Progress, Not Perfection | Adventures In Journaling

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to start journaling in 2018. I’ve accumulated a ton of notebooks, both plain and pretty, over the years, but very few of them had seen any use.

So far, I’ve been successful at this resolution and try to journal a little bit every day – or at least a few times a week when my life is crazy busy.

I’m trying to reframe my mindset from “What if I mess up this page?” to “What if I never used this notebook at all?”

Every year, I get better and better at letting myself enjoy the small pleasures in life: Wearing my nice dresses. Making that slightly expensive tea because it’s my favorite and I want some. You get the idea. I don’t want to overindulge, but the more time that goes by the less “saving it for a rainy day” makes sense to me.

Because sometimes that chance never comes. A rainy day comes and you say, “No, not this rainy day. It must be a more special one.” And that’s how you end up with people who die without ever having used their good china.

I’m not trying to be morbid. I certainly hope I don’t die anytime soon lmao! But what’s the point in letting all those notebooks sit, abandoned, in a box or desk drawer? If I’m not gonna use them, then I should at least give them to someone else who will.

I’m still worried about “messing up.” Maybe less so now that I’ve actually started journaling regularly, but that feeling is still somewhat there. It won’t disappear – let alone lessen – unless I keep going, though.

Sometimes I do mess up a page. My handwriting isn’t the greatest. I have a very poor sense of spacing, too, so sometimes my letters are huge on one side of the page and then tiny on the other as I panic and try to cram them all in.

But that’s OK. Progress, not perfection. I’d rather have the satisfaction of looking at a completed page and knowing I did my best than the guilt of looking at a blank page and remembering all the times I promised I’d start creating but never followed through.

Take my quote journal, for instance. It’s a little notebook with blank white pages, so I first paint a page with watercolors and then write a favorite, long-ish quote of mine with black marker. It isn’t a flawless project by any means; sometimes my handwriting is wonky or the paint and marker bleed through. And I used to feel bad about that!

But then it dawned on me that aesthetics were never the point here. I started this journal because I wanted a place to keep all my favorite lengthy quotes about life and love and books and all sorts of other things. It had nothing to do with making it look pretty. The whole point was to write down those quotes so I can look back at all those words from Neil Gaiman and Oscar Wilde and oh so many others I admire when I need advice or inspiration.

I still scream internally every time a letter turns out lopsided or a line of text angles upward. I won’t give up, though. For now, I just remind myself over and over that it’s about the experience, not the product. I’ll never learn to relax and enjoy making art if I’m tense + worried about making mistakes. And I’ll never get any better at making art if I don’t keep practicing, pushing onward no matter how many mistakes I make.

Progress, not perfection.

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The Happy Tag

Happy Tuesday! Today I bring you a tag all about HAPPINESS, lovingly stolen from whimsywriter3 @ Rambling Writer. This tag is so good-spirited I couldn’t pass it up. What better way to celebrate the sunny days and warm weather of May in the northern hemisphere?

I sincerely hope that reading this post makes you just as happy as writing it made me!

books that make me happy.

  • The Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy
  • A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder by Richard Peck
  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Dramarama by E. Lockhart
  • Frindle by Andrew Clements
  • Matilda, The BFG, and James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
  • The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka
  • Everyone’s A Aliebn When Ur A Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun
  • There’s A Girl In My Hammerlock by Jerry Spinelli
  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
  • The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

films that make me happy.

  • Miss Congeniality
  • A New Hope
  • Babe
  • Imagine Me & You
  • Carol
  • The Little Prince
  • Muppets In Space
  • Moana
  • Beauty and the Beast
  • Wonder Woman
  • The Princess Bride

songs that make me happy.

  • “Tiny Dancer” – Elton John
  • “Wildflowers” – Tom Petty
  • “Send Me On My Way” – Rusted Root
  • “Single Ladies” – Beyoncé
  • “Girls Like Girls” – Hayley Kiyoko
  • “Palace” – Hayley Kiyoko
  • “Womanizer” – Britney Spears
  • “Castle On The Hill” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Tenerife Sea”- Ed Sheeran
  • “Photograph” – Ed Sheeran
  • “Shut Up and Dance” – WALK THE MOON
  • “Good As Hell” – Lizzo

I’ve made a Spotify playlist of these tunes; you can find it here!

words that make me happy.

  • Lugubrious
  • Effervescent
  • Enthrall
  • Dismal
  • Ojalá
  • Lachesism

foods that make me happy.

  • Quesadillas
  • Thai red curry
  • Pretzels (hard or soft)
  • Oreos and anything flavored like them
  • Buttered popcorn
  • Cheesecake
  • Waffles
  • Falafel
  • Blueberry-hibiscus tea
  • Fresh peaches
  • Kiwis
  • Jambalaya

scents that make me happy.

  • Pine trees
  • Old books
  • Coffee
  • Newly-mown grass
  • Damp earth
  • Maple syrup

miscellany that make me happy.

  • Clean bedsheets
  • The clack of a typewriter’s keys
  • That startled little chirp cats make when you wake them up
  • Strings of Christmas lights
  • Thunderstorms
  • Homemade birthday cards

-~-

I’m tagging:

And as always, feel free to participate whether or not I tagged you. (Or ignore this tag, if you so choose.)

-~-

What do you need to be truly happy?

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My Antidepressants Make Me A Better Writer

“I find that stability is good for my creativity.”

– Ellen Forney, author

I know my antidepressants are working because I’m writing as much as I used to.

Reading, too. Consuming books like mad.

But it’s writing I want to focus on, since that’s where I first noticed this effect. I’ve been writing all these years, but not with nearly the same amount of passion and intensity as I am now.

I’m writing more these days, too. Fiction and blogging and stuff for school assignments. I expect that if I were to experiment with poetry, as I did last spring for my Literary Retelling & Impersonation course, the same thing would happen.

It’s exciting. It’s a little scary, too, since it hasn’t happened in so long.

Since, as I said, I’ve been writing all these years despite depression and anxiety and everything else, my writing has naturally improved. But I don’t think it quite reached the sheer volume of writing I produced when I was… what? fourteen? Somewhere around there. I fell into a deep depression around age sixteen, which definitely stunted my growth as a writer in the second half of high school and into college.

I kept at it anyway, determined. And, well, let’s face it – sometimes because I was required to do so. There’s nothing like 40% of my grade hanging over my head to make me write a fifteen-page, meticulously-researched essay even when all I want to do is curl up and disappear!

So, yeah, my writing did improve over the past few years, simply because I never stopped. Buuuuut writing more – not merely writing, but writing A LOT – also helps. And until late last year, I wasn’t doing any of that.

I kind of wish I had pushed myself harder during high school and the first few years of college. But I can’t do anything about that now, because I don’t have a time machine. Unfortunately. (Or maybe it’s for the best? IDK if I really wanna go back in time and see my cringy teenage self.)

So I’ve been trying to make peace with reality and focus on doing the best I can right now. Forget that nonsense neurotypicals spout about medications dulling your creativity; if I didn’t have the increased energy the pills I take each day provide, I wouldn’t be able to do any of this. My world – and my mind – would still be just as gray, flat, and empty as they were in high school.

In Marbles, Ellen Forney’s graphic novel memoir of life with bipolar disorder, she spent years avoiding meds because she thought they would dull her creative spark. Eventually, however, she realized that depression doesn’t draw profound work out of you: If you have no energy anymore, you can’t exactly communicate what your sadness is like to the rest of the world, complete with crowds oohing and aahing at your genius.

My writing didn’t improve as much as it probably could’ve, but at least I kept going. Kept trying. I definitely don’t feel that depression is weighing me down and stopping so many ideas from being seen through to completion, so that’s something.

Whatever this feeling is, I like it.

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How Can I Motivate Myself To Rest? + What Self Care Habits Are Right For Me?

I followed the Facebook page QTPoC Mental Health – an offshoot of the wonderful website Rest for Resistance – many months ago in an attempt to stay informed about issues facing a community I want to be an ally too. So often, discussions of mental health focus on straight + cis + white people, throwing everyone else under the metaphorical bus.

I don’t interact with their posts other than to share them, since I don’t want to take up space in a place that’s not meant for me, but it has since become one of my favorite mental health-related pages on that site; everything posted there is amazing and spot-on.

The other day, one of their posts asked the question:

“Instead of motivating yourself to be productive, how can you motivate yourself to rest?”

Brb, printing that quote out and sticking it above my bed where it shall remain for ever and ever.

That single message seriously changed my thinking. I work hard… and it pays off. But I’m never satisfied, either. However productive I am, I always that I could have worked longer, harder, more. And that’s exhausting. I think I do it to prove myself. To make up for lost time. To stave off depression.

None of which are inherently bad things. They can become bad when taken to an extreme, though, and I feel myself careening ever closer toward that extreme.

Obviously, I’m going to come at QTPoC Mental Health’s question differently than someone who experiences oppression on more axes than I do would; for instance, I don’t have to contend with institutional racism from psychiatrists, psychologists, therapy groups, and the like that have the potential to interfere with my access to self care.

But I do think there is an overwhelming pressure from American/Western culture as a whole to go go go without ever stopping for breaks. You’re not supposed to rest. You’re supposed to be productive. And somewhere along the way, I bought into this wholesale. A fuckton of my self-worth is based on my productivity and it fluctuates according to how much I’ve gotten done lately!

I’ve said this (many times) before and I’ll say it again: Relaxation does not come easily or naturally to me. I’m all about to-do lists and planners and calendars. I love crossing tasks off when I’m finished with them!

I could use more practice when it comes to resting.

I build in time to get sh*t done by waking up early, using any spare time I have between classes or meetings, multitasking during meals, and more.

I don’t build in nearly enough time to relax. I don’t write it down in my planner.

Perhaps I should start doing that.

Immediately, I wondered, “What do I need to be well-rested?”

Does collapsing onto my bed after class and laughing at memes on my phone for five or ten or fifteen minutes qualify as relaxation? I don’t think so. And yet that’s one of my main restful activities.

It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of worrying about what “counts” as self care. We idealize it. Self care doesn’t have to mean taking a bath. It doesn’t have to mean a digital detox. It doesn’t have to mean making yourself a hot drink and curling up under a blanket with your pet.

But it can. It can – and should – be whatever it is that really nurtures you. If taking a bath doesn’t particularly do anything for your psyche, then so be it. If making yourself hot chocolate does, don’t feel ashamed to be practicing so-called “cliche” self care.

For me, part of figuring how out best to motivate myself to rest meant figuring out what activities work best for me.

Some people paint their nails in order to take some time for themselves. That doesn’t work for me. Painting my nails stresses me tf out because the end result looks like a monkey did it. (And I don’t like the feeling of something on top of my nails. It feels weird… I can’t explain it.)

So what does work best for me? What do I need to do in order to be well-rested?

Not to be all “smartphones are evil and the downfall of mankind,” but I feel so much better when I’ve been away from my phone for a bit. With it, I entrap myself. I spend way too much time checking this app and that message and those notifications, feeling distracted and disoriented and only marginally happy.

Being outdoors helps, too. I need to find more trails and other walking paths nearby, where I will be surrounded by trees and relative peace + quiet. Doesn’t have to be an intense hike, but it feels so satisfying to stretch my legs and take deep breaths of fresh air.

Reading helps. While writing is a therapeutic activity for me, it also stresses me out and requires me to spend most of my time in front of a screen, since I can type much faster than I can write.

I’m sure there are more pastimes that are good for me, but the last one that comes to mind right now is cooking/baking. I love the focus it requires. I love the repetition of actions. I love the sensory details, from the smell of chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven to the sight of a kiwi’s bright green and juicy inside.

No matter what, I need to make more of an effort to motivate myself to relax… but it isn’t helpful if the activities I claim are “self care” aren’t really helping me. Watching YouTube videos or DIYing a face mask from avocado are nice and all; I mean, I’m not necessarily going to stop doing them.

Sometimes, however, I need to set aside the digital devices I turn to out of habit + ignore the nagging thoughts that tell me my self care has to match the Instagram Aesthetique. At times, motivating myself to do such things is easier said than done.

But I won’t give up.

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How To Have A Productive Summer

Every year at around this time, the first and foremost question in my mind is: “What should I do this summer?” There’s SO MUCH to do… and yet I have so much laziness in me, too, which is why a little advance thought + planning is never a bad idea. Each summer has given me the opportunity to gradually become better at figuring out what tf I want to do with these few short months of freedom from school. So I decided to write up this post in case anyone needs some help!

Enjoy!

1. Make a bucket list

I’ve done this every summer for the past few years and it has been oh so rewarding each time! The beauty of a bucket list is that it can include anything, really – whatever your little adventurous heart desires. Silly or serious. “Binge-watch American Gods” belongs on there just as much as “start learning Spanish” does and anyone who tries to tell you otherwise can fuck right off, honestly.

Check out my bucket list tag if you need more inspiration!

2. Read, read, read 

What better time than the summer to catch up on all those books you didn’t have time for during the school year? You can make a serious dent in your TBR list just by curling up on a porch swing or inside a treehouse with a good book for a few hours a day.

Check out The Ultimate Teen Book Guide by Daniel Hahn or Nancy Pearl’s series of Book Lust guides if you’re not sure where to start!

3. Write or journal

The first session of Camp NaNoWriMo took place in April, unfortunately, but you could always attempt round #2 in July! Or find some writing how-to guides at the library and go from there. Join or start a writing group. Get a penpal. Buy yourself a cute notebook – or engage in some fun DIY to make a plain one cuter – and write down all your hopes and dreams and worries. Search out publications, either online or print, that you could write for.

Pick up a copy of 642 Things to Write About by the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto, if you’d like!

4. Start a blog or vlog

And if you abandon it at the end of the semester? So be it. I mean, ideally you would fall in love with the format and find a way to make time to continue this newfound hobby buuuut if not, people will understand. It’s a Summer Project™. A fling, if you will.

Read A Teen’s Guide to Creating Web Pages & Blogs by Benjamin and Peter Selfridge.

(It’s the book I turned to when I began blogging all those years ago, in 2010!)

5. Begin some kind of challenge + follow it through to its completion

Doesn’t necessarily have to be the ever-popular thirty-day challenge, but… I mean, they are popular for a reason. There are all sorts of themed challenges you could do: Seven-day photography challenge, bookish bingo, month-long flash fiction writing, thirty days of kindness. Or create your own! The sky’s the limit!

For this item, I can suggest no better place to start than Pinterest. Type “_____ challenge” and be amazed at what you find!

6. Explore your hometown or travel to nearby locations

I get it. Not all of us have lots of money, time, and/or access to transportation. But you can still make the most of your situation by exploring places close to home. Go for a hike at a local park. Have dinner at that restaurant that’s been around forever but that you’ve never been to. Sometimes just having someone else to do the exploring with makes all the difference.

Check out The Wander Society by Keri Smith for more ideas!

7. Teach yourself something new

You could always take a class… or you could learn a subject or skill all on your own! It’s what the library’s for, my dudes. You can find books there that will teach you just about anything.

Not putting a link here, either. Get your ass over to your local library and/or their website and search away.

8. Get a job (or volunteer)

I know, I know, this isn’t exactly fun, but… at the end of it you’ll have more money than you did before. That has to count for something, right? A job or volunteer position will fill your days faster than you know.

Browse VolunteerMatch.org or your local newspaper!

9. Prepare for the next school year

Now this could be fun or HELL, depending on your interests. The summer is a good time to get a head start on any reading lists you’ve already been given. You could also self-study a subject that you know will be difficult: By the time school starts up again, this will be your second time seeing the material, which should hopefully give you a leg up in class!

Here are some links you may find helpful:

And here’s a guide to starting a studyblr of your own, by emmastudies!

10. Clean your room

Every now and then, usually during either winter break or summer vacation, I like to spend two or three days deep-cleaning my room. It’s amazing how much stuff I accumulate even though I don’t spend very much time at home anymore! Take some time to go through EVERYTHING you own and decide what to keep, recycle, give away, or throw out. Particularly if you do still live at home, it helps you begin the new school year feeling refreshed since you have less clutter to deal with now.

Check out this basic cleaning infographic from Unfuck Your Habitat! (I recommend the rest of the site, too. Perfect for #adulting.)

-~-

Now go forth and have one hell of a wonderful + productive summer!

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What To Do With Yourself Now That School Is Out

School’s out. Now what?

I have a few ideas.

1. Sleep

Not so much that you throw your body’s internal clock out of whack, of course, but GET. SOME. SLEEP. Most of us don’t get the amount of sleep we need to function properly during the school year. Now that you have fewer obligations and more time, make sure you’re getting the recommended 7-9 hours. Just because you don’t have school in the morning doesn’t mean you should stay up half the night on your phone!

2. Read

If you’re anything like me, your TBR grows by leaps and bounds during the semester despite your most valiant efforts to find free time in which to tame it. Once you’re free from the responsibility of staying on track with your assigned reading, head to the library or bookstore and get yourself a nice little stack of books. Then get to it! For best results, I recommend sitting outside, under a tree or on a porch swing.

3. Spend time with friends

Before everyone heads their separate ways – jobs, internships, vacations, summer school. Plan something that requires minimal effort. Go see a movie you’ve all been anticipating. Hang out in someone’s backyard and eat pizza. You get the idea. After the stress and intensity of finals, you don’t need to set up anything elaborate. You just need time together.

4. Get organized

There’s something so satisfying about sorting through all my textbooks, notebooks, loose papers, and other detritus from the semester and tossing/recycling/donating what I no longer need. It’s a tangible reminder that the school year is behind me now!

While you’re at it, you may as well clean out your backpack + desk drawers too!

5. Reflect on the past few months

As tests + papers are handed back and you find out your final grades, spend some time thinking about the semester/school year you’ve just completed: What worked? What didn’t? Did you make sure to balance taking care of yourself with your schoolwork? Would you benefit from a tutor next time around? Were any of your professors or TAs especially helpful? (Write them a thank-you note!)

Whether you journal about it is up to you, but I highly recommend taking some time to reflect on what went well in addition to what went poorly so you can figure out how to make the next semester your best one yet!

-~-

I hope you had a wonderful semester but even if it wasn’t so good, I still have faith in you. There’s always next semester… and even if you graduated, there’s always more schooling and/or the rest of your life to try harder, do better, and – most importantly – feel better. You deserve a break, so enjoy your time off!

P.S. Need more ideas for stuff to do? Check out areistotle’s studyblr!

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National Poetry Month 2018 | Days 21-25

This April, I read one poem per day to celebrate National Poetry Month! I asked you for recommendations, compiled a list of the most promising-sounding works, and had great fun with this project! This is the fifth of what will eventually be six updates, with thoughts about five poems in each post.

The last few weeks were really busy for me, between catching up on work I missed when I was sick and prepping for finals. But I turned in my last final project (in Transnational Feminism) yesterday and have only a short, fun extra credit assignment left for another class, so I’m feeling pretty relaxed now. So it’s time to finish up my poetry posts!

Enjoy!

P.S. Check out my earlier National Poetry Month ’18 posts here.

4/21

To His Lost Lover

Simon Armitage

I adored this lengthy catalog of the ordinary intimacies couples share – or don’t share, as the case may be – with one another. It reminded me just how important it is to tell the people close to you that you love them.

4/22

Night Mail

W.H. Auden

Love me some Auden! It was really cool how he kept shifting between rhyme and no rhyme here. I really need to read more of his work… maybe I’ll make some time for that this summer. Anyone know of any good collections I should check out?

4/23

Sonnet XXV

William Shakespeare

Took me a while to puzzle this one out… in fact, I ended up looking it up online! Basically, he’s saying that fame is fleeting but love is immortal? Awwww. It’s fun to branch out to some of the lesser-known sonnets.

4/24

One Girl

Sappho

Couldn’t tell you what this poem was ABOUT if my life depended on it, but I loved the imagery of the natural world and that’s all that really matters.

4/25

Mad Girl’s Love Song

Sylvia Plath

I’ve read Plath before, but not very much, so I’m still pretty new to her work. It’s hard to put into words how this poem connected with me. I reveled in her use of language, I guess. It just has such a momentum and is playful while also somehow deadly serious?

To be honest, I kinda wanted to not like this bc she was uhhhh… an unsavory person IRL, to put it mildly. But damn, this is good. Just don’t wanna have her as a role model for SO many reasons.

-~-

Have you read any of the poems mentioned here, or any by the same authors? Do you have any recommendations for further reading for me based on these works – a sort of “if you liked that, try this” thing? And how did you celebrate National Poetry Month?

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