Persistence

Persistence

I had my first-ever annual review today. Not the first one at my current job – the only one I’ve ever had. I’m pretty new to the corporate world, and have just managed to never work at a company that gave reviews (or raises, really). The meeting was a strange experience, but a good one. Without going into too much detail, there’s a structured ranking system where you can qualify as great, good, or needing improvement. I got mostly goods with a couple of greats thrown in. What’s interesting is that the places where I’ve felt like I experienced the most friction all year are the spots where I ended up shining. It’s just another reminder right now that those things that are hardest are the places where we need to keep trying, even if – especially when – it sucks. Elbow grease works. Persistence pays off.

My boss is very fair, and I like that quality in any person who is obviously trying to own it. I think that people often get “fair” confused with “nice,” but they’re not the same thing. Fair calls you out on your bullshit, while helping you recognize your potential. Several of my rankings today were just good, and that was a fair assessment. There are areas where I really struggle. I have a hard time socializing, and have to really force myself to make first contact in social interactions. But I persist, and it’s still hard, but one day maybe I’ll get a great rating where that’s concerned.

Outside of work, I’ve been persisting in another area of my development. In January, I decided to stop drinking for awhile and see how it felt, and if I could figure out how to be social without the so-called “social lubricant.”

In February, I gave myself free rein, and drank on two occasions – sharing a pitcher of beer with friends at a phenomenal pizza joint on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, and having some cocktails while watching the Krewe du Vieux parade the weekend before last. The first situation was a perfect decision – beer and pizza out on a lakeside balcony at sunset is always going to be the right choice. The second situation made me feel kind of gross, honestly. I didn’t want to go out in the first place, was having a kind of crappy afternoon, and decided to get myself into a better mood with alcohol. It worked on the front end, but afterwards, I just felt stupid and lonely. I ended up coming home and binge eating a turkey sub and french fries (the purchase of which, coincidentally, set off a chain reaction of bounced transactions that cost me $70 in overdraft fees). Yeah. Not a great experience.

I didn’t drink last weekend during either of the parades in which I participated, and I didn’t miss it at all. Wait, let’s take a moment to clarify – that “at all” isn’t hyperbole. On Saturday, I literally didn’t even consider drinking until just before we had marched the full length of the parade route, and I saw a piña colada cart (and I only wanted that because it sounded cool and refreshing, not because I was craving alcohol). On Sunday, I did decide I’d like to have a beer to go with the delicious fried chicken sandwich I was eating, but as soon as the idea popped into my mind, I was simultaneously over it. It’s like when you can’t decide where you want to go for dinner with your date, and you’re just throwing out types of cuisine so that they can parry: “Italian?” “Nah.” “Ethiopian?” “Had that last week.” “Tacos?” “Every Tuesday does not need to be Taco Tuesday!” I was like, “Oooh, what about a cold beer?” “Meh.” “Oh, OK. Cool cool. I’ll grab some water.”

Anyway, that’s my story of how not drinking helps me talk to myself.

That was supposed to be a joke, but at some level, it’s true, right? All this being said, I don’t have a plan for this coming weekend, through Mardi Gras. A good friend will be in town, so we will probably hang out, and there may or may not be drinks involved. Right now, I’m not interested in wasting the money, smelling gross in the morning, or feeling fuzzy, queasy, and bloated for days as my body burns off all of that poison. But we’ll see what happens. I tend to make the worst decisions when I’m feeling trapped and powerless, so this weekend I’m going to give myself the ability to say yes and no to whatever I’d like, sans guilt. This is just another aspect of being persistent, overall. No force required – just motion in the same direction for a sustained period of time. Ultreia.

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Thus Far (Lessons Learned)

In January, I started learning to dance. In February, I learned how to apply makeup a little more skillfully. Last Saturday, the two goals collided when I danced in a Mardi Gras parade for the first time! I even made the local newspaper:

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Photo by Brett Duke, via NOLA.com. (I’m the third girl back on the left.)

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Photo by Charlie Jallans-Daly. (I’m still the third girl back on the left, lol.)

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All me ❤ I should note that this was my first attempt at pin curls, and it was neither great nor terrible. Since I barely even brush my hair in real life, I’ll accept that with a smile.

It’s been a good two months with the NOLA Chorus Girls, and we’ve still got rehearsals and performances to go until we get to our actual dance routine. Those will happen after Mardi Gras – for now we get to take a break and enjoy the rest of Carnival season. But what that really means for me is that it’s time to get to work on figuring out what I’m going to choose as my Level Up for March.

Even though I’m going to stick with my goal and make sure to learn a new thing in the coming month, I’ll still be continuing the learning process with dancing and with makeup. It’s my goal to ever-so-slightly begin using the skills I’ve learned to enhance my everyday life. I can do that. It doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing affair – I can insert fun and sparkle into my life wherever I want to. It’s my right to shake a tailfeather now and then, to attract attention, to flaunt just because. I don’t have to feel ashamed or shy or scared.

Yesterday, a cute guy got flustered when he saw me. It was awesome. That literally never happens on my behalf (it happens TO me all the time, because I’m awkward AF). It was so fun and ego-boosting to experience it from the other side. Of course, I was wearing lots of sparkles and a purple wig, and was feeling really happy with my look (again, wearing some damn good makeup, if I do say so myself). This is exactly the kind of mood-raising experience that I was looking for in 2019. Leveling up, one batch of sequins at a time!

So what do I want to learn in March? It’s going to be a really hard month at work, with some very long hours around the middle of the month, so I don’t want to set myself up for failure. I also don’t want to restrict my goals on account of my job – creating work/life balance is part of my goal for the year, after all. Hmmm…this is a toughie. Let’s ruminate and come back to it in a day or two.

Fake Faces

As I’ve mentioned, my February Level Up was to learn how to apply my own makeup. I attended a makeup lesson on Saturday, and have been putting off talking about it, to make sure that my initial reaction wasn’t an over-reaction. Since this year is about becoming stronger, and sometimes growth involves growing pains, I want to give myself the time I need to adequately interpret new experiences and feelings. I walked away from the makeup lesson feeling sad and resentful, and that emotional response has actually grown into a gnawing discomfort in the pit of my stomach. Guess it’s valid.

To begin with, the lesson wasn’t bad. The makeup artist was very nice, and she patiently walked me through each step with care and kindness – even though I was asking remedial questions that probably blew her mind. She introduced me to some product types that I’d never even considered using before (like a brow pencil, which is totally unnecessary), and the look she created was absolutely beautiful. I went out that night, and got a bunch of compliments on various aspects of my makeup, so I know that the job she did was masterful.

Though the look was lovely, it was a mask. I didn’t look at all like myself. I didn’t even look like an improved version of myself. I just looked like a different woman. On top of that, I could feel the makeup on my skin, a thick, humid mask, suffocating my epidermis. It was disgusting. The foundation was too thick, the lipstick kept smearing on everything, and I was so highlighted that I glowed like a Twilight vampire. (I should note here that my overall skin tone is very pale, and it’s one of my favorite features, so I’m not necessarily upset to look like a vampire, just HOLY SHIT this wasn’t a costume look – this was a recommendation for my “basic” look for work.)

I can rationalize that everything I’ve talked about thus far can be corrected. I can put on less foundation. I can skip a majority of the highlighting and contouring. I can tone down the lipstick, skip the bottom lid eyeliner, and make sure that everything is smudge proof and ready for all kinds of weather. These are all fixes. I can still learn from my experience, even if the lesson is more about what I dislike than what I like.

But the real experience came after I stepped out of Sephora.

I live about 20 minutes’ walk from the center of the French Quarter, and had arrived at the makeup lesson appointment wearing a yoga capris and a t-shirt, with my hair up in a headband. I love that look, especially now that I’m losing weight. It’s not fancy – but neither am I. I’m interested in long hikes, contraband whisky flasks and beef jerky tucked into the bottom of a 60L pack, sharing big thoughts around a small campfire. I know who I am. I am disappointed that I haven’t yet met my match out here, but hell, maybe that will never happen until I get out of this town, or get out from behind a blog, or who knows what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m figuring it out, right?

Anyway, you might be able to see where this is going. I walked out of the Sephora and got ogled within the first minute. And again, and again, and again…all the way home. People were openly smiling and flirty in a way they just typically aren’t, and at a volume that made me wholy uncomfortable. It wasn’t rude, but it wasn’t welcome, either. I felt like here I am, pretty awesome and still somehow invisible, but then I slap a fake face and all of a sudden NOW I’m worthy of being seen? What’s the point of it? Why live like that? Why do we do this to ourselves as women? And no wonder we find ourselves conditioned to feel worthless and ugly in our own skin, when the truth of the matter is that it’s fucking difficult and lonely to remain naked and vulnerable, when we know that wearing a mask will get us instant results. It’s so much easier to give up and just hide our selves, and accept the resulting second rate attention focused solely on this illusion of physical attractiveness.

Lucky for me, I’m shit at lying. I just can’t stomach wearing a fake face. I might have trouble loving myself, but that’s OK, I can keep working on it. And if finding myself means staying alone for the long haul, by the gods I can haul better than most anyone. I’ll make exactly the amount of effort that makes ME feel pretty and loved by MYSELF, and not one step more. I think that after Mardi Gras, I’m going to look for another makeup artist to see if I can get a different perspective from someone with a much lighter hand. I’m definitely buying that under eye brightening cream, though – MAGIC.

The Importance of “No”

I’m emotionally worn out. It’s been many, many days since I had a solid chunk of alone time, and for me that’s a very unhealthy thing. As I write this, I’m trying to do the math in my head on when the last day was that I got to wake up, do my own thing, and not have to interact with any other people for the whole day. Maybe Sunday, February 3rd?

So when’s the next day that I can potentially have the entire day to myself to recharge? That’s easy – March 2nd. This is no good. This is mentally and emotionally damaging for me. We’re talking Code Red.

The thing is, it’s so damn hard to explain to people who enjoy socializing why it’s actually zero fun to go to yet another social engagement. Like, negative fun. Think more along the lines of torture. There’s a reason I look miserable sitting here at the bar, sans cocktail, and it’s not because I’d prefer to have a whiskey in hand – it’s because I really, SERIOUSLY, can only scrape up the energy for one decent social engagement per week, and I’m WAY over my allotment by this point.

It’s Mardi Gras season here in New Orleans, which means that there are a million and one parades and parties and “fun times” to be had. Turning down social engagements one night elicits odd looks, but two nights gets you a squadron of Jewish grandmother wannabes, all guilting you for being not just a party pooper, but a bad friend.

And try as I might, explaining that this isn’t something I enjoy gets me sympathetic looks and nods, followed by a “But it’s Mardi Gras! It’s fun!” No it’s fucking not, Karen. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like loud noises. I don’t like people I don’t know touching me. I loathe people throwing things at me, and don’t even get me started on MOOP. The reason I like to stand at the back of the crowd is because the entire time, I’m dealing with a flight or fight response, and my #1 impulse is to throw an elbow at the next person who touches me.

Giving up alcohol has taught me, most of all, that the reason I drink is to deal with how much I dislike social engagements. Not because I need social lubrication, as much as because I’m bored and don’t want to engage in the inane, surface level bullshit conversations that abound in bars.

Anyway, this post isn’t supposed to be about being angry and annoyed as much as it is a reminder for me to say no. I went to a parade tonight even though I was exhausted and didn’t want to. Then, I couldn’t figure out how to adequately explain that I wanted to go home and hide, so I ended up going to not one, but two bars with friends. I enjoyed talking with them, but ultimately, all I wanted to do was get into my pajamas and hit the hay. I’m tired. My life force is on low battery. My entire 10 hour work day is all about talking with people about inane crap that doesn’t actually matter. I don’t want to be forced to make more small talk on my own time. I want peace and quiet, a good book, and a cat or three.

Tomorrow I have to go to a hair class, a parade practice, and a makeup class, and then there’s another fucking parade that is apparently everyone’s most favorite thing that they’ve ever done in their entire lives, and so I must want to love to see it too. (Spoiler alert: no, I do not.) My assignment for tomorrow is to just say no and stay home. Wish me luck.

February Level Up

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One of my Bold Goals for the year was to learn something new every month, and since it makes me happy to give things official titles, I’ve decided to call this my Level Up. As in, “How are you leveling up this month?” It doesn’t have to be a HUGE undertaking, like teaching myself to crochet – just something creative that will add depth and beauty to my life.

Even though I didn’t specifically announce it, my January Level Up was joining a Mardi Gras dance group and learning to be a chorus girl. Of course, this is an ongoing project (I’ve actually got practice tonight), but the hardest part is getting started, and that’s what I did last month. Pretty sure we’re going to find out what our parade/performance costumes will look like at tonight’s practice, and I’m super excited. The group’s costume designer showed us the base piece last week, and hands up for sequins and short skirts!

Next Saturday, we also have a hair tutorial for creating the perfect 1930’s inspired chorus girl curls. In fact, the upcoming hair tutorial is what inspired my February Level Up. Confession: I am not really big into hair and makeup. It’s something I find pretty, but overall I’m low-maintenance (I seldom wear makeup to work, and consider it a great morning if I remember to brush my hair). It’s not that I don’t enjoy getting dolled up, but I don’t find it necessary the way some people do. I’m already pretty without the paint, and if I can’t wake up, get ready, and get out the door in under ten minutes, things need to be cut from my routine. When I do apply makeup, it’s a very simple routine and a natural look, and takes me about three minutes of application time.

As disgusting as it might be to me, I recognize the need in our society to be physically attractive in order to be respected as a woman, especially in my visible position as an events professional. Since my goal at work is to get promoted in the next two months, work one more year in New Orleans, and then get promoted out of the city, I need to do the extra work to make sure I’m noticed and elevated. I’ve scheduled a makeup lesson at Sephora this month to revamp my products and see if they can help me find a way to upgrade my look without wasting too much time. While I’m there, I’ll pick up the makeup that I need for chorus girl looks (no natural beauty there – I need red lips, rouged cheeks, and horror of horrors, fake eyelashes).

Let’s just state for the record that I don’t HATE makeup. I love costuming and creating fanciful looks for going out, so learning how to do a vintage glam look for dancing will be really fun. But the regular, every day me is more of an outdoors girl who thrives with a touch of sun screen and some tinted lip gloss. Having to smother my skin to be respected as a professional is just such a stifling reality. Since having to look a certain way at the office really galls me, I’m hoping that maybe taking a lesson from a professional will help me start getting excited about the creative aspect of the process. If I can see it as a form of self-expression rather than another way that society tries to quell our individuality, I’ll be much better off. Fingers crossed.

Russian Doll

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Tonight I gave myself a little break and binged a TV show, and I have absolutely no regrets. My friend and I went grocery shopping, and afterwards we went back to her house and had dinner. We typically end up watching a movie when we’re hanging out at her place, but the synopsis for “Russian Doll” looked so good that we decided to just try the first episode. Yeah right. Five episodes later, she decided it was time to go to bed, and I knew that there was no way I could go to sleep without watching the whole thing. So here I am, having signed up for 30 days of free Netflix, just to finish watching the show!

I won’t bother writing a full fledged review (but here’s what Vanity Fair says about “Russian Doll”), since this blog is more about why I’m trying not to watch television than what I think when I DO watch it. However, I’ve loved Natasha Lyonne since first seeing her in “Slums of Beverly Hills,” so it was such a pleasure to get to watch her in eight episodes of time loop madness.

At the base level, I guess you could say that the show gave me hope – for the power of friendship, the intricacy of connection within neighborhoods and friend groups, the magic of choosing kindness, and of course, the importance of badass deli cats. It’s a small world, and we have to figure out how to live here. We all have our coping mechanisms, and if we’re lucky, we find people to support us in our endeavors. Here’s to seeking the light, and learning to thrive.

Regulation

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It’s officially been a month since beginning my experiment with no alcohol, television, or Facebook. I’ve also been drinking more water, drinking less coffee, taking a magnesium/melatonin supplement at night and a probiotic/green juice supplement in the morning, and following a twice-daily skincare routine. The results of all of this are predictable, but somehow I find I’m still surprised. Pretty much all of this, aside from the skincare routine, is serving one purpose. My body and mind have stopped swinging wildly back and forth. My mood (of which there was only one – “FREAK OUT!!!! BUT HIDE IT BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL KNOW YOU’RE WEIRD!!!!”) – is beginning to regulate.

I’ve read 15 books in a month. My output at work has increased, while my work anxiety has drastically diminished. I have found it far easier to devote mental energy toward my own growth, rather than the cultivation of my rather detailed and pointless romantic fantasy life. It’s kind of amazing how overwrought my imagination can be. Maybe now that I’m cutting back on building fake futures with imaginary people, I can use those fanciful thoughts to write books or make art.

As far as sleep is concerned, though I still find myself procrastinating at bedtime, I fall asleep quickly, and sleep relatively soundly. This is a huge change for me, and one that I am still not certain is here to stay. Sleep is so important, and for the past few years, it has seemed ethereal, at best. It feels like it could be taken from me again, so I can’t afford to get cocky. In less than a month, I went from needing anti-anxiety meds and a dose of valerian to *sometimes* be able to *maybe* get four or five hours of sleep without lying in bed with my heart racing, to sleeping seven or eight hours a night, with a natural wake up at some point to drink a glass of water and pass back out. I’ve only had one anxiety-ridden night in a whole month. This is huge.

What’s strange is that when I was putting together my Bold Goals for the year, I didn’t consciously connect the fact that giving up the so-called “time wasters” (social media, television, drinking, emotional eating, etc.) had anything to do with curbing my anxiety issues. I was more concerned with forcing myself to stop procrastinating and start living. One of my goals for the year was to work on lessening my anxiety, but I didn’t really connect procrastination and anxiety together. I guess this isn’t too surprising, as I don’t believe I could see how interconnected my anxiety triggers were, given that I was white knuckling through my life. It’s hard to see the dangers when everything around you seems to have sharp edges.

So far, cutting the pointless noise of time wasters out of my life has functioned very similarly to cutting refined sugar out of your diet. Have you ever noticed how, having eaten one slice of cake, you now crave more carbs – sugary soda, bread, potatoes, it doesn’t matter, just GIVE ME MORE!?!? It’s generally never a good choice. It’s enjoyable for about two seconds, until your stomach hurts and you get all crazy from the sugar rush, then you crash like a toddler about an hour later. The same thing happens with the time wasters. It’s a momentary jolt of excitement, followed by hours of mindless semi-engagement and background dismay/guilt/disappointment, and after that a poor night’s sleep because I’m anxious about all of the things that didn’t get done because I couldn’t tear myself away from Facebook stalking or binge watching some show on Netflix that won’t mean anything to me three days from now.

Another good thing (TMI warning – I’m going to talk about bodily functions, so stop reading now if you get grossed out easily) about staying hydrated, getting more rest, and being calm is that it’s helping to regulate my digestion. Or who knows, maybe regulating my digestion is making me calm. It’s probably a little of both. They say that your gut is your second brain.

The giant glass of water every morning is followed by a green juice/probiotic supplement, and then I try to eat yogurt with honey and berries or apples. Lunch always has added fiber of some sort – generally something from the salad bar at work – and dinner is simple whole foods, like eggs and a veggie stir fry. Many, many glasses of water throughout the day, added flax seed wherever I can, and the magnesium supplement at night mean that my generally sluggish digestion has been pretty regular for the last week and a half. (It’s taken me all month to get to a point where I’m comfortable setting a routine in this department, and that’s OK. I can take my time, and I can change anything at any time if it’s not working.)

Oh yeah, that’s another thing. I’ve started being very clear with myself that I’m not allowed to be a bully anymore. It’s OK to have plans and schedules, but in my personal life, not meeting an imaginary timeline doesn’t automatically make me a failure. Straying completely off course doesn’t make me a failure. Changing my mind completely – pulling a 180, even – is OK. It doesn’t make me a failure. The only thing that makes me a failure is cruelty to myself or others. I’ll always support what I can see is in someone else’s heart, so why not offer myself that same loving hand up?

This has me thinking about my worth in a different way, too. I’m suddenly looking forward to investing in myself. It’s not “fixing” my undesirable parts or hiding my flaws. It’s emphasizing my strengths and finding ways to appreciate and bolster my differences. I am beautiful. I have worth. There’s nothing here that needs to be replaced or forgotten. I have this feeling that if I continue to take care of my brain, giving myself space and time, minimizing my exposure to things that make me anxious and scared and otherwise emotionally unwell, I will naturally also begin to hone what it is that makes me powerful, memorable, and unique.

No matter what, I’m excited to continue this journey. I’m staying off of Facebook, and have decided to continue to abstain from alcohol and television for as long as it suits me. Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for bed. Saturday morning means no alarm clock. Bliss.