Cake, cake, cake

The last week has been…intense. There have been some low lows (and, let’s be real, quite a few crying jags), but some damn good moments too.

Yesterday was my birthday, and while the days leading up to it were hard — and I didn’t feel much like celebrating, which is really saying something since I usually love birthdays — but my family and friends rallied like the champions they are and pulled me out of my funk. Oh, and much of this involved gluten-free angel food cake (with strawberry icing, because hell yes) for breakfast.

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My mom got sprinkles on the sides through sheer force of will, as well as straight-up sorcery.

Basically, my goal these days is to keep myself busy, entertained, and as far from the Sneaky Downward Spiral of Depression and Doom (which I’m hereby declaring both a thing and a proper noun) as possible. My most heavily-relied upon tactics? Reading and Netflix, and trying to stay the hell off my phone, which it turns out is a lot like trying to run uphill while wearing roller skates and carrying Mr. Snuffleupagus on your back.

What? I never exaggerate. And I’m totally not exaggerating now.

Anyways, rediscovering engrossing forms of entertainment helps me keep my Facebook screen time to a marginally (and I do mean marginally) more reasonable level. What does this entail, you ask? Well, lately…

I’ve been binge-watching Grace and Frankie, which is totally a national treasure. I’ve always loved Lily Tomlin, and she and Jane Fonda are a riot together — and I have to admit, I kinda have a crush on Bud.

I’ve been reading:

Fiction:

A Wind in the Door, by Madeleine L’Engel. A Wrinkle in Time is my favorite book — and holy shitsnacks, I can’t wait until the movie comes out — but for whatever reason, I’ve never read the rest of the Time Quintet. I figure that there’s no time like the present (see what I did there?) to rectify this problem, so I’m diving right in.

Non-Fiction:

Sacred Contracts, by Carolyn Myss. I’d read Anatomy of the Spirit almost ten years ago, and I thought it was fascinating — but man, applying Jungian principles to the whole thing takes this to a new level. (I, um, happen to think that Carl Jung was The Man. All that and a bag of chips. The bomb diggity. The cat’s pajamas. I don’t know why cats would ever have pajamas. But whatever, I just really love Carl Jung.)

Option B, by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. I loved Sheryl Sandberg’s original Facebook post about kicking the shit out of option B — she wrote it around the time that my endometrial cancer came back, so it’s been an incredibly helpful concept in the years since. I haven’t gotten very far, and I’m trying to keep from reading 80,000 books at the same time and never finishing any of them (this is one of my worst habits), so this one may take me a while.

Internets:

Why Is This Flu Season So Deadly? (The Science of Us) Okay, so it’s not exactly uplifting, but please heed this public service announcement to get your flu shots and wash your hands, like, as often as humanly possible. (Please! For the love of god!)

Why Everybody’s Obsessed With Skincare Now (The Cut) I happen to be utterly on board this cultural juggernaut du jour, and this quote summed up exactly why:

“[Skin care makes me] feel like I’m somewhat in control of my own destiny,” Alison Roman, author of what might be Instagram’s favorite cookbook, explained to me. “Every time I put on my Vintner’s Daughter serum I feel like I’m going to sleep extra well and when I wake up I’m going to look really beautiful and my skin’s going to look super glowy. Whether or not that’s true, I have convinced myself that that is a part of me having my shit together.”

Girl, preach.

The 6 Steps of Turning Setbacks into Advantages (New York Times) I want to print this article and hang it over my desk. And get it tattooed on my forehead. Well, okay, not on my face. But maybe on my arm or something. And y’all, that book is so getting added to my reading list! (Which is already, like, miles long. I have a problem.)

Nutella ‘Riots’ Spread Across French Supermarkets (BBC, with a clever pun in the title) The old adage says that everyone has a price, and just so we’re all clear, mine absolutely involves Nutella and I would 100% participate in a riot over this.

But also: cake. Caaaaaaake.

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Creepily photobombing the cake. 

For the Love of Micro-Goals

As some of you may have learned, I, uh, don’t usually make rapid, astonishing progress towards any of my goals. That reality really, in the words of the incomparable Phyllis Neffler from Troop Beverly Hills, frosts my cookies. I so wish I was the sort of person who could see dramatic, super-fast progress in, like, pretty much any area of life — and knowing that I usually have to keep slogging away at stuff is super annoying. Maybe it’s because I’m just an Xennial whose brain was molded by the internet and instant gratification, but hey, we can’t all be perfect.

Instead, my progress tends to be slow but usually steady — and thank god, because if it weren’t for that part I’d lose my mind — and it tends to require a lot of work on my part to stay motivated, productive, and on task.

Like, a lot of work.

Like, an obnoxious amount of work.

Like, I should probably feel mortified and personally victimized by how much work it requires.

But the fact is, my slow progress is still progress. And even if I do things like 1) break a task into wee little tasks like “open the folder” or “put the receipts in the envelope,” and 2) write down tasks I’ve already done just so I can have a sense of accomplishment when I cross them off, it’s still productive. And at least my ability to be a functional adult hasn’t deteriorated to the point of being featured on an episode of Hoarders, right? (Please tell me I’m right.)

Anyways, all that being said, I felt super vindicated today when I read The New York Times’ Smarter Living column on how micro-tasks can help people gain productivity momentum when they’re struggling to get started with (or to finish) a task. Guys, my love of putting already-accomplished mini-tasks on my list has a basis in actual science!

Enter micro-progress.

Pardon the gimmicky phrase, but the idea goes like this: For any task you have to complete, break it down into the smallest possible units of progress and attack them one at a time. … What’s so striking about applying this law of motion to productivity is that once you shift your thinking into this frame — I’ve started being productive, sI’m going to keep being productive — you achieve those micro-goals at what feels like an exponentially increasing rate without even realizing it.

YOU GUYYYYYS. This actually kind of works, both in day-to-day and big-picture, grand strategy contexts: on a day to day basis, my goals tend to be pretty small, but each small step helps me move forward. It may be at the pace of a geriatric snail in a lake of molasses, but whatever. It’s still progress.

So, with that in mind, here are the mini- and not-so-mini steps that I took, and things that made me stop and really think over the course of the last week:

  • I’m applied for a job that asks candidates to have “a defensible position on the Oxford comma,” and I basically started fangirling as soon as I read it. I haven’t put in a formal job application anywhere outside of the federal government for almost ten years, so this was a big deal for me. I don’t know if I’ll even hear from them, but I was at least excited and encouraged to find that there are, in fact, jobs that I can get excited about. UNICORNS ARE REAL, Y’ALL.

Fangirling

  • I tried a couple of new and awesome face masks, courtesy of a dear friend who sent me an incredible care package. I have this burgeoning love of skincare, which comes at an inconvenient time since I’m unemployed — all the more reason to still be giddy about said care package — and I was super excited to try them out. The kaolin clay mask made me look like the Babadook when I had it on, but it detoxed the bejesus out of my skin and was therefore 100% worth it.
  • I also spent a lot of time adulting this week: reviewing my finances, organizing and filing the papers that I haphazardly threw into a bin when I was rushing to get packed and moved out of D.C., etc. It was the total absolute opposite of glamorous, and I required a ton of popcorn to sustain me through these trials, but I was super relieved to get it all done.
  • I installed two new apps on my phone — that’s not a big deal, since I tend to get a bit app-happy (Me: Ooooh, that looks cool and possibly useful! Also me: But do you need it? Also, also me: Screw it, this will be useful somehow!) — that are helping me stay accountable to myself. (And, apparently, to my phone. Because apparently I care about whether or not its judging me.)
    • The first, Momentum, is a habit tracker that helps me keep track of all sorts of good stuff: you can customize the list, so mine includes flossing (my least favorite hygiene task in the history of my existence), drinking enough water, meditating, journaling, creativity, and reading. These are all things I want to do more of, but I tend to put them off until everything else is done, at which point…I zone out on my phone. (*Womp womp wommmmmmmp*)
    • That brings me to the second app, Moment, which runs in the background and tracks the number of times I pick up my phone in a day, the amount of screen time I put in, and which apps I use the most. Fun fact: I spend entirely too much time with my face in my phone, and most of it is spent on Facebook (AKA: The Official Social Media Platform of Old People). I figure that Moment can keep me apprised of how ridiculous my screen time has become at any given point, and that Momentum can help me reincorporate the other things I love to do, like reading, journaling, and art.
  • I’m doing a lot more running and biking these days, too — and good lord do I need it. I mean, yes, we all know about the physical benefits of exercise and blah blah blah, but you guys, it’s increasingly clear that my mental health depends on this. On days when I don’t exercise, I’m stabby and agitated. I have a short temper. I don’t like pretty much anything.lord is testing meBut once those endorphins hit my brain, it’s like a whole new ballgame. I don’t hate everything! It doesn’t all feel like a cosmic joke! Granted, my face is usually so red that people wonder I’m going to keel over and die at any moment, but that’s not the point. Endorphins are the point, and they’re my homies for life. #selfcare, y’all.

I’ve also noticed that since leaving my job last fall, my chronic pain and fatigue issues have gotten dramatically better. I still get a little achy from time to time, but it’s nowhere near as bad as it was a year ago. I never noticed until recently how much better I feel, and I suspect that this, too, was a case of micro-progress: the improvements were so incremental that I didn’t notice them until they really started adding up.

Fingers are crossed that my other life-improving efforts follow a similar trajectory, amirite?

More Renovation Than I Planned

So, hey, it’s been a minute! (Or, like, 849,173,946 minutes. But whatever.)

There have been some major developments since I last posted here, including the fact that I left my job and had been planning to focus on freelance writing and building other streams of income — but due to some other events that I can’t discuss here, those plans have dramatically changed. The upshot of all this tumult, though, is that I’m currently staying with my parents in Houston while I start looking for a job in Colorado.

Sooooo…greetings from Texas!

I’ve been trying to figure out how to approach all this change, as well as my rebuilding efforts, when it comes to the blog — and when I say “thinking about,” what I really mean is “ceaselessly ruminating about” — but I think I’ve finally developed a plan: I want to do one thing every day that either 1) helps me rebuild/improve my life, or 2) that helps me heal, whether that healing is physical, psychological, spiritual, or emotional. And then I want to, y’know, write about it.

My Instagram account will reflect the whole “one thing a day” thing, and then I’ll recap them here once per week — in addition to other (hopefully) good stuff like money diaries (a la Refinery29), links to articles I’ve enjoyed reading, and the occasional inspired rant (hey man, when the spirit moves me to write, I gotta roll with it).

So, stay tuned for more!

In which I opine about Starbucks

Ok, so. I’ll provide a longer update later, but for now, I have some Very Important Opinions (okay, these are actually exceptionally trivial opinions, but whatever, we’re going to pretend that they’re important) about Starbucks.

Look, I know I spend waaaaayyy too much time staring into the void of caffeine consumption — but the reality is that I’m deeply, profoundly basic. Ergo, my veritable cornucopia of Starbucks opinions. Anyways. Behold.

1) As much as I love PSLs, I’m certain that eggnog lattes are even better. Are they approximately eleventy bajillion calories? Yes. Do I need all that sugar and dairy in my life? Not even remotely. Does any of that deter me? Nope.

2) Mobile ordering is the best thing since, like, the invention of the wheel. Anything that allows me to skip the line while clandestinely customizing my drink (look, I get embarrassed when I’m ordering in person and I have an absurdly long and complicated drink; I can feel people’s judgment drilling into the back of my skull) is a huge win.

3) Mobile ordering also is the only way my name gets spelled correctly. Nalin/Sillian/Luann/Lorraine/Lauren/Hillian/Killian/ is funny at first, but it gets old quickly.

And thus, I have spent my Sunday morning opining about a coffee chain.

DIY Hell

General Sherman once famously said that war is hell, and this is undoubtedly true. But so too are DIY projects.

Here’s the problem: I don’t come from mechanically-inclined stock. My people aren’t good with our hands. We don’t build things.

And yet, HGTV and design blogs have apparently warped my mind. They managed to convince me that DIY projects are as easy as they look; that I could definitely take one on and succeed. They erased my knowledge of the fact that construction — of literally anything more complex than baking a cake from a boxed mix — is simply not in my blood. And that’s how I decided to DIY myself a new desk.

This was foolish. Unwise. An act of total hubris and naivete. I did it at my peril.

And it turned out really, really fucking badly.

difficult lemon difficult

This is how it went down: the desk I’ve been using for the past three years, while fine, has a low clearance — so low that I can’t cross my legs while facing forward. Since I’m going to be working and writing from home once I leave my job (IN FIVE WEEKS!), I knew I couldn’t continue to use a desk that causes me to contort myself like a Cirque du Soleil member just to find a marginally comfortable way to sit.

I spent untold hours looking for a desk that would work — the right dimensions, not ugly, etc. — and happened to stumble on a desk that made me audibly gasp with delight when I saw it. No lie. I had a Sofia Vergara moment, during which I exclaimed, out loud, “I loooooooooooooooove it!”

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Here it is, dear reader: the desk of my dreams.

And then I saw the price tag ($429) and nearly died. I’ve never spent that much on a piece of furniture all for myself, and I buy nearly everything at Target, Marshall’s, and TJ Maxx. $429 for a desk seemed like outright heresy.

So I decided to try and make something I might like — although I knew I wouldn’t love it like the expensive one, I’d still like it — for much less. I went to The Container Store, got some Elfa shelves, desktop, and legs, and got to work.

Following the instructions from various blogs — all of which are lying liars which spread vicious, dirty lies about DIY projects being simple and oh-so-realistic — and the guidance of my mother-in-law (who thankfully is legit gifted when it comes to crafting, design, and DIY projects), I sanded and spray painted the legs. I got contact paper for the desk top. I figured I had it all under control. Easy peasy lemon squeezy!

Except that the spray paint was running down the desk legs in kind of a wonky, icky pattern. And the contact paper didn’t fit on the shelves or desk top I’d gotten. So I looked for other kinds of contact paper, but everything was fugly. Nothing was going to work without costing a ton of money. And I was starting to freak out and lose sleep over this.

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Death by DIY.

At this juncture, Brandon made an excellent point: not only were we not going to wind up saving money, but I was losing hours of time trying to figure out how to make this godforsaken project work.

“Look, dude,” he said while trying to get me to stop hyperventilating, “you’ve got your regular job plus your freelance job. You’re preparing to leave your regular job and make a huge career transition. You haven’t got the time or energy to keep working on this thing. Let’s just get the desk you love. I know it’s expensive, but I think it’s actually worth it.”

“But, but, but,” I protested while swallowing huge gulps of air, “It’s expensive! I’m about to leave my job! It’s ridiculous to spend that much on a desk, even if it makes my heart sing every time I see it!”

“I know. But babe, we’re not saving money by you doing this DIY thing. You need to get more materials, and the stuff you’d need in order to make this work — in order to make it be adequate — will cost almost as much as getting a desk you adore.”

Welp. You can’t really argue with that logic.

So that, my friends, is the story of how my dear husband retrieved me from DIY hell. I bought the gorgeous desk (helpfully, I was able to get a 20 percent discount — so I didn’t feel like barfing when I placed the order), and it should be here in 3-4 weeks. Satan and his DIY minions no longer have me in their clutches.

not today satan

But you guys, please: promise you’ll never again allow me to think that a DIY project is worth doing. Like, ever. Someone, please, promise you’ll have me taken out back and shot before I ever try to do this again. Kthxbai.

XOXOXO,
Lillian

Big News

So…I’ve got big news (ya know, as evidenced by the title): I quit my job.

This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time — I’ve been unhappy in my career for aaaaages — but given all the health shenanigans of the last few years, it just wasn’t possible. Once things stabilized, Brandon (the hubs) and I started laying the groundwork: I started a side gig doing freelance writing, and we began setting aside extra savings.

I originally planned to hold on until the end of the calendar year, if not a bit longer, just to get some extra savings built up before noping out of there — but then my mental health just kind of…tanked.

You know how a person can be running a marathon/other super long distance race that I can’t even begin to fathom, and sometimes their body just quits? Everything shuts down, and they can’t take another step. It’s a total system collapse: no matter how badly they want to keep going and how hard they’re trying, it’s simply not going to happen. They’ve hit a biological wall.

For me it was like that, but with my mental health. I’ve been pushing myself for so long, and suddenly I was unequivocally, irrevocably done. I felt it down to my bones — on a visceral, cellular level — that neither my psyche nor my soul could continue without a clearly defined end in sight. There they were, splayed out on the pavement and trying to crawl towards a finish line that didn’t yet exist. Recognizing that this was a precipitous decline in my mental health, the truth became clear: I had to create a finish line, and I had to do it now.

To keep grinding, pushing, and just generally pulverizing myself would be enormously harmful, and I can’t let that happen. I’ve already been through, and lost, entirely too much to let myself fall victim to harm that I have the power to prevent. It’s one thing to be trapped, but it’s an entirely different beast to remain imprisoned when the one thing standing between me and freedom is courage.

I’ve always felt like courage and bravery are my greatest weaknesses — I’m anxious, risk averse, and being brave doesn’t come easily to me at all — and I know now is the time for me to take the leap of faith that I’ve been aching for for such a long time. Leaps of faith aren’t usually my thing (I like lists, and lists about my lists, and plans, and risk mitigation strategies, and at least attempting to have my shit together), but it’s time.

I’m going to stay until the end of October, just so I have time to wrap up my projects, jump through the flaming hoops of bureaucratic out-processing, and generally try not to leave a huge mess in my wake.

But after that? I leap.

 

Our actions and decisions today will shap
This is what I keep trying to remind myself, at least. If it’s a quote on the internet it has to be true, right?! 

Missed Connections: Me and My Career

My darling readers, I have a rando favor to ask. To out this in poorly-executed Spanglish: necessito input, por favor.

As you probably know by this point, I’m trying to figure out how to GTFO my line of work. National security and I are donezo. It’s time for us to consciously uncouple.

Because I’m trying to leave not just a job but an entire field, I don’t have a new job lined up. I’m looking at making a seismic change, and a fundamental piece of that process is figuring what the hell I want to do with my life. (What’s that you say? That being 36 means I’m an adult? FOR SHAME. That’s totally not true. Stop lying.) The one thing I know for sure is that I want to write — but writing only pays about half the bills, so I’m trying to come up with ways to generate multiple streams of income.

After reading the book Pivot by Jenny Blake (which, by the way, is awesome; this article provides an excellent summary of the book), I decided to put together a list of ideas I’d like to pursue. That list boiled down to organizing, social media marketing, graphic design, and college essay/writing tutoring; I’m now in the beta testing/data gathering stage of things, and I want to look at them one by one. To start off, and because my ego is fragile and in need of reassurance, I figure it’s best to play to my strengths.

Aside from writing, the Other Thing I’m Good At (TM) — and immensely enjoy — is organization and interior design. (As my best friend of nearly 30 years can attest, I’ve been doing this kind of thing since we were little kids, when I used to come over for play dates and start organizing her room. I, um, was a bit of an odd child.) My idea here is to work with people to 1) determine what isn’t working about their life, routine, home setup, etc. that makes getting organized difficult 2) declutter wherever possible, 3) find solutions to reign in the chaos, and 4) help style said solutions so that the end result looks pretty. Or, if you’re a dude, so that it looks nice but suitably manly.

So, this is where I need your input. If I were to offer such services:

a) Would you be interested in actually using them?

b) If you were interested in actually using them, would you be willing to be a guinea pig so I can try my hand at this (for a super low hourly rate, because I need the practice and experience)?

c) If you’re willing to be a guinea pig and you like the end result, would you be willing to provide a testimonial and/or let me take before and after pictures?

PLZ HALP. KTHXBAI.