Marching band music

I’ve been looking forward to my next guest post for awhile, because this talented writer holds a special place in my heart. Though it took lots of reminding (i.e. nagging), I’m psyched to finally share my boyfriend John’s work with you. I typically refrain from getting mushy here on the blog, but I must say – I like him a lot. Read on and you’ll see why.

witty title here guest post

john mancini

Laughter is the flipside of crying – neither being genuine emotions but rather reactions we hurl against experiences we don’t understand. So keeping it close to the vest may be some evolutionary strategy worth considering. If you’ve ever thought you were going to laugh but cried instead, or laughed at the wrong time, like say, at a funeral, then you know what I’m talking about. It’s not supposed to be funny, but then, it is.

Down here on my level, I’m still laughing and crying at just about everything life has to offer. Because life is absurd. Because change and loss are absurd, and some moments have the potential to crack us up. I’ve come to expect such moments in the fall. Autumn has always ushered in the big changes.

Two Octobers ago, on Cassie’s birthday, we attended a festival on Baltimore’s waterfront. While the Ravens played football on a large outdoor projection screen, we made our way from stand to stand with tiny thimble-sized plastic mugs, sampling local brews and enjoying the unseasonably mild weather. The wind was brisk that day, and the sun cut a low angle over the water. The air felt good and crisp.

I missed the first couple of phone calls telling me that my father had had a heart attack. The drive to the hospital was a blur. Later, as he underwent preparation for surgery, I stood outside the emergency room’s glass doors and stared up at the tall bricked smokestack that stood next to the parking lot. I was just trying to keep my emotions in check, to keep them from overwhelming rational thought and crippling my ability to deal with this situation reasonably. I focused on that smokestack, and I remember it clearly: the last of the sunlight was sharp against the red bricks, creating long individual shadows for each one. The red of the bricks was striking, and it stood out against the blue sky. I stared at it for what seemed like a very long time and kind of got lost. The wind was blowing the yellow leaves across the parking lot, and I realized – fall is here. It was terrible.

In the distance I could hear the music of a marching band on a nearby college campus. They were practicing their drills. My father has always been a trumpet player, and hearing that music reminded me of how when I was younger I had often been able to hear the local high school marching band playing two miles away from our house. My dad had pointed that out to me, and I had been surprised by how far music could travel.

The waiting was very difficult, but finally, before his big moment, I was able to see him again. The doctor came in to explain things. His hands were smooth and shiny like the hands of a much younger man, but they seemed capable, and he seemed confident. Not that we had any choice. My dad’s life was now being placed in these hands. The doctor told my dad that if he had not exercised as often as he had, then the heart attack may have happened in his thirties rather than his sixties. He looked at me when he made this point. I laughed. Then I looked down at the floor and studied the tile.

It’s hard to accept the fact that we can’t necessarily maintain the same lifestyles we grew accustomed to when we were younger.  Some of the most challenging moments come when faced with potential change and loss, but also when having to meet the demands of a shifting biology and culture, a continuous unfolding of conflict and resolution on which we have little influence. The result is tension, growth if you’re lucky. A good laugh maybe.

The three stents the doctor placed in my dad’s arteries should last another twenty years, but the act of saying goodbye hasn’t gotten any easier, and I doubt that it ever will. Without change and loss, life would probably be uninteresting. Some people are inclined to look for meaning in these sorts of experiences – as if something should be gained, some significance gleaned, a mystery solved, but I have to embrace the absurd because maybe there’s nothing to learn besides the obvious: life is short.

When you’re truly listening, music can seem to last forever, but really, the sound only goes on for a little while before dissipating in the air, and the band goes marching down the street. Still, I’ve always loved the sound of brass in the distance. I feel drawn to it. I want to find out where that sound is coming from and join the parade. Because life is like a procession of happy-sad drinking songs, and loss is just the price of admission.

Final_MusicZeitgeistPicJohn Mancini has published his thoughts on other sites almost as cool as this one but currently spends most of his time putting those thoughts to music. He will release his fourth album of new songs this spring. Follow his music updates on Facebook.

The 5 Year Diary

five year diary

Five years used to seem like forever.

I remember thinking as a kid that I’d never come to reach milestone ages fast enough. Though I wasn’t necessarily in a rush to grow up (after all, my Barbie car was the shit), driving a real car at 16 seemed like eons away. Growing up to be a 23-year-old (who, as it turns out, obsessively researches which cars have the best fuel economy)? Unfathomable.

Now, it’s just the opposite. I look back five years and am amazed at what a blink it all was. Of course, as quickly as time has gone by, things are vastly different now than they were then. Not only have I begun a career and published my work, but I also drink good beer now. Life-changing. If 2007 through 2012 could feel so short, the next five years—sure to be full of even more drastic changes—will fly by even faster.

This is what I was thinking when I happened upon the 5 Year Diary in a museum gift shop. Intrigued by the simple idea and design, I treated myself to a little Christmas present. With the swipe of a debit card, I had suddenly made a long-term commitment to a journal.

five year diary

The 5 Year Diary is just what it sounds like—a journal for chronicling the span of five years. You can begin writing on any day of the year, and the coolest part about it is there’s just one page per date, with a few lines apiece for each year. (Each entry is slightly longer than a tweet.) That means once you’ve written in the diary for an entire year, you’re back to the same page you started on, and you can see what you wrote the year prior. And so on for the next four.

For anyone who’s obsessed with journals like I am, this is right up your alley. I have another journal I carry around all the time for ideas and notes (and dozens more before it), but this one forces me to sum up my day or thoughts in a few succinct words. I also kind of like that I began in the back of the book—December 22nd. I didn’t intentionally start it the day after the winter solstice, but I’m just naturally symbolic like that.

The key for me with this journal—which I’ll be lugging around for the next five years—is to remain honest. To be vulnerable and willing to admit when things are mundane or unsatisfactory. I also plan to ask my future self questions. And I’d like to think that the entries depicting my goals and dreams will serve as foreshadowing for the good things to come. I already look forward to when I reach the point that I see my entries from years past. Hopefully, I’ll be able to laugh at my own naïveté, assure my past self that some worry will work itself out, or gawk at how scarily accurate my predictions came to be.

Here are hints at just a few of my predictions for the next five years: California. Grad school. New friends. Anniversaries. Epic journeys. Lots of writing. Thousands of photos. Plenty of doubts. And a hell of a lot of fun.

I think I just had a vision: It’s 4 years and 356 days from now. I’ve got a sudden chill as I close the book on my final entry. It’s the good kind of chill.

If every day were Friday…

You know what I love about Friday? I love that even when it’s a chilly, gloomy, misty morning, it’s still Friday. It’s still the day that indicates a long week is coming to an end, and soon I’ll get to spend the next couple of days relaxing, writing, and convincing John that we should deep-fry something. It’s the day before Saturday, which is the purest, most wonderful day of the week of sleeping in and staying up late. Friday is the day I get to wear jeans to work. And the day I most look forward to.

But that’s what I also don’t like about Friday– the fact that so many of us are living for the weekend, and that, too often, we treat every other weekday as merely something to get over with. This is the standard schedule of living we’ve set up for ourselves. And, as a result, “T.G.I.F.” is a classic example of things-you-say-to-people-on-the-elevator. Which, you know, gets old.

I’m oversimplifying a little bit. Because it’s not to say there aren’t plenty of moments to be enjoyed between Sunday evening and Friday morning– you know, the majority of the week. For me, there are the family dinners, the time I spend reading books before bed, and the much-needed trips to the gym. (Bonus happy points if I get in a run at the bike trail instead!) I realize how lucky I am to have this time to myself. I can’t imagine working six or seven days a week– I wasn’t built with that kind of stamina.

Much like I don’t want to live in anticipation for the weekend, I also don’t want to spend the next year waiting in anticipation for the bigger things I have planned. (That’s vague for a reason. I’m figuring “things” out.) I feel like that’s part of my problem lately: Life is feeling a little bit like a countdown to greatness, while the potential greatness of now is being sacrificed. Not good.

What can I– or anyone else feeling the same way– do about that? Something that struck me recently was one of Rachel’s 2013 goals of finding more reasons to be grateful. Maybe that’s the other part of my problem. I’m not grateful enough for what I have now, in the moment. People love to tell you to live in the moment! Live in the now! Cherish every second! But let’s think about how hard that really is for a second. It’s a nice idea and all, but it’s something that loses its meaning when people quote it without acting upon it. It’s a true challenge to be happy and engaged when we’re simply going about our daily routine. Yet, think about how much better off those people who rise to the challenge are.

I’m fully aware I won’t always have this much time to myself to accomplish some of the personal goals I have. (To the parents out there, I’d like to give you a special shout-out. Also, how do you do it?) In just a couple of months, the job I’ve had for well over a year will finally be going full-time. I am grateful for the additional income it will bring me. I am grateful to even have a job at all. I am also nervous about how that major change will affect me on a more personal level.

But if I can find more reasons to enjoy Monday morning as much as I do Friday, and if I can remind myself to be grateful, I’ll be happier for it.

Five things you (and I) need to stop doing. Now.

As an imperfect yet ever-evolving being, I try to maintain self-insight and look for ways in which I could improve. (After all, I’m thoughtful and stuff.)

Don’t let me mislead you–most of the time, those things are usually along the line of less shampoo, more SPF. But occasionally, I like to go a little deeper than that. And I think these five tendencies are something I need to work on eradicating. Maybe you do, too.

Saying “sorry” when you really mean “excuse me.” How is (sometimes awkwardly) moving through and existing in shared space deserving of an apology?! Apologizing for one of those weird I thought you were going this way, no I’ll go that way moments is a strange and submissive habit that says, “I am not worthy of accidentally standing in your way for two whole seconds. Forgive me.” No. Stop it.

Forcing or avoiding small talk. Small talk is, admittedly, not my thing. Most of the time. Some days, I’m perfectly willing to engage in this kind of communication, and other times, I’m just not in the mood. Both of these things are okay. There are mornings at work where I’ll happily chat with a co-worker about our weekends, and the very next day, I might not have more than a friendly “hello” for the same person. That’s fine—I don’t think you need to force conversation every time you’re faced with someone. (I’ve done that, too, and wanted to smack myself when I mumbled something incoherent for the sake of making noise at someone.) There are those who will ALWAYS want to chat, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to keep your responses light and short. Not everyone is good at small talk, and not everyone likes it. But in professional situations especially, it’s important to maintain a friendly air about you, even if you have nothing to contribute besides a smile.

Giving a wishy-washy RSVP. As an introvert who doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, I am very guilty of this. Someone you don’t know very well invites you to a party where you won’t know anyone, a friend you haven’t seen in a while calls you up last-minute for a get-together, or a buddy wants to go to a bar that you HATE. These are all circumstances where it’s okay to very clearly say, “No, thanks!” or, “Sorry, I can’t make it.” Sounds incredibly simple, yet many people make it so much more difficult than that. Not everyone is good at the whole Facebook invite thing—we shouldn’t assume everyone’s lives revolve around it—but otherwise, responding with, “Mayyybeee… I’ll let you know!” when you are already dead-set on not attending is just plain flaky. Of course, if you say no all the time, people will stop inviting you. I do think it’s good to go out of your comfort zone every now and then, or offer an alternative plan. But saying “no” on occasion so you can stay home and drink boxed wine? Totally okay.

Deflecting, or rejecting, compliments. I’ve seen this piece of advice floating around inspirational la-dee-da blogs about self-love and embracing your inner hoo-ha a fair amount, but it’s worth repeating. Because people don’t just hand out compliments out of obligation. They have to go out of their way to pronounce extra syllables and exert a fair amount of air to tell you that you look great/did a good job/are super thoughtful. When you respond with self-deprecation or throw back a half-hearted “No, you!”, it’s like saying, “You’re wrong, and I actually really suck.” Uncomfortable for all parties involved.

Living in your own bubble, on repeat. So easy to do. So easy to fix. Take a different route to work. Do something OTHER than partying every weekend. Actually make eye contact (and say hello?!) to the people you pass in the hallway. This last one, I swear, is a dying form of civility. People my age looks at me like I’m nuts if I smile and say hello… even if we’re the only two people in a room. Anyone over 60? They’re the first to say, “Morning!” We need to bring that back.

What would you add to this list? Are you guilty of any of these offenses?

Of the employed sort

The last time I posted, I was writing from the beaches of North Carolina, where I spent a week in total relaxation mode, playing frisbee with my sisters on the beach and drinking wine with my mom at night. The week ended up being pretty productive, too– in addition to running every single day of the week (something I’ve never done), I was also offered a job. Like, a job job. Not bad considering all I had planned on accomplishing that week was getting a little bit of sun.

While my tan is already fading fast, the reality of having a “real” job is starting to sink in. Since I graduated, time has seemed to pass pretty slowly. In between ambitious rounds of sending out countless resumes, my enthusiasm for job hunting would often deflate and I’d retreat into laziness and daydreaming. But when you’re living at home with tons of free time and a sense of pressure to DO something with your life, those moments are often filled with restlessness and anxiety. It really started to seem bleak on the job front, and I kept trying to adjust my immediate goals accordingly.

Really, though, it’s only been 3 1/2 months since I walked across the stage at graduation. When I remember that, I think, Wow. That actually didn’t take very long. And I’m proud. And damnit, I think I should be!

The job itself is truly ideal. There were plenty of jobs I applied to that secretly had me thinking to myself that if I didn’t get them, I’d be okay with it because they weren’t for me. If I had been offered a job I wasn’t excited about, I would’ve felt pretty torn about taking it. Why settle for something that’s merely “meh”? But then, what college grad these days can afford to turn down a job? Luckily, I didn’t have that problem with this one. I knew almost immediately during my first interview that this advertising and publishing agency would be a great fit for me. Aside from the convenience (it’s 10 minutes from my house) and the salary (it’s salaried!), my gut also told me that this was the place to be. The people I spoke with were friendly and easy to talk to, and from what I could tell, the environment was casual, yet growing– not too overwhelming, but, thank God, not underwhelming, either. The fact that it’s a position in a field directly related to my major with room to grow? No-brainer.

There’s always going to be compromise, though. That European trip I’ve been wanting to take for months is now indefinitely on the backburner. Sure I’m bummed I didn’t just jump on it sooner and do it the second I graduated, but the fact is I didn’t, and I made job hunting a priority instead. At least now I’ll be able to save money easier, and by the time I’m allowed to use my vacation days, I can at least do a week or so in Spain. Maybe France the year after?

I’m pretty nervous about starting this upcoming Monday, but I’m mostly excited. It’s going to mean big changes both personally and career-wise. But I’m thinking of it like I would school. College is a four-year commitment (or 3 1/2 years, in my case… 5 years in others’), and while I’m not sure how long I’ll be with this company, I know it will at least be a couple. And I think that’s pretty cool. I’m excited to finally get some real world experience and prove myself worthy. I’m glad I had that week of vacation just a little while ago before I started this up, considering I don’t know when the next one will be. Something else I’m glad about? Getting this job before the upcoming graduates did. I didn’t finish school quickly for nothin’.