Join the Back to Blogging Non-challenge Challenge Here!

Back to Blogging Non-challenge Challenge

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's Going to Get Worse

This time last year, I was in a brand new and exciting place in my life.

I had left my soul-sucking job at the publishing company I'd worked at for three years the previous summer.
I had just left what was dangerously close to becoming an equally destructive job by successfully transitioning it from an on-site 45 hour/week role into an off-site part-time role.
I was gearing up for my first marathon and was nervous, anxious, excited—all in a good way.
I was pitching editors left and right, giving this freelancing thing a whirl, and making plans for 2016 to be my best year yet.

It wasn't too long after that things started to fall apart piece by piece.

That contract position went from an agreed-upon 25 hours per week to me chasing people around to get invoice approval, and then less and less work came my way as the people in my corner left (or were removed from, I'm not sure) their positions, and ultimately, that working relationship dissolved completely. Some websites lost funding for the department I was writing in, or editors stopped responding, or the work wasn't worth the pay. For a multitude of reasons, the freelance life I'd only stumbled into by accident (and had never actually planned on until it wound up happening by default) became unbearable. So I turned my sights back onto finding a full-time job, and the most stressful summer of my life ensued.

I can realize now, looking back on this past year, that a depression started setting in back in the winter and has yet to fully release me. There is a blanket of stress and uncertainty over every single day as I count down the calendar pages on this current contract position and frantically resume my job search. My angst and stress has infiltrated my running experience and sapped so much joy from that which used to give me life. It's infiltrated my relationship with David, who surprises me every day with the number of panicked late-night rambles he's willing to put up with. It's infiltrated my ability to feel optimistic or excited about much at all, because this question mark still hangs over me, and it will until something changes that is out of my control.

I wish I could have warned myself about it all. And if last year I could have known this would happen, I would have done a lot of things differently.

Or would I have? I'm a big believer in the butterfly effect—if that's what it's actually called? At any rate, the idea that each action or decision has an impact on what follows, and if you change one piece of the process, you risk pulling out each and every thread. I've followed this thought process a few times as I've thought about things I wished were different.

For example, I wish I'd never started smoking back when I was a teenager. But, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have made friends with some people I still love dearly—and luckily, we've left the cigarettes in our past. If I hadn't smoked in college, I wouldn't have met my dear friend B, who introduced me to my first running buddy/"coach," without whom I wouldn't have quit smoking and become a runner, without which I wouldn't have done one of the things I am the most proud of: run a marathon.

And on and on we could go. And that's why not having a plan is important to me, because I don't want to say I will or won't definitely do anything. Who can say what amazing things await if I just take life one step, one decision, one change at a time? I certainly can't, and that's been the fun—and absolutely terrifying—part.

So would I have changed course last year? I mean, would I have stayed at that contract position or even accepted their full-time offer and suffered through a working environment that made me long for an escape hatch every single day, that stole sleep from me every single night as my body took up its typical response to stress, insomnia? I don't know. Because it's not exactly as if this summer had me sleeping soundly and marveling at how great my life had turned out alternatively.

Things got worse than I could have predicted. But what would be different now that I had done things differently? What would I have done differently?

I do think if I had the opportunity, though, I would let old me know that things were going to get worse. I remember (embarrassingly) chatting about bumbling into this "new adventure" of freelancing—I repeat, without ever having planned to do so, by which I also mean making absolutely zero preparations for—and thinking I would never turn back. And here I am now, begging someone to hire me and give me the stability I've been missing for a year. Hindsight is 20/20. At the very least, I wish I could prepare the old me for the struggles she was going to face, rather than give her a false sense of security and belief that things were finally working out in her favor. With this information, would I have stayed on, continued to job-search, and promised to use the sliver of remaining willpower I had to make the best of it for as long as I could? Probably, and there are many days now where I wish I had the opportunity to revisit some of the choices I made last year and weigh them again against what I now now would be the consequence of each of them.

But here's the thing: I don't think this is a negative post. I'm sorry, your head probably just spun because that was such a ridiculous thing to say. But I mean, whatever: So things got really, really bad for a while. And I'm not pretending they might not get bad again. (Hey, at least I'm prepared this time.) But isn't that how life goes? Isn't that exactly what's supposed to happen? Isn't that all part of the experience, and aren't I damned lucky that one of the most unrelentingly difficult periods of my life still saw me with a roof over my head and food on my plate every single day? Hell yes, I am.

To 2015 Alyssa, hear me: Things are going to get worse than you can even imagine. But the only way you're able to say this now is because, as always happens eventually, they got better. If only for three months, they got better eventually, because that, too, is how life goes.

This post is part of the Back to Blogging Non-challenge Challenge hosted by yours truly. Get the details and join in (it's never too late) here.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Peace on a Monday

It's one of those rare days where I'm sitting at my computer, ready to make words out of key clicks that will soon become a blog post that will post the same day. There's something calming, peaceful about writing and hitting publish, rather than agonizing (and I use that term loosely and over-dramatically) over it until it publishes in 12 hours or a few days.

I've just dropped David off at the train and I've been up for longer than I typically would be on a weekday morning. I kissed my guy goodbye and came home, made a cup of coffee, and sat down to make my day's to do list, check emails, browse blogs, and pen a post before my day "really" gets started. At the end of it, David will be there again, and we'll wrap up in a human burrito and doze off together.

But before that happens, I'll spend much of today making comforting clacks on my keyboard, punching my way through a work day, blog comments, personal emails, and correspondence with friends and family.

I'll sip from the coffee cup, warm and aromatic, sitting next to me. I chose my #iwokeuplikethis mug today, because it's got a big, wide mouth that somehow makes the coffee seem more abundant, and the giant # at the bottom makes me chuckle over an empty mug.

I'll go to the yoga studio and roll out my mat and be bent into shape by Kelly, my favorite yoga teacher, one of my favorite people, period. We'll chat after class and she'll make me laugh and I'll make her laugh and I'll leave feeling more space and openness in my body than I do right now.

Eventually (I haven't yet—I'm getting better about not rushing to these things first thing) I'll open Instagram and scroll through pictures of people I like and love celebrating fall, enjoying their weekends, cozying up on a Sunday night, hitting the ground running on a Monday morning. I'll stop every time I meet a video of penmanship, one of my simple pleasure social media follows, and maybe replay several times as someone with beautiful, clean, smooth handwriting loops out the most beautiful "good morning" or "blue" I've ever seen.

I hope I'll slide into running pants and step into my shoes and end up outside, ready to run, able to just start and put one foot in front of the other for as long as it serves me today. I'll run without my training plan or my next finish line in my mind, but rather because running has (for nearly 3 years) made me feel alive when nothing else could.

I'll sit down with myself after a few hours of all this, open up the hardback book I've been reading, and disappear into a story set in Ohio for at least a few minutes, but much longer if I'm lucky. I'll take breaks from the page to send my eyes toward something much farther away, like the oak tree and its (now-)burnt orange leaves.

What makes you feel at peace?

This post is part of the Back to Blogging Non-challenge Challenge hosted by yours truly. Get the details and join in (it's never too late) here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Recent Reads Vol. 11

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
I accidentally placed my hold at the library for the "young readers" version of this book, but by the time it became available I'd waited so long that I didn't care. The subtitle was changed to "How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World" from "The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban," and the page count dropped from 327 to 240. Still, I went ahead because I really wanted to read it and I had followed her story a bit, so I figured I could research on my own if I wanted to fill in any spaces. If you're unfamiliar, this is a good primer on Malala and why she is significant, but I do think you should read the book and hear it from her directly. I generally don't go for non-fiction (although the last three or four books I've reviewed have been NF, huh?) but I do appreciate memoir, especially memoirs of women who change the world (please note my love affair last month with Notorious RBG).

I was really happy this finally came up for me, and I think it's important for anyone who doesn't feel a connection to feminism to read in order to understand what it is we talk about when we talk about equality and rights. Also, the audiobook concluded with Malala's full speech to the U.N. (recording of her delivery) a few years ago, which may have been the most important part of the whole thing. I cried.

Recommend? — Yes, yes, yes!

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler
I'm on the fence about this one. It was enjoyable enough that I read it from start to finish, but it had a lot of things that irritated me. None of them related to the plot, which was an imagined account of Zelda's life and relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald (who happens to be the author of my favorite book, hence why I picked this up to begin with). My issues were solely with the writing, chiefly that the author seemed to have no idea how to write dialogue or how to give an accurate representation of a generation or period in time other than her own. References were heavy-handed but the usage and tone was all out of whack. I was a bit more specific in my Goodreads review, if you'd like to see.

Recommend? — I suppose you'd like it if you enjoy historical fiction. It was a nice story; just a little challenging for this editor to read.

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan
It’s funny; I grabbed this because it was available now on audiobook, sounded like it would be an easy listen during a week where I would be on many buses, and it was recommended for fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (which I was—a fan of, that is). From the first few minutes, the description of the place and lifestyle sounded like it could have been written by someone in my town, which is a medium/large town in the NYC metro area populated by mostly NYC transplants or commuters. Then she said “Park Street” and described it, and it reminded me of my town. THEN she mentioned the neighboring town which shares a name with the one I grew up in, which is 15 minutes away from my current town, and THEN a restaurant in current town and I was like…yeah, this author’s a Montclarion. It was funny because it gave me like a new camaraderie with the author and main character, the latter I assume is not-so-loosely based on the author herself.

Anyway, for readers who won’t recognize town and restaurant names, this read easily and nicely, if a tad predictably. It definitely would appeal more to the “working mom aching for work/life balance” or “how does she do it all” set, which I’m not a part of, but I can appreciate the challenges. It was sweet and had some really compelling, very human, extremely emotional moments, and it really just passed the time on my bus rides to and from the city very well.

Recommend? – It's not a can't miss, but it's an easy and enjoyable read.

Currently working my way through June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, which I borrowed from Michael and am really enjoying. It's on the thick side though, and I'm halfway through with no idea where the story will go from here, so no comments on it yet. 

In other news, happy anniversary to Steph, Jana, and Show Us Your Books! Thanks for giving us this space for the last two years to talk to, share with, and learn from fellow bookies, ladies.


Oh, and in case you missed it: I'm hosting a sort of blog challenge this month. Get the scoop here!

Monday, October 10, 2016

On in the Background

I didn't mean to have two music-oriented posts in a row, but because of poor planning, that's where we are. And where we are is here, today, on the first day of the Back to Blogging Non-challenge Challenge! Before I dive into the first prompt, I want to take a moment to say thanks for your awesome response. Whether you're joining me for one prompt, a handful, or all 10, I'm glad you're here. (And if you have no clue what I'm talking about, click here!)
When I came up with the first prompt, "Three (or however many you choose) songs that define your life and why," I had one song in mind for myself. But after thinking about it a bit more, it ended up not making the cut. If I think about it, what I really wanted to talk about is the soundtrack to my life. The songs that were on in the background or that I was singing along to in my life's defining moments. And while I'm the type of person who has never heard a song she couldn't relate to a personal relationship or experience, as soon as I sat down, a few songs emerged as stand-outs.

Music has always been important to me. I'm a person preoccupied with words (you're shocked, I can tell) and I've found solace a million more times than I can count in the lyrics written by others. When my own words failed, or when they were sticky or graceless or fumbling lazily around my brain, I have always clung to song lyrics and quotes. I remember songs by the moments they've illustrated, either in reality or in my mind.

To list my favorite songs would be an exercise in exhaustion. Instead, I'm writing the soundtrack to my life.

Bill Medley, Jennifer Warnes, "(I've Had) The Time of My Life"

When I was little, maybe about 5, I watched Dirty Dancing for the first time in the back room at my aunt's house with my two cousins. I remember my mother being less than happy with them for letting me watch the movie during that sleepover—the damage was done. I was in love with Patrick Swayze, and I had to watch that movie any chance I could. I had been in ballet lessons since I was 2, so that love was already there too. Every age and stage of my life from then on has been punctuated by this movie and the goosebump-inducing "Now I've...." that starts this iconic song: practicing The Lift with my dad or brother at the pool, squealing over a shared love of Dirty Dancing with new friends as I got older, countless viewings on the couch with mom whenever we happened to flip through the channels and find it on cable, tearing up every dance floor at every Sweet 16 or wedding (including my cousin's this past spring, where she leapt into the arms of the photographer and sent them both tumbling to the floor), and revisiting this movie I love so much every time my heart or soul needs a pick-me-up.

Eminem, "The Real Slim Shady"

I was way too young when this song came out to understand half of what was being talked about, but not too young to learn and repeat every single lyric as if I was in a contest with myself. I've loved Eminem ever since. I don't think it's strange that my love of language led to my love of some hip hop and rap, because lyrical gymnastics are so much fun. This song hit the scene around a time when I was desperate to be considered cool by my older brother and an older family friend, not to mention my peers. I have a distinct memory of the fifth grade end-of-year pool party, which for some reason featured a DJ who played this song and randomly stuck his mic into faces of kids standing in the front "row" of this weird little barricade thing, my face included, to see if we were as cool as Marshall Mathers. No, seriously you guys, spitting those lyrics was one of the coolest things I did in the year 2000. Now, years later, a friend and I still regularly engage in rap battles, and I continue to insist everyone STFU when an Eminem song comes on.

Story of the Year, "Until the Day I Die" 

Until somewhere in my freshman year of high school, I was that weird little pale girl who only listened to R&B and hip hop, for some reason. It was partly out of a misguided attempt to be ~ different ~ from the girls in my grade, partly because that's what my older brother listened to, partly because I liked music that made my hips just move (this one is still true). Anyway, cut to Dierdre: She was one of my closest friends in high school, and a few years older than me, meaning she drove before I did. And on those car rides, she introduced me to the bands that ended up becoming part of my identity as a high-schooler and college student. I will never forget how the conversion was triggered: One day when we were doing our usual take-turns approach to music, this song was on and I shut up and listen. The second verse goes "Should I bite my tongue / until blood soaks my shirt / we'll never fall apart / tell me why this hurts so much / My hands are at your throat / and I think I hate you / But still we'll say 'remember when' / Just like we always do." And I was in. Story of the Year became my lifeline. Their lyrics still hit me right in the gut, and write worlds I thought I was the only person living in. I wrote a college paper about a few of their songs. I've run to their albums more times than I can count. One day back in freshman year of high school, when the mix CD was, I skipped over an Eminem song to land on "Until the Day I Die," and Dierdre's work was done. I still love this band so, so much and am forever grateful to them for putting words and tunes and so much feeling onto experiences I would have sworn I lived in alone.

Dave Matthews Band, "You Might Die Trying" (Live Trax Vol. 13 version)

Y'all, I gotta get real specific and real dorky on this one. You probably know that now I'm a Dave Matthews Fan; every year I see them for DMB Weekend in June. But until 2009, I was not only NOT a fan, I was a hater. Mostly because I had friends who were SUPERfans that made the band feel really overrated and just not special enough to warrant shushing in the middle of a BBQ. Until this song was on during a quiet drive, this live recording, and my sax-loving ears perked up at 4:23 when LeRoi dropped in for his jam. I was changed. I wanted more, and ever since then, DMB has been the background noise to so many amazing times with friends, emotional moments on my own, and everything in between. It's brought me closer to people and the music has been there for me when no one else has. This list would not be complete without a DMB song, and this is the one that started it all for me.

Sia, "Alive" 

Today, this is my fight song.

Whether you're linking up today, maybe writing this one in the next couple weeks, or never joining at all, I'm still curious how other people measure their life in music. Do you have a few that describe your life perfectly, or that just seem to punctuate your timeline so well? Please share! And if you're interested in linking up today or any day over the next couple weeks, you can find all the deets right here.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


It feels so much like fall. Every moment lately has been wrapped in a slightly chilly breeze, every step outside is surrounded by crunchy, colorful fallen leaves, and my heart is singing. Everything about this season is so sensory, I find: Fall has unique smells and tastes, colors only October can conjure, and the first cool day on bare skin is heaven after months of sticky heat. Even the shadows and the way the sun shines remind me very specifically of fall. I guess it's no surprise, then, that the coming of fall changes my favorite songs and playlists over from summer's jam band tunes and up-tempo beats every year.

The Chainsmokers & Halsey – Closer (hashtag completely obsessed)
Lapsley – Hurt Me
X Ambassadors – Unsteady
Megan Hilty – Dare You to Move
Miguel – Adorn
Wet – Body
Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike ft. Ne-Yo – Higher Place (literally all the songs up to this point are on my yoga class playlists)
The Lumineers – Flowers in Your Hair
Benjamin Francis Leftwich – Shine
Colbie Caillat – Goldmine
Jason Mraz – Quiet (just because someone's got me relating to the lyrics of this one a lot lately :))
HAIM – The Wire
AWOLNATION – Woman Woman
Sia – Breathe Me

Also, I feel like I should acknowledge that yes, I keep songs in my rotation for an almost uncomfortably long time.

What's on your autumn playlist this year?

Linking up with Kristen & Gretch.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Back to Blogging Non-challenge Challenge

In my last Thursday Thoughts posts, I floated around the idea of a prompty link-up thing. I got a few nibbles and a few bites, so I thought—why not?! Let's go for it.
Starting on Monday, October 10 through Friday, November 11, it's a five-week, 10-prompt non-challenge blog challenge. But it's not like a regular link-up, it's a cool link-up. Let me explain:

There are 10 post prompts, but the challenge lasts five weeks. Why? Because for some of us, that will factor out to two posts a week. And if you're anything like me, that's a roughly 1,000% improvement over your posting schedule of late. You can post on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Mondays and Wednesdays. You can do all 10 prompts in the first two weeks. I don't care, and I doubt our common followers will mind if we don't all have exactly the same posts going up on the same days.

The point is simply to get us blogging again, or refresh our idea banks. I know it happens often that we think of a possible post and then put it off because, well, who wants to hear your thoughts on XYZ? (I do. Your blog readers, at least a portion of them, do. But I get how that self-doubt and those feelings of "what are we even doing here?" can talk us out of posting things we just feel like chatting about.) I figure being prompted to post about X, Y, or Z will help quiet some of those self-defeating thoughts. And I also know a lot of us (count me in) want to blog but just have no idea what the hell we used to or want to talk about here.

Listen, I know "blogging is stupid." And lots of us aren't getting rich off this thing, and it's wholly a hobby we choose to participate in. But sometimes, even the things we do just for fun become stale or challenging in a new way, and option 1 is to abandon it. Option 2 is to shake things up and try something new. I'm taking this opportunity to go with option 2, and I think most of us enjoy blogging enough that option 2 is really the better one. We get a lot out of blogging, we have to admit. Friendships, an outlet, a platform, a creative exercise, the chance to work out our thoughts and ideas. It IS valuable, and it's worth recommitting to, even when a slump sets in.

So, here's how it will work:

I'll sticky this post and add a link-up function and it will appear on the top of my blog for the duration of the challenge.

If any of the prompts look fun to you, go ahead and write 'em anytime you want between Monday, Oct. 10 and Friday, Nov. 11. No need to write them in any such order, or on any such day. It's all open-ended. When you do fancy a prompt enough to write about it, tag that post and make sure to come back here and link up.

You'll tag or label your posts with backtobloggingAGB and link that LABEL URL in the link-up space. (Ex. That way, a click on your link will take us to all your challenge prompt replies, as you feel like writing them. Or, you can come on back every day you post on a prompt and link your new link.

So it won't be like your other link-ups. But it will give us a space to share some fun or interesting posts, meet new bloggers perhaps, and feel free of the burden of thinking up our own blog topics for a couple of weeks ;) Mostly, though, I'd love to see some fun stuff in our blog feeds and discover some new bloggers we're not already reading.

Participants will be able to scroll through others' posts all on the one page using the tag/label, and you don't have to feel any obligation to link up or post on any certain days or participate in prompts that don't sound appealing.

And, best of all, everyone's Bloglovin feed won't be saturated with too-similar posts every day for a month. Hooray!

The prompts:

Right, the most important part. I tried to keep these as fresh as I could, and maybe give some opportunities to think and talk about things we don't always feel free to share on our blogs—but that I would love to read about nonetheless! Feel free to take as much liberty with these as you want and interpret them however they may make sense to you.

1. Three (or however many you choose) songs that define your life and why
2. Your best "hold my beer" moment
3. A blog post (or a list of post topics) you want to write but have yet to hit "publish" on 
4. The almost inconsequential thing you observed, but can't seem to let go of or forget
5. One thing about today you wish you knew one year ago
6. One thing about today you want to make sure you remember in one year from now
7. The cause you champion, and where/how everyone could learn or do more
8. What makes you feel peaceful
9. Who you admire
10. What you hope people receive from you

So what do you say? Care to join me?

If I need to clarify or explain anything, let me know. If you're in, let me know too! Grab a button and I hope to see you back here with a post or two. Or three, or 10. Link back to the blog or this post, please, and I hope you'll take this opportunity to invite a blog friend to join and make some new friends with other participants.

Can't wait to start seeing your posts :)

Link up here!