Love is so many, many things

I just heard the best, most wonderful news EVER — Call Me By Your Name is getting a sequel at the end of October and the news has warmed me from the inside-out. If you’ve yet to read the book or see the movie, I envy you because that means you get to enjoy both again for the first time. In both the novel and its adaptation onto film, Love is a lead character along with Oliver and Elio, and written in a way that reminds the reader that love is never just one thing.

When I first moved to the New York City I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and was single for the first time in my 20s. Until then, I had felt that when people talked about love, while there were countless types of loving relationships one could have, the ultimate love one was supposed to seek was romantic. It was the creme de la creme, the penthouse suite, the first class of relationships, and the one you were expected to want the most, to work on the most, and to envision defining your future happiness. And to that *hits mic and clears throat* I CALL BS! Hear me out.

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5 Life Lessons I’m Taking Away from “Freestyle Love Supreme”

Walking to dinner at a friend’s house the other night, I came to the realization that New York City is full of a lot of umbrella judgement. Unless it’s raining so hard that Noah’s Arc sent you a text telling you they’re three minutes away, DO NOT open your umbrella. It is like everyone else made a secret pact to muscle through the downpour and give sideways looks to anyone (me) who dares to show up to a social event not looking like they’d just jumped in a pool.

Look New York, life here is already challenging enough. I carry my laundry on my back every couple weeks hoping I don’t drop a sock (or, God forbid, an actual piece of clothing) on the sidewalk because once it’s down, I can never touch it again. So lighten up about the umbrella judgment please.

What a tangent but no, this post isn’t actually about umbrellas or sometimes judgmental New Yorkers or laundry. It is about (believe it or not) the life lessons I’m taking away from Freestyle Love Supreme and having an out-of-the-blue, one-for-the-books, totally-magic New York City night.

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Be Brave Little Bee, Your Own Kind of Brave

The other night I went to a birthday party where the only person I knew was the host. If you’ve been following my writing for a while, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that being the new person walking into any social gathering is my kryptonite. Give me medical emergencies, traveling to communist China, but please don’t invite me to your wedding where I know zero people. My nervousness started as a low hum the week before and each day, the dial would turn up incrementally. By the time Saturday night rolled around, my nerves had grown from ignorable background noise to headlining act at Madison Square Garden. But this time around, I was determined to go come hell or high water — or in reality, come four trains, one Lyft, and three hours of delays.

As you might expect, the party was lovely and after chatting for a couple hours, I was reminded how much I really do love connecting with new people in this city. But perhaps what surprised me the most was that the night left me feeling brave. Like proud-of-myself, call-my-mum-on-the-phone brave. Not because I had done anything particularly courageous on paper, but because I had done something particularly courageous for myself.

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A Change is Gonna Come: A Note on Growth

Perhaps one of the most exciting and terrifying things about being a human is that we’re always changing. From little preferences, like the foods we like or the music we’re obsessed with, to the internal shifts that feel as large as two tectonic plates scrapping past one another, we’re constantly in flux.

Like any good Gemini who often sits on two sides of the same issue, I both love personal growth and am deeply frustrated by it. Why am I not yet the all-knowing, totally-in-tune-with-my-soul, best version of myself yet? Why do I still have days when I feel unmotivated and directionless despite having 1000 to do lists scatters around my apartment? And why do I still criticize myself for being a normal human who sometimes just needs to watch The Great British Bakeoff after work on a Tuesday?

Gone are the days where gold stars and charts can accurately measure one’s growth, and instead, adulthood has proven to be more of “a time of all the changes that no one can see so did they really happen?” phase of life. Through my early 20s, my life was in a state of constant external change. From moving in and out of many jobs and many cities, I was growing most in my ability to quickly adapt. But now that I’ve been settled in New York City for four and a half years, at the same job and relatively in the same apartment, I’m realizing that my markers for growth have changed from external to internal. Getting my stress under control, learning how to control the impulse to scrutinize myself like a roast chicken inside a pressure cooker, setting up personal boundaries around how and who I spend my time with — the last few years have felt like the growing pains one experiences before taking off into their full potential. And this month, for first time in a while, I feel like all of the work I’ve been doing on myself is beginning to take root and finally, I can see the growth that’s been happening all along.

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Today I am Grateful For

I was originally working on a blog post all about growth and change (spoiler: it’s still coming on Sunday) before realizing what I really wanted to write about was gratitude. For me, today was one of those days where gratitude consumed me from the tips of my toes to the fly aways of my bangs, and once I’d had a taste of it, I just wanted more — and to feel this more often. Walking through the neighborhood, I kept having moments where I’d think, Wow, I can’t believe I get to experience THAT in my life. And then continue walking with a goofy grin plastered onto my face.

One of my favorite YouTube creators Carrie Hope Fletcher recently shared in a blog post that she does a five minute gratitude journal exercise everyday to help her be more present in her life. The prompt goes like this:

  • In the morning, list 3 things you’re grateful for, 3 things you’re going to do to make the day great, and one mantra or affirmation.
  • Then in the evening, listing 3 amazing things that happened today and one thing you would have done to make it even better.

This idea had me curious, I liked the simplicity and positivity of it, so I started doing it in my journal about a month ago. At first I found myself grateful for big concepts (my health, my loved ones, my job to care for my cats) before starting to hit my groove and hone in on the little, daily joys that crop up throughout the day. Taking five minutes to enjoy a fresh black ice tea with mint, getting emails from friends around the world, hitting a deadline that originally intimidated me, arriving early to a friend date and getting 15 extra minutes to read, really feeling myself in a new outfit combination I shopped from my own closet — once I began started looking for joy, it turned out it was everywhere.

Today was one of those rare days when all the stars aligned and I woke up with the first thought, Oh, I GOT THIS. Typically my mornings start with me waking up from a complicated nightmare  — most recently one about an apartment in Taiwan that was also a taco stand on the 35th floor that I got stuck on the balcony of after all the doors and windows turned into birds — and in my confusion, rolling over on a cat who is even less pleased to be woken up in this manner. But today I woke up so grateful to get to be me. It felt like a grounding inside myself that I’ve been working on for a long time and am just this month starting to feel the effects of.

Like anything in life, this feeling ebbs and flows and isn’t always present. Sometimes it gets lost by the time I’m spending on my phone, or frustrations I’m feelings towards a lack of writing motivation, or just the general grind of daily living (especially daily living in New York City). I’m still learning what exactly it means to be me, to be present within myself, and while I have literally no of the answers yet to life’s big questions (besides yes, guac and chips is always a great idea), I do know that tonight, after a day of gratitude, I hope that tomorrow brings the same.

What has been giving you butterflies of joy lately? If it’s also chorizo tacos from the food truck on Union Street, I’ll see you there this weekend.

Things I’m currently absurdly grateful for 

  • Will McPhail‘s Instagram account because it’s a goddamn treat to the world and we probably don’t deserve it.
  • Watching my friend (and amazing writer) Michelle No go on a week-long mountain climb in central Europe. Her daily commentary of the climb/the goats/the meals/the horse confusion is bringing me so much joy.
  • Starting off my fall 2019 wardrobe with the addition of a fox print jumpsuit and flamingo sweater I just ordered for myself on super sale.
  • Staying within my new monthly budget I created (with the help of friends and my mum) and for the first time, hitting a larger savings goal.
  • The giant bowl of homemade popcorn I had yesterday while it was raining and I was snuggled up on the couch watching The Good Place.
  • These Harry Potter ASMR videos are my new productivity hacks. I mean, being serenaded to the sounds of Valentine’s Day at Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Shop or the Gryffindor common room, HEART LITERALLY BE STILL.
  • My dear friend Zabie is teaching her son Hudson verbal affirmations such as “I am strong” and “I am loved” which he’s started saying and that entire situation gives me all the feels (slash, hope in humanity).
  • My mum showing me each one of her birthday presents over FaceTime which is continuing our family tradition of passing all the cards and gifts around for a group to “oh and ah” at.
  • My Tuesday forest yoga class that both soothes my soul AND makes my muscles burn.
  • My tea from Taiwan still making a delicious ice tea after four years.
  • Growing mint and basil on my fire escape.
  • Having a 15 minute long conversation with Hemingway while writing this. We solved some real problems and now she’s sitting just beyond this laptop asleep.
  • New episodes of the “Great British Bakeoff” coming to Netflix. I just talked to my best friend today and it seems like we’ve both taken the approach of saving it because it feels too precious of a gift just to dive into immediately.
  • Going on two walks today AND calling two of my best friends just to say hello.
  • The Trader Joe’s snickerdoodles that seem to siren call to me all day, everyday.
  • Feeling the sun in Prospect Park during my work break.
  • Making a plan to go and get a lemon bar and walk to the water after work on Thursday, a pre-treat before sitting down to work on a meaty writing submission I’ve been having a hard time motivating myself to tackle. I keep trying to remind myself, there is not “perfect moment” to dive into this thing, it’s just going to be about starting and little by little (or 90 minutes by 90 minutes, thanks New York Times) putting in the work to reach the finish line. Plus the fun can be in the journey, right?
  • Getting excited to paint and make art changes in my apartment that already feels like home.
  • With a lot of work, starting to feel a real sense of grounding in myself and my recent push to start doing more things outside of my comfort zone. That was probably the thing I felt most proud and grateful for today.

7 Times I Did Something That Scared Me and It Worked Out, and 7 Times It Really Didn’t

Five years ago I climbed Half Dome in Yosemite. It was long before the Instagram craze of climbing that intrepid peak and without much research, I threw my and a friend’s names into the daily raffle that allows you to climb the dome. Four months later, I found myself gripping the chainlink ladder, hauling myself up wooden plank by wooden plank, trying my very best not to look down.

I’d been running around the hills of Westwood to prepare for the 14 mile hike but beyond that, done very little research about what to expect. The things I knew: It was long (it took us 10+ hours in total), it was steep (turns out it was full of switchbacks and stairs which have you making yourself crazy promises like “I’m going to buy myself that sequined jumpsuit if I survive this”), and that I needed to bring a lot of water (maybe an entire gallon was too much but I wasn’t taking chances).

When I say I climbed to the top of Half Dome, I should say I climbed the top of Half Dome one and a half times. The first time, I made it halfway up before having an anxiety attack and climbing down. Thankfully my hiking buddy convinced me that I’d deeply regret it if I didn’t make it to the top and they were entirely right. Even five years and a cross-country move later, I can still feel the glow that came the minute I reached the peak. It was one of the biggest moments in my life when I did something that terrified me and it totally worked out.

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A Letter to all my Fellow Dating Introverts

My Sweet Introverted Plums,

Rumor has it that you’re dating, or at least contemplating dating, and either way I want you to know I’m proud of you. This is big! And exciting! And yes, nerve wracking! But no matter where your brain is at right now, if this is something you want to do, then there is nothing that should stand in your way — least of all your introversion and social anxiety.

Late last year I decided to give online dating a go for the first time. When I originally moved to New York City back in 2015 I was fresh off a break-up and drawn to the idea of getting to know my single self. I did yoga, hogged all the cat cuddles, dedicated lots and lots of time to my friendships, took myself on dates, spent Sunday afternoons reading and Saturday nights dancing, solo traveled around the US, spent hundreds of hours writing, and explored the potential of my career (can you call being a YouTube Trends Specialist a career? Probably a question for another post). I would ask a boy on a date every now and again, but primarily, I spent this time enjoying my own company and building a colorful life I am deeply proud of.

After years of not pursuing dating with any consistency or seriousness, I decided last winter I wanted to throw my hat into the ring and signed up for Hinge (and promptly deleted it, and then signed up again with more courage).

When I say I felt ready to try dating, what I really should say is that my heart felt ready to try dating while my brain was an anxious mess. In the beginning, I would get nervous 24 hours before a date so by the time I was walking to the pub or coffee shop I was so sweaty and shaky I couldn’t even think straight.

I remember distinctly the morning before my first ever online date. I was so overwhelmed by the idea of meeting this new guy I started crying while putting on my shoes to go for a walk. Rationally I knew there was little at stake here, but my social anxiety was running the show and had convinced me that this was a make-it-or-break-it moment of my life (it wasn’t at all). Seated on the floor of my hallway I Googled “Dating as an introverted” hoping to find the perfect pep talk to ease my anxiety.

It isn’t that I don’t like meeting new people. I love talking to new people! But at the same time, I also am an introvert whose nerves around new groups or walking into new spaces alone can feel draining and disorienting. What if I don’t like them and I have to let them down? What if my nerves make me say something really odd and the entire date quickly dwells into something awkward and uncomfortable? What if I really like them and they don’t like me? What if I don’t recognize them when they walk in? Or what if I forget what they look like in-between the first and second date? What if I’m not interesting or they talk the whole time or they don’t talk at all?

My Google search pulled up a few random articles from 2012, but in reading them, they felt more like a shrug than a pep talk. Now, nine months later and still going on dates, I’ve found myself drawn back to this idea of being a “dating introvert” and in a way, hope that this notes can be the hug I was originally looking for for someone else.

So my sweet introverted plums (who may or may not also have some social anxiety), you’re not alone in how you’re feeling. You’re not alone in your anxiety and your overthinking and your nervousness. You show up however you are — perhaps sweaty and flustered — and stand confident in the fact that you put yourself out there even though it overwhelmed you. That alone makes you amazing.

There is nothing riding on this date beyond you feeling respected and enjoying your time. You don’t have to know all the big answers in this moment, you just have to answer one: Would you enjoy seeing this person again?

Throughout these last nine months of dating I’ve come to understand that I am worthwhile just as I am. And so are you. We don’t need to wait until “the perfect moment” or until we are the most perfect version of ourselves to date. I know, it’s incredibly vulnerable to meet someone new when you’re in the thick of your life. Perhaps it’s been a bad week or you’re feeling low about your look that day or you’re stressed about finances, and the idea of allowing someone to see that side of you — especially someone you’re romantically interested in — why would we do that?

The answer is simple: Because 99% of your life is going to be spent as this imperfect, growing version of yourself and that’s amazing. The person you are right now, the one putting themselves out there, is so much better than that perfect version of yourself that lives in your head because this version is real. They are worthwhile and they are brave. I can’t even tell you how worthwhile you are because it’s too big of a feeling for my tiny words to hold. Your introverted ways are not a negative, they make you thoughtful and emotionally intelligent and also mean you’ve spent enough time with yourself to know what serves you and what doesn’t. Value that, trust that, and instead of approaching your nervousness and anxiety with frustration, accept it as part of your process.

It will also get easier with time. The first couple dates are the absolute hardest. You’ll make a lot of mistakes and say awkward, heartfelt things (like “Your face is so symmetrical!”) and wish you had said some bigger thoughts on your mind. Sometimes you might talk too much or too little, and sometimes the dates will go off with a bang of chemistry and sometimes they’ll sizzle into a polite goodbye and a see you around. There is no “right” way to date, just the right way for you to date so give yourself the space to figure out what that is.

And when you can, take a deep breath, throw on your favorite accessories and try and enjoy being present within this date, and along the way, you might even begin to enjoy all the little moments of magic that a good first date can hold: The heart flutters, the maybe-they’ll-kiss-me-maybe-they-won’t feeling, finding commonalities, trying a new spot in the city, deep belly laughs, the things you’ll gossip about with your friends when you call them on your walk.

Remember, your weirdness is your superpower and anyone who doesn’t make you feel that way isn’t worth your precious introverted time. Some dates will end in cordial farewells, some in tears, some in friendship, and some might even take you by surprise and a first date will turn into many more. But the thing you should be most proud of is that you were open to all of it. So go forth and date, you’ve got this and if you need an extra pep talk, I’ll be right here to cheer you on.

Sending you all the love,

Me

Short-Term Goals, Are They the Key to … Everything?

There is something magical about watching New York City wake up in the morning. She does it slowly and then all at once, stretching with the sunrise before delivering a rush of traffic throughout the city.

On one of those rare mornings when I haven’t hit the snooze button into the double digits (or I’m very jetlagged and my body thinks 5am is actually 10am), I like to let me feet wander down to the water, and if I’m feeling really ambitious, across the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s perhaps the only time you’re not going to be dodging Instagram influencers or tourists taking Christmas card photos, and for just an hour, it feels like it’s just me and my thoughts and the city.

Normally these aren’t very earth shattering thoughts. Should I repaint my entire apartment yellow or split it up and make the hallway and kitchen white? Am I actually into Birkenstocks and should I buy the copper ones? Where do people go on dates in New York City? Is sitting drinking tea at a cafe and reading a date?

But the other day, like a flash of lightening from the sky, I had a thought that shook my tiny Brooklyn world: I NEVER set short-term goals. Like, ever.

Now you might be asking yourself, Carly, good lord, you’ve talked about to do lists and goals in every article on this blog. Actually you’ve talked about goals for the better part of your lifetime. That’s exactly right, I love setting goals! Writing goals, hobby goals, life goals, physical goals — if you can put a goal on it, I will that. And while my desk is covered with post it notes documenting all the long-term projects and big, grandiose ideas I want to accomplish, I have never even thought to set smaller goals that would point me in the right direction.

Wait, has everyone known about this the entire time? This realization made me feel a bit like that guy we all know, the one who waited to finish the Harry Potter series ten years after the last one was released and finally shows up all ready to talk about it at your 4th of July party and everyone’s like, “Damn it Steve, we already know Fred Weasley dies, thanks for bringing up that painful memory AGAIN.”

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Slow Down You Crazy Child

You know what’s funny but also not super funny at the same time? How bloody hard it is to relax, or more precisely, how hard it is to sit down and do nothing. I dream about it loads while my brain is whirling around like an Addams Family pinball machine and yet, when I finally find myself on the couch with an open afternoon spreading out ahead of me, I panic.

I panic because there is always more items to check off on the to do list, because it feels so good to be productive and moving towards a goal, and because — which I cringe to admit — taking time for myself often registers in my brain as being undeserved, selfish, or lazy.

I first developed this productivity idealization in college after feeling such pride at being known as the girl who could do everything at once. A lack of sleep, an unhealthy amount of anxiety due to stress, sacrificing time with loved ones — this felt like the price one needed to pay in order to make their dreams into a reality and every time I reached a new goal, I was onto the next without taking any time to sit down and appreciate what I was actually creating.

This was all going swimmingly (*heavy sarcasm*) until last summer when I hit a wall. Or as blogger Amber Burns put it in her recent newsletter, “I didn’t break up with hustle culture, it dumped me, HARD.”

This January the New York Times published a feature titled, “Why are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” which was a followup to BuzzFeed’s viral op-ed essay, “How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation.” In both articles, the writers address the growing dangers of “hustle culture” for glamorizing unhealthy work-life balance among millennials, many who have taken on this collective mindset of “work hard, play hard, do everything, you’ll sleep when you’re dead.”

I have definitely fallen into this hustle culture trap, especially with freelance work, where your success is based off how much or little you’re putting in. But what I didn’t realize until I hit my wall was how much I was sacrificing along the way. Sleep, mental health, physical health, time with loved ones, the ability to be spontaneous, the ability to see what things were/weren’t actually working in my life, and just a general enjoyment of the little things in life — the things whose value aren’t related to furthering my goals but simply for making me happy.

This past year I’ve been working on overhauling my knee jerk reaction to overplan and overcommit in the name of the “hustle” (literally just rolled my eyes so hard at my own use of the word “hustle”). I hate to admit it, but it’s a hard habit to undo! At least once a week I catch myself stressing about all the things I’m trying to balance at any given moment. How do I keep up with friends outside and inside of NYC AND work on my long-term work projects AND enjoy my time of creativity AND carve out time for working out AND be there for my family 2000 miles away AND still have time for myself?

The answer I learned after a particularly rough week is that I can’t do everything at once and that’s okay. It’s okay to put some tasks to the side, it’s okay to unplug, and more than anything, it’s okay to sit on the couch and do nothing. Because what matters even more than the external accomplishments around me are all the things happening inside my overzealous, passionate, ever-changing mind and heart.

^^ Favorite Billy Joel song that I listen to on repeat when the stress sets in. ^^

This is all easier said than done and this past month I’ve been doing a bit of a life revamp, or a mental decluttering if you will. This means I’ve been slowing down and prioritizing self-care over everything else, which is hard! Choosing to go on a run, or sit and read, instead of driving myself crazy over a pitch letter has felt like I’m reseting my mental code. But this time around, this mental decluttering has truly allowed me to re-engage with productivity in a more focused and intentional way — which feels like a breathe of fresh air. Now I set timers for how long I’m going to work on something each day, I don’t try and do 18 things in my two free hours after work, and in general, I feel more on my own team. It’s a work in progress but it feels good to be doing it slowly but surely.

So if you’re in the same boat, consider this my permission slip to you to slow down you crazy child, and do something just for the joy of it today. All the chores will still be there after you take 30 minutes to turn off your phone and paint your nails but your mindset will have shifted into an entirely different space. You can still be ambitious and passionate and yes, productive, while also having a healthy, balanced life. This is not something you have to earn, but something you inherently deserve.

So best wishes my recovering over-productive friends, you are worth all of your dreams coming true as well as the time to sit and enjoy the hell out of life in the most unproductive, spontaneous, adventurous, relaxing ways.

To be honest, I think this might have been my own permission slip as well.

Must Be Love on the Brain: The Chemistry of Crushes

Looking into my crush’s cinnamon brown eyes, I suddenly realized he had asked me a question, a question which I had not heard because I was so engrossed in the symmetry of his face.

I had two options here: I could either assume the identity of a rational human being and ask him to repeat himself OR I could attempt to outrun the blush heading north from the base of my neck and just say any answer that came to mind. Caught in the eye of a dopamine tornado, I chose the later option hoping that my crush had asked what was holding up the salad line. He had not and what started as just an awkward silence quickly turned into a confused awkward silence broken up occasionally by a lunch order.

I wish I could tell you this was an isolated incident. That outside of this one crush on a California boy, who at the time had been assigned the desk next to me, I was the Lady Casanova of crushes, just collecting heart eye emojis with my continuous talk of consent and graphic novels. But the truth is, I don’t crush crushes, crushes crush me.

I still remember my first crush: Justin Fishman, kindergarten. Everyday I would attempt to sneak closer to his assigned seat on the show-and-tell rug only to be deterred by the exasperated questioning of my teacher. I learned quickly that a Fishman and a Lanning would never work due to the long distance imposed by an alphabetic roll call. 

Later there was Sammy Maxwell, the boy who asked me to the sixth grade dance. There was Aaron Lee, the red headed boy with the bright blue shoes, and Richie the tuba player who I wrote love letters to in high school. There was my freshman dorm mate who’d never been kissed, the writer-turned-gamer in my English seminar with surprisingly broad shoulders, and the friend-of-a-friend obsessed with Groupon. There was the guy whose voice sounded similar to Snuggles the Bear and the former rugby player; the musician who after our first date I blurted out, “Can I put my face on your face?” and later, the coworker who looked like Daniel Dae Kim — to name just a few. 

Over the years, my crushes have been diverse in their interests and backgrounds, but unified in their effect, turning me from a semi-stable human being into a puddle of goo. Even at 29, with two IRA accounts and numerous long term relationships under my belt, I still find myself barely more equipped to handle a crush than my braces-clad 7th grade self. 

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