2.16.17 – Meeting Mary

If you have not yet realized, here on my blog is where you will find me sharing my heart. And because I just had an experience that broke my heart, I feel compelled to record the story.

I was popping by the drug store this evening. On my way in, I noticed a woman lingering outside. When she was still there on my way out, I approached her and asked her if she needed assistance. As I was doing so, she began to wince, trying to offer a smile, but it was clear she was conflicted, and words were not coming to her.

I recognized exactly what was happening, because I myself have been plagued with the same feeling so many times: when you just need help, but it is way too difficult to ask.

She must be new to this asking for money thing, I thought to myself, because it honestly seemed like she had no idea what to do or where to start.

I dug into my wallet, apologetic at my measly $2 offering; I am notoriously awful at having cash on hand. As I did so, she suddenly began to pour her story out to me. For 30 years, she had been employed at the same company. She unzipped her sweatshirt to show me the logo T-shirt of the company. Her pride was apparent as she told me how in her 30 years, she worked hard enough to go from $7 an hour to $9 an hour.

“But recently, I think they got afraid. They told me I couldn’t work there anymore, because they didn’t know what was going to happen, and this new president, I would get them in trouble. Because I am illegal.”

Have you ever watched someone admit that they are not a legal citizen of the United States? The way she said it, THAT was the moment that my heart broke. (If someone wants to send a powerful message, compile a video of people admitting they are “illegal”). My heart broke because of the shame apparent in her body language and how she downcast her eyes as she uttered this confession. She was a hard-working, contributing member of our society, who took pride in her job and wanted to work. Yet because of where she had been born, because of circumstances entirely outside of her control, she was being sold an uncompromising lie about who she was as a person: that she was somehow lesser, somehow dirty, somehow unwanted, somehow a liability, and that somehow 30 years of loyalty and service and hard work could all just be forgotten and reversed. That she could be rendered homeless simply because of the fear that our new president has ushered in.

And yet…she was still SO proud of her story, and still clothed in the T-shirt they had given her. When, at the end of the day, despite the fact that she was “illegal,” this employer was not even paying her a state mandated legal wage, so for them to shame her so hypocritically for something they were guilty of in their own way…oh, the irony of the entire situation…

This narrative we are currently immersed in, and the leader who perpetuates it is in direct contrast with a different leader and a different narrative that I know. In the narrative I ascribe to, we were all created equal in the image of God. And because ALL were created EQUAL, it does not make sense to me that we would build a hierarchy to contradict this equality, and try to play God ourselves by thinking that we are somehow better than others, when if we would just look at a fundamental human level we would realize where we stand. And because we are ALL the image of God, for us to cast judgment and want to shut out our brothers and sisters in Christ because of circumstantial differences – that just does not make a whole lot of sense to me. If He tells us we all have merit in Him, why would we try to find ways to challenge the merit of our fellow brothers and sisters? The leader I know filled his days with endless ministry and unconditional love poured out upon the marginalized and all those on the fringes of society. The homeless, the refugees, the immigrants, the widows, the children. It seems to me like there is a very clear interpretation presented here: “And if a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. But the stranger that dwells with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”

If you don’t ascribe to my narrative, that’s fine. I’m not here to try to tell you to believe the same thing. I don’t find it productive to sit on social media and debate politics, and my intention is not to sway opinions, spark a comment war or anything along those lines. I think that no matter what your opinion is, you should have the freedom to believe and share it.

However, I DO think – and I would think this no matter who was our commander in chief — we are living in a world that is broken, hurting, lost and hungry for more love, more compassion and more people to pause and share stories and resources in any way they can.  And I DO think it is productive to engage with your community and learn from every situation you find yourself interacting with, rather than keeping your head down and ignoring the woman outside the drug store. My intention is more along those lines: to spark some train of thought, to provoke action, to ask you to dig into your community and plant roots and water the growth, in the hope of ministering to each other in love and warmth, to build a little bit more beautiful of a vision each and every day. Even if you are in total support of our current president, and you side with the employer in this anecdote, and want to deport the woman I spent the evening talking to immediately — even if that is you, I ask you to engage with those around you, to learn the stories of strangers, to have a heart for the broken and to generously offer your resources to them. Try not to see people as labels — illegal, legal, Muslim, woman, homoxesual, Christian, Atheist — try to see beyond the label, and see instead the soul that was so lovingly crafted by our Creator, so intentionally put upon this Earth to serve a divine purpose in the Kingdom. Love doesn’t choose sides. Love isn’t red or blue. Love laments the aggression of the bipartisan landscape and calls us to something greater.

YOU BETTER BELIEVE THIS EXPERIENCE MOVED ME, BECAUSE YOU BETTER BELIEVE THAT CHAR DON’T PREACH. It makes me very uncomfortable, actually.

I asked this woman what her name was. She told me, “You know the mother of Jesus? You know who she is?” I said, “Yes ma’am, that would be Mary.” And she said, “Yes, that is my name too.” I asked Mary if she would be comfortable with me praying for her, and she started to shake her head laugh.

“Whenever people ask to pray for me, either I cry and then they cry, or they cry and it makes me cry. And I don’t want to cry. We always cry.”

I told her I understood, but that if it was okay with her, that I would pray for her later tonight when I was at home. She said yes, that she would like that very much. I told her to take care.

I had made it maybe about a dozen steps away, when all of a sudden she shouted, “WAIT!”

I turned around.

“What is your name?”

“Me? I’m Charlotte.”

“Charlotte, can I pray for you tonight too?”

“Yes, Mary. I would like that very much.”

Mary didn’t assign me to a category. She didn’t write me off as “legal” or her “enemy” or her “opposition.” She looked outside of her own bleak and challenging circumstances to extend grace and prayer to a stranger.

And let me just tell you: I’d much rather have people like Mary as my co-worker and my neighbor than those who would cast her out.

I’ll close with a couple of paragraphs I wrote at the end of 2016, part of something more personal and separate, archiving my sentiments on the transition from 2016 to 2017. Because what would my blog be without being utterly jumbled? Though disjointed, they relate to the ideology:

I think that regardless of your beliefs on an array of different topics, the way we choose to address and interact about these topics often makes me question the level of humanity within all of us, and if we are selling ourselves short by not living up to our fullest exploration of outward reach of love towards others. And I would hope that no matter what side of the fence (and please let it be just a fence, not a wall) that we align with, we can all see that an aggressively partisan environment is not conducive to a harmony that allows us as a society to all bring out the best in each other. There is no compassion in our disagreements these days, yet I do believe compassion is a better vehicle for change than aggression.

But I guess compassion and increased levels of humanity, these are not traits born in a vacuum of a perfect utopia. These are character developments painstakingly cultivated by difficult outside circumstance that cuts in deep enough to expose vulnerability, then the healing of the wound leaves that muscle memory just a little bit raw to remind you not to go forth and damage or cut into the world in the same way. So I guess when I look at how difficult life seems right now, I have to be careful about how I choose to compartmentalize 2016 in the archive of years I have been involved in, or the exhaustion I choose to let permeate my 2017. I am not living in a utopia. However, rather than dwelling on in its far-from-it reality, rather than shunning an entire year as an atrocious smear in history, I think that I need to try to choose to acknowledge it for what that type of environment is capable of ushering in. Let’s, as we close the door on 2016, and look towards 2017, let’s acknowledge the potential it has to teach us about compassion. Let the muscle memory be raw, let us not continue to lash out and harm each other.

xxxxx.

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DISCLAIMER: written amidst peak flu, while overdosed on DayQuil, not long after hallucinatory dreams of giant cricket-humans cloning and zooming in and out of perspective, sort of like those kalidescopey scene-change moments on That 70s Show.

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8.17.2016 – Entropy, Street Art, Memoir by Char & More

My weekends are generally spent attempting to balance the tension I feel as an introvert perpetually fronting as an extrovert, who loves having a social life, yet is also plagued with the chronic condition of pathological independence*.

Don’t worry, I have filed that sentence under “things I would def NOT open with on a job interview or first date.” It is fine for here though, because I don’t really think future boyfriends or future employers read my blog. Quite certain my primary demographic is moms I am friends with on Facebook, plus accidental randos from other countries…

Weekends, though. Looking at the ones to come, I’m out of town for three of the next four, and working at least two, potentially three of these four; the same story as July. So this last weekend, I needed a pause from my restless inertia to retreat into my creative space and work on processing the world, totes alones. This involved a textile hunting trip in the fashion district of downtown Los Angeles.

Ah, downtown Los Angeles, where equally unrelenting are the cliche catcalling construction corners, and the putrid wafts of baked urine.

Unpleasantries aside, I quite love breathing & heartbeating with the city ecosystem of this subset of LA. It was the initial neighborhood my career landed in for the three years immediately following college, so it was the backdrop for an insane amount of growth and development. Going back to the neighborhood brings a fondness and nostalgia, and also a heightened sense of awareness and inspiration because it is a proven environment of catalyst for change in my life.

One thing I always notice when I am in DTLA (or anywhere, really) is the street art. My old office used to look out at a Banksy original. (Ironically, the PARKING artwork has been concealed by some high rise development now being built over parking lot). I’ve written before about downtown’s sidewalk stencils, and I would frequently spend my lunch breaks strolling around just noticing the artsy quirks of the city streets.

As I wandered and absorbed during my trip this weekend, I realized that my draw to street art goes beyond the message or the visual appeal and is more rooted in the beautiful ideology that persists behind it…

For a while now, I’ve been joking about writing Memoir By Char. As I piece together my introduction to my book, it reads more like the opening statement for the defense in a court of law. This meaning, I feel compelled to justify my memoir writing due to the fact that nothing has exactly happened in my life to warrant there being a noteworthy work to publish to the world. I was delaying the execution of my goals with, “I’ll write a memoir once I am famous, or when I am at least established or have figured life out.”

Unfortunately this actually contradicts my entire philosophy on art. During my time in Europe, I was blown away by the authenticity, the desire to create, and the fulfillment of personal journey that all seemed to be the motivators, the driving force behind the contribution of art to society. I was struck by the contrast to here in the United States, where so much of it seems to be about critical acclaim, financial improvement, competition, revenge or other materialistic and external factors.

Like this European sentiment I tapped into, street art is so pure. It is fleeting; it can quickly disappear should the neighborhood decide its presence violates the order of the space. As is a zeitgest — the spirit of the times — which fluctuates with the external factors that are always morphing around it. The artist is not there to see its reception. While a legacy is not guaranteed, at least in a physical sense, it is like this admission of prophetic, untapped potential into the universe, waiting to be discovered by someone who just may weave an element of it into their worldview, however temporarily or permanently. Whereas generally we seek an immediate value proposition for anything we face, with street art, the guarantee is not necessary to warrant the effort to create it. The driving force is based on potential alone. 

“Prophecy. It touches a common key. What prophecy actually is, is not knowing whether the bomb will fall in 1942. It’s knowing and feeling something where someone knows and feels in other ages. And maybe articulating it in a hint that they will pick up on it in a hundred years.”

Are we tracking? Convoluted, I know. Take a breath, because I’m diving again.

Street art gets criticized for interrupting the order, like it is unauthorized somehow. To which I say, the world desperately needs more Robert Mapplethorpes and Allen Ginsbergs and European study abroad professors to show us that a work of art’s worth is not contingent on its broader societal acceptance, and that everywhere should be a space for us to learn about each other and our world through the expressions we choose to portray.

In fact, I think that when entropy prevails over order**, it offers this unexpected authenticity in the way things are NOT, rather than the mundane way we expect things to exist. It is in this zone of zero expectation and optimistic curiosity where everything has a lot more to offer than it generally would be given credit for. There is this generosity of output, an artistic currency that provides value for both maker and consumer. Nobody is afraid to create, because worth is not dependent upon sensibility within the system. And rather than trying to shape symmetry and order for the purpose of understanding the world within our strict frameworks of expectation, what would it look like to embrace entropy in order to learn about the world through the looser, creative, exploratory frameworks of what others are trying to communicate via their chosen manner? 

I mean, this is why I am drawn to creative outputs in all forms. Literature, culinary, film, photography, fashion, music, bodies, architecture, dancing, identity, design — whatever the outlet is for our expression, any time we are creatively ministering through that vehicle of expression, this is where we see the most authentic version of people for who they are and how they view the world around us. It is SOUL MATTERS. It is embarrassing blogs that may or may not get seen by anyone, and alleyway markings that may or may not be seen before they get painted over, and side projects that may or may not get accepted to the publication, and all these other dreams that we take the courage to act on despite the fact that we may never receive the recognition we as a collective society perceive defines their worth. And sadly I think that most of the time we do not even offer these dreams enough of a chance because we extinguish the spark before it catches, thinking that we must conform to an existence within the order rather than the entropy.

The weekend taught me that I shouldn’t have to rationalize Memoir by Char. I guess I don’t think it fits into the same league of output offered by those around me who I appreciate the declarative candor by which they share themselves, in a manner that is just COOL. But there shouldn’t be a comparative order to expression regardless.

Yesterday, I found myself laughing at the general absurdity of my life, and I said, “I know that the stars are aligning, I just can’t tell if the alignment is going to propel me into a new universe of possibility, or if it is going to render me lost to a black hole vortex where I am extinguished in the abyss.” And at the time, of course, I was really hoping for the new universe. Yet after processing my thought train through the release of order in favor of disorder, at this point I am almost ready to embrace the potential of the black hole.

The more I write the more clarity comes to me yet I fear the opposite result for my readers. I hope we reached a happy medium — because I feel damn good, and I want you to feel damn good too.

 

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*If someone happened to invent pathological independence before me, which I highly doubt, I still claim rights to being the poster child.
**I mean this all in a way totally artistic definition of disorder — not disorder like The Purge or anarchy or anything.

3.21: Anxiety, Imperfections and Kitchen Floor Breakdowns

This post is an exercise to myself.

I swear I say this every time I write, but this one is even more convoluted and messy than ever before – a complete, unedited stream of consciousness straight from my twisted brain. Hitting PUBLISH without a second thought.

Two Friday nights ago, I was halfway home from work. I was going to leisurely stop by home, gloss up a bit, CHANGE CLOTHES AND GO (Jay-Z style obviously) meet up with Michael.

Mid-commute, my accounting manager calls. She tells me that the business trip I was leaving for at 10AM on Tuesday is actually now scheduled for 7 AM on Monday.

I immediately go into a frenzy. I have calendars upon calendars that I calculate my life upon, and the switch in days messed up all of my calendars. It interfered with my personal calendar and seeing my best friend from out of town. It interfered with my Monday office calendar; I thought I would be taking care of a lot of last minute projects essential to my trip. It interfered with my transport to the airport, where I was going to leave my car while I was away, when I was going to pack, when I was going to shop for last minute things and a host of other items that my mind immediately started overanalyzing.

I turned around and rushed back to work to take care of all of the Monday tasks on Friday night. Then, late to meet Michael, I rushed out of work.

Somewhere along I-5 south, my mind and my car were both moving too fast for the fact that, as I came around a blind corner moving with the flow of traffic, the entire freeway was surprise backed up to a halt.

Cue Sterling, my car, head-butting a Ford F150 truck with trailer hitch.

Cue airbag release, an explosion I have never experienced, complete with firework smells that made me convinced my car was on fire. Cue hands so shaky I could barely call 911. Cue panic on top of the schedule panic about how this was going to interfere with my trip and was I going to need to go to the doctor but my new job’s health insurance doesn’t kick in for another couple of weeks and who do I call and what do I do and is my car fixable and am I going to be sued and is someone about to fly around that same blind corner and obliterate me while I try to figure this all out.

After dozens of phone calls, I find myself and my car being towed back home by the world’s nicest tow truck driver. Michael is already waiting right outside my place and wraps me in the longest, nicest hug then takes me to go get wine and junk food which I can barely consume because I feel like I am going to throw up. Hours later, after he leaves, it’s midnight then 1 then 2 then 3 AM and I’m in bed still unable to sleep. My body finally realizes the full shock of what happened and I’m uncontrollably shivering in a cold sweat and heaving for an hour straight. A few hours later, Cristina texts me that she’s on her way from San Diego to come spend the day making sure I feel okay and not alone. Even though I tried to tell her no and pretend like I was strong enough on my own, I was so relieved that she was more stubborn than I was. My friends are really good at meeting my strong resistance to asking for help with an even stronger will to help.

Weekend proceeds. I get the car to the shop, figure out my packing and shopping and errands. Then I get another call from work.

FALSE ALARM. I actually leave on Tuesday, not Monday. The whole Monday scenario was a mistake.

This sent me reeling into anger and confusion. WHY, when I could have been home safe, and I halfway already was, WHY did a FALSE ALARM occur to alter my course back to work, then into my accident? WHY do those split second decisions occur when you could have switched lanes or left the office 5 seconds later or decided to take care of it all from home over the weekend…WHY didn’t one of those scenarios play out? WHY, do I now have to travel with the stress of trying to figure out insurance claims, rental cars, my first market for my company, airplanes and hotel beds with a body suffering from whiplash, all at once, from a different city? It still doesn’t make sense to me over a week later and I doubt it will.

Unable to give myself any answers to these questions, I remained on a high level of stress. It continued when our hotel check-in reservations were messed up. It continued when I was trying to present the perfect image to our customers, both of self and of the brand. It continued and explosively magnified on St. Patrick’s Day when I had a severe allergic reaction to something I ate while meeting with one of my media contacts, and suddenly my face was swelling up and I had these weird dimples because it was getting so fat, my lips looked like Botox gone wrong, my chest was so tight and I couldn’t breathe or swallow and the thought of going to the emergency room in the middle of a very important business trip in a random city made me wish that I would actually just die on the spot from the allergy and not have to be dealing with all of this stress.

I have not reacted this severely in a long time, and it sent me into an even deeper panic than what I had already been experiencing with the car and with my travel. Afraid that any little thing would set me off, I stopped eating (since Thursday afternoon until now), except minimal snacks of safe items here and there – but even those I managed to work myself into thinking I was reacting to. I was napping on Sunday and literally sat bolt upright from a dead sleep clutching my throat, sure I had stopped breathing. I took more Benadryl than is probably advisable, then panicked on top of the panic on panic that this would cause my liver to fail or my heart to stop.

Somehow, I thought that (after not eating for 4 days straight) it would resolve my anxiety if I just went to the gym and got some endorphins. You HAVE to breathe while you work out, so by working out I rationalized that my difficulty breathing would be proved a facade. I went to Body Pump with my co-worker, which is relatively extreme on a normal basis due to it just being a ton of reps of weighted squats and lifts and curls, but a particularly bad idea when you are totally malnourished. Halfway through the workout my legs started quivering so badly I could barely stand. “Yeah, this is good, this is what my body needs,” I told myself. I always love the feeling of soreness from workouts.

However, driving home in the dark on the freeway for the first time since my accident, between the lack of food and the quivering body that couldn’t calm down and my chest pain from my anxiety I nearly just lost it. I didn’t know how I was going to even make it home. I thought to myself, “who the hell have I become and why am I allowing myself to be so consumed by all of these things?”

So, a couple hours later, here I am, sitting on my kitchen floor trying to force down some plain quinoa noodles without panicking that I am allergic to them even though I have eaten them a hundred times before, and trying to reevaluate how I can get a grip on my anxiety.

What it boils down to, as I have explained to friends while explaining my accident, is that I try to live my life at a really high level of just having my shit together. I pay bills in surplus amounts before the due date. I calendarize my life. I update my resume. I get pissed if my credit score goes down by a point. I authoritatively negotiate. Sometimes I go home to meal prep and clean my apartment instead of hanging out with friends. I get mad when people don’t do the right thing. Laziness aggravates me. I want to be good at everything I do, which is exactly why I never sing karaoke. I want to be a perfect driver and a perfect employee and a perfect friend.

When you work so hard to maintain your standard of life, when something bad and unexpected happens, it shatters you. It forces you to face the fact that guess what: you will never have your shit together as much as you like to think, because life just doesn’t operate like that, and your very obsession to cultivate a world that will cause others to perceive you as a competent human being is an impossible notion and largely out of your control. You don’t understand how insane it is for me to admit that I GOT IN A CAR ACCIDENT. AND IT WAS MY FAULT. That is something that on another day I would like to keep as a very deep dark secret that nobody knows about. How stupid. How shameful. How incompetent. Yet. Here I am, kitchen floor. Isn’t that where all breakdowns occur? And my blog is how I hope to transform my breakdowns into breakthroughs.

Knowingly, today a friend sent me an article on anxiety. It is here, if you are curious for the full length. But here’s what really stuck out to me:

I can always find someone’s judgment to worry about: a projection of what I imagine another human being, or even a cosmic power, might be thinking of me. It’s as though I’m just not ready to be the witness. I’m not ready for that level of freedom. I still need to be the one who is watched and judged. And the judgment is inevitably cruel….I know that this isn’t a pleasant way to live in the world. I know that it isn’t necessary. But the perception that I am being judged gives me something tangible to aim for. Through unnecessary self-improvement I can cordon off the abyss; I can distract myself from deeper existential questions regarding the nature of existence and the fact that I am going to die.

It suddenly clicked for me that so much of my anxiety is stemming from me trying to be perfect all the time. Even just Friday night a friend was telling me that I am WAY harder on myself than even seems humanly possible, which is so true. I do this because the alternative is anxiety induced kitchen floor breakdowns. When I am living my life in the way that I want, as the perfect driver and the perfect employee and the perfect everything else, I don’t have to face the weaknesses that my perceived incompetence brings about. If I focus on being in control of everything, it reduces the amount of time I spend getting really worked up about the meaning of life and existential questions and the psycho timeline of events that just so perfectly that leads you to disaster and everything else I don’t understand. And I would much rather feel like I am making steps to be in control, rather than to feel like I have to deal with thinking about things that are out of my control.

It’s pretty stupid, though, this constant need to invent judgment to motivate the way I live my life. In reality, do my close friends think less of me for getting in an accident? No. They worried so sincerely about me that they came to my rescue, made sure I was surrounded with prayer and communication, and suggested anything helpful they could imagine.

So why do I spend so much time trying to build myself up to sitting on a pedestal? I don’t know, I guess I would just rather sit there on a pedestal that at least I know I worked myself to the bone to build, then sit down below in the trenches with my demons, thinking about all of the ways I am failing at life. Because sitting with my demons is where I’m at now, and I don’t have any idea how to handle the physical, emotional and psychological impacts of not being able to get a grip on my anxiety, and let me tell you, it’s a terrible place to be.

Where’s the balance? Where would you define the appropriate altitude between self-inflicted pedestals and self-inflicted demons? How do you respond to your insatiable need for unnecessary self-improvement without totally setting yourself up for disaster when things don’t go as planned? 

I don’t actually know.

But for me, tonight, it begins by admitting some of my faults, inabilities and insecurities. It begins by trying to find relief in the fact that I don’t have my shit together and I never will, and if I did I would probably never learn another lesson a day in my life.

I suck at flossing my teeth. Sometimes I get so stressed and think I am so busy that I allow this to stand in the way of being radically compassionate to every person I come into contact with, which is a big goal of mine. Don’t ever ask me where to go for dinner or what movie to watch because I have a crippling fear of inconsequential decisions. I am terrible at directions. I irrationally envision worst-case scenarios mostly everywhere I go. I’m overly cautious and overly fearful. I have zero filter on my sass which is generally unhelpful. I have a lot of hostile thoughts about my living situation. And my old CEO who tried to steal all my tax withholdings and flee the country, causing a time of many kitchen floor breakdowns. In an apocalypse, I would be the first person to die and I would happily allow myself to be sacrificed because I am 0% brave, so much so that I can’t even watch scary movies even though I know they are totally fake. I spilled a giant bag of popcorn kernels on my floor a couple of weeks ago, and now, sitting here reflecting on my imperfections I have a new angle of my kitchen floor and can see a gross pocket of stale kernels which my sweeping missed. But I probably won’t sweep it up tonight. I would rather pay to go to the salon than paint my own nails even though that is a stupidly lazy and expensive habit. I can’t go anywhere without mascara for fear of resembling a young boy and I’m just vain and narcissist. Half of the time when Nocturnal Baby starts yelling when I am sleeping, I yell back or bang stuff around in my room which is just so immature and rude. I can’t imagine all the terrible things people would think about me if I died and they had to clean up and go through my life, and they would be like “wow this girl is legit a weirdo.” I have always joked that a better name for my blog would be convinced I am dying dot com.

While these may seem like random and stupid little things, truth be told they are literally all thoughts that have gone through my head in the past 4 days of my non-eating non-breathing anxiety. I guess somehow I think that by tearing myself down I’m going to build back up stronger. I don’t really know. I just thought it might be therapeutic to admit some of them, particularly on the internet, a space where people so deliberately try to put together this image of the best version of themselves. And I thought that maybe if we all spent a little more time admitting and relating on our imperfections, we would spend less time getting worked up in a frenzy over not being perfect.

Usually as I wrap up a piece I’ve written I feel a peace. It seems like everything has come full circle, and I get it, and I’m cohesively sharing my new revelations. This feels nothing like that. I guess that would negate the purpose of this being a post on imperfections. But, I also think that this is more of the beginning of a new thought pattern rather than the conclusion of it.

Still gotta keep that mantra of “make them gold,” though.

“Can you tell me what to have and what to hold
If you never take the weight on your own
No one tells us what is hard and what is fair
And we will deliver once we know where to fall

We are made of our longest days
We are falling but not alone
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold

We are made of our smallest thoughts
We are breathing and letting go
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold…”

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1.3.2016 – Make Them Gold

I’ve never been that girl with a “dream wedding.”

“Oh, come on! You KNOW you’ve thought about it,” people have said to me. “Don’t you at least have colors you want? You HAVE to know what kind of dress you will wear. I mean, you are in fashion.”

I would be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about it. But mostly my thoughts go like this:

Love, the most beautiful human emotion has been commercialized and turned into an industry, yet somehow, over half of the weddings that take place don’t end in happily ever after. It seems like a stressful and expensive nightmare to plan a wedding, and the thought of everybody who knows me being in the same small vicinity while me and this monumental life commitment happen to be the center of attention gives me a TON of anxiety. Every once in a while I think that eloping will be best, but most days it is something so far removed from my reality, and any near or distant future of my personal life, that I don’t really think about it.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE going to weddings. I am the biggest sap who is always crying tears of happiness, and staying on the dance floor of the reception until the last song comes on. I am over the moon about the fact that for all the weddings I have been in, I have so strongly believed in the lasting potential of the marriage. I am not anti-marriage, or anti-wedding. It is just something that generally exists in a separate compartment from my own life.

So, needless to say, I never pictured myself being open to opportunities in the bridal sector of the fashion industry.

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Yet, as my two year stint at LA Showroom started to feel like I had maxed out the opportunity for learning, and the plateau was dragging down my morale in life, I decided it was time to make a change.

I had written down a pro and con list for Seattle vs. Southern California. Part of me felt really compelled to move back, for a large variety of reasons. The other part of me felt like “what brought you here will keep you here” – it is much better for my career to stay. Torn, I applied to at least a dozen Seattle jobs, and despite internal recommendations and a qualified resume, was straight up rejected from every single one I applied to. I decided to interpret it as a sign that I was meant to stay in Southern California.

But where to go here? I was majorly stressing out about this question. Sleepless nights. Obnoxious overwhelming conversations to my best friends about HOW does anyone handle life and know what the right path is? I scanned bookshelves and TED Talks. I got so far down the rabbit hole that I did something very uncharacteristic of myself, and I admitted that I needed help. I wrote down a massive list of questions to submit to a “Make An Appointment” form on a therapist’s office website. Later that weekend, my pastor said, “How many of you have questions about life? If so, we have a place for you to come.” And I was like “LOL ACTUALLY YOU HAVE NO IDEA I JUST WROTE THEM ALL DOWN,” which led to me joining a group of people who were questioning faith and life where we listened to speeches and had discussions about guidance.

Somewhere along this journey I realized that the most unhelpful thing I had done was get my heart set on a particular outcome. Wanting the specific outcome of Seattle and focusing all of my energy towards that made me feel really depressed when it was not actualized. Already too fragile, this rejection was not something I felt like I could keep going through. I’ve said to friends recently that for months and months and months now I have felt painfully rejected from everything I want in life. I needed to shift focus to not let rejection be an existing theme. I decided to keep a more open mind and not focus on anything specific. At the end of the day I just realized all I could do was pray to be guided in a direction where I would simultaneously advance my career growth while fulfilling purpose for a greater good, and for the discernment to be able to recognize and accept this opportunity, whether it happened to arise in Seattle or Los Angeles or somewhere else. I told myself that I should wait until February, after my official 2 year review.

Which is all of a sudden when out of the blue work opportunities started reaching out to me – companies I had never applied to and sometimes never heard of.

Some were a laugh. Pacific Dental Services needed a Social Media Manager? NOT. Some weird dude who hit on me in the grocery store like 6 months ago who I rejected on 3 different occasions said he needed a Content Manager (which may have mostly been a cover story after I told him he needed to stop talking to me forever because I had conveniently invented a boyfriend)? DEFINITELY NOT.

But things also got more legit. A recruiter reached out to me and set me up on an interview at Alo Yoga which went really well, though I turned down requests to interview with Hammit Accessories, Ipsy Beauty, Windsor Fashion and some weird hair loss product company because I knew those weren’t things that I wanted. Outside of the recruiter, I had phone interviews with Wpromote, who found me on Indeed. I was so freaked out that opportunities were falling into my lap that I felt like I needed to apply to some things on my own, to feel like I was more in control of the situation. When you go through the process to fill out an application, you have kind of made your mind up that it’s something you are committed to. When jobs are finding you, it’s harder to be decisive about knowing whether or not it is something you are interested in. Splits59 activewear got back to me and I consulted with them also.

In the middle of all of this, a renowned luxury wedding dress manufacturer discovered me on LinkedIn and asked if I could please come meet the owners.

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Initially I wasn’t super interested, going back to my opening salvo about how I am apparently missing whatever chromosome the wedding obsession one is. But this consultant, James, kept following up, so I decided to hear him out. I told him I couldn’t just come meet the owners without more information on the company and role, so rather than them interview me, he very politely let me interview him in a very direct and probably semi-demanding way.

This conversation went actually so well that I was shocked. Feeling like everything seemed too good to be true I agreed to take the next step and meet the owners. This was a two hour ordeal that really just moved me, because I was sitting in front of the sweetest, kindest people who were essentially telling me that I was the answer to their prayers and they really thought that I was meant to be for the position and the company. And when I thought about how I had been praying to be guided somewhere, and my friends and the people from my life questioning group had been praying about my job search, and the business owners had been praying for the company, and it suddenly aligned in my life, it seemed undeniable. I met with them again a week later and was given an official job offer.

So naturally, as I do when things get very real and intense in a scary and unknown way, I shut down and panic and back away. I have trouble believing sometimes in the goodness of life and with feeling deserving of amazing things in my life. I went straight from a job offer to my friend’s living room full of a holiday party of people and burst into tears in front of everybody because I was so overwhelmed. I decided I needed to explore all opportunities first. I convinced myself the offer wasn’t good enough. I doubted the nature of the role; I doubted my interest in bridal. I thought I needed more time. I couldn’t fathom the guilt of quitting LA Showroom. I let other companies that I was working with know about the offer so that they could expedite the process of giving me competing offers. I did everything that I could to have as many other options laid out before me to consider, because I thought this would make my decision easier.

But the more my mind went in circles, I realized I was making everything more complicated than it needed to be, and that I just needed to relinquish control and take the path that was so perfectly laid out in front of me. Wasn’t that what I had told myself I was looking for? Wasn’t that a direct answer to my prayers? I signed the offer letter and sent it back, and put in my two weeks notice. Monday, January 4th, 2016 is my first day as the newest Marketing & PR employee for Casablanca Bridal. The fog of my panic has cleared, and I am really excited about what this means.

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New York Fashion Week has always been a goal of mine. While I’m not there yet, this will be the closest I’ve gotten – representing the brand at New York International Bridal Week as well as Chicago’s bridal market trade shows, with a potential for shows in Texas, Georgia and maybe even internationally in the future. Overhauling a relatively new social media presence with the skills I have learned in the past two years. Creating a blog from the ground up. Implementing other SEO, advertising and traffic generation best practices. Managing affiliate relationships with dozens, even hundreds of bridal magazines, blogs and other publications and media outlets. Providing ideas and direction and assistance with some amazing, high budget photo shoots. National sales meetings, sales rep support, wedding industry and bridal gown trend analysis. A commute that is 30-45 minutes instead of 60-120, and a salary that is five figures more than what I was making at this point last year. Interacting with a consumer base that is arguably some of the happiest people on the planet. Branding an established company by telling their story in creative ways to new and existing consumers.

What exactly is this story? It’s the story of a couple from humble beginnings who put God first in all that they do, and built a business based on the idea of unconditional love. A couple that has designed their own factory in China with gorgeous, resort hotel style amenities for all the employees who hand-bead and sew the exquisite gowns they create. A couple who understands the tragedy of the high divorce rate, and doesn’t want their gowns to be just another component of the multi billion dollar wedding industry. Rather, they believe every woman who gets married in a Casablanca gown should enter into a forever of happy, healthy marriage. In order to support this aim, they started a non-profit foundation, Celebrate Forever, that works with Christian counselors and educators to provide premarital counseling, marital counseling, family support, educational services and other initiatives to help keep families and marriages together. Part of my role will also include doing outreach and promotional work for Celebrate Forever. This is the story they want to tell, and it is such an honor that they see me as the suitable storyteller. I so hope that I am able to live up to the task.

I remember in college I expressed to my academic advisor that I had reservations about entering fashion, an industry that seemed so secular and materialistic. He told me that it takes people in all areas of life to make the world go around. The more immersed I get into the fashion industry, the more I get excited about things like interviewing with Alo, a company with paperless, solar powered facilities, or hearing about brands like the Reformation who are so committed to transparency in the manufacturing process while decreasing pollution and increasing factory standards. I just didn’t ever expect for an opportunity like Casablanca and Celebrate Forever to come my way. In my eyes, it redeems my qualms with the materialistic, production nature of the wedding industry that I would have found a difficult environment to work in. Instead, I get to be in a respected and influential part of that sector that is doing things differently, and focused overall on marriages rather than weddings.

I’m always being convicted about my strong opinions, and learning that it is okay for them to be challenged and reexamined. One of many things this experience has taught me is to keep an open mind about things you never thought you would consider. Next up, experimenting with heroin! No, just kidding. But when I look at how this opportunity came into my life the moment I decided to give up control over things and let God take the reins, and that it came through even when I tried to yank the reins back, it is such a powerful reminder that there is always a greater good working through everything that we do, and the more we focus our eyes on asking for guidance and desiring to be fulfilling the kingdom, the more blessings we will be open to receiving and the more gratitude we will feel. There honestly is always such a better plan than we could ever imagine for ourselves, and if we ask for it and be open to seeking it out, we shall receive in ways we never knew possible. This is not just a cliche. For a long time, I was in a very long and dark tunnel. To finally see the light coming from the other end, thinking that maybe I am about to exit a period of questions and enter a period of answers, is such an incredible feeling.

This feeling was affirmed and strengthened this morning in church, when we were focusing on a passage from Luke (side note, if you are curious to listen to the full sermon, it will be live here by some point on Monday):

And will not God bring about justice for His chosen ones, who cry out to Him day and night? Will He keep putting them off? I tell you, I will see that they get justice, and quickly.

The message that was centralized around this text was about how sometimes “quickly” is a lot longer than our own anticipation, and that we have to wait in these dark periods and difficult times, experiencing the silence of God for a reason. This is because prayer is not about resolution, but rather evolution, a topic I’ve touched on before in terms of new years before. When Bill started talking about how we need to stop focusing on outcomes and rather focus on the transformation of our character, I nearly fell off of my chair because this is exactly the journey of processing I have been wrestling with the past several months. This transformation and struggle works its way into our muscle memory, so the next time we run a marathon in one of those silent periods, we will be equipped with the strength to endure. It was just so significant to me that this was the discussion on the very day before I start my new job, a job that came about from a crazy journey of living out the process of arriving to those exact same conclusions. MIND BLOWN, HEART FULL, STRENGTH RENEWED, SPIRIT OPTIMISTIC, and I think that the revelations and reflections are just beginning. This might be the most a job has ever taught me before, and I haven’t even had the first day. I know it isn’t the answer to everything, and there will still be a lot of things that I will be struggling with. It’s definitely possible that it won’t turn out to be as amazing as it seems. But, it all feels like a very sure step in the right direction, and I can’t remember the last time I had that feeling.

During some of the harder days throughout the year, I listened to a lot of the new Chvrches album for the determined optimism it offers. These lyrics stand out to me:

We are made of our longest days
We are falling but not alone
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold

We are made of our smallest thoughts
We are breathing and letting go
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold

The concept of taking the best parts of yourself that have evolved through small thoughts and long days, and putting your energy into growing those areas – I love that. In the past couple of days I have sort of decided that “make them gold” is my mantra for all that is to come in the year ahead. Because I am a world class dork, when I was at Target yesterday, I found a gold 2016 planner and a gold stapler, and they’re going to sit on my new desk as a reminder to be a little King Midas, trying to bring out the best from all that I come into contact with and turn these things to gold.

Happy New Year,
Charlotte Ann

10.06.2015 – Hurt People Hurt People

At the Long Beach Trader Joe’s I frequent, I often come across a man outside. He sits with a sign saying he is homeless, laid off, hungry and grateful for assistance. He does not seem too much older than myself. As you walk by, he does not ask for anything – particularly not money, alcohol or cigarettes. He is not on drugs. He is not shouting at patrons of the store. He is not following anyone inside. He keeps his head down unless you interact first.

Recently, I asked him, “how can I help you today?” And it was difficult for him to even look me in the eye as he thanked me and requested a salad. Heartbreakingly polite and humble about the fact that he needed assistance.

A couple weekends ago when I went to Trader Joe’s he was there again. Only this time, Trader Joe’s had parked right beside him a sandwich chalkboard proclaiming something along the lines of the following message:

“Trader Joe’s just not support the solicitation or loitering of anyone outside of our store. Please feel free to ignore such persons as you go about your shopping!”

Part of me really wanted to take a photo of this. The other part felt like that would deny dignity to the man sitting right next to the sign, whom the message was obviously directed at. The exact wording escapes me, but the part I am sure of, the part that has haunted me for weeks now, was:

feel free to ignore such persons

Written in a cheerful, flowery script, with an exclamation mark following the phrase.

Trader Joe’s felt the need to give people permission to IGNORE HUMAN LIVES.

Without getting too charged up, let me tell you that I find this attitude absolutely more offensive than the homeless man’s behavior. Shame on you, Trader Joe’s. Shame on you, patrons of Trader Joe’s who complain about the presence of a homeless man sitting outside. Shame on you, because ignoring human lives is exactly the underlying root of so many of our society’s problems.

On a related tangent, recently, as I was walking through downtown Los Angeles, I noticed someone had stenciled on the sidewalk, “HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE.” This is such a heartbreaking reality. When we think about people who hurt people, whether it is mass shootings or crime rates or violent transgressions, who are the people that are lashing out?

It is the hurt people.

Where does this hurt begin? It commences the moment we isolate, ignore, dehumanize, marginalize. It blossoms in the moment we strip away dignity, human rights and respect. Anyone subscribes to an attitude of thinking they are superior to those in different life circumstances is fostering an environment of negativity and disconnect.

Connected, positive, happy citizens are generally not disrupting society. Those who are participating in these actions are those who have been shut out of community, denied love and told they are not good enough. We look down on India’s caste system, but at a different level we definitely allow similar ideals to prevail in our society, without recognizing them for what they are.

Among approximately seven other books, I’m working through The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell right now. From it, I was reminded of the Broken Windows theory (something I half slept through the first time around in Intro to Sociology circa 2009). Essentially this criminology theory postulates that urban disturbance (shout out to my own alliteration) is this downward spiral progression of self-fulfilling prophecy, where little crimes such as broken windows or graffiti are what cause big crimes such as murder and illegal drug business. As the book puts it, “the graffiti was symbolic of the collapse of the system.” Little indicators that the system is broken make way for people to break it further. If there is graffiti and broken windows around, it signifies to criminals that nobody cares, so a crime done in this setting is less punishable. I guess it is kind of like: which are you more likely to handle recklessly and carelessly — a brand new Tesla, or a junker clunker?

The “hurt people hurt people” stencil coupled with reminder of Broken Windows Theory actually led me to apply the theory to the human psyche. In my theory, the small transgressions like graffiti or broken windows correlate to small missteps like failing to acknowledge an interaction someone sends to you (which is incidentally the number one cause of marital dissatisfaction), or saying something insensitive and not caring to correct yourself. I firmly believe that interactions either build or break – there is no grey area here – so every time we do not act intentionally with love and compassion, we are breaking windows. The more broken windows there are, the more broken hearts and broken souls and broken spirits we create, which is exactly what destructs our society. The hurt people are hurting people. But we are all responsible for hurting those hurt people in the first place.

Another book I’m currently reading is Blue Like Jazz, 74 years behind the curve, I know. I am only a couple chapters in, but one thing that stuck out to me really insanely powerfully was the following statement:

“the path to joy winds through the this dark valley. I think every well-adjusted human being has dealt squarely with his or her own depravity…I think Jesus feels strongly about communicating the idea of our brokenness, and I think it is worth reflection. Nothing is going to change in the Congo until you and I figure out what is wrong with the person in the mirror.”

(The Congo reference being the political turmoil, genocide, civil war, rape and other atrocities taking place there. BOOK REFERENCE THREE go read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, one of my all time favorites).

But, back to that quote. It is saying, and I agree, I have been trying to get at this point in so many of the pieces I have written on here…any of the larger changes we hope to befall our society are never going to click into place unless we can face ourselves squarely in the mirror each day and commit to stop breaking windows and to stop hurting others, however directly or indirectly.

I am not sure what this means in your life. It could be offering more grace to your spouse, or ceasing to ignore those who are homeless, or letting go of your ill thoughts towards your co-worker. What is that area of your life that you are feeling convicted about right now? Who do you know needs a little bit more of your compassionate heart, and not your hard heart?

I know that my idea of love and community and connection, a society where we are not hurting one another, is radically idealistic in today’s society. My vision is complete compassion, total devotion, absolute affection, undying attention, unquestioning support, extreme selflessness. I fail at each and every one of these aspects every single day. But I believe so strongly that I need to keep trying.

I know this, because I’ve suffered a few broken windows in my own life.

On more than one occasion I have been told by people that I am one of the strongest people they know. Let me tell you something. Strong people don’t just happen. They are built from the circumstances around them.

My strength is both found and destroyed in the loneliness and isolation I often feel from my radical vision of love and connection not being met. I would venture to guess that on occasion I feel just as dehumanized and devalued as the homeless man sitting outside of Trader Joe’s. The difference is that theoretically I “have it made.” I’m completely independent, I’m paying my bills, I have a vehicle and a job and a great apartment and money to spend on hobbies and outings. I grew up in a white middle class family and have never known struggle in the way many of us would define it. While I experience broken windows, I guess because I have material security and basic needs met, it is easier for me to cope. I would never lash out against society, and I hope I never hurt others in the way that I have felt hurt. However, because of my capacity to feel so lonely and hurt, I can absolutely empathize with the hurt people who hurt people.

Without the depths of the lows I have felt, I would not possess a capacity for the potential of the heights I strive for. Science doesn’t make sense to me in an expressly scientific context. But Newton’s Third Law, that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction? That makes so much sense when you apply it to hurt and love. Apply Newton’s Third Law to life and what you find is that the most broken people are the ones with the most potential to love. Yet we never give them that chance because we are too busy keeping them down with the ways we ignore them and marginalize them. And, I would conjecture that it is just as dangerous to OURSELVES to deny love to those who need it most, as it is dangerous for those who are being denied.

So I’m vowing to stop. I’m vowing to acknowledge that often the people who cause us the most hurt are the ones who need the most love back. And that as painful as it is to open yourself up to the rejection that comes from loving them, there is no other way to live. I am vowing to approach each interaction with the intention of building rather than breaking – something I vow time and time again and always need to be better at. I’m vowing to be the kindness that comes along and sweeps up the broken glass from the windows of others who have had their hearts shattered by a world that doesn’t offer them the compassion and attention and affection they need. I’m vowing to use my strength built out of my brokenness to inspire others to raise themselves up and help repair the glass of others. I am vowing not to ignore a single human life or possibility for interaction. And I’m extending an invitation for you to join me. Please join me.

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Here is the P.S. section:

There’s two more points that I couldn’t get to fit in anywhere here without going off on majorly unrelated tangents, which I’ve already done enough of. But I will just briefly highlight them for you to consider yourself:

  1. If you operate on a religious basis, the model I am striving for in terms of loving others and deliberately avoiding creation of broken windows, even when it is hurtful and not always easy? That example comes DIRECT FROM JESUS. We are always shattering our own windows and the windows of others with the transgressions we make, and we are LOVED ANYWAY, and we are called to do this as well.
  2. If you are skeptical of how much I’ve emphasized the need for connection, community and compassion, and all of my long winded analogies do not make sense to you, just look at the way we prioritize social connection via our smart phones. If the way we perk up at a notification does not equate to a cry for more connection, albeit in an entirely misplaced and devastating way, I don’t know what does.

Lastly, I thrive on the discussions and thought processes that develop when others read my blog and reach out to me. We have so much to learn from each other. If you are feeling compelled, please act.

7.5.2015 – The Birthday Question

If you know me at all, you know I spent the last year conducting an informal verbal survey; the Birthday Question. Every time I am with a friend on their birthday, I ask: “What is your goal for your next year of life?

Largely, this is because I believe one of the most important aspects of life is helping my friends accomplish their goals. Knowing what is important to them, and how I can check in on them throughout the year to be supportive – I find this to be a really valuable aim. Sometimes people are so wrapped up in the ambiguity of life as a 20-something that it can be difficult to define a goal. I understand “figuring it out,” but I also think a great way to expedite the figuring and provide focus and direction is to articulate objectives for yourself and your life. Hearing others think out loud about their goals and then confess them is pretty powerful. I am so thankful for the people in my life who keep me accountable to a higher standard, so if I can assist in this with this for others, I’m all about it.

If I am being honest though, there is another big reason for my Birthday Question survey. It’s much more selfish.

I need inspiration.

I declared 23 as the last year I would be happy and excited about getting older. It was my golden year birthday – 23 on the 23rd. It was a FANTASTIC year. 24 came around, and I referred to it not as my birthday, but as the Golden Year Funeral. It was half serious and half joking.

Now that it’s July, friends be like “OMG BIRTHDAY WAT R U GOING 2 DO?!”

So far my answer is “SHIT! Hide from all the people who I pressured into setting goals for their upcoming year because they are going to ask the same of me and I have NOTHING to say and I am about to be exposed as a major fraud.”

Jokes aside, I’m really not down with being 25. To me, this feels so old to look at where I am in my life and all that I have not accomplished. I have so many insecurities – from my status as single – to the wrinkles deepening under my eyes – to being irrelevant to the people who have been my best friends because they are at such different points in their life that I can’t relate to – to not furthering my education in any meaningful way – to not being fiscally focused on my future – to not contributing to the world in any meaningful way – to not really investing in any communities – to feeling unworthy of happiness – to feeling like the love I have within me is not being added to or recognized by the world – I could go on. I am not sure when and how it happened, but it’s like life hit a switch and now instead of a new age presenting more to look forward to, a new age exposes all of the areas of life I am failing at. 25 is not telling me “look at the grand new possibilities of life you have to look forward to!” It is telling me, “you are failing at living well.”

I know some people would look at my life and say “but you ARE living your life well.” To which I reply: “the year between 24 and 25 just flew past me and I accomplished nothing.” My dad the other day tried to counterattack this argument by saying “well…you stayed employed!” In my eyes, that is not a grand achievement that is your sole aim of an entire year – it is a given. There has to be more to life than staying employed.

So, I have been agonizing about the looming answer to my own question. It seemed like too much pressure pick a singular goal. I want to actively better myself in all areas of my life – spiritual, physical, relational, emotional, intellectual, occupational – but what singular goal can address all these realms simultaneously? I thought about what it would look like to choose a goal for each realm, and began listing out some ideas. What I came up with was a 26 Things to Accomplish Before Turning 26 list.

Allow me to veer off on a maj tangent here: those bullshit lists that circulate around Buzzfeed and Elite Daily and other millennial click bait websites that make money off of feeding into fears and telling people what they want to hear? THAT IS NOT WHAT THIS LIST IS. I do not need to feel better about myself by reading a list that tells me it’s okay if I go out and get totally shitfaced and have fun with one night stands and default on my student loans as a lifestyle and dramatically quit my job because GUESS WHAT if I thought that was an acceptable way to live I would just do it and not feel insecure about it then redeem my security by defaulting to internet validation. I do not feel like I need a list to learn about myself or align me with normative societal standards.

No, my list is a little different. It is entirely personal. I do not think all these things are something every 25 year old should accomplish, nor do am I doing it for an sense of collective validation. They aren’t major things like “swim with sharks” or “sky dive” because I am not doing this to impress anyone with my diverse life experiences, and I am not doing this to feel like I am “living life to the fullest” by participating in adrenaline filled activities.

Instead, it is a way of giving me direction and accountability to actively better myself in a well rounded way. When I am focused on reaching achievements, I have less time for self deprecation. When I am surrounding myself with creative, physical and intellectual pursuits, I am able to keep my anxiety and depression much more toned down. I do not want to spend another year focusing on my myriad of unaccomplishments, and I do not want to dread or fear getting older. While the things I have chosen may not seem like big achievements or milestones that people would look at and say “WOW GOOD JOB AT LIFE,” what they will do is redirect my focus and put me in a mindset to be able to discover more of those big achievements. So, without further ado (because this intro just exponentially surpassed the 8 second attention span of the average person and odds are you only skimmed 28% of it anyway) –

26 GOALS TO ACHIEVE BEFORE TURNING 26

1. Run a 10 K

Chelsea Kerr, lookin’ at you, boo! April 2016 is our Temecula Run Through The Vineyards 10k, where we complete our run then kick back to rehydrate with wine. This is not because I feel like I need to get into shape – my physical fitness is actually one of the more satisfying areas of my life and I already run 5-7 K a few times a week as part of my gym routine. It is more about the organized declaration of commitment aspect, and following through with a silly hot tub wine night dream that Chels-o and I invented. When your goals align with your pals and give you the opportunity to encourage and support others, that is pretty great.

2. Start An Investment Portfolio and Learn The Stock Market

Yo Millennials, did you know you are supposed to be putting like 15% of your paycheck towards your retirement? Did you know social security is probs not going to exist for us? Did you know that as a single woman, the statistics are even scarier and more intense? YEAH well I know these things because lately they have been keeping me awake at night. Nobody is going to do this for me, and I can’t keep saying “oh, once I get my school debt paid off I will start.” Procrastination is deadly when it comes to retirement, and I know that I have already lost so much time. It all had me so panicked that even though I am not yet to my 25th birthday, I talked to my accountant pal and opened up some aggressive growth stock investments with dedicated monthly contributions because I just needed to feel better about my life. So, the goal for 25 is to continue this, learn more about my options, become stock savvy, have a 401K on fleek and overall inspire a sequel to the Wolf Of Wall Street called the Wench of Wall Street or something (only hugs not drugs).

3. Take A Class

Whether it is a one time Groupon pole dancing or pottery class, or an ongoing weekly skill based course, I want to challenge myself to learn something new outside of my comfort zone. Bonus points if I bring a friend or make a new one on this goal.

4. Read 20 Books

I guess this sounds ambitious to some people, but not really me. If I have no weekend plans, it is pretty typical of me to read something cover to cover. Basically every other week my mom is mailing me books about the most bizarre variety of subjects (survival guides, Seattle, failing at falling in love and other painfully relevant things). I got together with an old friend the other night and he provided 5 titles about self awareness and psychology and spirituality, which is all the stuff I LOVE to immerse myself in. So, the books themselves are not the issue – I have plenty of books to read, I just am not always the best about dedicating the time. If I challenge myself to write them down, I absolutely will be.

5. Write 3 Poems

I used to write a lot of poetry. If you stalk back on my archives you’ll find some. It was a therapeutic way of understanding the world. I love how everyone can interpret poems in differently based on their experience, and how it provides a place for learning more about how others process the world. When I am examining the world through a poetic lens, it inspires me to be more creative and have better ideas everywhere else in life.

6. Write 3 Blog Posts / Essays

I think this strikes a balance between combating my sporadic blogging nature, but not forcing anything. I should be able to discover and flesh out three profound (to me, anyway) patterns of thought in the span of a year, but I do not have to feel like it is an obligatory mandatory monthly minimum or anything.

7. Write One Line A Day

After the Daily Positive experiment, my personal journaling died down. Then, for my last birthday, my dear soul friend Amy gifted me a journal that is one line a day for 5 years. I started it in August of 2014 and have record of every day since. The cool thing about the year ahead is that I will see where I stood a year prior, so I can self-improve and reminisce on the purpose of things passed in the greater scheme. Maybe this is more a continuation of an existing habit than a new goal but it’s my list so I can do whatever I want.

8. Sew 10 Projects

While on the subject of numerical requirements / goals, I’ll throw this one in. Like poetry, sewing encourages a creative spirit that allows for increased positivity and inspiration in other areas of life. How did I settle on 10? Well, based on my skill level I figure it will probably take 10 different projects to come up with ONE wearable item. GOAL 8.5: add something I have made to my wardrobe rotation. 

9. Love Thy Neighbor

On Friday, I spent the morning of my one day off all summer dropping Sterling off at the collision center and picking up a rental car because my next door neighbor smashed into my parked car on the street, causing $968 worth of damage. Thankfully their insurance covers this all. However, though I was not even in my car when it was hit, I still have to foot $30/day for rental car insurance for the next week while it is in the shop which is just frustrating. So, I live next door to Car Smasher, and I live above Nocturnal Baby – a newborn that is crying ALL THE TIME. I am not exaggerating when I tell you I am woken up multiple times per night / morning because of IT (that is my nickname for it rather than calling It by its real name which it shares with an ex-boyfriend). I actually love my neighborhood but I was laughing on the phone to Amy the other night saying, “OMG my neighbors suck maybe God is telling me to move….OR, actually, maybe God is presenting me with a very literal urging to LOVE THY NEIGHBOR.” I think as much as this looks like not getting frustrated with Car Smasher and It, this also feeds in to my desire to volunteer more. I have, to quote Earl Sweatshirt, “hella love in my heart.” The problem is nobody really needs or wants my hella love because all my friends already have hella love to and from their spouse/sig. oth. I think volunteering is a helpful way for me to feel like my hella love is being presented to the world in a way that needs it. Whether I’m buying coffee and sandwiches for all my homeless pals downtown, or participating in organized volunteer outings with church, Imma hella love thy neighbor this year.

10. Be More Gentle and Compassionate in Spirit and Action

Last time I saw my mom she said, “I fear that I ruined you because you are too blunt and aggressive.” This is a really appropriate time to laugh, because CLEARLY the apple does not fall far from the tree. I know that this is one of my downfalls. More lately I ask friends for a reality check when I feel passionate about something – “hey, would it be too harsh to respond to situation X in X way, or am I spot on here?” which I think is a good start towards realizing there are times I need to tone down my judgment, defensiveness and habit (sometimes good but sometimes bad) of calling others out when I feel like they are not being a good person. But what good is realizing it if you are not implementing it? So, that is the next step.

11. Live Less Fear Based

I’ve probably written about this before, but I grew up in a household that taught me to be suspicious of everything, assume the worst case scenario and be very skeptical. It is an ongoing journey to try and overhaul this worldview because it leads to missing out on growth experiences. Being afraid of everything is a very good excuse to never interact with people of different walks of life and to have narrow-minded viewpoints, which is not in any way, shape or form who I want to be. Logistically, I can’t fully tell you exactly how this looks in day to day life, but I guess saying yes to more opportunities and being aware of the root of my feelings of uncomfortableness in various situations. The cool thing about goals is that you do not have to completely understand them when you set them – this is one that I can let take shape and transform me as I go along.

12. Make A Career Change

Whether it is a new title at my current company, or a new title at a new company, I need to make a change. I am not content with a stagnant resume. It will be a matter of figuring out what is the exact right next step to take, and I know it will come later in the 25th year rather than sooner, but I’m looking forward to it when it does. If there is one thing I have learned working in the crazy LA fashion industry it is absolutely follow your gut, and I feel like I am now discerning enough in that sense to be able to recognize the right next step once I find it.

13. Salary Goal: $xx,000

I was reading an article that said most women’s salaries plateau or significantly slow in growth in their 30s. I came up with a number I was comfortable plateauing at, subtracted my current number, and divided that by 10 to see the increment I have to increase each year to get to my goal by my mid 30s. It’s slightly aggressive, but you know that whole bit about shoot for the moon and land in the stars.

14. Visit Seattle

In my 3 years in California, I have been back twice. I miss it so, and some of my favorite people are still there, though for all of them I am not sure how much longer, so I should stop procrastinating!

15. Visit Michael in San Francisco 

When a dear friend moves to a favorite city, it’s a given. #TripleThreatTakesTheBayArea

16. Leave The Country

This is my goal for every day of life, but easier said than done. With pretty much all vacation time being wrapped up in upcoming weddings, I never have enough time to devote to a couple days out of state for myself let alone a significant trip overseas. So, even if it comes down to July 2016 and I have to call up some pals and be like “hey anyone wanna go get some tacos in Mexico today?” I am determined to do it (hopefully border patrol is receptive to the idea of the Birthday Question).

17. Catch A Bouquet 

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Two years ago when my BFF Morgan got married, there was a moment I severely regret. At the time, marriage and relationships were so far from my mind that when she sent her bouquet careening at me, rather than do the sensible, normal thing and catch it, I ducked down and hid away like a total weirdo. There is photographic evidence of it hitting me square in the face, which is carrying an expression clearly saying “OMG GET AWAY FLOWERS I REFUSE TO BE NEXT.” Since, I have been unfairly cursed with the WORST dating luck and I totally blame my rejection of the bouquet. I mean, what guy tells you the first time you go to dinner that if you allow him to pay, you are consenting to sex? What guy has 6 drinks in the span of 2 hours on a first date? What guy pays for a date #3 with a Groupon at a “wine bar” that only has 5 bottles of wine and is painted royal purple everywhere? What guy thinks it is cool to send you photos of naked female fitness models and tell you to tailor your workouts to look like them? What guy enters a first kiss with a mouth as open as the Grand Canyon? What guy waits 3 months to try and reschedule your dinner date that he stood you up on? What guy approaches you while you are pelvic thrusting in glute bridges at the gym to ask you out, then proceeds to ask if you have hairy armpits because you tell him that based on your feminist perspective that your body is not an object of enjoyment for male gym-goers, you feel like it is a bad time to be approached? MORAL OF THE STORY: ALWAYS CATCH THE BOUQUET, OR YOU WILL FOREVER BE STUCK HAVING THE WORST DATES OF LIFE. Not saying I want to get married next, I just feel like I need to tip the scales back to normality. Since I should have about half a dozen weddings to attend in my 25th year of life, this seems possible. So, brides, if you could help a sister out.

18. Hold More Babies

Any second now my friends are going to start popping out kids. Below is an accurate look of what would happen if I were asked to hold them. My baby IQ is negative 40. However, according to my friends I am supposed to be Crazy Aunt Charlotte who is totally involved with all their kids, so I need to practice at babies. I have to think about how to approach this one, because you can’t just go up to a mom at the grocery store and be like “yo I need to practice can I hold your baby?” But maybe volunteering in the church nursery. If you have a baby HMU.

19. Entertain at My Apartment More

After apartment hunting briefly in the spring when my roommate moved out, I realized just how incredibly blessed I am with a gorgeous, affordable, clean, modern, safe apartment (this is probably why I must tolerate Car Smasher and It, because nothing is perfect, right)? Rather than giving this up, I decided to take a gamble on a new roommate that I have never met before, and use the money I had been saving to move out on a brand new big girl life purchase of a matching living room set. Turns out the roomie is chill, and I seriously LOVE my living room and now I just want to have people over all the time! Except I am the worst about initiating anything because I always am insecure about feeling like I am forcing my presence upon other people. I would way rather have people invite themselves over than me invite them over. This is stupid though. I have the space and I have the desire, I just need the voice. A great idea is to probably invite It over and hold It, and have Car Smasher stop by too, and just have a little neighborhood fiesta to fulfill 9 love thy neighbor, 18 hold babies and 19 entertain all at once.

20. Purchase a Television

I am that bizarre person that does not have a television or cable because I sort of don’t believe in TV and I usually only ever watch sports which I stream on my computer. Friends come over and look at my entertainment center and say in total sarcasm “wow nice TV.” (Disclaimer: the EC was free at the time). I know this seems like a stupid goal because if you want a TV just get one already, but I sort of need to overcome my attachment to being the girl who is like “umm no I don’t have TV and FYI binge watching is not a lifestyle.” I just feel like I could better lure people over to my apartment to be entertained as per Goal 19 under the guise of movie nights, because sadly, nobody wants to come over for coffee and philosophical discussions.

21. Call My Grandma More

Except my grandma. She would totally come over for coffee (or whiskey) and philosophical discussions. My grandma is my favorite family member, and she has no idea that if I called her as often as I think of her we’d be on the phone every day. Since she is in Seattle, the place I never visit, I need to be better about this.

22. Visit The Dentist And The Doctor

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I am slightly OCD about brushing my teeth and have never had a cavity. I eat pretty healthy and work out nearly every day. I for some reason feel like this all exempts me from needing to see the doctor or the dentist – I haven’t even found either since living in California. However, at random times I will get a weird pain and be like “OH THIS IS IT. THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS. THE CANCER HAS TAKEN OVER AND I DON’T EVEN HAVE A DOCTOR.” Between avoidance and panic neither approach is healthy, plus “physical” was one of my identified categories for self-improvement, so this seems like a good goal for me to have.

23. Define the Pierre Timeline 

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If you have not heard about Pierre, then you should not consider yourself my friend. If you are my friend, you are probably so sick of hearing about Pierre. And, if you are not okay with Pierre, then we can never be friends. Here is how goal setting works with me: as I told a friend recently, “all my goals start as jokes.” Many big things in my life begin as silly obsessions that I don’t necessarily take very seriously, but over time, I become more and more invested in the idea of and it ends up coming true. This happened when I decided I wanted to work for H&M, when I decided to move to California and it is in progress with Pierre. Pierre began on a whim when I said “in my future since I am a Francophile I will have a dog named Pierre.” Then, since dogs are best when they resemble their owner, I decided Pierre needed to be a redhead. Also, a prerequisite for dogs for me is ultra snuggly. After extensive internet stalking I decided Miniature Australian Labradoodles are the best curly, snuggly size with the correct hair color. Plus, they are hypoallergenic and so friendly. Ever since, I talk about Pierre way too much and like he already exists. I am getting closer and closer to the time when he can be a reality for my life! Right now, I’m gone from 7AM to 8PM and do not live in a dog friendly apartment. With the potential of career/salary change in my 25th year, I will be able to reexamine my daily routine and hopefully live closer to work, or in an extremely ideal world, be at a company that allows DOGS AT WORK or sometimes working from home with Pierre. While I know this can’t happen while I am 25, I am still planning for our future and in a year hope to have a definitive timeline for his arrival. In the meantime, if you want to be so overwhelmed with cuteness that you CAN’T EVEN, please refer to my friends Penny and Finley who are exactly how Pierre will be, down to their choice in leopard print robes and love for Starbucks. Also, if you ever need a dog sitter, please call me immediately because I am so obsessed with dogs and really love to always be around them.

24. Confidential / Undisclosed #1

Because not everything needs to be revealed.

25. Confidential / Undisclosed #2

Because not everything needs to be revealed part 2.

26. Continue Asking The Birthday Question to Others

So, invite me to your birthday party. Or leave your goal in the comments below. How can I encourage you?

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3.22.2015: Autopilot Society

I had a funny moment Friday night.

I had come from a valet parking lot. When I got to my next destination, I turned my car off. Removed the keys from the ignition. Opened the door.

My car starts SCREAMING at me. I notice that all the interior lights are still on. Confused, I looked at the keys in my hand, then checked that the car was in park. I had a brief second of panic where I literally thought my car had not turned off even though I had taken the keys out.

You are probably laughing at this point; much quicker on the uptake than I am. Despite being a redhead I experience no shortage of blonde moments.

My lights were still on.

In the 2 ½ years since buying my car Sterling (silver dreaming in a charcoal existence), I have kept my lights on “AUTO.” The valet switched them to “ON” instead, and I had never known what it was like to have to think for myself to switch them off. It was such a foreign concept to me that for a minute it completely caught me off guard.

This horrified me. So much so, that later that night I had a dream that my car battery died in the middle of driving LA freeways. Every light on my dashboard went on and I was panicking on the phone to my dad, saying, “I just had it serviced a few weeks ago! They said the battery was fine! How could this happen; what do I do?!”

Anything that translates from life into my dreams is usually something worth pondering, because it is insight into my subconscious and hidden stressors.

Today, that pondering is explored by means of writing, as it often is. Though tonight I choose to share my writing and pondering.

First, here is a tangent to some other things I have been pondering lately. If you stick with me, I promise I will try to tie it all together.

I am starting to be alarmed at the ways in which our society has become obsessed with monitoring things.

Do not get me wrong. I am all for fitbits. While I do not myself have one, I see the healthy competition that takes place in terms of monitoring steps and trying to be more active. If you can give yourself a little more accountability to live better, then go for it.

However, in passing as I occupy the internet each day, I have discovered some pretty crazy monitoring tools recently. They go beyond the fitbit to be extreme and (in my opinion) unnecessary. Exhibit A: A TechCrunch article called “Cheap Sensors Will Fuel The Age of Smart Everything.” It an interesting read, but what stuck out to me most was the Oral B “smart toothbrush,” where your toothbrush is connected to Bluetooth and mobile, providing you with timers and feedback about how effectively you brushed your teeth.

Excuse me. How old were you when you first learned to brush your teeth, and for how long since have you been successfully accomplishing this task? Why would you need to rely on technology and feedback from machines to tell you about your brushing habits?

Exhibit B. The same sort feeling struck me when I read about a necklace that is supposed to monitor your food intake and tell you when to stop eating.

Pretty soon, we are all going to be having a lot more of these Charlotte-style lights-on blonde moments. We will be so used to auto-pilot, with sensored everything doing all of the thinking for us, that we will forget how to eat, to brush our teeth, to turn off the lights, to exercise or to do anything without a push notification or synchronization to our mobile device to help us through it.

Okay, that is rather dramatic.

You get where I am going, though, yes? I am trying to illustrate the potential dangers of a society that relies too much on auto-pilot.

Here is where I start to get a little convoluted, and a lot personal.

I have had a rough go of it over the last month. More and more, I would characterize myself as plagued by a deep sadness and loneliness. While my depression has always been a struggle for me, I would say that I have not previously felt it this bad since moving to California. The loneliness, I have been able to pinpoint, stems in large part from the fact that I feel like there is a disparity between how I prioritize relationships, and the people who prioritize me.

This should be interpreted as conceited or delusional. I understand quite well that life is an extremely delicate juggling act. We constantly have so many things to balance, and at certain times particular things take greater precedence. I do not expect to be at the top of the priority list of anyone – I would probably feel guilty and uncomfortable if that were the case.

At the same time, it is really starting to feel like so many people regard relationships with the same auto-pilot nature that is permeating the rest of our society.

I want to ask for a second that you examine the ways you are prioritizing your relationships.

Have you taken people for granted? Do you go into work each day and follow the same small talk template for your coworkers? Do you neglect to reach out to your family members or friends because you have gotten overwhelmed with other things, and you know that they will always be there, so you feel there is no consequence to putting them on the back burner? Have you ceased to respond with enthusiasm and support to the musings of your significant other as you sit there on the couch together at night? Do you regard the grocer, the banker, the barista as just another pawn in the day-to-day, without bothering to offer any intentional or unique interaction? Are you murmuring “mmhmm” as others talk to you, without actually listening to exactly what they are saying and feeling?

Are you on auto-pilot, neglecting to offer full investment?

You remembered to check how your teeth-brushing went today. You remembered to re-set your car’s MPG calculator. You remembered to view your active minutes on your fitbit app. You remembered to sync your iCloud. But in the midst of all these monitoring actions that have become so second-nature, maybe you forgot to check in on someone. To uplift their day. To ease their burdens.

I think a great way to put it comes from the Reformation, a fashion brand I am quite a fan of, who has made this sweatshirt stating, “I wish you looked at me the way you look at Instagram.” I do not know whether to laugh or to cry at the spot-on nature of it.

People are not apps. As much as we try to govern more and more of our lives by technology, it must be realized that feelings and emotions do not fall into the same area of life, and you must appeal to feelings and emotions with equal levels of feeling and emotion, not with the same auto-pilot outlook as you treat your “stuff.”

Otherwise, our “connectedness” contributes to disconnect. Our friends and our family are literally crying out because they feel sad and alone, and we are in sync in all the wrong places; out of tune with humanity.

I know that I am just as guilty as anyone about focusing on a notification during a conversation, or becoming so absorbed in my to-do list that I forget a particular friend is having an important day. But I also choose to address it, and I hope that in doing so, I have convinced you to as well. I am not directing this post in a passive aggressive way to anything or anyone in particular. Simply, I am trying to make sense of the loneliness and sadness I feel, and attempt to transform it into a learning process for myself, and hopefully an education to others. Maybe it is all just a more poorly written coda to my Information vs. Intimacy ideas, but I hope that if you got to this point, you were able to find value in it somehow.

So go forth and invest this week, lovers. And, if you are feeling lonely, know that you are not alone. Sometimes, it is just important to reach out as it is to hope that others will reach out to you.

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