It’s Forking Hard, Man: Creativity in the Time of COVID-19

Hello my Internet friends, and long time no see,

I had a real good cry the other day. I’ve been carrying some self-loaded burden this year—I’m sure I’m not the only one—and I think I’m finally ready to set it down. But to tell the story, we need to wind the clock back to December 31st, 2019.

New Year’s Eve morning, I was on an airplane with my boyfriend. We were heading back from spending Christmas with his family. I don’t think of plane cabins as being particularly aesthetic locales, but sitting next to him, with the white morning light flowing in, I knew I was in a moment I’d never forget. I just knew that this was the year. The year that all the pieces were finally coming together. Not only was I starting the new decade with my lovely, supportive boyfriend, but I was moving into a new role at work, which was going to give me much better work-life balance, and therefore more time + mental energy to write. I was thisclose to having a first draft of my book done. This year, I was going to finish it, edit it, and figure out how to publish it! Was that a lot to expect? Maybe! But at the time, it really seemed possible.

I’ve watched a lot of TV this year. “Good Place” is my new favorite show. “Forking” is the main character’s adverb of choice (kind of). (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

And through January and February, it still did. I was so happy, and for the first time in a long time, the writing was just flowing. I was not only getting the pages down, but I was having fun with it. I’d regained my playfulness with words that had been hard to access for a while. Finally, I thought. All the work I’d done, to get my mind and life in a conducive state for writing, was paying off.  I’d made it. Back to my voice, and forward to the writing life I’d been trying to create.

Then March came around. Like many people, I imagine, the first weeks of our community responding to COVID-19—gatherings being cancelled, schools and workplaces going remote—felt surreal to me. I felt shock more than anything. But once the jolt wore off, it all started to wear on me. Not getting to do the little things I’d taken for granted—the mornings I went to Starbucks to write, trivia nights with my brother and sister-in-law. I began to internalize the (very understandable) stress and fear in the air, to the point where I was often anxious about things totally unrelated to the pandemic, like challenges at work or random past mistakes.

Unsurprisingly, my writing started to suffer. Sometimes, I would sit down at my desk and struggle to focus. Other times, I couldn’t get myself to sit down at all. I kept telling myself, next week will be different. Or, tomorrow’s the day I get back on track. Suddenly, those days and weeks had flown by, spring became summer became (almost) fall, and nothing really got easier.

Until, admittedly, I had a bit of a meltdown moment a couple weeks ago. Sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed by my feelings but not yet ready to accept them, I start aggressively cleaning. (Lovely, I know.) I was going in on the kitchen when, thankfully, my aforementioned lovely boyfriend intervened. As soon as we sat down on the couch, I started sobbing. This year has not been what it was supposed to be. I haven’t been who I was supposed to be.

I let out all the disappointment, sadness, and anger—with myself and the situation—that had been building up for quite some time. Throughout the past six months, I’ve often been reminding myself (and saying out loud) how fortunate I’ve been. I’ve stayed healthy, and so has my family. I’ve kept my job and my house. So many people have experienced so much loss and suffering this year. Who am I to complain, about anything? But in my efforts to not appear selfish or ungrateful—even to myself—I failed to acknowledge how I was struggling. Being creative in 2020 is forking hard, man.

If I were to write creativity out as a formula (for myself, anyway), I would say creativity = purpose + time + mental energy. I’ve had a sense of inspiration and purpose for my book for years. On the other hand, the time and mental energy I have at any given point varies. This year, I made the mistake of thinking that since I have plenty of free time on my hands—can’t be distracted by going to movies or hanging out with friends!—I should be plenty productive. But I failed to acknowledge the brain drain this year has been. I’m grateful for my own health and safety, but I’m still sad for our communities. I’m still anxious. I’m still waiting for the day I can hug everyone I miss.

I stuffed down my feelings of frustration about my writing progress this year, because I thought they were selfish or unwarranted. The funny thing is, now that I’ve let them out, I’ve found mental room to reevaluate what I want the rest of this year to be. How I want to spend the creativity I do have. Because I do have it, even it’s a little more strained during this incredibly difficult time.

I’m not going to say I’m feeling the New Year’s Eve buzzy excitement again (who can even imagine?), but I feel a little more clear-headed and confident in my ability to create than I have in months. I’ll take it.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. I am sending you love and light through whatever challenges you’re going through this year.

7 Quotes to Ignite Your Confidence

Hello my new year babies,

2018 is nearly over. Looking back over the year, I really can’t complain. I’m healthy, safe, and happy (at least most of the time), and I continue to be blessed beyond reason or measure. That being said, as I’ve acknowledged before, my life is in an interesting state of flux. I’d say I’m definitely pretty clear on where I want to be, but it appears I have a ways to go to get there. Often, when I can see an opportunity on the horizon, I have this fire-feeling of, I’d be so good for this! You have no idea! I just need someone to let me in the door! Which brings me back to this month’s topic, confidence.

This year I found a sense of confidence in myself that I didn’t have before. It looks and feels different than I imagined it would. Our culture is an intensely visual one, and so I often think of confidence in image. A woman standing gloriously in her power, oozing Beyoncé “***Flawless” energy. Don’t get me wrong; I think images like that, especially when they showcase the actual, beautiful diversity of our world, are incredibly valuable. But for me, confidence has been a quiet, stable, private thing. It’s a foundation from which I can more easily take on challenges . A sense that I am worthy and capable of doing things well, and perhaps more importantly, that I will also be okay if things don’t go well.

Sometimes, when I put myself out there, and things don’t play out the way I hoped, I can hear the echo of how I would have reacted in the past. Why are you so awkward? You should have said this/done that. If only you were better/cooler/prettier… But generally speaking, I don’t feel or think that way anymore. I know my worth. And I also understand that life is complicated, and particularly in situations that involve other humans, placing blame is rarely a helpful or accurate way of interpreting things. Besides, if you showed up and did your best, what more could you really ask for?

I hope this new year brings you confidence. Both the flashy, sparkly kind, but also the type that will carry you through your most difficult trials. The quotes below by seven fabulous women are there to light your way.

xoxo

Marie

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” – Marie Curie

“Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.” – Golda Meir

“You are revolutionary. You have amazing ideas. You have the ability to create, to change, to solve, and to influence. Don’t sell yourself short by not spending your time, energy, and money on creating the best version of yourself.” – Lilly Singh

“As long as you keep going, you’ll keep getting better. And as you get better, you gain more confidence. That alone is success.” – Tamara Taylor

“Just believe in yourself. Even if you don’t, pretend that you do and, at some point, you will.” – Venus Williams

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

“I am my inspiration.” – Lizzo*

*This one is actually a song lyric from my confidence queen, Lizzo. Worth a listen (or fifty).

“Acting As If…”: Inspiration from Body Confidence Queen Michelle Elman

Hello, my computer cuties!

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching YouTube (as I often do), and I came across a video that really inspired me. It was by Michelle Elman, a body confidence coach who is perhaps best known for her two very popular Instagram accounts (@bodypositivememes & @scarrednotscared). She also has a YouTube channel, where she discusses everything from body positivity to therapy to dating. In this particular video, she talks about how to build up your confidence.

Self-confidence is something I’ve thought a lot about in my own life this year, and I feel like I’ve reached a personal turning point. I have built a foundation of confidence that I didn’t quite have befeore. But there was one concept she explained in the video that put to words something I’d thought about before but never been able to succinctly articulate. The idea is “acting as if,” or acting as if the things you want to be true already are. As Michelle explains, it’s a different take on the commonly-used phrase “fake it till you make it.” Watch the video below to hear her explain it more fully: 

I think the reason this idea resonated so strongly with me at this moment in time is that a lot of the pieces of my life feel like they’re in flux right now.  I’m not quite where I want to be, nor am I content staying where I’ve been. I’m on the move, so to speak, and that’s a good thing. But of course, uncertainty and putting yourself out there can be a little scary, to say the least. 

What I struggle with sometimes is not knowing right away how things are going to turn out. Patience may be a virtue, but it’s never been one of my strengths. Some things I can be more zen about than others. I have wholly accepted that writing a book is a long-distance journey, mostly uphill (but one that I can take in my PJs, so that’s cool). Plus, I keep in mind what Cheryl Strayed, my favorite author, said in a letter to her younger self: “Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.” 

The arena where I struggle with this the most is dating (perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s also the topic I’ve written least about). If writing a book is a mostly straight, uphill path, then dating is a multi-level obstacle course, where you learn the rules as you go. One day you’re blushing from a text you’ll read more than once, and another you’re trying to crack the code on what when wrong. It’s a lot. I know it’s worth it, but it’s a lot.

And since dating is an area of my life that feels less in my control—not to say I don’t have a say, but relationships are dependent upon not only the other person, but a lot of things that are hard to articulate—being patient is harder. I’m ready already. It’s not even so much that I need to start the chapter of building a relationship with my life partner right now, I just need to know that it’s coming. I don’t even need to know the birthdate, I just want to know that it exists. So maybe I can chill out a little bit. 

That’s where Michelle’s words struck me. I’ve thought a lot before about how I would act if I did know.  Would I relax a little more? Embrace this chapter of my life as not limbo or purgatory, but a wholly worthy chapter of its own? Because honestly, it really isn’t a bad one at all. Sure, there are a lot of loose ends in my life that I’m attempting to string up, but all in all, I’m happy. Like today, for example. I am in my oversized Cookie Monster shirt and favorite PJ pants,and I probably won’t change unless I decide to venture out to Whole Foods (one of my favorite treat-yourself places). I am in the pink office I designed exactly for myself, and I’m chipping away at my goals. I’ve reached a point in my life where I recognize how much I enjoy my own company. I may not know exactly where the various paths of my life will lead, but I’m choosing to move boldly forward on them anyway, and that’s what matters.

So I am going to write Michelle’s advice on my heart. I am going to “act as if” the future I imagine already exists, I just haven’t arrived yet. And with that, I’m going to make more of an effort to enjoy the journey. When I was a 17-year-old who was just beginning to write and working her first job at Panera, I remember looking at my little aproned reflection in the bakery window and thinking how very few people knew all that I envisioned doing someday. I felt the excitement of what it would be like, as those dreams began to come true, to look back at that moment when everything was just beginning, and I was simply a bagel-slicing teenager with a lot of hope and confidence. I was happy in the now because I had faith in the future. As we head into 2019, I wish that sense of happiness and faith for me and for you. 

Actually, I don’t just wish it. I believe in it. 

xoxo

Marie

5 Empowering YouTubers to Follow

Hello Internet angels,

I spend a lot of time on YouTube. Like, a lot. Anytime I’m at home and doing something I find mildly boring—brushing my teeth, putting away dishes—I’m probably also watching people do stuff on the Internet. Putting on their makeup, testing out weird products, sharing their experiences with mental health or travel or just life in general. I’m not sure why I’m so into it, but I’m into it.

I’m working on an article regarding a famous family I’ve spent many hours watching (you can probably guess who I’m talking about!) and what it means to be a conscious consumer. I learned about that concept when I was in college and involved in the Eating Disorders Education & Prevention group on campus.

At the time, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) encouraged people to be “media watchdogs”—to be mindful about the media they consume and how it impacts them. Being a watchdog also means using your voice (and buying power) accordingly. We are presented with so many options about how we spend our entertainment hours (and dollars). It makes sense to stick with things that lift us up. All of us.

These YouTubers make me feel good, because they do their part to share stories and perspectives that aren’t always represented in traditional media. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I think it’s a good start.

Molly Burke

Molly is bubbly and charming and lives a life filled with adventures, sparkle, and a very sweet dog. She also happens to be blind. In addition to sharing typical lifestyle content on her channel—including fashion, hair makeovers, and  travel—she talks very openly about her experience with blindness. She challenges misconceptions, answers common questions, and tells her story. I think hearing the stories of others is a great way to build empathy, and I’m so grateful Molly is willing to share hers.

Jackie Aina

Jackie is so funny. She’s so funny! Not to mention her skills with a blending brush. But I especially admire that she is willing to use her platform to talk about the lack of diversity in makeup lines and the beauty community, and to challenge brands to do better. I’ll admit that untill too recently, I took for granted that as someone who enjoys makeup, I can walk into any Ulta or Sephora and find a ton of products that match my skin tone. Far too many people don’t have that experience. Of course, it’s not just about being able to buy a concealer; it’s about seeing your beauty reflected in the world around you. Jackie is doing her part to move our culture in the right direction.

Jessie Paege

The first thing I noticed about Jessie Paege is her really lovely, kind, gentle energy. I would love to meet her in person. While she does a lot of light-hearted, colorful, fun videos, I was drawn to her channel because of her videos about her experiences coming out as bisexual and dealing with social anxiety. Being as young as she is (at this time, she’s 19), she has a unique opportunity to connect with young people who are going through similar experiences as they grow up. I’m so glad she’s using it.

Niki DeMartino

Niki is one-half of the famous twin YouTube and music duo Niki and Gabi. They create a variety of fun videos for their joint channel, but I’ve been especially inspired by a series that Niki produces for her solo channel, called “The Truth About.” In each episode, she interviews a female YouTuber about a notable experience or challenge they’ve faced, from being in a public relationship to losing a parent. The conversations they have are incredibly candid, to the point where it feels like being let in on an intimate conversation between friends.

Nabela Noor

While working on this list, I realized I wanted to include a YouTuber who creates a significant amount of content on body image. I was going to feature Bodyposipanda, but I have already shared my love for her on a variety of platforms, so I decided to keep searching. In one article, I came across Nabela Noor. On her channel, she does makeup tutorials and plus-size fashion hauls, in addition to discussing body image and her culture (she’s a Muslim Bangladeshi-American woman). She recently released a series called “The Bright Fight” about beauty standards and self-confidence that I really enjoyed.

Who else should be added to this list? Please share in the comments below!

Xoxo

Marie

GP Reads—How to Be a Bawse by Lilly Singh

Hello Internet friends, and happy 2018!How to Be a Bawse

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Lincoln, Nebraska it’s been really cold lately. The temperature right now is 49°F, and that feels like summer compared to how it’s been! The good news, though, is winter provides the perfect opportunity to do one of my favorite things: get under a blanket, snuggle up with my cat, and read.

One of my most recent picks was—you guessed it!—How to Be a Bawse: A Guide to Surviving Conquering Life by Lilly Singh, who rose to fame through her YouTube channel, IISuperwomanII. In the past few years, I’ve noticed an explosion of books by YouTubers on the bookstore shelves, and to be honest, at first I was a little skeptical. But after I got hooked on Lilly’s videos sometime late last year—in addition to being hilarious, she’s positive, empowering, and wonderfully honest—I decided to give her book a go. Besides, who doesn’t want a few more strategies for conquering life?

I’m really glad I did. Each chapter of the book addresses a different lesson Lilly has learned on her journey about achieving goals, from “Get Uncomfortable” to “Let Go of FOMO” to “Be Santa” (you’ll have to read to find out what that means!). What I appreciated most is that Lilly is really specific, both in how each strategy has worked in her life (which often includes a cool story, such as meeting Selena Gomez) and how it can apply to yours. While Lilly’s success has come through being an entertainer and entrepreneur, I honestly think her advice can apply no matter what goals you’re working towards. Additionally, in four sections of the book, Lilly opens up about her experience with depression, and contrasts that time in her life with what it’s like now that she’s overcome it. I am hopeful that her openness will inspire those who are struggling to know it is possible to overcome dark times, and to seek the help they need.

For more positivity, inspiration, and laughs, check out Lilly’s YouTube channel (if you haven’t yet!):

Note: Common Sense Media recommends this book for readers 15 and older.  There are some mentions of adult drug and alcohol use, as well as abbreviations of bad words. 

xoxo

Marie

P. S. If you have book recommendations for other GP readers, please leave them in the comments below!

12 Quotes to Guide You on Your Body Image Journey

We all have bodies. Me, you, that person over there reading that other blog. That much is clear-cut. But for at least some of us, that’s about as straightforward as it gets. Having a body, and living life in said body, can be weirdly complicated.

Kari Shea Flower Reflection.jpg
Photo by Kari Shea

My struggles with having a body have revolved around weight and appearance, or rather, my beliefs about those things. Starting around the time I left elementary school, I became convinced that I needed to be thinner to be popular to be happy. Unsurprisingly, that belief had a negative impact on how I treated and felt about myself, body included.

Thankfully, I now know how very wrong I was, about all of it. But still, living in a world where we’re bombarded with images of women’s bodies and messages about them (often not from the woman herself), it’s hard not to feel, at the very least, a little weird about being in your own living, breathing, changing, 3D body. I am at a place where I want to develop a healthy relationship with mine. Where it no longer feels like a strange, sometimes annoying attachment to my brain, and just . . . . feels good. And like me. At least most of the time.

The best thing I have figured out so far is to simply commit, over and over again, to the exploration of what makes me feel whole, good, and like myself. As part of this process, I decided to seek out (and share with you) wonderful words from wise women on beauty and having a body. Some of these quotes are long and can be referred back to as needed, and some are short, so you can repeat them back to yourself in a moment where you need them. To change the soundtrack, if you will. Hopefully, at least one will resonate with you and help you on your own journey.

“People often say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.” – Salma Hayek

“I am obsessed with becoming a woman comfortable in her skin.” – Sandra Cisneros

“I felt free once I realized I was never going to fit the narrow mold that society wanted me to fit in.”– Ashley Graham

“You’re a human being—you live once and life is wonderful, so eat the damn red velvet cupcake.” – Emma Stone

“Everybody has a part of her body that she doesn’t like, but I’ve stopped complaining about mine because I don’t want to critique nature’s handiwork . . . My job is simply to allow the light to shine out of the masterpiece.” – Alfre Woodard

“I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story. I will.” – Amy Schumer

“Someone recently asked if I had any dieting tips for other teenage girls. Try and reverse that. ‘Do you have any dieting tips for other teenage boys?’ . . . I mean, come on. I don’t diet! I’m thirteen! Nobody my age should be dieting or trying to change themselves because society says so. And seriously, I’m thirteen!” – Rowan Blanchard

“Body acceptance means, as much as possible, approving of and loving your body, despite its ‘imperfections,’ real or perceived. That means accepting that your body is fatter than some others, or thinner than some others, that your eyes are a little crooked, that you have a disability that makes walking difficult, that you have health concerns that you have to deal with — but that all of that doesn’t mean that you need to be ashamed of your body or try to change it. Body acceptance allows for the fact that there is a diversity of bodies in the world, and that there’s no wrong way to have one.” – Golda Poretsky

“I’m not going to sacrifice my mental health to have the perfect body.” – Demi Lovato

“. . . my mother again would say to me, ‘You can’t eat beauty. It doesn’t feed you.’ And these words plagued and bothered me; I didn’t really understand them until finally I realized that beauty was not a thing that I could acquire or consume, it was something that I just had to be. And what my mother meant when she said you can’t eat beauty was that you can’t rely on how you look to sustain you. What does sustain us . . . what is fundamentally beautiful is compassion for yourself and for those around you. That kind of beauty enflames the heart and enchants the soul.” – Lupita Nyong’o

“If I wasn’t five-foot, I wouldn’t be who I am! My size is a huge part of me. You just have to appreciate those kinds of things. So I wasn’t born with long legs—who cares. You just have to embrace it. Being body positive is really important to your overall happiness.”– Sabrina Carpenter

“It’s important with all of the messages that might tell you otherwise that you have that in yourself to say that ‘I am beautiful. I am smart and I’m amazing.’” – Laverne Cox

If you have any favorite quotes—on body image or anything else!—please feel free to share them in the comments below.

xoxo

Marie

HelloGiggles: “I spent a week taking the advice I’d give a friend—here’s what I learned”

Great news!

An essay that I have been working on for a very long time (like, since before Halloween) was published on HelloGiggles today. The article, titled “I spent a wMy Weekeek giving myself the advice I’d give a friend—here’s what I learned” (originally “My week giving myself the advice I’d give a friend”), was based on some very good advice from my dad that popped into my head at just the moment I needed it.

The actual “experiment” may have only taken a week, but the process of turning the idea into a finished, shareable article took much longer—and seemingly, longer than it usually does for me to finish an essay for the web. There were days when I would sit down, write for an hour, and realize I had only finished about a sentence. Not that I wasn’t working, or was “working” but also crafting a playlist and updating  my Snapchat story and staring off into space. Rather, I would write a sentence, cross it out, and write it again—potentially, slightly better. That process was more time-consuming and perfectionistic than I was used to, but, for the most part, I didn’t mind it. Because I realized that the same qualities that at times contribute to me feeling bad—e.g., my ability to think too much—were helping me create something potentially great.

So, check out the article, and please, let me know what you think! If you have other strategies for working through bad days, I would love to hear them as well.

xoxo

Marie