I Love You

Last year I loved my students like crazy. I imagine this was just a small slice of what parents feel- this experience in which your interactions with a person are so normal that you’re sure they have no idea how much you care for them and how much you would willingly do for them. Also, my students were 8th graders, so of course they didn’t get that. Nevertheless, my love for them was strong and real and unlike anything I had experienced before.

I was particularly proud of my kids on their middle school graduation day. One student, though- let’s call him Alex- did not graduate. Alex was a favorite of our team; he would always show up in our team room just to ask for a hug, and we all treasured the experience of watching him grow and learn to express himself throughout the year. Unfortunately, in addition to all of the great things that Alex did, another thing he did was skip class. A lot. At graduation our principal spoke of Alex and the thoughtful conversation they’d had about his not passing his classes in the end. According to our principal, Alex had fallen off the academic wagon because, in his words, “nobody cared about me.”

This was a shocking and painful thing to hear. We had all thought our love for Alex was common knowledge; hugs were plentiful, playful teasing was the norm, and I even chatted with him when I ran into him at our neighborhood grocery store. I had no idea how he could have thought that we didn’t love him. Now, I realize that maybe it’s because we didn’t tell him.

Think of how making our feelings known toward Alex might have changed his situation. Sure, there was work to be done on his part. But what if, instead of accompanying my hugs with “go to class,” I had accompanied them with “you’re amazing” or “I’m so proud of you?” I don’t take responsibility for the entirety of Alex’s situation, but I do take responsibility for not letting him know with total certainty that he was cared for.

It’s been almost a year, but I still think of Alex- and all my kids- often. Random moments in life will suddenly bring me right back to school in Boston, writing on the white board in class, playing kickball after school, or even having an abnormally good time making copies for book club. I wonder how my kids are doing and I think of all the things I wish I could say to them now.

Last night I dreamt that I was in a plane crash. We were on a test flight of some sort, and I was with people I knew from my time in Boston. Suddenly the plane turned upside down and went back up again. We all thought that was a little bit strange. Then it happened again. After a few more moments we all realized that we were going to crash.

I experienced a strange feeling at that point. On one hand, I was powerless. On the other, I was free. I was not scared or angry that this was going to be the end. I didn’t lament the tragedy of a young life lost. I squeezed the person’s hand next to me. I thought of my dad. I said the words that I like to think were his last before he died: “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you…”

We survived the crash, stood up from the wreckage, and I asked my seat buddy to check my burns. “It stings right here,” I said, “over my heart.” And then I woke up.

I was afraid to go to sleep so I texted several friends to confide in them this harrowing experience. I turned on my music. I read Harry Potter. I did all of my things that I do to make it okay, and eventually it was. But this morning when I got to school and was asked to make copies, I found myself thinking about Alex and my dad and all the people to whom I would like to say “I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.”

I don’t want the burn over my heart. I don’t want the regret of questioning whether my care and support could have changed things. I don’t want to wonder whether my loved ones know that I love them. I want that all-consuming feeling that there is no worth in fear or pain, only in expressing love. And then I want to do it.

So, to you. Yes, you. I love you. Know why? Because loving is what humans should do, and because you are alive, and that makes you worthy of love, even if nobody has told you so today. So here I am telling you because you deserve to know. You are special and you have gotten this far and you have something to offer the world, and I love you. Also, there’s probably someone in your life to whom you should say the same thing. So go for it. Heal the burn over your heart, let go of the regrets, and just say it; you never know what you might change.

I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you.

You Are Not Enough

I loved my reputation in college. People knew me as a kind and motivated person, someone who provided a thoughtful perspective and who was always willing and happy to listen. It helped that I went to a school where I was constantly surrounded by incredibly intelligent, spirited, and ambitious people. After graduation, all of my friends had big and exciting long-term plans. I wasn’t sure what I would do, but I knew that I had something to add to the world in some to-be-determined way.

Recently life gave me some personal and professional challenges and I returned home to recuperate. Although I stayed busy, I wasn’t doing all the things I thought I would be doing by this time in my life: exercising my creativity, changing lives, feeling fulfilled in my work, contributing positively to the world. The longer I stayed at home the worse I felt. I began to blame myself for my situation, wondering what had happened to my once-celebrated potential. Had I ever really embodied all of these positive qualities that people had supposedly seen in me? Where were these great personality traits now that I needed them?

This week I took a trip to my alma mater, where I dutifully made plans to catch up with all of my college friends. I dreaded the question that eventually came up at every coffee or brunch: “Enough about me… what have you been up to?” I felt like a fraud. These people were doing the wonderful and exciting things I had always known they could, and I wasn’t doing anything. People who had once admired me were now seemingly so far ahead of me in the game of life. Frankly, I felt ashamed.

“Here are these people who once looked up to me, who came to me for advice. I was supposed to be their role model. And now here they are with plans for world travel, scholarships to graduate school, moves to new cities for exciting jobs. And here I am living back at home,” I lamented to a friend over dinner.

I expected a reaction of “That’s tough, I’m sorry,” or “But it makes sense, you’ve been through a lot.” Instead I got something I couldn’t have predicted.

“You’re still that person to me.”

It felt like I was hit in the head with a brick (a brick of wisdom, that is). My friend was right- I had not stopped being this thoughtful, determined, deeply caring, perspective having, advice-giving individual. And on that note, putting my professional pursuits on pause to heal from life’s challenges did not make me unfit to play a positive role in other peoples’ lives. In fact, it made me appreciate those roles far more than I had before.

Lately I have struggled to feel “good enough.” Good enough to find a good job, good enough to give sound advice, good enough to make my alma mater proud. It’s often a revelation when some song or article promises that, no matter how you feel about yourself, you are enough. But now I think that feeling “enough” shouldn’t be the goal. The word “enough” implies that there is a set of requirements, standards, hoops to be jumped through. I don’t want to be “enough” to meet some other standard of success or of happiness. I think I would rather be complete.

I don’t want to feel beautiful enough to look good; I want to feel completely beautiful in a way that encompasses my personality as well as my appearance. I don’t want to feel smart enough to get by; I want to feel completely smart, knowing not just facts but also truths. I don’t want somebody to love me enough to get over my flaws; I want them to love me completely so that they stand with me in addressing them. And I don’t want to be happy enough to survive; I want to be completely happy and at peace with my whole life, even the parts that are hard.

Instead of striving to be enough, we should strive to feel complete. I know that it’s such a hard thing to do; think of how much easier it is to see the good in someone else than it is to see it in yourself. But your self is the person you’re stuck with 24/7, so it might be in your best interest to start really, really liking this “self” person. Your self should not just be enough for you, because you deserve more than enough. Your self should totally complete you.

And if your self is supposed to complete you, maybe you shouldn’t define it by your occupation or by your place in life. Maybe your self should be defined by your ability to find happiness in the best or worst of situations. I don’t care how great your job is or how much money you make, if you get easily upset over things like traffic or chores at home or petty drama at work, you’re not happy and I would never trade lives with you.

I’m way more likely to want the life of a person who finds ways to make life beautiful, who makes friends with strangers on the bus, who transforms banalities into adventures- regardless of that person’s job or living situation or other labels we use to judge success and happiness.

Lo and behold, the person I just described… that’s me. I thought that I wasn’t enough, but maybe I was wrong. I am flawed and stuck and frustrated and spirited and giving and surrounded by truly good people who pick me up when I need it. Because of that, I am not enough.

I am complete.

If You’re Too Lonely to Sleep

I can’t sleep.

It’s like I have this need, like I can’t rest until I feel connected. I’ve spent all day looking at words and pictures on screens. I have engaged with people. I’ve had conversations about birth control and drug addiction; I’ve considered love and how we know it’s right; I’ve seen and heard about my friends’ days. All of this has happened via screens. And at the end of it, here I am in bed, wide-eyed and staring into the dark wondering why I feel so alone.

I just listened to a Ted Talk that mentioned how we are living in some of the loneliest times in human history. It’s so true: we have so many specific ways to communicate- updates, messages, photos that disappear- but how often do we have real conversations? I’m sure I’m not the only person who has friends scattered across the state or the country, and it simply isn’t possible to keep up with all of them. So every couple of days I send somebody a picture or an article or sometimes just a message to ask how it’s going. But all of these fragmented moments of engagement do not add up to fulfilling relationships. Granted, with the lifestyle I live today, sometimes it’s the best I can do. But it isn’t enough.

My whole life, I’ve wanted to live in the 1960s. It started from music as a kid, but as I’ve grown I still feel the same way. What I yearn for is the idea of coming across a person and, without fear, forming a connection. Today most people will do anything we can to avoid in-person interpersonal connection (we’ve all looked at our phone or put in our headphones to avoid a conversation at some point). But there was a time when talking to strangers, or even un-strange new people like neighbors, happened. People couldn’t use a screen to stay connected with friends; they simply had to do it with their faces. Turns out, that restriction was their gain.

But we have so many ways to make “friends.” If I really want people to read my blog, I can open about a bagillion different social media accounts and connect with people not because I would ever want to talk to them in person but because I want them to see what I’m writing. We all push content out at each other and we get the occasional response via a “like” or a “favorite.” There’s nothing wrong with this, until it begins to replace in-person communication. My life right now is a lot of reading books, watching movies and TV shows, and writing for my blog. Tons of really interesting things to think about, plenty of ways to stay connected via the internet. And yet I am so lonely that I can’t sleep.

All I can come up with is that humans just need other humans. Not little notifications that another human thought of us for a moment, although that’s great. We actually need each other. We need to learn how to have real conversations again: how to sit with a person and forge a connection where once there was nothing. How to talk about ourselves or the world or whatever- it doesn’t matter, because talking about it gives us something to share with each other, and that’s what we desperately need. To share.

So what do we do? All this talk about how the world should be the way it was in the ’60s (minus racism and sexism, ideally), how we should share things and be face to face and not just communicate via the screen, it’s great. But it’s not all that realistic for a girl who lives in Texas and is using those screens in order to try to forget that fact. I’m sure a lot of us have had that feeling that our life is somewhere else. So what can we possibly do to bring it here, to actually experience a person-to-person relationship with another human being?

The positive part of me, the part that ends every blog post with hope, wants to say we just need to get out there and start walking the walk instead of just talking the talk. You know, create the life we envision for ourselves. But loneliness can be paralyzing. It can make us feel like we can’t walk that walk because our legs won’t move; we can’t start a conversation because our mouths won’t open; we don’t have the energy to try because we just can’t get to sleep. It’s a horrible cycle. Loneliness leads to more screen time leads to more loneliness, and at the moment I’m just not sure how that ends. Tonight there will be no solution for the loss of connection in a world of screens. For now all I can do is chalk this all up to food for thought and get on with my TV shows, because right now those characters are the only connection I have.

I guess I won’t be sleeping tonight.

The Truth About FOMO

There was this girl I knew in high school. She was great- bright, bubbly, friendly, and a leader on dance team. We weren’t close, but after we graduated I enjoyed seeing her posts on Facebook every once in a while; I knew that she had been pursuing a career as a dancer and a model, and I loved her photos because they made me proud to know someone who was actually going for what she wanted even though it was scary.

One day recently as I scrolled through my feed, I stopped at one of her photos, expecting an interesting update. But what I read was unsettling caption: “I never posted this on Facebook [almost a year ago] because I thought I wasn’t skinny enough.”

I was shocked. I had always admired this girl for seemingly feeling so at home in her body as she followed her dreams post-graduation. The thought had never dawned on me that she might feel like she wasn’t good enough.

And then I got to thinking… what do I look like to people who can’t see my insecurities?

It never occurred to me that perhaps some people couldn’t. I suppose things look good for me in the Facebook world: all of my pictures since high school have been of fun, adventure, friends, family. All of my blog posts- even the ones about really tough things- have been full of hope, causing people to leave remarks that confuse me: “you’re so strong,” “you’re so wise.” I didn’t realize that people think these things because what I present to the outer world is so different than the anxiety and insecurity often going on within.

Here’s the truth.

All any of us wants is to be happy. Everything in our lives is geared, some way or another, toward making us happy in the short run or the long run. But there is one thing that, if we want to be happy, we simply cannot live without: self-confidence. Actually liking yourself, what you can do, what you look like, who you are.

Often, so many of us think it would be easier to be someone else. Facebook is great for helping us to keep in touch, but it also leads to FOMO- fear of missing out.  You see somebody with the job you wanted but never went for on Facebook, and they seem to be having a great time at it. FOMO. You see an old friend who got engaged to the perfect guy, and you’re still single. FOMO. You see that one person who always posts pictures at the gym while you’re chilling in bed. FOMO. And we’re not just afraid of missing out here. We’re afraid that we’re not good enough (too shy, too lazy, too whatever) to have these experiences of our own.

But look at my high school friend. Look at me. Those pictures are not those whole people. For every gorgeous shot you see there are plenty of less glamorous moments behind it, moments of feelings like anxiety, indecision, inadequacy. I say this not because I know all of your friends or because I want to be a downer, but because we all have these feelings. They’re part of the human experience, and that’s okay. But FOMO is allowing us only to see the bright sides of other people, making it feel wrong to have any dark moments ourselves. Looking at all of these pictures and feeling like you’re missing out is a really great way to start feeling bad about yourself for a totally understandable but super unnecessary reason.

So how can we feel good and happy and bypass the FOMO? We have to get at whatever it is that bothers us and face it head on. Instead of FOMO, GOMO: go out more often. For all the FOMO you have when you see people’s awesome jobs, GOMO and learn about new talents that you have. For every FOMO of an adorable relationship, GOMO and meet people who make you realize that you are capable and deserving of companionship of your own. And for all of that FOMO about the gym, GOMO and do something fun with your body- hike, swim, dance, roller disco? If you’re a fan of lists, you could even start your own 101 Goals.

I’ll be the first to admit how easy it is to just hang out at home and watch movies or TV. I love it not just because it’s entertaining, but because it’s safe. I can watch my shows and write down my thoughts and then send them out into cyberspace with my eyes glued to the screen in order to gauge how many likes I can get before I’m allowed to feel good about my work. I can be comfortable with that. But you know what it’s so hard for me to do? Talk to strangers. Go out alone. Try new hobbies. But honestly, I’m a lot more likely to feel good about myself after I do those things than I am after a day as a character-analyzing vegetable.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Let’s be real, and realize that every person is a whole person experiencing both good and bad all the time; let’s not forget that if they only want to show us the happy parts. Let’s stop allowing FOMO- this illusion that everyone else has the secret to life and you’re missing out on it- to keep us from feeling good about ourselves. Instead, let’s GOMO. Let’s get out there to some event, or even create our own. Let’s get scared. Let’s get our hands dirty. Let’s feel really uncomfortable. And, along the way, maybe we’ll actually start to be happy.

Take Me Back

Until today, I wasn’t ready to leave Boston.

When I came here, I was a freshly minted college graduate ready for an experience that would help me to shape the rest of my life. College had been incredible, but I knew that the people and the place were too comfortable. I needed something new. I wanted to push myself. I wanted to learn. I wanted to “find” myself.

Jamaica Pond in the Beginning

I arrived in Boston unsure of what I really wanted to do in life, only knowing one person in the city, and with no idea what the year would hold. One of the first places I discovered in my neighborhood was a place called Jamaica Pond. This beautiful pond was only a mile away from my house and it allowed for a pleasant 2 mile run where I could enjoy the water and all the trees. I started to come here quite a bit, and I knew from the beginning that this would be the place I would always remember from my time in Boston.

I ran around the pond in the summer and admired amazing sunsets and wondered with excitement about what the year would hold. I ran around the pond in the fall and discovered that I could take a path nearby all the way to Fenway Park. I marveled at the fact that I was running in 40 degree weather; I was so proud of myself. I took pictures of the birds and fall foliage.

I didn’t run around the pond all winter. I drove past and spared a longing glance at the tall snow. During the winter I struggled with the new weather. I struggled with feeling like I was making a difference to my students. I struggled with my personal life. But Boston did begin to feel like home, and in January I went to the pond for my first time sledding.

My First Time Sledding

My First Time Sledding

In the spring I nearly forgot Jamaica Pond. I was busy taking trips, spending time with new friends, lesson planning for my students. I had finally settled into life here… and then I decided to leave.

Earlier this summer I seriously reconsidered my decision to return to LA. I had grown so much in Boston, I reasoned, that returning to everything that was comfortable and easy would be like erasing all of that progress. I was more confident, more adventurous, and in many ways I had become a different person (or maybe I had become more myself). I didn’t want to let that go; I didn’t want everything that happened in Boston to feel like a dream.

Eventually I decided that I had to leave, to return to the best school in the universe. I have to look at this as a new challenge: a challenge not to recede in growth, a challenge to keep finding new ways to adventure. All year I had been thinking about a tattoo (something I never would have thought would happen a few years ago). The tattoo would say “and in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me.” This quote, from Let It Be, means everything to me. It means that no matter how bad things are- no matter how difficult the students, no matter how cold the winter, no matter how much I don’t want to go back- there is hope right in front of me. And it also means that the best is yet to come.

Jamaica Pond at the End

Last week I got that tattoo, and in doing so I proved to myself that the changes I’ve undergone this year are permanent. I am leaving Boston as someone who knows herself, someone who isn’t afraid to show what’s important to her, someone who always has hope. Someone who challenges herself and gets closer to her true self more and more every day.

This morning I went for my last run around Jamaica Pond. To mix a bit of familiarity with that ongoing need for a challenge, I did the run with no shirt on, baring my tattoo for the world to see. And it felt amazing. I marveled at how once this pond had seemed so beautiful to me, and that now I was used to it; I am used to expecting and finding beauty in my life.

Finally, I finished my last Jamaica Pond run. I pressed the “stop” button on my running app. The app always gives options: “Take Me Back” and “I’m Done.”

This year I have grown and changed and adventured and been incredibly challenged. But that’s not because of this year, it’s not solely because of Boston, and it’s not just from running around the beautiful Jamaica Pond. It’s because of me.

Take me back. I’m done.

Destiny and Shoelaces

Whenever I’m in the midst of a tough decision, I look for signs. I look for metaphors. I look for anything that will help me reason through this enormous stress because I have to know that someone or something in the world is looking out for me. This can’t just be me all on my own. Life must be hiding clues for me; once I find the clues, I’ll have the answer. Then I’ll know how to treat life, what to do with it. Because how could life possibly trust me enough to live it myself?

I am currently in the midst of one of these life-changing decisions. I’m making choices about people, places, and my future, and I’m searching desperately for an answer that comes from anywhere but my own head. It feels like I’ve thought about everything there is to think about, and at this point I simply need life to put the answer in front of me. I may be mentally exhausted, but I’m sure I’ll be clever enough to find this sign.

Last night, I thought I’d found it. My favorite pair of shoes, which I’ve owned for seven years, recently walked their last road (and a great road it was: Central Park). I’m still in the process of letting go, and last night I took out their beat-up laces and transferred them into some much newer, much snazzier shoes. Cue all of the metaphors about moving on, mixing the old with the new, whatever you want. All of this happened as I was on my way out the door, and suddenly I was paralyzed mid-lace on the floor, frozen like a cool special effect in a movie, feeling so close to having found an answer.

And then I said to myself, “Leah, it’s shoelaces. Get up and get out the door.”

We have to process the things that happen in our lives, and sometimes we do that by justifying them as “meant to be.” We can map out the moments that led to any significant life event, but when it comes to making decisions about the future, we’ve put ourselves in a handicap. We’re so used to patterns and miracles and destiny and fate that we stop giving ourselves any credit at all. Yes, I can make some significant statement about life from the simple act of lacing up my shoes. But does that mean that I should base my life decisions upon this act? I’ve become so hyperaware of all the possible signs the universe is handing me that I’m not even thinking about myself.

Maybe it’s possible that, no matter what I choose, it will be right because I will make it right. We can’t look for clues in the present as though they’ve been left here by the future; there is no invisible sign pointing us in the right direction. All we can do is commit to being the kind of person we hope to become at the end while we’re on the way. I may not know where I’m headed, but the destination isn’t as important as how I deal with what I’m given when I get there. My future will not be handed to me as a pre-completed plan, and I am not on a scavenger hunt to find it. I need to remove my focus from my shoelaces and turn it within. I need to give myself credit for running my life and forgive myself for not knowing exactly how to find my path. I need to build myself up and prepare myself for anything, because ultimately we don’t get to choose what happens to us. Frankly, we waste a lot of time trying. I hereby propose that we all stop looking for the perfect answer and the perfect direction, and instead simply try to be our perfect selves- our most fulfilled, most happy, most contributing selves, because our selves are the only things we have control over anyway.

The future is important, and so is making the right choices. I won’t deny that we should put our best effort forward. But I will say that there is no one right answer, no one right direction- translate that, and it means that there’s also no wrong answer, and no reason to ever give up. I don’t need to overwhelm myself in the present just because I don’t know my future; instead, I just need to try every day to be the person I want to become.

So, I’m going to tie up my shoelaces, revel in their wisdom for just a moment, and then I’m going to walk out the door and let life handle the rest.

101 Goals in 1001 Days

Eighth grade was quite a  year for me- both times. The first time around, I discovered my love of running, pursued my interest in music, and saw Moulin Rouge, Titanic, and Rent all for the first time. I came out of this transformative year with the life mantra that I still think about today: no regrets. Ever since one life-changing trip to Six Flags in 8th grade, I have made it my mission never to pass up on any opportunity that will make my life even a little bit fuller.

The second time I did 8th grade was with City Year, and that year was just as life-changing as the first. I came out of it with the confidence and the hunger to truly take charge of my life as a newly branded adult, which added a whole new dimension to the notion of grabbing life by the horns. This year I also embraced my love of goal setting; the rush I get from checking an item off a to do list is unreal, and I have no shame about that.

So when a friend told me about this thing where you make yourself 101 goals and you have to finish them in 1001 days (roughly 2.75 years), I was a little scared, but I knew it would be great for me; here was my opportunity to think about what I really wanted out of life and then just do it. I’m not saying that we can’t have great lives if we don’t list out everything we want first; I just know that, for me, having the list is a huge motivator and also a fantastic catalyst for thinking about what I really want.

Here’s the list; I’ll keep it updated as I go. (A few items are censored for privacy or surprise reasons.)

Travel

  1. Dream up a trip and save up just for it.
  2. Bring my US states traveled to up to 30. (Maine 7/15; Michigan, Vermont- 6/16)
  3. Get a credit card that gets me travel miles. (4/16)
  4. Explore 20 places in the city where I live (20/20 done- Echo Park, 9/15; Capitol & light rail, 12/15; Ramsey Park, 2/16; DUMBO, 8/16; Riverbank State Park, High Bridge, Yankee Stadium, 9/16; Riverside Park, 10/16; The Cloisters, 10/16; MetLife Stadium, 11/16; Battery Park Esplanade, 12/16; Radio City Music Hall, 12/16; New York Public Library, 12/16; Museum of the Moving Image, 1/17; Italian American Museum & New Museum & Katz’s Deli, 2/17; Apollo Theater & Statue of Liberty, 3/17).
  5. Go to another country. (6/18/16 Canada)
  6. Spend 5 days exploring small towns. (1/5 done- New Hope, NJ, 2/17)
  7. Take five weekend trips. (5/5 done- NYC, 7/15; Austin, 9/15; Chicago, 10/15; Cincinnati, 1/16; Boston, 9/16)
  8. Go to Harry Potter Land or do HP in England
  9. New Years in New York City.(2016-2017)
  10. Go on a road trip. (LA to Austin, 12/15)
  11. Cross Abbey Road.

Life Experiences

  1. Buy a meal for a homeless person and eat with them. (11/12/16- Janell)
  2. Become a regular at a restaurant or bar.
  3. Pull an all-nighter just talking with a friend. (11/10-11/16)
  4. Own a pair of heels in every color of the rainbow. (3/6 done; red, blue, purple)
  5. Do five things that legitimately scare me. (4/5 done; 11/15, 12/15, 1/16)
  6. See a performer I really care about in concert.
  7. Spend 3 weekends camping with no electronics.
  8. Participate in 5 community events (festivals, charity, flash mobs, etc) (5/5 done; SXSW 3/16, Zilker Park musical 7/16, Storytelling Hour 8/16, Flash Mob 12/16, Women’s March 1/21)
  9. Censored
  10. Go on a beach trip with girlfriends like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.
  11. Do balloon paint art like in Princess Diaries. (10/22/16)
  12. Go to a Meet Up. (5/10/16 board games)
  13. Go horseback riding. (9/15)
  14. Take five dance classes.
  15. Censored
  16. Be outside for sunset and don’t go back inside until after it rises.
  17. Take at least one picture every day to document the day.
  18. Create a playlist each month.
  19. Slow dance in the rain.
  20. Do the 36 questions to fall in love with somebody. (1/14/17)
    1. see the questions here
  21. Be in the audience for the taping of a TV show.
  22. Get a tattoo. (8/6/15)
  23. Get a record. (12/6/15)
  24. Create art out of 5 favorite quotes and display in my home.
  25. Finish reading the Harry Potter series with my dad. (9/11/16)
  26. Sing at a karaoke bar.
  27. Ride a jet ski (8/9/16).
  28. Spend an entire day outside.
  29. Go on a meditation retreat.
  30. Do something normally social (seeing a movie, going to dinner…) on my own. (7/18/16 went to see Finding Dory)
  31. Meet a celebrity I admire. (Cobie Smulders, 4/16/17)
  32. See a Broadway show. (Hedwig and the Angry Inch & A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, 7/15)

Health/Self-betterment

  1. Go 21 days without desserts, 3 separate times. (3/3 done 3-4/16, 4-5/16, 5-6/16)
  2. Do the Couch to 5k.
  3. Publish at least 50 blogs.
  4. Start my retirement fund. (3/6/16)
  5. Finish my college scrapbooks. (7/13/16)
  6. Write a letter to myself twice a year.
  7. Eat raw for a week. (6/16)
  8. Do a weight-training program (1 month minimum) from start to finish.
  9. Journal at least once a week.
  10. Try 15 foods I say I don’t like or don’t eat. (15/15 done- lobster bisque in Maine, peach and plum at camp 8/15; mochi 9/15; boba 9/15; deviled eggs 10/15; pumpkin seeds AZ 12/15; sunflower seeds 12/15; ramen, pork, seaweed, shrimp, cole slaw NY 1/16; jalapeño, sushi, lox OH 1/16)
  11. Go to bed at the same time every day for one month.
  12. Go through one week in which I COOK/PREPARE everything I eat. (no frozen foods or snacks as meals!) (1/24-20/17)
  13. Read at least one news item each day for a month. (7-8/15)
  14. Free write 10 minutes a day for a month. (12/15-1/16)
  15. Do brain exercises every day for a month. (11/15)
  16. Finish or throw away all needlepoint projects.
  17. Make a list of things I want in life, keep it visible, and update as needed.
  18. Write down what I’m thankful for every day for a month. (11/15)
  19. Do the 7 minute workout every day for a month. (1/16-2/16)
  20. Censored
  21. Censored

Skills

  1. Learn to play piano well enough to accompany myself.
  2. Take a voice lesson. (2/8/16)
  3. Take a glass blowing lesson. (2/20/16)
  4. Learn how to moonwalk.
  5. Learn to French braid. (11/15)
  6. Learn how to create mashups on Garage Band or something like it.
  7. Learn how money works (budgeting, saving, loans, interest, etc)
  8. Learn how to build a fire. (8/11/16)
  9. Learn how to drive a stick shift. (5/4/16)

Service

  1. Give blood ten times.
  2. Make a tangible difference in one person’s life. (crossed off 6/19/16)
  3. Volunteer as a consistent tutor/mentor.
  4. Donate 101 items/hours. (donated to Goodwill, 8/15 & 12/15)
  5. Volunteer at a nursing home or hospice. (7/16)

People

  1. Reach out to 20 past acquaintances. (8/20 done)
  2. Record Story Corps interviews with both parents.
  3. Have one interaction with a stranger every day for a month. (1/16)
  4. Cook my mom a real dinner. (5/8/16)
  5. Write my dad a song. Play it for him on the guitar.
  6. Censored (5/20/17)
  7. Censored
  8. Write a letter to every past teacher I can remember/find.
  9. Spend one day writing a note to everyone important in my life thanking them and send it to them.
  10. Spend a day taking my younger cousins to do whatever they want to do.
  11. See all 13 cousins. (11/13 done)
  12. Create some sort of family tree.
  13. Take a plane trip to visit a friend.

Learning/Culturing

  1. Watch every movie on the AFI top 100. (64 to go)
    1. see the list here
  2. Become an expert on pop culture and social issues of the ‘60s.
  3. Be able to identify every part of my car’s engine.
  4. Learn how to make a t-shirt quilt (and make one). (12/15)
  5. Take a beginner’s course in graphic design.
  6. Watch every movie on AFI’s top 100 love stories. (57 to go)
    1. see the list here
  7. Read 10 classic books (10/10 done- The Princess Bride, 9/15; Fahrenheit 451, 11/15; Wuthering Heights, 1/16; To Kill A Mockingbird, 2/16; Pride and Prejudice, 7/16; Catcher in the Rye, 7/16; The Little Prince, 8/16; The Old Man and the Sea, 11/16; The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 2/17; Slaughterhouse Five, 4/17).
  8. Read one book about/set in each continent. (5/7 done- The Last Promise, 8/15; Will Grayson Will Grayson, 9/15; I Am Malala, 4/16; The English Patient, 5/16; The Thorn Birds, 6/16)
  9. Learn the backstory of every hero/villain that has been portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

And finally…

  1. Put $20 into savings for each item completed on this list, and make a public announcement for every 10.

Here’s to challenges, making the most out of life, and public accountability! Feel free to ask me how it’s going!

Until next time!

Orlando

Last year I saw The Book of Mormon. Parts were offensive, parts were hilarious. I thoroughly enjoyed the music. But my favorite part of the story can be summed up in one word: Orlando.

The story centers around a lot of things, but one of the main parts is that Elder Price is a Mormon missionary about to be sent on his mission, the defining moment of his young adult life, and he wants to go to Orlando. Price has never been to Orlando, but he reasons that it’s the best place in the world, and it’s the place where he belongs.

Of course, this story wouldn’t be a good story if Price simply decided he wanted to go to Orlando and then he got to go there. Where’s the drama? Where’s the pain? Well, turns out it’s in UgandaThat’s where Price gets sent, much to his chagrin. And not only does he get sent to not Orlando, but he gets sent with a very un-Orlando-ish person, Elder CunninghamCunningham is uncool and unworthy of being Price’s buddy, and Price is pissed. This is not how things were supposed to go.

I won’t give away what happens, but at a certain point Price decides he’s had enough. He leaves. He gets to Orlando! And…

Meh.

Orlando is okay. Nothing to write home about, really. Enough to sing a song over, but not worth staying. Price decides that perhaps feeling fulfilled and wanted and valued is more important than living in some location that was pre-determined as perfect. He returns to Africa, to a community that accepts and needs him, and to doing something that he’s passionate about. And that becomes his “Orlando.” Turns out that Orlando isn’t a geographic location; it’s a place in your heart. (Awwww) It’s a place where you feel that you belong, and it may be because of a person or a mission or anything else. But I’ll tell you one thing, it’s not about that place itself.

Home becomes home when emotions and traditions wrap around place. Yes, we can love a place for what we find there. But for those of us who are lucky enough to be in that part of life in which we get to choose where we want to be, beautiful places with fun stuff to do aren’t enough. I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I want somewhere that feels like home. My Orlando.

Let’s switch gears.

One of my favorite childhood movies, Sweet Home Alabama, tells the story of a woman named Melanie who grows up in the deep south, in Alabama. She marries her childhood sweetheart, Jake, but eventually decides that she needs a change. She leaves Jake and moves to a completely different place- New York City. There she finds the suave and delightful Yankee Andrew, the picture of a perfect boyfriend, nothing like her old, flawed, unpolished Jake. Melanie finally has it figured out (she’s finally made it from Alabama to “Orlando,” if you will). She’s ready to marry Andrew.

But this is a romantic comedy, so you know it’s not that easy. Melanie has to return home to tie up some loose ends with Jake before she can marry Andrew. Once there, as you’d probably predict, she starts to second-guess herself. Finally, it’s wedding day.

Melanie looks up at the perfect and wonderful Andrew (a.k.a “Orlando”) and says, “You don’t want to marry me. Not really. You see, the truth is I gave my heart away a long time ago. My whole heart. And I never really got it back.”

And now I beautifully tie everything together.

I completed my undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California, located in Los Angeles. During my time at USC I had a love-hate relationship with LA. I anguished endlessly over finding the perfect place to live; LA was alright, but I had some problems with it. “I can’t live in a place where you have to take unprotected left turns,” I would say. “It shows that LA isn’t right for me.” I needed to find my Orlando.

And so I left. Maybe Orlando was on the other side of the country, so I drove clear across to Boston. There are so many things I love here- public transportation, how it feels like a small town, my school community. Like Orlando, Boston has many great things. But, ultimately, it’s not where my heart is.

I gave my heart away a long time ago. I gave it away every time my family arrived at LAX when I was a kid, and the first thing I saw were those palm trees. I gave it away when I celebrated Thanksgivings in Lancaster. I gave it away, all of it, when life centered around football, and everything else was put on hold to be a part of this electric and incredible nation of Trojans. I gave my heart away in LA, my whole heart, and I never really got it back.

So I’m going back to find it.

On this day in 2010 I sat on the floor of a hotel in LA and officially decided that I was going to USC. What a great day this is, because here I sit in a school hallway in Boston, making it official: I’m going back again.

Fight On.

Fifty-Four Things I’ve Learned in Boston

Six months ago today was my first real day living in Boston. Within a period of ten weeks, I had graduated from college, moved across the country, ended a serious relationship, and started a new job. I was about to work with middle schoolers, be part of a team, and learn to be a leader, all while dealing with the challenges of moving somewhere with a new culture, climate, and people.

If I had known how hard it was going to be, I’m not sure I would have done it, so thank goodness for that human inability to perceive things unless we’re dealing with them in the moment. Today, for no particular reason, I began to reflect on how much easier things have gotten and how much I appreciate every single component of life here- even the ones that once scared me, like being single, or being cold. I began to write down the things that I’ve learned in the last six months, and before I knew it, I had quite a list. So, with no particular organization, here are the 54 lessons I’ve learned in the past six months I’ve been in Boston.

  1. Art- music, art, poetry, whatever- can literally save lives. Do not underestimate it, and give it a chance.
  2. There is not only a place for creativity in the workplace, there is a necessity.
  3. Truly, the key to connecting with people is finding out what motivates them.
  4. We can do so much more than we think. We change in the moments when we say, “I can’t do this anymore, but I’m going to go do this.”
  5. Keeping up with the people who are always there for you is essential to happiness.
  6. The perfect team is one in which each member treats everyone else like they’re more important than they treat themselves.
  7. Setting goals is everything. Achieving them is more.
  8. There’s nothing like the feeling that you matter.
  9. There’s nothing like helping someone else to understand that you believe they matter.
  10. Surprising others with kindness is uplifting for everyone.
  11. Middle school isn’t scary; change is scary, and it just happens a lot in middle school. Middle school is actually a pretty magical place.
  12. Sometimes all you need at the end of a horrible day is to tell somebody about it.
  13. You never know what’s inside your mind until you write it down.
  14. Huge things are achieved when you do things before you’re quite ready.
  15. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes one kind comment really can change everything.
  16. No matter how busy you are, hold on to what makes you you.
  17. Be passionate. It doesn’t matter what about. And share it.
  18. It’s never inappropriate to tell someone how much you appreciate them.
  19. Humans really can adapt to anything: weather, relationships, or adolescents.
  20. It may be scary, but ask for help. It builds connections and it makes you better.
  21. The most incredible people are the ones who appreciate and embrace others for all their quirks.
  22. Overthinking is toxic to growth.
  23. Push yourself. Always.
  24. Even if it’s hard, there’s not much that’s impossible to laugh about later.
  25. Learning to laugh at yourself is difficult but so worth it.
  26. Honesty, clarity, and transparency earn respect.
  27. Trust yourself.
  28. It is possible to enjoy going to work every day. We all deserve a job like that.
  29. There’s no harm in trying something new and not being good at it. You may surprise yourself.
  30. “Can’t” and “should” are possibly the two worst words in the English language.
  31. There’s no one right way to go about anything. Don’t let anyone tell you there is.
  32. Cherish the past. It’s ok to be nostalgic and relive memories.
  33. A great leader is invisible, existing behind the scenes and empowering others.
  34. Sometimes you can’t think your way out of a problem. Sometimes all you can do is call on a friend, close your eyes, or write down the lyrics of your favorite song. Calming down works wonders.
  35. Having something to look forward to is incredibly motivating.
  36. Everyone has challenges. It’s okay to admit yours. It’s even liberating.
  37. There is a bright side to EVERYTHING. Challenge yourself to find it.
  38. Choose your battles. Not everything can be perfect.
  39. Sometimes what you thought wasn’t good enough is actually a lot more interesting and fun.
  40. Take advantage of your talents. Share them and use them.
  41. Never in the future will you say, “Gosh, I wish I had written about my life less.”
  42. Be proud of your team. Don’t apologize. But don’t be a sore loser.
  43. There’s always a place for being human at work. Nobody will be mad about team building, getting to talk about themselves, or playing a game. It’s not wasting time because it’s what makes us people, and that’s what we want to be.
  44. There’s a beauty in realizing that every person, even someone you don’t like, is passionate about something.
  45. Sometimes the things we think make us different don’t matter much at all.
  46. It’s unbelievable, but it’s possible to wake up every day for someone who doesn’t know that they are what you live for.
  47. It’s okay to change your mind. It feels good to be the type of person who lets that happen.
  48. Never settle with the people around you. There are always more wonderful, inspirational people out there that you have yet to meet.
  49. Human connection and belonging are at the root of everything.
  50. Feeling cold is not the worst thing that has ever happened to humanity. It’s not necessary to make a big deal out of it.
  51. Somehow, both kids’ honesty and their lack of an ability to lie are both extremely entertaining.
  52. Even if you don’t agree or understand at all, what other people are feeling is real and true to them. You don’t have the ability or the right to change it.
  53. Keep up with relationships, even if it’s a little bit awkward or hard. Don’t be afraid to show your affection.
  54. Challenges ALWAYS make you better. Always.

I must say, I’m pretty proud of it. I think these are some great things to know. And if I can learn this much in six months, I can’t wait to see what my list looks like at the end of the year. Because if I could sum all of this up into one lesson, it would be this: There is always more. More knowledge, more willpower, more beauty. Now is not all there is, and if you keep going life can only become better. What a beautiful thing.

Until next time.

Groundhog Day: Today Is Tomorrow

Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day (1993) is known as a great comedy, but it also has some incredibly wise life lessons to share. The general synopsis: Bill Murray’s character, Phil, is a jerky weatherman sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania with his producer Rita to cover Groundhog Day. He wakes up the next day, and it’s still February 2. He ends up reliving this day over and over and over again (the internet generally agrees it’s for about ten years), without knowing why.

At first Phil reacts with fear. Fear turns into anger, and for a while he behaves like an even bigger jerk than before. He crashes cars, steals money, and even tries to kill himself after a while without success. What must it be like to feel so incredibly trapped that you don’t even have the power to take your own life?

GroundhogDayphilritaAt some point, though, Phil decides to take advantage of his gift. He spends a great deal of time learning about Rita, going on the same date with her day in and day out, crafting the perfect actions and words so that each day he can keep her around a little bit longer. At first it’s almost admirable, and then you start to wonder whether maybe he shouldn’t be with her at all if he’s this bad at it.

One day Phil comes to the same conclusion, and he gives up. He lets go of his resentment and his anger and his scheming because he doesn’t know what else to do, and he tries the only option left: honesty. He tells Rita what’s going on and, lucky for him, she becomes interested. She ends up spending the night with him like a science experiment, to see what happens when the clock strikes six. At the end of the night, as Rita falls asleep, Phil whispers:

groundhogdaylovequote

Rita cannot hear him, and she won’t remember this tomorrow. Phil has no ulterior motive other than the fact that it has finally dawned on him that he is utterly and completely in love.

The next day we see a new Phil. This Phil may not have Rita as a partner, but he is a different man simply for being able to admit his feelings for her. He starts doing things like taking piano lessons (the teacher may not remember him, but his growing talent survives each day) and learning about the people of Punxsutawney, whom he had before cast aside because they were hicks. Suddenly he’s open to the world around him. Maybe this is the first time he loves himself; this is the first time that he’s worth more than the usual bitterness and sarcasm and selfishness. Caring about others and wanting to make oneself better takes vulnerability, but you get what you give.

groundhogdayloveAnd one day, after maybe years of piano lessons, acquainting himself with the needs and situations of the people around him, and ultimately coming to be at peace with himself, Phil wins the love of Rita. It’s more genuine and less painful than learning to say every perfect word: he becomes a better person, and she loves him for that. The most important part is that he’s not doing it for her, he’s doing it for himself. This story shows us that we are only truly worthy of love when we live not to receive love from others, but to give it. Phil gains so much joy and self worth from helping the people of his town, engaging in his hobbies, and basking in the company of Rita, that he doesn’t even expect anything more. Even when Rita finally- finally!- tells him that she loves him, he says, “No matter what happens tomorrow or for the rest of my life, I’m happy now. Because I love you.”

Now, here’s the part of the movie that really gets me. Phil makes himself better because he’s not busy trying to get somewhere else. What if, instead of trying to live in a better place or get a better job, we tried to better ourselves? Phil is stuck in the same tiny town with the same people and the same job every day, much like many of us. He would go completely insane if he concentrated on his location and on his job day in and day out. Phil realizes (eventually) what many Americans don’t: life isn’t about where you are, or where you’re going. It’s about who you are. Life would be much more full if we lived each day not trying to get a fancier caption under our picture, but instead working on the personality behind it.

This movie is about what happens when there’s no prospect of a future. This doesn’t literally happen often, but for many of us, there’s a comparison to our own life. We’re so focused on what’s next, but Phil teaches us that maybe we can only deserve what’s next when we learn to love what’s now.

And it turns out that the purpose of his reliving the same day, that day of possibility between winter and spring, wasn’t just to make him “a better person.” It was to help him learn to appreciate his life and to make the most of each day and the gifts it brings. Once he does, he wakes up on February 3. And he utters the words, “Today is tomorrow.”

You can’t get to your tomorrow until you make the best of your today. Maybe that means your job, or your relationships. But no matter the context, it is possible to be stuck in today forever. We’ve all had days during which we tell ourselves, “All I have to do is get through, go to sleep, and I’ll wake up and it will be tomorrow.” But what if we didn’t have tomorrow? What if all we could do was make today as great as we possibly can?

We don’t get to practice for each day hundreds of times, but we do get to do the best we can on purpose. Maybe if you make the best you can of today, whatever comes next- no matter what it is- will be beautiful.

todayistomorrow