(Why This Article Is Not Called) “20 Ways to Be a Twenty-Something”

I’m a sucker for clicking on blog posts ordered into “lists.”

It’s so bad, you guys. I hardly ever like them. Those “how-to-be-twenty-something” lists from Thought Catalog are particularly tempting.  “Yes! A guru! Go ahead, stranger on the internet, tell me how to do this right!”

I know they capitalize on my insatiable desire for direction. I know these things are rarely entertaining, never mind enlightening. I know I’m being lazy, looking for life lessons in bite-sized, unemotional lists. I know all that, but I still give the articles a shot every time because–“What if they know something I don’t know?! What if they have the secret?!”

Unfortunately, the list-ers rarely  give me the shot back. They don’t leave room for another right answer. Lists are facts, rules, and deadlines. They are filled with fluffy and contradictory advice, seemingly thrown together by the same eighteen year old on ego-steriods:

Be vulnerable and emotionally available in everything…but don’t go falling in love or expressing your feeling, kiddies.  Get your shit together, and do it now…or tomorrow, tomorrow works too. Screw society…oh, but be gentle, you might need to use it later.

To save you the reading, I’ll sum ALL the articles up for you:

Build yourself, and be self-aware. Keep calm. Everything in moderation. Be good to people. Be good to yourself.

You’re welcome.

Outside of those pseudo-commandments, I’m beginning to think that there is very little deep advice that we can fit into lists like that. I also think that one-size-fits all advice is rarely a good call, especially in the twenty-something circuit. After all, this is the period in your life where you’re supposed to be learning how to question rules and step-by-step guides, not blindly march towards them. This is the time to realize how different everyone is, and how the same everyone is, and how relative everything is.

How do you list out the ideal reaction to any of that?

You don’t. You twist through your own complicated, beautiful story of “LET’S JUST TRY THIS.” Sometimes you will find friends to join you, even if it’s just for a night. Sometimes you’ll like them, sometimes you won’t. Sometimes you’ll like yourself, sometimes you won’t.

And sometimes it will work. And sometimes it won’t.

These lists try to make things logical, when they are not.  I think that’s what kills me. They try to sell us on the idea that there is a right and wrong way to do things, when there are about a million of both. The ambiguity of “twenty-something” territory is far better suited to awkward songwriting, 2 am storytime, uncomfortably honest prayers, and radically number-less blog posts.

So what, then, are lists good for? They certainly make sense for practical stuff. Studying tips. How to navigate University. Finding an apartment. Cleaning your kitchen. Planning a trip. Getting a job. Quick tips, man.

I have a few of those myself. Perhaps I will write a list some time.

But it won’t be a list that tells you how to feel about your life. It won’t be a list of premature “tips” which are really just jaded rants, personal regret, and #humblebrags.

(Unless the regret is genuinely practical.  Like, say, don’t go a year without glasses if you really need glasses. Or, don’t buy a shitty laptop.)

I hope that you can be a blogger without having to pretend you know everything–or worse, having to pretend you can put that “everything” into a list.  I hope imperfect people and listless lifestyles can fit into the conversation, because…well, because imperfect people and listless lifestyles are the definition of Conversation. And Conversation is what we really need, isn’t it?

Perhaps Sarah Bessey put it best:

I’m not too interested in telling anyone else how to live their lives anymore, let alone in six steps with a pinnable graphic.

Yeah. I’m not too interested in that, either. But I sure am interested in talking about it, and hearing about it, and writing about my tiny/young/fallible/idealistic corner of it. And maybe, sometimes, that will fit into a list.

But, mostly, my life isn’t about quick tips. Neither is yours. It’s about celebrating and mourning, sometimes at the same time. It’s about getting confused and getting the giggles. It’s the word “Oops,” and it’s the word “Love,” and it’s feeling unsure.

And I’m sorry, but there’s no number on any of that.

Advertisements

How NOT to Respond to the Abercrombie & Fitch Remarks

“Give people a common enemy, and you will give them a common identity. Deprive them of an enemy and you will deprive them of the crutch by which they know who they are.” – James Alison

The internet is going wild. Everyone’s mad because a rich guy said, point blank, how he got rich.

ceo

Ouch. Outrage is definitely fair here.  It’s a pretty messed up way to make money. It’s a pretty messed up principle for a company. It’s messed up that it works, and it’s certainly not okay to express in these words.

What is more messed up, however, is seeing people respond in such a hypocritical way.

The conversation we should be having looks like this:

“Wow, a successful business owner used exclusivity as his business model.  Not even covertly. It was obvious. And it worked. We bought it. People in our culture and society seriously bought clothes sold on this principle. That’s sad. Let’s direct our business elsewhere, and reconsider our consumerism.

Also, bullying sucks. Let’s not do that.”

Instead, the conversation we are having looks like this:

“This one single bad human being is perpetuating bullying, stereotypes, and shame. The only logical thing to do is to bully, stereotype and shame him.  Obviously, he is the sole reason for the superficiality of young consumers, and bullying in our schools. Our society will be nicer to overweight people we if yell at him and call him ugly, right?”

Abercrombie & Fitch business model, 1; Society, 0.

I’ve seen this hypocrisy before.  It scares me.  Tweets wishing sexual assault upon rape sympathizers and their families. Harassment against minorities in the wake of a terrorist attack. Hell, in World War II, Canada fought for the freedom of Europe’s people…while we locked up our own Japanese population in internment camps.

Awesome track record, humanity. Awesome.

It’s a pretty straight-forward formula: As soon as we are able to pronounce our moral superiority to someone, we are able to label them as “other,” we are able to fear them, we think we can do whatever we want in retaliation.

Congratulations, your target is no longer human.

It’s messed up. It’s totally messed up.  When we let the worst of what we see and hear set the standard for our own behaviour, autonomy, and responsibility to each other, we lose. When we refuse to learn from the unsettling things we see, and point fingers instead, we lose.

Here’s what wins:
Rape culture wins when we wish rape upon anyone.
Terror wins when we terrorize our own neighbors for their ethnicity.
And bullying wins when we pick on someone for being a bully.

Apparently, the internet is playing a game of "how long can you go?"

Isn’t that just kinda mean? Especially to be posting on the internet?  By responding in this way, we are making this issue so much more superficial than it really is.

Mike Jeffries has become a mascot of the “cool kid-uncool kid” segregation that we hated so much in high school.   The problem is, he isn’t a mascot. He’s a person. A person who has made a lot of money because the “cool kid-uncool kid” thing exists, and it works.

By picking on him alone, we are only confirming that we are a superficial society which loves to pick “who’s in” and “who’s out.”

And let’s be honest: If you didn’t already know that Abercrombie & Fitch used this business model, you clearly haven’t seen one recently. Or maybe you just went to a different high school than me. Either way, Mike Jeffries saying this (while insensitive) is not what makes his business model real, nor what makes it wrong.

The fact that people buy into it, the fact that this kind of segregation exists, that is what makes it wrong.

Let’s raise the bar, everyone. Grace, love and boycott.

On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

“A bomb just went off at the Boston Marathon, guys.”

My boss shared the news as he passed through the office. To be honest, I thought it was just another gnarly music term.  A strange band name.  A performance that…bombed?  Or was “the bomb”?  Or something else that I’m just not hip enough to get?

I work in the music industry, see.  I didn’t think there was a show going down in Boston, but figured that someone bringing up a new band was a lot more likely than an actual bomb going off at the Boston Marathon.

I was wrong.

It didn’t take long to figure out what happened. I streamed the live coverage as my mind combed through the usual comforts: Pay attention to the helpers.  Thank goodness this isn’t government-sponsored violence.  Look at those service men and women helping to clear the streets.  I’m glad stuff like this is rare enough to demand such outrage.  #PrayforBoston is trending on twitter.  The love outweighs the hate.  The extreme response shows how safe we normally are.

And, most selfishly (but genuinely): Glad I don’t know anyone in Boston. 

Optimistic, yes, but none of this was particularly comforting at the time.  Although my immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty (“How do I emotionally respond to this?”), a quick Google search of Washington DC brought it closer to home.  Sirens and SWAT teams were screaming down the streets, or so Twitter hyperbolically reported.  Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down. I had my first run in with the term “Heightened Terror Alert.”  It was business as usual in my office, but the word “Terror” tends to evoke…well, the feeling of terror.  There was “standard procedure” going on a few blocks away. In the wake of a bombing, “standard procedure” in the capital can look a little frightening.

DC in general has been a little frightening, at least for me.  The threats from North Korea successfully increased my heart rate on more than one occasion last month. I walked past a policeman carrying a massive gun today, and sped up in spite of myself.  I’m still getting used to the intensity of security guards on the way into museums.  The obvious necessity and fragility of a defense presence makes my stomach turn—especially when it’s not always enough to keep people safe.

Perhaps my background is a bit too docile to keep up with the high-security scene.  I watch action movies and kick-ass Terantino flicks like it’s my job, but the reality is that I’ve never even touched a glitter bomb.  I’ve never so much as shot a paintball gun.  I jump at the word “BOO!”, you guys. If we watch a horror movie together, I will clutch onto you like a leech.  And violence—real violence—is disturbing foreign territory to me.  (I’m very lucky for this, I know.)

It’s surprising that, spooked little horse that I am, I responded to the Boston Marathon Bombings with so much resolve.  But I did.  A lot of us did.  We said a prayer, called our mothers, and kept on going.

At dinner last night, a friend shared how scared she was coming home from work.  The bombing brutality was tumbling through her brain, and the enclosed and busy Metro was cause for concern.  Fair enough, I figured.  But that wasn’t what I said. Instead, like an overzealous talk-show host, I found myself telling her “I feel you, but…we can’t let the terror to get the best of us.  Because if it does, then “they” win. And “they” can’t win. People who want to hurt other people can’t win.  Fear can’t win.”

I’m sure I was much less articulate, but that was the sentiment.  My friends, despite our usual political and ideological differences, nodded in rare approval. She agreed, too. You can’t psychologically torture a whole country, can you?  Let’s not make it so easy.

Events like the Boston Marathon bombings will undoubtedly disrupt our ideas of humanity, life, security, and business-as-usual.  The intense response here in DC reminded me that while this country (and its cities) are magnificent, even they are vulnerable–because everything and everyone is vulnerable, no matter what.

My raised-by-Disney heart fears the “bad guys” and cheers for “good guys.”  It always will. But my adult heart, ridden with reality-checks, is beating in time with the rest of the so-called “normal people.”  The scared but proud people—people with good sides, and with not-so-good sides, but with families and fates and feeling hearts.  Folks who are mostly not okay with people hurting other people.

The fact that this is my definition of “normal” gives me hope. The fact that this bombing does not seem “normal” gives me hope.

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid.  

10 Steps to a Better Day

I had a rough week.

Not the kind of rough week that results in a long list of things-gone-wrong and a sigh of “Girrrrl, I need to VENT!”.  Nothing tangible like that. My sighs sound more like ‘Well, you know, it’s one of THOSE weeks’: First word problems, chocolate cravings, untimely nostalgia, “I’m probably just under the weather.”

‘Merica is an acquired taste.  The best things always are.  This past week, I was knowingly halfway there; Washington and I were on a half-hearted, confusing fourth date.  The novelty of “going to a new place” had worn off, but I still didn’t quite fit in.  It’s not unlike that third day of kindergarten, almost-but-not-quite able to colour inside the lines. Or, being at a concert, trying to sing along to that song everyone knows (you think you know it too, but you’re barely mumbling along to the lyrics all the same).

Basically, a big load of self-imposed awkwardness followed me around last week.

At times like these, my Facebook-self usually stays perpetually optimistic: “Have you seen my blog? Have you seen my life? It’s cool. My hair is brown. I read the newspaper. I have attractive friends. Please like me.”

(Between you and me: my roots are coming in, the only physical paper I read is Street Sense, and no, I’m not dating the guy next to me in that picture. But please don’t tell Facebook. Those people knew me in middle school.)

This Friday, it felt like it was finally (finally, finally) time to crowd source some cheer:

batman

WOW.

I knew warm fuzzies were all over the internet. What I didn’t know was that my friends and readers could bust them out on demand like that. And I certainly didn’t know that they worked so wellTurns out, there is a way to line up some of the internet’s better offerings and (hopefully) make for a better day. Or a better week. Really, just a better outlook, period.

And so, based on these suggestions, I present to you: 10 Steps to a Better Day, Courtesy of the Internet

1)   Press the “Make Everything Okay” button: http://make-everything-ok.com/

make everything okay

2) Spend a few minutes reading “Gives Me Hope”: http://www.givesmehope.com

givesmehope

3)   Watch this video.

.

4)   Now, go on: Get onto Facebook, pick up your phone, and do what that video told you to do at the end.  Reach out to family. Write a thank you note.

5)  You did it? Good. Time to go to your quiet place: http://thequietplaceproject.com/

quiet place

6)  Come back from your quiet place. Watch this to feel grateful that you can:

.

7)  Amazing, right? While you’re at it, you should probably watch this one, too.

.

8) Are you crying? ‘Cuz I’m totally crying. Time for a hug: http://www.thenicestplaceontheinter.net/

nicest place

9) Read a few of the “1000 Awesome Things”: http://1000awesomethings.com/

awesome

10) Turn off your computer, go outside if you’re able–if you can’t, at least try to open a window. Shake it out. Put on your favourite song. And remember:

68641_284956834960390_1893460956_n

Love.

The Truth about Awareness

We don’t properly realize how things roll until they stop rolling that way…at least for a minute, at least long enough for us to gain perspective. I mean that in the simplest way possible. I never realized that most women’s washrooms were on the left until I accidentally walked into a poorly placed men’s washroom—twice. I didn’t know that my fingers automatically typed names of past friends (okay, more-than-friends) upon the first couple keystrokes, until I stopped needing to type those names. And who can blame me for thinking everyone everywhere would know what poutine is, or have the lyrics to “If I Had A Million Dollars” memorized?

(PS. Non-Canadian readers:  You should probably Google those cultural gems.)

My current life rolls along relatively untouched by too-soon death, something I didn’t really consider until these “Death & Grieving” articles came along. I shouldn’t be so surprised that reading all the articles made me feel so…aware. I also shouldn’t be so surprised that this awareness felt new.

But I was surprised. Caitlin Corbett (of “On Grieving”) and Niki Dignard (of “I am a Suicide Survivor”) are two of my go-to girls in Ottawa. Caitlin and a glass of wine. Niki and a new restaurant. We talk a lot, and we laugh a lot.  Sometimes their losses come up, and we talk about those.

So, how could I not know?  I mean really, really know what they had gone through. And what they were still going through.

Until they wrote it down, I’ll admit that I really didn’t.

The stories in the Taboo Tab hold a truth for everyone. For some, that truth is “Wow, I’m not alone.” For others (and for me) that truth is simply:  “Wow, there are people around me going through this stuff right now. [Insert prayers, love, and increased social consciousness here].”

Either way, we get to be aware of one another.  Awareness is a communicative art, one that we need to constantly work at. Why? Because awareness is AWESOME.

Eh? Eh?
Eh? Eh?

In my view, there should be two kinds of people present with any social issue you want to address: The storytellers, who have experienced an issue firsthand (aka the people who Know), and those who try to understand the stories (aka the people who Listen).

When it comes to loss, Caitlin and Niki are people who Know–and when things get rough, people who Know are the best.

Usually, when I talk about my own pain, I wind up trying to convince people that it’s actually really hilarious and I’m really, really “over it.”   These people who Know see right through that.

People who Know: The survivors, the brokenhearted, the vulnerable. The ones willing to let you be vulnerable right alongside them. The ones also willing to put you in your place, quietly reminding you of the could-be-worse.  They are more honest. Less judge-y. Keeping it real, because at this point, that’s really all they can do. And aware. So, so, so aware.

Me: “I have this loss. I have these feelings. I’m going to laugh/cry/be sick in front of you now, okay?”

People who Know: “LOSS? YES. Yes, that is horrible.  I Know. Chocolate? Hug? Awkwardly timed joke?”

They Know. They can comfort and relate to others who Know.  And by sharing their stories, they can help turn people who don’t Know into people who Listen…maybe, even people who Understand.

If the people who Know speak up, and if we let them–if we listen (unselectively), we share, and we try, try, try to “get it,” then we’ll know enough to build compassion and community. We will gain perspective. We will realize truths.

And that is the Truth about Awareness.  It is how we move forward together. Awareness is how we learn how to love each other better. And forgive each other better.

Read enough stories, meet enough people, ask enough questions, and realize: We’re all so different. But we’re all so, so, so the same.

– – –

Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Sex, Lies, and Storytime: “It’s okay, you’re not broken.”
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
Growing Up Without Direction: Yes, I Drink Coffee Now
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving
The Taboo Tab: Death & Grieving

The Taboo Tab is Finally Here!

The Taboo Tab is live! 4 storytellers, 10 pieces, one mission: To talk about something that needs talked about.

This month, we will address the topic of “Death and Grieving.”

WhyDidn'tI

We don’t talk about death and grieving much, do we?

Spoiler alert #1: Everyone dies, eventually. And most leave loved ones behind when they do.

Spoiler alert #2: Sometimes, things happen that we can’t explain, control, or “move on” from on command. Sometimes, the worst happens. Sometimes, it’s not okay right now. We need to be allowed to share that.

People die. People grieve. People break down at inopportune times. But, as they struggle their way back up, some people share their stories. These are some of those people.

As contributor Caitlin Corbett says in her article “Better“:

“We should not wallow in our sadness, but we should not deny it either. I know that I’m damaged and I make no secret of it, and by accepting this and moving on from it I understand that everyone is damaged in their own way. And that’s okay. It is my hope that I will always be open to accepting other peoples’ damage and that I can give them a safe space to be damaged. That is what we owe each other.”

Some of the most beautiful and insightful pieces on death and grieving I have ever read. Join the conversation.

Check it out today: https://shaunanagins.com/the-taboo-tab/death-grieving/

Thursday Night Brainwaves: How DID I get here?

As I walked down the neon city streets on Thursday night, the words ‘How DID I get here?’ went through my head. And they stayed there. And repeated themselves, over and over and over.

I don’t have a lot of clear, I-can-see-the-words-in-my-head thoughts, but these words were bold–big letters dripping with disbelief (sans serif letters, for you typography geeks).

‘How DID I get here?’

It wasn’t the defeated kind of ‘Ungh, HOW did I get here?.’  I know how that kind goes. That kind is behind the way-too-long minutes (hours?) spent sitting barefoot on the bed, ‘oh, I don’t even know. Maybe I should read a book or move to a different country or something.’   That kind has seen me walking uncomfortably to the edge of nowhere (which I have yet to find, by the way), face buried in cheap sunglasses. That kind powers searches for nearest place where it feels okay to cry out “Um, God? Hi. Can you or your kid or someone who knows what they’re doing please take it from here?”

No, on Thursday it was nothing like that.

But it wasn’t the excited ‘WOW, How did I get here?,’ either.  I have had a few of those moments recently.  When Sex, Lies, and Storytime started spinning around the internet and loading up with comments, I literally ran into the bathroom and freaked out in front of the mirror: “Ohmygod. Am I actually a writer now? I’m a writer now. People are reading what I write.” (<< that is the toned-down, less embarrassing version.).   Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my little DC room, practicing guitar and keeping up with some internship work, when I was suddenly overwhelmed by the power of music and ‘Wow!’ the fact that I was a part of it. I felt lucky. I felt good.  ‘How did I get here?’

Thursday night was fun, but it wasn’t profoundly exciting. Nor was it profoundly upsetting.  It was ‘How DID I get here?,’ a mix of amazement and…confusion, I think.  Not good confusion or bad confusion, just the genuine I need to place this moment somewhere in my brain. Where do I place it? Where does it fit?  

The thought wouldn’t budge.

‘How DID I get here?’

I haven’t faced those words a whole lot these last few years. I used to play the ‘How DID I get here?’ game all the time–when growing pains meet the travel bug, you rarely know completely where you are, how you got there, or what to think about it. But the last few years, I have just been living in Ottawa.  Ottawa, which feels so strongly like Home.  I never really had to consider my life there through the disbelief lens. It was just “adjusting,” and then “adjusted.”  There were times I felt a little lost in what my life looked like, but I knew exactly how I got there. And I knew exactly where I was going.

Except, I didn’t. Because it turns out, I was going to the United States. I just never knew it.

I didn’t know I was going to end up in Washington DC….I still don’t understand quite how I ended up here, really.  I know I applied for a  few internships. I know I got a position at the Smithsonian. My days are spent in an office across from the National Mall.  I eat breakfast every morning.  By 5 pm, I have usually overdone Diet Coke and brainpower. My Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum.  My Sundays are spent spiritually addressing the fact my Saturdays are spent at the Holocaust Museum (easier said than done, but it’s important for me to be there).

It’s not a particularly mind-boggling lifestyle, but I can’t quite figure out how it ended up being my lifestyle.

I guess I’m asking you, then…Do those words (or something similar) ever go through your head? Do you ever go hunting for a comprehensive narrative as to why-how-why your life is what it is?

Here’s my theory: Most lives don’t fit into any sort of beginning-middle-end box.  Even if they do, most of us are probably just hanging out in the “middle” looking for reasons and analyzing our lives like it’s the “end”.  And most people don’t quite fit where they are, at least not all the time.

I think a lot of us look for timelines and reasons why-how-why when really, it’s not supposed to make sense. Not as much sense as we would like it to make, that is. And so I go back to this, as I always do:

“You are where you were always going, and the shape of home is under your fingernails.” – from the poem Transient by Al Purdy

IMG_0259

20 Reasons Valentine’s Day Actually DOESN’T Suck. (Really. Seriously.)

Who the heck likes Valentine’s Day? You know, the most commercial, AND emotionally loaded, AND consistantly disappointing, AND painfully corny of all “holidays.”

I know I didn’t. I didn’t like it at all. When I was a single teenager, I found it stupid.  When I was a coupled young adult, I found it stupider. But these last few years as a single young adult? WELL. That’s a different story.

Now, I proudly enjoy Valentine’s Day. Here’s why you should, too:

  1. If you want to watch something romantic and cheesy, you’re TOTALLY ALLOWED. In fact, it’s festive.
  2. If you want to watch a kickass action film, you can to that too. In fact, you’ll look pretty ironic and awesome.
  3. Your excuse to host a fondue party IS RIGHT NOW.
  4. Valentine’s Day memes are fantastic.

    Puritan Valentine's Day cards. The internet wins this round.
    The internet wins this round.
  5. You can dress cutesy. Or sexy. Or wear red/pink/purple/hearts in the most shameless way possible and YOU’RE JUST CELEBRATING, GUYS.
  6. Chocolate goes on sale tomorrow
  7. Lingerie goes on sale tomorrow.
  8. So-cute-it’s-almost-offensive teddy bears go on sale tomorrow (early Christmas shopping, anyone?).
  9. Showing affection is good.

    Pictured here: Affection.
    Pictured here: Affection.
  10. Oh, and if you say you don’t enjoy those silly ten cent Valentine’s “cards”…you’re lying.
  11. Observing how other couples roll (or refuse to roll) through this day is fascinating. I’ll bring the popcorn.
  12. You can make all your food heart-shaped! Think of the possibilities! (…I have hobbies, I promise.)
  13. Flowers are beautiful and alive and they smell good. If there are more flowers in your general vicinity because of this day (even if it’s just cuz your co-worker has an admirer or two), be grateful for it. Being indoors with no visible symbol of growth around isn’t healthy. Life & colour, resulting from the celebration of love? Score.
  14. And, yes, flowers will also be on sale tomorrow.
  15. If you work in an office, let’s be honest…someone will probably bring in candy. Hit the kitchen, kids.
  16. I guarantee you that your single friends will want to hang out.
  17. These:
    7a982dad865e9d37b4a43d13cbdd12a0
  18. You DON’T HAVE TO CARE about this day. Seriously. Everyone kinda thinks it’s stupid. Just roll with it and have fun. Genuine “caring” not required.
  19. Valentine’s Day breeds bitterness. Bitterness breeds good comedy. Your funny friends will probably be funnier today.
  20. Smithsonian Folkways’ “Happy Valentine’s Day” playlist alone makes the day worth it. [You can jam out with the playlist for free on Spotify and Rhapsody, along with Rdio and MOG]

…and, if you’re still not convinced? *sigh* Okay, then. This is for you:

images

 

Jealousy has a stage name. It’s called Inspiration.

I’m going to describe to you a hypothetical scenario.  (Just hypothetical, mind you. I am not admitting to anything.).

You check Facebook. You see a post from an old friend.  This post suggests that they’re doing cool stuff, and they’re doing it well. Yes, someone else’s life is awesome.

You’re a good person, of course, so your first thought is: Hey, that’s cool! Good for my friend!

(…except that it’s not.)

You start clicking through pictures.   They have really cool looking new friends (who, you assume, are way cooler than you). And they’re hot.  When did everyone get hot? When did everyone start doing cool stuff?  By this point, your friend has completely trumped anything hanging around your profile–three months worth of George Takei “shares” and one music video from the 90s, to be exact.  You look up.  You are surrounded by all the laundry you have to do, clutter on your desk, a bleak-seeming text messaging inbox, the way your hair is growing in funny.

In a few hours you might be happy for them–but right now, you’re busy being mediocre.

Dude. Stop.

Here’s the thing about jealousy.  Jealousy has a stage name.   It’s called inspiration.

I’ve learned this the hard way (okay, here comes the admitting part).  I have spent way too much energy wanting/waiting/wishing/generally being useless.  I think a lot of people have.  It’s easy to become defeated when you see other people doing cool things.  To pick a totally random example (Judi), you could see a picture of an old friend tobogganing down volcanoes in Nicaragua (Judi).  At that point, it’s very easy to say “Well, I’m not in Nicaragua.”  It’s easy to feel a little bit smaller than you did a second ago, to just move on with your day.

But what if you were to take that pang of ‘This is something I find awesome.  Noted.’  and turn it into motivation?  You could add to your bucket listYou could surround yourself with people who live amazing lives.  You could learn from them.

Every year, I have the same overarching goal:  to make next year’s Me someone that this year’s Me would crumble in jealousy of…or at least dread going up against in a job interview.  I couldn’t even go about that without my jealousies-turned-inspirations.  The fact is, I would not be in Washington DC right now if someone (Judi) didn’t offer so many envy-inciting stories about interesting jobs in new places. And I wouldn’t even be writing this had I not been struck with admiration(-cum-jealousy) after seeing other women’s mega-blogs this summer.

“Maybe I could do that. Right? Maybe?  I don’t know.”

There was literally one way to find out. Just one.

Jealousy may be ugly, but inspiration is beautiful.  Is someone else is trying new things? Noted. We should also go try new things.  Did someone else accomplish something big? Noted.  Let’s go start something big.  Do you wish your butt looked even half that good in a pair of skinny jeans?

…yeah, me too.

Skinny jeans aside, we have a choice every day (cliche alert) to get bitter, or get better.  I’m gonna try to be on team “get better.”

Who’s in?

I Don’t Know What “Home” Means…But I Think it Involves Dollar Store Tinsel

One of my friends/readers tweeted me some really great blog requests for December:


Her bonus points didn’t last long. The suggestions were rad, of course, but I soon realized that she had spelled #shaunanagins wrong. And that I had spelled #shaunanagins wrong. I’m not going to even point out the irony in that.

The reason these were really great requests, besides that they fit into the student-sized Homestyle portion of this blog, is because I totally know this stuff. I love this stuff. I’m all over the gift-giving and decorations, especially in the homemade/reasonably priced department. This is something my requesting friend knows well. It’s something that You probably know well, too, if You’ve been reading the blog for awhile.

Okay, that’s nice and all, but…WHY? Why am I so into this stuff? Am I  really a future Pinterest mom?  I crash on couches!  I take the bus!  I crave chicken wings! I wear my scarves as shirts! I’m wearing mismatched Green Bay Packers socks RIGHT NOW, and the classiest thing I’ve done all month is *try* to walk in stilettos.

This is what the kids call “swag,” right?

All that may be true. But it’s also true that I love red lipstick and wedding shows and lingerie. I make a mean homemade lasagna.  I wear my scarves as shirts (yes, this fits into both categories). I have personally hosted a fondue party. And, of course, I have a blog that shares recipes and decoration tips on a weekly basis.

I have no kids to keep alive. Does this mean I have time to make soap?

I actually relate to both of the women on this meme.  There probably will be a day where my mismatched NFL socks and I will attempt to make soap.  It will probably be very messy. Reindeer-shaped treats are on the December agenda, but this will DEFINITELY be messy. And, no surprise, my friend/reader wants me to blog about homemade gifts and decor. Messy or not, she knows exactly how down Shaunanagins is for that kind of content.

But WHY?

I think I need to address why decorating and getting into the season is so important. I know that it can be regarded as materialistic, or frivolous–after all, having “stuff” that you don’t technically need to survive is involved, which at least makes it a luxury. I get that. But despite my many, many flaws (recall: *trying* to walk in stilettos), I do not think my desire to decorate is one of them. It’s not a bad thing. Or even a frivolous thing, really.  It’s creative and it brings people together–if it’s done right, at least.

Decoration isn’t a status symbol. It’s not a red, green, and gold announcement that I shopped at The Bay last boxing day.  It’s not even a red, green, and gold announcement that I got a little crazy at the dollar store.  It’s a red, green, and gold announcement that my house is a home, and that You’re invited to take part in whatever that means for this time of year. It’s the homemaking equivalent of making eye contact and smiling at people as you walk down the street. Some of my inherited decorations are painfully gaudy, cheesy, or just plain unnecessary. But I’ve made memories with them, and I want to continue making memories with them.

At age six, I met a girl whose family, following her father’s job, had moved to Canada for a few months. Because they were only here for a short time, they had very little with them from England. Upon hearing about the temporary bareness of their home and unfamiliarity with Canadian Christmas, my parents immediately set their hospitality into overdrive. My new friend’s family came with us to see the lights at Waterloo Park. They joined our family tradition of skating at City Hall. And, most importantly, my parents showed up at their door in December with a box of spare decorations to fill some of the otherwise empty space.

I didn’t know this story until a couple years ago. I’ve remained close with that girl–we never lost contact, and her family moved back to Canada a few years later.  When her mother recounted the story to me over a decade later, she still had the most amazingly touched look in her eyes.  My neighbors overheard us talking about my parents’ decoration donation and quickly joined the conversation.  They recalled their first Christmas in the neighborhood, far from their extended family and without traditions to stand on. They, too, were incredibly touched by the holiday season they were always invited to next door.  I don’t mean we had a cool one-night Christmas party–I don’t remember us ever having a “Christmas party.” But we had a decorated house, a full fridge, a schedule of the TV Christmas specials, and an open door policy.

A decorated home with an open door policy is the best. It’s amazing to live in. It’s amazing fill with people. And, now that I’m a big kid, it’s amazing for me to be able to make one for myself. A couple years ago, my parents’ box of spare decorations ended up on another bare doorstep: mine. The box was filled with tacky, cheap, memory-filled Christmas stuff.  Just stuff, really. But I fully teared up with joy while putting everything up.  My roommate and I spent hours with eggnog and a weird Christmas trivia book found in the box. It made a difference. There’s no doubt about it.

Last year, I ended up hosting my three brothers and parents in Ottawa for Christmas.  I knew what to do. I had learned from the best. We didn’t need decorations to have a good Christmas, but it sure helped make the place feel like…well, like “home.” I don’t know exactly what “home” is, but I think that (for me, at least) there’s a month a year where it involves tinsel.

When I post about homemade gifts and ornaments and silly-looking wreaths and warm recipes…I guess someone could be cynical and see it as a cutesy, first-world-esque response to a commercialized holiday. But I want You to know it’s coming from a very real place: A place that has brought a lot of people together.  A place that, during some of the harder years, has helped keep me together. And a place that, because I’m the coolest kid in town, got me procrastinating by making these the other day:

It’s also possible that I just really like stickers.

…okay, now I’m just showing off my cut & paste skillz. But that’s for another post.

Let the games begin!