More than One Way

Nothing will bring you peace. You must bring yourself to it.

I can’t tell you how many cups of hot tea I drink a day.

I started drinking tea in college. There was an electric kettle in our department chair’s office, the first one I’d ever seen. The kettle sat on a small cabinet filled with tea bags (always stocked thanks to Ms. Kenna, the English Department mom to so many when we missed our own). After a long day of classes and helping less-nerdy students edit papers in the writing center, I’d fill a mug with Earl Grey, curl up in an oversized chair, and talk with my fellow majors about books, TV, movies, and everything my pop-culture-loving heart desired.

When I drink a cup of tea now, I want to recapture that feeling of being cozy, of rewarding myself after a hard day’s work, being surrounded by people who were much smarter than me but somehow let me hang out with them.

I work by myself now, though my tea stash conveys I work in an office of twenty. I have tea tins lining the counter, nestled in drawers, stuffed in cabinets. I could probably make three hundred cups of tea with my current supply, though I consume the stuff so quickly that if I didn’t replenish my stash, it would probably last me only two weeks.

Tea calms me down. It puts me in a better mood.

To me, A hot beverage is the liquid equivalent of a hug from someone you love.

I call my mom every Sunday for our long weekly check-in. Before I dial her number (Ha! Dial. We haven’t dialed anything since the 80’s. More like “touched buttons to reach her cellular device,” but that doesn’t have the same ring to it—ring! haha! Sorry. #phonepuns), I boil some water to steep some fruity kombucha green tea in the summer, and malty Canadian breakfast tea with just a touch of maple in the winter. If I can’t have my tea while I’m sitting across from my mom, I’ll make sure to recapture that feeling the comfort of sitting across from her by making a cup before we hop on the phone. When my cup is empty, I know my call is almost over. And that’s okay—there will be another next week.

If I’m crying, I know to drink peppermint tea. For some strange reason, it soothes my frayed nerves and dries up my tears. After a few minutes on the couch with my brew, I begin to breathe deeper and go about my day.

I think I’ve figured something out, though.

Drinking tea is how I tether myself to a feeling of peace.

If I have a cup of tea, nothing bad is really happening to me. With a cup of tea in my hand, I can change things, I can work through my problems, I can get through another conference call, I can stay up just a bit longer and finish that article. It’s my conduit for work. It’s my reward for a job well done.

Thing is, tea doesn’t really harm me. Maybe I’ve had more cups of Lady Grey than my dentist would like, but generally, my body doesn’t mind that I down the stuff like it’s growing in my backyard for free. I don’t drink it with sugar or milk or anything—no matter the flavor, I drink it straight up.

I know that’s a weird way to feel about tea. These are rather strong feelings to have about a beverage. But that’s me—I have strong feelings about everything.

The problem is when I try to chase that feeling—the conduit for work, the cozy feeling, the reward—with things that are not tea. Like chips.

Oh, how I love chips.

Chips are my crack.

No, seriously—I am addicted to chips. I eat them even when I don’t want to. I think about them if they’re in my cabinet, and I have to devour them. All of them. You have to, says my brain. They will not leave me alone until they are gone.

I eat them when I’m full. I eat them when I’m sad, when I’m tired and stressed and just need something to take the edge off.

If I’m losing my mind because my to-do list is long and my schedule is full, I guarantee all I want to do is turn on the TV and disappear into the bottom of a bag. And another, and another, and another.

It’s something I used to do when I was a kid. Sometimes when I’d come home from school, I’d open the kitchen cabinet and find a bag of whatever chips all six of us had to share for the week. I remember flipping on The King of Queens, opening a bag of my mom’s favorite Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion, and crunching my way to a quiet place, wondering how many I could eat to satisfy my craving but leave enough so my mom wouldn’t ask questions.

If I had my druthers today, I’d be downing a bag of salt-and-pepper kettle chips right now. The big bag, the one marketing teams were peer-pressured to start calling “party size” so people like me wouldn’t think, My family is only one person, so clearly this family-size bag is a perfect serving for me!

But then I eat the chips. As soon as I’m done, I’m disgusted. My body feels bloated. My mood plummets. How can you do this to yourself? I think. Then, Get another bag. It’s just this one time.

Uh-huh. Heard that one before.

Round and round and round the cycle goes until I finally decide enough is enough.

I start making breakfast again, a telltale sign that I am choosing to be a calm and collected member of society who can do things like eat meals with protein and vegetables, pay my bills on time, and solve problems at work. I don’t have time to be numb—I have things to do.

So what’s the difference between tea and chips? Why do I turn to one and not the other?

When I want to engage with the world but have a “treat yo’self” moment, I choose tea.

When I don’t want to feel anymore, when I want to turn the world off, that’s when I give in to chips.

In both scenarios, I’m trying to make myself calmer, though in completely different ways.

I know this now. I’ve come to realize it as I’ve grown older, and I’ve confirmed it through reading The Power of Habit (PS: go get it from your bookstore or library right now. It’s so worth your time).

In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg shows why and how we make all of our decisions.

They’re based on three stages: cue, behavior, and reward.

Cue: Something that triggers us to want a reward. Think Pavlov’s dog and the bell. Say you see a leprechaun running toward the end of the rainbow with a pot of gold—the leprechaun is the cue.

Behavior: The thing we do to get the reward, i.e., you have to chase the leprechaun all the way to the end of the rainbow to grab the gold.

Reward: The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Now you got them dolla dolla bills, y’all.

Sooner or later, if we circle this decision loop enough times, we start performing this cycle automatically and develop behavior patterns. Because, you guessed it, we’re creatures of habit—we like our rewards. We know that if we run to the end of the rainbow, there will be a pot of gold waiting for us, and we like ourselves some gold.

HOWEVER.

There’s more than one way to the end of the rainbow.

Think about that for a second.

We don’t have to do the same thing to get the reward that we want.

Because, as Mr. Duhigg says, we can choose to replace our behavior to get the same reward.

We can change our habits to achieve the same thing.

We just have to consciously choose a new behavior until our decision loop changes, and then we’ll automatically choose the new behavior to get the reward we want.

Take my baby flow chart. You don’t have to chase the leprechaun to get the gold—you know he’s gonna put it there, anyway, and it’ll be waiting for you no matter which route you take. You can take a shortcut and end up at the base of the rainbow just as that leprechaun’s pulling in to drop off the gold.

That’s good news for me.

Two behaviors. Same reward. Drastically different consequences, physically and emotionally.

And while I still want to disappear when I’m face with what feels like too much, I’m getting better about recognizing the feelings of panic, the ones that tell me there’s no other way to combat my stress than shoving a handful of chips in my face and crunching away my feelings.

That’s the beauty of getting older, now that I’ve finally developed my prefrontal cortex. It knows things. I just need to listen to it more often, preferably over a cup of tea.

We Blaze Trails for Each Other

   “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – JFK

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” – JFK

This morning, I woke up with a whisper in my ear:

You can be a leader. You can stand up and serve people, and it’s okay.

It’s a strange thought to wake up with, but it’s one that gives me hope. It calms me and fills me with zeal all at the same time.

***

When I was younger, probably in fourth grade, we started doing group projects.

Oh my gosh, you guys. Talk about testing the patience of a ten-year-old Amy. In those moments, my life story couldn’t have been more tragic than Job’s.

Everything inside me railed when part of my performance was tied to a ragtag group of kids burning with Pixy Stix-fueled energy I couldn’t control. I tried to be a puppet master, a ring leader, tried to channel my Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights as I sized up the project, told everyone what they were going to do, and tried not to blow a gasket when, during team updates, I found out they hadn’t done what I had told them to do.

Because, you know, that’s how teams work. 🤦🏻‍♀️

I moaned to any adult that would listen (i.e. my mom) about how unfair group projects were, how much I hated them with every fiber of my being, and how they weren’t even true to real life because how often am I going to have to work with a group of people where I’m going to be judged by what they do?

Oh, sweet, blissful ignorance. I just want to hug that child.

At some point, I learned that my generalissimo tendencies were not appreciated by my troops. Not that I blame them—I couldn’t read a room to save my life when I was younger (and am very much still learning). So like Napoleon during a Russian winter, I retreated. I gave up my post and started to keep my mouth shut to keep the peace.

And I carried that behavior with me long after fourth grade, pretty much into adulthood.

***

As an adult, I view leaders a little bit differently.

I’m in charge of so many choices: cooking, the laundry detergent I buy, how much money to pour into my Roth IRA, where to put plastic grocery bags in the county recycling bin, how much I’m going to exercise, if I’m going to send that extra email to follow up just one more time, whether I should buy mums now or after I get back from business travel or forego it altogether because I kill every plant I touch, if I’m going to use my savings to get a new-to-me car, to take out my wisdom teeth, or travel across the ocean to see more fun things. (you guess how that one’s going to turn out)

I am responsible for so much, and I am only taking care of myself. I can’t imagine if I had a whole family of needy Amys to keep alive and healthy every day. Shout out to moms everywhere—you have my awe and kudos.

So yes, there’s part of me now that appreciates someone of seemingly sound mind who stands up and says, “This is how I do it. Maybe it could help you, too.”

Oh my gosh, the glory of someone showing me the way, even just a little bit.

When I don’t have to put on a head lamp in the dark, take a machete and hack my own way to blaze a new trail? That is absolutely awesome, and I am 100% here for it.

Never in my life have I wanted to delegate so much. For this control freak, that is a shocking statement, but that is where I am, y’all. Sometimes I am just tired and frozen by the paradox of choice. I have to consciously hand over the reins every once in a while, but when I do, I relax. I smile more. I feel so much more at peace. Whoever wants to drive me like Miss Daisy, here are my car keys, I’m just gonna be over here drinking La Croix and taking a nap—turn on Waze and godspeed to you.

And you know what? I don’t begrudge the person who spoke out, who took those reins—quite the opposite. I thank them.

By that same token, if I see how to go forward on the brushy trail, it’s my responsibility to put on the head lamp and hack away.

Because we’re all doing this for each other, in our own way.

Of course, people are always going to have a different opinion and shout from the back of the pack, “You should’ve gone to the right! There’s less brush there!” But you know what? You’re the one with the big knife in your hands, so you might as well keep swinging and make the way easier for those coming behind anyway.

Some people won’t appreciate your efforts, but some people will. And those people who will? That’s a good enough reason to keep hacking away when you have the vision and energy.

Social compact, y’all. It’s a real thing.

Fat Kid

Fat Kid

From third grade to high school, I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself.

We got a new baby in fourth grade, after all. Maybe we were too busy taking pictures of her instead?

Well, yeah, of course. And she was a cute baby.

Maybe I’m just choosing not to remember the photos because I don’t like the way I look in them.

I don’t even know when the weight started to come on. I just remember looking at a photo of me at the end of third grade with my teacher Mrs. Bartch, and thinking, That’s a lot of chin.

I don’t even know if the photo still exists, but it’s burned into my memory. The buck teeth, the floppy bow, the limp, ratty hair, the puffy cheeks, the wobbly chin. It’s all I can do to keep breathing when I think about it because I still remember the horror I felt when I looked at that photo for the first time—and realized I wasn’t beautiful.

What a tragedy. Here’s an earnest, bright little girl who loved her teacher, who was so proud to stand next to her in that photo. And all she could think about is how she didn’t measure up to her own invisible yard stick, crafted by who even knows.

I was hyperaware that I was not an attractive child, especially at that age. I looked around and saw girls who had the trendy clothes, the painted nails, the layers in their hair (so grownup! like shampoo commercials!).

I was just the fat loaf eating an Arby’s chicken tender 4-pack and curly fries on Wednesdays and two slices of large Village Inn pepperoni pizza on Fridays and stuffing my friends’ Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls into my mouth whole every single day.

No wonder they called me “The Garbage Disposal.”

Bless my parents. Bless them. They had no idea how to help me. None of their other children were having these issues. My brother was fine, and my older sister was (and is) a beautiful gazelle. And lucky for me, the Atkins Diet was all the rage, so that’s what they decided we should do to conquer my weight demons.

At school, I went from my cafeteria junk food paradise to pulling a Tupperware of wilted iceberg lettuce with $1 Kroger ranch dressing with bacon out of the school fridge, sometimes accompanied a bland, smelly hockey puck disguised as a plain hamburger patty, and sighing while the other kids gulped down their Fruitopia and Dunkaroos.

There’s a reason why I don’t eat iceberg lettuce or reheated hamburger patties to this day.

I have been acquainted with food deprivation and demonization and reward for a very, very long time. I have let the scale dictate my self-esteem. There have been many years of my life where I defined happiness by how thin my face looked in the mirror, how loose the waistband of my jeans.

8 years old is way too young to think about being attractive (for what? for who, at that age?). About losing weight. About counting carbs (“You can only have 20, Amy.”). About demonizing fruit because it has too much sugar, but here is this low-carb cheesecake made with Splenda, would you like to eat that?

I can’t blame my parents—they were doing the best with what they knew how to do. Each of them have their own hangups with nourishing and loving their own bodies. I’ve seen both of them go up and down the scale, make snide comments about themselves. It’s no wonder I fell into that trap too. I was just as vulnerable weight issues as they were.

How could I honor my body when no one showed me how?

Maybe something would have been different if I’d have stayed in team sports, though honestly, I didn’t really have the talent to keep playing. But if I had kept playing past 5th grade, would I have adopted a workout routine? Would I have learned the discipline of moving my body, how much that would make me feel good, let alone look good?

***

Thank God I finally cracked the code to my body’s health.

I was 25 when I finally began to take control of my weight. After an Alaskan cruise and reading a 600-page Jim Henson biography, I decided it was time to change my life.

I threw myself into the Diet of the Moment that made sense to me: paleo. Eat what your great-grandmother would recognize as food. Eat what God put on the earth.

Okay, I can do that.

Start to exercise for thirty minutes a day, four times a week.

Okay, I can do that too.

I did this for months. And finally, finally, the weight started to come off.

And even though it’s been four years, I’m still learning I can relax, just a little bit, since I have a handle on what my body likes (protein, vegetables, healthy fats) and doesn’t (gluten, sugar, dairy, soy). I can incorporate exercise into my life without feeling like I have to go to the gym constantly. I do things I enjoy. I go for walks with the dogs. I spin. I go hiking on the weekends. I love hot yoga (who would’ve thought?), and know I should go more often.

But I use the word “should” lightly. When I really want to go, I will go. And that is enough for me.

This mindset, for me, is revolutionary.

***

I still don’t like photos of myself. I would much rather point the camera elsewhere, there’s so much else to see, to think about. But I’m getting better about it. I’m kinder to my body, more empathetic.

And proud.

So very proud of the arms that can carry too many bags of groceries from my car. But since I’m addicted to Sprouts and getting everything inside on one trip, I’m not that sorry about it.

I’m proud of the hands that, for years, have practiced preparing healthy food and learned how to make it delicious.

So very proud of the legs that carried me 22 miles on a single day and climbed a rock wall at mile 20 as my motor skills were beginning to fade.

My body works. And for that, I am so thankful.

***

I am not my body. It’s something I’m still learning, but I think I’m starting to get the hang of it.

Team Babies and Team No Thanks

contemplating light things

Without fail, when you meet new people, you get The Questions.

The Questions are a way polite, well-meaning people try to converse with you. At each new stage of life, the version of The Questions you receive is replaced by increasingly personal inquiries.

When you’re three: What is your favorite color?

When you’re in elementary school: What is your favorite subject in school?

When you’re in middle school: (Actually, everyone pretends you’re invisible when you’re in middle school, and let’s face it—you’d prefer it that way.)

When you’re in high school: Where are you going to college?

When you’re in college: What are you majoring in?

Every year after you graduate from college:

When are you getting married?

When are you having babies?

It’s not their fault—society has trained them to be curious about this.

But as someone who doesn’t know the answer to either of these questions, the situations where I know The Questions are coming are awkward at best, and a Spanish Inquisition across a cheeseboard at worst.

In these kinds of situations, here’s what I want to say but don’t have the presence of mind to in the moment.

***

Do you know how much I dread The Questions about when I’m going to get married and when I’m going to have kids?

Do you know how much my answers to The Questions are none of your business?

Do you know how surprised I am that I haven’t gotten married yet? And that I’m not mad about it?

Do you know how weird it is to be peers with a pregnant lady?

Do you know how thankful I am to have loving, sacrificial parents, but watching them parent four kids makes me ask if I want that life for myself?

Do you know how telling it is that we, the oldest three siblings in my family, are going to hit 30 without having a child?

Do you know how thankful I am to have a partner that gave me the option of not having a child, of not adopting motherhood as my “one true calling,” of giving me an out so that I don’t have to go back to school for a few more decades and do that whole shebang with judgey moms and mouthy kids and lunches and homework and teen angst all over again?

Do you know how much I enjoy waking up in a quiet house, coming downstairs and making coffee and feeling the 58-degree morning and sighing happily while I settle on the couch to read a book or type my thoughts? Do you know how much I love not having to get a single creature ready for the day other than myself? Do you know how certain I am that I would cause permanent mental harm for anyone who dared to take my quiet mornings away from me?

Do you know how sure I am that my temper could not handle a child without scarring them? Do you know how much I worry about how much I would mess up my kids, what I would do to make them sneak out and slam doors and curse my name to their friends and wonder bitterly why I am the way I am and why I couldn’t love them better?

Do you know how sick I am of motherhood being a foregone conclusion, that I’m supposed to want this, that I am actually a little shocked I’m not ready for it yet, that my mom had two kids and was pregnant with me, number three, by now? That at 29, her life was naps and tiny forks and waking up in the middle of the night for monsters and trying to keep my dad happy and still working as a social worker and seeing the horrors of children who slip through the cracks and trying to patch them up?


Do you know how much I wonder if I’m vapid or shallow because I don’t want to dedicate my life to humanity this way? That I think I have something else to offer people besides raising little ones? That maybe I could speak to other women like me who have passion and fire for doing something that doesn’t involve caring for tiny humans, that mothering can come in so many forms?

Do you know how often I ask myself if I’m going to feel differently later, if I’m going to feel lonely and sad when I see a mother and daughter hand in hand and wonder if I could have that too? Do you know how much I question if I’m going to have something to talk about with people when their kids get a little older, when they start to get trophies and braces and scholarships, will people care that I don’t have a story about my own children to share and empathize with them? Do you know how much I wonder if I’m going to be alone when I’m old, with no one to care for me because everyone who loved me when I was young is a memory?

Do you know how broken I feel because I don’t have an intense longing to hold my baby in my arms? Do you know how relieved I am that I don’t have to get married and conceive a child in the next ten years, that I have let myself out of this burden and I am just so relieved my life isn’t going to be counting days in my cycle and peeing on sticks and taking my temperature and needles and hospital stays and countless gloved hands inside me, all in the name of making a child with auburn hair?

Do you know how much I think about Terry Gross and the life she lives with her husband in Philly, just the two of them going out to eat and going to concerts and she goes to work and she’s completely fine with that, and if it will be fine for me too because it seems fine right now and why would that change? Do you know how much I wish I knew about other women like me, who were older and childless and feel like they’re doing okay? That media portrayed women like this who are living full lives and aren’t wasting away like Miss Havisham?

Do you know how sad I am that we women are divided, again, into such different camps? That if we meet each other and don’t belong on the same side, in Team Babies or Team No Thanks, that we eye the other with suspicion? Do you know how much better I could do to empathize with Team Babies, because this woman, this pregnant lady, this mom, is my sister and I can learn from her and I don’t have to be afraid of her rejecting me because we’re not in fourth grade anymore?

No. You don’t. You couldn’t.

But you know what? That’s okay. I’m glad you asked. Thank you for listening. Can you pass the salami?

I choose to make mistakes—and get over it.

 Important PSA: Mom, please relax. this is a stock photo. I did not tattoo my arm.

Important PSA: Mom, please relax. this is a stock photo. I did not tattoo my arm.

Once upon a time, I used to love blogging.

It’s true. I had a blog called Serve at Once (it was a Blogspot blog—remember Blogspot?).

Oh my gosh, you guys, I loved it so much.

I started it for my Autobiography class. The way other people wrote their own stories—and the idea that I could write my own—lit my brain on fire. It was like an Oprah episode written in long form, a deep dive into the personal self, and I was all. about. it.

I thought I’d include food in my blog, too. I have always loved food. It’s been a huge part of my life, the way I make memories and share my love with other people and bond with them. I watched both of my grandmothers in the kitchen, my mom, especially my dad, who seemed to take such joy from tinkering with recipes. 

I cooked in our dorm kitchen, I staged photos using the negligible food props we had in our apartment my senior year. I’d take photos with my point-and-shoot digital camera, using natural light however meager it was in the winter. 

I commented on other blogs. People commented on mine. We gave each other cheesy awards and badges because that’s what people did back in 2010.

It was so much fun.

Then I graduated. And slowly but surely, the desire to share my voice with the world drained out of me.

I got an internship at a publishing house, which was the fulfillment of my English major dreams (you can read how happy I was about that—seven years later, I still can’t believe it).

All of a sudden, I was surrounded by hundreds of professional writers and worker bees, the paragons of taste, the people who decided what everyone else was going to be reading and talking about around the world in the fall. 

And I became afraid. 

Of commitment.

Of disappointing people.

Of disappointing myself for my lack of talent.

It was Imposter Syndrome on steroids, because I was a 22-year-old college graduate floundering around a publishing house as a lowly intern, getting minimum wage and scraping by on the generosity of my brother, who—God bless him forever and ever—paid my rent the first seven months after I graduated, until I landed a full-time job at the same publishing house.

For the first time in my life, I shut up. I watched. Because I wanted so badly to learn. And I was terrified to do anything that wasn’t perfect because I just knew they were going to kick me out of publishing for my lack of talent.

And I couldn’t face that kind of rejection at work and at home, so I just . . . quit writing.

I drifted into a depression that hovered over me for the next three years. It stifled any light creative energy I once had. I watched Buffy reruns and ate boatloads Mexican takeout, trying to drown any memory of my work day in a vat of salsa and pretend like I knew what I was doing with some part of my life.

It was a dark time.

After a couple of years, “new normal” transitioned to “normal” and things didn’t seem so big and scary. I found out I could hang with the big boys—they didn't kick me out, at least. I discovered it felt really good being in command of my own life.

I decided if I could make beautiful loaves of French bread at home, I could probably make something a bit healthier. Forty lost pounds later, I'm eating like the health nut I never thought I could be, roasting vegetables in ghee and inhaling avocados like I'm a Hass lobbyist.

I've changed jobs. I've started by own business. Despite all appearances, I still don't know what I'm doing and I've come to terms with the fact that I probably never will.

And thankfully, I know what it means to be afraid and still do the thing anyway.

Here’s the thing: eight years ago, I was afraid. I am still afraid today.  I’ll still be afraid eight years down the road.

But eight years from now, I think I regret if I haven’t written some of this down for me to remember. 

Eight years from now, I’ll go back to this post and make fun of myself, about my awful writing style or the dumb things I said or how crappy the images were. 

But I will be proud of the girl who put herself out there, who said to the world, “I have things to say, and here they are.” Who did that, knowing there are trolls and mean people and nice people who freely express their opinions, sometimes really aggressively—and still put herself out there anyway.

Because right now, as I look back at the 21-year-old girl who started her blog, who took natural light photography with her point-and-shoot digital camera, who had zero filters on her photos and had to edit them manually, who poured her heart into her corner of the internet: 

I am so proud of her.

Truly. Like I am her mother. 

(Is that possible? Can you be that proud of your younger self that way? I think so. I just have so much sympathy for her, and now I understand her better than she does. )

That 21-year-old girl had no idea what branding was. She had no idea how to code or get a pretty website without paying a million dollars (because $2000 as a college student feels like a million dollars when the biggest paycheck you’ve ever earned is $450 after working two weeks standing on your feet and serving customers at an ice cream shop). She didn’t even have a Twitter handle. Facebook was just for sharing pictures with friends, nobody was having babies yet. Instagram and Pinterest hadn’t been invented. She had a pink Razr flip phone.

Holy crap, I am so proud of her.

So why can I give her so much grace, and I can’t seem to extend the same courtesy to myself right now? 

I am the same person. Sort of.  I guess I feel like I should have my stuff more together? I should know better by now? Present Me should be able to handle herself and know how to do everything, because she’s lived a little life and she’s almost (*whisper* thirty) and if something happened to her, they would call her a “woman” on the news and that still feels weird.

I don’t think she knew how good everybody else was doing stuff. Maybe she did know, she just didn’t care. I was her, but I can’t remember every detail of her then.

You know what I think it is?

I saw how the sausage was made.

And somewhere in my brain, I decided that the only art that deserved to see the light of day was something that was combed over and over again for twelve to eighteen months, possibly even more.

You know who told me that? Me.

No one in the publishing house ever said anything like that to me.

It was all me. I subconsciously decided I wasn’t worthy to produce something for people to read unless I had labored over it for a gazillion years.

Obviously, I didn’t always feel this way. I kind of like the things I used to write (but Young Amy, why did you have to use so many words? and so many big ones!?). 

Anyway. I say all of that to declare . . .

Hi. I’m Amy.

I used to write down stuff I was thinking on the internet then kept it to myself for seven years, and here I am again, with baggage real and imagined. And I’m going to screw this up once or twice, but that’s okay.

Because like Stuart Smalley used to say:

Oh, Al Franken. Why did you have to go and do bad things after this?

Thoughts in the Dentist's Chair

 If I didn't give you context, you would think this was a drone ready to kill you.

If I didn't give you context, you would think this was a drone ready to kill you.

  • Prince doesn’t have to go to the dentist anymore.

  • I wonder what Kelly Ripa does on her days off?

  • Ryan Seacrest has to be bored all day.

  • I. Am. Dy. Ing. I. Am. Dy. Ing.

  • There’s a reason people don’t take selfies at the dentist.

  • When she wears her mask, my hygienist looks like Bane from Batman.

  • [hygienist turns on ultrasonic scaler, and months of rancid disgust ricochet in hygienist's face] Oh that’s why she wears that mask.

  • How much do dental hygienists make? Is it worth my mouth mess flying in her face?

  • The View. Good Lord.

  • If we took a shot every time a male daytime talk show guest is asked how fatherhood changed his life, we’d all be hammered by 11 a.m.

  • I am a good patient. She hasn’t asked me to open my mouth wider.

  • How long will it take me to ruin this with coffee and tea?

  • It’s a sign of the times that we don’t hear screaming at the dentist’s office.

  • The dentist can blast away my cavity with sand. I can post my thoughts on the Internet. I would certainly be the first to go in the zombie apocalypse.

Wunderkinds, Fixer Upper, and My Nails

Polished people have polished nails.

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I have always believed this. Even when I was a kid, nothing said “I am a put-together,” more than a manicured hand.

This is why I make regular trips to the nail salon: so everyone, including me, will feel I am a real-life adult who can handle things.

I don’t watch the nail techs work anymore. You should know that I am a middle child, which means I am the biggest people pleaser and avoider of conflict you will ever meet. When I started going to the salon, I tried so hard to be a good client. I would tilt my hands to and fro, unasked, which I thought was “helpful” for my nail tech. After a few exasperated bouts of my manicurist chirping, “Please, stop!” I understood my active participation was neither helpful nor necessary. Now I let the professionals do their work as I watch close-captioned HGTV.

The nail techs know their clientele. HGTV is the salon’s go-to network, though sometimes they humor the token male client by turning one TV to ESPN (hey, guys, there’s no shame in the nail game).

Without fail, Fixer Upper is always on. 

For an hour the lucky citizens of Waco, TX, and I sit googley-eyed as their houses transform into a farmhouse chic dream. Women of all ages drool over these houses. Baby Boomers like my mother covet the sleek, updated version of homey they’ve always wanted and, after decades of work, can finally afford. As a Millennial woman who longs to create a happy, comfortable, welcome to my humble abode, isn’t my life stylish and cozy? home, I want to drag everything I see on TV to my 99 Pinterest boards and max out my credit cards at Wayfair.com

There are many reasons Fixer Upper is so popular: the gorgeous results, the down-home family charm of the Gaines. 

How on earth do these people not claw out each other’s eyeballs, we think, let alone make a TV show and look adorable while doing it?

If you’ve ever lived through any sort of home renovation, you know it’s kind of awful. Dust everywhere, boards stacked in every corner, blown budgets, timelines that are mere suggestions, and God forbid you step on a stray nail. It’s loud. It’s hot. It’s unpleasant at best and the fourth circle of hell at worst.

Funny how we never watch the paint dry in realtime on Fixer Upper—can you imagine what the ratings would be?

Nobody wants to see the work in the middle. 

We all have our own problems. We all work—we know the minutiae of keeping a business running makes, keeping a family running. When I’m finally done with my own work, stress-eating a bag of Green Chili Verde Kettle Chips on the couch, I don’t want to shoulder the problems of someone who isn’t part of my immediate circle—I just don’t have the emotional bandwidth for that. I want to believe in people the way I did when I was a kid: that adults who looked put together actually were put together. Nothing bad ever happened to them, but if it did, the problem would be a minor hiccup, and the adult would know how to diffuse it quickly. Said problem would just be a blip on the radar.

Polished people can polish away their problems? Sign me up, baby.


Can I tell you something?

Nothing brings me shame quite like this:

Not a broken nail!

This. Oh, the horror of a broken nail.

It’s the punchline meant to demean frivolous women everyone, but I guarantee those jokes are written by men who spend two minutes in the shower and call that their entire beauty routine.

To me, nothing says “I’m a failure who doesn’t give a crap” more than a chipped, painted nail. I don’t know which part of that statement scares me more: that people would think I’ve failed, or that people think I’m lazy and don’t care. This is a maelstrom for a high-achieving people-pleaser who wants to keep it all together.

Shame!

You know what’s funny?

Nobody else seems to have chipped nails.

Everyone on my social media feeds is problem-free and killing it. Professional degrees. Weddings at vineyards with rolling hills. Adorable babies with doe eyes. Brand-new owners of Oh my gosh, that must be drug-dealer money! houses. 

Meanwhile I’m cleaning dog pee off the carpet again and wondering how I’m going to pay my student loan bill because my check engine light decided to make a surprise appearance after I drove my twelve-year-old car home from the mechanic a mere two weeks ago. Not to mention caring for family members with failing health while my parents and siblings are each going through a major life transition this year. 

And, on top of it all, now my nails are chipped. I’m just going to keep that to myself and pray nobody notices when I reach for my glass at dinner. 


I know you’re tired. I am, too.

I’m tired of seeing calls for authenticity coming from social feeds bolstered with filters and hired help and marketing campaigns. I’m tired of inspirational quotes and beautiful food and gym tips and twenty-five-year-old business “experts” vying to be the next lifestyle brand.

 I’m tired of the word brand altogether.

A brand involves curation. A brand is the virtual hair and makeup team standing off camera, itching to spring forward at commercial break to keep the forty-four-year-old anchor as dewy as a sixteen-year-old ballerina. 

A brand seems to be the opposite of authenticity. Of vulnerability. Of something real and human and flawed, but funny and sweet and good.

There’s no life in a brand—not a real one, anyway. At the end of the day, a brand is an image we project, a veneer of a life we hope followers will want for themselves. We hope they buy into this image so much they’ll literally buy pieces of our image we put of up for sale so they, too, can create their own versions of our perceived satisfaction for only $X.99 a pop.

Social media isn’t so much about sharing as it is selling.

And nobody wants to buy into sadness.

You know, I get it. I really do. Like I said, I don’t want to come home and shoulder the world’s problems—you don’t, either. We have enough activities and emotional baggage competing for our attention. At the end of the day, I totally get tuning into something light and amusing—this is why I’ve watched the nine seasons of The Office a billion times. 

That’s not the problem.

The problem is we believe curated media is real life.

Our phones are live TV cameras; our homes are production studios. 

We have turned the beautiful ordinary into a cheap TODAY Show segment with flawless do-it-all mothers, adorable children who start philanthropic organizations at age 7, angst-ridden political rants praised as smart, credible news, and 9 ways to make paleo brownies your friends will slit their wrists for—because you aren’t feeding your philanthropic wunderkind anything but gluten-free and GMO-free and cruelty-free and grain-free and pasture-raised, right?

What are we doing to ourselves?

Life is hard—way too hard for us to pretend we have our stuff together. We have become too busy, too intimidating for others to come ask us for help.

Because that’s another problem we’ve created: when we turned the cameras on ourselves, they became the only things we let ourselves see. We have turned totally inward. 

You can see it in the new houses springing up across Nashville: none of them have front porches—none of them. We don’t need them anymore, do we?

We’ve become so focused on speaking our truths that we’ve forgotten we need to speak to other. But more than that, we’ve forgotten to listen to each other, to the truths of our neighbors, the people who are like us and the ones who aren’t.

Instead of asking people if they agree with us, we should really be asking, “Do you have what you need? Are you doing okay?”

When we scroll through our feeds, we become media rivals competing for ratings. We no longer hold out a hand for help; our hands are too busy fumbling with our measuring sticks.


What I’m about to say isn’t new. It isn’t groundbreaking. I’m just another person reminding myself, again, of what helps me breathe a little deeper.

There’s a lot of noise out there. You can close the door, pop in your headphones, and listen to a simulated rainstorm.

You’re allowed to keep things private.

It’s okay to keep your circle small. Small, and weird, and wonderful. You need a few people who actually know you, who hear the weird voices you use to speak for your dogs but they still deem you sane enough to hang out with anyway (I, um, don’t know this from personal experience). 

You need people who can see you with your sweat pants that make your butt look it belongs to a normal person instead of a Brazilian model. 

You don’t have to follow the people who make your heart palpitate. You don’t have to follow anyone at all.

Give everyone else a break. Life is hard. On everyone.

You’re going to chip your nails. All hard workers do. And your chipped nails are just as Instagram worthy as someone’s selfie they took twenty times to make sure the shadows on their cheeks made their face look like it was carved from marble.

 PS: This is what my entire right hand looks like. 3/5 are chipped. Guess what? I will live.

PS: This is what my entire right hand looks like. 3/5 are chipped. Guess what? I will live.