Happiness

On a search for Christmas decorations, I stumbled across a box of university-era journals. Post high school, my journaling was always well-meant, but inconsistent at best. One notebook – a spiral that I ended up using for lecture notes but started as an assortment of collages and blurbs about what kind of future I wanted for myself, had two gems that reminded me of several intense desires I used to have. A few have resurfaced over the years, others completely fallen by the wayside. But a May 2009 “Strive List”, written at the end of my first year and featuring a fairly well-articulated series of both short and long-term goals I had, was particularly striking.

Write a book? Done. Write a successful screenplay? My biggest current passion project. Own a dog? Hey, have you met Gil?

Some are less black and white. Love my job? Well, yes and no. The luckiest people in this world get to love their job every day. I rank in the second luckiest group, which is that where people get to like their job most of the time, and get paid well for it. So I suppose I’ve achieved that goal in my own way. “Become a yoga aficionado” and “learn how to shoot a gun” make me gag for different reasons. “Not be attracted to horrible, arrogant men” isn’t really one I’ve been confronted with lately – I haven’t been attracted to much of anyone on that front since my last serious relationship, so there that is.

So where those goals are all concerned, I like to think I’ve landed in a solid place for twenty-eight – nine years after the writing of said list.

But the second striking piece was this rather heart-breaking entry about how afraid I was of amounting to nothing beyond a financially unstable, paycheck-to-paycheck “adult”, incapable of ever looking feminine or like a real woman. And, startling for me because I remember more than anything feeling utterly confident, happy, and golden for the majority of the time I spent in England, this entry was written a mere two months before I graduated from college.

The timing of both entries isn’t lost on me. In the middle of college, it’s really easy to casually expect amazing things from life. It wouldn’t occur to me to aim for anything but the absolute sun after one year of college. Even the most dramatic challenges could always be overcome by the right night out with the right people, by the right series of movies and chocolate. And while I’ve retained some of that light-hearted and enviable ability to look past the impossible in my life and aim high, the version of me that wrote hopelessly, two months before entering that dreaded “real world”, that I was likely to never achieve anything was very afraid. She had a real fear that the sunshine that was so recently certain, had no guarantees.

And the truth is, I did spend the year following my graduation coming to terms with those non-guarantees. I returned to my home town, to my old job, and spent a great deal of time doing everything in my power to go back to England, and the surety of the future and life that I had when I lived there. And the same way that everyone – everyone – tells you, the moment you switch your focus away from worrying about how to fix everything, everything somehow fixed itself.

I learned the most important lesson there is when measuring success in life – that success is different for everyone, and that it’s not about checking off specific goals. It’s about finding what makes you happy and taking whatever steps, however small, however gradual, to get you to that end game. Achieving a job title isn’t my measurement of success, the same way that hitting a particular salary isn’t a goal anymore either. Making a home, in a place that feels right, surrounded by the things I love – that’s the goal.

It’s comforting to know that some of the tangible things I was worried about in the post of despair – you know, knowing how to dress well, wear makeup, and become financially stable – are things that I have most definitely achieved. But the important thing is that in the long term, I’m in a far healthier place when it comes to ensuring happiness for myself.

Yes, I’m working on a screenplay. Will it ever see the light of day? God only knows.

But does working on it make me happy? You bet it does.

And that’s all that matters.

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Putting the BAM in BAMF

Everybody wishes they were a badass. Hell, everybody secretly thinks that hey – hidden, tucked beneath an embarrassing love of the 2003 sequel to Charlie’s Angels and classic 70’s rock hand-me-downs from their mom – they have a swaggering, brassy badass side just waiting to be discovered.

No? Just me? Oh. Well, I wish I was a badass. I’ve spent a pained amount of time aspiring towards true badassery, and twenty-eight years in, sometimes my Badass Light feels the brightest when I just jam out to Katy Perry, with the outward silence of earbuds, sitting at Peet’s Coffee, and write. So I wonder how close I am to realistically achieving that super-secret goal.

Outwardly, I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve “curated” an image of badassery, except, spoilers, I totally have. In fifth grade I wrote a ten-year-old’s equivalent of a soliloquy to the KICKASS outfit I’d wear on my first day at a new school, and I don’t know that there’s a single article of clothing I’ve owned since then that I didn’t invest some level of my self-perceived edginess into. And while I’ve finally mastered some level of looking like a fucking badass (emphasis, SO HARD, on the looking like), it’s just the short hair and tattoos and nice clothes. I am a Grade A, undeniable, life-time member of Club Dork.

I can’t say a lot for the intention behind my career trajectory, outside of the fact that I stumbled into it, and that it’s not what I expected when I was eighteen, strutting across the football field with my degree (or, more to the point, what I expected when I did the same thing four years and twenty-six thousand dollars later, five-thousand-miles to the right, in England). But I was out for drinks with an excellent co-worker-gone-friend last night and we admitted, with no shame, that our careers bring out a side of us that otherwise does not (and perhaps would not) exist: the leader. The decision-maker. This afternoon I followed that tack a bit further and can admit this too: my job, and how good I am it, makes me feel like a little bit of a badass.

I spent the last week or so in a funk. A nameless, obnoxious funk that refused to be banished by my tried and true remedies (talking about it to anyone that would listen, haunting my regular haunts with a previously unknown tenacity, cuddling with my doggo and taking him on adventures). But two things happened. One of the part-timers at my store left, a particularly amazing part-timer that is off to USC to become a doctor and save actual lives. And on my last day working with her, she gave me a card that thanked me for, essentially, being me. She wrote that she admired my confidence – she told me I was her style goals! Take that, fifth grade Kathy! – and she made me feel that no matter how many bullshit, ridiculous, chaotic moments I have at work, what I’m doing there is completely valid.

And that’s the beauty of life! That I, a retail manager, can sometimes feel like a badass because I’m real fucking good at my job. Sure, spending my lunch break reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential for the third time makes me feel significantly less badass for my hard work (how does he make working 80+ hour weeks sound so fucking good?). And in the great, big, grand scheme of the world, what I do isn’t particularly meaningful. But I spent a healthy portion of my youth being influenced by people just like me – new-fangled adults that, more often than not, were artistically fumbling with the reality that is supporting oneself (and one’s doggo), but doing so in such a fun, warm, real way that I instantly wanted to be one of them.

Those are the real badasses. People that you meet every day, just doing life, and really, truly, thoroughly enjoying the ride in the way that makes the most sense to them. They’re honest. They’re not perfect. I mean, I won’t ever be the kind of badass that’s defined by their acerbic wit, some form of preferred debauchery, or their effortless rebellious nature. But I’m exactly the kind of badass I’m meant to be. The kind that makes people smile, laugh, and feel all the better for it.

What was the second thing that happened, you ask? The second thing that finally helped kick that obnoxious funk to the curb? Some golden words from my sister: “Whenever you are in one of your funks, I want you to think of the amazing impact you have on other people’s lives and how anyone who knows you is goddamn lucky. I definitely feel that way.”

She might not know it, but she is 100% a badass too.

 

 

Kiss My Aspirations

There is something – I don’t know if it’s generational, personal, or just unavoidable – that makes online quizzes impossibly tempting. I’d spend more time trying to deny it but Buzzfeed has latched too thoroughly onto the concept for me to really keep up the ruse any longer. I loved online quizzes when I was 11 and took one that told me my battle cry was “Meep” and I loved online quizzes yesterday when I took one that told me yes, I am  a 90’s film guru based on my ability to identify ten films from one single screenshot.

The truth is, online quizzes can be absurdly validating. What could possibly be validating about being told that if I was a cheese-based snack, I’d be a plate of baked Brie (SO TRUE)? I don’t know, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t share that result on my Facebook and feel weirdly proud of its delicious accuracy.

This validation has always been harmless, for the most part. I’ve never really suffered for being told that yes, if I do end up living in a major city, it should totally be San Francisco based on the seven desserts and two movie quotes I picked. But a few years ago, on a deep dive while trying to get to know myself better, I took one too many personality quizzes, graduated to tests, and ended up with a four-letter acronym that proceeded to validate nearly every aspect and flaw of my personality. It’s been a recent revelation of mine that I’ve used it as an excuse for my worst habits, almost to the point of turning them into glorified traits that I sometimes even use as punchlines. “Sure, I’m never grounded, don’t plan for the future, and rely a little more on luck than I probably should, but eh – I’m an ESFP. I’m an Entertainer. It’s what we do.”

Cue the worst life philosophy ever.

I still believe that a lot of what that particular personality analysis says about me is spot on. Bizarrely so. But just because it seems to reflect exactly the kind of person I am or the reasoning behind the way I tend to act/react in life doesn’t mean it validates when those decisions end badly. Nor does it limit me to forever being the head-in-the-clouds sort of person that continues to make those decisions for the rest of her life. It’s okay to have flaws – but being okay with them doesn’t mean I can’t work on them.

It also took me a while to acknowledge the fact that the “bad” traits weren’t necessarily direct side effects of the “good” ones. A typical ESFP dreams big – real big – and I took that to mean that it was dreaming big that made me a personal and financial flake. Nah, Self: you CAN dream big. You just have to learn how to plan for those dreams, then stick to those plans. Good things come to those who plan, Padawan. You can have the best of both worlds. (Just…don’t sign up for any more credit cards.)

Lately, I done dreamed big. I suddenly applied for a job that I wasn’t quite qualified for because it felt right. It would’ve gotten me back to England. It was with a sister brand of the company I work for and I’m kickass at my job and would’ve been kickass at that job too, obviously. And did I mention it felt right?

But a transatlantic move is not practical in my life right now. That, and I’m sure for a myriad of other reasons, the universe shut down my dream. And as so many of the supportive people in my life were very quick to tell me – it was only the first, sudden, and let’s be real here, Kathy, completely out of the blue and impractical, attempt at said dream. That dream is 100% achievable. Just because some test told me I’ve got the personality (and tendency) to dream big and assume everything will line up automatically doesn’t mean that when it doesn’t, I can’t just plan for a second attempt that actually works.

That may sound like a simple principle to wrangle, but here I am, twenty-eight, just getting there, and blaming online quizzes for the journey.IMG_5884

So did you take a quiz that told you your cereal soul-mate is Bran Flakes when you’re a total Reese’s Peanut Butter Puffs gal? Did it tell you that based on your ideal date you’re actually 76 years old on the inside (Not me, never!)? Or did it tell you that your true horoscope is Gemini and goddamnit, that is your horoscope and having the two coincide totally validated your life choices?

Either option is okay. You should never really credit these things.

But either way, you do you. And if you feel like you truly are a Bran Flakes gal, then go buy those Bran Flakes and enjoy them. It’s never to late to try new things, learn new things, and change.

 

Good Fucking Music

When I work the closing shift at my store, I have the glorious distinction of being able to pick the music we play.

My store is 25,000 square feet big, split across two very open stories and replete with wide glass windows, mixed-media artwork, and a grand staircase, so it is kind of the highlight of my week. And if you’re judging me for that, clearly you’ve never gotten to throw together a playlist or pick your favorite album and blast it under such colossal, strangely deserted circumstances.

It’s pure gold.

This evening’s choice was the Lumineers album Cleopatra. One of my friends pointed out that I’m about a year behind on this one, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure – that’s not stopping this album from changing my life. I threw down the windows on my drive in on this blue skied, sixty-five degree Sunday afternoon and blasted Sleep on the Floor and my skin was on fire with feeling. It lit up just the same when the first few notes echoed across the sales floor promptly at close.

And it struck me in both those moments, so powerfully, just how goddamn grateful I am for good music.

Good music has brought a very necessary sense of surety to almost every major life decision I’ve ever made. The power of the songs of those moments was so naturally imbued, their presence so prescient, that I couldn’t even say how or when it started happening. Does a soul-moving song utterly validate whatever I’ve decided because that’s how the universe works? Or is it because I’ve been watching films perfect the very art form of emotional soundtrack-based crescendos since childhood? I mean, maybe Marie Antoinette and Elizabeth I did feel music the same bone-deep way I do. Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette certainly sways me that way: I passionately espouse the glories of that film on the regular, but my without-a-doubt favorite aspect of it is how accessible I found the eponymous, centuries past queen to be because of the soundtrack. (Even the disc is fucking relatable. It’s this stunning  splash of plugged-in pink that totally would have tracks from The Strokes, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and Vivaldi on it.)  Yes, historically I don’t have a lot in common with Marie Antoinette – or Elizabeth I – but the vivid picture of either reigning queen looking out over a sunrise while listening to New Order or Windsor for the Derby lines my soul up right next to theirs.

Music, whether it’s being read or listened to (look at that handy little parallel), is the strongest universal language we’ve got, and I think that maybe that might be from where it draws so much of its power. But even though I will truly never understand why music singes my skin or makes my cares weightless in the most absolute way, I know that it is my favorite sensation in this entire world. Even now, I’m listening to that Lumineers album again, and I cannot help feeling perfect. Like life’s lining up. Like no matter what’s coming up next – this week, this month, whenever – I can handle it. Because that’s what music makes you feel: like you can do anything. If you’ve found that one song, you’re at least doing something right.

So that’s what I’ve got for you right now. If you don’t know what you’re doing – or even if you do – take the time to find a soundtrack for that moment. Ask your friends for suggestions. Dig around on the internet. Stretch your tastes. Because there’s one thing you can’t have too much of on this big old planet, and that, my friends, is good fucking music. 

 

 

Non-Negotiables

Non-negotiable. It’s the one-two punch of the linguistic world, where you insist, with a hyphen, just how much bullshit you are not willing to tolerate to get whatever the fuck you want.

The term has unfortunately been somewhat hijacked and limited to the context of the dating world, where it’s used to write lists that identify if a relationship is going to stick for longer than three days and surpass roughly thirty-seven texts (and be healthy, I guess). Let’s do life and literature a favor and reinvigorate this kick ass hyphenated combo, shall we?

There is an absolute firmness to the term that is best served when applied beyond the slim spectrum of romance. So go bigger: non-negotiables are for life.

They are the “come at me bro” of goals. They don’t need to be particularly lofty, they don’t need to be countless, and they sure as hell don’t need to be compared to your best friend’s or your sister’s or your highly ambitious co-worker that is  all about that hustle‘s. (If I never hear someone wax lyrical about the hustle again it will STILL be too soon.) But throwing non-negotiables at life insists that you have expectations and that you will not give up until they’re met.

My non-negotiables have been in flux for much of my twenties. The longer I spend in my twenties, and the more millennial hater articles I read, the more I feel that’s generally how it’s supposed to work. But I’m carving out what for me is a healthy chunk of them and now, in an effort to motivate others to do the same, I’m gonna throw them out into the void:

  1. Always find a reason to write.
  2. Enjoy my work.
  3. Surround myself with quality people, food, and stuff. Yeah, I said it. Stuff. Stuff is allowed to be important.

So, void, there you go. Don’t set goals. Set non-negotiables.