Living with Intention

My birthday is coming up in a week. And as usual, I’ve become more reflective and introspective thinking about the next year. What do I want out of it? And that’s when I realized for the past few years I’ve been living with intention. I’ve been making broad, conceptual goals and labeling each year of my life with a phrase to set the tone.

For instance, I started with 25 because 24 was a rough year and I wanted 25 to be much better. I wanted to catapult out of depression and stagnancy into something proactive and exciting. So I went ahead and decided that I’d be having a “Thriving 25.”

At the time I made that the theme, it was a joke. I was just trying to make myself feel better with a rhyme. Little did I know that I would repeat that phrase throughout the year and actually work toward that goal – to thrive. I weighed opportunities that came my way and reflected on my relationships to see if they matched with the concept of thriving. Would these things, opportunities, and people help me become a better version of myself?

And honestly, living that way for the year made a difference in my life. I was being mindful of what I was doing and where I was expending my energy. I was focusing on myself and what was good for me. I went into 25 with a positive attitude, and I thought, well that’s a golden idea! Because I had unexpectedly satisfying outcomes for 25, I decided to continue with having a thematic year for the next one as well.

I had to think about what I wanted to get out of 26, but even more importantly (to me anyway) was what can I rhyme with it? I felt that I was making progress and moving forward, and I wanted to keep doing that, but I felt that I was missing a dimension of getting there. I noticed that even as I was progressing, there were things that I did that promoted regression. So I coined 26. “Nixing 26.”

I didn’t mean it as I’m canceling 26 because it’s going to be a bad year or anything of the sort. Instead, I meant it as for that upcoming year my focus would be on nixing bad habits. I would work toward moving away from things I did that I knew were bad for me, or not in my best interest. I would work on overcoming obstacles that often kept me in a miserable place, or even letting myself stay and mope. I mean, I struggle with anxiety and depression, so I’m bound to have down days, but I could make the choice to limit that time and then actively try to do something productive instead of letting myself fall into a deeper pit. And that’s what my intentions were for 26.

Granted, 26 didn’t pan out as well as 25 did. Not to say I didn’t nix some bad habits, but it wasn’t a great change like I expected it to be. It was still a great year though. Maybe it’s because I focused on the things I accomplished given my theme. Since I was reflecting on the year based on the positive outcomes, I was able to focus on the good that came out of the year instead of the negative things that happened. So it shifted my perspective from things I could nitpick to things I could applaud. I liked the feeling, so I once again chose to do the same for 27.

Honestly, I didn’t really bother stressing about what to name 27. I was running off the positivity from the success of the previous two years, and I was like well, third year is bound to be better, right? So it became a cheers to an, “Even Better 27.” I have to say, 27 came with a lot of good, but it also had moments of difficulty. The first half of the age was nice. I was making career moves and getting a more solid footing on what I wanted to accomplish. I moved out from living with my family to living on my own (with a roommate because NYC is expensive!). The latter half of 27, not so great.

For one, my dad had a health issue that ended up derailing some of my progress and my attention became divided. There was some roommate conflict that kept building. I had work stress and a job change. Those aforementioned difficulties did get resolved, or I guess, have on-going resolution. But then, this pandemic hit. And it’s hard to feel like 27 has been “even better” than 25 and 26 when we’re in a state of crisis. But these obstacles that I faced helped me put a lot of things in perspective, helped me changed my thinking, and helped me see my underlying resilience. So yeah, maybe 27 was even better… especially for my mental health. I even found a new therapist that I feel like I can work with in an effective manner.

So what’s next for 28? I don’t know, and I’m finally in a place where I can be okay with the uncertainty and openness of a new year. It’s kind of exhilarating! Which is why the upcoming year is going to be, “Date with fate 28.”

I’m going to take the next year in stride and go with the flow. Yes, I’ll still have goals and things I want to accomplish, but I’m going to be more open to possibilities. I’m going to listen to instincts/intuition and my body more so that I can better take care of myself. It’s going to be an interesting year, and I’m excited. I’m living with intention and that’s really making a difference.

Living Through a Pandemic

It feels surreal.

I’ve been sheltering at home since early/mid-March. which makes it about two months next week. I only go out for necessity and essential functions: grocery shopping and laundry, often times going in the same timeframe to limit my time outside. Always wearing a mask and gloves. Spraying my things with Lysol upon returning home. Showering right away. Following precautions and advisories…

It’s a scary time.

I know people who are in the frontlines right now as healthcare workers. I know people who have been directly affected by Covid-19. I know people who have lost family members to the disease. I know people who feared for their loved ones as they were fighting the virus. I work in the mental health and human services field, constantly being inundated by coronavirus news and updates on protocols, trying to navigate conversations with people about their anxieties. Trying to provide assurances that we will continuing working on their goals and making bigger strides once this pandemic ends. Except the reality that we all know is that the world is full of uncertainty right now, no one has the answers and we’re all doing the best we can.

It is lonely.

Sheltering in place is isolating, especially if you live alone, but no less so if you’re in a full house of family members. We’re disconnected from the people in a way that matters, physically. Yes, we have technology and a multitude of ways to communicate or “see” one another, but it’s not the same. We’re missing out on hugs, high fives, kisses, etc. Even handshakes are a novelty right now. Beyond that, the unprecedented and elongated time in quarantine puts us in a position where we’re really left alone with our thoughts, slowed down in our lives. This can be unsettling and daunting, especially if we’re used to being on the go.

It is an eye-opening experience.

Through the course of this pandemic, I’ve become increasingly grateful for what I have and appreciative of how fortunate I am. It’s so easy to whine and complain about being stuck at home, but the fact that I have a place to call home is a big deal right now. I work for minimum wage in NYC, which is something that used to really bother me, but I still have a job and that’s a blessing right now. Yes, unemployment benefits are probably more than my salary, but it’s a great relief to not have been hit by an uncertain and devastating situation atop of the pandemic fears. I take my friends and family for granted. Before this pandemic, I always flaked on plans with the notion that I can reschedule or see them later. If this situation has taught me anything it’s that either later might not happen or it might not happen for a while. Not to say I won’t be refusing plans because that’s boundaries, but if I say yes to something, I’ll be more likely to follow through. As for family specifically, I would complain about them because we always have disagreements, but not seeing them for so long has made me miss them quite a bit (especially my nephew). It feels like we’re worlds apart even though we’re all in the same borough, barely an hour away from each other.

I don’t know what trauma I will carry with me after this experience. I don’t know if I’ll continue to stay safe and healthy as I have. I don’t know what’s going to happen and what the new normal will be when we slowly start transitioning back to life pre-Covid-19. All I know is that we can only take things day by day as we have been. I hope to bring the lessons I’ve learned with me out of this pandemic and be more intentional with how I live my life.

This is a fiction piece I wrote inspired by Carrie Underwood’s track “Good Girl” from her studio album Blown Away. It is one of several pieces inspired by the aforementioned album.

Amelia dreamt of this day her entire life—her wedding day. Everything was perfect: the flowers were beautiful and properly arranged, the ice sculpture was still intact and frozen, the entire wedding party was present, and she would be marrying her prince charming. The only thing that bothered her today was a comment made by best friend, Chloe, “I wonder how long your marriage is going to last.”

Amelia had no clue where the statement came from or what it meant. Chloe was always extremely supportive of her decisions. At first Amelia thought that her friend was jealous, but Chloe was happily married; and in all of their years of friendship, Chloe never acted spiteful towards her. Amelia looked over to her friend who was sipping on a strawberry daiquiri in her matron of honor dress. She hesitantly made her way  from the mirror toward the armchair, where Chloe sat. Amelia wanted to clear the air before walking down the aisle, and it would mean the world to her if her best friend backed her decision.

“What did you mean when you said you wondered how long Kyle and I would last?” Amelia asked, ready to hear the truth.

“He’s not who you think he is,” Chloe answered cryptically. “He’s not your prince charming.”

“What are you talking about?” Amelia retorted, indignant. “He’s perfect!”

“Kyle’s going to leave you heartbroken and penniless,” Chloe huffed matter-of-factly. “He has a track record.”

“How can you accuse my husband-to-be of something so despicable?” Amelia hissed.

“Open your eyes!” Chloe yelled. “Has he really done anything noteworthy since you’ve been together, or was it all your imagination?”

Before Amelia could retaliate, Chloe rose from her seat, clearly finished with the conversation, to leave the room. Chloe looked at Amelia before shutting the door, “Think about it, Lia.” 

There was nothing to think about; Amelia firmly believed that she and Kyle were in love and had the perfect relationship. Unfortunately, she knew Chloe would keep her in this room until the wedding march started playing, so she resigned to sitting on the sofa Chloe previously occupied. After a few minutes of twiddling her thumbs, Amelia made her way to the mini-fridge for a beverage. She saw orange juice and immediately pulled it out, only to notice that it had no pulp. Wrinkling her nose in distaste, she replaced the carton and grabbed a bottle of water instead. Closing the refrigerator door Amelia felt a sense of déjà vu, as if the scenario happened before, and frequently.

“Hey Kyle, did you get the OJ like I asked?” Amelia called to her live-in boyfriend. They took turns with grocery shopping and it was his turn.

“Yeah! It’s in the fridge next to the milk,” he answered from the bedroom.

 She made her way to the refrigerator excitedly. Amelia loved orange juice more than anything, she was even happier when it had lots of pulp, but was satisfied as long as the juice had pulp in general. She opened the door and pulled out the jug of orange juice and frowned—no pulp. Sighing, she opted for a bottle of water instead.

Amelia took her water and reclaimed her seat. She wished she could say that was an isolated incident and he never messed up again, but that would be a lie. To this day, Kyle only purchased orange juice sans pulp when he went grocery shopping, as if he never heard her complaints or failed to notice the jug when she bought it.

Okay, that’s only one thing in the grand scheme of things. Orange juice is not the end of the world, she rationalized. Other than that, Kyle was an incredibly sweet person. He remembered their anniversary, her birthday, and Valentine’s Day. He also never failed to give her a gift. As she continued to reflect on her relationship, she realized that each gift from Kyle was less romantic than the last.

Amelia borrowed her father’s yacht for a cruise along the coastline with Kyle for their two-year anniversary. Kyle dropped hints about going on the boat for months now, and Amelia thought it would be a perfect surprise for the special occasion. When the couple arrived at the dock, he flung a small package at her before running aboard the boat. She followed behind and took a seat on a cushioned bench by the railing, watching the ripples with glistening dots of light dancing atop the water as the boat set sail.

Amelia eyed the gift in her hands. She wanted to wait for Kyle to open the present, but she couldn’t help herself. She loved unwrapping gifts and she knew he wouldn’t be back for a while,  there was much to explore on the yacht. Giving in to temptation, she ripped the wrapping paper off to reveal a box of colored pencils. A sticky note attached to the box read: ‘For your artistic tendencies. – Kyle’

Amelia half-heartedly put the gift beside her on the bench. She wasn’t artsy in the simplest sense of the word. She occasionally joined her mother for embroidery, and even then she tangled all her stitches. Amelia felt the urge to throw the box off the side of the yacht. Instead, she decided to pretend to love it because Kyle gave it to her. When he finally returned from walking around, Kyle noticed that she’d already opened the gift.

“Do you like your present?” he asked. 

“Of course I do. It’s from you,” she answered with an insincere smile.

“Great,” Kyle replied enthusiastically, failing to realize that she was lying.

“Did you enjoy exploring the boat?” Amelia asked, changing the subject to hide her disappointment.

“Yeah,” he gushed, “She’s a beauty. I can’t wait to get one of these! Best surprise ever!”

“I’m really glad you like it so much,” she said happily. “I worked really hard to plan something you’d enjoy.”

“Yeah, thanks,” he said uninterested in what she had to say. “Let’s pop the champagne and eat! I’m starving.”

Amelia took a gulp of water. So he wasn’t as romantic as she thought, but that didn’t make him a bad guy; most guys aren’t sweet all the time. She shook her head in denial. Who am I kidding? Hank always stops by to give Chloe a rose at work. And they’ve been married for five years now!

Amelia tried not to think about that. It was unfair of her to  compare Kyle to other guys, he was different and that made him special, made just for her. She perked up when she heard a knock on the door to the dressing room.

“Babe, you in there?” a voice called.

 It was Kyle. Amelia smiled giddily at the thought of her husband-to-be visiting her before the ceremony. He is sweet! Amelia recanted her previous thoughts. 

“Yes, but you know the rules. We’re not allowed to see each other before the wedding,” she chided flirtatiously. “It’s bad luck.”

“I just came to tell you that Mark misplaced the rings,” Kyle explained.

She blanched. Not only did she assume wrong, but the platinum bands she bought for them were missing.

“What?” Amelia asked breathily. This is not happening!

“Our rings,” he said slowly. “They’re gone.”

“We can make do without them,” she offered. Rings are unnecessary. I am marrying Kyle, not the rings.

“Cool,” he replied casually. “I’ll let Mark know not to sweat it, and tell him you’ll just get another set after we tie the knot.” 

Another set? Not to sweat it? Amelia seethed, gripping the water bottle tighter hearing the plastic crunch in her palm. Before she could set him straight she heard his footsteps making their way down the hall. Slouching in her seat in defeat, Amelia thought about what her father said to her after finding out she agreed to marry Kyle, “Baby girl, I don’t trust him. Get a pre-nuptial.”

At the time she was appalled that her father even brought that up. It sounded so silly to her, borderline ridiculous. What kind of marriage would they have if they couldn’t openly share their assets? Amelia vehemently refused, opposing her father for the first time in a long time since her rebellious teen years. Now, she almost wished she listened to her dad. When she thought about it, Kyle used her money and made comments about how expensive some of her possessions were. Heck, half the time she felt like his Sugar Mama.  Come to think of it,Amelia peered at her left ring finger. I bought my own engagement ring, and got him an engagement watch. Chloe’s words echoed in her head again, “He’ll leave you penniless.”

Amelia walked into her apartment after having quite an uncomfortable dinner with her dad. She announced that she was engaged and he immediately told her to have his lawyer draw up a pre-nuptial agreement. After arguing over the matter for about fifteen minutes, Amelia winning of course, they continued onto awkward dinner conversation. After parting ways, she felt a wave of displeasure in knowing that her father was unsupportive of her marriage.

She saw Kyle watching basketball on their flat screen TV. She sat next to him on their couch and tapped him on the arm. He muted the TV, but kept his eyes trained on the screen.

“What’s wrong, Babe?” he asked, looking at her from his peripheral. 

“I told my dad we’re getting married,” she started, earning a nod of acknowledgement from Kyle. “He suggested we sign a pre-nup.”

“What?” Kyle asked in shock, turning his attention completely to her and ignored the game on the screen. “What did you say?”

“Well, he said that it would be in my best interest,” Amelia explained. 

“How?” he growled, “That would just prove that you don’t love or trust me enough to marry me without the fear of my leaving you with nothing!”

“Honey,” she said calmly. “That’s what I told him. He threatened to pull my inheritance, but I wouldn’t budge. In the end, he relented.”

“Babe, never scare me like that again,” Kyle sighed in relief.

He gave her a light kiss on the lips before returning to the TV screen and unmuting it.

Amelia eyes widened as realization dawned on her; both Chloe and her father were right. They saw right through Kyle when she was stuck in the haze of being in love with the idea of being in love. He was exactly like every other greedy snake she dated prior to him.

“How could I have been so blind?”

When she heard the orchestra playing she got up from her seat and exited the room. She stood behind Chloe, tapping her friend and mouthing the word, Thanks. Chloe returned Amelia’s gesture with a smile and nod. They stood through the entire ceremony until the ‘I do,’ part.

“Do you, Kyle Raynor, take Amelia Stanton to be your lawfully wedded wife?”

“Of course, I do.”

“Do you, Amelia Stanton, take Kyle Raynor to be your lawfully wedded husband?”

“No, I do not,” she answered firmly.

“What?” Kyle asked, puzzled by her response.

“You heard me,” she said confidently. “I expect the watch back by next week. And if Mark doesn’t find those rings, well, you owe me $20,000.”

Kyle gaped as the guests gasped at the turn of events.

“But Babe, think it over. You must be getting cold feet!” He pleaded.

“We’re done,” she declared before walking back down the aisle, leaving a dumbstruck gold digger at the altar.

After the almost wedding, Chloe and Amelia changed out of their dresses and went for drinks at their favorite bar. They joked and laughed while refraining from talking about Kyle and what happened a few hours ago.

“I can’t believe I almost married the guy!” Amelia cried out, laughing at her own stupidity. “You were right about him. Thanks, Chloe.”

“I’m sure you’ll find the right person soon enough,” Chloe assured her.

“Hopefully someone like Hank,” Amelia replied, referring to Chloe’s husband. Chloe nodded in agreement.

“Lia, are those your wedding shoes?” Chloe asked quizzically as she studied her friend’s heels.

“No, they’re my ‘Goodbye’ shoes,” Amelia joked.

She could wait for her happily ever after. There was no rush. After all, when she found her prince they would be together forever, and that would be a long time.

What Does the Future Hold?

I admire ambitious self-starters with clear visions for themselves, who chase after their dreams, unafraid of failure.

I don’t quite fit that category of person.

I am both afraid and unsure of what my future holds and of how to get there.

I used to imagine my whole career life with all my different accomplishments ranging from running a non-profit organization, being a novelist, and being a social worker (not in that order).

My plans included an age in which these goals would be reached. Lo and behold, the course of my path became curved. I still wish to accomplish the aforementioned things, but at the same time, I’m in a stagnant position.

What’s the first step?

Moreover, if I take it and I walk down the road that it leads, will it actually bring me to the preconceived future?

I’m actively working on applying to jobs that are in the non-profit sector, administrative positions, and I’m working on my writing through my website and my novel. Still, it’s easy to be discouraged, and one of the hardest things I can come to face is failure.

Thankfully, the idea of failure is no longer as gripping as it once was, so maybe I’ll be able to overcome the fear soon.

Reading The Try Guys book, The Hidden Power of F*cking Up, is bringing some perspective in the dimensions of trying and failing, and trying again.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to have a clearer answer to my questions of what my future holds, but right now I’m stumped. I’m just working on the now with what I’ve learned from my past.

My greatest hope is that my future turns out to be what I’ve been wishing and aiming for all these years.

Finding My Passion

How many of you have heard the advice about pursuing your passions in order to be successful?

I hear it all the time! It’s like yeah, go pursue what you love and it’ll never feel like working or some other positive cliche.

I’m not one to bump cliches, but… what if you’re not passionate about anything? How do you find it? How do you find that thing that makes you want to wake up every day and do your best at it?

I believe in individuality, and that everybody has their own paths and journeys, but when it comes to this… well, I’d really appreciate a how-to guide, you know?

I’ve seen passionate people who love what they’re doing, who constantly find new ways to better themselves and their crafts. It’s amazing. Yet, whenever I ask how they found their passion, the answer is so vague. Something along the lines of it just clicked, I’ve always had an interest, etc.

I call those people lucky.

I’m not diminishing their talent or efforts in pursuing their passions, or discrediting their hard work, but they’re lucky. Why? They were able to find something that drives them, something that interests them. Sometimes with minimal efforts. And that’s the lucky part.

There are people who soul search for a long time and come up empty-handed. There are others who think they’re passionate about something, only to find themselves burnt out or uninterested when actually going after it. It sucks!

So again, how do we find our passions? How can I find what I’m passionate about? And what makes something that special? Is it because it’s something we’re good at, and we like the compliments? Is it because it’s something that we can’t quite figure out or grasp, so we keep going because we’re stubborn? What is it?

I think the answer can be both things, and more. It depends on what motivates the singular person.

Personally, I like going after what I’m good at. It’s not that I don’t like challenge, I just prefer getting praises and compliments for what I achieve. It’s a nice feeling, and it boosts my confidence.

Unfortunately, going after what I’m good at is a double-edged sword. It makes me vulnerable to criticism, and that can diminish a lot of self-esteem or put a lot more pressure on me.

I love writing. I’ve loved it since I was in junior high, maybe earlier. But the thing is, there was a period in my life when I was too anxious and too scared to write. Too afraid I wasn’t good enough, that my command of the English language was not as great as I thought.

I was too paralyzed to even try to write.

I felt so lost at the time. I used writing as catharsis, as self expression, as an extension of self. And here I was, for years, unable to coherently piece anything together for long periods of time. It was awful. And that’s when I really knew that writing is indeed my passion.

I didn’t just wake up one day and overcome my anxiety of writing. I was stuck for a long time. Too fearful to even pick up a pen or pencil. Too scared to open a word document. It was terrifying, but I pushed myself. I pushed past my doubt, my all-or-nothing-what-if-I-fail thinking to get to where I am now.

I may not be the best writer out there. I may be the worst for all I know, but I find extreme joy in seeing words appear. I feel a lightness when I’m able to put my thoughts into something tangible. It’s a nice feeling. Even though I don’t know if I will pursue writing professionally, it’s nice to at least pursue it personally (e.g. this website).

I got lucky and figured out what I’m passionate about. Even luckier still to have it confirmed, years after I was discouraged from it.

And my take away is that one of crucial steps in finding your passion is facing your fears and stepping out of your comfort zone.

A Writing Journey – Characters

I’ve been working (I use this term loosely) on a novel for a while now. I have the general concept, but fleshing out the details and trying to write it is a whole other beast.

One of the things I focus most on in writing is characterization. I care about my characters because they’re the ones that play out the story. Unfortunately, creating multi-dimensional, developing characters is difficult.

I thought the most important character to develop was the main protagonist, but as I worked on fleshing her out, I realized that she is incomplete without her relationships with others. Thus, throwing me into the conundrum of figuring out everyone else.

All characters have individuality. Distinct aesthetics. Quirky personalities. Personal motives and desires. Favorites. Simply put, characters in a story are composites of the different people we encounter in our lives. And what’s one truth about people? They’re complicated!

My novel requires different dynamics: family/home, friendships, romantic relationships, school. Each of these situations and relationships elicit different parts of us. We don’t necessarily behave the way we do at home at school. We don’t act the same way with friends as with strangers. Not to mention the different tensions between certain people.

Now, it’s easy to create a character if I just TOLD you about them.

She’s a tomboy.

He’s selective about the people with whom he associates.

The above sentences help the characterization of characters, but that’s not interesting to read. It leaves a lot for interpretation, and at the same time, it’s so empty. I don’t want to create characters that I wouldn’t want to give any time reading about. I also don’t want to fall into cliche character tropes.

After this struggle working with authenticity, I’ve decided to work on the minor and peripheral characters in hopes that they will help me develop my protagonist in her best capacity.

Fresh Start

As I embark on a new chapter in my life, I’ve decided to also start my website anew.

Previously, I posted irregularly about a wide range of seemingly random topics, mostly focusing on my existential and everyday struggles. I intend on keeping similar posts on this page, but I also plan on incorporating more content. For instance, I will be adding my creative writing to this website as well as researched/academic writing.

I will provide links to resources or advice that I find helpful. I will add reviews of places I’ve been and things I’ve tried. Basically, this blog will be bigger and better than before.

Most importantly, I will be updating on a regular basis. There will be a weekly reflection along with a monthly post for a thematic segment. Additional posts will be sporadic when a mood strikes. There may be times when I post things daily.

Weekly posts will be up on Tuesdays
Monthly posts will be up on the 12th of the month

Please feel free to leave comments and feedback. Or find me on twitter @Dazzlingrambles