Making Laughter Out of Life or, How Much do Millennials not Give a $h!t?

I have a deck of transformational cards where each card uses a parable or story to highlight an empowering attribute. Lately, I’ve been picking at random one per day and meditating on it. This morning’s was “Laughter”. The parable was of the three laughing saints, who, no matter where they went, brought smiles to the people around them. In the market place, they turned greed into warm chuckles and manipulation into a shared, happy moment. Even in death, the saints had placed fireworks in their clothes so when they were burned on the traditional pyres, their funerals turned into a festivals of celebration.

What does this have to do with Millennial selfishness? First, I’d like to dismiss (yes, dismiss) this negative and rather unfair stereotype. Millennials are often seen as carefree, vain, and money-driven, but this is despite trillions of dollars of student debt, pressure to achieve monetary success in life amidst rising costs (including those for mental healthcare), and polarized political and social landscapes. Second, writing as one Millennial to others, I’d like to empower myself and others to break – BREAK THE CHAINS THAT BIND YOUUUU – just kidding, break free from the intense pressures we face.

My grandmother told me a couple years ago as I was sharing about some of my future college and career plans, shaking her head all the while, that she really felt bad for people my age because, “after school we easily had a job and didn’t have to worry about all of that stuff.” And it’s true.

And meanwhile, Millennials have the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are the generation that is supposed to eradicate hunger, save the economy, and live on Mars. A bit of a double standard, perhaps? I’m not saying we won’t be able to accomplish all this, but the pressure to “be adults” certainly isn’t helping us get there. Ingenuity and creative solutions are spurred on by a positive outlook.

And meanwhile, we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are the generation that is supposed to eradicate poverty, save the economy, and live on Mars.

We’ve been tasked with immense humanitarian missions in the face of near infinite evidence of a world that far too frequently places greater value on earning money than on the people working for the money. We struggle under the weight of a slowly resurging economy, where even jobs in the “humanitarian/development” sector are doubtful that they help anyone (see the numerous critiques on the United Nations or Clinton Foundation), and that one uncle who always asks why on earth you’re getting a liberal arts degree.

Let’s go back to the parable.

I was convicted this morning of taking life way too seriously. Of giving too many shits. Of not being carefree ENOUGH. Why? Because when I start focusing on all the crap I just wrote above, I stop focusing on the positives. On the possibilities. On my potential.

Life can be a crippling series of challenging events. It can also be an empowering, safe place filled with relationships with wonderful people. These two options often happen simultaneously.

They say laughter is the best medicine. When we start getting well, start feeling better about ourselves, and start being a little more carefree, we are way better at solving life’s and the world’s biggest problems. Feeling guilty and entitled about our 21st century privilege (and other types of privilege) does not help reduce inequality and injustice.

Oh, and the Google search as the featured photo above? It’s real, and I googled it last week. #screenshot.

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Inauguration 2017

I doubt the political views I hold are a mystery.

This inauguration day, I am not be watching our new commander-in-chief get sworn in. Maybe that’s politically irresponsible. I won’t be marching anywhere. Maybe that makes me an armchair activist.

On election day, multiple people messaged me that they supported me and loved me, and apologized for our country’s choice. On election day, my roommate bought me a knife. On election day, my friends cried for fear of their own lives and fear for others.

Election day was exhausting, and on inauguration day, everything begins, it’s official, a presidency that has condoned homophobia, transphobia, racism, islamophobia, misogyny and countless other harmless attitudes begins. For the next four years, we’re in a full war for our rights and the rights of others, and to maintain the values we claim to be founded on.

Maybe that’s an overaction. I hope so. I hope everyone that thinks it’s an overaction will be just as horrified as I am if it turns out not to be. A rise in hate crimes against Islamic Americans began after the election. I hope that these things get recognized, and when everyone who thought our fears were over the top finds out they weren’t, they intend on not allowing to happen everything they said never would.

Whatever happens, I anticipate an emotional and difficult four years.

So this inauguration day, my boyfriend came to visit, and we’re getting drunk this weekend, and we’re not going to worry about LGBT laws or supreme court appointments. If I’m worrying, it’ll be about my thesis and college applications.

I admire everyone’s efforts. I’m giving myself a weekend, manufactured calm before the storm.

Book Review — The Vegetarian

Being the longtime crunchie veggie that I am, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian was a must read. The drama-inducing and rather sensual, dark purple book cover piqued my curiosity. Don’t be fooled by the title; Cowspiracy it is not. This story has everything to do with social normativity and very little to do with food, animal rights, or the environment. So don’t let the title dissuade you, you guiltless meat eaters and those of the omnivore persuasion.

The protagonist is a petite South Korean lady, Yeong-hye, a rather unremarkable wife and homemaker. She transforms from meat-eater to strict vegan, mirroring her growth from submissive housewife to taboo-and-general-social-expectations-rule-breaker. What she eats and wears are just a physical and external manifestations of this internal change. This does not go over well with her family, and here the conflict of the story is born.

What was the trigger? Embarrassment. And discomfort. The husband and family were embarrassed because the people with opinions that mattered to them (aka people who represented and were a part of society) were uncomfortable. Yeong-hye’s dress and actions made those people feel uncomfortable. Eventually, her family member’s embarrassment turned to fear. They feared that they wouldn’t move up in the world, climb that social ladder, and check the boxes of “success”. Yeong-hye’s choice to forego wearing a bra at a nice business dinner made the other members of the party uncomfortable, and that negative response sparked the husband’s fear of being passed up for promotion. Apparently that feeling alone was enough to justify asking her to change, to not be herself, and to ignore her convictions.

While the story is certainly centered around Yeong-hye, much of the content is written from other characters’ perspectives and follows their own inner turmoil. To contrast her personal growth, her sister’s husband is there as a male counterpart, mirror, and antithesis. Yeong-hye denies herself anything coming from an animal, to lessen her guilt (from a recurring and condemning nightmare about animal death) her impact on other living creatures, and to reduce her ego and her self. The unnamed husband comes up with reasons to indulge his passions, particularly one fantasy of body painting and sleeping with Yeong-hye. For the sake of art, or perhaps for the sake of his rightful personal pleasure. Whatever will be sufficient justification in his own mind to do the dirty deed. If it were not for lying and his generally distasteful approach, the sister’s husband could even be empathized with and his selfish nature overlooked.

[Trigger Warning: sexual abuse beyond this point. Avoid strikethrough text to avoid this content should you want to read on. This section also contains the portion of the review that reveals major events and the ending of the novel.]

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Planning for Success in 2017

What are you planning for 2017? Really, tell me everything. I think it’s more than you think.

I am finishing my undergraduate degree, including the completion of three research projects, completing graduate apps and entering a grad program, likely moving for that grad program, running my online business and hopefully expanding, running this blog consistently, and beginning wedding planning. On top of that, I want to restart a meditation routine and a workout schedule.

Most people my age seem to be doing just as much. We want to have it all, and we’ve spent a lot of energy believing we can shove it all into the day. Not only that, we need to do a hell of a lot of it to gain education, generate income, and pay loans.

How do you plan on keeping on top of it? You probably don’t. I know I plan on turning into a sobbing wreck and having multiple breakdowns from responsibility overload. But I sure do have a plan for getting it done. My method is via a planning method called bullet journaling.

What is a bullet journal?

If you have been on studyblr or in planning communities, you have probably heard of bullet journaling. The BuJo community has become a little cult of its own and I am absolutely a member because the fact is, it works for me.

Why?

Before I expect you to bear my continued ramblings on my setup for this year, I do plan on telling you why I think this system is great for the frazzled, over-achieving yet forgetful, scatterbrained perfectionist procrastinating overworked mess that I know half of us are.

The advantage of this planner is a running, constant list of everything you need to have done, all in one place. From the start of the month, you make a list of everything that you want to get done that month. Then each day, either the night before or in the morning, you can review and list everything you need to get done that day, and migrate tasks from the monthly page. Throughout the day you can write down anything you think of or find out about during the course of the day. As you migrate tasks day by day you will see the things you are ignoring every day, and be forced to reflect and either decide how you will get it done, or decide that it is not worth doing.

If you need to make a plan for any specific goal, you have a book of blank pages to plot out a plan on. You have empty pages for any list you need, specifically, like books to read, assignment due dates, thesis writing plans, application process tracker, or whatever specific project you need all in one place. Essentially, it is a planner with the room and emptiness to fill with whatever you need day by day, rather than plotting and erasing and replanning in a traditional dated planner.

Year at a Glance

Before I start showing pictures I just want to say that my BuJo isn’t perfect. My lines are wobbly and there are a ton of accidental mispellings, not leaving enough room, writing the wrong date, etc, etc, in this. The community at large (yes my friends, there’s a planner community!) seems to have an obsession with perfection and while I do admit to a certain level of dissatisfaction with my mistakes, getting hung up on not being completely perfect will complete destroy the entire point of this freeform planning system.

Now, on with the show!

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Here is my half-filled year. This page is for really important dates, like holidays or birthdays or graduation. One glance let’s you know how full any given month is. I can look at this and know I best get everything I need done before May hits. But where do you put your appointments? There’s not enough room for all my plans, Danny, my life is a constant stream of responsibility! Not to worry my friend, that is not what this page is for. We can mosey on forward to my next page….

Calendex

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What the hell is a calendex? Well, it’s explained here and here, but what it basically is an index of all your events. Those links include pictures of filled out calendexes to help you understand my blank one. My calendex will let me know where I wrote down event information, so that I can write it on any page when I hear about it, then record that page in the proper date here so that when later I have to check what I’m doing that month/week/day, I can see I have an event. Again, you may be seeing a trend; your information is not all written out anywhere yet. Don’t worry. I’ve got you.

Monthly Setup

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Ah, the month. This is the first page that you will finally have a list of all your events. At the start of your month, check your year at a glance and carry over any holidays. Then, check your calendex and use it to fill out other events. Here you have a master task list to dump all things you want to complete in the month, right beside your events to (hopefully) make you consider how much time you really have. I personally include a gratitude-a-day section to add some positivity to my hell, and a budget section to help with my horrible awareness of my own expenditures.

Weekly Setup

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Here, we find the real heart of the journal. Everything else is practicality, to allow this portion to work. Carry over any monthly to-dos to this week if you want to get them done. Everything else I have on this page is just fluff that makes me happy; the real value is that date header, Monday, January 2nd, 2017.

This is what a bullet journal makes you do. At night the day before, or right in the morning, you write down the date. Then you write in any events you need to be aware of. Then you make a to-do list. Carry items over from weekly (or leave them in weekly to get done any time in the week that you find time). Subdivide bigger tasks into a specific to-do for that day. This list is everything you need for TODAY and only TODAY.

If you are like me, it won’t all get done. But with the bullet journal, all of your events, your monthly tasks, your weekly tasks, and your unfinished todo list for today are in one place, they aren’t getting lost. Anything that still needs to get done gets moved forward to tomorrow’s today. You carry over any monthly or weeklies that you want. You cross out tasks that no longer need to get accomplished (or, once you’ve carried them over five times, you accept that you just aren’t going to do them). Your work schedule, class schedule, doctor’s appointments, parties, homework assignments, wedding tasks, workout routines, all sit here.

And that’s not even the best part of this.

The best part is that in the beginning, you set up a table of contents. So when this constant running to-do list is working great for you, but you really need a place to list those books you want to read, you turn to a fresh page, write them down, then record where you put that list. Every single thing your over-achieving yet procrastinating and forgetful self wants to get done is in one, easily referenced book.

It’s the most personal planner you’ll ever have, and we’re all living crazy lives with 20 different goals and 50 different responsibilities. None of it fits in a standard planner, none of it can be planned into an already dated planner, and none of it will get remembered on scattered lists or a frazzled brain. This method puts it together so you can get it done. And every time you make your list, every day, you sit and think about what is to come, what you got done, and what you can get done, making you actively aware of all of it, and refining your ability to recognize your priorities and assess your goals.

 

 

Why I’m Not Doing New Year’s 2017

For the last two years, I have been journaling pretty much every day or every other day. I have two “books” written, filled with general ramblings, drunken lectures to myself, and random chocolate bar wrappings. What started as figuratively barfing my feelings onto a page became that and so much more. It has become the way I describe and memorialize the world around me as I perceive it. It is empowering to rewrite the day and focus on what I want to focus on. The good, the bad, whatever it is, I can change how I feel about the day, and thus what happened, by what I write down. By how I write it down. The word choice and phrasing changes the attitude, connotation, and feelings I have about otherwise objective events. This kind of power is serious business.

Which is why, on this New Year’s Eve, I’m not going to write a damn thing.

There is so much pressure to have the perfect New Year’s goals and to get on the right track to revamping one’s life. Last year at this time, I was sitting down and planning my life and even setting daily goals (such as having a fresh juice a day, which lasted until mid-March). Which was fine! Planning is a vital aspect of reaching any goal. Go me. But the fact is, virtually nothing I planned actually happened. Did you read that? Probably 90% of my life this year I had absolutely no ability to foresee. Precog I am not.

What does this have to do with journaling? Well, tonight I felt stressed. I was stressed because amidst lots of back-to-back travel, little sleep, and too many lovely adventures to process all at once, I have not journaled in about a week. And I felt guilty.

“Oh no! I haven’t set any goals!? I have no resolutions and I did not even realize it was New Year’s Eve and it is 9p.m.?! Clearly, I am failing,” said Natalie’s brain and inner monologue.

But I do not need to feel bad or guilty or less-than. New Year’s resolutions and goal-setting are potentially helpful tools. Renewal and rejuvenation coming out of winter is a time-tested process practiced by our ancestors for generations. And clearly since our species is still around, it works pretty well. But just like most other now-secular events, we ascribe an inordinate amount of power to something that does not deserve it.

New Year’s is a multi-million dollar endeavor just on fireworks alone. An entire industry is built around getting you to buy gym memberships and addiction breaking tapes to get that resolution checked off. Health and wellness websites post loads of helpful articles on all the things that you need to do to get those resolutions right. The more concentrated the timeframe for these ads is, the more pressure you feel and likelihood you’ll buy [into it].

But let’s face it, this is a stressful and not so great time for many people to hit that reset button. Modern life does not revolve around only one part of the world’s seasonal changes and structure. The highs and lows of weather and work do not align with the western New Year’s day. Forcing it upon the entire world is not helping a pretty big group of people. In my case, I’m in 90 degree weather and in the middle of a couple projects. Now is not my ideal time to “renew”. My natural rhythm is not now, but in a couple months.

So I’m urging myself to let go of any pressure, guilt, or remorse. If now is a good time for some of you to reflect and reset, then do it. I wish you all the best and success. However, for anyone and everyone else, feel free to let this holiday float by you with a contented “whoosh” sound.

I do not need to journal my year and write out everything I want to accomplish in 2017. When I need to reevaluate my goals and set new intentions, the pages and pen will be there. There is power to my pen and the more I give it, the less stress-reducing benefit I receive. The more I rely on social calendars, the less I listen to my own inner timing.

Go have an awesome beginning to 2017, no matter how you start it.