Reality Christmas

Reality ChristmasWhen the house is a mess. When you’ve lost a loved one. When you’re acknowledging the anniversary of losing someone. When you and your partner are not feeling (or acting) peaceful towards one another. When work is annoying, or you have to work more than you’d like during the holidays. When there’s not enough work and you’re wondering how you’ll afford life. When the news is just overwhelmingly awful. When there’s never enough time. When it feels like your family just doesn’t understand you and probably never will. When you’re far away and won’t be able to make it home to family and friends. When it feels like you’re always waiting, but you’re not quite sure for what. When you know everything is objectively fine, but still struggle with feeling like the world’s falling apart.

All plenty difficult at whatever time of year, but particularly rough now — right before Christmas when it feels like the world is celebrating, happy, and rushing around all around you.

So this is for you. If it’s been a particularly rough year, or if you’re doing fine, but you’re just not feeling it this year. 

Over the Rhine‘s got you. I’ve been listening to their newest album, Blood Oranges in the Snow, since it came out at the beginning of November. In interviews and their show at Underground Arts in Philly, they described it “reality Christmas” music. It’s the internal monologue we have during the holidays that we can’t or don’t articulate. It’s the hard but hopeful stuff.

It’s the messy but inviting house, the burned cookies. It’s the small town gossip who knows everything about you. It’s the poverty-stricken next-door neighbor who can’t afford food, but offers you a french fry when he has them and asks if he can help you when your power goes out. It’s the squalling baby, born under the watchful eyes of livestock in a barn. It’s reality Christmas.

Productivity & Creativity Tip: Morning Pages

Morning PagesIf we’ve ever had any kind of discussion on productivity, creativity, focus, goal-setting, getting out of one’s head, or anything tangentially related to those things, you’ve almost certainly heard me sing the praises of Morning Pages.

The concept comes from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, which I encountered in 2012. Danielle Krysa was the first to recommend it to me at Girl Crush Philly, and then a really amazing musician friend named Lauryn Peacock recommended it a couple weeks later. Two recommendations in such quick succession got my attention.

The book and the process themselves are pretty amazing, but the part that sticks with me, even after having finished the process, is Morning Pages.

Morning Pages are three pages written by hand every morning. These words aren’t for an audience. They’re totally stream of consciousness, just whatever floats into your head and out of your pen. Whatever you’re thinking through or worrying about. A snippet of conversation you heard in a coffee shop last weekend. A memory from when you were a child. A song you recognize but can’t remember the name of. The argument you had with your mother or your partner this morning. There’s no concern for transitions, just for getting the words out.

The pages themselves aren’t serious, but the discipline of writing them is. And even though I’m not terribly disciplined about them (I hardly ever do them in the morning), especially when I’m not actively going through The Artist’s Way book, they’re still useful.

When I’m overwhelmed with different projects and competing demands on my time, I sit down and write three pages. When I feel out of sorts and unfocused (and like I’ve spent too much time reading the internet), I sit down and write three pages. When something’s bothering me and I’m not quite sure why or how to name it, I sit down and write three pages.

It may sound like a waste of time, but taking this small break to settle myself and articulate what I’m thinking about helps my mind to slow down long enough to make a plan. I come out on the other side calmer and more prepared for whatever’s ahead.

An Invitation Is Not an Imposition

mini pumpkinThe other night I was chatting with friends over soft pretzels and beer at Frankford Hall about some of my anxieties around socializing. “I have this weird thing,” I told them, “where I won’t invite people to do things or initiate making plans because I feel like I’m imposing. It’s so weird. I don’t know how to get over it.” Totally unsurprised by my confession, Jenn nodded and said, “It’s an introvert thing,” like it was the most natural thing in the world. I instantly felt better.

A couple weekends ago I did something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before, at least not at any remarkable scale. I threw a party. Chad and I had been meaning to throw a low key housewarming party since we moved to the new place — in July.

I ran around all day getting ready: cleaning the apartment, digging out large platters that we hardly ever use, stocking up on wine, shoving cheese into my shopping basket, wild-eyed, and doing some last-minute decluttering before our friends starting arriving. Thankfully, I had a dear, dear friend who helped out a ton. I don’t know what we would have done without her.

I was nervous as the first people started showing up with really delicious things in tow. Crap! I have to entertain them now! What will I do when they get bored? But soon the apartment was full and warm and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves! I somehow feel more settled now that our friends have helped us christen the new place, and I hope next time I’ll be less nervous about the whole thing.

Here’s what I have to remember: An invitation is not an imposition. It’s an offering. It’s a gift. Next time, I hope to feel a lot less apologetic and scared when I send out the invites.

 

Why Unconferences are Awesome

UnconferenceIf you haven’t had the pleasure, let me introduce you to the wonders of the unconference.

BarCamp is one of my very favorite things about living in Philadelphia. It was my first introduction to the tech community here.

The first year we lived in West Chester, Chad went by himself. I spent the day being bitter and sad, and I was mad at him when he got home because he had stayed for the afterparty and I wanted him to come home earlier. He tried to cheer me up by telling me how much I would have loved going. It didn’t work.

So the next year, even though he was fighting off a really ugly foodborne illness, we went together. There were talks on the schedule about computing for social good, how to host a food swap, gender in tech, links as language, and lots of other things I probably didn’t understand at the time. It was just all of these interesting people giving talks about such a variety of interesting things.

What is an unconference?

Unconferences are self-organizing; there are no planned talks ahead of time. In the morning, anyone can pitch a session and get put on the schedule for the day. There are lots of topic-specific unconferences, but what I love most about BarCamp is that sessions can be about anything, and so I always end up learning about things I’ve never thought about or encountered before. Unconferences, and BarCamp especially, are serendipitous. It’s a way to cross-pollinate the community.

In theory, they’re easier to organize than other conferences because there’s no need to recruit and plan for speakers or sessions ahead of time. The attendees are just as responsible (if not more so!) as the organizers for sharing great content. Unconferences are also incredibly democratic — anyone can pitch a talk or a panel or a roundtable or even an activity.  Because of that, there’s a low barrier to entry to speaking, so they’re great for new speakers or for testing out a new talk idea.

If you’re in Philly on November 15th, I’d love to see you at BarCamp Philly! If there’s a BarCamp in your area and you haven’t been yet, give it a try! Or, you could try to organize an unconference in your area. You never know what you’ll learn.

 

Fall Sounds 2014

Over the Rhine
At some point in late high school or early college, I realized that I associated certain albums with particular seasons. For example, most Tori Amos is winter or the height of a blazing hot summer night. Extremes. But, Tori’s Beekeeper was solidly spring. (I listened to a lot of Tori Amos during this time period.)

Last September, we were lucky enough to be in Chicago while Over the Rhine was playing at Park West with the Milk Carton Kids. The Milk Carton Kids opened, and they were really endearing and funny.

I had never seen Over the Rhine live before, and to sit feet from Karin while she and Linford played the entirety of Meet Me At the Edge of the World, plus a ton of other favorites, was incredibly intimate. It felt like bring privy to something that I shouldn’t have seen. I feel like they could conceive just by performing together. It’s probably the sexiest yet most magical and sacred show I’ve ever been to. And that is what I love about them.

Over the Rhine

That album will always be fall and spring to me. It’s what’s been getting me through these dark days, when it’s all I can do to keep going after the sun starts lowering itself, roundabout 4:30 when I’m still at work. It’s featured heavily on the playlist I’ve been working on most recently.

 

Over the Rhine It’s a reminder that wildflowers, though dying now, will come back around. It’s a reminder to leave the edges wild. It’s a reminder that there’s still magic in the failing fall light, even though there’s less of it today than there was yesterday.

Over the Rhine is released a new Christmas album today (!), and will be playing in Philly at Underground Arts on December 6. I will be there, hands clasped, eyes wide, holding my breath and not wanting it to end.

If you’re not ready for Christmas albums (and really, who can blame you?) and you just need some fall jams to carry you through ’til after Thanksgiving, I’ve got you covered over on Spotify.