Man Plans…

It is no secret that life is unpredictable. Any book, TV show, movie, or even story told between friends will show you that. Never has a good plot started out with “Everything went exactly as I planned it.” That’s just boring. And yet, when life does take a turn, and everything is not as we planned, it certainly does tend to throw us for a loop. This seems so simple (and yes, cliché) so you would think we might prepare ourselves a bit more for when things go awry. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Especially for those of us to tend to plan obsessively. I might be a little guilty of that… When I was 12, I outlined a plan for my whole life. I’ll spare you all the details, but I picked the college I would attend, the classes I would take there, what I might do during the gap year I would absolutely need to take before grad school… I even went so far as to print out the pre-requisites I needed to get into my grad school of choice—TEN YEARS before I would be attending! It is crystal clear to anyone who meets me (even briefly) that I am a planner. Spontaneity does not come easily to me. Sure, I can be flexible and adapt as obstacles arise, but usually, that’s because I’ve thought of three backup plans ahead of time. I am about as unpredictable as I am graceful—and just ask the doorway I bump into about seven times a day about that.

Of course, the plan I made at age 12 did not come true (although part of it did—my degree is in English!), so I don’t know how I thought I could get away with such a detailed plan again. Maybe it was because of all those voices you hear in college—both inside your head and out—asking what you’re doing with your life and simply not accepting “I don’t know” as an answer. Unlike plenty of my friends, I, the planner, always had an answer for them, though. One that became clearer and clearer as graduation loomed. “I’m going to be an editor,” I’d say. “No, not for newspapers or those online magazines, for books!” Soon it began to include working for my favorite publishing company (yes, I have one, don’t you?) and living with some of my best friends in Brooklyn or Queens. We didn’t plan which borough—we weren’t psychotic—but we did know exactly which pillows would be on our couch and that all of our kitchen utensils would be red. I was so confident that this plan would succeed, I even started a blog about post-graduate life in the city month in advance! It was like the age 12 plan round two—but this time I was so much older and wiser, I had to be right!—so you’d think I wouldn’t have been quite so surprised when once again, it didn’t come true. You might even think I would have gotten used to it. But perhaps the unpredictability of life isn’t something we’re meant to get used to. Maybe (like a bad plot) that would make life boring.

Anyway, life threw me a curveball. If you had told me six months ago that I would be currently living in New Orleans (that’s in Louisiana! I know, I still can’t believe it either); doing a job that has absolutely nothing to do with my publishing degree but I love anyway; and living in a cottage with a patio instead of a three bedroom apartment the size of a postage stamp; I would have looked at you like you had a second head. No one, and I mean no one, could have guessed that I would be trading in the fast, busy, invigorating pace of the East Coast for the slower, more appreciative, celebration of life that is the South. Seriously, when I told my grandparents their jaws dropped! The life I live now is nothing like what I planned—but I couldn’t be happier. Change is hard and scary (especially when moving to a new city that you’ve never even visited and where you know practically no one), but what amazed me—once I stopped kicking, screaming, and being overly anxious about everything—was how easily it came. In fact, the part that’s taken me the longest (aside from hanging stuff on my walls—which is just such a big commitment!) has been figuring out how to write a blog post that’s a little bit funny, a lot a bit true, not disgustingly cliché AND somehow changes the whole concept of the blog itself… So, how did I do?

I, for one, think I’ll take a break from planning for now (although now that this post is out of the way, YOU can plan to hear from me a lot more regularly). After all, I’ve learned that what they say is true: Man—no, wait—a college graduate plans, God laughs.

The Joy of Snail Mail

airmail

There is a lot to be said about the power of a letter. Not an email, not a blog post, not a text message, but an actual letter. Snail mail, y’all. Yes, it’s still a thing. For me, summer has always meant writing and receiving letters. I spent most of my childhood (and well past that, actually) summers at sleep away camp, where the only form of communication with the outside world was letters and postcards. I can remember even (or maybe especially) at the early age of nine, the rush of excitement when the camp counselors passed out the mail each day. I used to sit on my bunk and stare at them as they moved around the cabin, stopping at all my friends’ beds. Would they stop at mine? Did my parents miss me? Did they love me enough to write to me? Or even send me a package?! What about my friends? Even as an ~angsty~ teenager, thrilled to be away from my parents for the summer, I would get excited about letters from them. My excitement continued even when I was a counselor and could to talk to my parents and friends on the phone—I would still hope for letters. I remember asking my mom one day halfway through the summer why she hadn’t sent me anything yet. She was entirely incredulous, “Why would I send you a letter when we talk on the phone twice a week?!”

Even though I always loved getting letters, it took me a while to master the art of writing a good letter back. My first year (and probably my second) at summer camp, my mom would send me long printed out surveys that I would have to fill out and send back. They usually asked me things like what my favorite activity at camp was, who my friends were, what happened exciting that day, etc. I was so bad at writing letters that I would fail to mention any of these things or answer my mom’s questions, without filling out a weird version of Mad Libs that my mom created. But, if I filled them out and sent them back, my mom would send me a package. And anyone who went to camp knows how important that was. By my later years, I was a full blown letter writing machine. Every day we had a rest hour (I later learned that was just as much for the counselors as for the campers), and rather than sleep or read like most of my cabin mates, I would write letters. To my friends back home, to my grandparents, to my family, and yes, even to my parents, I would write up to 3 letters a day. And sometimes when things were slow (i.e., I hadn’t gotten responses to alllllll of my letters), my best friend and I would even write each other notes and pass them across bunks. I loved writing letters.

As much as I loved receiving and writing letters then, I don’t think I could have guessed how much they would mean to me now. As a person who is just a little bit sentimental and a huge packrat (okay… maybe the other way around), I still have lots of the letters I received at camp. I have letters from my parents, letters from my brother (the few years we didn’t go to camp together), letters from the first summer my best friend and I were at different camps, even letters from people I don’t even talk to anymore. But every time I go to throw them away, I can’t. Regardless of who they are from, they brought me so much joy in the moment that it feels like it would be criminal to get rid of them—like getting rid of a treasured childhood toy, or a beloved picture. Plus, each letter contains so many memories, ones that I would be likely to forget otherwise. From ridiculous retellings of summer romps, to the news of a cousin’s engagement, my parents’ travel journals, and even just regular, everyday news (“Mom and I had fish again for dinner tonight!”), there are memories contained in those letters that transport me back to a different world when I read them. And if that’s not enough, someone sat down and took the time out of their busy, non-snail mail centered day (unlike mine) to write me a letter. Given how unusual that is today (and even 12 years ago), how could I just throw away their hard work?

Letters have fallen out of style as of late, but I think that they still can play an important role in our contemporary, busy, modern lives. So I’ve come up with some reasons and excuses for writing real-life, snail mail, handwritten letters:

  • Letters are a great, articulate way to communicate. Unlike a text message, letters give all of the information at once. You can get through your story fully before the other person responds. Plus, a person has to (or at least, should) absorb the entire thing before they respond.
  • I have to proclaim the merits of handwritten thank you notes from up here on my soapbox. Come on, man. Someone took the time to pick out and buy you a gift. The least you can do is write them a short note thanking them for all of their kindness!
  • Postcards!!! This one is just a given. Is there anything cuter than a postcard? Plus, I know you’re lying if you say you’ve never just looked at a postcard and immediately thought of someone who would love it. They’re like 68 cents. Buy it. Send it. Do it. (I may or may not have a stack of postcards that I bought specifically for people sitting on my desk waiting to be sent right now… perhaps I should follow my own advice…)
  • It is a well known fact that everyone smiles when they get a piece of real snail mail. Not a bill (people still get those in the mail, right?), not an advertisement, a credit card offer, or a magazine, but a real piece of mail specifically for them that YOU sent. Everyone needs a smile sometimes, y’all. Make it happen.
  • Okay but even if you don’t send it, sometimes writing a letter can be a great way to think things through or to deal with emotions/stress/anxiety. Seriously, this is one my best stress/coping mechanisms. Can’t focus or sleep or relax because of something on your mind? Write a letter. Get it all out there, and just free write until you run out of things to stress or think about. You don’t have to actually send the letter to anyone (and if you do, I would suggest waiting a little while, reading it again, and maybe making some edits first), but just getting it out there on a piece of paper will make you feel soooooo much better. Pro tip: physically writing this, not typing it, will help even more.
  • Finally, sticking with the theme, I am sure you know someone who is working/playing/living at summer camp this summer. I am also sure that they would love it if they got a letter from you. It doesn’t have to be long at all. Just a few words to say you’re thinking of them and you hope they’re having fun.

So, in short (haha), I challenge you all to pick up your pen, your stationery, and a stamp (stamp rates have changed, check them out here) and send a letter this week! Someone (even if it’s just me because you read my blog AND followed my advice!) will really appreciate it, I promise.

 

P.S. Your favorite college graduate (almost) has now officially graduated! More on that later 🙂 x

My Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Lately it seems like there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world. I don’t know about you, but day after day my Facebook and Twitter feeds are full of bad news and almost nothing else—a space that used to be full of puppy videos and exciting updates from my friends both near and far now is filled with anger, hate, and, most strikingly, fear. And a few puppy videos… but not nearly as many as before. I find that I have to keep reminding myself that there are still good things going on in the world, we just aren’t focusing on them right now. And that’s okay. The political climate of our country right now requires us to be vigilant and stand up for what is right. But recently, I’ve been struggling to make sure that looking at my social media doesn’t ruin my day.

A few days ago, I had spent too much time looking at Facebook and reading articles about racism and antisemitism running rampant, and was basically having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (thank you very much Judith Viorst). I was feeling frustrated, worried, and honestly scared about the events that have recently been going on (no, I don’t mean the attack on Sweden) and the future of both America and the world in general. And it definitely didn’t help that I was also feeling frustrated, worried, and scared about my own future that day, too. You see, I’m in this place right now where I’m networking my heart out (if anyone has any contacts in publishing please hit me up with a message, leave a comment, find me on LinkedIn, slide into my DMs, send me a carrier pigeon, WHATEVER works for you), but because of the nature of the industry, I can’t apply for real jobs yet, and of course, while I can research my heart out, it’s still too early to find a place to live too. So, while my friends are figuring out where they’re going to grad school, applying for jobs, getting engaged, or even just picking classes for the fall 2017 semester, I’ve been kind of stuck. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for my friends—I love seeing them get closer and closer to attaining their dreams. Brie Larson said just the other day, and I truly believe in this, “You know what’s better than winning? Watching your friends win.” But, especially on the day in question, I was feeling like I was trapped in quicksand rushing downwards towards graduation (and everything that comes afterward), unable to move or prepare or do anything whatsoever to get ready to hit the ground.

That evening, I was walking across campus to a meeting when I ran into a friend that I hadn’t seen in a while. We walked together for a while and we were talking about our plans for after graduation. He told me about how his plans were falling into place, and when he asked me about mine, I explained how I was stuck waiting. We had reached his destination, and before he left, he stopped, looked at me, and said “You know, these things have a funny way of working out” and walked away.

I couldn’t get those words out of my head as I walked on towards my meeting. They had immediately lifted my spirits. At first I was a little alarmed by them. Yes, things often have a way of working out, but I couldn’t just sit back and wait for that to happen magically. It still takes hard work, drive, and passion to make things work. But I also believe strongly in the power of positivity and positive thinking. Yes, I still need to work my butt off to figure out what I’m going to be doing next year, but it’s okay that I’m not quite there yet right now. I’m doing everything I can and that’s enough—regardless of where my friends might be. This is applicable to my worry about our country also. These things have a way of working out. We have survived through countless wars and trials, which I can only imagine felt similar to what we’re experiencing now. We will survive this too. I refuse to even think that we might not, because that constitutes giving up, which is exactly what we must not do right now. It will take hard work, drive, and passion to make it through, but I know that I don’t have to worry about that. My entire Facebook newsfeed is filled with people full of the drive and passion to keep us moving forward. But we must be careful to stay positive as well.

My friend could not possibly have known that his words were exactly what I needed to hear to pull me out of my Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. And at the time, I didn’t have the presence of mind to thank him. So instead, I’m passing them on to all of you. Be positive. Work hard. Trust yourself. Trust the people around you. These things, whatever your things are this week, have a funny way of working out.

Stop.

I’m sure by now you’ve all heard about Adele’s big moment at the Grammys last weekend. No, not when she won Song of the Year. Or Record of the Year. Or Album of the Year (SLAY, ADELE). I’m talking about when she chose to stop her tribute to George Michael mid-song and start it over. If you haven’t seen the clip, check it out here (also you should go listen to the song, because she kills it).

This was a huge decision for Adele to make. I mean, stopping a live performance any time can be taboo, but stopping during the Grammys is on a whole other level. As a musician, I can easily imagine Adele’s thought process at that time—mostly because I’ve been there before. Okay, not at the Grammys, but still. As one of the leaders of my incredible a cappella group (which you should check out here!), I’ve been in situations where we’re performing one of our songs and all of a sudden I realize—oh God, please no—it’s not sounding like it’s supposed to. At all. At this point, I normally plaster a giant everything-is-okay-everything-is-alright smile on face and try to figure out if it’s salvageable or if we’re going to need to stop. I can only guess that Adele’s inner dialogue might have been similar during her performance… except maybe with a few more curse words involved. Needless to say, it’s a hard choice to make, and to make it at the Grammys is a brave one. By stopping and starting over, Adele made a bold statement. In a room full of larger than life celebrities, with her friends and all of America watching, on a night that is supposed to be the biggest night in music, Adele said, “I’m human, I’m not perfect, and even the best of the best mess up sometimes.” Okay, actually she said, “I know it’s live TV, I’m sorry… I can’t do it again like last year. I’m sorry for swearing and I’m sorry for starting again” but same difference.

As I was trying to figure out what to write about this week, my thoughts kept coming back to this moment. I think there’s a lot to be learned from it. First of all, it’s okay to make mistakes. If Adele can mess up a highly anticipated tribute during the Grammys in front of millions of people, I can accidentally leave an important piece of paperwork in the copier at work, instead of filing it back where it needs to go. Humans, all humans, make mistakes.

Next, Adele showed us that it’s okay to be emotional. This week, I was having a conversation with some friends about how we all tend to bottle up our negative emotions and everything is fine, everything is good, everything is okay, and then all of a sudden the littlest thing tips us over the edge and we’re all giant balls of emotion that has been building up for weeks and we’re lost to our feelings. I think one of the reasons my friends and I, as well as so many other people, do this to ourselves is that we are conditioned to hide most of our emotions behind walls—perhaps because we have been taught by the media and celebrities (like all of those at the Grammys) to constantly strive for perfection. Those walls might only come down when we’re alone, in a safe space, or maybe not at all—at least until something tips us over the edge. But Adele doesn’t maintain the super cool, almost cold, calm and professional demeanor that one might expect from a celebrity. Instead, she lets out a curse and tearfully apologizes to the crowd and everyone watching at home. She doesn’t hide her feelings but rather shares them with her audience, creating a touching moment. And what she does next is equally important. She then pulls herself together and delivers a stunning performance. If you didn’t know what had just happened, you never would have guessed that she had been close to tears just moments before she sang “Fast Love.” Adele shows us the importance of having the ability to pick yourself right back up again if you stumble.

Finally, I think there’s a sort of lesson to be found in stopping. This world is crazy, possibly now more so than ever. We are constantly going, constantly moving, and, if you’re anything like me, your brain is always thinking five steps ahead of your hands about what needs to be done next. This week was wildly busy for me. I was full-throttle all week, running between class, meetings, and work. When I have a week like this, I’m not always the best version of myself, and I think the same can be true for a lot of people. When you have a million things to do and not enough time to do them, don’t you become at times a little brusque or absentminded, and even put off basic needs, like eating or sleeping, until a later time? You might get a little “off key” from your normal self. This week, when I had the feeling that things might not be quite right (oh God, please no), instead of plastering that smile on my face, I reminded myself to stop—just like Adele did—and reorient myself to be kinder (to others and to myself), more efficient, and more focused on the task at hand. It was a challenge for me; I definitely didn’t succeed all of the time. But I’m going to keep working on it, thanks to Adele.

In the end, Adele made one of the hardest choices an artist can make and got a lot of flak from both the media and people watching (Twitter can be harsh) for stopping her song and starting over. But I think she made an important choice, one that she can stand by and one that might have been able to teach us all a little something. I, for one, only love Adele more after she stopped her performance. She showed us that she’s human, something that celebrities rarely do, and that even on the world’s biggest stage, it’s okay to just stop.

To Be a Student or Not to Be a Student

I have a perfect view of the New York City skyline from my window at school. Most nights, I can see the lights on the buildings. That’s how close I am to the city. So since I’ve been back at school, every night before I go to bed, I spend a few minutes looking out my window at the city. I wonder about where I’ll be a year from now (let’s be real, six months from now—YIKES). Where will I be living, will I be working where I want to, will my daily routine be radically different then than it is now? (That better be a yes, otherwise I’m squatting on some college campus spending my days going to classes I’m not registered for and pretending I’m an RA.) At night, when I can see those lights, all of those questions morph. During the day, they’re slightly panicked, stressful questions that make me a little insane—okay, maybe more than a little. But at night, they’re hopeful and optimistic. The thing about graduating from college is that your whole life is lying open in front of you, ready for you to make of it what you will. It’s ready for all of your mistakes and your successes, the plans you’ve made and the twists and turns that wreck your plans—everything that makes life life. Sometimes, that emptiness and freedom are scary to me. But when I remind myself to think this way, it’s really exciting and exhilarating.

I’ve been thinking about this a LOT lately because this week I start my last semester of college. Monday was my last first day of school. Spring 2017, the semester I’ve thought, talked, and dreamed about for the last four years (if not more), is finally here. To be honest, I’m living it and it still doesn’t seem quite real. But I’ll tell you one thing: it’s pretty terrifying. Exciting, happy, relieving, and wonderful, but also daunting. And it’s been making me think about identity. Not my name, where I’m from, what I do, etc. (all of which you can find on my About page—shameless plug!), but what makes me who I am and all of that kind of stuff. While I have many identities in that sense of the word, one of my biggest and most central is being a student. For almost all of my life, I’ve been a student. And come May, I won’t be anymore. I KNOW, it’s weird. As someone who has always (for the most part) enjoyed school and learning (although I could do without the tests and the homework and the papers and… okay, there’s a lot of school I don’t like), this has been a really strange thought for me lately. Unlike a lot of my friends, I have no plans to go on to graduate school. After May, I will no longer be a student who has to go to school or take classes or do homework (that part is a HUGE relief). I’ve been a student for 17 years and I can only imagine that taking away an identity of that magnitude will leave a hole. Of course, new identities will fill the hole as I go through life. I’ll become an employee, an editor, maybe even a wildly successful blogger (have you told your friends about how funny I am yet? No? Oh, okay), and who knows what else! And of course, just because I’m no longer a student in the traditional sense of the word doesn’t mean that I’ll ever stop learning and growing; I have absolutely no intentions of stopping that ever. But, I think a piece of me will always miss that traditional student part of my identity that was so important for so long. Which is what makes me so happy I don’t have to give it up… at least, not yet.

Whether I’m ready for it or not (spoiler alert: I’m not), second semester senior year is here, I am graduating in less than four month, and it’s going to be great, regardless of what happens.

A New Year… and a New Blog!

My mother has been telling me that I need to start a blog pretty much since I began college. Every time I come home from school, and often over the phone, she says to me, “Becca, you really should start a blog.” So now, nearly four years later and headed towards graduation, I’ve finally decided to listen to her. (Shout out to my mom, probably the only person reading this—hey Momma!) Over the years her topic suggestions have varied; apparently I’m an expert on everything from books to curly hair to music to college survival tips… who knew! But my mom’s most recent suggestion was that I write a blog about my “trials and tribulations.” What? Who would want to read about those? Besides, it’s not like I have any real trials or tribulations. I’m not battling a life-threatening disease or becoming the youngest person to travel the world WHILE SPENDING ABSOLUTELY NO MONEY (side note: if anyone knows how to do this, let me know, please—we can be co-bloggers!) or doing absolutely anything else spectacular that other people might also want to learn about or do or experience; I’m just a twenty-something trying to figure out how to “make it” in the world, just like a million other twenty-somethings just like me. And, if we’re being honest, I have NO idea how to even do that. So, after spewing out all of those reasons why I shouldn’t do it (my typical response to starting something new), I asked my mom why she thought my “trials and tribulations” were blog-worthy. After a pause and a left turn—we have most of our groundbreaking discussions in the car, doesn’t everyone do that?—she said, “Lots of people get a kick out of reading about other people’s struggles…” and implied that I struggle more on a daily basis than most humans do in a week (thanks, Mom) and could probably entertain a lot of people. So, here we are (cue “Let Me Entertain You” from Gypsy), with me doing the virtual equivalent of a kick line.

Although I’m sure you all (and by all, I mean my one reader; hi again, Mom!) would love to hear about my so-called “trials and tribulations,” I think that this blog will be about a lot more than that. I’d like to think of this as sort of a conglomeration of topics. You know, one week it might be a great recipe I found for a super yummy dessert (I love baking), and the next it might be a book review, or a list of songs that I think you MUST check out RIGHT AWAY, or advice on how to not procrastinate on that big project (in which you can procrastinate by reading my blog), or, if all else fails, a harrowing recount of the latest trial or tribulation I’ve conquered. In short, who knows where this will go? I certainly don’t. But I’m going to give it a try. Why? It’s a new year; it’s a chance to (hopefully) work on my writing; I’ve been told that I’m funny; it might look good as I attempt to get a publishing company to hire me (HI Penguin Random House!!); maybe this will help one of those million other twenty-somethings that I mentioned earlier have some idea of what they’re doing if they can learn from my mistakes; and, if nothing else, maybe, as my mother originally thought, my struggles can provide some entertainment to someone out there. So welcome aboard! Here we go… And by the way, thanks Mom.