The Unnatural Optimist

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I don’t want to wait until the afterlife to find peace.

I evidently was born not to look on the bright side of life. Critical, cynical, pessimistic … glass half empty. I can’t tell you how many friends I lost over the years because, at different points in my life, I became toxic. 

“This is just who I am,” I would tell myself. And if people couldn’t accept that, fuck ’em.

Until I couldn’t accept myself. Though honestly, maybe I never accepted myself. I didn’t love myself for most of my life. I’m not going to get into the years of emotional abuse I endured. I’ve alluded to it before. And I think that’s largely responsible for how I felt about myself growing up.

And then, once I rid myself of the source of that abuse, not liking myself was basically a habit. (Depression and anxiety don’t help either, but that’s beside the point.)

I’ve been on a journey since then (late 2011, in case you’re wondering) to turn myself around. To find gratitude and joy in my daily life. I will never be Susie Sunshine — I am too much of a realist for that. But I am learning to love myself, warts and all. And now I think my default font is set to upbeat.

(If that’s not a real font, it should be.) (HA! It is!)

That’s not to say I don’t slip up. I was in a really dark place two years ago, primarily because I was in a horrible job at an office with a toxic culture. It drained me. I relapsed into negativity and became as toxic as my environment.

Since I left that place, I’ve been doing better. I practice mindfulness (including meditation), which helps tremendously. I try — as advised in mindfulness practices — to let go of things that no longer serve me. Doing this has helped so much with my depression. And I still get anxious, but I think I have a better handle on it than I did before.

This current global crisis has been a true test for me. Do I give in to despair, as I see so many others doing? Do I freak out and start hoarding everything in sight in case this really is the apocalypse? (I don’t believe it is, but clearly, a lot of people do.)

I’m fine. Really. I’m calm.

I’m working from home. I’m avoiding going out, except for walks through my neighborhood because I need fresh air. There is still the occasional trip to the store or getting carry-out from a restaurant — I want to continue supporting local businesses because they need it right now. But I’m careful and following the CDC recommendations.

I still have a job, and so does my husband, so we are truly fortunate right now compared to so many others. And even if the worst-case scenario occurs, we’ve been prepared for it financially for some time. (People have actually accused me of being negative because I think about the worst-case scenario, but honestly, it’s just good sense!)

We still have our health. Our families are still in good health. I am doing what I can to help out — I donated blood last week because there is a critical need for it, among other things. (Please consider donating blood if you can. It’s badly needed.)

I am grateful. And blessed.

When things get back to “normal,” it will be a different kind of normal. Some things may be better, and some things may be worse. But this isn’t the first time there has been a monumental shift in normal, and it won’t be the last. Humans are resilient. We will adapt.

And on that note, I hope, dear reader, that you are well. Both physically and emotionally. If not, I send you light and wish you peace.

Mental Health

It feels lately like the world is on fire (metaphorically). A pandemic is spreading across the globe. Sporting events have been canceled. Museums and libraries are closed. Lines at the grocery store are two hours long. Toilet paper is being hoarded (for some reason). Everyone has been advised to practice “social distancing.”

As I stood in a massively long line at Kroger yesterday (not buying toilet paper, I might add. There was none to be had even if I needed it), it almost felt like we are on the verge of some sort of apocalypse.

We’re not, though. Honestly.

Anyway, you have no control over this microorganism that is wreaking such havoc right now. What you CAN control is your reaction to it. Stay informed. Use common sense. For God’s sake, wash your hands. Try to avoid touching your face. (It’s hard, I know.) Don’t shake hands with people. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Consider your vulnerable friends, neighbors, and family members who will be hit hardest by this virus, and keep your distance. Even if you feel perfectly healthy, you may be asymptomatic. Do what is within your power to do.

But this isn’t just physical. As the news seems to get worse every day, you need to protect your mental health.

Parks are still open. I don’t know about you, but nature is a soothing balm for my world-weary soul.

I took a day off work yesterday to hike around Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve just outside Yellow Springs, Ohio.

I wish it was just a bit further from civilization. But it was still a wonderful escape for a couple hours.

Also, just because the museums are closed, that doesn’t mean you can’t visit.

Here’s a listing of several world-renowned art museums that offer virtual tours.

If you have 5 hours, you can enjoy this tour of The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. (I have been there before. It’s incredible.)

Stay healthy, everyone. Take care of yourselves and each other.

Fashion

I’ve never been a trendy person when it comes to fashion (or anything, really). And I’m not sure how I would describe my style. It’s often bland and boring, but sometimes I make an effort. My everyday outfit for work is usually some type of t-shirt or tunic with a cardigan, a pair of chinos, and dress flats or booties. On weekends, I wear yoga pants, a t-shirt, and a hoodie or cardigan. I only put on jeans if I go out.

Anyway, I decided to give Nadine West a try. You provide your style profile and they have a stylist pick out an outfit for you every month (or every two weeks, if you prefer). Yes, there are other services like this. Stitch Fix is probably the most well-known. I chose Nadine West because their prices are extremely reasonable, their customer service seems to be amazing, their social media person is delightful (as a marketing professional, I appreciate that), and I liked what I saw with the customer photos they feature on their Facebook page.

My first shipment arrived today. I was filled with an equal mixture of excitement and trepidation. It’s Schrödinger’s Outfit — simultaneously awful and amazing as long as the package stays unopened.

Well, reader, I opened it. Because why wouldn’t I?

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This is what they sent me, minus the bracelet, which is being sent back. (The necklace, by the way, is something I already own. A wonderful piece made by my friend Clever Kim’s Curios.) I have tiny wrists, so bracelets are problematic unless they’re adjustable, and this one is not.

Well done, Nadine West! I would likely have purchased the top and cardigan on my own if I had seen them in a store. The leggings, definitely not, because I wasn’t a leggings type of person. But I’m sold. And my Toms booties look great with it.

Winter of My Discontent

The title of this blog seems appropriate, given that I was recently laid up with the flu, and I have cabin fever like crazy. I haven’t been out much aside from work and running errands. I’m getting antsy for spring. (And anxious to start camping season.)

Here, have some flowers. I took these at Franklin Park Conservatory a few weeks ago, which is a great place to go here in Columbus when you have the winter blues. Their orchid exhibit is going on right now, and I love the Victorian theme this year.

Among the Stacks

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A photo of me from 10 years ago, when I still enjoyed the simple pleasures of browsing the bookshelves.

I’m such a library nerd. I have been since I was a kid, and every almost trip to the library resulted in me walking out with a stack of books in my arms, eager to go home and dive in.

One of my favorite activities used to be perusing the stacks to find a book (or several) to read. Sometimes I knew exactly what I wanted and sometimes not. I actually thought it was more fun when I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. I would inevitably leave the library with a book I’d never heard of and an author I’d never read. The library is full of undiscovered treasures.

Even as an academic, I loved going into the dark, neglected recesses of the university library to look for dusty tomes that hadn’t been touched in years. (When you study some fairly obscure old texts, you have to dig deep to find what you’re looking for.)

I’d forgotten.

Everything went digital, and I forgot the pleasures of browsing at the library. Life no longer affords me much time to spend at the library, so I peruse titles on the library website instead. Oh, that digital book is available right now? Sure! It looks good! Download to Kindle.

That’s been my primary way of reading for some time now. No trips to the library necessary.

And the major difference with grad school now, as opposed to my last journey through academia, is that everything I need is online. I don’t need to drive to campus. I don’t need to visit the library. Everything is quick and accessible on my computer. (I’m still getting used to digital textbooks. There was something so satisfying about marking up a textbook, but now it’s all nice and neat.)

Yesterday, I had to stop at the library to return a DVD. But I found myself with some unexpected free time, and I had just finished a book on my Kindle. Why not, for old time’s sake, browse the library shelves and pick out something to read?

Suddenly, I remembered how great that visual and tactile experience was. I only knew I was looking for something on the shorter side. I have so little time to read for pleasure nowadays, I can’t deal with an excessively long novel.

To pull a book off the shelf, read the cover, leaf through the pages, and decide if I want to take it home with me? I forgot how wonderful that is. Doing it online is not nearly as fun, nor does it engage your senses nearly as much.

Ultimately, I chose Rutherford Park by Elizabeth Cooke – a book I never heard of, but it was compared to Downton Abbey, so I could hardly resist.

It’ll be nice to rest my eyes a bit by looking at an actual paper book instead of an electronic device. I spend so many of my waking hours staring at some kind of screen.

And now I must make a point of visiting the library more often. It’s one thing to be a frequent patron, but you can do that without ever stepping foot inside the building. It’s a whole different experience to go in and take the time to really browse and see what the library has to offer.

Photo Challenge 2019

It’s New Year’s Eve, and I suppose most people use this time to reflect on the year behind them and look to the year ahead.

I do that, too. But I won’t bore you with those details.

Instead, I will focus on one project I did this year – a challenge, really. I decided around this time last year that I would post at least one photo every single day of 2019 on Instagram.

Seems easy enough, right?

Well, it’s not.

The photo had to be taken that very day, for starters. Some days, it was easy. Most days, it wasn’t.

But it’s not a challenge if it’s easy.

The harder days forced me to get creative – to think outside the box. If I was at home the entire day, I had to really look at things around my house (either outside or inside) in a new way to see if I could create an interesting photo. Sometimes I failed at that, but I even posted the photos that I didn’t like.

Sometimes, I forced myself to go somewhere for the primary purpose of getting a great shot for Instagram that day. And that’s good, too, because it got me out to explore more than I would have otherwise.

For better or worse, I stuck with it. And I got some really great shots because of this challenge.

But I’m glad it’s over. I want to pursue a new photography challenge for 2020. I haven’t decided what yet, but I’m leaning toward doing more macro shots.

You can see some of my favorites from this challenge below.

Here’s to a creative and inspirational 2020!

135 Highland Drive

photo of the outside of 135 Highland Drive from Google Street View
Google Street View photo captured September 2013

I knew when we left 135 Highland Drive that cold day in February 2011 that I would never step foot across the threshold again. My grandparents’ house, where we had so many Thanksgiving dinners, Christmas mornings, visits with cousins and extended family, birthday celebrations, gatherings for funerals …

Nearly every room holds memories. The upstairs bedroom, where I spent nights with my cousins, talking and giggling late into the night. The kitchen, where I kept Grandma company while she watched her soap operas or prepared a meal. The dining room, where we had many Thanksgiving dinners and games of Trivial Pursuit. The living room, where we spent hours playing Tetris. The family room, scene of our Christmas mornings. The patio, where we spent many summer days talking and laughing.

Grandma's kitchen
Grandma’s kitchen (photo by Marcus England)
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Grandpa on Christmas morning
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Me in the kitchen with Grandma, just before I moved to Germany in 2003

Even the backyard, where we played badminton. And the front yard, where we climbed the tree. (It was cut down eventually. It was a sad day.)

That house was my lodestar. No matter where I was or what was going on in my life, I always found my way back there.

My family moved a few times during my childhood. First, from a house around the corner from 135 Highland Drive to a place across town. Then out of town entirely, two hours south to Columbus. My brothers and I temporarily lived at 135 Highland Drive during that time while my parents were getting settled in.

Then a few more moves after that – still in Columbus – but to different houses on the westside.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive was always there, and my grandparents still in it.

I lived there again in 1996 during my fall semester at Bowling Green State University – my final semester at BGSU before transferring to Ohio State.

Even when I wasn’t living there, it was often more of a home to me at certain points of my life than wherever I happened to be living at the time.

After Grandpa died in 1999, the house stayed much the same. It just felt emptier.

The Thanksgiving dinners continued. The Christmas dinners. The family celebrations. I grew up, as did my cousins, and a new generation discovered the joys of visiting Grandma’s house.

My nieces raiding Grandma's toy cabinet in October 2010
My nieces raiding Grandma’s toy cabinet in October 2010

When Grandma went into hospice care in 2011, we stayed at her house. We all knew it would be the last time. My brother wisely recorded a video walk-through of the house, though I’m sure we all have every room committed to memory.

Her passing was devastating. Walking out of that house for the final time wrecked me.

The hospital bought her house. Over the years, the hospital slowly bought up all the properties in the neighborhood and demolished them to enlarge the parking lot. Grandma’s house was the only one still standing. We knew the hospital would buy it, and we assumed it would become a parking lot right away.

But the house at 135 Highland Drive stood. For nearly nine years, it stood. We drove by it every time we were in town, and the outside stayed pretty much the same. The landscaping changed some. But I could almost imagine it was still Grandma’s house and she was still there.

And now it’s gone.

I got the text yesterday from Mom. She met my aunt in town, and my aunt drove by.

Gone.

I’m sure the reality of it won’t hit me until I see it myself. But as I write this now, I stop to close my eyes. And I can picture the house as if it’s still standing there, pulsing with life and love.

My lodestar.

 

In Defense of English Majors

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Receiving my English degree

I keep thinking I need to update, but then I sit for a long time, staring at a blank page. Between work, grad school, and general adult responsibilities, I’m in a permanent state of exhaustion. That makes it rather hard to be creative when I sit down to write, but here goes.

Twenty plus years ago or so, I wrote poetry. I don’t think I was particularly good at it. But I wrote it anyway. I dabbled in playwriting, too. I wasn’t good at that either. Short stories? Meh.

I also made an attempt at a novel and gave that up. I still have it somewhere on my hard drive, and it might be fun (or horrifying) to read it. I expect a glass of wine or two will be mandatory.

I think most writers do that, don’t they? They experiment until they find what works.

Nonfiction ended up being my jam, specifically the personal essay. The travel essay, in particular. But I don’t travel much anymore, which is a sad state of affairs.

Maybe I always knew nonfiction was my true genre, somewhere deep down. I started out in undergrad as a journalism major. I wanted to tell stories – true stories. I think I majored in journalism for about a year, but I ended up changing to creative writing. I got this idea in my head that as a journalist, you would have to hound people frequently to get a story. And that’s not always true, which I know now. But at the time, that’s what I thought. And I didn’t have an assertive bone in my body, so I figured that wasn’t going to work.

Well, creative writing didn’t work either. I enjoyed the classes, but I think I had too much of a thin skin at the time to really handle the peer reviews. One poetry instructor strongly discouraged me from becoming a poet.

I don’t remember when I changed my major to English. It might have been shortly after I transferred to Ohio State from Bowling Green State University. Because I took some creative writing classes at OSU, too. But in the last two years of undergrad, I was immersed in literature, and creative writing took a backseat.

Of course, I heard the jokes about majoring in English. “Embrace a life of poverty.” “It’s a useless degree unless you become a teacher.” Blah blah blah. Twenty years later, not much has changed there.

Yes, STEM is the thing now. But there is still a place for English majors, too. Critical thinking seems to be in a sad decline these days. English majors? We have those skills. (Humanities in general, I hasten to add.) Writing? Editing? English majors are likely to have those skills, too. (I’m not saying all do. Trust me. I’ve seen that firsthand.)

And contrary to popular belief, not all English majors end up being teachers. That seems to be the obvious career path, and everyone assumed that’s what I would do. (And to my teacher friends, you guys are rock stars! I appreciate you!) Well, I actually hated teaching, to be honest. It took two years as a graduate teaching assistant to figure that out. So, no academic life for me.

So, back to writing and editing. You *can* make a career of that, and I have. Sadly, journalists seem to be disrespected a lot these days and there have been massive layoffs at newspapers. Editors don’t get much love either, it seems, as they are often the first to go if there are staffing cuts. (Why yes, I have noticed a sharp uptick in errors in print and online publications in recent years.)

But there is always marketing. And there will always be a need for marketers. And English majors are a great fit for this career, though you can come into marketing from any background. (Storytelling makes great marketing, and English majors know stories.)

I’m currently in the Buckeye Pen Pals program, an Ohio State-sponsored initiative that pairs a current OSU student with an alum. The pairing is based on major and the student’s career plans.

While I wasn’t paired with a student this year (more alumni were signed up than students), I am still in touch with my pen pal from last year. She’s an English major who is considering a career in professional writing. I know she’s concerned about her career prospects after she graduates. That’s understandable. I just don’t know how much of that is tied into being an English major – a lot, I suspect.

So, while an English degree is not the path to riches, it still has value. It does open doors.

Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

The Washington Post: The world’s top economists just made the case for why we still need English majors

Business Insider: People said majoring in English was a waste of time and money — but here are five ways I use it in my everyday life

Grad student.

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That is part of my identity now, and I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. After one attempt at a master’s degree from 2001-2003 that didn’t end well, I’ve spent far too much time thinking about a do-over. Not in English, as I originally attempted, but in something else. One time, I was considering library science. Another time, it was instructional design. Then law (but only because I earned a paralegal certificate).

Thankfully, I kept putting it off. Maybe I wasn’t ready, despite feeling like it was unfinished business I needed to attend to. It never felt like the right time.

Early in June, I was at a banquet for the OSU Alumni Club of Franklin County. I was talking to an older woman sitting at my table who already had one master’s degree and was about to go back for another in a completely different field. That was the moment I decided it was time for me.

I’m in my 40s now. What am I waiting for?

I reached my one-year anniversary at my job later that month, which made me eligible for tuition assistance. I was already casually looking at master’s programs in marketing, which is my current field (and one I’ve been interested in all along, but it took a long time to wedge my foot in the door). Then I found out the Columbus chapter of the American Marketing Association (of which I’m a member through work) had a partnership with Franklin University for a 20% tuition discount on the Marketing & Communication program.

Things clicked.

Without second-guessing myself, without overthinking, I applied. I figured I’ve already been thinking about getting a master’s degree for 18 years. Any barriers to doing so were being created in my own mind. I jumped through the hoops at Franklin University and at work, getting everything squared away to make this happen. Again, just doing it. Not wondering if I’m being ridiculous. Not questioning if this was worth my time.

So, here I am. The second week of classes is coming to an end. So far, so good. It’s a vastly different experience than I had the last time, but that’s for the best. I’m older now and wiser.

My expected completion date is August 2021. I take a moment each day to envision walking onstage at graduation to get that diploma and hood.

I will do this. I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my life dreaming about it. It’s time to make it a reality.

A woman in the great outdoors, part 3

Please read parts 1 and 2 before reading this.

Ohio Women’s Outdoor Adventure, Day 3

I tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep in on Sunday morning. Breakfast was at 8. I made some coffee in my room to tide me over (powdered creamer, though, ugh) and grabbed my lens ball out of my camera bag to get some shots of the lake.

I took the same trail from the previous morning, and I saw three deer. One stopped to check me out for a bit.

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The morning buffet was fixings for breakfast burritos. This was the last meal included in our weekend, so I ate well. I had some time before my final session – nature photography – and it was held onsite. No bus to catch anywhere. I finished packing up my stuff and taking it out to the car so I could check out before my session started.

My session started at 10. The instructor went over some photography fundamentals with DSLR and cellphone cameras (since not all of us had camera gear). He said we would focus on aperture priority mode so we could get some close-up shots of flowers – at least as close to macro as we could get without a macro lens. And still get that nice blur/bokeh in the background.

When we were ready, we went outside photograph the flower beds and containers outside the lodge. I took two shots that were kind of neat. The rest weren’t very interesting.

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Since I have photography experience, the instructor focused most of his energy on some of the other participants. I was fine with that. I just loved seeing his photographs and getting inspired.

Things wrapped up at noon. But before I headed home, I stopped in Loudonville to see the Wolf Creek Grist Mill. All the times I’ve been in the area, and I never stopped there. It was worth a brief visit (and the $1 entry fee) for some nice landscape photos.

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I was sad when the weekend ended. I had the chance to experience some new things and challenge myself in an encouraging and relaxed environment. I hope I can go again next year, but understandably, priority is given to first-timers. Still, ODNR offers programs to OWOA alumni, so I’m looking forward to seeing what they offer.