Part of Writing Non-Fiction is Not Writing

averie-woodard-122274Spring has flung me across the country multiple times already and it’s only mid-April. I knew my work life and social life were both going to ramp up at the same time (showers, events, travel) but I didn’t realize just how much it was going to put my ever beloved writing life on hold. You don’t really know how much you love to stare at a blank screen, willing yourself to write something brilliant, until it’s ripped away from you for a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks can feel like a lifetime.

It was in a particularly bad moment, when I was spiralling about not writing enough, not writing ever, potentially never again (?!), that my boyfriend pointed out that part of being a writer is also living. And that is even more important for someone like me, who writes non-fiction. My stories are the stories that I have lived. My stories exist because I was not alone in front of a computer screen at every chance I had. They exist because I went on dates, and traveled with my friends, and broke some bones, and almost lost my brother. They exist because I was off living, not worrying about getting a certain essay completed.

When the travel calmed a bit, and I was able to see two beautiful weeks ahead of me with time to write, I came across a Self Care Challenge. 7 days worth of Self Care. A challenge to love ourselves and give ourselves the time we need. How freakin’ radical. It came at the perfect time because I was so frantic last week to get back to work on my essays and my poetry that I was willing to forego a much needed haircut, to lock myself up and get the work done. I was desperate to be left alone and work. I put every other single need– work, side gigs, writing, family, friends, dog– ahead of my own. I was willing to put myself at the very bottom of the list because that’s what I’ve always done. Seeing that so many people struggled with Self Care last week helped me to at least try and take care of myself too.

Outside of taking care of myself I have to remind myself that I am so very lucky to find myself traveling, visiting friends, having things to celebrate. Yes, it does take me away from my writing but in the end it is enriching my life with memories and lessons and inspirations that will ultimately help me when I do finally find those glorious couple of hours to sit and pen something. Why is it so hard for us to see what’s full in our lives? Why are we trained to always see lack? Almost every bucket of our lives could be full to the brim, but it is the one that is empty that we worry about. I am so guilty of this and it’s embarrassing to admit to the greater public.

But I am hoping there are others out there, that feel overwhelmed as well. Overwhelmed with not just life’s annoyances, but overwhelmed with goodness too. And maybe together we can find some tactics to stay grateful for a little bit longer. Live in our present a little bit more. And accept that we cannot be all things at all times and let each part of us (sister, girlfriend, employee, writer, friend, daughter, SELF) have their moments to shine, and let the others take a step back. The others are still awake, still learning lessons that can be applied in any situation.

It’s a painful cliche–but I have found that the older I get the more I understand these cliches–but life is meant to be lived. And even though figuring out how to do that with success is killing me (I will figure this out one day!) it still feels worth it. Remarkable.

Now tell me, how often do you forgive yourself for having a little fun? How often do you avoid something fun because of your work, your “dreams”, your diet? How do you find balance between all the yous there are, and when do you find time for self care? FILL ME IN!

#BeBoldForChange on International Women’s Day– TODAY

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Today is International Women’s Day. A day I have always considered, but never taken any real action to get involved–not because I felt particularly safe or beyond the glass ceiling, but because I relied on other women to fight my battles for me. It seemed easier to let “them” do it, so I could focus on my regular day-to-day life. My blinders were ripped off with this last election. Now it is impossible to avoid how so many of my fellow Americans truly feel about the causes I so deeply care about–racial equality, gender parity, and poverty.

But because I am awake now, more so than I have been in years, I can use my tiny platform (hey Blogosphere) to share what IWD is all about and how you can get involved even in the simplest of ways.

1. This year’s theme is #BeBoldForChange
Which I find extremely apropos to my current situation and I am sure how many women are feeling. For years I didn’t feel the need to “be bold”, to march, to donate, to actively say in conversations at work, at play, on dates, that I am a Feminist. Now I find myself saying it daily, and for me, that’s bold.

This year’s theme is all about being active, not passive. IWD is asking YOU to take a pledge to do one of the following:

Challenge bias and inequality
Campaign against violence
Forge women’s advancement
Celebrate women’s achievement
Champion women’s education

It’s easy to say: “I want to do it all” but selecting one category ensures that you make a real impact, not a scattered attempt. Select your category and then be bold enough to share what steps you’ll take to stay true to your pledge. You can do all that here: https://www.internationalwomensday.com/BeBold

2. My #BeBoldForChange is challenging bias and inequality.
This is something I already do often BUT I could be more consistent and specific. I will actively become a champion for equality in the workplace and will point out bias, gendered language, and challenge stereotypes. I will encourage my female co-workers to do the same and coach them through it (it’s this piece that I tend not to follow through on).

3. Spread the Word
It’s really that easy. Use the hashtag on social media. Bring up IWD in a conversation today. Explain to male coworker why IWD is so important and encourage him to be bold in his choices. Celebrate the achievements of women you admire from RBG to your best friend. What women do you know that are making strides? Tell the world!

4. Give
Donate to a charity that backs a cause you care about. IWD donations are going to WAGGGS again. What is WAGGGS? Click here. Or pick another amazing charity that fighting for equality, educating women and girls, or working to end violence against women.

It’s really that easy to be involved and makes me wonder why in the past I let this day slip by without even so much as re-tweeting a post from IWD. This year will be different. Follow me on my various social media channels for posts about great organizations, articles, and facts regarding gender parity in the workplace and violence against women.

Twitter: @akaymayday
FB: Cheap Courage
IG: @CheapCourage

Hygge for New Yorkers – A Guide to Small Comforts for City People

When I first read of Hygge — the Danish art of enjoying small comforts — a couple of months ago, I was thrilled to find a word for the feeling and environment I’ve been creating for most of my life. It turns out that my mother was quite a natural with hygge and I’ve oh-so-thankfully inherited her attention to detail when it comes to creating “a moment.” As this is the first time in my life a trend has come naturally to me, I’ve created this guide to getting your hygge on in a city that isn’t always accepting of staying home and getting comfy.

What is Hygge exactly?

Hygge does not translate to English directly, but is often described as the feeling or mood that comes from making ordinary moments special, of being intimate, and of getting downright comfy. There is a lot of speculation as to why Danes put so much emphasis on making home a perfect escape but it generally boils down to the fact that the weather is often terrible, there is little to do, and going out to eat is rather expensive. To compensate, they heighten the experiences of everyday activities and find joy in even the smallest things. I often think of Mindfulness when reading about hygge, as they are built on similar pillars.

Based on these definitions and speculations, I imagine the reason that my mother and I (and many people that we know) are already hygge-ing because we are not just American, but we are New Englanders. If weather and low funds ultimately created hygge then of course New Englanders are naturals! Why else do you think Yankee Candle is such a big deal to us? We love staying home and being cozy, there’s no doubt about that.

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Cuddling your dog is very hyyge. This is my boy, Ajax.

Why New York?

Listen, anyone can take these tips and use them anywhere, but I just find that the people confined to city lifestyles (read: few trees, very busy) are the ones who are most likely doing very little in the way of hygge and are probably the ones who could benefit most from it. Now on to it…

Take it Easy

Hygge is a feeling and it takes time to cultivate it. Rushing it or forcing it by going out and buying a bunch of stuff isn’t going to make you feel better and it certainly isn’t hygge. The whole notion is to take pleasure in the small things you already have or do and elevate them. Stay mindful. Apply the following tips to your life slowly. Light a candle once a week to start, maybe on Sunday nights, or set aside the first hour of every Saturday morning to reading. Start small and then grow.

Transition Properly

If you don’t have the pleasure of working from home like some, you will have to face the commute home which is more often then not, grueling. You do not want to take bad energy into your safe place. The first thing I do after a long day is take my dog for a brisk walk without my cell phone. The disconnected, fresh-air bonding moment with my dog changes my thinking and eases me into my evening. If you don’t have a pooch, try getting off the train a stop earlier and walking home. Stop for some flowers or a warm tea and unwind your mind. No phone checking!

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Plant life, pictures of friends, and warm lights make your home feel welcoming

Make Home Your Haven

To properly hygge you have to go home and you have to stay there, so what your space feels like to you is an important part of the whole process. It should feel cozy and inviting. If you live with roommates, hygge your bedroom so it becomes your comfy cave of solitude. A good room is one that upon seeing it, you no longer have FOMO or the desire to leave it. You want to remain there for hours, totally blissful. Hygge objects bring you happiness; they give off warmth or are in colors that evoke warmth.

After walking my dog, the first thing I do once home is light the multiple candles around my apartment and turn on the string lights and LED candles I also have strewn about. I never turn on my overheard lights unless I’m in the kitchen (they’re SO harsh) and I switch into my comfiest clothes, including fuzzy socks. I leave blankets out for extra coziness. We all live in small places so there’s no need for you to go overboard with new fuzzy pillows and animal hide purchases. Take what you have and work with it! Here are some items that are easy to have in an apartment to create a hygge environment:

  • Candles… literally everywhere
  • String lights
  • Blankets
  • Clothes that relax you
  • Lavender oil for your sheets and/or blankets
  • Framed photographs of your favorite people
  • Items from your childhood home
  • Favorite books on display
  • Succulent plants or cacti
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Fuzzy carpets and funny artwork keep things light

Enjoy the Moment

Hygge is not just your environment but how you treat yourself and others in that environment. Take time to pause and enjoy even the smallest of moments. Indulge in being alive. Have a special tea or cocoa on hand, pick up a brand new book to read, take a long hot bath, massage your partner’s shoulders, share stories with your friends. Relish these moments as if they are the only time you have to enjoy them. The list of hygge moments is endless, because really it is what makes you happy, but here are some of my personal favorites that work in the city.

  • If someone invites you to dinner, invite them over instead for hot tea and intimate conversation
  • Have a special mug you only use for cocoa
  • Take a walk the moment it starts snowing
  • Spend a Saturday reading in bed
  • Bake a favorite treat that has less than 10 ingredients (or maybe even 5!)
  • Turn off your phone for an hour
  • Turn off your phone for longer than an hour
  • Stay in your own neighborhood for a whole weekend, cook dinner each night
  • Put a crackling log video on your TV
  • Instead of going to a bar, have everyone over for mulled wine and a board game. Make it an BYOFS (Bring Your Own Fuzzy Socks) event
  • Stretch
  • Meditate
  • Pop popcorn the old school way
  • Take a freakin’ nap!
  • Eat comfort food
  • Call your mom and get an old recipe…and then make it
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Simple details remind you stay home and stay warm

Hygge Everyday

Sure, I’d love to hygge everyday, all day. But we have jobs. We have goals. We have lives. I get it. We live in a big bad city with friends all over the place. I am not advising you to stop doing the things that make you tick or make you successful, I am advising you to set time aside in your insane schedule to just be. Remember what it was like when you were a kid and had no way to get anywhere? Couldn’t leave the house? Couldn’t drive? With a lack of options, you found ways to pass the time that made you happy. You read, you colored, you made forts, and played games with your siblings. You made up languages and took naps and dreamed of your future. We still need time for these endeavors! If all that sounds overwhelming for now, at least find one way to hygge during the day. Yes, it’s possible. Here are my favorites:

  • Take a 5-10 minute walk during your work day
  • Look at the people in the coffee shop, not at your phone
  • Sit on your couch for 10 minutes at the end of your day before doing anything else
  • Hold hands with your partner on your commute
  • Flirt with the stranger that held the door open for you
  • Try and memorize a poem while on the subway
  • Lotion your hands at every opportunity
  • Light a candle at your desk (I really do this now)
  • Decorate your cube or space to the most your company allows
  • Take your heels off under your desk (cheeky, right?)
  • Listen to your coworker after you ask them how they are…really, truly listen
  • Have one piece of chocolate and savor it
  • Melt a chocolate in your morning coffee
  • Keep a special tea in your desk drawer

That’s It

I know we aren’t Danish. I know we are busy. But enjoying the smallest moments in your life and really, truly, taking the time to honor them is an important part of being happy. Stop yearning after the yacht, and enjoy the toy boat in your bathtub.

 

 

 

 

 

Being An Ally Means You are Sometimes Wrong; How Accepting Criticism Makes You Brave

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In the past I have shied away from writing about politics because I never feel that I know “enough” to be someone who should be putting information out there. That seems sort of silly now given the amount of news outlets that write whatever they want, ignoring truths for their own agendas. I’ve always wanted to make sure I know all the facts before putting pen to paper, or fingers to a keyboard. Silly me, right? But now, given everything happening in our country that I so vehemently disagree with, I feel that I have to take a stab at “being political”.

My platform is tiny, my voice is tiny, a drop in the endless of bucket of the opinions and voices in our country, but if I do not speak up, even here, than I am not serving my friends and family currently under attack by our own government. Of course, speaking or writing in this way opens me up to a slew of criticisms from those who disagree with me but also from those who, on a baseline, agree with me.

Let me clarify. I am in a constant state of learning. I am always open to the thoughts and ideas and facts and articles of others that will help me to understand the world at large, especially now. Though I am an ally to those who are not at all like me, that does not mean I know what it is to be them or to see things from their perspective. I can try but I will never be them. I am often careful to recognize my privilege and to be wary of using their struggle as my own platform. I am constantly vigilant to make sure I do not do this, but of course, I can mess up, and that is where I need help.

I welcome constructive criticism. That is why I am writing this post. I rely on a vast network of intelligent people to keep me informed and to educate me. With their support I feel like I can put myself out there. They can help me grow as an effective voice in the resistance of hatred.

I will be blunt. This is terrifying. It is absolutely terrifying to hear from someone you love and respect that you’ve messed up. There’s no doubt about it that checking your privilege is uncomfortable, that it sometimes hurts, that it tests friendships. But you have to be willing to work very hard to see real change and to make a real impact.

I know the fear of being proved wrong and the fear of people finding out you are not as “woke” as you seem on paper is strong. I know that it is scary. But if you allow yourself to talk it through with someone different from you, if you ASK THEM HOW YOU CAN HELP INSTEAD OF GUESSING AND ACTING ON THAT GUESS, you will find that you’re doing the real work that’s required right now.

We’re in an uncomfortable place right now. But growth comes from challenge and so if I can sit here and write something that at its core makes me so uncomfortable my stomach is doing flips, than you can be brave too. We can keep fighting alongside one another in mutual respect and love.

_____

See you next week when I introduce you to the regular people being affected by the hiring freeze…

 

 

Do Less to Get More Done

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Three years ago I made a note to myself in my journal. I had been reading something–an article or a book– and wanted to boil down what I had read to a mantra.

The entry says this:

Work when you are working.
Relax when you are relaxing.
Write when you are writing.

And it is something I try to keep at the top of my mind every day. At the time, I was trying to do it ALL. I kept my days loaded with To-Dos and appointments and I would beat myself up mercilessly if I didn’t get it all done. I was overloaded and scattered — I got very little done for years. (Not an exaggeration. I drove myself crazy.)

I was busy for the sake of busy. Which I see as a silent epidemic in the US. We’re expected to be super fit, eat healthy, go to work, have a side gig, have a romantic partner, party all the time, have a nice home, have another side gig, have a hobby, volunteer, save money… this is a list that could probably go on forever. I thought that if I wasn’t busy, if I wasn’t part of the “hustle”, I was failing.

Projects fell apart. I spent more time making to-do lists than actually getting anything done and felt tired and overanxious most of the time. I really wanted to be perfect, or close to it, and of course it all came crashing down almost as fast as I put it up. It took a lot of time for me to realize that by not focusing on the present moment and present project, that I was ineffective and often times, rude to those around me.

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Instead of picking a date night with my significant other and sticking to it, I’d try to squeeze in a couple of hours of work before or after our “date” so the day wasn’t a “waste.” When I was at work, I was distracted by everything I had to do when I got home. When I got home I was distracted by everything I couldn’t get done at work.

I was an inefficient wreck.

I was prescribed to the “do more” movement and I was a whack job. It took a lot of time to unravel myself from this mindset, to love myself unconditionally and allow myself to be a human. Humans need rest. Humans need love. Humans need to unwind after a terrible day or week. I had to allow myself to “do some of it” and be okay with that.

My little mantra can be shortened into one word and it is this: FOCUS.

By being present to the task at hand you are able to finish it faster and at a higher level of quality than if you try to multi-task it with another or if you are distracted and distant. In the past I told myself, “Write today, all day.” Which was unrealistic and I got very little done. Now I tell myself, “You have 30 minutes. Turn off the phone and go for it.” I get more done in a shorter amount of time because I am tuned in.

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Also, another remarkable change was giving myself time to rest and recharge. To be lazy. To sleep in. To take a day off from the gym. When I am well-rested and happy my projects are easier to tackle. Slogging through a day at the office after four hours of sleep was hardly efficient and I had no energy when I got home to do a single chore or write a single line of text.

I know, trust me I KNOW, this is going to go against everything you feel is right. It’s going to take time to relax. It’s going to take so much time to be okay with not doing it all. It feels weird. I’ve been there. But I promise you, by doing less and FOCUSING on each individual task at hand, you are going to get so much more done and be so happy because of it.