Thinking About It

 

Sometimes, when things are hard, some people say, “I just don’t even want to think about that.”

I understand that feeling. But sometimes, I like to think about the hard things. Not to wallow, and not to count my regrets. But still, I think.

I think about the nights I spent crying feeling lost and alone.

I think about staring at my face in the mirror and hating what I saw.

I think about feeling inadequate, insufficient, and inconsolable.

I think about being out of a home, out of a job, and out of control.

I think about sitting in my own sadness, staring it down, and being lonelier than I thought I could be.

And then I think about getting over it.

I think about feeling stronger, better, and more beautiful than I ever thought I could be.

I think about having the confidence that I can be on my own.

I think about the strong bonds I have formed with people I respect and love.

I think about how I love my body for its strength and celebrate its flaws.

I think about how I am filled with a passion to make a change it what I do each day.

This, to me, is it.

This is growing up.

And it will not happen once. I have been through hard times, and come though them. And they will happen again.

But now, when things are hard, I will have known that I thought about this.

And I won’t wallow, and I won’t count my regrets.

I will know that I have become all that I need to be to get through it, over it, and better because of it.

Be My Pack

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Awhile ago I was walking down a path near my apartment on my way to the gym. Headphones on, bopping to the beat, and loving the heck out of a brisk but sunny November morning. The path was crowded, as it usually is on a temperate morning. Joggers love this path. Cyclists love this path. I love this path.

As I am walk I notice the line of people passing one man. He stumbles along ahead of me. From his gait and demeanor, I can tell he may have partied to hard the night before. I follow the people passing by him.

But for some reason- maybe my music was loud, maybe my footsteps were heavy, maybe  maybe maybe- he turned his head and looked at me. 

No, not looked. Leered.

It was too late, eye contact had been made. I nodded slightly, trying to be polite, and walked on. I heard him yell, and tried to ignore it. Ignore a bully and he will go away.

After a moment, I realized ignoring him was not going to work. This man felt he was owed my attention. He was going to demand my attention. He continued to yell, so I stopped my music. This way I could keep listening and keep track of him while I tried to get away.

He continued to harass me with a string of racist profanities full of threats of sexual and physical violence.

I am strong. I am tough. I can fight.

But in this moment?

I am scared, I am scared, I am scared.

But not all is lost. I am not alone; I am on a path. I love this path. Cyclists love this path. Joggers love this path. It is a crowded path, and someone will help me.

As athletic men and women run by me and I desperately look for help, the fear changes from manageable to a state of cold sweats and total terror.

They look away. Each and every one of them- they look away.

And he is still coming.

Somehow, through this, I stay calm. I turn on to another road. For a moment I feel safe.

Then I hear him, I see him. He follows, he has sped up, and now I am truly alone.

I take out my phone, hand shaking. I begin to do all sorts of calculations in my head- if I call 911 now will they reach me before he has beaten me too badly or dragged me away? If he catches up to me, should I elbow him in the face and run again? Should I plead with him and hope he sees I am a person and not an object to be taken?

Up ahead I see two young men doing landscaping. I turn towards them. If I reach them and he is still following me, then I will call the police. I will beg them for help. I will not let them ignore me as the people on the path ignored me.

And suddenly, with one final explosion of hate filled expletives, he turns and leaves me.

Later that day as I walk back home, I am covered in sweat and filled with fear. I feel powerless. This is my city, my neighborhood, and my place. Now I walk in fear. I hate myself for feeling this way and I am filled with righteous anger at the man who stole my sense of safety. I do not walk back on the path, my path. I stick to the roads. I glance around, worried the stench of my fear will make me smell like a victim and draw more threats my way.

I feel I have become prey.

When I am almost home, I see my last chance. My last chance to turn and take the path, even for a moment. The anger fills me, and I turn my feet and set a determined pace.

I see a woman in front of me, a lone woman jogging on her own. Perhaps from shock, or insanity, or in just trying to cope, I tell myself she would not leave me. I tell myself she would stand up for me. Following her, I take the last few steps of my journey on this path.

I get home. I close the door. I cry.

As I turn these moments over in my head, I keep coming back to this woman. In that moment I was able to tell myself that I would be helped. As a lone person I was prey; with this perceived help I felt that I was part of a pack. Part of a pack that would stand up for me, stand up for victims, stand up for people being harassed.

As I turn these moments over in my head, I want this to be true.

And so I wrote this. I wrote this as a plea, to all of you, to your friends, family, friends of friends-

Be part of this pack. Be part of a pack of human beings who will stand up for each other. Reject the numbing effect of this city culture that makes you turn your head. Do not let the crowd effect change you. When a man is yelling at his girlfriend, when someone is harassing a homeless person, when a person is being beaten, harassed and yelled at- when a woman you don’t know is running from a man threatening her on a busy path- say something, do something, call the police.

Don’t let us be divided into prey and predator.

Be part of this pack.

Avoiding Burn Out

A vacation in the white desert- definitely helps avoid being burnt out!

A vacation in the white desert- definitely helps avoid being burnt out!

One of the biggest enemies of being able to stick to goals you’ve made is when you feel worn out, tired, and just generally burnt out. Once you are burned out, it can be hard to get back to the goals that you have set and even if you do, it can be frustrating to feel like you’ve lost valuable time. The best thing to do? Try and avoid burnout altogether! But much like setting goals, it can be easier said than done. Here are a few things I’ve found really help me to avoid the dreaded burn out.

1)      Say No

Friend asks for an extra favor? Boss asks you to stay late again? Partner asks you to go out on the town? OK, no problem.

All of these things happening when you’re already feeling stretched thin?

Say no!

Of course, sometimes it is more possible to say no to some people (your friend, your partner) than it is to others (your boss). Stay honest with yourself and how you’re feeling, and it can be the best to say no to some commitments. Avoid being stretched thin, and be involved in a few quality things instead of trying to do it all.

2)      Be Selfish

For me, this takes the form of getting manicure pedicures. For some of my friends, it means spending an evening with a good book. For everyone this will be a little different, but if you take time out to pay attention to your needs you’ll feel more rejuvenated to tackle your goals. The best way to do this is to choose things that don’t conflict with a goal that you’re really dedicated to. For example, if you’ve decided you really want to save money don’t splurge on a day at the spa. Instead, buy a fun new color of polish and relax at home. If you’re dedicated to working out and losing weight, don’t be selfish with a big dinner out, cake, and the works! Instead, treat yourself to new workout clothes. These are just some examples- find what you need, and if it doesn’t conflict with your goals, don’t be afraid to be a little bit selfish.

3)      Get Lost

Take a walk. Get out of town. Explore a new neighborhood. Getting out of your headspace and into a new frame of mine can do wonders to avoid burnout. Often you will return to the things that seemed so stressful with a new and helpful point of view. Do your best to set aside the things that are stressing you out, even for a few hours, and let your mind be quiet.

It may seem counterintuitive to take these breaks and be selfish when you’re worried about sticking to goals, but figuring out that life-work balance is part of growing up. Good luck in avoiding the dreaded burn out!

Making Goals and Sticking To Them

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My husband and I at our August 2013 outdoor farm wedding.

Recently, I took a really big step that would be  considered part of growing up for a lot of people. This summer, my partner of more than 4 years and I officially “tied the knot” and got married. The wedding was perfect and I am so happy to officially be husband and wife.

But for me, as soon as one big event is finished or goal is reached, I ask myself: What next?

A question this big can be overwhelming. To help, I decided to set some goals for myself and thought I would share some of them here. Goal setting is something I constantly do at my workplace, helping students set realistic goals that they can achieve, and giving them lots of positive reinforcement along the way. As I know from work and from life, good goals are SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound.

When setting my personal goals, I found that the hardest part is that most of my visions for the future are too vague. So, I wanted to share how I changed goals that are general and ineffective to ones that are specific and helpful!

Be a fit and healthy person becomes…

Go to the gym 3 times a week and eat a healthy breakfast.

Get better with money becomes…

Set up an automatic monthly savings plan.

Be a good student becomes…

Complete all assigned readings before class and complete assignments on time.

And to make these goals time bound, I have given myself a deadline of December to implement all of them. Once I am consistently achieving these goals, I’ll set new ones.

Being grown up means lacking parents, school, and some other benchmarks of achievement and forward progress that marks much of our early lives. Setting goals and looking forward to the next step in a constructive way can help prevent getting stuck in a rut and losing the sense of self improvement that progress that naturally comes in younger years.

So goals are set- all there is to do now is to stick to them!

Personal Trainers

 

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One inevitable thing about growing up and getting older is the fact that, as time goes on, the metabolism slows down. I was never someone who worked out, but a couple of years ago I realized if I wanted to stay fit and feel good about my body I’d have to do some sort of physical activity. With this in mind, I joined a local fitness club with the promise of a month free, kickboxing classes that weren’t too expensive, and the possibility of embarrassing myself a little bit less in front of my athletic family. The gym was great, but intimidating. Especially the weight machines- to me, they looked like torture devices designed to ensnare overly muscled men, and my assumption seemed correct all of the of grunts and groans that I heard from the weight room. I was looking forward to my “fitness assessment”, which I assumed would help me reach my goals and teach me how to use these machines.  My goals, for the record, are a mix of insane and attainable. My first, likely attainable goal is to run 5k in 28 minutes. Pretty average time.

My other goals involve being able to do 100 push ups, killing a man with my pinky finger, and having the flexibility to touch my toes to the back of my head.

By the end of my fitness assessment, suddenly my goal had morphed into, “Tone up my body and lose 5 pounds.”

Wait, what?

Lose 5 pounds?

My BMI is in the healthy range, and my body fat percentage is about 22%. That’s not low, or really athletic, but it is not unhealthy either. Apparently, this makes me fat in the fitness world. Or rather, it makes me “skinny-fat.” Because the best way to inspire women to work out isn’t to make them feel strong or good about themselves, but to terrify them into the idea that they may be a fat girl.

To prove that stupid gym wrong, I went home, crawled into bed with a bunch of chips, and fell asleep.

After waking up with crumbs being licked off of my cheek by a very adorable kitten, I decided that total surrender wasn’t the way to go. I needed inspiration. I needed a personal trainer. But the ones at my gym? All similarly inclined to make me believe I am fat, gross, and not worth much if I didn’t resemble a Victoria’s Secret model.

So, without further ado, here is a list of my top 5 dream trainers- in a definite particular order.

5. Buffy Summers- Buffy the Vampire Slayer

So, maybe Buffy is the chosen one, and that is why she is able to kick so much vampire butt. Plus, she is always backed up by the Scoobies, and has a totally tough vampire boyfriend most of the time (whether it is Spike or Angel). But what really makes her my ideal trainer is the way that she is able to patrol every night, kill evil demons, use witty wordplay, and never have bags under her eyes or messy hair. I can’t even manage to consistently wear Chap Stick to work. This girl could not only teach me to be a totally tough ass kicker, but she could also teach me how to manage my time and increase my allure.

Buffy Summers- My ideal life coach

4. Mr. Goshdashtidar- Run, Fatboy, Run

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Mr. Goshdashtidar may be a chubby, older man. He definitely couldn’t teach me much about diet or self maintainence. But he would be my perfect running coach. Running isn’t hard; no one needs to teach me how to do it. The real difficulty is finding motivation. And what could be more motivating than a chubby, angry Indian man on a moped, endlessly smacking me to make me hurry up and run?  I’d make, and exceed, my running goal in no time.

Mr. Goshdashtidar- My ideal running coah

3. Rambo- Rambo

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“Why Jessica,” you may say, “Surely, you have your Sylvester Stallone movies messed up! You want Rocky to train you, not Rambo!”

To which I would reply, “Shut your stupid mouth.”

Sure, Rocky could teach me how to run up steps to inspiring music and how to jump the shark by fighting Mr. T. But could he teach me how to retaliate when some hicks draw first blood? Could he teach me how to survive in the hills while fighting a town full of dirty cops? Most importantly, could he show me how to take down a significant portion of the Soviet army with just my old army buddy at my side? Naw, didn’t think so. So what do you think we should do, Rambo?

Rambo- My ideal survivalist trainer

2. Gene- Wet Hot American Summer

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After getting my life together with Buffy, running with Mr. Goshdashditar, and learning survival skills from Rambo, I feel I would be ready to learn a new way. And naturally, I would learn this new way from Gene (and a can of preserves). Too often, I work out or work hard to please other people. Gene could show me that while it is about the girl, it also…isn’t. It is about being true to who I am and being proud of that person, even if that person is weird and wears belly shirts. And if I want to fondle my sweaters, I should do so with pride. Really, I am just one awesome montage away from total acceptance of myself and all my quirks.

Gene- My ideal guru

1. Ra’s A Ghul- Batman Begins

Ok, so Ra’s A Ghul is totally evil. But if somehow he could channel all of that evil energy into training me, I would be unstoppable. Obviously a man who helped to shape Bruce Wayne into Batman could teach me a thing or two. But it is the speech that he gives to Bruce while fighting on the ice that is truly inspiring to me. Pretending to be Henri Ducard, he says, “You have learned to bury your guilt with anger. I will teach you to confront it, and to face the truth. You know how to fight six men. We can teach you how to engage six hundred. You know how to disappear. We can teach you to become truly invisible.” Ra’s A Ghul could teach me how to use my guilt to fuel my ass kicking abilities. Ra’s A Ghul, meet Catholic upbringing. Catholic guilt, meet Ra’s A Ghul. I’m ready to go and kill the Joker, now.

Ra’s A Ghul- My number one ideal trainer

Growing Up For Grown Ups

At what age are you considered a grown up?

It’s a difficult question. Lately I’ve noticed a trend amongst my peers and friends- No matter their age, income, relationship status or responsibilities, the clear answer is, “I don’t know when you’re grown up- but all I know is I am not there yet!”

This was common, and made sense, when I was talking to eighteen year olds who had just moved out of their parents houses to a university dorm.

It even seemed acceptable when we were moving into our first post collegiate jobs, apartments, and lives.

As we wrestled recession, our quarter life crises, and periods of “funemployment” it seemed clinging to the idea that we’re not actually grown ups allowed us to give ourselves some leniency in hard times. We weren’t grown ups; we didn’t have to be responsible. Being a grown up means making ends meet, having a five year plan, a savings plan, a mate and a mortgage. Plans for kids and community. Being a grown up seemed hard. 

But as I hear this common refrain of “not being grown up” as I get closer to thirty, all I can think is- enough. It’s not cute, or fun, or funny to deny my actual age and responsibilities.

Instead, why not redefine what being a grown up means?

It doesn’t have to mean kids and a car; it can be cats and a metropass.

It doesn’t have to mean mortgage and marriage; it can be renting and dating.

It means taking all of these things and living responsibly, on your timeline, with more freedom of choice than our parents ever had.

It means finding that line between seizing the day and  acting responsibly, nights out and early mornings, paying bills and experiencing the world.

I don’t think I have this figured out this grown up thing yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m not grown up.

It means I’m just writing this to help me along the way.