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.

Depression in relationships

Last week was lighter than usual on the blogging front. You know how when life gets to be overwhelming, and then you distract yourself with blogs and social media, and realize those things are (shockingly) hurting rather than helping you deal with it? That was me. So I distanced myself a bit from all that and enjoyed a weekend of hanging with the puppies, visiting D.C., and soaking up the gorgeous weather that has (hopefully?) come to stay.

Moving on, today’s guest blogger is a former “Lucky” Ones interviewee, Sarah Greesonbach, who just launched an ebook on switching careers. It’s geared toward teachers who are second-guessing their path, but it’s packed with advice that I think could be helpful for anyone feeling stuck. Her post today touches on some of the overwhelming effects of a dark period in her own life, and how that affected her relationship with her husband.

witty title here guest post

couple shadow

Have you ever felt sorry for people who are in relationships with depressed people?

I have. Especially because often that depressed person was me.

Josh and I have been married since November 2012, so I thought it was about time to interview him about what I consider the darkest period of my life: a time when I felt trapped in my career as a teacher, stressed by our long-distance relationship, and overwhelmed by health concerns. Here’s Josh’s take on being in a relationship with me during that time.

Hi Josh, I guess it goes without saying that it’s kind of awesome we can talk about this stuff. But some guys seem put off by talking about depression. Why do you think you’re okay with it?

I’ve always considered myself more in touch with my feelings than other guys. It is very helpful when it comes to writing music and being a teacher, but most guys aren’t up for it. I like to think I’m above stereotypes. How humans act and feel has always been more interesting to me than the traditional dude stuff like sports and grilling.

That’s probably why I married you. Now, about that time a few years ago when everything seemed to suck to me. Did you know that I was depressed?

Yes. You would cry a lot and you didn’t want to do things. Things being anything that wasn’t being in bed and crying. I think I thought that us doing distance was very difficult so I didn’t know what to do about it. I thought that was more to blame than the teaching, so I looked for ways that we could be together more.

What made you feel better and what made you feel hopeless about the situation?

I would say being with you was nice, knowing that eventually we would live nearer each other and not do [the] distance anymore. Nothing really made me feel hopeless. I found ways to cope myself, by playing a lot of video games and developing a schedule like going to the movies, getting wings, that sort of thing.

What did you do to try to cheer me up that worked and didn’t work?

I left cute notes and things around the house. I also tried to text and call as often as I could… even though sometimes you would refuse to talk on the phone. We should have talked about that more openly, I think, too, to save some hurt feelings on both sides. It didn’t seem to work when I tried to talk to you about feeling better or to try to make fun, distracting plans. I like to have something to look forward to, but you didn’t want to feel obligated to go out and do stuff in case you were feeling low.

How did you feel when I told you I was considering going on anti-depressants?

I was worried it would change who you were. I grew up thinking that medicine like that makes people act differently and out-of-character. Now I think I understand that it allows people to be more themselves during a rough patch (or long term).

Were you ever depressed during this time?

Yeah, definitely. I was teaching at that time too, and I resented having to show up early and try to be of service to students who were often unappreciative when I wanted to be spending time with you. I would find myself staying up really late to be intentionally out of it for the school day. That way I wouldn’t really be conscious of the day and be in a dream state ’til I got home. I really lived for the weekends.

What advice do you have for dudes (or just people) in relationships with someone who is experiencing depression?

I would say to call them a lot. Even if you don’t feel like talking, making yourself stay in touch with friends and family is really important. You and I would have Skype dates when you didn’t feel like talking, and we would spend a lot of time just being together instead of filling our weekends with things to do. Focus on the fact that the distance won’t last forever, and if it will, consider fixing that. You should also consider seeing a counselor—the person who is depressed and the person in the relationship with them can both use some perspective, tips, and just someone to talk to to make sense of it all. I think it would have helped me a lot to go to church more regularly during that time, too.

 

I’m so grateful that Josh and I were able to get to the place that we could speak candidly about this time in our lives. It certainly wasn’t so easy at first—there were miscommunications, misunderstandings, and just plain arguments all through it! But open dialogue and focusing on our priorities allowed us to grow and blossom together. Especially in the case of long-distance relationships, this kind of rough beginning can make the first year of marriage (and hopefully the rest) seem like a piece of cake!

Have you ever dated someone who was depressed or been the depressed one? What would you ask your spouse or partner?

sarah greesonbach

 

Sarah Greesonbach writes and curates the lifestyle and personal finance blog Life [Comma] Etc. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter for commentary and hot links, as well as pictures of her husband and cat (both are super-cute). She releases her first eBook this month, Life After Teaching: The Hands-On Guide for Transitioning Out of Teaching and Into a New Career.

 

 

 

 

Want to be a guest blogger for Witty Title Here? Send your pitches to me at wittycassiehere [at] gmail [dot] com.

Life without stuff: choosing a minimalist lifestyle

As someone who loves lots of clothes, books, and art (and regularly paring down those collections), I’m fascinated by today’s guest blogger Ashley Riordan’s minimalist lifestyle. Here, she explains why she made the decision to get rid of her unwanted stuff and how it has helped her live a more fulfilling life. 

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I started my life as a minimalist before I knew anything about minimalism. I was a grad student buried in debt when the economy made an obvious turn in the wrong direction, and for the first time in my life, I felt like I couldn’t count on many things I had never even thought to question before. Some people respond to uncertainty by hoarding stuff. I responded by getting rid of everything.

In the years after I graduated from college and moved to California to start grad school, I developed a strange relationship to money and stuff. I had always worked really hard and had never made any major mistakes, so even though I was struggling to support myself, I had this blind faith that things would work out. I felt entitled to a pretty simple lifestyle where I could buy the books I wanted to read and live in a quiet apartment alone and work only a reasonable number of hours. When I saw my credit card balances, I thought to myself that there were things more important than money. Once I was already in debt, I used shopping as a form of distraction. The way I survived the stress of finishing my thesis and applying to PhD programs was spending the rest of my time in Sephora.

Deciding to pay off my debt was about fighting through layers of self-delusion. I had to admit that I was someone who could make a huge mistake. I had to admit that for a smart and responsible person, I had been behaving very stupidly and irresponsibly. I had to learn that what you can afford has nothing to do with what other people are doing or what you think you deserve. I had to learn that you can only enjoy the things that are more important than money when you’re not drowning in debt.

The way I lived when I was paying off my debt was not how I wanted to live forever, but the remarkable thing was how little not buying stuff affected my happiness. I was working 15 hours a day, and yet I wrote more than I ever had before and made some of the best friends I’ve ever had. I had plenty of time to think about what I would buy when I could afford to buy things again, but when I finally paid off the last dollar of my credit card debt, the only things I bought were a flight to San Francisco, a new pair of purple Chucks, a couple pairs of jeans, and a tiara.

Spending more than a year not buying anything had cured me of the delusion that I could create the life I wanted out of stuff. Shopping is pretty boring when you know that nothing you buy will make a real difference in your life. I actually had to mourn that loss and then find excitement in more worthy activities. It was on a shopping trip about five months after I had paid off my debt when I first thought that maybe I should write about that thing where I kept getting rid of everything I owned. It had been going on for years by then, and I had barely ever questioned it. For a long time, I quickly replaced what I gave away with new things, so it wasn’t until I stopped buying new stuff that large spaces began opening up in my apartment. My closet looked like a museum of empty hangers.

I started to think consciously about what I was doing for the first time. Minimalism is misunderstood both by people who try to make it too simple and people who try to make it too complex. Minimalists are easy to criticize, because it’s the rare person who lives with so little that she can’t be accused of excess. I have seen people dismiss minimalism completely because the person writing about it uses too many words and is therefore a hypocrite. I have never been involved in anything more susceptible to hypocrisy than minimalism, and I study theology, so that’s saying something. I found my way to minimalism by accident, and I have continued on this path by walking very slowly. I always feel like I’m going in a direction, but I have never arrived, and now I don’t expect to.

You can look at the number of things I own and see my efforts toward minimalism, but the important part for me has to do with how I spend my time. It took me forever to get here, since you can keep yourself busy for years with the work of becoming a minimalist, which mostly involves constantly getting rid of things and figuring out how to live with less. But I am finally at a place where the distractions are so few that I have to figure out what I’m going to do with all of the empty space.

You know how you can spend all day at work thinking about how you wish you just had some time to write, and then you go home and sit in front of a blank page and the intensity of the flashing cursor drives you to find any available distraction? Minimalism is a lot like that. It is pretty terrifying to get exactly what you want. It is easier to always be chasing the next thing. It is much harder to sit with yourself in silence. It starts to make sense that we surround ourselves with stuff and fill our lives with distractions.

Many people take a spiritual approach to minimalism, but my approach is really quite practical. Often when I’m writing about my struggles with it, I expect to be asked, “If it’s so hard, then why are you doing it? It seems like you’re just torturing yourself.” I am a perfectionist who is quite capable of losing sight of what she really wants in pursuit of what instead sounds very impressive, but I am not interested in being the girl with the fewest things, and my pursuit of minimalism is marked by uncharacteristic patience. I started because it would have taken more energy to stop myself from getting rid of everything I own, and I have continued because I am happier this way.

There are so many writers who never write, and I am determined not to be one of them. I also want to spend long hours reading. I want to finish my PhD. I want to have time for my friends. I want to travel. I want to see live music and comedy. I don’t want to spend my life jumping from distraction to distraction. I don’t want to wake up and wonder what happened to my life. I want to be present in moments. I don’t want to push my feelings to the corners of life because I have no time for them. I don’t want to judge my success by how busy I am. I don’t want to be scared of silence.

What I learned from first putting myself into debt and then pulling myself out is that you can’t underestimate the importance of money and stuff. I used to deny the amount of space they took up in my life until the crushing weight of debt was all I could think about and the only way to distract myself was to buy more stuff. Once I was free of debt, then I didn’t need distractions. I took that opportunity to pursue the things that actually matter to me, none of which are found in Sephora.

It is worth it to me to live in a small apartment if it means I don’t have to work more than full time. It’s worth it to me not to buy new stuff if it means I have time to study and write. It’s worth it to me not to own a car if it means I can get on a plane once a month and go somewhere new. It’s worth it to me to own only a couple outfits if it means I can go to a concert or comedy show every weekend. I’ll be the girl always wearing jeans and a blue shirt.

Perhaps the greatest gift of minimalism is that it makes me think about the choices I’m making. This isn’t just what has happened to me. I choose what I don’t spend my time and money on, and that makes it possible to choose what I do spend my time and money on.

 

Ashley RiordanAshley is a grad student who lives in a very small apartment in California. She is working on a PhD in theology, travels whenever she can, and blogs about writing, creativity, minimalism, debt, travel, introversion, and feelings at ashleyriordan.com. It probably took her longer to write these 61 words about herself than it did to write this 1422 word post.

 

Print in image above for sale here.

StudioPress Theme of the Month

On chasing yourself

Today’s guest blogger is someone whose writing I have to stop and fully absorb every time she pops up in my reader—she’s just too damn good. So give her your full attention and let Shannon of Awash With Wonder astound you with her prose.
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“If you ask me what I came into this world to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud.” – Emile Zoe

If you chase anything that is not rooted in a truer version of you, you will be so disappointed. If you chase a career motivated by the amount of money you can earn – you will earn a little more sadness, a little more weariness, with every single dollar. If you chase relationships because you hope that someone else’s love with make you lovable, you will find so much insecurity and unfulfilled desire there. You will not find life. If you chase success because you hope that recognition by others will make you worthy, you will exhaust and deplete yourself for people who will only forget you. Or maybe you will live on in the minds of strangers for a few decades after your death, but if you were not finding yourself in those accomplishments, was it worth it? Who are they remembering?

In everything you do, everything you ache for, everything you’re passionate about, make sure that you are looking deeply for yourself in them. Success is not the goal; authentic living is.

“I begin to understand that promises of the world are for the most part vain phantoms, and that to have faith in oneself and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course.” – Michelangelo

Your career will not be there to wrap its arms around you on lonely nights, but nor will the people who you invest in while you are neglecting to invest in yourself. There are no guarantees in this life but I know, with that quiet clarity that I associate with truth, that to invest in yourself is to invest in living fully. What does this mean? It means I will chase words, and the opportunity to be the one who crafts them, to the edges of the earth because it is part of me. Because there is a deeper part of myself somewhere in there. It means that you should chase the things that leave you breathless, the things that make you come alive, until you cannot run anymore and then you should crawl after them. The important point in that sentence is not  the “things,” it is what those things do for you. Seek life; not the people or jobs or objects that will suck the life out of you.

What is it that you find yourself wanting in the moments when you do not want for anything? The moments when you are not hungry, or tired, or lonely, or even ecstatically happy. In the moments when you just are; what does that deeper part of you still ask of you? Who you are is in the answer and that is always what you should be chasing.

Post originally published here.

Shannon Butler

Shannon is a student, yogi and writer currently living in Florida but with big California dreams. She blogs at Awash with Wonder about love, relationship with others and self, and intentional living. She is a poet at heart and wants all her posts to read like lullabies for your soul.

 

photo credit: adrienne nakissa.dylan page via photopin cc

On youth, bubblegum pop, and survival

In one of last month’s Interweb Finds posts, I linked to a gorgeous Apartment Therapy house tour and casually mentioned that the woman behind the design would be a guest writer here at Witty Title Here. Though the bold graphics and covetable Chesterfield in her bedroom are indeed lovely (we’ll ignore the fact that referring to her bedroom was awkward at best on my part), Lauren isn’t here to talk design—rather, teenage obsession and survival. If you wanted this to be a Valentine’s Day-themed post, go listen to Hanson’s entire Underneath album and cry tears of joy. Bam: Hallmark holiday relevance.

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Everything will be better when is a sentence that doesn’t even need finishing, a fragment complete unto itself. Because no matter what follows, it doesn’t become complete. The add-on is just a placeholder, biding time until the next when that will make everything better.

Ultimately, the everything will be better whens boil down to survival. Lord, let me get through this mess so that I can reap the benefits of the future I’ve convinced myself will right my world.  And once that will is there, so too is the motivation to keep going.

To say my childhood was tumultuous would be an understatement, and even more than a package containing Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, I’d have loved to tear open a box of stability and safety on Christmas morning. Even the luckiest among us have our struggles and our shames, some bit of ugliness coursing through us that we try to will away. What’s interesting is that everyone has their own antidote for these things. Everyone has different whens.

For a good four years of my adolescence, mine was Hanson.

I came from a broken family that communicated in shouts and stomps; the Hansons were a large, evangelical brood who sang grace before dinner in three part harmony.

I was stuck under the tyrannical rule of an abusive father; the Hansons were traveling the world and doing what they loved.

I was looking for Disney movie love (the only example I had available to me); fourteen-year-old Taylor had amassed enough life experience to feel comfortable pledging: have no fear when your tears are fallin’/ I will hear your spirit callin’/and I swear I’ll be there come what may.

(You guys, it’s like he knew me!)

I was thirteen and self-conscious about my looks; Taylor possessed enough androgynous beauty for the both of us.

It was perfect. And to escape my real world I retreated–with dogged determination–into a world where I would be swept away and rescued. Everything will be better when: I meet Taylor Hanson and we fall in love. Right? Of course.

A few years into the obsession, a Hanson tour was headed to Chicago. And so was the crazy train. I diligently hoarded a summer’s worth of baby-sitting cash and negotiated on the phone with ticket brokers. If Taylor was going to fall in love with me, it wasn’t going to be from seventeen rows away from the stage. Did I pay $300 for a second row center ticket to see Hanson at the Chicago Theater? Reader, I did. And luckily I had a best friend who was bananas enough to do the same.

There was a day of school skipped, ten hours of waiting outside a backstage door, dramatic tears (it is possible–possible–that I created a scene large enough for a crowd to gather around me, but that is a story unto itself), and finally, the obtaining of a meet-and-greet pass.

So I did it. I did the everything will be better when! Taylor and I totally met and shared a two-second handshake, but for some reason, we failed to fall in love. I know, I don’t get it either. But I still carried that torch for quite some time, believing our love would bloom when the timing was right. I needed to. I needed to believe that I could be enveloped into a large, happy family and that everything would be better. It got me through the days that felt like they couldn’t be gotten through.

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Eventually, I grew out of my Hanson obsession and into others, and Taylor married a different brown-eyed brunette he met backstage at a show. Every now and then I’ll see an article about their nineteenth baby and swallow down the slightest twinge of jealousy at what could have been…

But it ended up just being a fantasy, and I never was rescued. I did get myself into a good college though, and never returned home after that. I did those things on my own, with nary a Hanson brother in sight. I picked up other antidotes along the way, and I continue to have my fair share of everything will be better whens (house, baby, mysterious and unexpected large inheritance, etc).

But more and more as I get older, I find myself sitting in my apartment, safe from my past, looking at the (non-Hanson) man that I love, and reminding myself that everything is better now. And I know that somehow, in some weird way, my Hanson love helped me get here.

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Lauren is a lifelong Chicagoan transitioning out of the stressful world of teaching and trying to figure out the rest from there. Her writing on rebuild (health & home) is a blend of experiences with anxiety and depression, adventures in home decorating, and using wellness and design to build the kind of life she’s tired of waiting for.