You Are What You Eat — The (No) Meat Experiment Part II

15 Jun

Food, Inc. has been in my Netflix queue for months. I finally got to it last Thursday.

I expected to be surprised — shocked, even — at the state of our food plants and harvesting practices. Instead, I was outright appalled. And incredibly thankful that I had zero meat in my system, because I really would have thrown up.

The general and guiding premise of the documentary (produced and directed by Robert Kenner) is that virtually all of the food we consume is controlled and distributed by a handful of large corporations that are focused solely on making money. (Favorite film stats: In the 1970s, the top five beef packers controlled about 25 percent of the market, and there were thousands of slaughterhouses in the U.S. In 2008, the top five beef packers controlled 80 percent of the market, and there were 13 slaughterhouses in the U.S.) They make LOTS of money, and they will cut whatever corners they can to make more of it, regardless of the nutritional, ethical or environmental consequences. Of course, there are government agencies put in place to protect us and our planet, but to borrow from Skinny Bitch, none of the people running these food companies, nor the organizations supposedly regulating them (USDA and FDA), nor the politicians we elect and they lobby (and it should be pointed out that these are often all the same people) give a shit about your health. They care about money. And, to be fair, a desperate need for money is how many of our food problems started.

I won’t dictate the whole film or transcribe the hours of research I’ve  done since watching it, but I have two primary takeaways that I think should be discussed: Beef (aka Corn) and Chicken. (I’m not touching on the treatment of these animals just yet, but we will get there.)

Beef

Instead of allowing our cattle to graze on grass the way they have for thousands of years, we now feed them corn.

Corn, tasty as it is, may be the most vitriolic word in food production. It hinders the environment and the economy, and for the sake of this single issue, it compromises our cows. (Caution: Necessary generalizations ahead.) Corn subsidies — price supports that keep the price of the product below the cost of production — were instituted during the Great Depression (the Ag Act of 1938, to be specific, which also included cotton and wheat) to help farmers stay afloat. Seventy-ish years later, we don’t have nearly the same need for these supports, but they remain intact, meaning that the government — and not the market — controls the demand for corn. The government pays farmers to grow corn, and with no market ceiling, farmers grow as much as they can to get the most money from the government. To keep the subsidies intact (read: prices low), we have had to develop uses for mass quantities of corn. (Another fun fact: Thirty percent of the land in the U.S. is used for corn production.) Thus, we have invented awesome products like high-fructose corn syrup and enabled outstanding practices like making cows eat corn instead of grass. (Corn subsidies are also the reason the 2005 Energy Policy Act mandates that ethanol be blended into vehicle fuel, but again, we’re sticking to the cows here.)

High-fructose corn syrup is bad. It’s like sugar, but worse. It’s why soft drinks are bad for you. And also why they’re so cheap. Lesson here: stay away from high-fructose corn syrup. (But good luck staying away from all corn products. Here are a few, found in virtually every processed food in the grocery store, because corn is so damn cheap companies would be stupid NOT to use it:

Cellulose, Xylitol, Maltodextrin, Ethylene, Gluten, Fibersol-2, Citrus Cloud Emulsion, Inosital, Fructose, Calcium Stearate, Saccharin, Sucrose, Sorbital, Citric Acid, Di-glycerides, Semolina, Sorbic Acid, Alpha Tocopherol, Ethyl Lactate, Polydextrose, Xantham Gum, White Vinegar, Ethel Acetate, Fumaric Acid, Ascorbic Acid, Baking Powder, Zein, Vanilla Extract, Margarine, and Starch.)

Feeding cattle corn instead of grass may be worse than high-fructose corn syrup. When cows eat grass, they naturally participate in the circle of life. They eat grass. They digest grass easily. The graze and poop, and that mud and organic material grows more grass. When cows eat corn, they digest it weirdly. They get fatter faster. They also produce new and dangerous stands of E.coli (which, on its own in the intestines of cows, horses, humans and other warm-blooded things, is harmless). And instead of walking and pooping and cultivating the earth, they eat and stand and poop — all together. Beef cattle are packed together all their lives, eating, standing and living non-stop in their own and each other’s feces. They’re slaughtered in them, too. (By the way, the dangerous strands of E.coli are most commonly spread by fecal-oral transmission.)

But that’s not even the worst part.

Eighty percent of E.coli strands could be eliminated by allowing cattle to eat grass instead of corn (for just five days, according Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto). That seems like a pretty simple solution, right? Not according to the people who make our food. Instead of giving up the the cheap corn and giving these animals some land, beef corporations “fix” the problem post-slaughter in their production plants — by cleansing the meat with ammonia.

Sit with that for a second.

Chicken

A chicken naturally grows to maturity in 70-90 days. We have engineered them to have mature muscles in about 45. And since we love to eat big, juicy chicken breasts so much, our chickens have also been injected with hormones and engineered to have abnormally large breasts not in proportion to the rest of their bodies.

Chickens, like cows, are raised packed together — and usually in windowless chicken houses — but it’s probably a good thing for them. They are so genetically engineered that most cannot stand or walk, trying to hold their abnormal weights on their normal legs, for more than a few seconds or steps.

So, inaddition to juicy chicken breasts, you get hormones. Lots of ‘em. Yummy.

Food, Inc. touches on a number of other issues, including the abhorrent treatment of factory workers, the corruption of our food agencies and the unstoppable greed that is gunning for and ruining hard-working farmers across the country.

But this experiment is about the actual meat. The film introduces a few farmers who raise their animals and conduct their farms ethically and nutritionally, and I respect them so much for it. But my first experiment lesson can be summed up in a sentence. Or, as it may be, a title. The Meat Experiment has officially become the The No Meat Experiment.

“There is this deliberate veil, this curtain that’s drawn between us and where our food is coming from. The industry doesn’t want you to know the truth about what you’re eating because if you knew, you might not want to eat it.”

– Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, quoted in Food, Inc.


 

The Meat Experiment

9 Jun

I have decided to experiment with my diet.

I grew up eating and enjoying wonderful, Mama-cooked, meat-centric meals every night, but the idea of killing another being for my supper has always made me flinch. In response, I’ve spent two decades trying not to think about it or letting myself feel all of the ethical guilt that picks at my soul.

As I’ve grown up, I’ve lost my appetite for red meat. I never order it and only eat it when it is prepared for me, usually at cook outs with my family. Increasingly, I’ve also realized how little most meat actually means to my taste buds. I’d rather eat a black bean or veggie burger than a turkey one. I always order hummus before chicken fingers. And it is a rare day that I crave actual BBQ more than the okra and macaroni & cheese that usually accompany it. Additionally, I have a growing fascination with veganism and its personal and global benefits. But I love seafood, and the idea of giving up eggs, ice cream and cheese kind of makes me want to cry. Not to mention, a vegan lifestyle seems awfully difficult and time-consuming to maintain.

All of this food contemplation has led me to experimentation. I haven’t eaten meat since Monday, and although that’s not long enough to notice any significant effects, I haven’t missed it at all. I’m going to Maine this weekend, and I’m guessing there will be lots of lobster involved in our adventures, so I’m officially deeming this the pescetarian period. The plan is to transition to vegetarianism next weekend, take another pescetarian break for the Fourth of July and then try out veganism some time next month.

I really have no idea what to expect. I can’t imagine never having fried chicken or crab legs or Ben and Jerry’s again, but I’m open to whatever discoveries appear and ready to chronicle my findings. And if anyone has any advice or suggestions, please let me know!

Lost and Verdict-less

16 May

“Admit that adult life is scary because there is no clear path to success… Be grateful for the chance to be lost — it means you’re living your own life, because no one can make choices in the exact same way you can, whether they are right or wrong.”
– Penelope Trunk

I had a house guest last week. That house guest and I have had chemistry since we met in the dorms (and later, dated briefly) in college. Over the years, we’ve remained friends and largely ignored the lingering sexual tension, but I knew his weeklong visit to Atlanta would force me to decide once and for all whether we could ever turn that tension into something more.

As much as I love this boy as a friend, it took me less than 24 hours to realize friends is all we are ever going to be. Moreover, I was clobbered with the realization that I have built myself a stable little life — with my dog jumping on me to wake me up and only special occasions interrupting my Monday, Wednesday and Thursday night yoga sessions and my girly DVR settings (definitely talking Gossip Girl, all the Real Housewives and The Vampire Diaries — with no shame, thank you very much) — and I really like it. And I don’t like when it’s disturbed.

This realization comes on the heels of me beginning to understand just how petrified of commitment I am. I have always found pride in my independence, probably because I’ve always been so good at it. But I’m just starting to recognize how much comfort I find in it too. How much ease. How much stability. And ironically, the acknowledgement of this stability has me all kinds of torn up, because as much as I cherish my independence, I don’t want to fall victim to it. I don’t want to trap myself.

All of which amounts to me going over this little fear/independence dilemma of mine in my head for days weeks: Have I developed this level of comfort as a coping mechanism for fear of being perpetually alone? Or have I begun to genuinely let that fear go and thus, found stability within myself? Do I intentionally push well-intentioned boys away so I’m not vulnerable? Or am I just willing to have fun with the Right Nows while patiently waiting for Willing to Permanently Put up with Whitney’s Crazy? Am I walking in the right direction? Or running around, lost, in serpentines?

Then I read Penelope Trunk’s blog this week, from which the quote above is taken, and it reminded me that these contemplations are okay. It’s okay to wonder if I’m doing any of this right or if I’m just wandering in circles (Cue pundit: Not all who wander are lost, my dear.), if I’m completely off my rocker or just navigating the normal new-adult terrain.

I might be on the best path for me. I might be off the map. It doesn’t really matter. Because Ms. Trunk is right — being lost is far from the worst thing in the world. It’s actually kind of fun. Liberating. I mean, the lost-without-a-map road trips always yield the best stories, right? They tend to include the best music and friends, too. And really, I’ve been lost on a lot of interstates and highways (I really do have a love/hate relationship with I-10.), and I’ve never not made it home eventually.

Granted, I have no idea where “home” will be for me. But I think the scenery from here to there could be kind of great.


Twenty four hours after this was taken, Lauren and I were supposed to be home. Instead, we were still in New Orleans. Because, somehow, we had ended up lost on I-10 and halfway to Texas. I wouldn’t trade those eight extra hours — three days before I left for Europe, no less — with her for anything.

“It might be a quarter life crisis /
Or just a stirring in my soul /
Either way, I wonder sometimes about the outcome /
Of a still verdict-less life /
Am I living it right?”
– John Mayer, “Why Georgia”

Cherish and Foster — Happy Earth Day!

22 Apr

“I would feel more optimistic about a bright future for man if he spent less time proving he can outwit Nature and more time tasting her sweetness and respecting her seniority.”
– E.B. White


Image from Mother Nature Network.

Today is Earth Day. As far as holidays go, it’s a fairly new one at the sprite young age of 41. It’s not religious (though this year it does share April 22 with Good Friday) or patriotic, so banks aren’t closed and none of us get the day off. In school, we got to draw planets and talk about recycling, but as adults (or fake adults), we usually gloss over it.

I sincerely hope we can all break that habit today.

I am no hardcore Green Goddess. I drive by myself to work every day. I have been known to go above 68 in the winter and below 78 in the summer. I can’t rattle off climate change statistics, and I leave a light on for my dog most days.

But I do fancy myself an advocate of this fabulous planet we call home. I don’t believe in water bottles or styrofoam cups. (You wouldn’t either if you had my awesome collection of oversized mugs or my Pinkie Masters water/Diet Coke cup for the office.) I think recycling should be required by law. (Hey Canada!) And I think people who buy Hummers have corrupt souls.

And so, on this special day when we celebrate the Earth (as well as the day that Jesus offered himself so that we could continue to enjoy the Earth), I vow to do more.

To recycle every piece of paper and wine bottle and plastic grocery bag.

To walk — not drive — to the bars and Starbucks and maybe even yoga tomorrow morning.

To buy all of my friends filtering water bottles (Bobble: $10, made of sustainable, colorful awesomeness).

To vote for candidates willing to remove the $75 million liability cap for oil spills (Because a year and two days after the devastating BP spill that wrecked an already reeling Gulf Coast and, oh yeah, killed 11 people, this cap still stands, and deep-water, off-shore drilling is still commonplace.) and fight for the expanded use of alternate energy.

To unplug appliances.

To do more research on food and farmers and buy products that support sustainability.

To think more and do more and try more.

None of us can do it all. No single person is going to save this world from the vast and alarming damage we are collectively inflicting on it daily. But we can all do something. Even if it’s a little something.

Make a formal pledge. Or a personal one. Do one thing a day. Or one a week. Do whatever you can. Because just like we each have only one body, we have only one Earth.

And we should celebrate her every day.

“The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope.”
– Wendell Berry

“The Earth is what we all have in common.”
– Wendell Berry

Brand New Set of Strings

10 Apr

“I bet this road will take me out of here /
Take me far away from Amarillo /
I bet this car will go real fast /
The wheels might even drive me past /
The places that you said I’d never go… /
You said I wouldn’t get too far /
On a tank of gas and an empty heart /
But I got everything I’ll ever need /
I got this old guitar and a brand new set of strings keys.”
– Miranda Lambert, “New Strings”

I have a new job.

That’s right, 23 months after coming home from my first week of work in tears, I am finally moving on to Big Girl Job #2.

I am so sad to leave the good and hilarious people I found at Job #1. Naturally, I went out with an epic happy hour after my last day, and I was reminded for the hundredth time how much I love all of them. They are sweet and caring and hardworking. And funny. Gut-wrenchingly funny. And the kids can drink. My kind of people, for sure. They were also incredibly gracious and encouraging when I announced my departure, and I was (still am) so grateful.

But y’all. I’m excited about this new gig. Really, genuinely excited.

I’m nervous too, just like I was when I started my first job, but – knock on wood!!!! — I think I might be here for a while. And I also think I could be pretty great at this.

I’m scared. And pumped. And, *gasp*, ready.

“This could be the year /
This could be the moment /
You’ve been waiting your whole life to show the world the cards you’re holding.”
– Ryan Star, “This Could Be the Year”

Erin Go Bragh

16 Mar

Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, and this afternoon I will leave the calm of Atlanta to join my family in the green giddiness of Savannah.

The day starts (painfully) early — we have to be ready to leave by 6:30 — with Mass (we’ll just ignore the fact that neither me nor my brother are actually Catholic). Then, there is the parade, the biggest food and alcohol spread I have ever seen, bars, more beer and plenty of basketball. All with friends and family galore.

I think it’s going to be a good day.


Susie and me in Dublin on St. Patrick’s Day 2008.

“Rule Number Three: Observe the high holidays — St. Patrick’s Day and the day of the Georgia-Florida football game. Savannah has the third- second-largest St. Patrick’s Day parade in America. People come from all of the South to see it. Businesses close for the day, except for bars and restaurants, and the drinking starts at about 6 a.m.”
— “Joe Odom,” John Berendt, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”

Hold on Hope, Strength in Pain

1 Mar

“Little Miss down on love /
Little Miss I give up /
Little Miss I’ll get tough, don’t you worry ’bout me anymore /
Little Miss checkered dress /
Little Miss one big mess /
Little Miss I’ll take less when I always give so much more… /
Little Miss do your best /
Little Miss never rest /
Little Miss be my guest, I’ll make more any time that it runs out /
Little Miss you’ll go far /
Little Miss hide your scars /
Little Miss who you are is so much more than you like to talk about…”
– Sugarland, “Little Miss”

I’m in a rut.

I came to this realization last week, and while I’m certainly not excited about the revelation, I am confident that acknowledging it is the first step out of the hole.

Rut contributers:

I’m trying to figure out where I am in this convoluted job world. I know I’m on the precipice of something — I can feel it — but I’m not sure where or when or what. I adore the people I work with — I spent an hour and a half laughing hysterically with my three favorites at an impromptu happy hour on Friday (associated words include Pensacola, trailer park and one-night stands) — but I still don’t know how I feel about the company.

Baseball season starts in a little over a month, which means I need a new boy to be my standing date to Braves games. Jacklyn and I are making the home opener a single girls’ night, and it’s now festival season, so there are some promising boy-scoping events on the horizon. But I wish it were easier.

I’m in a blistering battle with my body right now. The eggs benedict and red velvet cake that accompanied my little cousin Thomas’ baptism this weekend scored some points for my body, but I punched back by resisting the third Firefly at Kramer’s and running 3.3 miles yesterday. So, finally, after two weeks, I’m winning the war again. Well, today, I won.

I’m back to desperately missing old friends. Which is not to say that I don’t love and cherish the ones here now. (Because I really do.) Maybe it’s the warm weather, or listening to my brother and his girlfriend tell stories about their weekends in Athens. Whatever it is, I miss calling or being called by Lauren at 9 p.m., getting ready together, making it downtown by 11:30 and seeing dozens of lovely, familiar faces out. I miss getting out of class early and heading to Knoxville for the weekend just because Jessica was free and I didn’t have plans. I miss walking into the boys’ house and flopping on their couch. I miss running to Maggie’s. I’m aware these bouts of nostalgia are inevitable and probably healthy. And I know I’m doing better — I miss everyone, but the ache has at least changed from debilitating to dull — but I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever be able to create as solid a foundation of love and comfort as I had two years ago.

I don’t know the next jump out of the rut. I know I’ve made it out before, but I’ll be honest, it’s all been guess and check. And since the problem changes each time, so does the solution. Thus, I have to start reguessing from the beginning.

I’ve got three educated guesses, though: yoga, writing and fearless sociality. (Is that a word? Spell check says so…)

I want to start a daily morning yoga practice. Not a full class substitute by any means, but a short, calming session of sun salutations to start my day. The only problem is I suck at getting up in the morning (probably has something to do with writing blogs at 11:43 p.m.), so this is still a work in progress.

My head has been crawling with creative stories. I just need to get them on paper. (Screen. Whatever.)

It’s festival season. And (except for today) beautiful in Atlanta. My dog is in love with Piedmont Park, and I’m kind of a fan myself. I need to take full advantage of all of the above.

I’m in a rut. It sucks. I’m working on it.

“…Little Miss brand new start /
Little Miss do your part /
Little Miss big ‘ole heart beats wide open, she’s ready now for love /
It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright /
Yeah, sometimes you gotta lose ’till you win /
It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright /
And It’ll be alright again.”
– Sugarland, “Little Miss” (continued)

“It’s empty in the valley of your heart /
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk /
Away from all the fears and all the faults you’ve left behind… /
But I will hold on hope… /
And I’ll find strength in pain.”
– Mumford & Sons, “The Cave”

Jumping and Flying

10 Feb

“I’ve worried about life, and if it’s right and right on time /
I guess if you don’t jump you’ll never know if you can fly.”
– Miranda Lambert, “New Strings”

Last week, Leanne asked if I had a bucket list. I call it a list of life goals, but the answer is yes. I have a pretty long one, and I think everyone should. I think ambition and fear of failure drive pretty much all progress in life, and compiling a concrete to-do list enables us to harness the power of both.

Leanne also asked me to share my list. Some are big things. Move and change your life things. Things I will have to plan meticulously. Some are small things. Wake up on a Friday and go things. Things I plan on doing when I don’t have anything else to do. But I think they’re all important.

In no particular order…

  • Run a half marathon. Run a half marathon in under 2:30. Run a half marathon in under 2:15. Next year, I hope 2:15 is crossed off, and I can substitute 2:00.

That’s the number from my first half in March 2010. The picture is my dad and me right before the Thanksgiving half last year.

  • Write a book. This one used to be at the top of the list, but I’m becoming increasingly detached to it . Would I like to have a book published? To see my name on a book jacket? For bookstore and website browsers to have to scroll past “Homans, W”? Of course. But so would 81 percent of the country. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this three word sentence should probably be shortened to one word: Write. That’s what I want to do. The “book” part? Eh, it just doesn’t seem as important as it once did. I write at work. I write here. I write in a journal. I write random creative pieces that I’m not sure will ever see light outside of my bedroom/office. Do I really need to have these collections pieced together with a bind for them to mean something? I’m not ready to eliminate it from the goal list yet, but I may eventually.
  • Get published in Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, Women’s Health and/or Entertainment Weekly. As a Magazines major, being published in a national (and personal favorite) magazine has always been a “made it” accomplishment. When I was in school, the dream went something like this: move to NYC, work my way up, score a major piece in one of these mags, blow people away with a beautiful and moving long-form piece, land a book deal on the same topic and cash in on my highly sought-after memoir. Even as I move further away from magazine writing and contemplate dropping the book goal from this list, this one stays important.
  • Live in another country. I did it for three terrifying/exhilarating months (depending on the day and whether I was spending the night in my dorm or the “other” Roman train station) while I studied in Reading, England. I’d like to do it again somewhere else. The ultimate dream is Paris, though part of me knows that sounds like an awful cliche. Then again, Paris has a way of outshining the biggest cliches.

Me, Susie and Jenny in front of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Me on top of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris showing my affection for the Eiffel Tower. (Winter/Spring 2008)

  • Know — intimately — the places I live. I’ve lived in “Atlanta” my whole life. At least, that’s what I’ve been saying for the last 23.75 years. (Or, y’know, whenever I started talking.) But the truth is, Atlanta has not felt like mine until the last several months. Murrayville/Gainesville are home. I lived in that little section of the world (an hour and a half north of Atlanta) for 18 years, and my parents still do. I will never live there again, but it will always spark love and nostalgia and comfort within me. Athens holds more happy memories for me than any other place on the planet. Probably like all UGA grads, I’ll go back in 60 years and annoy the hell out of current students as I walk around acting like the town was built for me. Even in those short three months, Reading felt like home. (It was probably that whole no-car, guess-we-get-to-walk-everywhere thing.) Atlanta proper, meanwhile, is just starting to get inside my soul. For a long time (and until recently), all I felt about Atlanta was an itch to leave it. But as I’ve settled into a real life here, I find I enjoy it more every day. People whine about the traffic and smog and how spread out it is, but I kind of love that you can live in and genuinely know Atlanta and not have any clue what the best restaurant in Inman Park is. Or where to find a cute cocktail dress in the Highlands. Or that Ri may be next to RiRa in Midtown, but one is a sushi restaurant and one is an Irish pub. At its core, Atlanta is a hoshposh of neighborhoods — awesome neighborhoods. I’m not much of New Year’s Resolution girl. In general, I think people who wait until Jan. 1 to start projects are the same people who wait for excuses to quit them. But this year, I have made it a goal to dig in deep with Atlanta and give it my undivided attention and affection.
  • Fly around the world. A girl I came to know and love in Reading (Jenny, pictured above) inadvertently did this on her way to and from England. (Vegas to Tokyo. Tokyo to Bangkok. Bangkok to London. London to Vegas.) How freaking cool would that be?
  • Hike the Appalachian Trail. I get excited about saying I ran 13 miles. Can you imagine saying you hiked 2,000? Holy s— balls, that sounds fun.
  • Take the red-eye from Vegas. Because obviously that means I will have missed my early afternoon flight. And God knows, that will be a good story.
  • Become a yoga instructor. If I had to narrow this list to just one, I think this would be it. Yoga is trendy and often a euphemism for sexy flexibility and/or cult-like meditation rituals, but beginning a yoga journey is one of the single greatest things I’ve ever done for myself. I toss this phrase around for a lot of things (Harry Potter, Firefly vodka, SEC football, Dolsat Bibimbap at the Stone Bowl House on Buford Highway), but yoga really will change your life. It has certainly changed mine. If you commit to it, it commits back. It changes your body, your mind and your relationship with God (or whatever higher power you choose or choose not to confide in). Yoga has numerous purposes and goals (many more than I even know), but my favorite teacher always says that yoga primarily teaches us how to deal with life: In yoga, you enter and hold physical postures that are, to use her terminology, “challenging.” The goal of these poses, unlike in most bodily exercises, is not to hold out or push yourself into pain as a search for success or satisfaction or even validation. In yoga, the goal is to relax — to push yourself to an “edge,” where you are uncomfortable but can breathe mindfully through it, where you can recognize pain as a catalyst to change and learn how to navigate — but not provoke — it. Thus, the victory of yoga is not how many calories you burn or how much weight you lose but what you learn about yourself and how you handle stress and pain and transferring those lessons and stamina from your mat to the rest of your life. The hope is that the next time you are in a “challenging” situation in an office or relationship or living room, you know — from yoga — you can breathe through it, navigate the rough waters and emerge a stronger, more centered individual. I would love nothing more than to pass along these navigation tips to others.
  • Become a Georgia season ticket holder, and donate enough to get premium tickets to the Florida game. Go Dawgs.

Lauren and me after beating Florida in 2007.

  • Write a script. This is my “move to Hollywood and become a rockstar.” Just like Leanne’s “move to Denver and become a photography apprentice.” If I had endless resources and limited responsibilities, I would move to L.A. (but only until I was established enough to leave L.A.), absorb everything possible about television writing and hash out a script. I have serious concerns about my character creation, and I honestly have no idea how one even goes about starting a script, but I imagine a writer’s room to be one of the most creative, collaborative, cool rooms in the world. I don’t think I’ll be moving to L.A. any time soon, but I do want to finish a script one day. Even if it’s read for the first time when my computer is cleaned out after I’m gone.
  • Drive down the West Coast.
  • Drive across the country. Some days I attach “by myself” to the end of this one. Some days I think a little company might be nice. My dad did it on his own when he was transferring law schools and moving from Seattle to Athens. He had a single Bruce Springsteen cassette. (Born to Run, if we’re getting specific.) I love The Boss as much as the next girl, but I will definitely need a full iPod.
  • Attend fashion week. Haven’t decided if I want to specify to NYC, Milan or both.
  • See all the major sports championships. Well, the ones I care about anyway: Super Bowl, Masters, Final Four, World Series and BCS (or whatever it will be in the future) National Championship.
  • Visit iconic celebrations/sports venues/games. Notre Dame. (I need a picture in front of Touchdown Jesus.) St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin. The Rose Bowl. Fenway Park. Duke/UNC. Mardi Gras. The Moon Festival in Thailand.
  • Fall wholly in love with someone. And not screw it up.
  • Complete a mini triathlon. 1k swim. 30k bike. 8k run. The first Sunday in September. (Hopefully.)

“Remember the day, ’cause this is what dreams should always be…
Wake up, it’s time, little girl, wake up /
All the best of what we’ve done is yet to come.”
– Ryan Star, “Losing Your Memory”

Two Prayers

2 Feb

“I don’t know where I’m at /
I’m standing at the back /
And I’m tired of waiting /
Waiting here in line /
Hoping that I’ll find what I’ve been chasing.”
— Jason Walker, “Down”

Graphic from Olly Moss.

For her:

“My friends from high school married their high school boyfriends /
Moved into houses in the same zip codes where their parents live /
But I, I could never follow… /
I’ve always found my way somehow by taking the long way /
Taking the long way around… /
Well, I never seem to do it like anybody else /
Maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down /
If you ever wanna find me I can still be found /
Taking the long way /
Taking the long way around.”

– Dixie Chicks, “The Long Way Around”

Don’t get discouraged. Don’t let the melancholy and loneliness distract you. You’re going to get out. You’re going to do everything you always said you would. It’s okay that it’s taking a little bit longer.

Don’t listen to those other voices. Don’t listen to their whispers. You’re better, stronger. Whichever path you choose, you’re going to do great. Be great. Don’t be afraid to take a chance on something crazy. That’s how the best stories start.

*****

For him:

“So you’re standing on a ledge /
It looks like you might fall… /
But you could have it all if you learned a little patience /
For though I cannot fly, I’m not content to crawl /
So give me a little credit /
Have in me a little faith /
I wanna be with you forever if tomorrow’s not to late /
‘But it’s always too late when you got nothing,’ so you say /
But you should never let the sun set on tomorrow before the sun rises today.”

– Nine Days, “If I Am”

I hope you’re okay. I hope you know that you’re going to be okay. I don’t know you. Not really, anyway. I know you can kiss. And I know you can steal my breath. But of the big things — the reasons you clam up, the lingering sadness, the self-doubt — I know very little.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be privy to these secrets.. That’s okay. But I hope someone is. Because even though you’re plagued with waning confidence, I see what you could be. What you will be. And it’s a beautiful picture.

I want you to know that you’ll make it. You possess too much effort and enthusiasm not to. As stressful as this path seems now, you’ll look back on it in 20, 5, 2 years and know that it was the best one for you. You’re going to have the successful, creative career you crave. You’re going to make some special girl blush every day. You’re going to have access to whatever you want.

I really hope I get a chance to tell you these things, to show you what I see behind the sorrow and stoicism. But if I don’t get to, I pray someone does. Because I think you’re worth it.

*****

Sleep tight tonight. You’ll both be just fine.


This “Adulthood” Myth

26 Jan

Adulthood sucks.

Transitioning into it from college is worse.

I learned both of these lessons quickly after graduating (and starting a job a week later).

What I’ve learned in the 18 months since is that as isolating as those first months of adulthood seem, they are not unique. Every single person I have talked to has struggled with the transition, and yet, unlike when you prepared for college and friends and strangers alike spouted advice and encouragement, no one warns you about the post-college adjustment. No one tells you how to cope when you or all of your friends move away, or how not to pull your hair out in boredom after sitting at the same desk for eight hours, five days a week or how to counteract the exhaustion and exasperation that sets in after dealing with the worst…boss….ever.

Growing up is hard. And the roller coaster step from college to real world is super hard. The year after I graduated was absolutely the hardest one of my life.

But it gets better. Easier. And not just because you start to figure it — and yourself — out. It also gets better because you realize that no one has it all the way figured out. Everyone’s faking it just a little. And this may be the one instance when faking it from time to time (or most of the time) is okay. In fact, it’s kind of encouraged. Because the point isn’t that you always get the right answers or even that you ask the right questions; it’s just that you ask something, that you try everything.

While we were driving to Nashville, I was telling Sarah about a boy who had reappeared in my life and how he seemed a little intimidated by how much work influenced me and how close I was to my co-workers, since he is in the middle of finding his first permanent, post-college job.

“He probably thinks you’re ahead of him, and he’s uncomfortable with that,” she said.

I actually laughed. I am not “ahead” of anyone. Sure, I may pay my own bills and manage to feed my dog and myself (when I’m not avoiding the grocery store like it’s a Florida fan, which I have been known to do… who says a pear and frozen edamame aren’t a sufficient supper??). I have enough money left over for yoga and a bi-weekly manicure, and I’m thrilled about that. But I still get lost and confused and upset just as often as Sarah, who is working desperately to break out of the hold of home without abandoning the mom who so desperately needs her, or this boy, who feels astronomical pressure to choose all the right paths and make something of himself right now. I’m still learning how to cook. I’m still avoiding cleaning and laundry. I still don’t know where I want my career to go. (Marketing? Content? Social Media?) I still don’t own an iron, for God’s sake. (Wrinkle Release is your best friend, by the way.)

I’m slowly learning and narrowing it down, but let’s not kid ourselves: I’m not “ahead” of any other 23 year old on the planet.

I’m still a long (long) way from figuring it all out. But faking it has taught me this much about how to be a grown-up:

1. Your job is only 50 percent (sometimes less) what you do. The rest is who you work with.

I cried on my 22nd birthday at work because I was so miserable and terrified that I would be trapped in this awful office existence for the rest of my life. But on my 23rd, three of my coworkers got up early and took me to The Biscuit. My guess is on my 24th there will be a week of lunches, lots of cake and at least one happy hour.

I spent my first six months here dreading work every single day. But my coworker (now, boss/best friend at work) was the first person I told that my mom had cancer. (We went to lunch the day I found out, and the words came spilling out before I could stop them.) I’ve spent an entire Sunday (not to mention that epic, six-hour, “festive” happy hour right before Christmas) with my four favorite work friends watching football and drinking beer. And when snowpocolypse hit and stranded us all, I walked to a former co-worker’s house for hot chocolate and the Bourne trilogy and participated in a 115-message email chain (mostly about the varying types and amounts of alcohol needed for each stage of cabin fever) amongst current ones. These people are not just co-workers anymore. They are my friends. They form an integral part of my life now, and I’m so grateful for their presence, and I know that I will still count them as friends long after we’re done working together.

So yeah, work is about doing a job and building a career, but it means something because of the people around you. When it comes to future job considerations, remember that.

2. Cynicism and fear are worthless.

I have long struggled with negative energy, convincing myself that if I just expect the worst, reality has to be at least marginally better. I’ve realized, though, what a terrible outlook that is. Cynicism is limiting and unattractive. It helps no one, and it’s wasteful. I’ve vowed to rid myself of it, and I’m winning.

Fear is the bully who keeps on coming, no matter how much you scream and hit and shout at him to leave you alone.

We should all keep punching him in the mouth. He tells us not to apply for that job and not to call that boy. He guides us to lonely dead ends and stalks our big dreams.

He’s evil.

Tell him to go eff himself.

People fall into careers and relationships and opportunities all the time simply because they were brave enough to ignore the fear and try. A manager (and one of my favorite people) at work has landed virtually all of his jobs by accident, including a years-long DJ-ing gig in Germany because the original DJ didn’t show up to the club one night and the owner asked him to step in. My best friend called me in mid-November crying and freaking out because a boy in her small company was making her head spin and world alight, while she still had a boy she loved back in Nash. Two and a half months later, she is busy being madly in love with the new boy and slowly planning a future with him.

They were scared, sure. But they tried. As far as I can tell, that’s the only “key” to adulthood: effort. (And maybe courage, too.)

I’ll say it again: I’m not “ahead” of anyone. I struggle all the time. Daily, really. Last week, I was a mess of doubt and melancholy.

And adulthood still sucks. Even on my best grown-up days, I wish I could have stayed in college forever. That was a magical place, and this is a practical one.

Growing up is hard. Life is hard. And we’ll never have it all down. So I’m trying my best…and faking the rest.

“You are about to start the greatest improvisation of all. With no script. No idea what’s going to happen, often with people and in places you have never seen before. And you are not in control. So say, ‘yes.’ And if you’re lucky, you’ll find people who will say, ‘yes’ back. Now, will saying, ‘yes’ get you in trouble at times? Will saying, ‘yes’ lead you to doing some foolish things? Yes, it will. But don’t be afraid to be a fool. Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a reaction to the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say, ‘no.’ But saying, ‘yes’ begins things. Saying, ‘yes’ is how things grow. Saying, ‘yes’ leads to knowledge. ‘Yes’ is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say, ‘yes.’”

– Stephen Colbert, 2006 Knox College Commencement Address