Thank You, Mad Men

mad men Thank you for making advertising look sexy. Thank you for giving me a character to reference when asked about my profession. Thank you for the end of people confusing my “copywriter” title with “copyright”. Thank you for reigniting a love of the industry, warped though it may be. Thank you for making my job sound cool. Thank you for making drinking at the office seem normal (it is, isn’t it?).  Thank you for making me aware that some men in this business still treat women like it’s 1965 – and it’s still absolutely not okay. Thank you for a healthy sense of cynicism. Thank you for a starting point when figuring out how to make my first pitch. Thank you for a practice in ego control, and a practice in moxie. Thank you for impeccable style. Thank you for nostalgia and a wistful thought or two about “back in the day” when I never even lived “in the day”. Thank you for the push to fight for good creative. Thank you for entertainment and inspiration and a ridiculous amount of fun. Thank you for something that, by the mere nature of beginning, had to end.

And thank you, of course, for Mr. Draper.

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Choice A, Version A

At some point, some scientist said something about infinite universes – that for every action we take here, an alternate version of ourselves takes a different action in another universe, and so in theory every variation of our lives exists in the cosmos. And so to me that begs the question, which version of your life are you living?

The older I get, the more increasingly clear it is to me that just about everything in our life is a choice. Even those things that we didn’t choose to happen to us are controlled by how we choose to react to them. But the thing is, I don’t think we particularly like that. I don’t think we as humans are terribly comfortable with how much power we actually have in our own lives. And so rather than make decisions, we look to something else – a person, a society, a norm, a habit – to make them for us. That way, you see, there’s always a place to put the blame. That way it’s never our fault if we make the wrong choice.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about how I’d gotten a glimpse of three different versions of my life over a short period of time. I got to see what my life would’ve been like if I stayed in the place where I once, very briefly, lived as a child. I got to see what my life would’ve been like if a college relationship had worked out, and I got to see what it would’ve been like if I kept up with friends who long ago fell out of my life. And it was fascinating, honestly. I saw all of these different versions of how my life could be and how I could be right now if circumstances had just been a little bit different. If choices had just been a little bit different.

Knowing that every single choice you make is just that – a choice – is terrifying. You are in absolute and complete control of the decisions you make, and that’s not an easy realization. It’s much more comfortable to not make decisions, but stagnation is the worst possible fate. We are constantly reaching forks in the road, and constantly having to choose which way to go. The only thing we can do is be aware when that happens instead of switching to autopilot. We control which version of our lives we live. Now I’m not sure how much good that knowledge does, because if you’re anything like me you actually have no idea which version you want. But that’s okay, because you’ll figure it out, choice by choice.

And you know what, if Choice A, Version A doesn’t work out, you can move on to B. And C, D, E, F and the entire alphabet.

The options are infinite. We just have to choose to begin.

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You’ve Got You, so You’re Okay

I made a grievous mistake in my last serious relationship – I lost myself in an attempt to be everything to someone else. Granted, I was also 19 years old and didn’t exactly know who I was to begin with, but whoever I was, my opinion of myself hinged entirely on my significant other’s opinion of me. And when he went away, so did any belief that I was worth anything.

Flash forward six years, and obviously it’s a different story. In the midst of a healthy relationship, I’m still very much me, and I know exactly who that is (even though I can admit that it changes every so often). I won’t say I learned quickly how important it is to maintain your sense of self in a relationship, but I will say that I learned the lesson well, and I consider it to be one of the most important keys to a healthy relationship, both with yourself and with someone else.

Because the truth is life is in constant flux, and the only thing you really have guaranteed, 100%, is you. That’s why it’s so important to stay in touch with yourself. To write, read, cultivate your hobbies and passions, keep yourself a full and happy person. It’s a job that’s easier said than done, especially if you’re prone to putting the needs of others before your own. But it’s absolutely vital. We take a lot of time to get to know other people, but in general we don’t take nearly as much time to get to know ourselves. And really, that wouldn’t fly in a relationship with another person, would it? Not getting to know someone deeply because they’re just always around and always will be around, so they don’t require further understanding. That can often be the way we treat ourselves, because we live with ourselves everyday. We assume we understand ourselves simply by virtue of being us, but that isn’t necessarily true. I find that my needs and wants are often changing, whether by virtue of my youth or just the way I am. If I didn’t ask myself questions or examine myself, I would be apt to find myself ten miles down a path that I should’ve turned around on nine miles ago.

And the best part about getting to know and love yourself? You’ll always be okay, no matter what, because you’ve got you. Life may throw you a curve ball, you might suddenly find yourself alone when you never thought you’d be alone again, you might suddenly find yourself wanting something different than you always thought you did, but you’ll be all right. Knowing yourself doesn’t suddenly make everything perfect and lovely. Sometimes it can even make things more complicated. But it also arms you with the type of understanding that can give you peace and hope when things get tough. Because you’re lucky to have you – no one can take that away unless you let them.

You’ve got you, so you’re okay.

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It’s a Bypass. You’ve Got to Build Bypasses.

If you’re familiar with Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know where the title of this post came from.

“But why’s it got to be built?” Arthur Dent asks as the city prepares to bulldoze his house to make way for a bypass.

“It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses,” Prosser says.

…And then the world ends.

I love the completely fallible logic of Prosser in this moment. Questioning the reason for the existence of a bypass has never even really occurred to him. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses. And thus is formed what I like to call “The Bypass Effect” – in which we do things in our lives for absolutely no reason other than that we’re supposed to. We’ve got to. Because reasons. Well, reasons that no one has ever particularly thought about or asked about because it’s just the way things are. So there.

We’re all guilty of The Bypass Effect, and I think that to a certain extent it’s necessary to maintain a decent and civil society. We don’t run around lighting people’s houses on fire and singing opera at the top of our lungs all the time because it just isn’t done. No one bothers asking why (except I think people like living in their houses, so there’s that). The fact is that a lot of the rules we live by are completely arbitrary.

But The Bypass Effect can be harmful, too, because it tricks us into thinking that certain things can never be changed and shouldn’t be questioned. It’s the reason people fall into the rut of a 9 to 5 job that has nothing to do with what they really want, the reason people get married at a certain age regardless of whether they’re really with the person they ought to marry, the reason people have children who’ve never even asked themselves whether they personally want children or not. Because it’s just the thing to do. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses.

I’m not advocating for a societal revolution here, but I am advocating for the act of questioning. It’s vitally important that we actually ask ourselves, every time we make an important decision, what we actually want. And figuring that out can be harder than it sounds, because we’ve spent our entire lives being told what we should want without ever really being told why. It’s so ingrained in us that we just go with the flow.

A lot could change if we just ask “Why?” a little more often. Because people say you’ve got to build bypasses, but I’m sure there are a thousand better ways to get from point A to point B.

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The Goodbye Girl (thoughts from my younger-ish self)

I wrote this post back in May of 2012. Someone recently came across it and enjoyed it, and when I reread it I realized that everything I said two years ago is still true now, maybe even more so.

———

The Goodbye Girl

There are a couple of different levels to the whole “saying goodbye” thing. The older you get, the closer you come to the realization that you’re going to spend your life saying goodbye to people, whether temporarily or permanently.

The first round of goodbyes came when I graduated high school. Realizing that everyone is going their separate ways, but still be grounded in the fact that you’re from the same hometown. To all of you, “coming home” will always mean coming back to the place where you all grew up together. So you say goodbye, but you realize that it isn’t really permanent. You’ll see each other again. There will be summers and Christmases, always time to catch up. On the one hand, this realization is wonderful, on the other hand, it can also be infuriating. Because you realize that some people will just always be a part of your life, whether you want them there or not.

The second round of goodbyes came after college. Those are a little tougher. Because you’re not all from the same place, and you’re all heading someplace different. This time, without a timeline. It’s not “I’ll be gone for 4 years and then I’ll be back”. It’s just “I’ll be gone.” It takes more effort to keep up those college relationships, because you have to travel. You have to write, or text, or call, and wonder if this is something you can keep up for years and years or if it’s something that will eventually just fade away. But at the same time, you always have your school. The time you spent together – that common place that’s always there if you want to take a trip down memory lane.

Then there’s the third set of goodbyes. The ones that happen in the real world. The first time you say goodbye to someone and realize that you might actually never see them again, regardless of whether you want to or not. I find myself constantly saying goodbye these days. It seems that if you’re not leaving, someone else is. And things change a little bit with every goodbye, whether for better or worse.

I hate goodbyes, of course. I don’t know anyone who particularly likes them, unless you’ve got a flair for the dramatic and a thing for recreating the last scene from Casablanca (“If you don’t get on that plane, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But someday, soon and for the rest of your life”). Real goodbyes aren’t usually terribly theatrical, unless you’ve decided to live your life like a romantic comedy and have one last chance to tell Joe Shmoe that you’re in love with him (Because God forbid you’d actually told him when the two of you could’ve done something about it).

It’s just that it’s very odd to say goodbye and realize that you mean it. That everything is changing, and there isn’t that much time left. Because we always want more time, don’t we? Whether you’re forced to say goodbye to someone because of a tragic event, or it’s simply because life is moving you in different directions. There is no “see you later”, because you don’t know if you will. And maybe that’s the scary part – suddenly you realize that whether or not you see someone again is entirely up to you. Life isn’t going to toss you together anymore – it’s already done its job. After goodbye, friendships can’t just be reactive anymore, they have to be proactive. And that’s when you figure out how much people mean to you.

And maybe one day you’ll find yourself standing in an airport, wishing desperately that you could buy a ticket to see somebody and knowing that whether or not you do is entirely up to you. And you’ll think “If I don’t get on that plane, I’ll regret it. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But someday, soon and for the rest of my life”.

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NaNoWriMo, Round 2 (or) Stuff I Keep Learning

Generally speaking, I lack discipline. I’m constantly late for things, my house is a mess despite promises to keep on top of those pesky dishes, and I haven’t blogged since I got back from Europe despite numerous assurances to myself that I would.

The one time I do have discipline? NaNoWriMo. This is year two, and I’m currently sitting at 42,511 words. I’m feeling good (or at least not feeling like I want to lay down on the icy pavement and never get up again). When I did NaNo last year, it was a big deal. Up until that point I had never finished one single piece of long-form writing I’d started. I had pretty much given up on the idea that I was capable of writing a novel, deciding that instead I was only capable of thinking about writing one.

But then I did it. And after you do something once that you never thought you could accomplish, it’s surprisingly easy to do it again. Well, maybe not ‘easy’, but certainly not the insurmountable vortex of self-doubt and terror that it was the first time.

NaNo continues to teach me about just how much time I really have in my life. Last year I figured I was primed to do it – my work commute was all of 15 minutes, getting me home by 5:45. I lived alone, so I had no distractions. I buckled down, I let it become my life, I swore to myself I would finish. And I did. But this year was different. My commute is an hour, I live with someone who would probably appreciate it if I actually speak to him in the evenings (although all he ever asks me now is “Have you written yet today?”). Life is busier, things are things, stuff is stuff. I didn’t have a story in mind, at least not the way I did when I started last year, with pages of notes and a carefully constructed plot arch. But I had an idea, and I just figured, with a little bit of encouragement, why the hell not?

And that’s when I discovered that I have time to write for an hour a day. It doesn’t matter if I’ve got less time in the evenings or other responsibilities, there is always time to write. Always. I didn’t realize how much time I spent not writing until I started using that time to do it. And it doesn’t matter that I don’t necessarily have a plan, because I’m proving to myself every day that I can still sit down and write. I can keep a story going, no matter what. As one fantastic quote goes, “If the muse is late for work, start without her.”

I used to spend a lot of time sitting around for inspiration to strike. I even did that last year, setting my mind on NaNo months before it happened so there would be plenty of time to allow inspiration to flow into notes and ideas. But this time around, I’ve realized that if inspiration doesn’t show up, it’s your job to make it. And you can absolutely make it.

So once again, I’m learning lessons from NaNo, and if nothing else, I think that’s what makes it worth doing. Because ultimately, it’s a lot like life – you can either sit around and think about what you’ll do when the circumstances are right, or you can make your own circumstances, and make it happen.

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Setting the Course

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”- Mark Twain

In less than 10 days, I’ll be embarking on a European adventure that I’ve been planning for over a year. It’s hard to believe it’s actually here, and to say I’m excited would be a ridiculous understatement. It’s taken plenty of sacrifices and a lot of saving, but every dinner out, new dress and big event I’ve said no to has been worth it. And honestly, I think it couldn’t come at a better time.

While out to lunch with a friend of mine yesterday I realized how long it’s been since I’ve really stopped to reflect on my life. Everything moves so fast that there hasn’t really been a minute to stop and smell the roses, and travel can be a wonderful cure for that sort of thing. Nothing gets you reacquainted with yourself quite like wandering through the streets of a foreign city, with nowhere in particular you need to be. It’s just you, removed from all of the usual daily distractions that lead you to defining yourself by what you are to others, instead of what you are and want to be for yourself.

The first time I was in Europe, I was 18 years old. Just about to start college, my whole life ahead of me (as they say), completely oblivious to anything but the present moment. The second time I was 19, studying abroad and getting just about as crazy as you would expect while trying to figure out one of the most intense burdens life had ever placed on me. But no one expected me to have my entire life figured out. I was still free of the responsibility that I carry now at 25. The expectation that the way my life is now is the way that it should be for the next 50 years – as though I’m already locked in to a certain path, from which deviation is impossible. I think that’s all too common of a fate. A trick of society that makes you think your life now must be your life forever, and every decision you make from now on must be based on your current set of circumstances You will never leave. You will never change careers. You will never find new passions. You have already made the choices that will set the course for the rest of your life.

What a terrible lie to believe.

I don’t know that I’ll come upon any particular epiphanies while I make my way through the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul or have a liter of beer in Munich, but the point is simply that I’ll have the time to think. To remind myself not to believe the lie. Because really, our lives can change at any moment. You can reset your course at any time. It’s up to you, in the end, not the unseen forces of the status quo. So if you’re happy, keep your course. And if you’re not, well … vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime when one would rather be someplace else isn’t exactly a recipe for satisfaction, is it?

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