zits, emoji, and toaster strudels: reasons my brain is too young for my body

I recently took a test online that was supposed to tell me my mental age. One of my coworkers sent it to our staff, and we were having the time of our lives comparing our results (it’s winter in northern Michigan, what else is there for us to do?). Seeing as I’m turning 25 in a month and I regularly oscillate between having the energy and maturity level of my 17 year-old students and wanting to call it an “early night” whenever I go out with my friends, I was quite intrigued to get the results of this quiz.

Personality tests are one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I love them in all forms: the extremely accurate and enlightening Myers-Briggs, the slightly simpler True Colors, the Love Language survey, the Gallup StrengthsQuest I was recently assigned to take for work, all of them. I devour any test that will give me a self-definition, because lord knows defining myself without an equation-based set of probing questions is just too difficult for me at this stage in my life. Throw in a pop culture phenomenon that I’m obsessed with, and I’ll lose my shit even more. Which Lord of the Rings race do I belong in? What would be my Hunger Games combat style? What’s my Hogwarts house? I NEED TO KNOW ALL OF THIS IN ORDER TO KNOW MYSELF.

It turns out my mental age is 20. Twenty. Two-zero. As in, nearly five years younger than I actually am, and only two years older than most of the kids who live in my building. My brain was apparently held back in school several times while the rest of my body continued to age. My brain would probably attend a midnight showing of any of the movies in the Twilight saga. My brain would willingly engage in a friends-with-benefits relationship because it doesn’t know any better. My brain still thinks UV Blue vodka mixed with lemonade is an appropriate drink of choice. Actually, my brain isn’t even old enough to legally drink alcohol!

Of course, I take the results of most tests like this one with a grain of salt. (Some of the questions were pretty weird anyway.) It’s not like I was expecting my mental age to be 35, because I don’t feel 35. Hell, sometimes I barely feel like a college graduate, because I live in a dorm and eat all my meals in a cafeteria. So you know what, I guess 20 is pretty accurate. I’m still young, I’m still figuring out what I want to do with my life. When I actually was 20, a sophomore in college, I thought I had figured out what I wanted to do. I had the bare bones of a plan for the rest of my life and career. But now, five years later, I’m back to the drawing board and wishing and dreaming and hoping I can make it in the world doing something I love. That sounds pretty 20ish to me, so I’ll take it.

But just for good measure, I compiled a list of additional things that may be contributing to my barely-a-twentysomething mental age. Maybe this will help me redirect the anger I feel for all the people throughout my past three years as a school employee who have asked me what grade I’m in.

1. My frequent use of emoji. I also use exclamation points a lot. If you’ve ever had a text conversation with me, you’ll understand. If you haven’t . . . well, I just like to make my enthusiasm known, okay? It is extremely hard to convey tone in a text message, so I try to make it very clear. My personal favorites are the kissy-face and hearts-for-eyes emoji. On the flip side, I also use the poop emoji, though its negative connotation is somewhat convoluted since the poop appears to be smiling. I don’t know why that poop emoji is the only one to choose from, I can’t imagine I’m the only person who would like to have a full range of emotions available within my poop emoji, but whatever.

2. My affinity for young adult fiction. I’ll take a John Green novel over Jane Austen any day. Sorry I’m not sorry.

3. My addiction to Toaster Strudels. I used to eat these any time I stayed at my grandma’s house as a kid because my parents wouldn’t buy them. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I rediscovered their flaky, toasted, fruit-filled, icing-drenched goodness. I was also reminded that it is damn near impossible to cook them perfectly without some kind of fancy ass toaster. You just end up with dark, burnt pastry outside and still-partially-frozen (lukewarm if you’re lucky) fruit filling inside. But I eat them anyway, burnt pastry flakes and all, because the little icing that comes in the plastic packet is so damn fun to squeeze out.

4. My tendency to use abbreviations in spoken conversation. Actually, they are “abbrevs,” and it took all of my strength to type out the full word in the previous sentence. Also, I am fully aware of the irony that I am an aspiring writer perpetuating a trend that it is slowly destroying the English language as we know it, so you don’t have to point it out every time I use the word “totes.”

5. My complexion. As a young, starry-eyed teenager, I took my blemish-free, porcelain skin for granted, and now that has come back around to bite me in the ass. I thought I had survived the zit-mageddon stage of my life and emerged unscathed, but it was apparently just delayed. Well, kudos skin, for trying to spread out the sources of my emotional turmoil between different decades of my life, but I don’t think you realize that I’m still as lost and confused now as I was at 16, just for different reasons. So, in short, your little acne-explosion is still ill-timed and unappreciated. Thanks for nothing.

6. My Netflix recommendations. My to-watch list contains an impressive lineup of indie dramas, dark comedies, and cutting edge TV shows. My recommendations tell the real truth, with categories like “because you watched Pretty Little Liars” or “reality TV shows.” I’m sorry I don’t live up to my film critic facade, Netflix, but calling me out like this is kind of passive-aggressive, don’t you think?

7. My Suave Kids green-apple-scented detangler. I realize this list is getting downright embarrassing, but what do you want from me? I don’t care if the bottle has a picture of a cartoon octopus on it, it costs less than three dollars at the drug store, and I’m too lazy to get my hair cut more than twice a year. This stuff helps me comb out the rat’s nest on my head each morning. It’s crucial. And it smells like a Jolly Rancher. What’s not to love?

8. My complete and utter incompetence when it comes to relationships. I’m not sure this one will ever change, even if my brain ages 15 years overnight.

9. My love of glittery nail polish. My nail polish collection is embarrassingly large and includes many shades usually not worn by anyone over the age of fourteen. One time, I painted my fingernails a pretty shade of sparkly bright blue, and the next day I saw a middle schooler at the mall wearing the exact same shade.

10. My teddy bear. Yes, I still have my teddy bear. His name is Norman. I got him as a newborn, and I have no wise-cracks to make about him because he is the best.

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lessons in adulthood from a 1999 Chevy (and my dad)

Some people have an emotional attachment to the first car they drive. Some people have memories of being sixteen, driving around in the sticky July heat, singing along to Cat Stevens with their best friends at midnight, or making out with their first love in the backseat while parked in the driveway of their parents’ house, or buying that first car freshener that is supposed to make the interior smell like “Hawaiian breeze” but really just makes such a small, enclosed space wreak of old lady perfume. Some people look fondly at the small dent in the door and remember the time their best friend crashed a bike into the side of the car during spring break.

I am not one of those people.

For the past three years, I have driven a 1999 Chevrolet Lumina, and for the past three years, I have loathed that car with my entire being. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have a car that my generous parents graciously allowed me to haul all the way to Michigan, because living at boarding school in the woods without a mode of personal transportation would have made me certifiably insane. I don’t know what I would do without my little old Chevy. I just don’t have any warm fuzzy memories about this car in particular.

My car is named Oscar, a name that my sister gave it as soon as she got her driver’s license and inherited it. In addition to me, Oscar has been driven by both of my sisters, my uncle, and my grandfather, who originally owned it. I feel the need to explain this to anyone who rides in Oscar, based on several factors:

  1. It is extremely obvious that this car used to be owned by a senior citizen. The color is what I like to refer to as “tumbleweed,” a muted tan-brown color that only a senior citizen would select when purchasing a vehicle. You know the color. Tumbleweed is the safe choice, because black and white show dirt too easily, and red and blue are just too flashy. You don’t want people to get the wrong idea when you’re driving to church or the pharmacy.
  2. This car was made when car phones were still relevant. I know this because there are two forms of car phone devices inside Oscar. One is a plastic receiver that looks like a toy phone sprouting out of the floor between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. It doesn’t stay mounted to anything in particular, so it just gets kicked around because the curly cord that attaches it to the floor is ridiculously long. The other is an arm-shaped mount and/or charger from 1999 – when cell phones were still the size of a ketchup bottle – coming out of the (mostly non-functioning) car stereo. It doesn’t fit the floor receiver because that would make too much sense, but instead just interferes with most of the stereo buttons on the right side and makes it impossible to see the clock from the passenger seat. However, it does function as an excellent hanger for trash bags and other miscellaneous items.
  3. There are two bumper stickers on the back, neither of which I selected myself. One reads “world peace” and the other “I (heart) sushi.” While the former is obviously something I support, and the latter is an absolutely true statement about my feelings toward raw fish rolled in rice and seaweed, neither of these proclamations are things I would have chosen to state publicly by slapping stickers on the rear end of my vehicle. I don’t even have a problem with the overall concept of bumper stickers. In fact, there are many nice stickers I’ve come across that I have considered adorning my car with. But, since my sisters both drove Oscar before I moved to Michigan and took him with me, the world peace and sushi stickers are stuck there for the entire world to see. Sometimes, I imagine someone driving behind me and cursing me when I suddenly slam on the brakes because a rabbit is crossing the road: “GODDAMMIT! What’s your problem, sushi lover?!”
  4. The car still smells like old people, despite the fact that it hasn’t been driven by anyone over the age of 25 in almost ten years.

Oscar is not the kind of car I thought I would be driving at age twenty-four. But he is fully paid for, so while my friends who drive flashier, newer vehicles are emptying their bank accounts every month to pay off their cars and undergrad student loans, I’m able to spend excessive amounts of money on nail polish, clearance-priced sweaters, air fresheners, and shampoo every time I set foot in Target. I’m effectively still a broke-ass twentysomething, but at least it’s not because I drive a car that’s too fancy for me.

While I like to think of myself as an independent woman most of the time, the truth is I have my dad’s number saved in my phone favorites for the exclusive purpose of calling him whenever something goes wrong with my car. Eventually, my dad purchased Triple A for our family, and I am convinced it is because of the number of times I have called him from Michigan because my car won’t start. I still call him out of desperation every time, though, and he still replies every time, “Sorry. Call Triple A and have them jump it for you.”

On one recent night, as I made a treacherous winter drive into the closest town to where I live, my turn signals mysteriously stopped working. Instead of shrugging it off and figuring I would deal with it once I got to my destination, I veered off the road and into the first gas station parking lot I could find. I pulled my fingers out of my mittens, still frozen from scraping the daily layer of snow and ice off of Oscar, and frantically dialed my father.

“Dad!” I exclaimed when he, surprisingly, answered the phone. My dad hates talking on the phone more than anything. He is notorious for not answering, and when he does, our conversations usually last no longer than two minutes before he asks if I want to talk to my mom.

“Hi, Maddie,” he said, his voice echoing suspiciously.

“Am I on speakerphone?” I asked.

“Yeah. I’m, uh, I’m playing MarioKart,” he replied.

My family owned no gaming systems until I was ten years old. Then my parents gave me and my sister a PlayStation for Christmas. My dad, who picked out a few games for us to start out with, ended up playing a game called “Spyro the Dragon” all night on New Years Eve, and it became clear that the gift was more for him than us. Years later, when the Nintendo Wii was released, my mom gave him one for his birthday, along with the newest version of MarioKart, which was really exciting because you could use the controllers as actual wheels. Five years later, my dad still plays MarioKart for at least a half hour a day (usually during his lunch hour – he comes home, makes a sandwich, and plays a few races before heading back to the office), despite the fact that he has beat literally everything you can beat within the game. Instead, he races online against other players who, for some reason, are also home in the middle of the day. I suspect that my father’s main opponents are college students and competitive stay-at-home moms whose children are napping.

All things aside, MarioKart is some kind of release for my dad, and I guess that’s not a bad thing, really. He doesn’t have many other hobbies, unless you count watching The History Channel, reading political blogs, and making specialty drinks with his expensive, state-of-the-art espresso machine.* Plus, his MarioKart addiction has led me to acquire mediocre skills in the game because of the number of times I’ve played against him. Skills that I have been able to unveil at several different parties, much to the surprise of most of my male friends, who assume I’m useless at video games** because, well, I spend most of my free time writing, pining after fictional characters, and painting my nails. I’m also not a competitive person by nature, hence my aversion to team sports of any kind, but put a Wii Wheel in my hands and I will cut a bitch.

“Okay, well, I have a question about my car,” I said, choosing to ignore the video game sound effects on the end of the line. “I’m not sure if you can even help me, but I thought I’d try. The turn signals aren’t working. Like, even when I try to use them, they don’t blink on the dash at all.”

Victorious music erupted from the game before my dad said, “Hmmm, yeah, it’s probably either a fuse or a switch.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you will need to replace the fuse if that’s what it is.”

“I don’t know how to do that.”

“Well, you might have to wait until morning and go to an auto shop, then.”

“Dad, I’m on my way to town! I promised John I would go to his gig!” I had reverted back to my teenager-y speaking tone. But in my defense, I was on my way to town to see my friend John play drums in a local band, and I was already running twenty minutes late.

“Just drive carefully and brake slowly anytime you’re going to turn,” my dad said. He sounded only mildly exasperated with my helplessness. “You can always use hand signals, too.”

“WHAT?!”

“Hand signals. You know how to do that, right?”

“Well . . . yeah. But I’m not doing that, Dad.”

“Why not? It’s a perfectly legal option.”

“Nope, not happening. Um, how hard would it be to change the fuse myself?”

So my father, nearly 700 miles away, talked me through finding the fuse panel (on the dash, next to the passenger side door), reading the key in the manual (page 6-56), and where to buy extra fuses at 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night (a superstore that is open 24 hours a day). And in the parking lot of Meijer, wearing skinny jeans and boots that were made for fashion, not function, I knelt down in the slushy parking lot and singlehandedly located and changed the appropriate fuse in an attempt to get my turn signals working.

The fuse in question did not fix the turn signals and I ended up having to take my car in to the mechanic the following week, but the entire experience of hunting for the fuse panel, buying the right kind of replacement fuse, and managing to yank the old one out like a decaying tooth in a dark parking lot at 10:00 p.m. made me feel undeniably like a grown up, independent woman. Despite the fact that I had to get step-by-step instructions from my dad from two states away, I had managed to troubleshoot a problem on a car that I usually held nothing but lukewarm feelings for.*** Driving home from town that night, I started to think that, after three years of having a full-time job and living far away from my family, I was finally starting to become an adult. I was able to do my taxes without my dad’s help (thank you, TurboTax!), I knew how to get basically anywhere in town without using my GPS, and I had finally learned how to cook eggs beyond scrambling them. I could make it on my own . . . as long as I had my dad on speed dial.

Tune in next time, when I use my newfound empowerment to change a tire**** and shop for household appliances.

* I’m not joking when I say this is the most complex piece of equipment in my parents’ kitchen. When I was home a few months ago, my dad was tinkering with it, and when I asked him what he was doing, he replied simply, “Upgrading the software.” Leave it to my father, the computer programmer, to have an espresso machine with software.

** An assumption that is mostly accurate, with the exception of MarioKart and any rhythm-based dance or music game. Go ahead, challenge me to Guitar Hero. I dare you.

*** But a few days later, when the cigarette lighter that I plug my iPod transmitter into (the only feasible way to play my own choice of music, because the CD player in Oscar’s stereo skips madly every time I make a left turn) crapped out on me, I was able to fix it by locating and replacing the fuse . . . no phone call to my father necessary!

**** HAHAHA.

self-inflicted torture: adventures in jeans shopping

It is common knowledge among my close friends that I do not wear pants. Not only do I not wear them, I legitimately hate them. Most of my business casual work-appropriate outfits consist of skirts, tights, dresses, and leggings. The only pants I consistently approve of are yoga pants, which I probably wear far more often than I should, especially considering that they make me look like a soccer mom on her way to pilates. But I honestly think soccer moms might be on to something, because my ideal outfit is equal parts comfortable and cute, something that yoga pants are, and jeans and dress pants definitely are not. I feel restricted when I wear regular pants; I usually have to wear a belt which makes it worse, and the whole time I’m wearing them, all I can fantasize about is changing into leggings or yoga pants, with my legs all wrapped in stretchy, cottony comfort. When I’m wearing comfy pants, I feel moderately empowered because my legs are not imprisoned in a cage of thick/rough/stiff/uncomfortable material and I’m also not as worried about the lacy band at the top of my underwear making a surprise appearance anytime I need to bend over or make any unusual movements.

There was a time when I thought that jeans themselves were comfortable casual wear. As a teenager, my go-to outfit was jeans and a hooded sweatshirt — I was not a fashionable sixteen year-old. Then, when I became an adult and my daily wardrobe could no longer include jeans before 5:00pm, I abandoned them in favor of more comfortable options in the evenings: yoga pants, sweats, leggings with weird prints on them. That was the point of no return. I had found a new Pants God to worship, and it didn’t have zippers or buttons or a waistband that was too tight when I was on my period.

Lest this blog post sound like the mundane ramblings of a crotchety old woman, I would like to insert here that I have recently begun coming around to the idea of jeans again. This is partially because I like the concept of jeans more than their actual physical manifestation. I think they’re cute paired with any one of my many sweaters. I like them tucked into boots. I sometimes think they make my butt look good. But shopping for them and actually wearing them is a different story. However, the other day, as I began a giant (much overdue) purging of my closet, I discovered that I was in desperate need of a pair of jeans that actually fit me well. All of my pairs were too big around the waist, too short, or too bunchy around the ankles. And regardless of how infrequently I may actually reach for a pair of jeans when I get dressed in the morning, I decided that, as a 24 year-old semi-professional young woman, there was no excuse for me not to own at least one or two pairs of nice jeans that actually fit my ass.

So I did what any mature young lady in need of jeans would do: I enlisted the help of my friends. Because I can’t even decide when to pee without consulting my Google Calendar, I sent my friends Ellen and Kate an invitation that included the phrase “HELP ME FIND JEANS THAT ACTUALLY FIT ME,” and early* on a Friday morning, we set off into town in search of a pair of jeans that would hug my curves, not fall down, and not make my butt look flat. A noble, if somewhat frivolous mission.

Our first stop (after sucking down our morning doses of caffeine at the coffee shop) was The Gap, and as soon as we walked into the store, I was reminded why jeans shopping is so overwhelming: the vocabulary is ridiculous. “What are you looking for?” Ellen asked me. “I DON’T EVEN KNOW,” I cried out, exasperated, as I surveyed the stacks of denim surrounding me. The words listed around the store boasted a cut for every body type, but I didn’t know which one I was looking for. Sexy bootcut? Real straight? Skinny? Super skinny? Sexy boyfriend? It was like trying to order a latte at Starbucks, which, by the way, is one of the most overwhelming processes ever for an analytical control freak like me. I was reminded of that quote from Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail:

“The whole purpose of places like Starbucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat, etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

Except, in this case, you have to choose your cut (bootcut, skinny, straight), fit (regular, relaxed), wash (dark, light, fancy non-denim colored), size, and length (short, regular, long), and once you’ve done that, you have to try them all on under hideous fluorescent lights, while the fitting room attendant judges you for hauling ten pairs into the room with you because you don’t know what you want and you just want to make sure you’re trying on all the options available to you before you shell out $70 for a pair of pants, and, hopefully, reach that “absolutely defining sense of self.”

What’s worse is that every store decides it needs its own fancy terminology to describe its denim. So, after I tried on fifteen pairs in every size, length, and cut available at The Gap, we moved on. Each store we went into had a different selection, different names, and different sizing. I tried on regular lengths that were too short, and long lengths that were too long. I tried on bootcuts with too much flare at the bottom, I tried on boyfriend jeans that were too baggy in the butt, I even tried on skinny jeans with ugly rhinestones on the pockets. With each ill-fitting pair, I got more and more discouraged. But Ellen and Kate, being the committed, beautiful humans that they are, forged onward. Ellen marched around each store, throwing pair after pair over her arm, and running back and forth to the fitting room, pulling different sizes when something didn’t fit correctly. They told me how things really looked, instead of the way I perceived them to look after standing in multiple fitting rooms, sweaty from changing my clothes so many times, with messy hair and very little self-confidence left.

Eventually, we ended up at JC Penney. Discouraged, I reluctantly tried on a few picks from the juniors section and a couple random pairs from the misses section. Ellen, who at this point had thrown out all the rules and joined me in my little fitting room, was taking things off the hangers and handing them to me, then sorting them into piles based on how they fit.** All of a sudden, I had more jeans in my “maybe” pile than in my “no” pile, and I actually had to narrow down my options! I ended up with two pairs of dark wash jeans, approved by both Ellen and Kate, that fit well AND made my butt look good, and I honestly couldn’t tell you what the actual names of the jean styles are. I just know they fit, and I am the luckiest person in the world that I have two friends who were willing to dig through the skinnies and the bootcuts to help me find the ones that did.

So jeans shopping will probably always give me anxiety. I still don’t know what stores have the best fit for me or how I stumbled upon the couple pairs that I ended up buying, and the next time I go out, I’ll likely be just as clueless as this time. You also probably won’t see me wearing jeans more than a couple times a week (I still love my leggings and yoga pants), but it’s nice to know that my frazzled, sweaty, caffeine-fueled expedition was worth something.

Now just wait until I’m forced to go bra shopping. I’m sure that will yield some more great material.

* 9:00am is early when you work in residence life at a boarding school. Too early, probably, as Kate pointed out: “I don’t think I’ve ever been in town this early. Are the stores even open yet?”
** Because she’s an angel from heaven.

“I can’t believe I actually do this for fun now”: how I became the most unlikely runner ever

I’ve never been even remotely athletic. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, this probably comes of no surprise to you, after reading countless rants based around my artistic frustrations with no mention of any sporting pursuits. But throughout my youth, the only athletic endeavors I attempted ended in miserable failure or just plain disinterest. Why would I kick/throw/hit a ball around for no reason when I could be memorizing lines and blocking for a play? Why bother running unless I was late for choir rehearsal? What was the point of learning to do anything less than the required minimum in my P.E. class if my gym teacher, plucked straight out of a 90s sitcom, tracksuit and all, was still going to be biased towards those shining students who participated in extracurricular organized sports? It all seemed like a waste of time. Also, I am clumsy as hell.

When I was in elementary school, I tried out the community youth soccer organization. I lasted one day and then threw a tantrum when I got home about how ridiculous it was that you’re not allowed to use your hands in soccer. In P.E. class, I regularly ended up the last person left standing on my team during “trench” (the less violent version of dodgeball we were allowed to play in public school), not because I was good at the game, but because I was so afraid of being hit by the flying Nerf balls that I would hide and dodge them in the corner until every last one of my teammates got out. I also spent several pathetic years in dance classes, which I only survived because my sense of rhythm turned out to be better than my coordination. Then in middle school, I tried out a community volleyball league with my sisters, and it soon became clear that my coach’s supposedly endearing nickname for me, the “Digging Machine,” really just meant he was aware that digging was the only thing I was physically capable of doing during a game, and that I was mostly useless at everything else.

After the volleyball attempt, I shied away from any other organized sports as an adolescent. The only other remotely athletic thing I participated in was the marching band colorguard, of which I was a member for two years and captain for one of the two. The only reasons I joined in the first place were because A. I had given up on the clarinet because I hated the stupid thing, and B. I still wanted to hang out with my band geek friends on the weekends. Surprisingly, I turned out to be better than average at this specific form of choreographed flag-twirling. Now, I’m as shocked as you probably are that I was able to spin, throw, and catch a flag or rifle while simultaneously moving across a football field, but for some reason, my lack of hand-eye coordination did not translate to this activity. Mind you, this wasn’t enough of a confidence booster for me to try out any other athletic things, but hey, at least I had really strong arm muscles for a couple years in high school (which turned out to be really useful when I was painting/moving sets for theatre, my one true love at the time).

Since then, the only mildly athletic thing I’ve attempted has been yoga, which I enjoy mainly because it’s not competitive or fast-paced. Yoga is my kind of exercise, even though I’m not remotely flexible and sometimes get extremely worried about farting during class. (If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you get it.) So, you can understand why, when I decided to start a couch-to-5K training program at the beginning of last summer, I probably had so little faith in myself sticking with it that it’s shocking I even started it in the first place.

If you’re not familiar with the couch-to-5K type of running plan, it starts you out by alternating brief running intervals with walking. Gradually, the intervals get longer, and you continue until you can actually run for more than 30 seconds without wanting to run yourself right off the edge of a cliff. Each run is about half an hour long and you only need to run three times a week — it is literally designed to take a lazy non-runner and train them to run a 5K by the end of eight weeks. I was skeptical, but after hearing testimonials from multiple people who had successfully done it, I decided to give it a try.

At first, I wanted to die. The intervals were tough, and every time my walking portions ended, I wanted to just keep on walking. After a certain point, though, it stopped feeling like a chore and started feeling like something I wanted to do because it made me feel good. After my first successful 20 minute run, I felt like a million bucks for running that long without stopping, and after that point, I actually itched to be running on my off days. I stopped looking at the training program as something I was just trying out, and started feeling like a runner. I finished the program and started tracking my distance and time each time I went out. I started getting up earlier and earlier to avoid the ridiculous midwest summer humidity. I bought moisture-wicking running clothes and fancy expensive running shoes from a store that videotapes your feet in order to find you the right kind of shoe (not even kidding). I looked forward to my post-run breakfasts of oatmeal and coffee on my parents’ porch. I fell in love with the routine and the sound of my feet hitting the pavement. I shocked myself.

If you had told me six months ago that, come fall, I would be running four miles every other day, I would have laughed in your face. But now I do that, and it’s part of my daily routine that I actually look forward to. Sure, it’s hard getting up and running on weekdays when I could be sleeping in for an extra hour and a half, but the feeling I get when I finish is worth it. I love the fact that the perfect song on my playlist can convince me to run an extra half mile, or that one simple run can turn an awful day into a great one. I am amazed that, even if the first mile of my run is rough, I can push through and feel energized and inspired by mile four. I like that the only person I have to depend on when I run is myself, and that every time I hit the pavement, I’m proving that more and more. I look forward to stopping next to my “stretching tree” at the end of every run and feeling that weird mix of exhaustion and exhilaration while I let myself finally rest. Mostly, I am so proud of everything that my own body can accomplish that I never thought it could.

Maybe I’ll be a runner for the rest of my life, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll eventually run a marathon, maybe I’ll only ever run 5Ks. I don’t know. But the important thing is that I now know I am capable of doing it, and that all it took was my mind sticking with it for me to get there. And that’s enough for me right now.

these feet were made for running.

obligatory feet pic from my first 5K at the beginning of October.

how to be a writer in 15 steps

I don’t really like to call myself a writer, because it still sounds kind of boastful to me for some reason. I haven’t yet tried to make a career out of the fruits of my labors, and I don’t know that much about what it takes to “make it” as a writer, so I have a hard time seeing myself as worthy of an actual title. But, as someone who finds solace in the power of the written word and uses it as her primary creative outlet, I’m learning to embrace the term. The creative process, however? I have yet to really embrace that as a writer. Ironically though, I had no trouble enumerating my personal writing process. So here it is, in all its distracted, self-indulgent, Generation Y glory. In order to complete a piece of writing that I actually feel proud of, these are the things I must do:

1. Brainstorm a list of topics I want to write about in a ragged old notebook I found at the bottom of my desk drawer. Even add little checkboxes next to each item, so that I can be organized and check them off the list one by one as I finish writing about them.

2. Make a pretentious playlist on Spotify that I can listen to while I write and simultaneously broadcast to my Facebook friends that I am cool and artsy because I listen to an eclectic mix of Paul Simon, Bon Iver, and Tracy Chapman.

3. Make myself a cup of coffee and drink half of it before deciding that the real inspiration I need is to get a cup of $4 French roast from my favorite coffeeshop that is a 20 minute drive away.

4. Pack up my laptop, ragged old notebook of ideas, and a handful of random gel pens from middle school and get ready to go to the coffeeshop, but in the process decide that what I really need to be productive is a new notebook and writing supplies because what kind of serious writer writes down all her ideas using a sparkly pink pen in a notebook with a Lord of the Rings collage on the front?

5. Spend $117 at Target on a new notebook, some fancy rollerball pens that will break or be lost a week later, three dresses from the clearance section that I was too lazy to try on but have a 60% chance of fitting my boobs correctly, a new pair of heels that I will wear once before I realize the reason I don’t wear heels is because they hurt and I walk like a drunk baby camel in them, some lipstick that Emma Stone told me I should buy, and some trail mix.

6. Get to the coffeeshop, order one beverage that I plan on refilling for several hours, scour the place for the perfect spot to sit, and finally settle in at a little table that is near both an outlet for my laptop charger and the bathroom, which I will visit several times due to the amount of caffeine I will consume while I’m here.

7. Open my word processor and web browser at the same time. Check my email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts so that I can focus without them distracting me later. Come across a recipe for a cake you can make in a mug, a picture of Ryan Gosling in glasses that I somehow have not seen before, and an adorable video of a hedgehog yawning that I must send to my coworkers. Spend 15 minutes composing a perfectly witty Facebook status. Check in on Foursquare so all my friends will know I’m at this specific coffeeshop, then put my phone on silent because my Justin Timberlake ringtone would definitely get some glares in this hipster-filled café.

8. Write a couple sentences, then get distracted by a guy walking by who looks like the boy I had a crush on during sophomore year of college. Look up said former crush on Facebook, click through all of his recent pictures to find that he shaved off his beard and his hair looks good short, then notice he’s in a relationship. Subsequently Facebook-stalk every boy I have ever loved to discover most of them are engaged. Start thinking about how I will die alone, then hold back my tears and order that chocolate muffin I decided against earlier, but only after checking the time to see if it is too early in the day to order a glass of wine without the barista judging me. (It is.)

9. Check the viewer statistics on my blog and wonder why I haven’t gotten many hits in the past two weeks, then realize I haven’t published any new posts in that time period. Write furiously about nothing at all and get mad at myself because everything I am writing sucks and I am no closer to publishing a new post than I was half an hour ago.

10. Send some awkward selfies to my best friends via Snapchat. Get mad when they don’t respond within five minutes. Glare at the guy sitting two tables away who totally caught me taking selfies.

11. Realize that I have to pee so badly my bladder feels like it’s going to explode. Run to the restroom, then kick myself for wearing a romper because I picked literally the most involved article of clothing when it comes to going to the bathroom. Practically rip off the buttons on my romper in my frantic, rushed effort to pee.

12. Write a little bit more, check Facebook 72 more times, find out about a sale on ModCloth, buy a retro dress that’s on sale for $45 (and some hair clips so that I can get free shipping on my order of $50 or more), and finish my fourth cup of coffee. Finally give up and drive home, with only a couple disjointed paragraphs to show for my trip.

13. Get home and change into sweatpants and an oversized tshirt I got for free a few years ago. Probably take off my bra, too, let’s be real. I’m home, you can’t judge me for that. Then kill time by watching three episodes of a TV show on Netflix and drinking 18 glasses of water to make up for all the caffeine I forced down my throat throughout the day. Pretend to clean my room, while really just moving around all the stuff on my floor into a different arrangement. Have a mini dance party to that Taylor Swift song I pretend to hate but secretly love.

14. Finally get struck by inspiration at 11:24pm, while I’m brushing my teeth, about to go to bed. Rush to my laptop and begin writing with the fervor of a small child chasing a chipmunk in the backyard. Stay up too late, slumped over my computer in bed, writing a blog entry/essay/short story that I’m actually proud of. Press “post” or “print” or “send” on said bit of writing. Sleep soundly, reveling in the power of the creative process and dreaming of eventually becoming a famous writer who has a fancy office (filled with fancy notebooks and pens) in which to get distracted and frustrated while writing . . . but who still escapes to the coffeeshop every now and then.

15. Repeat steps 1-14.

I have big boobs and I’m not afraid to use them (sometimes)

I’ve considered breaching this topic a couple of times now, but held back because A) I didn’t feel like I had any fully-formed thoughts save for a few small, internal rants that would reappear inside my head every time I wandered into the lingerie section of any department store, and B) I assumed no one would really want to read about some girl’s bra shopping frustrations. But, after spending the past few days preparing for my family’s upcoming trip to the Gulf Coast, shopping for flip flops, sunscreen, and the ever dreaded swimsuit, I’ve decided to throw caution to the wind and word vomit all over y’all about a subject very near and dear to me (quite literally). So read on, dear readers who I hope will still want to be my friends after you finish reading this post, if you care to learn anything and everything about my boobs.

I’ve had a large chest for as long as I can remember. After I hit puberty and finally started wearing “real” bras (not those weird cotton ones that are basically just half of a tank top and given to young girls who wish they could wear a bra but can’t, so they just kind of fake it), my breasts kept growing. Even after most of my teenage friends reached a plateau (ha) in their boob growth, mine seemed like they were moody teenagers who basically looked around at what everyone else was doing, flashed a proverbial middle finger, shouted “GO BIG OR GO HOME, BITCHES!” and just kept on truckin’. By the time I hit college, I had accepted that the size of my chest was my literal and metaphorical burden to bear. These boobs were my Mount Everest(s). (I didn’t realize when I started this post how many great boob puns would come out of it. Score.)

But while I accepted the burden and all the frustrations that came along with it — having to buy shirts a size bigger than normal just to accommodate the size of my chest, leaving the lingerie store feeling defeated after trying on nine different styles of bras that all did not fit correctly, never being able to wear strapless dresses without employing some kind of wizardry, etc. — I never truly embraced the curves I was given. My flat-chested friends told me how envious they were of me. Friends who also had big boobs sympathized with my frustrations. But many of them alike told me to “show it all off,” to wear dresses that displayed how well-endowed I was on top, that I would at least get some looks and maybe a couple free drinks out of it. This idea made me anxious and insecure, and any time I wore a low-cut item of clothing, I felt completely out of my comfort zone. I wore tank tops underneath my more revealing dresses, and it took me awhile to get up the courage to wear v-neck shirts. I was convinced that things that looked “normal” on other girls with “normal” sized breasts would end up looking slutty on me. Sure, women all over the place wore tube tops or push-up bras to show off what they had, but when I did it, I didn’t feel sexy, I felt like I was selling myself.

I won’t go into a full discussion on the following topic, since it’s a different subject for another time, but I couldn’t write this post without at least addressing it. I think it’s easy for women not to embrace their bodies or play up their good features and allow themselves to feel sexy because we put so much emphasis on how others perceive the way we dress. Sure, maybe there are women out there who only dress for themselves, for the way their clothes make them feel, but how many times have you heard the phrase “dress to impress”? How often do we ask for other people’s opinions on our outfits? We want affirmation from the outside that we look good. And women who do play up their good features, their boobs or their butts or their legs, and dress to feel good about themselves, are labeled for that. But since when did self-confidence equal sluttiness? How does the neckline of a woman’s shirt or the length of her skirt have anything to do with her own sexual promiscuity? This notion was obviously even at the back of my mind, a self-proclaimed progressive feminist, as I tried to hide my chest under extra layers.

Today, however, when I was out picking up a few things for my vacation (sidenote: who can ever have enough travel-sized toiletries? I spent at least 20 minutes in that aisle perusing the tiny bottles of shampoo…), I decided on a whim to try on a cute black swimsuit that caught my eye. I had already purchased a new, relatively modest — meaning that it straps the girls in pretty well — swimsuit for the trip using a good chunk of one of my spring paychecks…and I think I probably promised my firstborn child in exchange for it as well. This swimsuit was expensive, much more than I would usually consider spending on something I won’t wear every day of my life, but it was cute and had a tiny little adorable floral print on it, and if you know me, you’ll understand why I could justify selling my soul for a swimsuit because of the print. Anyway, given how expensive this first swimsuit was, I decided it would probably be good to have a cheaper backup suit, just in case the cute floral one got tragically left behind somewhere or set on fire or eaten by a sea monster or something. (I’ve been watching too much Game of Thrones. Knowing my family, it’s more likely someone will spill wine on it and I’ll never get the wine smell out.)

Like any typical, self-loathing woman, I detest swimsuit shopping. Scratch that, I hate trying clothes on at all. I think the combination of the dressing room lights, mirrors, and my tendency to find my own flaws makes for an extremely unpleasant experience no matter what the garment is. So when I entered the fitting room, I was not expecting success. I was expecting, at best, to leave the room not crying, but thinking eh, close but no cigar. It’s a wonder I even got up the lady balls to walk in there in the first place, but I did, and I when I tried on the swimsuit, my first thought upon looking in the mirror was . . . my boobs look hot in this. Not wow, my boobs look terrible. Not you look like a dirty whore in this suit. Not even oh dear god, how will you ever live with yourself if you let the rest of the world see you in this swimsuit? I looked at myself and felt good. Attractive. Maybe even sexy, although it was pretty hot outside and my eyeliner was starting to melt, so that kind of killed the overall look. Regardless, I didn’t feel like my usual fitting room pile of crap; in fact, I felt like quite the opposite, and that was big. Let me elaborate by saying this style of swimsuit is one I never would have seen in a magazine and said, “Yes, uh huh, that would look great on me, specifically my enormous boobs.” It’s the kind with a chest section that is basically two triangles of fabric and thick straps that tie behind your neck. It is what I would call a Cleavage Galore suit, and it’s the most revealing swimsuit I’ve ever worn.

So I bought it.

I bought it because sometimes the only way to feel empowered about your body is to empower yourself. This swimsuit for me was a tangible representation of finally starting to own and embrace a part of my body that I’ve been hiding for most of my adult life. I’m not going to let myself be afraid of showing a little skin sometimes. No, I’m not going to go all Real Housewives of New Jersey all of a sudden and start wearing tight, cleavage-displaying leopard print tops on a daily basis — I obviously know how to dress modestly for the workplace, and I still like feeling comfortable in my baggy sweaters and flannel on the weekends. But I’m going to be less afraid of feeling sexy and letting my boobs look good. And okay, I realize this swimsuit isn’t going to change my entire self image in one day. I mean, I’m really only going to be wearing it on a low traffic beach in Florida for a week, but I’m going to wear it and know that doing so does not make me a slut. This is a big step for me and my boobs, and I think it’s (finally!) going to be the start of a beautiful friendship.