Tag Archives: identity

Best Laid Plans – Career

Pablo 1

I’ve spent a lot of time lately reevaluating where I am and what I want out of life.  What I want hasn’t changed much, but I have come to some conclusions.  I fully realize how close I am to having and creating the life I want.  I am so incredibly close.

Career –

So much revolves around my career.  I still intend to be a teacher, business owner, and writer – just not all at once.

My focus at the moment is teaching.  I am looking for a full-time teaching position for next year.  I don’t care much if it is Spanish, social studies, or business.  I already know how I’d set up my classroom and how I would organize, generally, my classes.  That is half the battle, right?

I also plan to look into teaching online.  While I don’t want to teach online my entire career, it might be a good way to get started.  There are so many possibilities at the moment.  I will land somewhere.

As for the canoe  livery, I am hoping Dad finally retires – or at least loosens up a bit.  I love the canoe livery – and it will always be a part of who I am.  I like where we are going.  I don’t know how much more we can change and grow until Dad retires.

I don’t want to lose sight of our primary business – rentals – and yet, I want to add to the experience.  Ultimately, we are in a pretty good place.  I am grateful that my brother Garrett (i.e. my future business partner) and I have similar ideas as to how we plan to expand the business.

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Then we come to writing.  My writing goals are long-term and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  The other day I had a phone conversation with a family friend I’ve known most, if not all, my life.  It involved the donation of a river trip.  She then told me how much she enjoys reading my blog.  Next, she asked if I planned to write for publication.

The question itself caught me slightly off-guard.  Yes, I do intend to pursue publication at some point, but not in the immediate future.  It isn’t that I am completely putting my writing on hold – in fact, I’ve been writing every day, just not for public consumption – I am not making a career out of it at this point.

I need time and space to hone my skills and let my vision evolve.  Over the years, it already has.  There are many smaller projects to work on in the meantime.  I have no shortage of inspiration – and that is a wonderful thing.  I love the fact that I can use Good Drive for my planning and have access wherever I go.

This post, borne out of the idea that it might be helpful to explore what I’d like my life to look like over the next few years, is a good example of how my brain works when I write.  One idea expands into something much larger.  Instead of one simple blog post, I now have a series of posts on my hands.

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The Lost Generation

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No, I am not talking about the generation that came of age during World War I, although we share many characteristics with that generation.  I am talking about my own generation, those of use who came of age in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001.  Specifically, I am talking about the Xennial microgeneration born roughly between 1977 and 1983 (1980 here).  In my opinion, we are indeed a lost generation.

There are efforts to do away with this microgeneration altogether.  It is needed.  I don’t fully identify with Gen Xers or Millennials.  I have characteristics of both and want to be associated with neither.  Many people in my age bracket agree.

Zennial

So much of it has to do with technology and economics.  Most Gen Xers didn’t experience much if anything that the internet and cell phones had to offer until adulthood.  They largely had an analog childhood.  Millennials don’t remember life without either.  Xennials, on the other hand, grew up right along with the changes.  Millennials, by and large, had a digital experience growing up.

Economically, Gen Xers didn’t have it easy coming on the heels of Baby Boomers.  Eventually most were able to take their place at the table, even if they rebelled at first.  Millennials were still young enough during the tech boom and bust cycle, as well as the recession that followed September 11th, that they were able to use those experiences, often felt by parents, to make different economic and career choices.  We Xennials were caught in the crossfire just as we were preparing for and beginning our careers.  Just as we were trying to recover and establish ourselves, the Great Recession of 2008 hit.  Many of us have never fully recovered.  My story is a great example of this.  Unfortunately, I have always known that I am far from alone.

Nothing prepared Xennials for any of it.  We grew up in a time of great economic expansion during the 1980s and 1990s.  Of course we did!  Baby Boomers were just coming into their careers and purchasing power.  They were raising young families:  the kids that would eventually make up Gen X, Xennials, and even some older Millennials.  In the end, it would not last – and our parents, mainly Baby Boomers, often didn’t have the experience to help us.

Baby Boomers are an odd group.  I say that with love and affection because my parents, aunts, uncles, and countless friends are all Boomers.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t a quirky bunch, especially when it comes to money.  For example, even though most Boomers found some measure of economic and career success, they are thrifty almost to a fault.  They think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on vacations, renovations, and more, but quibble over the price of off-brand ketchup.

When it comes down to it, they can’t help it.  They were by and large raised by the Greatest Generation, which experienced most if not all the Great Depression and then the sacrifices of World War II.  It may seem ridiculous to us Xennials, but those penny-pinching habits of our grandparents became a part of our parents’ DNA, no matter the economic circumstances they experienced themselves.

I often think about how my own parents started their adult lives, and I can’t help but think of how different the times were.  I wonder if my generation could replicate it.  That’s largely the problem.  We haven’t been afforded the opportunity to truly take our place at the economic and career tables.  Our careers and economic lives remain on hold, although that is slowly changing.

Instead, retirement for our parents keeps getting pushed back.  We faced absurd college tuition costs while being told that a traditional four-year degree (at least) is the only way forward when it isn’t the answer for everyone.  The housing and stock markets crashed just as many of us were about to get our careers going and buy our first homes.  Instead, we put off marriage and starting families of our own.  In some cases, our lives are still on hold.

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Younger Millennials and the generation after all had the opportunity to adjust to new circumstances and realities.  We Xennials did not.  We seemed to be perpetually at the wrong place at the absolute worst time.  That is why we continue to struggle.  The rules appeared to change just as we adjusted to the last set.  I hope we aren’t completely overshadowed by our parents and Millennials, much in the same way the Silent Generation was largely eclipsed by the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

While I still consider us a “lost” generation, I don’t think we need to wander forever.  But oh, how I wish we still had the guidance and wisdom of the Greatest Generation!  There were so many lessons yet to be learned.

Lost

Why I Write

hand write open notebook mockup

Why do I write?  There are many reasons, but the best one I can think of is for my own peace of mind.  Over the last month or so, I have finally started writing daily – just for myself.  It grounds me in a way I can’t fully explain.

In addition to journaling daily, I also started using 750 words again.  There are rumors that Margaret Atwood mentioned 750 words in her masterclass on creative writing.  Personally, I love it.  I joined 750 words approximately two years ago, and I am finally starting to use it daily.  I use it to spill everything out onto the page, nothing more.  I let my mind wander and go from topic to topic.

Getting the garbage out of the way helps.  It doesn’t matter if I write in my traditional journal before or after I write my 750 words entry for the day.  I am much more focused.  When I sit down to write a blog post, I am not nearly as distracted by random thoughts.

Journaling, I only write approximately a page a day.  It isn’t 750 words, but I usually have something to say that is focused on my inner life or events going on that grab my attention.  I finally found a type and size of journal that works for me.

There is a difference writing on a laptop versus writing pen on paper.  I do both daily, no matter what type of writing.  For example, I may write a blog post during lunch or conference hour.  I then type, edit, and then post it when I get home.  Allowing myself some flexibility really helped.  I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write in 750 words or my journal every day.  I am beginning to feel “off” if don’t write at least something each day.

Margaret Atwood

It comes down to finding what worked for me.  I am in the middle of reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I love it – and I don’t want to rush it.  So far, I tend to agree with her.  There is a need to process whatever is on one’s mind before writing something for public consumption.  It doesn’t have to be done that way, but it tends to make the entire process easier.  Writing Down the Bones is a collection of essays on writing, and my favorite so far discusses the tools of the trade.  She talks about how we get all too caught up in fancy journals (so guilty, just ask my ex!) and being afraid of writing garbage in something so beautiful.  She makes the case for using cheap one-subject notebooks and just filling them.

This gave me the idea of decorating a binder and filling it with loose-leaf notebook paper.  It works like a charm!  If I completely screw up, I just start over.  I have something with a good aesthetic, but I am not worried about permanently wrecking a notebook.  For me, it is the best of all worlds, and this simple change made me much more productive.  Natalie stresses this principal throughout Writing Down the Bones:  Find what works for you.  I couldn’t agree more.  With my notebook, journal, laptop, Chromebook, and Android phone, I am set.  That isn’t to mention Google Docs, Google Drive, and 750 words.  I never have an excuse not to write or read.  More on Writing Down the Bones to come.

Girl at station

“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

Robert Service
Sometimes a novel ends up giving me the worst case of wanderlust. That is precisely what happened with The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The Alaskan wilderness itself comes across loud and clear as a distinctive character. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of how Alaska changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. These descriptions were normally accomplished through Leni’s observations. It is this Alaska in all of its forms that I plan to visit one day.
It just so happens that I read the novel in the midst of a severe winter weather crisis that affected most of Michigan. Something about being housebound for a few days added to my enjoyment of The Great Alone. I kept telling myself “at least it isn’t as bad as winter in Alaska. At least I have power and indoor plumbing.” It made me feel better about my circumstances and helped me to empathize with the characters to some extent.
The characters throughout are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Leni’s view of the world, her love of Matthew, and the protectiveness she exhibits towards her mother Cora. Ernst, Leni’s father, is, of course, a complex character designed to make us uncomfortable and question what we know about family dynamics. He largely drives the plot, and he is the reason why the Allbright moved to the Alaskan wilderness from Seattle in the first place.

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Secondary characters that I particularly enjoyed were Large Marge, Mr. Walker, Geneva Walker, and Matthew. Even though Geneva Walker does not play a large role in the novel, her presence is felt until the end. Matthew’s tenacity, dedication, and love for the women in his life is exemplary. Mr. Walker seems to try to hold it all together under the worst circumstances. He even expands his business in the process. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit.
Then there is Large Marge. She makes it her business to know all that goes on in Kaneq. What may seem to be simple nosiness elsewhere may just save a life in wild Alaska. Her steady presence tends to help make everything right, even in the face of the worst situations. She knows how to handle just about anything. In many ways, I want to be like Large Marge when I grow up.
I largely focused on the characterization in this novel simply because I don’t want to give away much. The novel is definitely action driven. I will leave it at that. If you are looking for a solid adventure novel, this is it. In my opinion, it has the right balance of description and action. In the end, I truly cared about the characters – or at least most of them. I would recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Warning: The discussion questions include spoilers!
As a side note, I read this for the Standish-Sterling Book Club. This is very much the type of book I would hope I’d discover on my own eventually. You can find discussion questions for The Great Alone here.

Great Alone

Book Review: “The Stage is on Fire” by Katie Steedly

The Stage is on Fire Book Cover

It isn’t often that a book comes along and grabs you by the jugular.  Katie Steedly’s The Stage is on Fire did just that.  At the same time, I’ve struggled to write this review in the weeks since I finished the book.  I related to and adored the first two-thirds of the book.  The last third left me angry and upset, which I will get to later.  While I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the book, there are certain people I feel need to read the book, namely girls and women with Turner Syndrome.  Actually, I would recommend it to anyone struggling to find their place in the world.  That said, it is not for everyone.

Let me start with what’s working.  Almost immediately, Katie’s voice struck me as authentic and powerful.  She writes spirituality well, and never gives up on her quest to find her place in the world and create her own definition of home.  In the book, Katie details several moves across the country, her experiences in academia – good and bad, and her experience participating in the study of women and girls with Turner Syndrome at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC.  Turner Syndrome aside, I couldn’t help but relate to Katie throughout the book.

I am still in awe when I think of just how much Katie and I have in common.  We both taught at some point.  We are both writers.  Both of us have moved across country to pursue new opportunities and a new life.  In addition, both of us struggled with the idea of home and family at various times.  I could go on and on.  In the end, this is why I felt so disappointed in the ending.  It seemed to unnecessarily divide people.

There are several things that stood out and continue to stand out in the book.

  1. Her first teaching experience did not end well – hence the title of the book. Oh, I can relate.  In Katie’s case, she took the opportunity to further her education, eventually landing at the University of Texas in Austin.  She did what everyone needs to do when facing failure:  Get back up and try again.  She does this many, many times throughout the book, always seeking something more.
  2. She captures the journey to find our place in the world, peace, and meaning in life beautifully. I may not agree with her completely when it comes to religion, but I can fully relate to her need to explore what religion and spirituality mean to her.
  3. It took incredible courage for her to participate in the National Institute of Health study. It is much more intense and in depth than I ever dreamed.  Her description of what she felt emotionally while having an ultrasound knowing she will likely never experience pregnancy will stay with me.  I only wish I had written it.  Even though I experienced many of those same emotions as a child when I had an ultrasound, I wasn’t mature enough to fully express them at the time.  Now, as an adult, the fact that those feelings have been so beautifully put into words is a true gift.
  4. Did I mention courage? During her time in Austin, Katie decided to walk/jog a marathon.  A marathon.  Prior to this, there is not much mention of any athletics in the book on her part.  She is much more interested in drama, writing, and education.  Yet, she did it.  She accomplished the goal she set for herself, even if it was out of her element.

Oh, and dating.  It is worth mentioning.  Katie is far more adventurous in the dating  world than I will ever be.  At the time, she had yet to meet the right man.  I get the impression that that may have changed.  Her determination to not give up on love is inspirational – and something I desperately needed to read.

There is so much more in the book, but I will leave it for readers to discover.  It is important to note that the book is written as a series of essays.  I believe they are largely in chronological order.  Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much.  Katie clearly grows throughout the entire book, as does her definition of home.  It may seem to be a small point, but I wish the formatting of the Kindle edition included a full title page between essays.  Instead, they include small titles similar to chapter titles at the very top of the page.  In fact, in writing this review, I had to check my Kindle version to see if each essay included a title at all. Each essay stands alone so beautifully, it is a shame that this feature of the book isn’t more prominently displayed.

Now to discuss what isn’t working.  Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the last third of the book at all.  I almost put it down.  It became far too political for my tastes.  It is one thing to pick up a book on politics, knowing what you are about to read, it is quite another to dive in head first after reading a seemingly different book in the beginning.  I get why she wrote about politics.  It became an important part of her life at that point in time.  I don’t believe it was handled very well.  I left feeling as though she couldn’t even begin to understand anyone who didn’t agree with her politically, which is truly unfortunate.  No one has a monopoly on political truth.  No one.  I wish it had been handled with more care and less judgement.  I get the feeling that Katie would be the last person to think of herself as judgmental, but that is how the political aspect of the book comes across, whether that was her intention or not.

Politics aside, I am happy I read the book.  I am grateful that Katie can connect emotionally with people through her writing.  Her writing is just beginning to teach me how to express what I thought impossible.  For that, I am truly grateful.  I love the fact that I can annotate and highlight my Kindle version of The Stage is on Fire.  I will be coming back to it as I continue to write.  You can find her website and blog here.

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Happiness

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I am not quite sure what shifted in my life over the past few months, but I can feel it.  I am happier than I have been in years.  It makes no sense on the surface.  This summer, quite frankly, I was miserable beyond words, and now, I am far from it.

Nothing major changed.  I am still single (more on that later), I am only slightly closer to starting the family I so desperately want, and my dad still hasn’t fully retired from the canoe livery.  My teaching career is not yet off the ground, and I am not yet a published author.  It just doesn’t matter that much anymore.  I am working toward the items I listed above, with one notable exception:  a relationship.

In fact, finally letting go of the idea that I should be in a relationship may be responsible for my new-found happiness – and my renewed focus.  After finally fully addressing my feelings for one man in particular and letting him know exactly how I feel (it wasn’t going to work), I just didn’t care anymore.

It isn’t that I am completely giving up on the idea of ever being in a relationship.  No, it is more than that.  Maybe I am finally learning that there is nothing stopping me from what I want out of life.  I know what it is like to be in an awful relationship, how destructive it can be, and how it can slowly erode over time without one even realizing it until it is far too late.  I also know what it is like to continually wonder if you should let your true feelings be known.  In this case, this person’s friendship meant so much to me that I did not want to jeopardize it.  That is what I feared most:  that he would no longer be a part of my life.

For the first time in 15 years – actually, most of my adult life – I am not in a relationship nor do I necessarily want to be in one.  There is no one in my life I would like to date, and I am fine with it.  Finally.

So far, my little “yes” experiment has been a success.  You can read more about it here.  There is so much to do and so little time.

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Saying Yes

great things

Over the last few years, many plans I made did not come to pass.  For example, last year I didn’t attend the annual Mid-Michigan Writers’ retreat.  I made a point to do so this year.  Last year, when a good friend moved to nearby Gladwin, I suggested we meet up and spend some time in her new town.  A year later, we finally did just that.  I need to do … more.  More of what makes me happy, more of what matters.  A little over a week ago, I made last minute plans to spend the weekend with my mom, aunt,  and my sister and her family to attend a memorial service for one of my great uncles.  I ended up getting to see members of my family that I haven’t seen in years.  I made wonderful memories with my sister, aunt, mom, and nephews. What if I had missed that?  It made me realize that I need to make time for the people that matter in my life.

Every year, I seem to get into the Christmas spirit later and later.  If I am honest, I tend to get depressed right before Christmas.  It always seems to be a combination of things, including the fact that my birthday is the week before.  No matter how hard I try, I tend to fall into a funk.  It is overwhelming, it is emotional, and it tends to highlight just how vastly different my life is from everyone else’s in my family.  The thing is, somehow, I tend to snap out it once the festivities get going around December 23rd.  I am convinced the antidote is simply more:  plan more time with family, start new traditions, get an earlier start on decorations, maybe bake (I can’t believe I just wrote that).  Do it all.

None of this, of course, is an original idea.  Heck, there is an entire book called Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes (yes, that Shonda Rhimes) that describes what can happen to your life by embracing this idea.  I haven’t read it yet, but I will soon.  I am already taking the idea to heart.  We will see where it goes!  There are many possibilities and many events on the horizon.  Stay tuned!

Saying No