Be present and give presents

Fatty Christmas

(These are my dogs in elf sweaters—$3 apiece at Target. Best purchase of 2012 by far.)

I made a rather impulsive promise in my last post to remove myself from the online world for three days starting on Christmas Eve. So far I’m living up to that promise—today’s post was scheduled ahead of time!

Honestly, it was long overdue that I take a sabbatical (however brief) from the Internet. As much as I love the web—all the information readily available, the personal connections I make daily—I’m realizing I need to start monitoring my use of it more carefully. As it turns out, there IS such a thing as too much information and entertainment. I believe that when the comfort of web consumption distracts you from creating something meaningful outside of the blogosphere, it’s ultimately to your detriment. Being a writer doesn’t mean being chained to your computer around the clock. It means gaining real-world perspective elsewhere and making a mental note to write about it later.

Christmas reindeer

John and I went to the Baltimore Museum of Art on Saturday to check out the new contemporary wing. Talk about gaining perspective. I’ve never seen a work of art and NOT been amazed and humbled by the fact that what’s in front of me is the product of utter fearlessness, dedication, and reckless abandon. So much of the art we saw was evidence of that truth. Those artists don’t let time waste away guiltily browsing Jezebel headlines or accidentally spending too much time stalking strangers’ Facebook photos. They’re too busy creating, because there’s simply not enough time to do so in the first place.

bokeh Christmas lights

I’m no artist. I can’t draw or paint (not very well, anyway), and it wouldn’t ever cross my mind to sew banana peels back together and call it art. But I can appreciate that someone else has. And I can treat my own creative endeavors—art forms in their own right—with the same respect by spending more time observing, reflecting, and recording without immediately thinking to myself, “Can I blog about this?” It doesn’t mean I won’t, but that’s not where I want my mind to go first.

penguin Christmas

I have to say how thankful I am to have my love for film photography for these very reasons. Whereas writing does have its limitations (it’s only ever gonna get published if I put my ass in the chair), photography forces you to get your ass out of the chair and explore. Before I picked up my 1975 Minolta SRT-202, I never would’ve had a non-crazy excuse to pull my car over to the side of the road and take in the beauty of a patch of woods. The act of photography itself practically begs you to reexamine just about everything, and it requires you to be physically, actively engaged. There are no easy distractions.

Christmas lights

While I wrote this under the assumption that someone would be reading on Christmas Eve (after all, it is a wonderful time to veg out and partake in a few mindless activities), I encourage you to unplug and enjoy some time away from the computer, too. I plan on getting a little exercise, wrapping the last few gifts, and reading (for fun!) before Santa comes. Most importantly, I’ll allow myself to recharge a bit so that when the inevitable return to the working world comes, I’ll have some renewed energy to tap into.

To those who celebrate, have a very Merry Christmas.

Witty Title Here Christmas

Last goals of 2012

peace

December is naturally a time to reflect on the past year and eagerly look ahead to the next. But in the midst of the holiday craze (not to mention the end of the world!), it’s easy to forget to take care of ourselves, be present, and not rush the last few days of the year. I confess—over the past couple of weeks, I’ve done a disservice to my mind and body by staying up way too late every night, because it seems like there’s just too much to do. More often than not, though, I’m up late because I can’t pry myself away from the computer. This blog here has seen some substantial growth over the past several months, and I am admittedly obsessed with watching that pan out. (You can only refresh your stats so many times in one hour, but apparently I’m out to challenge that notion.) On top of that, my dedication to exercise is waning lately, and I find myself running only two miles instead of three, or skipping the gym altogether. No bueno.

Despite all this, I started December on an upbeat note because there’s a lot to celebrate and much more to accomplish yet. I came up with a few healthy goals for the last days of 2012, and I’ve already checked some of them off my list. Others are a work in progress and will overlap into the new year. Here’s what I want to do before we ring in 2013, granted the world makes it past the 21st:

Renew my enthusiasm for fitness. Maybe my half-hearted exercise routine has become exactly that—routine. Too routine. It’s only a matter of time before the treadmill makes you feel like a hamster on a wheel. To shake that feeling, I finally took advantage of the beginners’ yoga gift card (and yoga mat) John gave me for my birthday, and I’m learning something new while gently challenging my body. It’s also the perfect destressor for the busiest time of year.

Pitch a story/blog post. I’ve been so focused on my blog lately that I’m slacking when it comes to publishing elsewhere. Writing for other sites will not only help keep my portfolio fresh, but it’ll also introduce new people to my own blog. Query sent and approved, draft in the works. Back in the game!

Expand my vocabulary. Words like “awesome” and “definitely” are definitely awesome, but those words have synonyms. And those synonyms have synonyms. Over the past few months, I’ve made a regular habit of learning new words (or relearning words I thought I knew the meaning of… whoops), and it’s something I plan on keeping up. I promise not to get all vainglorious on you.

Plan in advance. I’m pretty sure I enhanced my grown-up status when I created a Google calendar… for my personal life. I’m also starting to use it as an editorial calendar for WTH. This will hopefully prevent me from freaking out over what I’m going to write in January when I go full-time and keep track of all my upcoming guest writers. (You guys are in for a treat!)

Unplug. For three full days starting Christmas Eve, I will not have an online presence. No blogging, no stat checking, no tweeting, no Facebooking. Truth is, I need a break from the web in a bad way, and I should be spending that time with my family anyway. When I’m not eating mashed potatoes or hogging my sisters’ remote-controlled helicopter, I’d like to focus a little bit more on myself. Hear my thoughts more clearly. Get creative in other ways so I have something worth writing about here. Since I don’t have a smart phone, it’ll be a little easier to not get distracted from this most important goal.

To me, this list serves as a great reminder that 2012 isn’t over yet, and there are still a few things I can do before I make those midnight-on-New-Year pancakes. (This will be the third year running of said pancakes, and it’s pretty much the best and only tradition I’ve ever established. You’re welcome to borrow it.) Why wait until 2013 to make a resolution you might not keep? Why not make a few smaller, more immediate goals instead? It’s still 2012. What will you accomplish in 2012?

A woman to aspire to

a woman to aspire to

Like most girls growing up, I always imagined the kind of woman I’d eventually become.

I was an insecure kid with a lot of quirks and beauty I hadn’t yet dared to see in myself. I caught glimpses of it sometimes, but would end up too distracted by my imperfections and everything I hadn’t “figured out” yet. In my mind, the twenty-something version of me would be a woman to aspire to—she’d have it all figured out, and she’d be beautiful.

I’m going to go ahead and say something that might sound conceited: I am beautiful. How controversial of me to say so. How dare I love myself? But I do. Not always. Right now, for example, I look downright teenage in my snowflake pajamas without make-up on, and I constantly obsess over my perpetually dry skin that sometimes flakes or scars. But damnit, I am beautiful, inside and out. (Don’t dare to think otherwise of yourself, either. Somewhere in a parallel universe, my younger self is hearing this, and it’s working wonders.)

Anyway, so back to this picture my sweet, deluded child self had conjured up of the present me. If today I’m saying I’m beautiful (we’ll see how I feel tomorrow), then at least what I had in mind then is half-true. The other half? Not so much. I think I’ve made all the right moves so far (with several mistakes behind and certainly ahead of me), but that doesn’t mean I’ve got adolescent-turned-adult skin problems, let alone life, figured out.

Most twenty-somethings—myself included—obsess over where they’ll be living, or what career path they’ll end up on, or if they’ll get married, and WHO they’ll marry, and oh-my-God-do-I-even-LIKE-kids-let-alone-ever-want-to-have-any? And that’s about as far into the future as most of us bloggers (especially those on Thought Catalog) who deign to narrate such thoughts ever really go with it. For some reason, it seems as though we’re still slightly illuded that our future selves will FINALLY have it all figured out.

Rarely do we take the time to consider the kind of people we’ll be at 50. Or 60. Or 97. Why is that? Do we all just assume we’ll be wise, or do we think “old” (which is a relative term, anyway) people don’t have similar worries, or don’t matter quite as much because they’ve already contributed work and offspring to society? Of course they matter—those are our parents and grandparents we’re talking about. Is it just that old age seems too far into the distant future to even comprehend?

This would make sense, considering how different the world we live in now is compared with the world of our young grandparents. If society and technology and the population can take off so astronomically just in the past few decades, imagine how different it could be when our friends are dying.

So here’s a challenge to my fellow young (again, relative term!) people: envision yourself in the future. Not the ten-years-from-now future. The seemingly distant future. The future that anyone over 50 will likely tell you isn’t as distant as it may seem. Now that we’re all slightly wiser than our preadolescent selves, let’s try to come up with something a little more specific and a lot more realistic than “generally beautiful and all-knowing.”

Gray-haired Cassie? She still wears her hair long. She is confident, and long ago stopped worrying about what people think of her. She is kind, funny, occasionally frazzled, yes, but never more than five minutes late. Physically, spiritually, and otherwise, she remains in touch with her former young self. In fact, she works out. Daily. Still has muscles and a nice figure, even if it’s changed slightly over time. A few laugh lines are permanently etched into her face from a lifetime of belly laughs, but her skin makes her appear younger than she is because she became diligent about sunscreen in her twenties.

Gray-haired Cassie is also incredibly smart. With an impressive vocabulary (and a persisting tendency to say “y’all” a lot), she has accomplished her dream of publishing a novel a few times over. She’s still super-close with her younger sisters, and doesn’t envy them too much for being generally cuter and more youthful. She is able to look back at her life and pinpoint exactly where she made mistakes and is grateful that they led her to where she is now. She’s learned to live with only the most beautiful things she owns, even if she only has a few of them. She is a woman of self-love and satisfaction. And despite many doubts, missteps, and setbacks, her optimism—however peppered with sarcasm—has prevailed. Also? She still doesn’t have it all figured out. And accepts that.

Knowing that this is what I want and envision for myself makes clear a few things, and it raises some questions: One, what is it I should start doing now to become that woman? If I want to get to that point of self-actualization sooner, I better start acting like the woman I describe.

Two, what is it I should stop doing now to become that woman? No self-loving goddess would tell herself, No, don’t bother applying to that amazing school. The chances of you getting in are slim, and that’s a hefty application fee.

And three, what do I already share with the woman I describe? I’m smart, kind of funny sometimes, I take care of my body, and I’ve laughed a lot. 

And that? That counts for something.

 

On the trail

macro mushrooms photo

A few weeks ago, McKenzie and I got together for a long-overdue picture-taking session. We went up to the bike trail just a few minutes from my house on what could be described as the perfect fall afternoon: gorgeous sunlight, weather for wearing light layers, and beautiful fall colors everywhere. I took an entire roll of film before realizing I had accidentally left the light meter off. Womp. I wasn’t sure what that would mean for all the pictures I had just taken, but luckily, they turned out gorgeous. That macro shot above? I spent probably a full two minutes trying to focus my camera just right. And MAN was I psyched to see how it turned out. Here are a few more of my favorites from that outing.

bike trail

fall photos

picture of a donkey

horse photo

The donkey above is named Mikey. He is the sweetest, most personable donkey I’ve ever met. (Not that I know many.) McKenzie and I were lavishing him with attention, and finally the two horses nearby took notice and ambled over as if to say, “Hey! We want our ears rubbed, too!” This one kind of got up in my face about it, actually, and promptly sneezed on me. We’re all good friends now.

carved tree

photo of a photographer

slanted rock

photo walk

Notice how many photos of McKenzie taking photos I have? It’s a behind-the-scenes look at our photo walk, if you will! For the picture below, I waded into the water with my boots and crouched down so close that my butt almost got wet. (And yes, I used up an exposure on a picture of my feet.)

river photo

feet

old stone house

This old stone house is right off the trail for anyone to snoop around. (Which clearly, you’re not supposed to. So clearly, we did.) I always wonder what must’ve happened for any house to remain abandoned for so long. Obviously, this one’s an oldie. It’ll probably still be there a hundred years from now!

vines on a house

no trespassing

If every fall day could be like that afternoon was, I’d never complain about the chill in the air. But I gotta say, I’m lucky to live in such a beautiful (and photogenic) area. Now that most of the leaves in these photos are gone, maybe I’ll go back to the bike trail to try out some black and white film.

vine and stone

If you want to see more images from our lovely photo walk, check out McKenzie’s blog post from a few weeks back. I’m off to eat some leftover mashed potatoes…

The campaign

2012 Mobbies awards

For those of you who aren’t down with modern-day acronyms, that’s Witty Title Here for the win. And this is no presidential election. It’s much less life-altering than that. It’s the friggen Mobbies. And I’m pro-awesome.

Let me explain: The Mobbies are a competition for Maryland’s best blogs hosted by The Baltimore Sun, and it’s all in the name of bragging rights. This year, Witty Title Here falls under the Best Personal Blog and Best Photography Blog categories. I nominated myself, and I’m very honored.

Last year, I ranked fairly well in my category considering I had about half as many page views and a slightly irregular posting schedule. I’m proud to look back at the archives and see how far I’ve come since then. With a much more aesthetically pleasing design and a stronger, more developed voice, I wouldn’t be mortified if a (hypothetical) prospective employer or first date told me they’d already perused my blog. (Note: I’M NOT IN THE MARKET FOR EITHER, PEOPLE. In case you were about to bang down my door, because why wouldn’t you?)

Because I really want bragging rights, fame, and the chance to give an acceptance speech, here are a few reasons why you should vote for me—daily:

– I love you.
– I’ve probably made you laugh at least once, and possibly even out loud.
– I show restraint with the poop jokes. Most of the time.
– I produce original, thoughtful, and relatable content.
– I try to write stuff even boys would like.
– I’ve introduced you to all sorts of creative types who share their passions.
– I talk with you, and not just at you. I comment on your blogs, but I also really read them. And I respond to your comments here.
– I take pretty film photos and share them with you, unedited.
– I’m not afraid to be vulnerable. I strive to portray my honest-to-goodness self.
– I make lists.

…Need I say more?

So. Instructions.
Voting is open through November 9th, and as mentioned above, you can vote daily. Before doing so, you must login using one of your various social media accounts like Facebook, or you can use your email address and create a password. (These things take mere seconds.) Once signed in, make sure you vote for Witty Title Here under both the Best Personal Blog and Best Photography Blog categories. They are conveniently listed right next to each other, so you can just scroll right on down. When you’ve selected both categories, click the giant red button that says “Cast Your Vote!”

Mobbies voting

To be fair, I encourage you to check out my competition. They’re pretty rad, too.

I’m trying to come up with ways to thank my voters. Personal, handwritten thank-you notes via snail mail on pretty paper? Simple, yes, but let’s not forget the beauty of the written word. And, I’m pretty sure ACTUAL gifts or giveaways would be considered a bribe. And even if they weren’t, I’m not rich. So take what you can get. And I do love you all a very normal, healthy amount.

Thanks in advance, and have a spooky Halloween!

Via McKenzie from Oliver and Abraham’s