On wanting to be/actually being a grown up

Here’s an announcement I would like to make to the world: I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult.

I can hear the applause from all of you and, really, it’s heartwarming.

But why is it so easy to say, and so hard to actually do? As much as I’d like to think I’m a grown up, there are many things in life that make me feel like it is otherwise.

AWESOME PARTS OF GROWING UP

Apartment (with a pantry! And a washer and dryer!), check. Car, check. Big girl job, check. Macaroni and cheese every single night for dinner if I want (and, let’s be honest, I always want), check. Lots and lots of bills, check.

Maybe the bills aren’t exactly awesome, but they are a constant reminder of how on my own I am. No longer do I have the convenience of sweet-talking my way into my folks paying for my gas, or for my electricity to be free when living at home. I have to pay for what I use, and it’s liberating in a weird sort of way. I have bills because I’m an adult, and being an on-my-own-in-this-big-bad-world adult is kind of awesome. Plus, it reminds me that the reason I’m able to afford these bills is that I am #blessed to have a pretty awesome job at a pretty awesome place.

NOT-SO-AWESOME PARTS OF GROWING UP

I can announce to everyone that I’m 24, and therefore am old enough to be “on my own.”

Getting people to believe me is a different story.

Case in point, my lovely parents. Lately, I feel like I’ve been having an uphill battle to prove myself, despite all of the Medals of Adultdom I have achieved post-grad (and even during school). There are points where I want to scream that they can’t tell me what to do. There are points where I could pull my hair out at my frustration of what feels like this ever-present leash.

There are times I wish I could say “I’m still your child, but I’m not a child anymore,” and have it actually mean something.

They are my parents. I respect and love them wholeheartedly, but I am struggling with stepping out from underneath their shadow and doing things that I want to do, apart from things that are parent-approved. If I want to spend all of my savings on a trip to Europe, then I feel like I am old enough to make that (potentially stupid) decision and go. If I want to chop off my hair or get a tattoo, then I should be able to without having to feel guilty because my mom will look at me with those sad, why-have-you-hurt-me-so puppy dog eyes.

I guess what I’m struggling with is: how old do I have to be before my parents, and the whole world, realizes that I’m not a kid anymore? How old do I have to be before my parents take a step back and really and truly mean it when they say “We have X, Y, and Z concerns, but you’re old enough and we trust you”? At what age does it suddenly become okay to make potentially life-altering decisions—a trip to Europe! buying a car! getting married!—without them having a (literal) panic attack?

AN ODE TO GROWING UP

I, Lauren, am 24 years old and am a fully-functioning, financially stable adult. I realize I have a lot of growing left to do. I realize I’m probably going to make a lot of stupid mistakes in life, and some of that will ease as I grow older. I also realize that, at 24, I’m not doing half bad for myself, and many of the decisions I’ve made so far have actually been pretty good ones.

Alexandra tells me that: maybe the point is that my parents may never actually accept me being a grown up, sadly but truly. Instead, I have to accept that that’s in fact okay. I will do what I am going to do and that’s a part of what being a grown up is.

Lauren is a social media professional/web content manager/overall awesome editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

A Rosy New Year’s Day

Today is the first day of 2014 and I’m smelling roses. Both figuratively and literally.

For the past two decades I’ve spent this day more or less the same way. Probably my most continuous New Year’s Day tradition is watching the Rose Parade with my mom early in the morning, bemoaning that we’re stuck inside our home in snowy Michigan rather than outside in the beautiful California sunshine “ooo-ing” and “ahhh-ing” at the floats in person. We whine, complain and say, “next year, we’ll be there. Michigan State will play better. We’ll save more money. We’ll do this. We’ll do that. We’ll have all of those things we don’t have now.”

Well believe it or not, two decades later I’m at that Rose Parade – my first trip ever west of Chicago.

This trip is a big deal.

I don’t travel much. I don’t have a lot of cash. I don’t have a job. I don’t have a lot of things. But I am at the 100th Tournament of Roses – something that last year, although I may have resolved with my mom that we would go, I thought would be another unmet resolution.

Each year I reflect on what I want to change about my life – what’s left me restless or disappointed. I spend all of this energy focusing on how to improve the bad but I very rarely ever make it a reality. This year if my trip to the Rose Bowl will have taught me anything it’s that I’m better off focusing on the “making” part. Rather than reflecting, which I think us writers too often have a propensity to do, I’m going to take action this year.

I’m going to go out and get that job. I’m going to write that novel. I’m going to travel. I’m going to do all of these things rather than think about doing all of these things. And then I’m going to write about them.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

To my sixteen-year-old self.

Dear 16-year-old-Allegra,

Hey. Take off your headphones and stop listening to your punk-pop for a sec. It’s older-and-wiser you, and I’ve got some things to say.

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See? I’m totally legit. Eventually you master the doe-eyed stare without looking like a zombie, I promise.

You’re at a pivotal moment in your life when you’re starting to plan for your future. It is scary as hell. You’re going through this identity crisis and you keep claiming that you’re trying to “find yourself”—a worthy goal!—but you are losing track of the things you love and hold dear in the process.

You are all in flux, so I am here to offer some assurance—and some friendly, big-sisterly advice on a whole host of topics :] First up…

The people around you.
In six years, you will be able to count the people from high school you regularly keep in touch with on both hands. I know that you are frustrated with everyone calling you an angry feminist and nobody understanding why you are so committed to the things that are important to you, but you’ve got to recognize that the things they love are no less important. You need to seek out the best in people, rather than simply writing them off as shallow or unenlightened because they do not like the things that you do.

You are very much an island, and that all will change when you move away to school. You know that girl who sits next to you in economics class, Ashley? The one who’s always very happy and giggly and you think is airheaded and boring?

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This is the two of you in five years. This girl will change your life. She will be a friend for you and a shoulder to cry on when you move away for college. She will travel to London with you in 2011, and watch over you when you’re thousands of miles from home. She will introduce you to other folks whom you wouldn’t have considered befriending either, and they will keep you well-loved and well-fed and well-cared for. You spent all that time rolling your eyes at her, and at so many other people, in high school—but you were wrong.

You can find friends—great, irreplaceable friends—in the most seemingly unlikely of people. You claim to have such an open-minded philosophy, so live it!

Your family.

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Relationships with your family are tough. You feel like they don’t understand you, and they probably don’t because it’s been a while since they were 16 years old and their hormones were a-raging. Interactions are particularly tough with your dad, because you feel like he puts a lot of pressure on you and doesn’t appreciate and share in your little successes.

It will take most of your first year of college before you realize that your parents have raised you in a way entirely antithetical to many of the teenagers surrounding you, and that that was actually a good thing. Because your dad never let you miss a homework assignment, you will have cultivated a conscience that will not let you accept failure as an option. Because of this work ethic, you will be able to achieve things above and beyond what you ever could have conceived of in high school.

Allegra and proud parents 2

You and your dad bash heads so much because you are cut from the same cloth. You are similarly minded in that you are crafty and stubborn and have the memory of an elephant—you never forget. Instead of being angry when you run into confrontation, why not seek out commonalities? And your mom is an individual whom you should always strive to emulate, because she is giving of herself and her time and her talents in ways that are unparalleled. It is their work that has made you into the individual you are today: you are an amalgamation of all those who came before you. Honor that lineage.

Boys.
Man, you have dated a whole bunch of losers lately. You have dated, and will continue to date boys—not men—who will either push at your boundaries, or try to draw boundaries to confine you. Both kinds suck a lot.

Remember that guy who wanted you to compromise on what you were willing to do in bed? Remember that other one who told you that you were definitely going to hell for your desires and beliefs? Neither of them had any right to do that, but you lived and you learned after the dusts of the breakups settled. Now you know that nobody should seek to change you: to want to do so is to do violence to your identity.

Sixteen-year-old Allegra, you do not need to define yourself in relation to how others treat you. To feel the need to attach yourself to another person to find self worth is to be insecure with your body, your mind, and your spirit. You are your own entity: independent and mighty. In the words of Shakespeare: “though she be but little, she is fierce!”

And because you are so fierce, and so important, I need to tell you one more thing: you should never make someone your priority when you are merely an option for them. Relationships are most fruitful, most comforting, most successful when they are equitable—that is, when the two parties involved give and take equally. Your partner should value your talents and show appreciation for them accordingly, and they too should have opportunities to share what they love with you (whether that’s playing the guitar, or running marathons, or playing full costume Dungeons & Dragons, or…). They should value you, and communicate that value verbally and often—and if you don’t want to do the same for them, then they are not worth your time. Period.

Your mental health.
At this point in your life, you know in your heart that something is wrong with you. You are beleaguered by chronic feelings of depression and anxiety (even though you do not have names to call these feelings by, you feel them no less poignantly). I have good news and I have bad news about those feelings of terror and hopelessness that you have been getting every couple of months since you turned fourteen.

The good news is that there’s gonna come a day when you feel better. In fact, there will come days when you feel great.

The bad news is that before that day comes when you feel better, there will be many days that come when you feel worse.

In fact, you will feel so terrible that you will want to die. Do you think you are emotionally volatile now? You will hit twenty years old and all of a sudden your body will not be able to contain the heaviness of your soul or your anxieties about your future anymore. You will spend days unable to get out of bed. You will spend hours on the floor of your shower, trying to collect yourself and stop weeping before class starts. You will spend an inordinate amount of time eating plain oatmeal, bite by tiny bite, attempting to sustain yourself as your weight drops lower and lower and you retreat inside of your own doubts.

At twenty, you will finally seek the help that you have always needed and deserved. You have never been, and will never be, undeserving of help and of love. After six years of living with a body and a mind that were revolting against you, you will finally seek out that help, and it will save you. You are strong. You are brave. You are tough.

You will go through lots of therapy and medication and mindfulness and meditation. I am sad to say that this darkness will never go away, but your relationship with it will change. It will help you learn to relate to others, and to engage them with empathy.

Empathy is probably the best advice that I have to give you. Be happy, and be kind. You are a deep and pensive and very broody young woman, sixteen-year-old Allegra. You are an old soul, and that is admirable, but just because you don’t want to be childish does not mean that there is not value in being childlike. You should let yourself feel joy when you are joyous, and sadness when you are sad. As the poet Mary Oliver says in “Wild Geese,”

“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

You have to take care of yourself. You have to give yourself time to laugh and to rest, as well as to study and to work. Learn to let things go, and to say “Enough for now. This is what I can do today, and that is enough.”


And a self-congratulatory note.
You’ve got a lot of hate and pressure in your life right now, so here’s some good stuff. Remember how you’d get picked on so much for being weird and nerdy and a total misfit? Over the next six years, you will…

  • Graduate from MSU (which, contrary to popular belief in 2007, was a much better choice for you than UM) with a 4.0 GPA. Remember how being 36th in high school made you so sad? Last spring you were first in a class of over six thousand students.
  • You’ll also give the commencement address.
  • Michigan State University will also put you on their homecoming court. Seriously. I’m not even making this stuff up. People really like you for some reason…
  • …And then they’ll pay actual money to keep you there for two more years for graduate school. Your life is bananas, really.
  • Travel to so many places and go on so many adventures. You’ll drink margaritas and roam the streets of Mexico, watch Shakespeare in London, climb the Great Wall of China, and more.
  • Publish poems and essays.
  • Make the church, and the world, a more inclusive place for queer, gay, lesbian, bi, and trans* people.
  • Date lots of boys. Like… a ton. And you will feel very fulfilled by this, and you’ll realize that that doesn’t make you a whore! Feminist liberation is very exciting.
  • Finally get the haircut that you tore out of YM magazine when you were ten years old. And it. Looks. Awesome.

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So chin up, 16-year-old Allegra. You’re one smart, tough cookie. I promise that you can and will make your way in this world—and while you will certainly stumble along the way, at least you will have plenty of exciting stories to tell.

Love,
Allegra, Age 22

Allegra graduated in May 2013 with a dual degree in professional writing and gender studies, and is pursuing a master’s in rhetoric and writing. She’s into queer theology, sex theory, and a whole host of other things that are impolite to speak of at the dinner table.

Stuck in Process

I had this interview once where they asked me about my writing experience.

I couldn’t very well say, “I could send you this short story I wrote in seventh grade about this  boy wizard, but like, it’s not a ripoff of Harry Potter or anything. Pinky swear.” And so I shrugged and said I had focused more on editing and the publishing process in college, not focusing on the words that floated around in my head and always found themselves scribbled on some paper. Fixing someone else’s words was exhilarating; coming up with my own (and showing them to people) was terrifying.

Later, the interviewer told me one of the main reasons I didn’t get the job was because I had very little writing experience.

For someone who has always considered themselves a word connoisseur, this deflated me. I didn’t have writing experience. Nothing that counted, anyway. All of the short stories and attempts-at-novels and plot lines I had written down counted for nothing my resume.

Theory: Maybe it was around the time that I decided to turn into an adult that I lost my creativity.

I had notebooks filling my childhood desk at home and another one I always kept in my bag during college for when the idea struck. I pulled it out only a few times in college. I’d rather go to Beer Rhetorics, or watch the Bachelorette, or shop on Grand River. I didn’t sit at the computer so much anymore, slamming away on the keyboard for hours at a time, my fingers not moving fast enough to satiate what my brain was telling me to say. I didn’t really notice until I started interviewing for big girl jobs that I had grown up from the idealistic “writer,” and had grown into the “editor.” I had transitioned from one world of words to the other without even realizing it.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE editing. I freelance edit, I edit at my job, I even edit some of Vanessa’s stuff from time to time.

I guess I’m having a hard time adjusting to this “correctness” problem. I can’t write a shitty first draft. I can’t get lost in the tale anymore; I get lost in the syntax, the commas.

Vanessa recently challenged me to get back into writing. I have been dipping my toes into it again, testing the water and seeing how it feels. It feels okay, I guess. A little like it used to, but still foreign and forced.

I haven’t changed all that much from over a month ago. I’m trying to put words to paper, but dragging my heels every step of the way. I can practically taste the inspiration — I have the desire to continue, the general idea of what I want this unwritten tale to be — but I can’t wrap my fingers around it.

So I’m reaching out to you, writers. What tactics do you use to get yourself out of a funk?

Lauren is a social media guru/web content manager/overall awesome editor. She spends too much time talking about Game of Thrones and the Oxford comma. To be insta-best friends, follow her on twitter.

We’re Writers, We’re Artists

I was in the middle of writing a blog post about blogging. And then I saw this…

And stopped everything.

I tossed aside my intellectual musings about meta-ness and stopped thinking so hard. I let my thoughts run away from me and appreciated my writing, Mary Lambert’s writing, VALCAN’s writing, you-person-I-don’t-know-yet-reads-my-blog’s writing for the art forms that they are.

Even though I collect a paycheck from a major corporation in exchange for stringing words and commas together, I’m a writer and I’m an artist. Ali’s a writer, front-end developer AND an artist. Vanessa is a digital media specialist, novelist AND an artist, Allegra’s a queer and gender studies rhetorician AND an artist. Chelsea, Noelle and Lauren are writers and artists too.

Our writing projects, be they trivial blog posts such as this, yet-to-be-completed novels, songs, poems, screenplays, cookbooks, websites, are all works of art. And yet I take these projects for granted. When I walk into my shared apartment, too tired to turn on the microwave to heat up leftover Tom-Yum soup, after a long day defending grammar and style in a power suit, I forget that I’m an artist. I forget that I have the resources and skills to finish that screenplay I started and turn it into something. I forget that I could turn these characters dancing around in my imagination into characters in a book instead.

Listening to Mary Lambert (of Same Love w/Macklemore fame) put an extraordinarily powerful poem to music, her calculated and honest articulation, and the beauty of the video reminds me that I could create something meaningful, emotional, and artful too.

I write, I create art. Sometimes all I need for inspiration is to remember that.

NOTE: Let’s take a sec and talk about Mary Lambert’s message. There is ABSOLUTELY no reason why any woman or girl should feel negatively about herself. If you know someone who is struggling with body image, self-worth, depressive thoughts, anxiety, or anything that’s making them feel less than the stellar person that they are, help ’em out. Here’s a website that will get you/them started: To Write Love on Her Arms.

Ashley HaglundAshley works in corporate, health care and non-profit communications. She loves starting new writing projects; is a media junkie; enjoys studying science, technology and patent law issues; and has a love/hate relationship with semi-colons. To see her face and be her internet friend, follow her on twitter.

When Doubt Rears Its Ugly Head

At my last review, I told my boss, “I want to build more things.” My official title is Digital Marketing Associate, but that really means web developer, Facebook ad wrangler, social media marketer, part time graphic designer, etc etc. Working for a non-profit means picking up hats wherever I’m needed.

After a year, I was finally given the chance to build something again. I was tasked with creating a new website for our camps department, based on a single-page home scrolling design plus individual camp profiles. At face value, it sounded easy enough. I’ve already built a single page website for my friend’s documentary, Sanskriti. I’ve built custom post types before (which is a fancy way of saying special WordPress blog posts with meta information), and I’ve arranged that data in many different ways. The big, hairy task that loomed over me was “How can we make those camps searchable?”

The Process

Why is the search necessary? Well let’s say you’re a parent and you have two children, Miriam and Jonah (I work for JCC Association, I couldn’t name them Mary and John). For sake of ease, you want to send them to camp together, which means you need lots of options. You want to know if you can send them to camp in your state or close by, what length of session options are possible (in case Miriam wants to go all summer and Jonah wants to go for just two weeks), what specialty activities are required (must haves: horseback riding and a pool), and if there’s financial aid. That’s a lot of different factors to go in to your search. A huge list of camps would be overwhelming and probably lead you to Google until your fingers go numb. Instead, on our camps website, you’ll be able to filter it down by all of those factors (and more) to find the right fit.

Although I had never built such a thing before, my response to this request was, “Of course I can do that.” That’s what Google is for, right? Plus, I have friends who work in this area of expertise. I knew there were people to whom I could send out the SOS, if necessary.

This ended up being a lot bigger and scarier than I could have imagined. I read until my eyes sagged and my brain could no longer absorb information. I built a search bar that didn’t work. I re-structured the entire custom post type three times, to make different parts of the information gathering process and display of that information actually function. Over the course of three weeks, I was close to a mental breakdown. That’s when the cloud of doom seemed to take over my thoughts. Who was I to think I could build such a thing?

I started to doubt not only my abilities, but my career path. How could I be a developer if I couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t make the search work? Will anyone ever hire me again? I should just go to grad school now or leave this work field and follow my dream of being a cabaret singer. Sure, I’d be poor and sure, that isn’t the career path that I got a college education for, but wouldn’t it be better? Could I be happier? The amount of times I sat at my desk, staring at the screen and clutching my tightening chest, is uncountable.

Giving up on this task was not an option, plain and simple. If I couldn’t do it, it would go to our IT department (which means it wouldn’t be a priority) and who know what would have happened to me. I had to figure out a way to make it work.

I dropped the idea of making the search bar that we had initially designed and decided to go with a filter system. For the fourth time, I started from scratch. I’ve read countless tutorials about how to make a filter happen. I built one that was semi-successful and became close to tears. Maybe I could do it. Maybe everything would be ok. Finally, I found a tutorial from Zoe Rooney about how to create filters with Filtrify for WordPress. I would like to write a love letter to Zoe, declaring my undying devotion.

I rebuilt everything one last time, integrating the special Filtrify formula. And it works. Sure, there are still a few kinks, but there are actually drop down menus that allow users to pick and choose the most important parts of their camp search.

What I Learned

At the end of the day, the task was completed. I know I had to go through that learning period, and I know when the time comes, I could take what I learned and do it again. I do wish I hadn’t been so hard on myself. I spent so many evenings glued to my computer screen and so many nights tossing and turning. I kept telling myself that I would fail.

The moment I switched my perspective, when I said, “This is it. You have to do this,” is the moment I could finally start to achieve my goal. Negative thoughts are so destructive and can make you feel so powerless in every aspect of your life.

Believing in yourself is more than half the battle.

Alexandra WhiteAlexandra is a WordPress & front-end developer who builds awesome things. She loves craft beer, apple cider cookies, and traveling to new places (especially when the trip is free). You should follow her on twitter and maybe you can become internet friends. Or maybe even IRL friends.