A Life In Death

This short story was part of the Short Fiction Winter Writing contest 2016 for ShortFictionbreak.com. The assigned theme was “between two worlds”. 

“I’m glad you got back safe. You guys didn’t have to help with the move.” Lauren said over the phone as she walked through her empty apartment.

“Don’t be ridiculous, of course we did! Anyway, let us know how your first day goes. We are proud of you!” her mother said before hanging up.

 After an exhaustive month-long interview process Lauren was going to begin her new job at a tech-start up in Manhattan. She was glad for this important step in her career and happy to be in New York, but like all of her successes, joy was undercut by an inescapable sense of obligation imparted by her high achieving and high earning family.

Prior to them coming to New York to help her move it had been a few months since she’d been around her family. She forgot the hold they had on her

“You’re a little bloated dear. Are you watching what you eat?” Her mother commented at brunch yesterday. So Lauren hadn’t eaten a bite. Opting for champagne and cigarettes instead. She forgot about that resigned, pathetic feeling that washes over her when she acquiesced.

With her parents back in Illinois and only two weeks left before starting her new job, she was going to enjoy herself.

Nina was the first person Lauren called as soon as she accepted the job offer. They made plans to meet and Lauren had been looking forward to it for weeks. Nina and Lauren went to Bowdoin together. They had mutual college friends in New York, but as they grew older were more distant with them than with each other.

“Did I tell you how happy I ‘am that you’re finally here?” Nina said as she gave Lauren a tight hug. Nina wore a fashionable jumpsuit with heels. She looked effortlessly elegant and stood out in the casual bar they decided on.

“I bumped into my ex, Alan yesterday.” Lauren said as she put down her glass of wine.

“He’s insufferable!” Nina rolled her eyes. Lauren always got the impression that Nina never liked Alan, or anyone else she dated.

“He seemed okay. I mean, pompous as ever but nice enough.” Lauren said. 

“He works at the Times now. Did he mention that? Nina asked.

“He sure did!” Lauren said with a laugh. Was Nina making fun of Alan out of possessive jealousy?

She quickly changed the subject. “Another bottle?” Asked Nina.

“Yes!” Lauren was glad for their friendship. She would’ve had to make an effort to reconnect with the Bowdoin group and she couldn’t stand the thought. Half of them were snobs and the others who didn’t come from highly educated wealthy backgrounds were working hard to impress one another.

Almost through their second bottle, Lauren returned from the restroom to find Nina leaning over the bar, chatting with the bartender. Lauren wanted to leave just then.

“I think I’m gonna head back. It’s been a long day for me.”

“Everything okay?” Asked Nina.

“Just tired.” Lauren responded with a quick smile.

Nina went to grab her wallet and Lauren stopped her.

“This was fun.” Lauren whispered to Nina as she hugged her goodbye. Her hair smelled lovely. Lemon verbena.

Nina was everything to Lauren. For years she struggled between envying and admiring her. Until she came to terms that she had been in love with her. Now that they were in the same city, the proximity made her nervous.

“Quit romanticizing the friendship.” Lauren would constantly remind herself.

Nina wouldn’t ever want Lauren the way she wanted her to. A few physical encounters during your college years don’t mean love. Exposing her true feelings to Nina could end badly and besides, what would her family think? 

She thought she would have grown to be free of her family’s expectations by now, yet there she was, doing precisely what they wanted. Lauren had stopped hoping for an untethered future. The melancholy she often felt was now insouciance.

Back at her new building Lauren gave a friendly wave to the doorman and took the elevator to the seventh floor. Lauren struggled to open her apartment door. The exhaustion of the weekend-long move coupled with wine made her clumsy. A man, one of her new neighbors perhaps, walked by and asked if she was okay.

“Just new to the building. Have to get used to this door.” She responded without looking up from the lock.

He came back toward Lauren but she didn’t turn to face him in time. She was struck on the head with something metallic. There was a flash of light followed by searing pain.

When she finally came to, she saw faces hovering over her. A couple was screaming. She felt footsteps through the hall moving quickly away. The woman held Lauren saying. “It’s okay, we’re going to get help.” Lauren was tired. The brightly lit hallway became warm around her and then it fell away to a cloudy sky pierced by tree limbs.

She was in her family’s backyard. It was raining hard but it quickly stopped and the sun lit up the grass and dried it instantly. What was happening?  She saw herself as a toddler. She held a little girl in her arms.

“Who are you going to be now?” the tiny child asked.

How can a toddler speak so clearly? “I don’t know.” Lauren answered.

Lauren pulled the child closer to her. She was smaller now, an infant. She had to protect her.

The ground under them rose up over the house and Lauren heard an ice cream truck jingle growing louder. “I want to go hear the music! I want to follow it” Said the baby in her arms.

The land beneath them became a slide that brought them back down to the yard but now her family was there posing for the annual Christmas card photo. They wouldn’t catch the truck in time now.

“You are late Lauren!” Scolded her mother, grabbing Lauren hard by the arm causing the baby to fall away. She couldn’t catch her, she was gone.

Lauren was weeping, on her hands and knees looking for the baby that fell and vanished. Distracted in her search she then crawled directly into a city bench, banging her forehead on the cold metal. She looked up to see Nina sitting on the bench with the bartender she was flirting with that night. He had his arm around her. She held up her left hand to show off a ring.

“We’re married.” She said, looking down at Lauren.

“But I want to be with you Nina.” Lauren’s muddy hands held on to Nina’s. She waited for her to respond. Nothing.

A voice came out of nowhere. “Yes, it’s too late. Who are you going to be now?”

“I’m not sure, I’m not sure!” Lauren screamed back.

Lauren’s body felt hot. Her clothing was melting away but it didn’t hurt her. Then there was nothing but the sounds of the hospital room.

Nina went to see her soon after the police took her statement. Lauren had been unconscious but breathing on her own.

“The assailant was likely planning to kidnap her after he knocked her out.” Said the policeman. “Luckily, the doorman tackled the guy when he tried to run away.”

“It’s a miracle you were there at the right moment.” Said Nina as she embraced the couple who had made the 911 call.

Lauren regained consciousness after eight days. A family came to visit but she didn’t know who they were. Lauren felt badly for upsetting them when she declined to go to their home and recover. She asked them for space and time. Lauren thought “Maybe one day I’ll come to see them as my family.”

The doctor told her family to respect Lauren’s wishes and that rushing things could be detrimental.

When Nina came to visit, Lauren lit up.

“Do you know who I ‘am?” she was nervous for Lauren’s response.

“I know I love you. I didn’t want you to marry the man from the bench.” Lauren was still a little confused.

“Oh I’m not married.”  Said Nina with a laugh.

“Well I’m glad.” Lauren smiled, and then cleared her dry throat.

“Nina, the only thing I’m certain of is that I love you. That has to mean something. Otherwise why would my brain wipe out almost everything else except you?”

Nina was smiling, her eyes shiny. She held Lauren’s hand, and looked up and sighed.

“You always held back. You never told me, though I hoped you felt the same.” Nina confessed. 

“I won’t hold back anymore, I promise you.” 

Nina placed her hands on Lauren’s face. She bent forward and kissed her softly.

The day she left the hospital to live with Nina, Lauren saw a small child following her in the hall. She stopped and told the girl “I think I know who I’ll be now.” the child smiled and skipped away toward a minstrel tune. An ice cream truck in the cold of December.

 

 

 

 

Therianthrope

Sara and her older brother were close despite him living in Chicago. They visited each other when they could and talked on the phone at least once a week. Nick and Sara were more a family unit than their actual nuclear family ever was. Their parents divorced when they were seven and four and they spent most of their childhood being pawns in a power struggle between both parents. Once Sara graduated high school their father moved to Arizona with his girlfriend or “partner” . Their father was a podiatrist who experienced a good deal of success early in his career and had retired at fifty-two, took up carpentry and sold his tables, tool sheds and birdhouses online. Diane, his girlfriend was a child psychologist who was kind but always acted like she saw through both Sara and Nick. As if her experience working with kids made her a of mystic who could read a young persons entire life with one minute of interaction.

The drive from Brooklyn to Pennsylvania was quiet for the first half until Sara realized she was making this awkward for Leo, her roommate who kindly offered to give her a ride to her mothers home. How is he supposed know what to say?

“Hey, sorry for being so silent. I’m kind of out of it, but we can talk about whatever.” Sara knew she had to be the one to break the silence. Leo was too polite and sensitive and she had loved that about him. Leo had never once made a pass at Sara and once he realized she was interested in both men and women she sensed that he viewed her as an asexual entity. To Sara this was a relief.

“Don’t apologize, seriously. Its totally cool, I understand.” Leo shrugged and smiled at Sara.

“So I guess she took pills. That’s what the doctors said at least. Her friend stopped by that day to drop off some of her garden tomatoes and when she went to knock on the door it was unlocked. And, they are pretty close and it’s a small town so of course she lets herself in expecting my mother to be home. I feel badly, like maybe I should send her friend,  Jean, a card or something. So fucked up.” Sara was never close to her mother because she had never seemed like a mom to her. Her mother was not hateful or abusive by any means but she lacked the solid, consistent maternal warmth that Sara had seen in other mothers.

Their mother, Susan Lee Kline was never meant to have children. Not in the traditional sense at least. Susan did not believe in raising her children under a close eye, in fact Susan didn’t believe in being involved much at all. “As long as you are safe, healthy and inspired I will not interfere in your journey!” Her parenting style was supportive but unattached.

Sara’s brother Nick had won a fairly large regional debate team competition his junior year of high school and Sara remembers how happy he had been that night. Their mother did not attend the debate but picked them up afterward and treated them to a meal in the towns nicest restaurant. She kept telling waitstaff how her son had just won a very important debate competition and they were out to celebrate him.

“Look at me gushing, but I can’t help it! I mean, this is a very competitive debate team he is on and he is younger than most of these kids he went up against, so here we are, celebrating a big victory!” She was beaming with pride. Sara remembers her mom looking pretty that night even though she hadn’t bothered to change out of her studio attire. A stiff white button down mens shirt rolled at the sleeves and Levis with pottery slurry splotched on the knees.

After that day their mother never mentioned Nicks debate again though, as if it had never even happened.

“Nick and I both knew she was always a little, I don’t know, emotionally unbalanced. But I never thought she would go so far. Erratic yes, but suicidal?” Sara sighed. Annoyed at the fact that even the way in which her mother died, just as she had lived, gave Sara no indication as to who she was.

As a child Sara had struggled to find a connection that would link them together, anything that would show her that they shared blood. But her mom was not a singular being with concrete personality traits. She shrunk and expanded in ways that made no logical sense and the few times Sara felt a kinship with her, it was always fleeting like a handful of water doomed to leak through her fingers. She would catalog these memories in her childhood journal and reread them time and time again. Like when Sara arrived home in tears after a friend told her her hair was the color of poop and her mom consoled her and took her for ice cream where she told her “Everyone has an opinion but that doesn’t mean they are right. Remember that!” At twelve when Sara needed a bra her mother had made the shopping experience fun. They got fancy drinks at a coffee shop and went to the Valley Shoppes. The nice mall which was a little too far outside of town but was worth the trip. She remembers how her mom made a funny joke about the mannequins in the bra department being too busty. “Excuse me miss?” Her mother had asked a sales woman. “We need some assistance finding a few bras that are suitable for the average human preteen girl, so nothing like this.” She said pointing toward the row of mannequins in lacy bras. They sang to Savage Garden in the car on the way home that day. They had moments few and far between of mother daughter affection. For the most part however Sara’s mothers love was poured into her work and not her children.

Susan Kline was never one thing at any point in time except when she was working. In her youth she had received local recognition for her ceramics but she never took her talents seriously until after Sara was born.

Her tiny shop and online store ended up being rather lucrative despite how poorly Susan had managed it on her own until she finally hired an assistant. Some of her pieces had even ended up in museums. And yet she was always consumed with a mania to produce. “I’m feeling like something is incubating right now and I just need to call it forth!” She would say this each time she was trying a new technique, increasing her hours spent in the studio listening to piano music on cassette.

Both Sara and her brother had given up on trying to decipher their mother and eventually found peace in the distant relationship they had shared. They admired her from afar for her talent of course but mostly for her whimsical way of operating through the world. Her death however, created a kink in the abnormal normalcy that they had grown comfortable with.

“Will you miss her?” Leo asked. He had known of Sara’s unorthodox relationship with her mother.

“I think I’ve missed her my whole life.”

 

 

Sleepwalking

Writing fiction has never been easy for me but I enjoy the continual challenges and gradual growth that comes with it. Hope you enjoy this one. Thank you for reading! – R

 

The sleep that comes these days is tormented. Lonely thrashing that only fuels the constant agitation that has consumed me. Ever since Sam moved out all I’m capable of doing is replaying each and every memory I have. As if mourning the dead.

“I’m almost thirty Elle, I have to figure out what my next step is.” His voice was hollow, his brown eyes dull.

He told me to meet him by a Starbucks that evening. It was July fourth, and a beautiful day. On the walk there I ran into my friend Ari and pretending everything was fine made small talk. I knew what was coming.

“Do you not love me anymore?” I pleaded, my voice breaking, already crying.

“It’s not that I don’t love you, I just need time to plan my next step.”

“What does that even mean?” I was pissed at this point. I needed a better reason for him to leave me after four years together. I at least expected him to apologize for some of what he put me through. I couldn’t look at his face.

“Good idea, taking me here in public to tell me this in order to avoid an emotional outburst. You are selfish. I have nothing to say.” I was steeling myself. My lip quivered, my face hot from the effort of trying to control myself. I felt a fast sweat coming on to my body. Pin pricks of scorching rage.

“I just need this okay. I’m sorry Eleanora. Give me time.” His tone never changed.

“Wait! Just wait. Talk to me. I can forgive this. We can work it out okay?” I begged, no longer trying to control myself. I was afraid of the voice that came out of me. Not me. Or maybe it was me now after the last four years.

“I can’t, bye”

He looked terrible. Dark circles under his eyes, a light scattering of acne on his chin. He was handsome in a way that made you nervous. He wasn’t classically attractive; he was cute with a subtle layer of menace and that was endearing. But that day he looked shitty. His mousy brown hair disheveled. I looked great I thought as I sat there alone. I look fantastic. I’m fantastic, who wouldn’t want me?

I sat for a while trying to convince myself that this was not happening and walked home. Back to the small studio we shared. It looked like it had yesterday, as if nothing changed even though everything just had. I had to do something with myself.

I walked to the liquor store where the two young men who work there harmlessly hit on me. I pick up two bottles of wine though I want something stronger. I stop at a CVS and get the sleep aid you can drink. I listen to music and write down my thoughts in an attempt to put together a letter I will send Sam to try to win him back. I hear the fireworks outside. I drink from the bottle feeling like a cliché mopey girl in a romcom circa 2000 and I hate myself. I drink and wait for sleep. Nothing happens. Sam doesn’t show up pounding on my door saying he changed his mind. Which I know is a good thing. I should stop wanting him not only because of what he had done just a few nights before but for who he has become over the years and for this spineless mess I have turned into.

I hear birds chirping. It’s 5am. I feel scraped out. A vessel of me. A month ago he surprised me with a birthday gift scavenger hunt where I thought at the end he would propose but he didn’t. Maybe next year I thought.

“Did you think I was going to propose to you!?” Sam asked later that night with a chuckle.

“No way!” I say back. He got so drunk that night that after going out with friends and falling asleep I woke up to him pissing standing up by my bed. My birthdays were his favorite days to decide to go off the rails.

“What are you doing?” I yelled. He was sleepwalking.

It takes me a month to move out. I secretly wished he’d change his mind and we can go back to living together though I knew it was a terrible thing to want and that in some way this was for the best. I had to move in with my older sister Cecelia who luckily had a vacant second bedroom ever since her preppy roommate Jaime moved out. Bleach blonde and hyper enthusiastic. Each time I saw her Jaime was always dressed either like a forty year old kindergarten teacher, bright colors and boat shoes, or as if she was on spring break in Vegas, glittery dresses and chunky heels. The first time I met Jaime she said to me “Eleanora, you are too cute!” Already far too comfortable and behaving like we were old pals.  Jaime actually wasn’t all that bad. Her worst offense was that she was too eager to be your best friend. It was unsettling.

“It’s kind of a mess right now but I’m so glad you are here!” Says Cecelia.

She is being humble of course. The condo she bought a few years back is immaculate, homey and at least three times more rent than I can afford but luckily she isn’t charging me and is only requesting I pay my half of utilities. Cecelia is shorter than I am by an inch or two and ever so slightly pudgy. The extra weight works for her somehow. She has flawless olive skin and shiny black wavy hair and is incredibly confident and successful. Cecelia is a biotech engineer. I’m not sure exactly what she does but I know that she is the smartest person I know and can afford a lovely condo in South Boston and exotic vacations. Ceci is my only sibling and we have always gotten along.

“Elle, come stay with me. As long as you want. I know you can take care of yourself but you don’t always have to!” She begged me to move in as soon as I told her Sam left.

I turned up at her place a wreck. My lips red, bleeding the wine from the night before. I sobbed loudly in her arms and she said nothing. I had not cried in front of her since we were little when she explained to me how the ozone layer works and I was convinced the sun would cook my entire family to death.

She invited me out and since I needed to do something, anything, I joined her.  A group of six of her colleagues met us at a pub in Davis Square. I knew some of them that had attended college with Cecelia. They were all friendly and easy to talk to. A coworker named Brian bought me drinks all night and was behaving as if he knew I was recently single. Too shy to act on his obvious interest in me he simply kept buying be rounds and asking “You having a good time?” Dominique, who I had met just that night in an attempt to get away from Brian’s dry conversation, was a tall athletic girl with a warm personality and sarcastic humor who had a younger brother in the publishing industry.

“I should get you two connected. I hear you were working for an online magazine or something?” Her voice was tiny and didn’t match her height and I liked that about her.

“That’s so nice of you! I’ll have Ceci send you my info.” I sincerely appreciated the gesture but I was simultaneously embarrassed. I had just left my job after Sam moved out. I could no longer stand editing clickbait type articles for Listique. The industrial office was grey and always freezing and all my coworkers wanted to do after 12 hour days was spend the little money we made at hip cocktail bars. After three years there feeling completely uninspired and as if any creative energy I had left in me had calcified in that grey office, I had to quit.

I sat down with my boss Alan and told him “Although I have enjoyed my time at Listique, I feel ready to pursue other opportunities in publication and writing.”

He was far too sad I thought and reacted as if my leaving was a personal insult. “Eleanora, are you sure? We can give you some time maybe to think it over?” He tilted his head and pouted like a toddler who has been told “no”. Alan was not a terrible boss, but he just wasn’t a good one. He was often unorganized and had personal relationships with half the team and that made him have his favorites. Somehow I had become one of them.

“I appreciate it Alan, I really do. I just have to move on.” Alan straightened up and sighed dramatically.

“Okay, honey do what you gotta do but if you ever miss us let me know.” I got up to hug him on my way out of his office. “I better see you at Liz’s bachelorette party thing. I need someone there who isn’t a total drama queen. Only room for one queen and that’s me!” We both laughed. Despite feeling terrible about the current state of my life, when I walked out of the office building I felt a calm sense of relief.

Dominique saw something behind me just then and grabbed my arm.

“Um, let’s go over here.” She said in a lowered voice. “I saw Brian heading toward you again and I figure you’d rather not have to deal with him for the rest of the night!” She said with a laugh.

I smiled. “You saved me! Phew!”

It was surprising to me how people still liked me even though Sam no longer did.

“Would it be okay if I move in next week?” I asked Cecelia the next day. Almost ashamed. Six years my senior. A large enough gap that keeps us from being competitive and small enough that we can still relate to each other.

“Let me know which day and I can book you a moving truck.” Ceci was at her best when she was working to accomplish something. Her new project was getting my life in order and she was happy to help.

The biggest issue with us was always Sam’s jealousy and instability, which led to the eventual incineration of my confidence. Early on, after many drinks; we were talking about wild experiences that were funny. I told him about the time I did coke and had a threesome with a stranger and one of my friends. I laughed after I said it thinking how crazy, how dumb and awkward. Sam did not think it was funny. But we were not technically dating at the time so we kept on the conversation. I told him about the time I tried ecstasy and he told me about the time he took too much Adderall before a college exam. I was open-minded, playful and confident. I didn’t care what he thought of me and my poor decisions.

Months later when things become serious Sam exposed a part of him that was bigger than the rest of him. We went out to celebrate my 23rd birthday. At the time I was bar tending and temping and incredibly frustrated with myself. I felt like a failure because I had worked so hard through college and even landed a competitive internship in the city’s most prestigious ad agency, but still I had nothing to show for it. I needed that night to forget about the way I had been feeling as of late. A group of friends met us to celebrate at a swanky tequila bar on the waterfront. Everything seemed fine until on the walk home Sam’s mood turned.

“What’s wrong? You okay? I asked

Silence. He looks at me; he reeks of booze and sour rage. He smirks and shakes his head. I don’t understand what I’m seeing in him.

“You like wearing your little dress and heels and partying with your friends?” He laughs. I’m confused, is he being sarcastic?

“I had fun!” I say

“Yea I bet. Sorry I didn’t wrangle another person for a three way or buy some pills for you to pop. I know how much you like that”

I say nothing. This is the first time he is not only rude but angry with me. I was in love and I thought he was great, my family had met him and my friends thought he was perfect for me. I thought he wouldn’t judge me for having experimented with drugs and sex when I was younger. I told him everything and apparently he started to hate me for it.

“What’s your problem.”  I ask. Annoyed that he is ruining a fun night.

“I’m dating a slut, that’s what!” He says and walks fast.  Away from me.

He later shows up at my apartment to apologize. He is crying telling me he’s sorry and “I just get jealous because I love you so much.” his eyes sincere and red.

I hold his head in my lap and let him spend the night. I was confused. Maybe I drank too much and did something to make him angry. I stay up thinking “is he right about the nasty things he said?”

Fights like this become a habit of ours for the next several years until one day he goes out with friends, gets high and tells me the next morning that he had a three-way in order to get back at my former self. He hadn’t stopped obsessing about my adventurous past. Sam could not accept that I was ever anything more than his. I argue with him and for once he says nothing in his defense and suggests we talk by that Starbucks the next evening.

He used to say “I wish I had met you when you were a virgin.”

Things like this should have warned me. The man saw me mostly as a possession. A thing to protect and keep away. At the end Sam would tell me if the outfits I was wearing were too inappropriate for his liking, and I would change in order to avoid a fight. I did a lot of things to avoid fights. I alienated friends he didn’t like. I let my hair grow long because he liked it long. I sent him sexy photos of myself. When I did his laundry I had to fold his shirts a certain way or he would get frustrated with me. I did this all because if we didn’t fight and Sam was in a good mood everything was great.

We would go on lovely trips, and romantic dates. We would have fun together and laugh. We would stay up late talking about things we never told other people before. We would talk about our future together. He would say that he loved me so much that he “lived” me. As in, his life was the love I gave him.

But I often lived in fear and anxiety. My days depended on his moods and whether or not he’d be triggered to go off on me. I no longer felt confident. I needed his approval for my existence. I knew it was wrong and I had to leave but I was so accustomed to this relationship I didn’t want to. I became a feather of a person. I lacked ambition. All I wanted was to make him happy and for him to love me.

So inevitably he had to be the one to leave. And he did several times over. He came and went for a while until I forced myself to move on and start anew.

On the day I packed up the studio I noticed Sam didn’t get back to finish collecting the rest of his stuff even though I had sent him a very mature email regarding the movers. I was proud of myself for not mentioning our relationship at all. I didn’t add, “love you”.

Among boxes I sit on the hardwood floor making myself commit the image to my memory so that I may be smarter and more careful in who I decide to get involved with. As if I caused this relationship. Manifested it by my mediocre existence. Those were lies I told myself that I knew I had to learn to stop retelling.

I sat there exhausted for some time in the stifling August heat hearing the noise of the street and the hum of the empty refrigerator. I lay down and stare up at the wood beamed ceiling wondering how many generations of relationships have come together and broken under it.

 

How You Are Getting In The Way of Your Career Growth & How To Stop

Everyone has moments of frustration with their jobs, but if you have been consistently unhappy at your job it’s time to think about making a change. As with most important decisions in life, it’s not that simple. There are several things to take into consideration: you may not be able to find a job that pays as well as your current job, with your current credentials you may not be qualified for another role and may need to seek additional education or training to work toward the role you desire, or you might simply be struggling to muster up the energy to launch a job search.

I have been in this tough situation and I know that as unpleasant and stressful as it can be, we can make it so much harder on ourselves by self-sabotaging. We compare ourselves to our colleagues and friends, we tell ourselves to “just wait and see”, or we don’t have a definitive plan so we panic instead of doing something.  As a former pro self-saboteur I know a thing or two about totally screwing yourself over while fully being aware of it and yet, feeling unable to stop. So let’s break it down and break out of this career standstill!

How you are getting in the way of your career growth and how to stop:

  1. Comparing yourself

Comparing yourself to your colleagues or friends is going to achieve one thing well: making you feel really shitty. Sure, maybe your former college roommate is killing it as a fancy real estate agent in LA and you know this because her Instagram feed is chock-full of images of the mansions and swanky beach homes she gets sold. And perhaps one of your coworkers is creatively brilliant, while another is a great speaker and can command a room like no other. But comparing yourself to them is useless. Everyone does better or worse than others when it comes to certain skills. What one person does poorly, you may naturally have a real talent for.

Instead of comparing yourself, think about your strengths. What can you do better than most? Perhaps that old roomie of yours is making bank in the vapid west coast real estate world but can she design a website like you? Can they, like you, skillfully compose an email to a difficult client who is complaining, yet again? Can they thrive in a team environment as well as you do? Ask yourself: What do I do better than most? And OWN those strengths!

  1. You convince yourself it’s okay to wait and see

“I should just wait until the next round of performance reviews.”

“I’ll hold on until after the new year and see what happens.”

“A lot of things could change, you never know.”

If you find yourself saying these things in order to convince yourself to stay in your wretched job, you are in denial. The last thing you want to do in this situation is play the waiting game! When it comes to our careers we cannot drag our feet in the hope that other people will come along and make everything okay. I know that working a full time job that is absolutely eviscerating your energy and morale only to go home to meticulously tweak your resume and scour the internet for open positions, is exhausting. But it is a part of the process, whether you are a painter or a software engineer you have to actively put yourself out there, market yourself, and straight up hustle in order to land a dream gig. (Also as an aside can we just accept that your dream gig today will probably not be your dream gig in 5 years, and that it’s totally fine because evolving and learning is important!) Please do not wait for anyone to just pop out of the ether and offer you a great job if you haven’t put in the time and energy!

When is waiting it out a good tactic?: if it’s part of a larger strategy like saving up enough money to start your own business, or waiting to graduate from your masters program, or waiting on more funding so your company can create the roles you really want to do (in the case of startups). Otherwise, it’s just a waste of time, and if you stick to the waiting game long enough it will become a way of life and nothing will ever change.

  1. You don’t know what to do next

It’s really hard to get what you want when you don’t know what it is you want. It can be scary and stressful especially when you find yourself ready to leave your job in order to save your sanity/dignity yet aren’t sure what to do next. When you don’t know what you want, it seems like the only option is to stay where you are until the answer appears, regardless of how trapped it might make you feel.

There are limitless options but maybe you just don’t feel particularly committed to any of them because you can’t see them individually, they all seem to be lumped into this one massive cancerous decision growth that just keeps growing the more you think about it threatening to crush you.

Don’t get crushed! Start asking yourself some questions. Is it the job itself (your role in the company) or the company culture/work environment? Would you be better off in a new city? Maybe you want to spend more of your time with people, have better flexibility in your hours. I don’t think the level of clarity matters a whole lot. What matters is being able to ask some tough questions and being confident enough to go for it!

Meditation

The benefits of meditation are well known. Everyone talks about trying it. The New York Times has covered it. There are apps you can download to help you meditate. Meditation is not reserved for wealthy yoga retreat goers any longer. But as accessible as the practice has now become for many beginners it can still seem daunting. Sitting alone with your thoughts while trying to silent the mind and focus on your breath is not easy for many of us. In fact, it’s the opposite of how we have been conditioned to function.

When you start meditating you will quickly notice just how unruly the mind is. Most people assume that to meditate you have to think about nothing, or “clear your mind”. But when you have it in your head that you have to DO anything when the goal is to quiet the mind, it’s totally counterproductive. So don’t think about thinking about nothing, simply “think neutral”.

When you begin practicing meditation do not be hard on yourself. Some days you will ease into it and other days you may get frustrated with yourself and be unable to defuse the non stop thoughts from coming in. When I first started, I would be bombarded with thoughts , to do lists that I had to get to, work tasks to be completed, an itch on my nose etc. We are so used to moving and thinking and working that when we stop to be still our brains don’t know what to do. It’s like all of a sudden you are tuning into 20 different crappy mind cable channels that click through rapid fire. Click – I should get that mole checked out,  Click – should I get bangs again?, Click – can’t forget to call mom back, Click – am I a good daughter? And on and on.

Tune out, think neutral, focus on your breathe, hold a comfortable posture, and if you are still having trouble I suggest coming up with imagery that helps you. I like to picture a lotus emerging from the mud and slowly blooming. If imagery isn’t your thing maybe focus on a body part. I sometimes will pick a body part, like the top of my forehead or my hands to focus on.

If all else fails, take a seat, and smile. Smile to yourself and think about the things you are grateful for. Take 10 minutes and just dwell in that warm, cozy feeling of gratitude.

The human mind is an infinite journey. We possess the power to go anywhere and do anything but in order to do so, we must learn to tap into the depths hidden beneath our messy thoughts and meditation is a wonderful tool that can help us get there.

Letter from Fear

Dear You,

I know that I get unruly sometimes and that I may have held you back from jumping into exciting and dangerous experiences but know that I did it to keep you safe and sane. I have evolved over the years but there are a few things that will never change. Fear of mediocrity, fear of stagnation and fear of losing control.

Death doesn’t really spook me as much anymore. Violent thunderstorms no longer keep me up at night working overtime. Nightlights have not been necessary for practically 20 years! Yes, indeed, I have evolved in many ways and in doing so I’ve become complex and harder to shake, like a gob of sidewalk gum on the bottom of your shoe that with each step becomes grittier picking up filth along the way, becoming more solid, thicker and stronger with each step.

You’ve done a great job of keeping me in check but sometimes I get pushy and take over. I can linger for days and months keeping you second guessing, unsure and uneasy. I have a knack of sneaking up on you like a trench coated stranger coming up around the corner, keeping pace with you but just far away enough that you can’t make me out to be anything but a shadow cast over your quickening footsteps. For the times I have consumed you and made you obsess over thoughts that tormented you, I’m sorry. I’m intrinsically weak you see, I’m Fear and that’s just how I function. I can be motivating or stifling; I can be logical or irrational. My real purpose is to test you, to make sure that no matter how dark or overwhelming I become you don’t lose yourself in me and can tell me “no” and say “you are wrong”. I’m usually wrong and I like being wrong, please keep proving me wrong.

yours truly, like it or not,

Fear

Mirror

Everyone’s a walking mirror that doesn’t know what we reflect until we see a reflection unlike our own.

Weak people fear lives that don’t resemble their own. The weak manifest fear as hate and to manage the terror they push away the people that are too different for them to bother to understand because when you surround yourself with your one category of human and only that one category, you get the illusion that you are significant and enduringly so.

Is there anything more egotistical and sad?

With the ever growing rash of violence, hate and racism in the US a feeling of extreme divisiveness has taken hold of our societal psyche. Shootings, campus rapes and racial profiling combined with the toxicity of Trumps presidential campaign have cast a shadow on my soul. I know I’m not alone in this,  yet with each day I feel as though my sentiments on the current state of our society become increasingly outlying.

I live near a public city elementary school. Every morning on my walk to work I pass the school. I see parents dropping off their children. Out of a shiny new Lexus a boy hops out quickly with a short wave goodbye. An East African mother with two small kids walks them to the entrance of the building. A dad who looks way too young to be the father of his six year old daughter hugs her goodbye. Around the corner of the school the special needs bus is greeted by the teachers of the children who are spilling out onto the concrete ramp that leads to their class room. These kids always seem absolutely thrilled to be arriving at school, all smiles and bouncy laughter. Families, kids and teachers of all races and economic situations join every day. They do the same things at the same time at that same school. Different people all simply trying to start off their days right. This ritual I witness each morning reminds me that we are all just trying to get by and the differences we perceive are often times superficial. We all wake up in the morning and face ourselves in front of a mirror we just have to stare back intently to see our humanity reflected in all of those around us.

Don’t Be A Doormat & Learn To Say “No”

Ever find yourself taking on side projects at work that won’t benefit your career whatsoever? Do your personal relationships feel one sided – where you are always the one putting in effort to appease friends, family and partners? Are you constantly kicking yourself after you overbooked another weekend because you couldn’t bring yourself to simply say “no”. People-pleasing is toxic, it’s also a tough habit to break.  Why do we do it? Because people-pleasers want everyone in their lives to be happy and they will do whatever is asked of them to keep it that way. PPs are almost addicted to being needed in a twisted way because saying “yes” to everything makes them feel like they are playing a part in the lives of others.

PPs tend to believe that they will be well-liked the more they say yes to others but often times they’ll end up feeling like doormats.  One thing I know for certain is that if you allow others to treat you like shit, eventually you will start to treat yourself like shit too. Also, saying “no” to favors or engagements you’d rather not attend does not make you a demanding jerk and if anyone on the receiving end of your “no” gives you a hard time, its likely that THEY are the demanding jerks not the other way around!

What many people-pleasers tend to forget is that constantly saying yes to others is to constantly say no to your needs. Not only does it put a lot of pressure on you, but it can literally make you sick by stretching yourself too thin in order to accommodate others. You are depleting your energy sources and this unhealthy behavior will eventually leave you feeling exhausted, used and stressed out.

Here are a few tips to help you be better at saying NO.

 

  1. Remember you have the option to say no.
  1. Think it over. If someone asks something of you, take a minute to think about it. Ask questions and get the details on this particular commitment. After you get all the info ask yourself the following: “Will this be too stressful for me?” “Do I have time for this?” “ What would I be giving up?” “ Am I being pressured into this?”
  1. Have boundaries. Is the person asking something of you being disrespectful in their approach? Is the favor inappropriate? Is there any benefit for you and if not is this a pattern constantly playing out with you and this person? Also, feel free to set constraints on a particular commitment for example if you can only attend a friends bridal shower for an hour because you had already made plans far in advance. Don’t cancel those prior plans! Just let your friend know you can attend their event but for only a certain amount of time.
  1. Try not to feel guilty for saying “no”. It takes time to get comfortable with saying no,  and feeling guilty about it will make it much harder for yourself. Your time and energy is yours to manage!

 

The Anxious Mind

“Hello and good morning. Time to gear up to internally defeat yourself until you are too exhausted to function! To begin, let’s think about everyone you are fairly certain hates your guts and is out to get you. Next, go over everything that is wrong with you. Take your time with this one. There is a lot wrong with you. I’d like to remind you of everything you don’t have and how with each passing day your desires to accomplish your dreams increase while the likelihood of you accomplishing said dreams diminishes. Now, lets obsess over each worst case scenario that could possibly happen, ever. Like your seasonal allergies actually turning out to be some leaky brain disease or your apartment building burning down in a fire with your dog inside. Continue each step until you have convinced yourself that nothing matters and you might not even be real, just some fever dream a five year old in a vegetative state is having until the family decides to pull the plug.”

I wanted to describe how a conversation with my anxious mind would sound like and I can’t lie, I laughed while I wrote this. You might ask yourself what kind of monster thinks anxiety is humorous? Anyone who has experienced it, and works through it, that’s who! Because although anxiety is real and can be crippling it’s also incredibly absurd. It is outlandish, dramatic, pointless, lazy and selfish.

I haven’t experienced extreme anxiety like I used to in a very long time (thank goodness!). Meditation and living a more balanced life has certainly helped with that but I also believe that humor is vital. If you find yourself obsessing and you simply cannot escape your toxic thoughts; embrace them head on. Write out your anxieties. Next, go over each one and REALISTICALLY break down the anxiety. For example, does your best friend of 15 years secretly hate you and is trying to steal your boyfriend? If you can’t list at least 3 reasons as to why this thought could be true, you are probably just a neurotic sicko with trust issues, BUT who isn’t? Now accept the thought, break it down, laugh at your absurdity and move on.

When I was about eight I developed ritualistic OCD that I luckily grew out of shortly after. I was convinced that if I didn’t open and close the door to my bedroom a certain way the world would end, or my entire family would be murdered or both. I can look back and laugh at my young mind and see how pointless my wasted hours of hand washing, finger tapping, door knob turning and eye blinks were. If I can so easily see that now, why do I have trouble getting past any other current anxiety I may face? I remind myself that my anxious mind is a liar and is not to be listened to.

The anxious mind is like a mutant Frankenstein type combination of 50 percent evil genius, 50 percent needy pre-teen who watched too many movies. More importantly the anxious mind is hilarious so drown out its voice with your laughter! 

 

Home

Perhaps home is not a place but a permanent and binding condition. The mere idea alone of belonging, of being of a place, of having traceable roots to something that still exists and can be visited like an exhibit of your time on earth. Maybe it’s the pang of nostalgia felt when you realize the grass still grows in thinner in the spots where you played wiffle ball. Although you technically were just an extra body on the field used to round out the teams but you didn’t care because the boys let you play with them as long as you did absolutely nothing until they instructed you to because you didn’t understand the rules yet.

You feel pride in that your childhood summers literally wore out the grass and rendered the soil infertile.

It’s sleeping in your Disney sheets your mom hasn’t thrown out. It’s going through your old crap that is crap to anyone except you because those stickers were cool collectibles and those corny mystery books sparked your interest in reading. It’s the indentations in the carpet in the empty spot where furniture once stood but has long been disposed of, likely pawned off to you or your siblings.

It’s wherever you can feel, see, remember, hear, taste and smell the many experiences that are the threads that make up the rich tapestry of your story.

 

Despierta 2015

It’s instinctual. I could sense they were wrong for me before I even knew why.

My gut knew better.

I have this sad thought that makes me almost feel sorry for my younger self. I think I was used more than I was loved.

Desired more than I was respected.

And I did not care.

It’s remarkable how much a person can learn in their youth. We can be so painfully naive.

I don’t think they ever saw me as I am.

I don’t think they were capable of it.

But You are capable. The first and only man to be.

Too much of my youth spent in the company of weak men(?).

I, a silly young idealist, always barking up the all too ill advised tree, grasping to make something out of a something that was totally wrong before it even started as my instincts had predicted.

I had a nightmare and one of them, of my past was with me and I was furious with my dream self. I thought “how did I end back here?”

After behaving romantically he then quickly eradicated the seemingly calm facade that has initially been portrayed and he belittled me, called me names and made me small and I felt foolish.

His skill was being very good at being very bad to me. He made me feel as though my existence was some kind of a personal insult to him.

I was enraged because I’d rather not be reminded of how things were at one time, I was angry that I let it get that bad and I was repulsed that this person, this previous cancer to my soul could turn on a dime and be both sweet and evil and tear me apart and I didn’t know which one of their polarized personalities was their real self so I held out futile hope.

I was patient and supportive and I was betrayed and abandoned once and then twice and then one more time but not before he had infected me with the belief that I was nothing. It didn’t take long for me to see that he had been wrong.

I feel only indifference now and I have taken the good with the bad and share some of the blame and can now appreciate it all for what it was and what it never was. But nightmares sure have a way of reminding you of things that you don’t think much about but still fear. It seems I’m afraid of moving backward.

During the nightmare, despite it reminding me of how terribly I had once allowed a single person to make me feel, I was still acutely aware that it wasn’t my current life and I was happy that I would wake up.

And I did,

I woke up

I’ve spent the past year waking up.

 

The Burnout Epidemic

Chronic fatigue, irritability, loss of appetite, anxiety, impaired concentration, weakened immune system and depression. These are the tell tale signs of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. At 27, I’ve experienced burnout a few times in my life and I’ve needed to learn how to balance my energies to stay healthy and happy.

During my senior year of college I worked as a waitress and bartender, I was a nanny to three small girls, I was VP of my schools Hispanic student association and I was interning at one of Bostons top advertising firms. I was 21 and I thought I was invincible. I was an overachiever hell bent on doing it all who sustained herself on caffeine in order to make it through. To decompress, instead of taking it easy and catching up on sleep on my nights off, I would go out with friends. This lifestyle completely destroyed me.

Sure I graduated with honors, a solid internship experience to add to my resume and some money in the bank from my various hustles but it all came at a price. By the time I graduated I was in rough shape. I remember feeling totally uninspired, anxious and emotionally depleted. After graduation I thought to myself “Okay,crazy you did it, now stop!” I remember spending a good two weeks at my parents house doing nothing but watching Harry Potter and working on my tan. It was glorious. It was also a bit of a wake up call.

I’ve written about my last bout of burnout in Letting Yourself Be. Both of these instances of burnout where tough to get through because I had to recondition myself to live a more balanced life. I had to train myself to know when to stop pushing beyond the brink and when to cut myself some slack. It’s not easy to keep yourself in line if you are someone who has high expectations and no patience for themselves. Add to that, living in a society where social media has elevated standards of what having it all and doing it all looks like. We can’t all attend barre class 5 days a week, work full time, keep a tidy apartment that is decorated impeccability, make Instagram worthy organic meals each night, go on exotic vacations around the globe, dress like a street style blogger all while managing to get enough sleep and maintaining healthy relationships! Unless you have a personal assistant, this just isn’t going to happen. More importantly it DOESN’T HAVE TO, despite what all the Pinterest boards and GOOP-esque blogs depict. 

So, what are some ways to avoid burnout? Here are a few things that have helped me and I hope that you find them useful!

  • Know where the stress is coming from – Burnout can be caused by internal factors so ask yourself where is the stress coming from. Knowing the source can help you figure out what is stressing you out and what you can do about it.
  • Take rest seriously – Take time off. This doesn’t need to be a fancy trip but even a long weekend to get yourself organized, and catch up on rest. Go ahead, binge watch that series you haven’t had time for!
  • Enrich your life with hobbies – Always wanted to learn piano? Take lessons! Want to improve your photography skills? Make it a point to get better! Devote just a few hours a week to an activity that has nothing to do with your day job. Whether it’s an exercise regimen or taking up DIY projects, your hobbies will help you unwind and increase your confidence in an array of skills.
  • Unplug – It is hard not to stay connected when you have a demanding job. But make your free time a priority when you can and unplug completely. Sometimes even leisurely scrolling through twitter can be a mind numbing time suck! So drop the phone and get centered, go on a walk, or do a meditation exercise. I have an adult coloring book that I enjoy doodling in occasionally and its very calming.
  • Know when enough is enough – Gauge yourself at the end of each day. Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling healthy? Are you feeling mentally drained? Are you getting enough rest? We all need to motivate ourselves to be challenged and engaged in both life and work but there is a difference between motivating and forcing. It’s great to push yourself but there is a point in which that can become determental for your well being. Know yourself and know where your breaking point is and stay away from it!
  • Get sleep – I can not stress how important this one is. Sleep is vital! Did you know that women need more sleep than men? Not getting enough sleep throws everything off and is incredibly bad for your health. If you are having trouble sleeping, try sticking to a bed time routine, avoid screen time in the bed room, drink soothing tea and make sure your bedroom temperature is comfortable. If a routine or natural supplements (try melatonin or Natural Calm) are not helping you may want to speak to a doctor. I once had a terrible bout of insomnia that lasted about 4 months and toward the end of it I was seeing visions…it was by far the most frightening health scare of my life. Please take sleep seriously! 

Avoiding burnout starts by putting some preventative measures in place. Also, its important to have support from a partner, colleagues, friends or therapist that can help you implement these practices and know when to call you out if your veering dangerously close to burnout.