A Vegetarian Roasts a Turkey for the First Time

Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and for the first time in my life I roasted a whole turkey on my own. I’m a vegetarian (one struggling with getting enough iron and protein, which complicates my food choices), so this wasn’t what I’d call pleasant. I strive to make meat-free meal choices, but when I’m in a situation where it’s unavoidable, my personal view is that wasting the food is disrespectful to the life of the animal. The turkey was a donation from my mother, originally gifted to her by her workplace because, unlike monetary bonuses, food isn’t taxable. As its fate was sealed, and as a dear friend says – sometimes you just have to feed yourself – I made my peace with the bird and what I was about to do to it.

It was a frozen bird, going about a slow thaw in my mother’s refrigerator until she delivered it to my refrigerator on Wednesday night. Thursday morning, once I was conscious enough not to make any irreparable mistakes, I retrieved him from the fridge on his plate, in his plastic wrapper and netting, and built a foil nest for him in the roaster. It’s my hope that he’s gone on, maybe waiting for the spring, to be sealed into a fresh egg laid in a shadowy wood and hatched into a new life far away from the Jennie-O farm that brought him to my counter. After a moment or two of thought, I put both hands on his cold breast and thanked him for his life, and for feeding my family. I may have also promised not to fuck this up. I don’t remember, I’m pretty sure he handled it with more grace than I did.

All of the proper removals and retrievals were done after extricating him from his packaging. Believe me, believe me, every explanation that this was my first turkey provoked “Remember to take out the neck and giblets!” from almost total strangers, with the kind of desperate hope reserved for advice about job interviews and wedding nights. The process was cold, but not ‘gross,’ as my childhood encounters with raw chicken all seemed to be. Maybe I’ve matured (I doubt it) or maybe my respect for the animal I was preparing mitigated that. Maybe after a certain age and a certain amount of loss we get numb to the sensation of dead flesh. I moved him successfully to the roaster, anointed him with stock, sage and thyme, tented him in aluminum foil, and put him in the oven.

My cats’ noses were in the air in an hour, prompting them to search me every time I sat down because apparently my title in the pride is The @#*%& Food Hoarder.  Or maybe they think I’m a food piñata, to be browbeaten until I produce something magical. Multiple times over I was forced to prove that the pot of potatoes, bowl of oatmeal, my cross stitch project and multiple glasses of iced tea were Not, In Fact, Turkey. They made their disappointment in me obvious for this apparent failure.

The turkey, however, was not a failure. He finished perfectly. My mother seemed proud of me for this, although to be honest turkey preparation seems more trust and patience than skill. He fed my family and helped create a new memory to layer in over this new home. The leftovers will feed the welcome stragglers who arrive piecemeal over the weekend. Wherever he is, I wish him a rich reward, with whatever joys the soul of a turkey might desire. May he have broad wings to soar, nights without fear, and freedom.

Light

I live as much as I can in the half light.

I can’t think straight in bright rooms and on clear sunny days. I can’t sleep in complete darkness. The day leaves afterimages on my tired eyes, which play havoc with my PTSD.

Writing happens in the filtered gray gloom of the library research stacks, and in the dusk of an evening bedroom. I write in the morning, when I’ve had enough coffee. In the fall, in the stormlight of September and November. The Golden Hour – a brief time period in the evening adored by photographers everywhere – is a signal to my exhausted brain that now, it can take a fifteen-minute break from vigilance.

I work in a fluorescent jungle. I’ve asked for a lid on my cubicle. They thought I was joking.

Something is different; however, in the respective brain processes for design work and writing. Something about design pulls me forward, outside and past my anxiety and my stray thoughts. Would it betray me too much a hipster to reference Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transparent eyeball here?

Too bad.

I read Emerson’s essay Nature in junior high school, sandwiched between The Most Dangerous Game and excerpts from A Separate Peace. The essay, in turn, sandwiched in among my memories; compressed until all the good nutritious filling oozed together to a paste. To one turn of phrase: transparent eyeball; an entity devoid of self but for the work and the observation of the work. Professionals sometimes call it flow.

And writer me, reaching for words in the half light, would give a lot for flow. I sidle around this anxiety, my ferret mind alert and squirming with worries.

Writing used to be easier. But the flipside of all this is a new notice of light. My brain went rogue in the middle of an August afternoon. A year later, struggling to juggle another adrenaline rush and a thought process like a high-strung horse, I noticed the light. August afternoon light is the worst thing in the world, with its sharp edged cold shadows and dry sunbaked yellows. It’s horrid, when you’re me, with a blood-blurred, time-fogged memory as certain as a frightened horse. Demons lurk in the cool blue shadows sliding away from a midwestern August town.

It’s odd to think about how I hate August now, after twenty-odd years of ambivalence. Schoolkid me saw it alternately as another month of freedom, and the start of summer’s end. Me today, knuckles white on the wheel, sees mortality slouched against the hot brick of a Main Street convenience store. If I die, it’s probably gonna be in August.

November is better. Daylight Savings Time shifts the light, changing the shapes of the shadows I see from behind the wheel. More often, I catch the sun through canopies of glowing leaves. These are the last weeks of fall – but the ginkgo and the sugar maple have clung to their gilt scarves as if just for this. The bright yellow fans flicker like snow, pushed out of their branches at last by the impatient wind. I was born in June, but my soul remembers November first, with its long dry blues, streaks of orange and flashes of gold.

It’s in this time of year when my anxiety-soaked brain rests. The great sweeps of storms have gone, the barometer and thermometer march a slow descent to frost and snow. I can peel my whitened knuckles from the steering wheel, take a softer grip on all things, and savor the waning light.

The Meaning of Home

For a contingent of American culture, November and December are months of homecoming. Families gather together for Thanksgiving, for Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s in the light of this holiday season that my thoughts turn towards the concept of home, and what it means to me.

Home is an entirely subjective concept, compounded of life experience and personal needs. In the case of my exceedingly large maternal connection, an amalgamation of Thanksgiving and Christmas is scheduled on a weekend, in competition with neither the in-laws’ plans, nor shotgun deer season. While ‘home’ under that definition at one point was the family farm, it’s now the people and the foods of family mythology. This family gathers at a rented facility and celebrates a homecoming in news, stories, mandarin orange jello salad, cheesy potatoes and cherry cheesecake bars.

I write about it with nostalgia, but not from immediate memory. Years passed, I exited childhood; ideological differences turned into awkward silence and distance. A certain unwillingness to have hard, real conversations, or seek one another outside the confines of what we all seem to see as a mandatory annual duty. We aren’t all this way, of course, but even the peacemakers among us quietly drew away into agreeable corners, preferring safety with a few to the danger of scooping out corn casserole at the table opposite the bleeding-heart liberal, the conspiracy theorist, the cultish Christian, the hippie outsider girlfriend, the alcoholic, the emotionally fragile new divorcee (and the equally emotionally fragile children threrof).

I say this all with a desire to change that, and an uncertainty of how to go about it. In this scenario, I’m the bleeding-heart liberal with the weird job. My questions are always answered, but it’s with surprise and an air of disinterest and suspicion – like how could I possibly care about their lives, with my white collar office job and my art studio? I feel like I’ve become part of the culture they disapprove of. When I chose a life in a metropolitan city over gravel roads and pastures, those doors of welcome home began to creak shut. They’re polite, and they do love me at least in the abstract, but they have never given me a sense of home.

Since I left my parents’ three-bedroom red rancher on the fringe of a rural township, I haven’t qualified anything as ‘home.’ Does home happen when you stop hiding your laptop on the closet shelf before you leave for work in the morning? When you buy your first couch? When you come back to it after a long absence? When others come to share a meal with you at your table? Do you need a housewarming party?

When I would talk about where I lived, it was ‘the apartment,’ or ‘my apartment.’ My mom’s house – my childhood house – was still ‘home.’ When I struggled with anxiety and depression, when I needed to heal, my apartment was my foxhole. But not home. And why not? I celebrated Christmases there. I welcomed people I would come to love, danced in the living room; perched with my elbows on the windowsill, listening to the raucous bar down the alley. But not home. Once a month, I was reminded that someone else granted me the space, in the rent checks I paid and the note announcing the pest person making his rounds, whose entrance I could not refuse. Every season, my windows needed to be changed out, my fire extinguishers inspected, and every two years the city apartment inspector would arrive to critique the cat hair on my rug.

I had no permanence. Apartments are transient – they’re cubbies that bear our name on a sticker, for a while, so long as we’re not too loud or too smelly and we take our garbage out every week and our neighbors aren’t allergic to cats.

‘Home,’ to me, is a sense of something being there when I get back. Not necessarily ownership (although ownership does lend itself), but an understanding that the space is recognized as my territory and other human beings can reasonably be expected to stay out until I invite them in.

In October of last year, I bought a house. Over one year later now, when I talk about ‘home,’ it’s this house. It’s a quirky place, old and worn in spots. Not modern enough for some. But I have doors that lock and latch and bolt and I choose who else has access. The walls will be what colors I choose; the carpet will come up when I have the wherewithal for new wood floors. The windows will open to the air in the middle of December if I overheat the kitchen. There is space for all of me and more. The Christmas tree this year will be real.

I am responsible for my own spiders; my own fire extinguishers; my own cat hair on my own rug. Home may be subject to the critique of others, but nobody’s opinion matters except mine. Home may just be an elaborate illusion of control, overlaid with pleasant memories – but I can’t say I mind.

Hallelujah

Hallelujah (/ˌhælˈljə/ hal-ə-loo-yə) is an English interjection. It is a transliteration of the Hebrew word הַלְּלוּיָהּ (Modern halleluya, Tiberian halləlûyāh), which is composed of two elements: הַלְּלוּ (second-person imperative masculine plural form of the Hebrew verb hallal: an exhortation to “praise” addressed to several people[1]) and יָהּ (the names of God Jah or Yah).

From Wikipedia.

Here, at the end of Autumn’s russet bloom, we’ve lost Leonard Cohen. This isn’t a eulogy; I barely knew the man beyond his music. His evocative song, Hallelujah; however, tapped into a deep range of human emotions and prompted numerous renditions over the years. From Chris Botti’s soaring trumpet solo to the soul-brushing harmonies of Pentatonix.

The word is made for shouting. Whatever its origins – one word or two, thanksgiving to God or request for a congregation to praise – the saying of the word empties the lungs and rounds the mouth.A word to be heard from hilltops; from mountaintops; from the bedside of crisis. It fills the head. It is half howl.

And, like Cohen wrote, it can be cold and broken. Muttered in sarcasm, snapped in rage. A savior too late. A fulfillment no longer needed. A reciprocation of old love, no longer wanted. Hallelujah, says someone, feeling the thing that might have saved their friendship or their marriage or their brother’s life two years ago.

That’s where I am. I’m sitting in the middle of grief, and the promise of the light at the end of the tunnel is there but it’s a pinprick; a star light years away. How I’ve felt, what purpose I’ve striven towards for months has been heeded by my loved ones. And it’s too late. I have the courage, the calm center and the will to engage with people I don’t understand, who may not listen and who may be angry with me for it – too late. I found out what I was capable of and what I was willing to sacrifice to care for people other than myself. And here we are at the bedside of crisis again, and here we’ll be for the forseeable future, no matter what I did or how much time I gave.

I know what I’m made of and what I believe.

Halle-fucking-lujah.

6 Best Podcasts for Writer’s Block

If you’re like me, writer’s block is like the chip aisle at the grocery store. You had no plans to be here, you know you’d be better off not being here, and yet somehow, here you are. Of course, if you’re like me, you may well be standing here perusing those cans of Pringles (“Whose definition of ‘loaded baked potato’ does this flavor adhere to?”) and Funyuns (“Pretty sure these are made out of fiberglass shards. And deliciousness.”) BECAUSE of your writer’s block. Believe me, I get it. I’ve regret-eaten a bag of high-salt feelings because I couldn’t get words on the page more than once. If you made a pie chart of my writing habits, the ‘eating my feelings’ wedge is roughly the same size as the ‘tumblr’ and ‘discouraged napping’ wedges combined.

But you have writer’s block. Instead of Pringles, you’d rather chew into your daily wordcount. Below is a list of crunchy, mentally nutritious podcasts to snack on when the blinking of your cursor seems openly mocking. These podcasts are mostly short, 100% free and can be found on iTunes, Stitcher, Podbay, and most podcatching apps as well as on their native websites.

1. The Journeyman Writer Podcast

Official Website

Put on by Alastair Stephens (with frequent guest appearances by Lani Diane Rich) of Storywonk, The Journeyman Writer is a podcast under 10 minutes about all things writing. Alastair’s topics run the gamut and are frequently guided by questions received from other writers, about characterization, plot development, developing good writing habits, inspiration, and more. This podcast hits the very top of the list because it makes me WANT to write whenever I listen, even if I’ve been in a long slump – maybe it has something to do with Alastair’s encouraging “Go write!” that wraps up each installment. The Journeyman Writer has a healthy backlog of episodes available for the new listener, and new podcasts come out a couple times a week.

2. The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Official Website

The Writer’s Almanac is a short, daily podcast narrated by Prairie Home Companion favorite Garrison Keillor (who just retired this year). This podcast features a daily poem and tidbits about authors and poets born on that day. Maybe it’s the magic of Keillor’s mellow voice, or the truly stellar and diverse poetry selections, but this one wakes up my writer’s brain. It helps me calm and focus, especially if I’ve been struggling fruitlessly against a vicious internal editor. Like The Journeyman Writer, The Writer’s Almanac has a truly vast library of episodes to choose from. Search for a poet you like or just start at a random month.

3. The Moth

Official Website

From its website: “Since its launch in 1997, The Moth has presented thousands of stories told live and without notes. Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways.” The Moth is a podcast with a typically longer format, but you can listen to individual stories on the website, and compilation episodes frequently feature breaks between performers so you can cut down how long you’re away from your work. The Moth is about the human voice in a big way. The storytellers of The Moth are frequently the person who directly experienced or witnessed the story unfold – and you have no video of them, no visual cues. So in a way, listening to The Moth is a good way to learn how voice can distinguish a character. Listen to someone’s story and think about how you responded to them based on their word choices, their voice quality, and the way they narrated their own experience.

4. The News from Lake Wobegon (from A Prairie Home Companion)

Official Prairie Home Companion Website (with links to retrieve just this segment)

While all of PHC is fabulous, I specifically focus on Lake Wobegon because of the narrative prose and length. The News from Lake Wobegon segment is 10-15 minutes and relayed in a chummy storyteller fashion by Garrison Keillor (I know, I love him, sorry not sorry). It’s a perspective switch; as if you’re sitting down with Jim Qwilleran at a cafe counter in Pickaxe for a little beautifully editorialized insider town gossip. The voice is fluid and poetic, frequently funny and occasionally lyrical. Yes, you can be lyrical about ice fisherman and the dating life of a small town Minnesota pastor.

5. Radiolab

Official Website

From their own website: “Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience.” That sounds pretty hipster, and it is, but Radiolab (in my opinion) takes itself just seriously enough while still maintaining a good flow and conversational tone. Their format is what I like best: NPR-style editing that integrates audio from external interviews into the primary broadcast; not just the interviewee’s own words but sometimes birdsong, traffic, crowd noise, etc. Radiolab paints rich sensory pictures with audio while talking about unfamiliar concepts, cultures, and events. Each episode is themed and broken into more manageable parts; the hard part is stopping and going back to your page!

6. Podcastle

Official Website

Podcastle features short fantasy fiction from a wide variety of authors. They periodically take submissions, and also curate short fiction from award-winning writers in the fantasy genre. What you get here is a big, diverse selection of narrative voices and story concepts, but beware – Podcastle fiction can run long and take a big chunk of your day, plus not all of the work may be to your taste. I like to listen to Podcastle work when I’m too wrought up to write and just need a distraction and an engagement of my writer brain. The work published here is frequently challenging and never run-of-the-mill. If your tastes run more towards Science Fiction, try Escape Pod. For horror, consider Pseudopod.

 

What are some of your favorite resources for combating writer’s block?

Scrambling For Words

I don’t know what to write. I’m here, in this great open space, and I feel claustrophobic because the words won’t come to my whistle.

I’m surrounded by greatness. By bloggers with concise words and a clear goal and helpful things to say. And here I am, groping after words, quivering at the curb while I wait for the great gust of wind to fill me and push me on down the street. I don’t know what to write. I feel fake, without history or emotional weight, like the ‘quilt’ on my bed that I am sitting on. It’s not really a quilt; it’s a top sheet printed to look somewhat like a quilt. It has a layer of batting and a bottom sheet and it’s been sewed together with a machine’s precise curves and it’s very… autumnal.

It was cheap. I wanted a quilt. I wanted a thing that reminded me of something made by hand, or by many hands. I forget that all of the pieces of this duvet were turned out under the hands of someone, that someone, a lot like me, designed the ‘quilt’ that was printed onto white fabric with orange and red and yellow and brown inks. Maybe someone in a Phillipino or a Thailand factory guided the sewing machine around and around over the top of it. This quilt has emotional weight, then, but I don’t know what it is.

I’m whining. I’m whining because I feel empty. When I whine, my sentences always include ‘I,’ as if I had some control over any of this. Me first, melodramatic me, knuckles to the forehead like a Greek tragedy, sighing about the torments of creative writing. The book says this is supposed to make me feel compassion, that writing from my pain will make me feel tender towards the concrete and the cracked grass blowing between the slabs of the sidewalk.

Instead I feel angry. I’m frustrated with the here and now, when I have three stories and two books waiting and all I can seem to churn out is more self-pitying crap. It’s not even good self-pitying crap. It’s not even kind of good. It’s not the wild-eyed wounded animal noises I flatter myself I can make when I’m struggling.

It’s just unadulterated crap. A ragbag of phrases and ideas that stuck, that raise their edges from the murk when I stir it all tonight in a stretch for 500 words on anything. This isn’t compassion, this is desperation and I’m marinating in it.

I don’t have any organized self-help words tonight, or cheerleading, or hope, or personal challenges, or any of the shit I’d like to post. Like some kind of pro-am novelist with Things to say and a burning, lurid prose in which to say them. I don’t have any of that. I just have all this pent-up frustration at not enough time and not enough good ideas and an internal editor with a sphincter clenched so tight it’s amazing I can write a sentence, let alone 500 words.

But hey, here I am at 512.

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Note to Self: Make Time

Fluffy gray kitten on the black and white keys of a piano.

Yo, self. Listen up.

Whatever the activity, if you want to get better at doing it, you have to make time regularly and do the thing. This applies to everything from cooking and archery to maille, writing, and art. I hear it applies to golf, but that shit still looks like equal parts luck and magic to me.

I hate making time. Unless your passion is a team sport, it can be a pretty solo act. Making time means being surrounded by social creatures who want a share of your time and saying “Sorry, I need to be alone right now to Do The Thing.” It’s giving up other activities because the thing you want to get better at requires more than an hour of your time.

Making time also requires that you get used to sucking on a regular basis. We don’t practice to remind ourselves that we’re brilliant at it. We practice because our failures are part of how we try new approaches, test theories, and perfect our craft. So great, on top of telling your significant other that you’ll be going to your studio at least three hours a week to paint, you have no guarantees that you’ll produce anything of quality in those hours. In fact, it’s highly likely that you won’t.

But you have to do it.

Not Doing The Thing will leave you at a point of stagnation. As a piano student of nine years, I’ve got a bitter shot of truth for you: there’s no guarantee your studio hours this week will make you ‘better.’ At least not in the quantifiable, justifying-this-to-my-spouse kind of way. But if you don’t go at all, the odds of improvement went to nil.

And if you do go, this week, next week, the week after and beyond – you absolutely will get better.

I Should…

  1. Not blame others when I don’t Do The Thing.
    Your significant other, your children, your pets are not responsible for you Doing The Thing. They aren’t responsible for getting out of your way or facilitating your space. If you didn’t Do The Thing today, it’s not their fault – don’t take it out on them.
  2. Start small.
    If you’re struggling to carve out that hour, try fifteen minutes instead. Hell, try five. Make sure you figure in your travel time, if you have to go somewhere else to practice. If you can fit in this much time, add another five, ten, fifteen minutes. If that works, add more. If not, do what you can. Feel accomplished for the work that you did do.
  3. Set a pattern and keep it.
    Do The Thing at as regular a time as you can. This will help your creativity to come when you whistle, but it also gives you a set time to mark as ‘yours,’ and schedule around.
  4. Learn how to say no.
    Time is the sacrifice you make for your passion. That may mean you can’t see the movie on premier night, can’t do that day trip this weekend, or have to say no to an impromptu drink with friends. Ultimately, the decision to say no is about your commitment to your craft. Remind yourself that you don’t need to feel guilty about occasionally saying no.
  5. Manage my time better.
    Unless you’ve wrestled that Time Turner away from Hermione Granger, there’s no way to magically add time to your day. You have a job, familial obligations, self care requirements to fulfill. Those things you may not have any control over. But when you have free time, manage it wisely. Sometimes, you’re going to walk six blocks chasing Pokemon. You totally should, it’s fun! But consider how much time you spend checking social media accounts. How many hours you blow feeding your herd of digital horses. How much time can you invest somewhere else?
  6. Learn how to say yes.
    When you’re not Doing The Thing, then commit 100% to Not Doing The Thing. It’s okay to binge three episodes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. It’s okay to spend two hours playing Alpha Bear or Bubble Shooter. It’s okay to have dinner with your aunt, bake cookies with your spouse, go see a movie and not Do The Thing. Guilt and anxiety about not Doing The Thing will keep you from relaxing and fully enjoying what you’re doing. Remind yourself that you need downtime. You’ll come back fresh to Do The Thing another time.
  7. Practice ‘smart,’ not ‘hard.’
    An old adage from my piano teacher. Much of learning music can be simplified into recognizing patterns and chord structures, rather than reading every note on the staff. Once I understood the patterns, I could often intuit where the harmony would go next. What constitutes ‘smart’ practice is different for every discipline, but boils down to this: develop good habits that work for you. Read up on how folks in your discipline hone the craft. Figure out what learning style you connect with the most. What slows you down when you sit down to practice? Can you approach that another way?

Good luck, buddy. We’re in this together. I know you can do it.

Graphic Design Was Not My #LifeGoal

Image of a well used chalkboard with the words "Don't give up!!!" written on it in white chalk, in script lettering.

At seventeen, the future terrified me.

Artsy, sheltered, rural Mid-American me was not ambitious. I didn’t have Big Plans for my life. I knew I was going to college because that’s just what you did after high school in 2001, if you expect to make any kind of living. As a kid I’d run the gamut of Dream Jobs, from ballerina to fireman, marine biologist to zookeeper. I had a bent towards creative hobbies; I wrote, I read, I sketched; I painted ceramic ornaments from Wal*Mart with Aleene’s Acrylic Paint (Great stuff, long gone. Sigh.) By the time I walked up to shake hands and get my diploma, I had some rough ideas about being a journalist. Maybe? Sort of? Honestly the thought of asking strangers questions for a living tied my stomach up in knots. But my little moral compass (and motivation from a favorite teacher) was ticking towards using my words for good and not evil.

Well, less for evil, anyway.

I went to community college for my first two years. The counselor – bless him – wasn’t super sure what to do with me. I was a teacher’s pet! I would be A+ perfect because that’s what I do! Just tell me where I’m supposed to go and I’ll go do whatever in the most kickass way possible! Just tell me what to do!

I needed to figure out what to do for the rest of my life so I didn’t, you know, waste my entire education and end up destitute. Because really, when you’re seventeen and sheltered and the Internet is mostly a place to check your Hotmail, that’s all you know. You know you have to do this College Thing correctly or risk destroying the rest of your life. (News flash: going to college for something other than what you end up doing won’t ruin your life. Although crushing student debt is another story. But I digress.)

I was pretty sure I couldn’t sketch unicorns for a living (although someone probably is, and doing fabulously) but a journalism career still made me want to puke from fear.

I took the basics for an Associate of Sciences degree, dug into Statistics and Music Appreciation, US History, World Civilization and College Spanish I, and tried to pretend for a year that I knew what I was doing.

The next meeting with my counselor, however, was a little less frightening. “You’re transferring to Western Illinois University after you graduate here, right?”

“Yep!” Hopefully the panicked light in my eyes just looked, um, perky.

College Counselor scanned my credit hours. “There’s a brand new major up there called Graphic Communications. I think you might consider it.”

Me, just glad to have someone tell me to do a thing, while having no idea what ‘Graphic Communications’ meant: “Okay!”

We bumped journalism to a minor, restructured my classes to fit WIU’s Graphic Communication major, and off I went for my sophomore year. By the time I transferred, I had an AS, a vague idea of what jobs might be out there, and hope.

I picked up my textbooks for my first semester. One of them was Photoshop Down and Dirty Tricks by Scott Kelby.

I went through all the tutorials in a week. Before class started.

I couldn’t stop. Typically, I struggle to maintain the patience to acquire and improve a new skill. Yet here I was, hungrily soaking up drop shadows and pillow emboss and outer glow and layer effects and gradient overlays. Something in my brain clicked to this wizardry. I was gonna be the muthafuckin Gandalf of Photoshop.

When classes began, the work got significantly harder. I loved it. It was one of the few times I’d encountered an activity that lit me up. Graphic design makes my soul sing, in the way very little else does. We designed logos, recreated tax forms, screen printed tee shirts; made calendars, newsletters, and notepads.

I knew what a corporate identity was. I was the new queen of consistency.

Up until my junior year of college, school was the thing I went at with the intent to make other folks happy. My professors, my parents, my extended family – I’m a recovering people-pleaser, and back then I shoved myself into the expectations of every single person I valued. Was there anything else? I wasn’t ambitious. I didn’t have strong dreams of the future.

My story of college education is not a checklist for success. I was supremely lucky, to land in a career path that worked so well for me by utter accident.

Graphic design was not my #lifegoal. But although I fell into it by accident, it opened up the concept of loving my job; striving to improve at things I feel passionate about. It showed me that I was allowed to have life goals in the first place.

I mean, I’m still not an ambitious person. But I’ve learned how to direct my own life.

Still not Photoshop Gandalf, though. Working on that.

gandalf

Making A Start

First things first, as they say.

At the age of 18, I was one hell of a blogger. It may have been filled with personal drama, college woes, and high-pitched noises about sundry manga, but it happened daily. I was also writing fiction like a freakin’ freight train. If freight trains wrote fiction. Maybe they do? I’ve heard some things about the Island of Sodor.

Anyway, not so much now – on either count. And that’s the thing, the goal of this whole business. So here’s the deal: I’ll write a few hundred words on whatever strikes my fancy, and hope that the writing bug – whose bite I’ve grown increasingly immune to of late – will take hold again.

Hello, I’m Jen. I’m a writer.

(Psst. This is where you drone ‘Hello, Jen.’ We’re in this together now. Suffering as a team.)

I’m in my thirties, I’m a full time in-house graphic designer for an Iowa resort. What does that mean I do? That’s perfect fodder for another post. We’ll get there.

I’m an avid reader with a veritable swamp of books I haven’t gotten to. I’m an artist with a studio I don’t get to more than once a month.

Right now, I’m struggling with personal fitness, and that struggle is so freakin’ real. This blog will probably contain quite a bit of whining about food and resistance training and how twenty minutes on the elliptical kicks my ass.

I managed to win NaNoWriMo once! Come November, I may be diving into that time-consuming, glorious hell of self-depreciation. Last year wasn’t a win, but maybe this year will be.

I live with and manage situational anxiety and PTSD. Fodder for yet another blog post! I’m on a roll! Some days go better than others. Today’s a good day. Meditation and exercise are my buddies. My temperamental, elusive, exhausting buddies.

I have three cats. They’ll probably feature as well, because I mean what writer with cats doesn’t write about their cats eventually? I think it’s mind control. I’ve been conditioned by cats to bend to their will since birth.

I’m a teaphile. Teaophile? Whatever. Tea nerd. I love the stuff. I make custom blends. I have tea nerd friends. It’s pure caffeinated herby awesome.

I also love to cook. I’m vegetarian – well, striving for it anyway – which can be an adventure in the freakin’ pork capital of the USA. Some whining about that will probably feature eventually.

So here we are. Here’s to more frequent blogging! Here’s to maybe writing a book! Or at least finishing a first draft. We’ll start with low expectations of each other and see how that goes.

I like legal notepads, blue gel pens, and Scrivener. Glad to meet you! Hope you’ll stick around a while. ❤