Lessons I Would Teach My Younger Self

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As I write this evening, I wonder, “What did I need at 14, 15, or 16 years old? What didn’t people tell me that I would have told my younger self?”

Back then, I didn’t know I wouldn’t marry the guy I met at the Cherry Festival or that it didn’t matter that I chose to sit in the library at lunch instead of with kids I didn’t want to have surface conversations with.

I didn’t know I could go to school for art or writing and actually make a living doing it.  I had no idea the internet would create opportunities to connect, learn, and share, and I certainly didn’t expect myself to document my journey living in seven different states this past decade online.

I didn’t know I would become an alcoholic who would ruin a lot of opportunities, only to realize those opportunities weren’t meant for me anyway.  I had to mess up a lot of things to return to the person I always was- the writer who liked sitting in the library.

So, as I write, I just simplified my process.  A lot.  This book has been daunting, like a project I will never complete, yet now it makes perfect sense.

~

As I write with purpose, the words seem to flow and I can feel my energetic vibration raise as I type.  I can envision girls who had similar dreams as me feeling hopeful.  I have no doubt the power of others benefiting from my mistakes, closing the book with more confidence than when they opened it.

I may have taken a lot of wrong turns and detours, yet each twist lead me to exactly where I needed to be- and that is to continue to write.

Intuitively, I knew at an early age I wasn’t meant to conform or play by someone else’s rules.  It didn’t feel natural to “fit in;” yet living in places like San Francisco and New York made me feel “normal” for the first time in my life.

I think about the girl who fearlessly flew out to Tuscon to visit her boyfriend at 17, who graduated high school a semester early, and who skipped out on her senior year events to follow her own dreams- not anyone else’s.  The guy from the Cherry Festival would eventually meet his future wife the following year, and I would make an entirely new group of friends at a college where I knew no one.  I wouldn’t end up with a college sweetheart and I wouldn’t go through with a wedding I almost had, but I learned more about myself living in seven different cities than I ever could by playing it safe.

I had a blank journal with endless pages to fill- so I did.

Since going on my own journey, I haven’t looked back.  Although it feels as if I’ve come full circle, I’ve returned with a newfound love and appreciation for myself- and what the next chapter of my story has around the corner.

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Toxic Positivity: Embracing the Lows

As I sipped my morning coffee, I scrolled through my Instagram feed and stories.

Procrastinating, I thought about starting a new routine, what I had to do today, and all of the things I’ve put on the back burner.

To be honest, I haven’t felt like doing any of it.

Highs and lows are a normal part of everyday life- from bustling with energy to feeling like staying in bed until noon.  Perhaps it’s the weather or maybe the moon cycle, but I’ve been on the “low” end of the spectrum this past week.  Apparently, I’m not the only one.

Just when I needed it, a friend of mine shared her feelings for the day, frustrated with people who encourage her to “think positive!” and to “stop complaining.”  No matter what the day, she fearlessly expresses her emotions, pretty or not- and that authenticity is something the world needs to see.

Sharing where we are mentally is not complaining.  It’s exercising our humanness.

When we deny our feelings and our unpleasant emotions, we are simply burying them, only to resurface later.  Our emotions, our stories, and our ups and downs aren’t meant to be hidden- they’re meant to be dealt with.

“Good vibes only!” and “be happy!” are cute and all, but what are we supposed to do with the bad vibes?  The depression?  The anger?  The fear?  Are we supposed to cover it up with pastel prints and add some sparkle?  Do we continue to mask the discomfort to please someone else?

Of course not.

Toxic positivity usually isn’t about the person who is going through the emotion- but it does has everything to do with the people who encourage them to “smile!” or to “be grateful!”  Why?  It makes them more comfortable.

We can be grateful and still be sad.

We can have a bad day and be excited for tomorrow.

How we feel at the moment doesn’t determine how we will feel the next.

Perhaps there are people who are naturally sunshine and rainbows, but my guess is most of us aren’t.  I embrace my moods.  I can see light through the dark.  I don’t have to package up my pain into a smile and a facade; because there is something powerful we can do with discomfort.

Although I do believe it’s a waste of time to tell someone to “just be positive,” I don’t think being in a slump is a negative thing.  Our moods help us to determine what is going right and what is going wrong in our lives.  When things change, they make room for something different.  If we no longer are going in a certain direction, we are given a choice to alter our path.

If we can use our problems and turn them into potential, whether it’s a learning opportunity or a new idea, the world may start embracing the negative- because that is when true change happens.

 

The Day I Found My Freedom

I’ll never forget the feeling I had that March afternoon in San Francisco.

I was just dropped off at SFO, heading to my gate for my return flight to Michigan.  Tears in my eyes, I got out my phone to call my parents.

“I don’t want to go back,” I declared. “I’m going to call off the wedding.”

It was 2008, and I had been engaged for exactly seven months.  Although the engagement was quick, and I thought I was happy at the time, it didn’t take long for me to see the reality before my very eyes.

The day in, the day out.  The daily traffic into my corporate job.  Coming home to the same routine, every day, to the same person- at 23 years old.

I knew it wasn’t the life for me.  Two years earlier I had plans to move to New York City as soon as I graduated.  I didn’t expect to meet someone later that year, on my 22nd birthday on December 22nd, who would swoop me off to Kauai for Valentine’s Day and move me into their beautiful suburban house once I finished college.  I’ve always been a big believer in signs, so I thought, “maybe I’m not supposed to go to New York after all.”  There had to be a bigger reason for meeting this person on such a significant day to me.

Back in 2006, my partying was getting out of control despite my grand plans for finishing school and heading to the city.  At the time, it seemed like he was an angel saving me from myself.

I would later learn no one could save me but me.

When I told my father, he thought I was insane.  Of course, any father wants their daughter be taken care of and to have a good life.  A good life to me looked a bit different than my parents’ view, though.

The day before my flight, my half sister (who worked in SF at the time) and I talked about my relationship and my goals for life.  Before I even realized it, she knew the marriage wouldn’t work.  She challenged my views and helped me realize I should take some time to reconsider.  She helped me think differently about what I really wanted- because for over a year, someone else was trying to make all my decisions for me.

Little Italy, 2008

As the plane took off, I thought about how I would wait a couple of weeks before telling my fiancé I didn’t want to get married.  I thought about what types of jobs I could apply to in San Francisco, where I would live, and who I could become.  I daydreamed of freedom, making new friends, and exploring the magical, quirky sights of the city.  My gut told me moving was the right thing to do- and from the moment my fiancé greeted me at the gate, I knew it was over.

I didn’t wait two weeks.

I told him right away.

Of course, he tried to convince me it was a phase and how my sister was envious of me. He attempted to tell me I didn’t know what I was doing and how I was meant to be with him. All of his efforts to control me- from my diet to physical activities to what I wore- filled my brain, and I no longer felt sorry for him.

I began to have a deeper compassion for myself.

For the next week I stayed on a friend’s couch, who took a day off work with me to pack up my things.  I left my princess cut diamond on the dresser, leaving behind all the furniture I helped buy with my graduation money.  No physical object was worth sacrificing my dreams- or my future.

Who knows what would have happened had I not taken that trip to see my sister in 2008. Perhaps the wedding would have happened, and maybe I would be divorced now.  We will never know.  However, despite the judgment I received from others, I knew deep in my heart that I was making the right choice.  I knew, at 23, that I didn’t want to take the easy way out and allow the wrong man to take care of me.  I simply refused to do that.

I would have to spread my wings and fly.

I would have to make mistakes on my own.

I would somehow, someway, succeed- and despite the failures, I would learn from them- because I finally had my freedom.

Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but I do know I will never have to mourn the chances I didn’t take.  It’s been nearly 12 years since I took the leap, quit my job, and blindly moved to an apartment on California and Commonwealth Avenue.  Over the course of those 12 years, I’ve lived in a dozen more apartments, several other cities, and did eventually move to New York…

All because I chose freedom.

Lessons My Cat Has Taught Me

I’ve been a cat lover for as long as I remember.

When I was a little girl I tried to interact with a family friend’s cat, who immediately ran away from me as I vied for her attention.  “Well, this isn’t fun,” my four year old self thought.

We finally got a cat of our own, Kattie, when I was seven years old.  My mom took care of all the “heavy lifting;” the bills, the doctor appointments, and of course, the litter box.  Kattie wasn’t as cuddly as I would have hoped, though- and it was probably because I wasn’t patient with her.

I’ve lived with a variety of cats over the years, from Kattie to Cali, and later in Boston when I helped care for Clarissa and Tuxedo.  Now, at 34 years old, I decided to adopt a cat of my very own- and I’m his sole caretaker and companion.

Ollie and I have only been each other’s partners for a few days now, but he’s teaching me important lessons all of the time.

Before meeting me, he came from a hoarding situation and lived at the humane society for seven long months.  It wasn’t his favorite place, and many people overlooked him because of his shy nature.  However, as soon as I met him, there was something special- and I was thrilled to be able to give him a forever home.

He may have cowered away from me at first, but I understood he was scared.  I didn’t know what happened to him in the past, and much like a person, he probably had every reason to shy away from unknown people.  Oh, Ollie- how I relate.

Even though I’d love him to want to hop on my bed and give me affection, I know it will take him time.  Thanks to Ollie, I’m learning to be even more gentle, patient, and responsible.

He’s made me think about caring for someone other than myself, and at times, care for myself even more.  I’m more conscious of my home, my finances, and spending enough time with him.

We all have pain in our past, whether it’s loss, trauma, addiction, or loneliness.  Cats are no different.  He may be irresistibly cute, but I need to remember to respect his space, just like I would want from a person.

We’ve enjoyed sitting still together, playing with his bird toy, and exploring my townhouse.  I’ve found him in unexpected places, and he’s never failed to make me laugh or smile.

Learning to care for love a little being has been one of my biggest joys, and he gives me something to look forward to every single day.  I may not have any interest in having a human child, but I’m absolutely content with my beautiful fur baby.

A Stylish Christmas

It’s been fun to dress my new apartment with holiday decor!

For the past three years I haven’t taken the time to decorate- or couldn’t- because I was sharing my home with roommates.  Now that I’m back in Traverse City with a home of my very own, I’ve finally been able to invest in pieces that I can keep (and store!) for years to come.

I always like to opt for a minimalist look, so my “less is more” mentality holds true during the Christmas season.

I found pieces that both fit my personality and style while getting into the holiday spirit- right down to the painting of a blonde girl driving a red car donned with gifts and a wreath.

It’s officially less than a month until Christmas, and I fully intend to enjoy my festive home until January.

I would love to see how you’ve decorated this year!

Enjoying a Quiet Life

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As I sipped my morning coffee and watched the rain fall, an article from Elephant Journal appeared in my news feed:

It’s Okay to Want to Live a Slow & Quiet Life.

How often do you question if the life you are currently living is the life that feels most authentic to you?

One of the biggest questions I’ve mulled over the last eight months is, “What kind of life do I really want?”

As I pick through the versions of the lives I’ve lived over the last 15 years, what I keep coming back to is a life founded on simplicity. The life that resonates the most with me was a time I lived on a 50-acre vineyard and farm. My days felt like molasses—a slow, steady, and sweet flow.

It was a life of less in many ways but full of so much more richness because I was away from the busyness of life that is easy to get caught up in. I had time to experience the slow beauty of what was around me, the warm, summer breeze weaving between the apple trees, the distance cries from my flock of sheep, and green grass as it tickled my feet when I walked in it.

Amanda Whitworth

As I read the author’s experiences and journey to simplicity, I resonated with each word.  Being present is a beautiful thing, and could never be beat by bright lights or fast-paced glamour.

The reaction I usually get when people hear I moved back to Michigan is usually “wow, what a change” or “you must be bored.”

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even in Boston I spent a lot of time to myself and in quiet reflection.  I enjoyed days in the park writing and walked thousands of miles, just snapping photos and listening to music.  My life didn’t have any of the luxuries I was taught would make me feel “complete.”

I embraced what was right in front of me.

Although I used to spend my time going out, dating, and finding chaos, I couldn’t imagine living my life that way anymore.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than going home to a quiet apartment, reading a good book, or finding solace in nature.

Simplicity has become a big part of my life, and taking on the “less is more” mentality has lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.

It doesn’t take much to be happy when you’re happy within.  That’s the best gift of all.

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I’m Not Ignoring You, I’m Just Living In The Moment

Each minute of every day, we have communication right there in our pocket (or in my case, a Henri Bendel handbag).

From texts to calls, our phones never cease to ring, beep, or buzz.  We receive social media alerts, Tweets, and comments.  Since it’s so easy to get a hold of one another, people sometimes forget that we all have our own lives, obligations, and self care to attend to.  It’s not necessary to respond to everything we receive right away.

In this day and age, it’s crucial to take the time to go “off the grid” to focus on what’s right there in front of you.  Whether it’s spending face time with friends and family, reading a book, or enjoying time in nature, it’s so important to put down the phone and be in the moment.  Embracing what is right in front of you is what life is all about.

You don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why it took you a few hours to respond, nor do you need to feel obligated to check your Facebook feed every hour.  It’s important to remember that life is happening around us every minute, and although the virtual world can be fun (and important for staying in touch with our loved ones), being mindful and in the moment is the greatest gift of all.

So, put down your iPhone and do something that takes you back to your childlike joy.

Your mental health will thank you.

Where I See Myself

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“I want to write. I want to write stories that make people feel less alone than I did. I want to make people laugh about the things in life that are painful. That’s what I want to do.” –Hannah, Girls

I am finally finishing Girls, one of my favorite TV shows.  Over the past couple of years I’ve been absorbed in my own life, without HBO (until now) or television in general.  However, it’s a good thing I am finishing the series when I am, because the synchronicities between Hannah Horvath and myself are out of control.

Not only is she an only child from Michigan like me, she moved to New York City with the dream of becoming a writer.  She got herself into ridiculous situations, met a plethora of crazy characters, and even was published in the Modern Love section of the New York Times- yet another goal of mine.

When asked where she wanted to be in three to five years by author Chuck Palmer (who stated how much he loves Traverse City, my hometown), she told him she wanted to write.

The vulnerability of writing is powerful, healing, and helpful to others- and like Hannah, I want to write to make people not feel so alone, too.

I’ve never been good at “jobs;” as a creative person, I’ve struggled in office environments.  I’ve had creative differences with people I have worked for.  I have had a vision, a dream, and a wild streak- something that employers generally don’t value or understand.

Freelance writing is something I am looking to do full-time, yet working on my book is my top priority right now.  In addition to writing two Modern Love stories, I have an outline for a fictional, yet semi-autobiographical book based on my life in New York City and beyond.

We will see where my path leads, but I know who I am, and I know what I am good at.  I know my dreams and goals, and in this chapter, I won’t let sitting at someone else’s desk get in my way.

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