July 2017: What I’m Into

July. proper noun. Perhaps my favorite month of the year; contains the 4th of July and my birthday and the height of summer within its short 31 days.

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Oh, dearest July. This month has been squashed full of friends and fun and a little work and squeezing every last drop out of summer. I never understand why it has to go by so fast.

Reading

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles. Ah, this wonderful book. It’s currently ranking high in my favorites from 2017. The story follows a man who spends his life on house arrest in a posh Moscow hotel. I don’t always like sweeping stories that cover decades, but this is paced just exactly right. Towles’ descriptions, footnotes, and literary allusions are also witty and lush and delightful. (Plus, reading this inspired me to start Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Not just any book could do that.)

Till We Have Faces – C.S. Lewis. Another absolute favorite from this year. I read this a few years ago and didn’t love it. The characters, admittedly, are hard to like, and some parts are flat-out weird. But this time around, the depth and beauty of Lewis’s myth retold came through. Knowing the myth of Eros and Psyche, in addition to reading more of Lewis’s nonfiction, helped me see his thoughts on love and on humanity’s place before God much more clearly. Going to a book discussion to talk through the tricky questions didn’t hurt, either!

The Weight of Glory – C.S. Lewis. This summer has been full of C.S. Lewis. I am not complaining. Adam and I joined a book group to talk through The Weight of Glory, and throughout our discussions I was continually struck by the idea that we settle so much for the little, unsatisfying things that we know and forsake the hugeness of knowing God more deeply. Lewis’s wit and accessible metaphors are wonderful as well.

Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz Gilbert writes from her own experience about the practice of creative living. I didn’t think this was groundbreaking, but it was a timely reminder that valuing the creative process is just as important as the end product (and how that end product is received).

The Whole Brain Child – Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. This book is walks through how kids’ emotions interact with the rest of their brains. I read it as a teacher working to engage with all of students’ minds, and my biggest takeaway is that kids’ feelings need to be addressed before they can do any thinking about problems and solutions. A helpful reminder.

Currently reading – The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoevsky. Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott.

 

Watching

Julius Caesar. Adam organized a movie night with a Christian study center around this film by the Royal Shakespeare Company, which sets Shakespeare’s classic in modern-day Africa. While the film is challenging to watch at some points (there’s a whole lot of murder and suicide), the setting definitely emphasized how timeless Shakespeare’s works are. His questions of power and rebellion are just as pertinent today.

The Tree of Life. I’ll be honest – I did not understand all of this film. It’s a dreamy, twisting representation of a man’s processing through his childhood, with extra commentary on the nature of life, family, and shame. The cinematography was lovely, at least, and it did spark fascinating discussion.

Peter Pan. Backyard productions with sisters are lots of fun.

Parks and Rec. This is possibly my favorite TV show, and yet…I have never finished it. Shame on me. I’m working on it.

 

Listening

The TED Radio Hour. This is my favorite running podcast – it dives right in to interesting issues, and the guests change about every 10 minutes so I get something new every mile or so. My favorite stories have been about a man who tried to get rejected every day for 90 days in A Better You, and the amazing exploration of kids’ brains in Unstoppable Learning.

The Liturgists. Favorite episodes from this month’s listening have been on the Bible and on the Enneagram.

 

Loving

This challenge. It’s ridiculously hard. I succeeded…but barely.

 

Sociable Cider Werks. Adam and I tried their tap room, and their flight of cider was excellent. My favorite is no longer on the tap list, but the Freewheeler is a classic for a reason.

Playing piano. I invested in a decent keyboard this month, and it’s been refreshing to plunk away again.

Homemade iced tea. Making iced tea on my stove isn’t even hard, but it makes me feel so economical and thrifty. Trader Joe’s Mango Black tea with just a little simple syrup is extra tasty.

 

Doing

Teaching summer school. I recently finished up my brief stint as a middle school math teacher, and I am so ready to teach books and reading in the fall! For now, though? Lovely, unemployed summer.

Spending time with friends. One of our favorite couples is moving, and we squeezed in some evenings with them before their transition started. Rachel and Joel, we will miss barbecuing and playing board games with you!

Lots of lake time. Adam and I split the Fourth of July weekends with both of our families and got in some good time on the water. Then in mid-July, a huge storm hit my family’s cabin, and my grandparents lost most of the trees on their property. We drove up for an unexpected cleanup weekend, and it was tragic to see how much the landscape changed in such a short time, though the support from family and community was encouraging. Finally, we spent another weekend up north so I could celebrate my birthday at the cabin. Plenty of good food and waterskiing was the best way to spend the day.

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More birthday celebration! The partying continued with a quick catch-up with a college friend and with a fun date with Adam. We stopped by a Carnegie Library on our way to dinner at The Kenwood, and topped off the evening by watching Beauty and the Beast. (See the library connection? He gets me.)

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Half a million miles + cute but not comfy flats = no shoes in nice pictures…

Running a half marathon! Let’s be honest – running in July is not exactly pretty. Adam and I attempted a long run on the Fourth of July, and those were possibly the longest 7 miles of my life. We spent the rest of the month strategizing how to not die of heat stroke while still getting our miles in. It all paid off when, at the end of the month, we both survived our second half marathons! I finished in 2:14:53, 7 seconds under my goal time, and managed to run the entire thing. My blisters have almost healed, and overall I’m feeling great!

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My sister got up ridiculously early to cheer us on. She may not have got a finisher’s medal, but she wins all of the awards.

Celebrating weddings. Friends who live out of state held a wedding reception in MN, and another friend had a bridal shower…on the same day. Both events were sweet – so much love is in the air!

Writing. Though the blog was relatively quiet this month, I’ve been working on some side ideas and have been braver about seeking feedback (thanks, writing group!). It’s been both challenging and inspiring.

 

What have you been into this month? Linking up with Leigh Kramer, as always.

Birthday

Birthday. noun. According to Dictionary.com, “a day marking or commemorating the origin, founding, or beginning of something.”

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

One year ago, I sat in my dorm room and hit the “publish” button for the first time. Happy birthday, dear blog, happy birthday to you.

I feel like this is supposed to be a big deal and that I should make up celebration-y things in its honor: My readership has exploded! My writing and character have grown so much! But I don’t know if those things are actually true. I started with a readership of, well, zero, so having any readers is noteworthy. If I evaluate my own performance, my thoughts are, “Oh look! Another sentence started with a conjunction! Another anecdote about perfection! More proof that I have gone nowhere in a year!”

So we’re not going to go there.

Here’s what I’m probably not supposed to write on the birthday of my baby blog: When I started this, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I didn’t talk about my writing and balked at sharing it. I didn’t think that my minimal writing experience and kind-of English major made me qualified.

All of these things are still true.

But when I let myself see, there are other, more important things that are true as well.

Other people have read and felt, so they say. Letting them into my head is terrifying, but it’s better than thoughts swelling too-large, unexposed. Molding ideas with words pushes deeper thinking, which leads to deeper living (sometimes). The writing is intentional here, the words rubbing harder against art than in scrawled journal pages. On quiet library mornings and late nights full of drowning thoughts, typing words keeps me sane. Perhaps blogging sucks away time, steals sleeping hours, and makes me more concerned with site stats than I should be. But it has been worth it.

These things are small, simple, un-revolutionary. But even when I don’t know what I’m doing and think someone else could do it better, they are enough to keep me going.

That is something worth celebrating.

So happy birthday, Girl, Defined. Here’s to another year.

Notice

Notice. verb. According to Dictionary.com, “To pay attention to or take notice of; to perceive; become aware of.”

Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

This post is what happens when you are fresh out of things to write about. This is what happens when your soul is in a state of in-between, wrestling between winter and spring, and you are sick of analyzing it. This is what happens when your end-of-the-year self wants a sprinkle of joy.

You make up a challenge for yourself.

You remember that a professor once told you that noticing is one of the most neglected spiritual disciplines. As you unravel what it means to be a writer and a Christian, you begin to see her point. The writer works in details, seeing and communicating through the small, a shrug of shoulders or an unmade bed. God works in whispering detail too, revealing himself in ripples on a lake and fledgling emotions. You think you’re missing these things. So you challenge yourself to notice for a week and to write down what you see.

At least that’s what I did.

I spent this week trying to be aware, to snag the small moments and quit rushing blindly through my life. At night, full of sleepy reflection, I typed out the details. It was good, even when this week was imperfect. There were crappy times, and I noticed those too. But I realized that catching moments, the full spectrum of them, makes my heart beat.

This is what I noticed this week.

 

Sunday: I realize that I had a really good weekend. I was actually aware in the ordinary moments. I tuned in to the details of my needs, going deeper than “I’m cranky.” When I was tired, I napped. When I was bored, I read a book. When I itched to create, I rolled paper into tiny roses and baked. In an effort to maintain my good mood and make the most of my life and generate something to write about because I’m totally out of ideas, I decide to notice the details this week.

 

Monday: I notice how wearing polka dot rain boots makes me want to splash in puddles. So I do, despite a leaky seam and people who might laugh at the weirdo walking through water. Late afternoon crabbiness hits after sitting under fluorescent lights and correcting grammar assignments. I make myself go for a run, knowing that it is the best remedy. I don’t want to, but I do anyway. The ice patches that covered the sidewalks on Saturday are now shiny skins of water. My side aches. I should have drank more water today. My heart pounds, telling me to walk. Sometimes it wins. But more often, my brain tells me to keep going, step by step, and I do. I focus less on preparing my thighs for distant Swimsuit Season and more on pushing them across the approaching finish line. Endorphins and pounding music erase my moodiness. I like endorphins. A lot. I feel strong.

 

Tuesday: I notice that the quote from our chapel speaker sticks in my mind, a zinger from G.K. Chesterton that reads:

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

I realize that it’s been a while since I marveled at a sunset, that day slips into night and I am unaware. I expect grand variety and endless entertainment, dismissing the mundane as stuff I’ve seen before. In extra awkward minutes between events, I read a book rather than mindlessly surfing the Internet. I notice my mood lifted, the time stretched and blessed. Tides of worry, overwhelm, recede, overwhelm, recede, as prayer and human flesh war. I feel where my soul is raw, seeking comfort and stability. So I play music that speaks truth with guitar and poetry and name my moods with words instead of sighs. It smooths the frantic waves a bit, though they still wash in. I wonder if they always will.

 

Wednesday: I notice that my day seems eternal. I fumble through failure. I mess up minor things at work. They are manageable, but add to a string of screw-ups that unsettle my illusions of competence.

I give blood. The idea of being stabbed and having my life-sustaining fluids pulled out makes me twitchy, and I edge towards fainting every time. I make it through, deep breathing steady and eyes away from the red coursing from my arm, until the tube is clamped, the blood stops flowing, and my body realizes the metal embedded in it. It panics, and the room starts swimming. As the Red Cross guy lays me flat, the needle dislodges from my vein. Apparently this is a bad thing. I become fully aware of its dull presence, still sticking, now hurting.  In order for my blood to be used, I must have blood samples drawn from my other arm. I am already stretched flat, the ceiling still fuzzy, one arm dully throbbing. I say why not. The vein in my other arm is small. The needle won’t take, the blood won’t come, and it hurts. I am poked a lot. I still don’t know if it worked. I feel failure quavering behind my eyes. None of this is my fault, but I still feel like I have done something wrong.

I climb stairs to a meeting. I am the only one there. I have the wrong meeting time, and the correct time butts up against another commitment. I rush back to my room, mad about messing up my schedule, cranky about my throbbing arms, frantic to fit 17 things into one little hour. I take a deep breath. I forget to do an assignment. I feel panic bubbling when I think I’m going to be late and be an inconvenience. A few minor mix-ups, and I feel like my life is falling apart.

Then I eat frozen yogurt and talk to lovely people and feel a little better. I thought noticing details would get rid of the crappy days. It doesn’t. I’m tired. I’m behind on homework. I feel blue bruises forming in each elbow. I remind myself that I’m going to be okay.

 

Thursday: Classes are canceled for a day of volunteering with local ministries. I am generally not good at serving. I hoard my hours and give them up under unenthusiastic spiritual inclination. But this time is different. We go to a ministry for urban elementary students. The place swarms with African American kids, buzzing with their spring break energy. I head to the gym, directionless, realizing my awkwardness and how bad I am at small talk. I find a rhythm twirling Double Dutch ropes and playing basketball. I dribble against a dude half my height and play 2-on-2 in jeans. I am rather rusty, but no one cares. The passing of time doesn’t cross my mind. I rebound for a seventh grader who shoots threes better than I ever did (not that that’s hard). Her smile at the floor when I offer a high-five rekindles my desire to coach, to watch confidence and athleticism bloom through a sport that’s woven into my story. After lunch, I squeeze into the back of a supply closet and arrange boxes, stacking summer math curriculum and craft foam. It is ordinary, unsexy service. But they say, as slow order appears from chaos, that we’re meeting needs. In that moment, my small skills of basketball and order-creating feel God-given.

In the evening, I listen to a passionate woman talk about bridging cultures and why Christians aren’t particularly good at it. She is fascinating, but I have to fight to stay present. The list of things to do pushes against the big, messy ideas knocking as she talks. I’m still not very good at the in-the-moment thing. Doing it is hard work.

 

Friday: I notice, like every other person in the Cities, that it’s snowing ridiculous amounts. My 7:50 class is canceled, but I don’t know it until I get to class. I am dressed and makeup-ed, caffeinated chai tea in hand, and going back to bed seems pointless. I watch the snow blow from the tall library windows. This storm in December would have been beautiful. It’s less charming in April. I feel sudden apathy about everything. I decide to try to be thankful for small things: peanut butter on toast, warm boots, polka dots, stolen writing moments. Naming these things helps. I wonder why I feel obligated to be perpetually happy and immediately shoo away bad moods. My mood brightens when the sun comes out, and I question if it’s normal to be so affected by the weather.

And then the weekend begins. I am swept up in fried green beans and good conversation and high heels and paint on canvas. I forget to notice. But it’s okay.

Noticing still feels like work. It did not make this week perfect. The bruises on my elbows are still there, fading to yellow-green. I struggled to not wish away the minutes during the sermon at the early service.  But it made things better, fuller, more beautiful. I saw the slow approach of spring, the wavering of my mood, the life-giving that comes from human connection. It was absolutely worth it.

So I’m going to try again next week. I won’t write about it here, but if you see me tromping through puddles or looking at the sky more than normal human beings, you’ll know what’s up.

Want to join me?

 

Heart

Heart. noun. According to Dictionary.com, “A hollow, pumplike organ of blood circulation; the center of the total personality, especially with reference to intuition, feeling, or emotion; the center of emotion, especially as contrasted to the head as the center of the intellect.” Don’t worry, this has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day.

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Image via Pinterest

Friends, I have been in a funk lately.

My apologies if you’ve had to put up with me.

The loose ends of my heart are tangled and confusing. I find myself vacantly staring out the window more than ever, and it’s not for the view of never-ending snow. I don’t know what I want or what my problem is or what I can do to fix myself. Things I thought were decided are becoming uncertain once again. It’s wearying. The dreary still-winter outside isn’t helping.

But a small miracle is happening. In spite of my angst, my heart keeps beating, doing the everyday work of survival. Even though I am distracted by foggy discontent, the sun still beams golden across my dorm room floor. Beautiful words still zing my soul and make me inhale deep. Piano-driven harmonies still smooth the tension in my shoulders. There are still things that make my heart beat fast with anticipation and slow with comfort and alive with purpose.

Watch this video if you have 90 seconds to spare, and you might begin to see what I mean.

When I get stuck in a season of questioning and confusion, I withdraw and neglect the hard work of conversation and being nice. My mood sways with hormones and churning thoughts. Self-pity runs rampant, and I forget that joy is a choice.

I’m going to drive myself crazy. Along with anyone who has to put up with me for more than five minutes.

So even though I’m still in a wonky place, I’m going to choose to spot beauty and goodness. For the next little while, I’m going to write about what makes my heart beat. I’m going to notice the things that make my breath catch and wonder at the art hiding in corners of my life and write about them. This is not a hard and fast rule, so don’t freak if other topics appear in this space. But right now, I feel like I need to write about what I love. My constant introspection and mental analysis are getting a little weighty. So I’m giving myself a break from sorting out my brain and I’m going to capture the things that makes me feel alive. They might be flaky or sentimental or meaningless to anyone who’s not me. And that’s okay.

This is not a matter of trying to gloss over the hard stuff, to make my heart surface-level happy and to tidy up messy soul-work. This is a matter of survival, of purposefully seeking the beautiful God-given in each day, because otherwise I will lose my mind and hope. I believe that we must deal with the crap of life, staring it in the face and smacking it to pieces if necessary. But I also believe that we must find beauty even when the rough and dark happen, that we must look for ways that the invisible God is showing up.

This is how I’m balancing light and dark, heavy and hope.

Stay tuned.

Paralyzed

Paralyzed. adjective. According to Dictionary.com, “To bring to a condition of helpless stoppage, inactivity, or inability to act.”

I have a confession.

Sometimes this writing thing scares me.

Since my last post, I’ve been paralyzed, unable to choose a topic or put together words that feel meaningful or important. I worry that if I don’t write something stellar, no one will care what I have to say. I’m scared that I’m going to get it wrong.

This is so typical of me. Sorry that I can’t get over this.

If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning, you know that I struggle with the quest to be perfect, to control everything so that it’s neat and tidy and logical. But in the past few days, I’m being reminded once again that there is little in life I can control. It’s hitting me hard. And it freaks me out a little.

I can’t control how people respond to me, whether they hang on my every word or snicker when I turn my back. The most brilliant thing I’ve ever written will not resonate with everyone. Even if I rocked at small talk, I might still come off as an awkward weirdo. A new Pinterest-perfect outfit every day would not ensure my universal admiration.

I’ve been trying to make people love me, to perform flawlessly so they’ll find nothing to dislike. And it’s not working. Perfection is exhausting and uninspiring and makes me cranky.

So I’m going to make progress, to step forward in the only small way that I know how. I am making the choice to stop worrying and paralyzing myself. And I am going to write.

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Image via Pinterest

Right now, progress is not crafting the perfect post, snark and insight with an inspiring image to match. Progress is not gaining more readers than ever. Instead, progress is writing because it makes me happy. Progress is continuing to type even when my words feel stilted. Progress is doing the work regardless of the results and feedback I get.

If I look back at the roots of this space, I did not start blogging because I wanted to be famous or because I am an attention hog or because I need constant affirmation that I am a good writer. I started blogging because I love to write. I like the person I become as I shape words into images and ideas. Writing makes me more observant, someone who notices the sideways whirl of snow under the streetlights and the errant thoughts that surface while I gaze out the window. Arranging words helps me snare and name the elusive emotions that I suck at talking about. Writing feels like prayer.

So I will silence my inner critic and write. It might be messy. It’s possible that no one will care. And that’s okay. Because I will be making progress, moving out of the paralysis that keeps me from being my best, most authentic self. I hope that it means I will be writing here more often, about the inconsequential, the things that confuse me, the happy random things I love. It won’t be perfect. And I’m starting to be okay with that.

Answers

Answers. plural noun. According to my desktop dictionary, “A solution to a problem or dilemma; a thing said, written, or done to deal with or as a reaction to a question, statement, or situation.” In this post, I have none.

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image via Pinterest

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I’ve been feeling unsettled this semester.

It’s made me a bit angsty. I’ve become extra-introverted. Homework has been unmotivated drudgery. Untangling my emotions enough to write is really hard work. I’ve been grasping for answers that will fix my issues.

And I’m still waiting in the middle of the mess.

Most of the time, I write about experiences from the rearview mirror, when I’ve gained perspective and have a sense of humor and can conclude with a neat little lesson. Today, I’m looking myself in the mirror. The regular one, that shows me right now, in this moment. Today, I’ve got no lessons. No neatness. No answers. And I’m sharing it, because I hope and pray that I’m not the only one who feels like this.

This is the girl I see in the mirror today.

She gets cranky with winter, so much cold and biting wind, and longs for summer and diving into warm waters and sitting in the sunshine and baking the cold feet that never seem to warm up. She wants to go outside without zipping a jacket up to her chin and see something other than eternal, blinding white.

She sits in Christian Theology, daring the abstract terms to make sense at 7:50 in the morning, drinking tea that she’s learning to like, grasping and waiting to figure out what exactly she believes, when she too will have all of the right answers like the professor lecturing from yellowed notes, drawing redemption promised and applied on the whiteboard in barely visible marker.

She tries on too many outfits in the mornings. She attempts to dress like a hip young professional three days a week and to avoid blowdrying her hair. She wonders if she’s getting too vain, if people are noticing the scabby spot on her nose from a cold and too many Kleenexes.

She wants to hug the little boy at her placement tight, the one who comes up and leans his head on her shoulder and quietly asks her to read with him, shows her when he gets a scratch, dark eyes desperately seeking hers and strong, small brown fingers finding her dry, pale ones.

She thinks about writing, wonders what shape hers will take. She tries to concoct story for a Fiction class, where her imagination is critiqued and her emotions are stamped with a grade. She tries to form words that make sense and beauty. She’s pretty sure she’s doing it all wrong. She questions her place, her audience in a world of mommy bloggers and Christians with all of the answers and people who somehow have time to write every single day when she’s just trying finish her homework and remember to make lunch. She wonders if she’ll ever make a difference, if her words will ever reach audiences of people she’s never met. She wonders what she has to do to get there. She wonders if that’s really what she wants.

She contemplates art. She thinks that right now she’s making some crappy stuff, something that not even abstract artists would approve. She doesn’t know how to fix that. She hopes that other people are wondering the same thing, that voicing the scary and unfinished is worth something.

She realizes she doesn’t have any answers. She couldn’t write a post advising singles on surviving Valentines Day because she wobbles between cracking snarky comments about couples and desperation to find a valentine in her mailbox. She couldn’t create a list of 4 ways to get more out of reading your Bible because she forgets to most days. She doesn’t quite know what it looks like to live with God, even after reading a book and leading a Bible study about it.

She’s trying to wait in the unsettled, to remember the quotes recommending patience and to let them sink into her soul. She doesn’t really like it. She hasn’t figured it out yet. So she clothespins paper hearts to yarn in the window of her dorm room. She writes grammar tests and grades homework. She skims theology books and sneaks YA lit on Saturday mornings. She eats Honey Nut Cheerios and browses blogs and stays up too late on weekends. She keeps on living. She doesn’t really know what other choice she has.

Ambition

Ambition. noun. According to my slightly modified version of Dictionary.com’s definition, “An earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, and the willingness to strive for its attainment:”

I am really good at setting goals. It may be one of my gifts.

Once upon a time, I had to set goals for a class about personal responsibility. One of my goals was to run 3 miles. For the girl who wanted to be homeschooled in first grade so she wouldn’t have to run in gym class, this was a ambitious thing. Self-imposed methods for meeting this goal involved a daily calendar, slowly increased distances every other week, mapmyrun.com, and a routine every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. I was in my element. And I rocked (in other words, survived) the 5k at the end.

Another time (okay, like every single Friday during the school year) I had the goal of actually getting all of my homework for the week completed. Talk about ambitious. To do so, I mapped out my assignments for each day and figured out a stellar schedule for finishing everything with only moderate amounts of procrastination and panic. To make sure I actually followed the schedule, I outlined to-do lists for each day. I may or may not have added items that were obvious or already complete to these lists. Just saying. But I got everything done by the end of the year, so something must have worked out right.

Anyone who is not Type A is most likely judging me right now. Judge away, my friend. At least I get stuff done.

This summer, there is one specific thing I want to get done. I want to write more. In order for that to happen, I need to go public with this ambitious-for-me goal: one blog post every week.

There’s a reason I’m posting about this. If I say this out loud (and not just when I’m talking to myself), there is a greater chance it will get done. Reason number one, I am a people pleaser, and knowing that someone expects something of me is a surefire way to get me going. Number two, the summer streaks by fast. If I don’t prioritize my time, the days will slip by in a chlorinated wave and I will waste my summers on things that really aren’t that important. (Ahem. Like the hour I spent ransacking online clearance sections tonight. Although I could claim that was important because I found $15 colored jeans that may actually be long enough for me. When you are over six feet tall, this could be considered a miracle. But I digress.) Number three, I think writing is important. Even if no one except my mother ever reads this, I want to keep doing it because it makes me a less crabby person. And it’s fun. And of all of the hobbies I could take up while summering in the boondocks, it seems like the most beneficial.

Well. Now that’s out in the world, and we’ll see what gets accomplished. Now if I tell you that with the rest of the summer, my ambitions include running four miles, actually finishing Les Miserables, and avoiding sunburn, let’s see if those things happen too.

Conclusion

Conclusion. noun. According to Dictionary.com’s elaborate definition, “end.”

The party is over.

The house is quiet, the robe and mortarboard are stowed away, the cheesecake is gone, and my little sister’s high school career is finished. Tis the time of year for graduations. And for conclusions.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with these buggers.

At my own graduation, I was thrilled by the prospect of moving on from my tiny hometown, of gaining independence, of escaping the same-old, same-old that comes from living in a place with no strangers and one restaurant. But even I, the girl who refused to cry during the ceremony because I was so dang excited to be done, felt a twinge of nostalgia, the significance of the moment that was passing. Even I had to admit the unknown, looming future was a teensy bit scary, and that I wasn’t quite sure how things were going to pan out.

This battle sneaks over into the realm of books and words, too. I am conflicted when I flick the last page of a spellbinding book, reveling in knowing how the story ends but dreading saying goodbye to the alternate universe I’ve discovered. No more vivid characters to engage in imaginary conversations. No more discovery in new places and times. No more intriguing plot to untwist. According to Pinterest, other people have this problem, too. It’s diagnosed as a book hangover. The dread of the book hangover is the reason I’ve been soaking up chapters of To Kill a Mockingbird for months, desperate not to leave the world of saucy seven-year-olds and small-town Southern drama. I’m no good at writing my own conclusions, either. I like the idea of wrapping up a piece, finishing with a memorable pop and loose ends knotted in a neat little bow. But what turns out pretty and satisfying for others feels repetitive, pretentious, or annoying when I try.

And then, bigger than a book hangover or a flopped final paragraph, there are the real-life conclusions. The end of a favorite class. The goodbye to comfortable routines and places. The partings with far-away friends who won’t be seen for months. After two years of college and countless conclusions in other arenas, I still have no idea how to do these well. Do I recount sentimental memories, reliving all of the good times we’ve had? Do I offer some dry, direct derivative of “I like you. Have a great summer.”? Do I go in for a hug?

I have no answers to these questions. And I also have no great insights about conclusions. All of my experience has led me to this stunning realization: they happen. We can’t hold life still, can’t cling to the last few days of high school or college or a relationship and stretch them out until we’re ready to let go. Things are going to change. They might go down the toilet, or they might turn out tremendously. But we cannot change the fact that life is going to keep chugging along, chapters closing and doors banging shut along the way. I guess all we can do is try to keep up, to look back and smile but to keep moving, to keep living.

And that’s all I’ve got. See? I told you I was bad at conclusions.

Perfectionism

Perfectionism: noun. According to Dictionary.com, “A personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.”

Dear authors of Dictionary.com: You have a nice start, but I have a few things to add to this definition. Trust me, I’m an expert here.

Perfectionism. It’s a suffocating pressure to meet every single expectation of every single person you know. It’s the devil on the shoulder whispering that you might fail if things aren’t flawless, smoothed over with shiny paint masking any imperfections. It’s the mental censoring that goes into every communication that secretly urges for constant and perpetual seamless sentences, witty phrases, and soft-spoken grace, fearing that one wrong word will alienate forever.

Can you tell that this has been my lifelong battle?

When I was learning to talk, my mom claims that I refused to say a word if I didn’t know that I could say it perfectly. When I asked my grandma for a brownie but wouldn’t say “Grandma” because my two-year-old mind was freaked out about stumbling over clustered consonants, Grandma refused to hand over the chocolate until I said her name. We can learn a few things from this: chocolate solves everything, and I’ve had this problem since I could barely talk. And as I got older, things didn’t improve much.

In second grade, I remember being frustrated by a particularly puzzling word find that we were required to finish. My teacher refused to give me any hints and wouldn’t let me move on to the next project until I was done, so I prayed desperately at bedtime that God would help me find the remaining words so I could catch up to my friends and stop feeling like a failure. In fifth grade, I got a D on a math test and had to leave the room so I could be distraught without the judgmental, questioning stares of my classmates who would wonder why the smart kid almost flunked and why she was crying about it. In tenth grade, I played on the varsity basketball team and blamed myself for every loss, adding up the shots I missed and the turnovers I made and rebounds I didn’t snag to see if the outcome would have changed had I done my job better.

If you can’t tell, my childhood involved a lot of stress and and a lot of tears.

Now, years later, I like to think I’ve changed. I don’t cry as much as I used to, thank the Lord. I don’t freak out as much about things like unfinished word finds. But on some days, I really don’t feel like I’ve grown that much. On those days, perfectionism lurks just under the surface, waiting to latch on to the nearest mistake and throw me into confusion and shame because I messed up and showed the world that I am not seamless and spotless and shiny. Take, for instance, this little blog. It’s newborn and rough and vulnerable, a venture that I have told approximately one person about. And it scares me.

Maybe this is because my perfectionism is bleeding into my writing, too. According to Mastin Kipp (I have no idea who he is, but he seems wise), “Perfectionism is a dream killer, because it’s just fear disguised as trying to do your best. It just is.” And in this case, I think he’s right.

Let’s look at the evidence: I’ve written one post because I can’t decide on the best topic to write about next and I’m afraid I’ll pick the wrong thing. I’m worried that my fried, end-of-the-semester brain isn’t coherent enough to compose anything worth publishing. I’m terrified to post links on Facebook for fear that people will read my words and think “Eh. This stupid and not written that well and a waste of my time.” Which would mean that I too am stupid and not a good writer and a waste of time. This fear paralyzes, stifles possibility under the guise of not good enough, grinds potential words to dust. It empties my words of life, leaving a hollow plastic Barbie with a painted smile rather than a breathing, klutzy, messy human bursting with joy and passion and color.

This is not what I want. I do not want hollowness, silence, worry, and fear. I don’t want to muffle words, or silence ideas, or kill dreams. After all, my identity is not grounded in what other people think. My worth is not based on my meeting the expectations of myself and everyone else. So I have decided to be real. Yes, I will still revise and edit what I write. But I will not be silenced because I fear that my voice is not good enough. I will not pretend that I am seamless and flawless. I will not write for other people. I will not kill my dream of creating something beautiful.

And maybe one day, when these statements are living realities and not just vows inked on a screen, I’ll realize that I’ve failed at being an expert in perfectionism. And I can promise you that failure won’t bother me one bit.

Blog

Blog: noun. According to Urban Dictionary, “Short for weblog. A meandering, blatantly uninteresting online diary that gives the author the illusion that people are interested in their stupid, pathetic life. Consists of such riveting entries as ‘homework sucks’ and ‘I slept until noon today.’”

Well then. I have serious reservations about beginning my career as a blogger on such a promising note. Maybe choosing a definition from a more reputable source than Urban Dictionary would have been wise. At least I am now informed about what not to do in this new world – I won’t talk about my sleep habits (I don’t know the last time I slept until noon, anyways) and I won’t whine about homework. With those guidelines in place, I think this blogging thing is going to go well. Maybe.

So why am I wasting time pecking out my words into one of the countless blogs clogging the Internet? In a word, procrastination. A girl has to put off her homework some way, and this feels more productive than going on Pinterest for hours at a time.

Just kidding (kind of). There are far better reasons than bad work habits for tossing the contents of my brain onto your computer screen. Number one, I like to write. This statement does always apply to churning out papers and discussion posts and lesson plans for classes. Rather, I love to tumble words around in my mind, spilling them in sentences onto journal pages or Word documents or class notes or napkins to spell out my thoughts and feelings and opinions. I think through my fingers, sometimes not realizing how I feel until I see words scrawled in black ink. As a college girl, I also don’t practice this nearly enough. The writer gets snubbed by the academic who must mass-produce words to get grades. She gets uncertain and her skills slowly rust, her fingers itching to use alliteration and sentence fragments and slang with abandon rather than sitting stiffly in the safe confines of Edited American English. This is my attempt to set that hesitant little writer free.

There also is the matter of beauty. I like beautiful things. I like to share beautiful things with other people. I like to imagine that my words are beautiful things that others might like to see. So here they are. Sometimes the beauty might be a little rough, like an paint-splattered canvas that no one, not even the artist, really gets. On other days, things might be a little more polished. But whether it’s a corny comment that makes you smile or a snippet of insight that gets you thinking, I pray that what I write will help you see beauty.

So, that’s it. Here begins my attempt at recording my life. I’ll try to come back regularly, and I hope you will too. Unless things become meandering, uninteresting, stupid, or pathetic. In that case, stop reading immediately, and we’ll all admit that Urban Dictionary actually knows what it’s talking about.