some of these snacks to keep in my handbag and in the breakroom at work.

This post on stress and happiness. It's good to check in with yourself and see how you're really feeling!

Weekend style envy.

I have been dying over lobs and bobs again (like this one). I think I look better with long hair, but short hair is so easy ya'll. What should I do?!?!

This tiny apartment tour is inspiring.

Are you watching any of these summer TV shows? Inquiring minds want to know!

So many items are 60% off this weekend at Ann Taylor. Tough choices!

Yours Truly, Jen