Thursday, April 16, 2015

A Good Ole Catchup Post

Here's a scenario which occurs in my life more often than one might think: I'll meet up with a friend who I haven't seen in a while, we'll chat for a bit, and suddenly they will look slightly embarrassed and say, "To be honest, I don't even know what to ask you. I feel like I know everything that's going on in your life because of your blog."

On one hand, they've got a point. I get pretty revealing up in here sometimes. For example, if you frequent this blog, you not only know oodles about my professional life, but you also know more obscure things like my favorite podcasts, what the inside of my home looks like, and hell, you even know my exact weight.

But the notion that my entire life is on this blog is honestly a misconception. While I pepper my writing with anecdotes and candor, I'd say that not even 5% of my day-to-day makes it onto the pages of Avoiding Atrophy. Actually, I'm pretty intentional about keeping it that way. Like you, I think it'd be pretty creeptastic to let the whole world into all my bidness.

Still, there are definitely details of my life that I want to share with my readers because, let's be honest, I like you guys. Sure, a lot of you are strangers to me. For all I know, you're just hanging around this blog to collect information so that you can Catfish me and rob me blind. But I take my chances because at the end of the day, dammit, I just like you. And when you like someone, you tell them what your deal is.

So on that note, here's a bunch of stuff that has been/will be going on with me lately:

I'm ALL IN for Next Creative Collective.

Next Creative is a collective that I've started alongside my friend Alex Shellhammer. Through monthly meetups and workshops, our aim is to provide a community for bloggers, makers, and entrepreneurs. Our first meetup back in March was an absolute smash, and our next one is coming up soon! It's been so fun coordinating with my girl, Alex, but I've got to admit, it's also a lot of work. It's the kind of work that feels really satisfying and character-building, like churning your own butter, but still, it's work. I'm stoked for this adventure, and if you want to take part (and by the way, you don't have to be in NYC to take part), click HERE.

This is part of a madlib that we passed out at our first meetup!

I finished Improv 301.

I've been pretty quiet on this blog regarding my comedy dabblings, but just so you know, I still dabble. I finished my third level improv course at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and it was certainly the most challenging yet. With the help of my truly phenomenal teacher, I really ended up feeling successful by the end of my course. I'm still not sure what improv means for my future, but all I know is I love it, and I can't wait to sign up for 401.

I signed up for ClassPass, and I can't stop talking about it.

If you haven't heard of ClassPass, here's the deal: for $99 a month, you can go to unlimited classes at tons (and I mean TONS) of awesome boutique fitness studios. My friends Robyn and Alex twisted my arm into signing up, and I'm so glad they did. Since I started last Friday, I've been to FIVE classes, and I just signed up for my sixth. I'm pretty much always sore now, and basically, I'm going to be ripped as hell in what I assume will be a few days. Look out, world.

I'm going to Europe.

In May, my hubs and I are heading to London and Paris for what will, I'm sure, be eleven glorious days. So far, all we've done is book some plane tickets, a train ticket, and a few AirBnbs. Other than that, we honestly have no plans whatsoever. Neither of us have ever been to Europe before, and the prospect of planning a trip of this magnitude is semi-intimidating. I'd LOVE some recommendations from you guys, so shout em out in the comments section if you've got em!

I've been eating a LOT of restaurant-quality ramen.

Just, like, a ton. Like, whatever you're imagining, add more (but also remember that I'm doing ClassPass, so I don't think it will kill me). Ramen is without fail my new favorite food, and I've been making it a point lately to visit some of the most reputable ramen restaurants in the city. Last week, I tried the ramen at Ippudo, and I pretty much left my body the entire time I was eating and dined in a spiritual realm of spicy, noodly delight. It was that good.

I should note that this ramen, while delicious, is NOT from Ippudo.

What I'm reading:

The Complete Stories of Truman Capote by Truman Capote, The Magicians by Lev Grossman, and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I recently finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed along with half of the rest of America, and you know what, it was fine. For sections of it, I found myself desperately wanting to go to REI and buy a bunch of backpacking equipment to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. But for the most part, I felt like it sort of dragged along. If you've read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

What I'm listening to:

Every episode of Comedy Bang Bang, and like, not a ton of music. I'm in a musical rut. Feel free to make some recs.

What I'm watching:

Oh, everything. I watched The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt three times through like a crazy person, and I'm still not even sure I love it (I think I do, but it's no 30 Rock, that's for sure). Also, I just finished up the first season of Better Call Saul (meh?), and I'm currently working my way through its predecessor, Breaking Bad, which I've been avoiding for years because I'm tenderhearted. I'm loving Last Man On Earth, and of course, I never miss an episode of New Girl or The Mindy Project. The season premieres of Veep and Game of Thrones aired on Sunday, and they were both glorious. And then let's not forget reality TV. As always, I'm devoted to another season of Survivor. The theme this season is "White Collar, Blue Collar, No Collar," and it's honestly ridiculous, but regardless, I'll probably never stop loving that show. I'm also watching The Amazing Race for the first time ever, which never really appealed to me before, but suddenly I'm hooked. It is weirdly satisfying to my wanderlusty heart.

Aaaaand this is getting long, and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface, but you get the idea: I'm a person and I do stuff.

Catch me up on your life. What have you been up to?

Friday, April 10, 2015

What Makes You Hustle?

Yesterday, in the midst of an embarrassingly bad bout of writer's block, I slapped on this "hustle" temporary tattoo from Tattly. This was one of the many inspirational tats that my friend Alex and I included in a gift box for our first ever Next Creative meetup. I've been saving it for a special occasion, a creative emergency of sorts, and yesterday was exactly that. As I pressed a warm rag against my arm and peeled back the waxy layer of paper, suddenly I felt invincible.

Hustle. It's a word that really resonates with me. Whenever I hear it, my mind is immediately transported to my days of Little League softball. I'm nine-years-old, and my coach is hitting grounders in my general vicinity. I make feeble attempts to field the balls. "Hustle!" my coach bellows. "Hustle! Don't just stand there. Hustle!" To be fair, he's got a point. For the most part, I am just standing there. He calls out again, "Hustle! Hustle hustle HUSTLE!"

Truth be told, I had no business ever being on a softball field to begin with. Back then, I'm honestly not even sure I understood what the word "hustle" meant, no matter how loudly it was screamed in my direction. 

But today, when I'm feeling particularly lethargic or I'm struggling to get moving on my writing, I find myself chanting "hustle" like a mantra in my head. Something about it really motivates me. It's one of those words with a sound that seems to imply it's meaning. Its Dutch origin word, hutselen, means "to shake." I love that. Here's my definition though:

Hustle: to work hard, to move with haste, to put your whole self into what you are doing.

While I may not have hustled much on the softball field, I'd like to think I'm hustling now. The thing is it's hard to hustle for something you don't care about. It feels futile to waste energy on something that doesn't really matter to you. But for something you love, it's essential.

Today, I have a lot of things to hustle for. This blog, my readers, my community, my family, my friends, my future -- these are things that make me want to move and shake. There is room for grace, forgiveness, and sometimes a touch of laziness, but at the end of the day, these are the aspects of my life that I want to pour my whole self into.

So today, even though it's a Friday and all I want to do is close up shop and watch a million episodes of Breaking Bad in a row, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to stare at my sweet temp tat for a quick second, and then I'm going to hustle.

What makes you hustle?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What's Your Hobby?

I don't remember who it was that set my most recent existential crisis in motion, but whoever it was did so by asking me one simple question: "What are your hobbies?"

I immediately drew a blank. The blankiest of blanks. Hobbies? As in, like, the things I do in my free time? Hobbies, as in amusing activities that have nothing to do with my job, my platform, or my financial security? I mean, writing used to be my go-to hobby, but now it's my livelihood. And I don't knit or sculpt or do zumba or write letters to a pen pal in South America. I actually have any hobbies?

This question haunted me for a while until I approached my husband with it. "You have hobbies," he assured me. "They are just slightly untraditional."

And he's right. And when you think about it, who really has traditional hobbies anyway? Here's a short list of mine:

-Listening to podcasts
-Antiquing (alright, this one's pretty traditional, and by "traditional" I mean that it's what old ladies like to do.)
-Watching documentaries
-Improv, standup, storytelling -- all of the bits of comedy I do
-Reading short stories
-Trying different kinds of ramen of varying levels of spiciness
-Taking pretty pictures
-Singing showtunes in my apartment to the delight of my unsuspecting neighbors

See? I've got hobbies! I'm an interesting person! I swear!

But recently, what I've come to realize is that I have one hobby which really seems to trump all of the others. In fact, I'd say this one crosses the line into passion territory.

Friends, I love to travel. To be more precise, I love to explore. It's just my favorite way to spend my time. In fact, I would say that my heart of exploration is the reason I'm living in New York City right now. Three years I've lived here, and I have never grown tired of discovering all of this city's nooks and crannies. I just love a good nook, and I adore a good cranny. New York has several of both.

And I feel so profoundly lucky to have a best friend who shares this same thirst for adventure. His name is Daniel. He is my husband. And together, we are so committed to a life of discovery that when we decided to move here, it didn't even cross our minds to get rid of our car. In a town dominated by public transportation, we know it's crazy to park our Ford Focus on the street every day, but what can we say? We're explorers.

And honestly, our car (and our flexible schedules) gives us the opportunity to see New York in a way that few people have the chance to. Such was the case this last Monday when I woke up and suddenly asked, "Hey, do you want to go to Beacon?"

The answer, of course, was yes. Beacon is an artsy village about an hour and half north of NYC, and it's been on our list for a while now. We had heard that there is a phenomenal art museum there, Dia Art Foundation, so we set that as our arrival point, hopped in our Focus, and just left. Nothing could have prepared us for how unique Dia was, and the whole town of Beacon was positively brimming with charm. I could ramble on about the events of our day, but a picture is worth a thousand words, isn't it? Man, as a writer, I hope that's not totally true, but still, here are some pictures from the day:

While I love the destinations, one of my favorite things about these day trips we take is the experience of driving. I will never take the experience of driving over the Brooklyn Bridge for granted, nor will I ever feel anything but amazement whenever the landscape suddenly shifts from skyscrapers to mountains. This time, I decided to film our drive to Beacon as well as a bit of our visit to Dia. Warning: I just got this fancy camera, and I have legitimately no idea how to use it, but if you're into the concept of moving images set to an Avett Brothers song, have at it:

I guess I was reluctant to even consider exploration a hobby because, I don't know, it's just what I do. Also, now that I've written it about a thousand times in this post, I think I kind of hate the word "hobby," but that's neither here nor there. Discovering new places truly is the ultimate way to spend my time. It revives me in a way that nothing else does, and if that's what a hobby is, then I guess it's my hobby.

What's your hobby?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How To Write Well And Write Often (Part 2)

A few weeks back, I set out to create a blog post filled with some of my favorite pieces of writing advice, things I've learned from experts and through my own process working as a writer. I quickly realized, however, that I had far too much to say for one post, so I ominously titled it "How to Write Well And Write Often: PART ONE." If you have been holding your breath waiting for Part II, you are most certainly dead because I wrote that post three weeks ago. Whoops. 

But for those of my readers who are still alive and kicking, please enjoy these leftover bits of writing wisdom:

Take yourself on "artist dates"

This little nugget comes from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, the same book that introduced me to the concept of morning pages (I wrote about those in Part One). While morning pages should be written every single day, artist dates should occur at least once weekly. Artist dates are outings that you take in order to engage your inner child. These should be solitary activities, i.e. don't bring your hubs or your kids or your fun coworker. Just spend time feeding your own artistic brain. This can be as involved as going to a museum across town or as simple as taking a walk in your neighborhood. Just commit to getting out there and having a new experience. It will refresh your mind and consistently provide new material for your writing. Plus, you can casually brag about all the hot dates you've been going on, and it will leave everyone intrigued and possibly concerned. 

Create short assignments*

This is a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do sort of situation. I'm straight up terrible at creating short assignments, but I want to get better. What I often do instead is I sit down at my desk with lofty dreams about the wonderful things I am going to write, and then when I inevitably do not succeed in completing the next great American novel, I sulk. I feel defeated, I pout, and I refuse to let myself enjoy anything for the rest of the day. This is the outcome of having unrealistic expectations, and if you're anything like me, then you know that this is a pretty discouraging feeling. Here's what you should do instead: expect less of yourself. Yeah, there, I said it. Ask yourself, "Self, what do I want to accomplish today?" and whatever your immediate answer is, cut it in half. Say you want to get two pages done. Screw that, change it to one page. Then write that one page, and then eat a cookie. Seriously, actually eat a cookie. Reward yourself and rejoice in the fact that you are in control of this process, that is, as long as you don't have an editor breathing down your neck (a terrifying feeling, by the way). Plus, think about it: if you stick to all of your short assignments, you are going to get a lot more done than if you waste time beating yourself up over the impossible goals you set. 

*This lesson, by the way, comes from Anne Lammott's Bird By Bird, which I already mentioned in Part One, and you know what, what the hell, just buy the damn book already. It really is worth it. 

If you think you can get rid of it, you probably can.

Maybe you've heard the expression, "Kill your darlings," which has been attributed to tons of famous authors, so I'm not even going to go down that rabbit hole. But anyway, "kill your darlings" means that all of those self-indulgent, mushy paragraphs with which you have fallen in love have got to go. For the good of your writing, you've got to get rid of stuff you adore. My rule for editing is that any word or sentence that has the faintest scent of "I could do without this" -- get rid of it. It hurts. It feels like a swift punch to the gut, but it makes a world of difference.

Write sober, edit sober.

Ernest Hemingway is quoted as saying "Write drunk; edit sober," but once again, tons of people believe this to be a misattribution, so whatever. Regardless, even though this wisdom is full of wit and spirit, in practice, I think it's pretty crappy advice. I've tried to write drunk before, and it usually results in Word Documents filled with gems like: "Night donuts are good. Donuts are good at nighttime." That, or I fall asleep before I can write a thing. In my opinion, write sober. Be present for the writing process. And if anything, edit drunk so that you'll be more likely to make rash decisions about what to get rid of.

"Write it down"

It sounds simple, but it's some of the best advice I've ever received. These three words are frequently spoken to me by my dear friend, Patrick. Any time I say something funny or share a somewhat interesting thought, he laughs and says, "Write it down." His reason for doing so is because, well, he knows me. He knows that my memory is basically a drunk toddler. I can't depend on it for anything. So often in life, I'll have a thought that I want to remember, then I will turn to look at a bird eating a cigarette, and by the time I collect myself, I've already forgotten what I wanted to store in my brain. That's why it is essential for me to write things down. Everything. Every tiny, seemingly insignificant glimmer of an idea goes into a notebook or the notes app on my phone or onto the sweaty palm of my hand. For me, most of the writing process happens when I'm not even writing at all, but rather when I'm out experiencing the world (on the train, in conversations, on my artist dates, etc.) That's why I dedicate myself to being a compulsive collector of every bizarre thing the world throws at me. Otherwise, I assure you, I would have legitimately nothing to write about. 

What is your best piece of writing advice?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another year older...

On Sunday, it was my birthday, and if you know me well, you might know that I'm weird about birthdays. I always have been. To be clear, I have no qualms with celebrating other people's special days, throwing confetti at them, writing them cards, and eating their cake. But my own DOB always seems to be accompanied by a slight hint of dread. When people wish me a happy birthday, I tend to respond with morose comments about aging and crawling closer and closer to the grave. Yeah, I'm that guy. And given the fact that I'm still relatively young, it's especially crazy. I am sure my eighty-something self will want to give my twenty-something self a swift kick in the ass for all of my premature existential crises. 

But the fact that I know they are irrational so far has not stopped me from having these mini-birthday-freakouts, and this year was no exception. In the days leading up to my twenty-sixth birthday, I felt queasy with anti-anticipation. 26? Who turns 26? Am I officially in my late twenties? What have I done with my life? What is happening to my metabolism? Am I dying?!

(Does this happen to anyone else, by the way? Just me? Cool.)

Come the day of my birthday, I fully expected to be my jaded old self but alas, my plans were thwarted. The thing is, you guys, I know some amazing people. And even with my propensity for birthday misery, their kindness totally outweighed any of my angst. All weekend long, I had cards and gifts pouring in from so many different people. I don't expect every year to be like this, but man, I kind of felt like a kid again. Positively, spoiled rotten. Armed with an email inbox full of sweet words of affirmation, it turned out it was pretty much impossible to think about the inevitability of death. 

Oh, and also, I had some sangria. So that helped too.

So thanks to everyone who helped get me through my birthday! I felt positively rich with love and friendship. A special thanks to Daniel, my hunky as all hell husband, who would give his right arm to make me happy (but babe, I would never ask that of you. Don't give anyone your right arm, no matter how much they offer to pay you. You need that thing!).

Case in point, even though he swore he wouldn't get me anything, he and my parents teamed up to get me a DSLR camera! I could not believe it. This thing is going to be an absolute game changer for me. I mean it. Thanks to Camilla (that's what I've named my camera, by the way), you can expect to see this ol' blog become a photographer's dream. Here's the first picture I snapped:

I swear I'll get better.

How do YOU feel about this whole getting older thing? 
Are you a fan of your birthday?

OH! And before I go, this has nothing to do with my birthday, but my friend Clinton Washington performed on The Voice last night and pretty much changed the world forever with his rendition of "Stay," which he performed alongside India Carney. If you haven't watched it, I'll just leave it right here for you because dammit, I'm pretty proud of that kid.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Let's talk about weight

Today, we're going to talk about weight. Human body weight, that is. And let me start off by saying that I am only an expert in this subject insomuch as I have some weight, and I am a person, which is why I'm really only going to talk about my own human body weight. This might get weirdly personal real quick, y'all, but whatever, let's dive right in.

Like you, my body weight has reflected several different numbers over the course of my life. When I was born, I weighed a little over seven pounds, which I’ve heard is normal for a newborn. At that time, my weight wasn’t of major concern to me. I had more pressing issues such as, you know, being born and things like communicating my need for sustenance.

As I grew older, I became increasingly more aware of my body. In eighth grade, I have a distinct memory of stepping on the scale in my parents’ bathroom about ten times in a row one afternoon. Each time I did, the digital screen read “136.” Back then, I remember those three numbers feeling like a kick in the stomach. Forget the fact that I was a growing, healthy kid. In my thirteen-year-old brain, I genuinely believed that my body was expanding at an alarming rate. I felt a lot like this, actually:

As an adult, my weight has fluctuated within a range of about thirty pounds. At my lowest, I weighed 145, but I have to confess that I only existed at such a weight under the most extreme conditions of my life. As a college student, I worked at a camp every summer, which doesn't sound like Crossfit, I know, but believe me, it was truly physically demanding. In the grueling 100-plus-degree heat, I pushed my body up and down hills while carrying giant water jugs, a massive backpack, and sometimes an eight-year-old or two. I basically never stopped moving or sweating or pushing my body to its limits. I ate seconds every day at breakfast along with chicken fried steak and a side of cake at dinner, and still, I lost weight. Lots of weight. I would leave each summer flat-chested and incapable of regulating my body heat in air-conditioned buildings.

Me doing the camp thing. Note my sweat lines.
Also, feel free to check out my boobs. Psych! They aren't there.
But then I would go back to school, and I would either eat healthy or I wouldn't, and I would soon be back to weighing within 155 and 170 pounds. College was a time where I was rarely happy with the way I looked. While I wasn't a fan of how my summers seemed to rob me of my natural feminine features, I still just wanted so badly to resemble the other girls at my school. Skinny, athletic, bright-eyed with thighs that never touched and chins that never doubled. The more I weighed, the further I felt from the physical ideal I had invented in my mind.

Like most women (and most men, I would assume), I've lived a large part of my life wishing the number on my scale could be different. Over the years, I've obsessed over it, cried over it, and spent a good deal of energy trying to change it.

But now, suddenly and without warning, I've kind of reached this new step in my relationship with my weight, and it's a bit surprising to me, actually. This morning, I stepped on the scale and it reflected back to me what I already knew: I weigh 174 pounds. That's roughly twenty-five times my birth weight, almost forty pounds more than what I weighed in middle school when I thought I looked like a blob. And it is literally one pound more than the weight of the heaviest pit bull in the world.

And you know what, honestly, I feel pretty good. Maybe the best I've ever felt.

Meet Hulk. He weighs 173 pounds. We should swap clothes. (via Bored Panda)

Whenever I share that number (174 pounds), friends often respond by saying, "No! No way. That can't be right." And I'm never really sure how to react to that. Thank you? I guess?

So maybe you think that's a high number. Maybe you think it's low. Maybe you think it's normal. Perhaps you weigh more and perhaps you weigh less. Whatever, I'm not here to make any decisions on whether 174 pounds is a lot.

Because regardless of what my number sounds like to anyone else, the fact is I'm relatively good with it. My entire adult life, even during those summers of poke-able ribs and cheekbones, I have always technically been overweight, at least according to my Body Mass Index. You know about that whole thing, right? BMI: a measurement of relative size which indicates that Brad Pitt is technically obese. Yeah...

So needless to say, this is no different from any other time in my life. But the thing that is different is that lately, for the most part, when I look in the mirror, I like what I see. I enjoy dressing up my body, making my hair big, and putting on a pair of fringed boots and walking out the door. I love my full face, my strong legs, my general appearance. Overall, I just feel like myself.

And I'm not really sure what caused this shift in my perception of my body. Maybe it's the fact that I'm a bit older, a bit wiser, a bit further removed from the dorms at Baylor University. Regardless, I've become a lot less fixated on my numbers. I care about different things now: feeling good, making positive choices -- all that good stuff. I've simply lost interest in pushing against my natural shape.

And by the way, I'm not 100% certain why I decided to write this post today. Perhaps I'll wake up tomorrow wishing I hadn't shared my exact weight with all of my readers. I suppose I just feel like there's still junk to sort out in the larger body image conversation. When we talk about weight, culturally, we tend do it in this vague, roundabout way. We don't mention a lot of specifics, and we certainly never mention numbers. We talk about health, beauty, and we make a hundred different contradictory statements about what it means to have either. And despite everyone's best efforts, many women are still left feeling like crap about themselves.

I guess by putting my number out there today, I mostly just want to take some power away from it. Weight is not this big secret that we need to hide, something that we should only talk about in hushed tones. It's a stat. It's trivia. It's information as scandalous as eye color, blood type, or favorite movie. It is just a thing you've got, and for the most part, it's not even a good indicator of wellness.

So yeah, I weigh 174 pounds, and I look fantastic in a wrap dress. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't wish my number was marginally less, but that honestly doesn't stop me from feeling good about my body. And knowing that has made a big difference for me, and I don't know, maybe it could make a big difference for you too. 

Anyway, how much do YOU weigh?
Haha, jkjkjkjkjk (unless you feel like sharing, I guess)
Got anything to add to this conversation?
Comment below!


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