One Small Step

Hello, dear internet friends,

It’s a gray, rainy day as I write this. The kind of day that makes you want to curl up with a blanket on the couch and zone out with a book or TV show. Admittedly, I’m feeling extra-inclined to succumb to the sofa because that’s where I’ve been all week. I’ve been feeling under the weather, and for me, the hardest part of being sick is usually not the day (or days) I feel the worst—when it very much makes sense to snuggle up and do nothing—it’s the transitional period at the end. When I’m feeling better enough that I know it’s time to resume some of my normal activities, but I still haven’t recovered my usual level of energy. There’s an inertia to being sick that I find very hard to break. But the only way to do it… is to do it. Get dressed, have some coffee, and—to whatever degree is reasonable, given the circumstances—start acting like I’m feeling better. That’s what I’m doing right now, and I have to admit, while I’m not feeling 100% recovered yet, I’m feeling better than I would have predicted when I woke up this morning.

A couple months ago, I wrote about my “ghost” self, or the so-called “perfect” version of me that I have often measured myself against in my mind. Ever since then, I have been thinking about how we can reduce the shadow such comparisons cast over our lives, and two words have kept repeating in my mind: “behavioral activation.” To note, behavioral activation is a psychology concept—specifically, a treatment approach that can be utilized in therapy; you can learn more about it here—and I am not a therapist. But what it means to me is that the actions we choose can have a profoundly positive impact on our mood. Emotions can be incredibly sticky; patterns of thought, even more so. It can also feel really hard to choose a behavior that seems contrary to our current mood state. But doing so can often have an outsized positive impact, at least in my experience. No matter how down I’m feeling, mo matter how swamped in a negative thought cycle I am, if I have plans to hang out with friends or family, I never cancel. I don’t like to break commitments I’ve made, but I also know that spending time with those I care about always makes me feel better. I don’t even need to bring up what’s on my mind. In fact, I think it’s generally better that I don’t, unless of course the explicit purpose of getting together was seeking support. Getting out of my head and focused on those around me is enough to lift my spirits. It may not solve the underlying problem—if one even exists—but it certainly puts me in a better mindset for dealing with it later.

So, a little positive action can help transform a bad mood. It can help with getting through those lingering last days of sickness. Could it even help with defeating our ghosts, with overcoming the voices that tell us we’re not good enough? Because you can’t easily think your way out of those challenges, at least in my experience. I logically understand how unhelpful and, more importantly, unkind it is to compare myself to some idealized version of me. I know that I haven’t gained anything from the comparison. In fact, I think there have been many times I was so stuck on being just like her, I lost the opportunity to come up with real, creative solutions for overcoming challenges and achieving my goals. I was too fixated on following the “perfect” path she laid out. I know all of that, but still, she’s hard to get rid of. She does a very good impression of me, and sometimes, I mistake her thoughts for my own.

The last couple months have given me an interesting opportunity to contend with my ghost self in new ways. At this point in my life, she’s mostly eased up about how I look, but she’s wildly more productive than me. And in the last couple months, I haven’t been able to be as productive—certainly not as much as her, but not even as much as I typically would be. I need to work slower. Do less. Take breaks. And what that’s made me realize is that not only do I not need to “earn” breaks or a slower pace, I don’t even need to fully convince myself that I deserve those things. I just need to give them to myself. I just need to take the action that I know is right for me, in the actual life I am really living. And I truly believe that if I can keep doing that, keep making the choices that are best for me even if they don’t look “perfect,” over time my ghost self will dissipate. She’s already looking a bit fainter to me.

It’s great when we can change our minds from the inside out. But sometimes, it’s a whole lot easier to act first and let our beliefs follow.

If any sort of negative self-belief has been haunting you lately, I hope you can think of one small step, one tiny action you can take this next month that would contradict it. Little by little, we can make big changes that way.

xoxo

Marie

5 Quotes to Inspire Your Self-Love Journey

Hello, dear internet friends,

How are you doing? Like, really? That’s one of those questions we often answer like a reflex—“I’m fine!” “Good!”—whether our words reflect the truth or not. But I’m increasingly appreciating the value of being honest about how I’m doing, at least in situations where I feel comfortable to share. It’s not dramatic or burdensome to others to say, “Actually, I’m not feeling my best today.” And admittedly, I haven’t been feeling great this month. Everything in my life is fine—wonderful, even!—but physically, I’ve not been feeling well, and that has made it hard to be as creative and productive as I would like. Because of that, I’ve had to contend with my ghost self quite a bit lately. She’s even better at feeling bad than I am. Who knew?

I’ve been thinking a lot about practical strategies for dealing with our ghost selves so that we can strengthen our relationships with our real selves. I’m hoping to share those ideas in future months after I’ve had more time to put them to the test. What I have learned this month is the importance of accepting the season of life that you’re in. I really enjoy life coach and author Michelle Elman’s podcast, In All Honesty, and I’ve been re-listening to older episodes lately. In this episode on self-worth, she discusses how personal growth occurs in cycles, with phases for learning, implementing what you’ve learned, and settling into your growth. I love that idea, and it inspired me to realize that there is a lot of value in recognizing what your current season of life is about—and what you need from it. Time for extra rest or bustling busyness. Time to dig into one particular project or explore many interests. Time to work through something difficult or celebrate how far you’ve come. Not every season will be your favorite, but once you accept the one you’re in, you can make the best of what it is. And recognize that it will pass. As seasons always do.

In the season I’m in, this month felt like a good one to step back and share some words of wisdom from other women writers. I hope that the quotes below inspire you to think about how you approach your relationship with yourself, and maybe try a new self-love strategy or recommit to one that you know works. If any particular quote stands out to you, I encourage you to further check out the author’s work. Each author has a wealth of insights that you can access; all of them have written books, and some are producing podcasts or newsletters as well. I’ve included some personal notes about their work below each quote!

I love you, and I hope you are giving yourself the care you deserve today—no matter what this season of life is throwing your way. I’ll see you next month.

xoxo

Marie

“Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.” – Cheryl Strayed
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

This quote really resonated with me as I’ve been thinking about the ghost selves we hold ourselves up against. The quote is from Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of advice columns that Strayed wrote as the then-anonymous “Sugar” for The Rumpus. Every time I read Strayed’s work, I feel like my brain cells are rearranging to make space for the compassionate insights on life she provides through her gorgeous writing. Strayed is currently writing the Dear Sugar column as a paid newsletter, which you can check out here. (Note: Strayed’s work does address heavy topics and include adult language.)

“The fullness of life comes from an identity built on giving and on joy.” – Mary Pipher
Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World by Mary Pipher

One of the most contradictory truths about getting trapped in a cycle of self-criticism, at least in my experience, is that it ultimately makes me more self-focused, even though the critical voice in my mind claims it’s delivering its harsh verdicts to make me a “better” person. This quote reminded me of the power of stepping outside of myself—through helping others or seeking out simple pleasures in the world around me—for breaking that cycle. Pipher’s work has meant so much to me since I read Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls as a teenager. An updated version of the book—written with Pipher’s daughter, Sara Pipher Gilliam—was published in 2019. If you like to write, I also highly recommend Writing to Change the World.  

“When you stop striving to be seen as a good wife, friend, employee, mother or daughter, it gives you permission to realize that you are a good person not because of what you can give or provide, but because of who you are.” – Michelle Elman
The Joy of Being Selfish: Why You Need Boundaries and How to Set Them! by Michelle Elman

As I mentioned previously, Michelle Elman is a life coach and author who hosts her own podcast called In All Honesty. She also recently started a newsletter called Growth Spurts, which I’m excited to follow! This quote is from her book on boundaries called The Joy of Being Selfish. It made me think about how I hold myself to standards that no one else—perhaps especially those I love—measures me by. As Elman further explains in the passage that this quote is pulled from, we are all innately worthy. We do not need to build our lives around the pursuit of proving our worth.

“Remember that if you really want to motivate yourself, love is more powerful than fear.” – Dr. Kristin Neff
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

I have written about the basics of self-compassion on the blog before, and I think it is such a beautiful, powerful concept—learning to show ourselves the kindness and care we would give to others in the face of struggles or mistakes. Dr. Kristin Neff pioneered the field of research on self-compassion, and her website about it is a great place to start for learning the basics and some exercises for putting self-compassion into practice.  

“Be conscious of what you say to yourself—and others—because when you change your language, you change your life.” – Jess Weiner
Jess Weiner, source unknown

I found this quote in a Word document of favorite quotes that I started in high school or shortly after—suffice it to say, Jess Weiner’s work has impacted my life for a long time! Around that time, I read her book Life Doesn’t Begin Five Pounds from Now: A Step-by-Step Guide to Loving Your Body Today (then published under the title Do I Look Fat in This?). If you’re ready to uncover what’s underneath negative body talk, that book is the perfect place to start. Weiner has a wealth of personal development resources—from a variety of podcasts that she’s hosted to an online course about building a “Good Life”—that are available on her website. I really enjoy her email newsletter as well (sign-up is available on the home page). The most recent one talked about the “marathons” we all run in our lives, and that metaphor has been so helpful with powering through this season of my life!

The Ghost of Me

Ghosts don’t have to be so scary.

Hello, dear internet friends,

February has been a good movie-watching month for me. Especially for coming-of-age movies. After last month’s blog, I had To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on my mind, and I finally watched the whole trilogy. (Still a big fan of Lara Jean, though my feelings about the central relationship shifted as the series went on.) I also watched The Fabelmans, a fictionalized drama based on acclaimed filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s real-life experiences. The film portrays his counterpart, Sammy Fabelman, growing up and falling in love with filmmaking, with the bulk of the (quite long!) movie set during his teen years.

I loved it. Even if you’re not a Spielberg aficionado, the characters are more than compelling enough to draw you in. One scene in particular has stuck with me since I finished the movie. (If you don’t want any spoilers, please feel free to come back to this post after you’ve watched it!) In Sammy’s last year of high school, he agrees to film Ditch Day. His film is shown to the senior class at prom. Up to this point, two boys in school, Chad and Logan, have bullied Sammy. Chad is maybe the worse bully, or at least more impulsively antagonistic, but Logan at best is a laughing bystander and at worst gives Sammy a bloody nose and bruises. Still, throughout the Ditch Day movie, Sammy makes Logan look good. Really good. Logan leaps to spike the volleyball in slow motion. Breaks through the foot-race banner to a triumphant soundtrack. He looks like a movie star. A golden god.

As you watch Logan watch himself in the film, you can see how deeply unsettled he is by the experience.

But why?

Shortly after the screening, Logan angrily confronts Sammy in the school hallway. As the conversation unfolds, the truth is revealed: what Logan saw in the film was the perfect version of himself that he can never be. He says to Sammy, “You took that guy, whoever he is, wherever you got him from, and you put him up there on that screen and told everyone… everyone that that’s me. And that’s not me.”

He breaks down into tears.

It was such a potent scene to witness, all the more surprising and complex because, again, Logan was a bully. Hard to empathize with, let alone like. His emotional vulnerability in that moment did not change how I viewed his previous behavior, but I was caught off guard by his reaction—and how much I related to the heart of it.

Since last month, I’ve continued to reflect on how we can build positive relationships with ourselves, as well as cross any barriers we may face in doing so. For me, one of those hurdles is another relationship. The one I have with the Other Me, or as I’ve lately come to call her, Ghost Marie. Like Logan’s movie star self, she is an apparition of perfection. She haunts me by standing tall in all the places I think I fall short. She first materialized sometime around sixth grade, when I started to find female friendships confusing and difficult to maintain. When I thought I needed to change to be liked. Back then, she was mostly silent and visual. Lightness and thinness, the chill in the air much cooler than me. A phantom ideal of beauty, with straight hair and a stomach that lied flat. But like any good ghost, she can shapeshift. Be and do anything beyond my (very human) limits. Disappear for long stretches of time and return when I need her least. She’s untouchable in every possible way. And only ever visible to me. I look back now and think how often I’ve reacted to someone no one else can see, like the haunted one in a movie, seemingly losing it as they appear to converse with a pocket of air.

I’ve tried to emulate her. Tried to trap her fantasy in the fibers of my reality. In a so-called “perfect” body, an optimized schedule, gold-star accomplishments. It’s never worked. The more I fixate on her, the more she glows and grows in my estimation. Anything I do dims in comparison.

So, what should I do with her?

As I was pondering this, I started thinking about movies and what a character might do if they believe they’ve encountered a ghost. A good starting place, when a possible spectral presence glimmers from the corner of a dark room, is to simply turn on the lights.

Turn on the lights. Highlight what’s real and dissipate what isn’t. For me, that is the solution. The more engaged I am in life as it really is, the less I get pulled away by shadows of self-doubt. When I devote time to doing something that is valuable to me—writing, spending time with friends, even just doing chores and listening to a podcast—Ghost Marie often fades away. I believe that engaging in meaningful activities can help us stay grounded in the present and also provide counteracting evidence to any negative self-beliefs we may hold. Projects seem overwhelming until they’ve been broken down into manageable pieces. Friends and family serve as a validating mirror, a reflection of love for who we truly are.

I don’t think I ever actually cared about being perfect. Not for its own sake, anyway. I only wanted to enjoy my life, and for some reason I thought perfection was the permission slip required to do so. Now I see that was just another figment of my imagination, a warped use of my creativity.

Which I can bend in any direction I want. I just mentally made myself a million permission slips. They’re pink and covered in glitter. Scattered across the floor of my life, from here through forever.

xoxo

Marie

Valentine’s Day With You

Hello, dear internet friends,

Valentine’s Day is just over two weeks away. Stating the obvious, I suppose; you can hardly go shopping anywhere—online or IRL—without being bombarded by red, pink, and heart-shaped everything. “Bombarded” is a word with a negative flavor, but maybe that’s how you experience the lovey-dovey overload all around us. I’ve certainly been there. As much as I love Valentine’s Day, sometimes this holiday can taste like a chocolate-covered reminder of what you’re missing out on.  

It starts out so simple. When you’re a kid, Valentine’s Day can be like a mini-Halloween, minus the costumes. My elementary school did a classroom party every year.  Everyone brought equal amounts of love (er, candy) for everyone else in the class. I’m sure some people picked out their closest friends’ cards with extra care, giving them their favorite Disney Princess or Nickelodeon character from the pack. But at the end of the day, everyone went home with a full construction-paper-covered shoebox of treats.

Life was good.

Somewhere along the way, though, Valentine’s Day can start to look like a holiday for highlighting the haves over the have-nots. Maybe even before you’re ready to have a real Valentine yourself. For me, that shift happened in middle school. The classroom parties disappeared. Instead, our school had a carnation sale. The way I remember it, if one (or more) of your classmates bought you a flower, you were given a paper slip to go pick it up at the end of the day.

I don’t have strong feelings about carnations. They’re fine. Not my favorite. But oh, how I wanted one that afternoon, watching those fluffy little flower heads bob down the hallway as I walked out of school empty-handed.

I don’t know if I was expecting flowers from anyone. Maybe I sent some to my friends, hoping to do an exchange, but didn’t talk to them in advance about it. Certainly, I secretly wished a crush would send me one, but the hurt I felt wasn’t about that. Feeling left out stings. Understandably so. Still, the disappointment wouldn’t have cut so deep if I hadn’t placed my self-worth outside of myself, where it could be battered by the flimsiest of flower petals.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week—self-worth, and how the relationships we have with ourselves affect the tenor of every experience we have. I used to think “relationship” was a funny word to use in relation to our own selves. I mean, relationship implies two people, and as far as I know, none of us have clones. But the more I’ve thought about it, it’s actually a great term to use. Sometimes, the way we approach ourselves—through self-talk, for example—is so automatic we don’t stop to question it. I think we could learn a lot by creating a little space to observe how we treat ourselves.

I also think considering our self-care as a relationship is great because a lot of the things that work in relationships can also help us feel better ourselves. Miley recently reminded us all we can buy our own “Flowers” and also learn to enjoy our own company, which I think might be the best possible place to start. So many of our friendships begin with the simple foundation of liking to spend time with someone, right?

I recently read through some of my journal entries from high school. One rough day when I was 16, I wrote: “My life is just so lame sometimes. It’s a Saturday Night and I’m in my bed at 9:20 watching That’s So Raven.” My first thought when I read that was, that actually sounds pretty great. I don’t mean to diminish how I felt. Feeling lonely and without a place to belong was miserable. But what I see now that I didn’t then is that, at the very least, I would love to hang out with that girl. That me. I’d love to spend a Valentine’s Day with her, watching To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and picking the vanilla cremes out of the shiny red heart-shaped box. I’ve had plenty of great Valentine’s, but that would be pretty exceptional.

I’m looking forward to exploring this all more with you this year. I think the relationships we have with ourselves are so much richer and more complex than we give them credit for being. They deserve to be held amongst the great love stories of our lives.

I hope you can find a moment to enjoy your own company this Valentine’s Day. Because there’s one person you’ll always get to spend the holiday with: you. How lucky are you?

The luckiest. I can see that. I hope you can, too.

xoxo

Marie

Powering Your New Year’s Goals with Purpose

Hello, dear internet friends,

The last few days of the year have arrived. For me, parts of this month felt like a sprint—lots of activity squeezed into a small frame—but this week has moved like a saunter. I thought of a tweet I came across last year about the unique break that the week between Christmas and New Year’s can be. When I looked for it, I found countless posts—mostly jokes—about the last seven days of the year. The general themes were that time feels weird (What day is it again?) and no one wants to do anything but sink into the sofa. I agree that the days pass differently as we near the end of the calendar (and many people are on break from school or work), but I see this week as a more meaningful pause. The space between an inhale and exhale, a bridge between what’s been and what’s to come. I’ve been listening to my Spotify Wrapped—following the musical map of my emotions and memories from this year—and I plan to make a vision board for 2023 on New Year’s Eve.

New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap. They’ve become an easy punchline, spurring oft-repeated jokes about gym memberships being purchased on January 1st and abandoned before the first month (or week) of the year ends. I unabashedly love the spirit of New Year’s. I think it’s incredibly lovely to build a picture—literally or figuratively—of what you hope to do, feel, or experience in the future. That’s why I’ve gotten into vision boards. I never ended up finishing mine last year, but in a way, even its blank space has become meaningful. So much happened this year that I never could have accounted for.

My board for next year will include some very big goals. Over the last couple months, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the purpose behind them and how I will define my success in meeting them. Along the way, I’ve come to recognize how easy it is to subscribe to definitions of success that depend upon the approval of others or outcomes you can’t fully control.

As an example, let’s say you set the goal of getting the lead in your school’s musical. You practice your heart out, memorize your lines, and quell your nerves enough to power through the audition… but you don’t get the part. You might feel like your best wasn’t good enough, but that’s not necessarily a fair interpretation. Perhaps the director has a very specific vision for that character, and someone else’s performance happens to match it better. No right or wrong. Just different.

Still, if all your hopes were tied to that one specific opportunity, you may find yourself deflated. But what if you kept your focus on the purpose driving your goal? You have a passion for performing. If one opportunity doesn’t work out, you can find—or create—many others. You can take vocal lessons or acting classes, join a community theater or choir, or craft material to perform on a stage of your own making. 

Purpose is the engine that keeps us moving, allowing us to adapt course in the face of rejection as well as personal setbacks. Let’s step into the tennis shoes of the person who buys that gym membership on January 1st. Their resolution is to go to the gym five days a week. In the first two weeks, they only go once. They feel the air coming out of their tires. They tell themselves they’re lazy and unmotivated. Not even a month in, and they’ve already failed.

Going to the gym is their stated goal, but they have an underlying motivation. They want to be more active to boost their mood and energy. If working out at the gym isn’t a sustainable practice, that’s okay. There are plenty of other options for physical activity! Through the lens of purpose, a lack of success in getting to the gym isn’t actually a failure. It provides an important piece of information, ruling out what doesn’t work so they can find what does.

Recognizing the purpose behind what you pursue is also valuable because it illuminates the path where you’ll spend most of your time. The destinations—moments of big success—are awesome and deserve to be celebrated, but you likely won’t reach them every single day. Much of life happens on the road, chip-chip-chipping away at your goals. What matters is finding joy and meaning in the in-betweens. The long practices and late-night rehearsals. The hazy days between holidays. They’re the stepping stones between Here and Where You Want to Go, and they tell a story all their own. You don’t want to miss it.

I hope your year to come is full of joy and purpose. Thank you for being here to help me create my own.

xoxo

Marie

The Jackson Pollock Manicure

Hello, my dear internet friends.

Last month, I told you that I’d started editing “How to Be a Girl,” the chapter in my book on teen magazines. On Monday, I finished my edits (for now!) and sent it off to my workshop group for feedback. I was so excited that I set up my Spice Girls dolls to celebrate (which you can also enjoy here). That chapter was a challenge—trying to sift through stacks of magazines to find the best thematic examples, deciding where to land to capture how they’re still relevant—but even when it was hard, it was fun. It never ceases to amaze me that, even when I sit down to write about a topic I think I know like the back of my hand, I always learn something new along the way.

During my magazine scavenging, I came across an editorial called “Art of Makeup” in an issue of Seventeen from my junior year of high school. It featured four “looks” inspired by classic painters, from eye shadow blended in the vibrant colors of Georgia O’Keeffe to splatter-paint nail art a la Jackson Pollock. Which I tried. I don’t remember the actual attempt; I must not have been successful, otherwise I would have done it over and over and never forgotten. But that’s when I started wearing black nail polish. I thought it was cool. Maybe even edgy, one of the many personal-style descriptors I learned from Seventeen. Of course, I Marie-ified it (and in turn, removed any potential edge) by covering it with silver holographic glitter. It was fun. It was a good time.

That anecdote doesn’t mean much on its own, I’ll admit. But coming out of the particular environment of looks-based messaging I’ve been wading through over the last couple months, it definitely stands out. Teen magazines often spoke in the language of your appearance being a project, your body an object with many parts in need of maintenance, repair, or upgrade. That Seventeen was a makeover-themed issue. The first image in the “Beauty” section was—honestly?—haunting. The article was entitled “Look Like a Model!” Unsurprisingly, the face of a runway model was featured, but her actual appearance in the main image was somewhat obscured, covered in arrows, dashes, and instructions. A template for all the ways one’s face could be fixed. “Shade Jawline” was written along the arrow down her chin. “Contour cheeks.” “Fill in lips.”

I would love for such an image to sound severely outdated. But I know that it doesn’t. Magazines spoke confidently under the assumption that you knew that your hair/skin/body/brows needed work and understood why that was important. (Generally: attention. Often, more specifically: male attention.) The implicit importance of “fix-it” work is still written into media and advertising. It’s programmed into the social media filters that distort your features in… well, all the ways Seventeen was suggesting you could with makeup.

But what about the Jackson Pollock manicure? In the sadly not-distant universe of a teen magazine promoting white eyeshadow as a means for visually editing your nose, the suggestion to emulate an iconic artist’s work on the tiny canvas of your fingernail seems delightfully absurd. And absurd delights are my soft spot in life. (Cherry cola Oreos with Pop Rocks in the middle. My cat entering deep sleep atop a crying-while-laughing emoji bean bag.) What I really mean to say is, the concept and attached memory feel both nonserious and joyful. And what might that be like? To treat physical presentation as a totally nonserious avenue for joy?

Which feels like the right question, or rather the right direction to head. The vulnerable truth underneath is that, for all the ways I’ve disentangled my day-to-day actions from the fix-it mindset of beauty and diet culture, I’m not perfectly immune. That stuff is sneaky. “Problems” get invented so “solutions” can be sold. And that rhetoric can infiltrate—or imitate—our self-talk. That’s where I get stuck sometimes. Because man, it sounds so real. But I know it’s not me.

I’ve become more aware of that little critical voice lately, and it’s something I want to change. I don’t exactly know how, but the great thing is, I don’t exactly have to. Looking back on all the ways I’ve transformed my relationship to my body, I see that as long as I knew the general destination, I was able to practice my way there. With food, I knew I wanted to listen to my body instead of subscribing to arbitrary rules, so I kept practicing until doing so became second nature. I now truly enjoy exercise because I factor how I feel into every decision around it.  And so, I no longer want the appearance-project mentality to feel like it has any validity, so I will figure out how to make choices that actively invalidate it.

Probably, where I’ll land will look a lot like where I’m at now—a daily preference for comfort via elastic waistbands and my one-step hair-styling routine (it’s a scrunchie)—just with a bit more intention. But I’ve also been wondering if occasionally doing something a little bit fun and frivolous could serve as a reminder: If my appearance-related decisions are anything beyond practical, they should simply be fun. And rarely do any of them need to feel all that serious.

So, is black glitter nail polish the answer?

Not for everything.

But is it fun?

Oh, absolutely.

xoxo

Marie

Still fun, even missing one. 🤷‍♀️ Nail polish by Holo Taco. Photo by me. 🙂

Articles referenced:

  • Gallegos, D. (2007, January). Art of makeup. Seventeen, 66(1), 88-97.
  • Gallegos, D. (2007, January). Look like a model! Seventeen, 66(1), 32-33.

The Stories That Make Our Lives

"Story is the vehicle we use to make sense of our lives in a world that often defies logic." - Jim Trelease
Jim Trelease’s website (original quote source material unknown)

Hello, my dear Internet friends,

I hope your summer is in full swing in the best way. And if you happen to be tuning in from the southern hemisphere, I’m sending you winter well-wishes!

In March, I wrote about challenging my expectations for myself (and life itself), “practicing my flexibility muscle, [and] balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented.” In May, I reflected on the resistance I feel in the face of unexpected challenges and how “I have learned—am still learning—that instead of resisting, I need to embrace what is so I can decide what I want to do about it.” This month’s post feels like a natural progression from those two. Some chapters of life are apt for learning certain lessons or exploring particular themes—if we’re open to reading them that way.

This month, I’ve been reflecting on how crucial storytelling is to the way we experience the world and understand our lives. Our personal memories are often stored in narrative form. Our friendships are built on shared experiences, from the humorous tales we recount with glee to episodes of support in hard times, which stay written on our hearts even if we never speak them aloud. And when we go through something unexpected, we try to make sense of it through story.

Expectations can exist in our minds as stories. Scripts—or at the very least, loose outlines—for how we anticipate certain events or facets of our lives will go. I often don’t realize how attached I was to an imagined version of the future until life goes off-plot.

That upending of expectations can feel like loss. Loss of what we hoped for. Loss of control. We are the authors of our own stories, but we’re not the authors of the world (or other people). Story collision is bound to happen. Sometimes in a spectacularly serendipitous way. Sometimes in a painful one.

When that happens, where does it leave us? With a new story. Already lived through, but not yet shaped for memory. It may feel hard to hold at first. But once it’s in your hands, it’s yours. Yours to craft as only you can. What may have felt in the moment like a story of disappointment or self-doubt can become one of resilience and growth. Of love and connection. Or maybe you’ll write a story bighearted enough to hold all of it. Every shade of the experience coming together to form a mosaic. One that looks a lot like life as it really is. As Kathryn Schulz writes in her beautiful memoir Lost & Found, “We can’t get away from this constant amalgamation of feeling, can’t strain out the ostensible impurities in pursuit of some imaginary essence, and we shouldn’t want to if we could. The world in all its complexity calls on us to respond in kind, so that to be conflicted is not to be adulterated; it is to be complete.”

From one storyteller to another, I am simply encouraging you—as I’m encouraging myself—to be mindful of the narratives you “write” about your experiences, even if they never leave your own mind. Expand your story’s frame to capture the bigger picture. Treat each “character” with compassion (including yourself). Highlight the scenes of connection, meaningful details, and lessons learned that you want to carry with you.

Because one by one, your stories make your life. And you deserve one that’s been written with care.

xoxo

Marie

What is a “Real” Writer?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Hello my April showers,

How is this month almost over already? It seems like just yesterday I was eating a coffee-shop Pop-Tart on my half-birthday (also known as April Fool’s Day), and now it’s nearly May Day. My days have been full, and the weeks have gone fast.

One way I’ve been spending my time this month is editing chapters of my book. I’m currently working on a chapter called “Labeled,” which was inspired by my senior year yearbook of the same title.  The chapter is broken into sections by different “labels” I identified with, sought out, or avoided. The chapter starts with an aspirational label of my middle and high school years: “popular.” It ends with one that has remained prominent in my adult life: “writer.”

As I was reading through a draft of the chapter, two words in that last section jumped out at me. “Real” writer. I had noted one way in which I believed I wasn’t like other “real” writers. After reading those words, I thought about how funny they sound. I mean, I really exist, don’t I? I’m not a figment of our collective imagination, so far as I know.

Of course, when I wrote those words, I wasn’t questioning my material existence. I was expressing the doubt I had felt about calling myself a writer. I’m clearly not the only one who has pondered their proximity to the “real writer” label. When I Googled “real writer” and “not a real writer,” a lot of relevant articles came up. Many of their titles were questions, asking what a real writer is and if or when you can call yourself one.

As I read through the articles and reflected on my own experiences, I compiled a list of possible barriers to entry for calling oneself a real writer. Unsurprisingly, this included external accomplishments like getting paid for your work or publishing a book. Some of the list items were qualitative, internal metrics, like diligence or passion. It was easy to find many ways people could qualify what it means a real writer… and in the process, disqualify themselves.

We could spend time fiddling with the “real writer” label, trying to define it in a way that feels more comfortable and less exclusive. Mercifully, most of the writers whose articles I read landed on a simple conclusion: if you write, then you’re a real writer. I agree. But what I’ve been turning over in my mind is not what being a real writer means, but why the term even exists in the minds of so many of us. What is the point of measuring the gap between ourselves and so-called “real writers”?

Maybe we’re trying to locate the point at which we can exhale. Where we can kick up our feet and say, Okay, I’ve made it. Writing can feel like an obstacle course of unknown length that we traverse mostly alone. So, it makes sense that we scan the horizon for a safe landing spot. A point of validation. A way to know for sure that it matters. Our hard work matters. We matter.

The craving to feel the value of your work is so understandable—and not just if you write, but if you build or teach or parent or anything else.

So, I understand why the term “real writer” exists in our minds. Still, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth for the way I have at times used it to invalidate where I’m at on my journey. At times, the way I’ve used it could be interchangeable with saying I’m not “good enough.” Not having something published yet, not perfectly adhering to a consistent routine… both signs I wasn’t a real writer (good enough).

Don’t get me wrong; having goals is wonderful. Trying to grow is great. Striving is awesome, but I’d hate for us to miss the becoming. The messy middle, when we’re putting in the work, however imperfectly. In so many ways, I think this is the main event. Not whatever we consider the finish line.

I know it would take the fun out of things, but sometimes I wish we could look at the present through the lens of hindsight. It would be so much easier to see the bigger picture and ourselves within it. The bright spots in the most challenging chapters. And how cool it really is to be on the way. Towards people we’ve yet to meet, goals we’ve yet to achieve, roles we’ve yet to grow into. Viewed from the other side, the stumbling path we traveled seems so much sweeter.

I was thinking back to a moment from the summer I was 17, when I had just started to pursue writing. I had big dreams for what I wanted to accomplish, and I really believed I could make them all come true.

I worked at Panera, and one night, the café was pretty quiet. I caught a glance of my reflection in the window. Me in my apron and baseball cap. I don’t know what struck me, but for a moment in time, I had one foot planted in the present and one in the future. I felt how cool it was to be the keeper of my dreams. The one to hold them close until I could release them to reality. Then I thought of my future self. Someday, when I was far down the road in my life as a writer, I would look back on this moment with fondness. I’d step back into the fizzy excitement of the journey beginning.

Neither version of me felt more valid. More real. Both seemed incredibly precious to me.

xoxo

Marie

A Few Blossoms of Light in March

Hello my spring blossoms,

Whew. What a month. I don’t know about yours, but my March somehow managed to both exceed expectations in the best way and present challenges I never could have anticipated. Such is life, huh?

For this month’s blog post, I wanted to share a few pieces of creative work that have resonated with me lately. After listening to the podcast episode below, I realized a theme was emerging. The things that have stood out to me most this month have asked me to challenge (or at least question) my expectations—of myself, of my time, of how life “should” go. They have asked me to slow my pace. To work with the present moment as it truly is, so as not to miss life as it happens.

For me, that has involved practicing my flexibility muscle, balancing what I want in a given day with the reality of what’s presented. Little hassles. Major stressors. Human limitations. I had a day where I was trying to get things done, but I was only half-awake. I didn’t sleep well the night before (some of the stress of recent challenges was catching up to me). Normally, I would try to coffee up and push through, but I questioned if a different approach might be better. I had room in my day to be flexible. Might I get more out of my time later if I took a break now?

So I did the unthinkable. I laid back on the couch, pulled my fuzzy pink blanket over me, and fell asleep. My fluffy gray cat was purring on me as my alarm went off. I still had plenty of time. I grabbed a coffee, put music on, and got back into things, more refreshed than I’d felt all day—or maybe longer.

If that isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

I hope one of the pieces below gives you something helpful to carry into the next month. If anything (a song, an article, a podcast episode) has made your March, please feel free to share in the comments!

An article: “I trained myself to be less busy — and it dramatically improved my life” by David Sbarra, PhD for Vox

I came across this essay while searching for articles on an entirely unrelated subject, and I have read it multiple times since. I don’t think being busy is inherently a bad thing. I also understand that there are times in life when we may not be able to take anything off our (very full) plates. What Dr. Sbarra is really challenging is mindless busyness. Being busy for busy’s sake, and barreling through an overstuffed calendar because we think that’s what we’re supposed to do. I think that even without removing anything from our schedules, we can check our pacing—and our expectations. Are we rushing through life, or are we living in it? Are we being reasonable in what we expect ourselves to get done?

A podcast episode: “Are Your Expectations Too High?” from The Science of Happiness

The Science of Happiness is hosted by psychologist Dacher Keltner, PhD and co-produced by PRX and UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

In the first part of this episode, Dr. Keltner talks to Julie Santos, who was born in Costa Rica and spent summers there growing up. When she visited just after graduating college, she observed how expectations—and an ability to celebrate anything that exceeds them—seem to be linked to happiness in the country’s culture. Her reflections have made me think, what if we all stopped to show gratitude when things rise above our expectations, even just a little? Could boring or stressful tasks feel less burdensome if we don’t expect to hurry through them?

A quote by Kurt Vonnegut

A while ago I watched a video of a lecutre by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. He shared an anecdote about his Uncle Alex, which he said he’d included in every lecture he’d ever given. He also shared it in one of his nonfiction books, A Man Without a Country:

. . . his principal complaint about other human beings was that they so seldom noticed it when they were happy. So when we were drinking lemonade under an apple tree in the summer, say, and talking lazily about this and that, almost buzzing like honeybees, Uncle Alex would suddenly interrupt the agreeable blather to exclaim, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

So I do the same now, and so do my kids and grandkids. And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

I have been following his advice. It’s a simple strategy—reminiscent of what Julie Santos observed people in Costa Rica doing—but so powerful as a happiness checkpoint, ensuring that we don’t miss the ordinary (and sometimes extraordinary) joy that surrounds us.

xoxo

Marie

The Power of Self-Compassion

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Hello my sweet valentines,

I hope this month of love has been kind to you. I hope you’ve been able to spend time with people you care about and enjoy delicious treats (chocolate or not). I also hope you’ve given yourself love and kindness.

We all deserve to give ourselves the same support, care, and understanding that we show others. However, that can be easier said than done. We can so easily fall into the role of our own worst critic. One challenge we have is that we can easily observe our behaviors, which we can then judge through the harsh lens of hindsight. But our self-talk is harder to be aware of—let alone change—because so much of it is automatic.

Last month, I talked about using gratitude as a way to stay anchored in the present. One thing that distracts me from the now is negative self-talk. I can be very hard on myself. The heart of it often seems to be my desire to do right by others. Which is a lovely thing, of course! But values are meant to be guideposts for making choices in the present. They aren’t meant to be punitive. For me, self-doubt creeps in when I get stuck questioning my decisions over and over. Doing so becomes a painful cycle. The voice of self-doubt tells me that I can’t move on from the past and makes me distrust my ability to move forward.

I say “voice of self-doubt” because I am trying to . . . Well, I am trying to undermine its authority. I am trying to put a little more distance between that voice and me. I do not view or speak to others harshly, and I don’t believe that I deserve to be treated that way, either. That’s why I am working hard to give myself more self-compassion.

Dr. Kristin Neff is a pioneering researcher and author on the subject. She describes self-compassion as being there for ourselves with kindness, care, and understanding when we are struggling, just as we would be for someone else. Specifically, she breaks down self-compassion into three components:

  • Self-Kindness: Being gentle and understanding with ourselves, as opposed to self-critical and punishing.  
  • Common Humanity: Recognizing that we aren’t alone in our struggles, as opposed to feeling uniquely inadequate.
  • Mindfulness: Being aware of and open to our thoughts and feelings, as opposed to ignoring them or getting consumed by them.

You can read more about self-compassion on Dr. Neff’s website here.

Lately, whenever I am feeling down, I stop to recognize what is bothering me and name what I’m feeling (sad, frustrated, anxious, etc.). Once I’ve done that, I try to see if there is any self-talk underneath the emotion that’s adding to the pain of it. Often, there is. Maybe I’m imagining an unrealistic negative outcome to a situation, making it feel more and more believable the more time I spend on it. Or maybe I’m making a negative assessment of myself or my abilities based on a challenge I’m facing. Whatever the thought, it typically falls into the category of self-doubt/self-criticism. Recognizing that opens the door for me to meet it with self-compassion.

What that looks like varies a bit on the situation. I can say something kind to myself, acknowledging the impact that a feeling or thought is having on me, even if I can’t change it right away. I can dismantle a judgment I’m making by recognizing that I’m holding myself to a standard I don’t really believe in (and wouldn’t expect anyone else to live up to). The most compassionate response can also be an action. Engaging in self-care, asking for help, or breaking a task down into more manageable chunks (with more reasonable expectations).

I’m not always able to move past a negative thought or feeling in the way I’d like to. Sometimes, I can’t really make sense of what’s going on in my mind.  And I can still be too hard on myself. But even so, finding ways to show myself compassion has felt like discovering a superpower. Being in the cycle of self-doubt feels like listening to a soundtrack that can’t be turned off. Learning how to not only turn it off but transform it into something else entirely has been really, really cool.

I am proud of myself.

Whatever it is you need today, I hope you can give it to yourself. I know you deserve it, and I hope you can see that, too.

xoxo

Marie