Wednesday, January 27, 2016

New chapter, fresh start

I mentioned in my last post that I was thinking of ditching freelance work (aka ditching the relatively unsuccessful process of taking random, fleeting jobs with blogs, clients and publications that change their minds and objectives like the weather) and finding something steadier and more rewarding within the incredibly competitive publishing industry. I'm thinking editor or staff writer for a successful website or magazine. Regular contributor for a publication that has loyal readers. Writer of my very own column. Something of that ilk. I know people and have friends who primarily write for ONE publication and earn either their entire living or a big chunk of their living off of it. In a nutshell, that's ultimately what I want.

And after years of never quite being able to answer simple questions about the kind of writer I am or want to become, it's such a relief to be able to somewhat identify what I want. 

But I realized that in order to re-invent myself as a writer, I need to start fresh. I need a clean slate.

Freelancing has left me feeling a bit frustrated and unfulfilled lately. I'm tired of scrounging for work and constantly getting laid off. I'm tired of juggling (or feeling obligated to juggle) several writing jobs at once. Ever since I started my job at Waffle House, I've been trying my best to achieve some balance in my life. When I'm not cleaning bathrooms, refilling coffee mugs, scrubbing cheese and eggs off plates, and asking people if they want anything in their hashbrowns, I really value rest, time with loved ones, and writing that feels therapeutic, meaningful, and more up my alley. I don't really want to "work" when I'm not working, which has led me further and further towards the kind of writing that doesn't FEEL like work to me.

I'm not even vaguely suggesting that being a writer isn't hard work and that being a successful one won't take blood, sweat and tears. I'm just saying that my motivation to write about things I don't want to write about and my motivation to juggle handfuls of underpaying and tedious jobs is lacking these days. I want passion. I want drive. I want singular, specific goals to set my sights upon. Otherwise, I won't write. And I think we can all agree that that would be tragic.

So here's what I've been up to lately and what I plan to be up to in months to come:

I recently started writing for Thought Catalog, an intriguing and slightly controversial website that you've probably already heard of if you like the Internet as much as I do. It's a wonderful platform for writers to get their most authentic work out there, and I've been lucky enough to befriend one of the staff writers/producers. I submit my articles to her directly, and she generally gets them posted to the site within 24 hours, even though most new posts take up to two weeks to get published (if they get published at all). Some of my work has been shared on the homepage, as well as the official Facebook page. Only a handful of articles make it that far. I was browsing the Facebook comments on my most recent article last night and was brought to tears with the way it was being passed around. Over a dozen people had tagged friends in their comments, urging them to read and feel inspired by my post (which was an open letter to everyone with a broken heart). In addition to all the sharing, it had nearly half a thousand likes. I'm very new to this platform and have submitted some of the most personal and revealing pieces I've ever dared to write in my life, but I already feel like I've found a home there. I come up with new ideas regularly and hope to someday become a prime contributor, if not a full on staff writer. I will include a link to my Thought Catalog page in my shameless self-promotion corner if you would like to see what I've been working on over there. Time and inspiration will tell if I stick with it!

I've been catching up on my book. I got horribly, horribly behind on it when I started working at Waffle House during their busiest time of year. I worked some crazy hours, and when I wasn't working, I was pretty much sleeping. My poor book suffered, but I'm so close to being caught up now that I can taste it. I don't know if this book will ever be published (hopefully it will!), but at this time, I mainly want to prove to myself that I can finish it. When I do, we'll take it from there.

I want to reconnect with the person I was when I FIRST started writing. I like her goals. I like her values. I like her passion. I like how she started a blog and submitted guest posts to her favorite websites simply because she wanted to. She chose passion over money and joy over stress. I'm trying to be her again, which is precisely why I'm starting over.

I created an official Facebook page for myself, something that seemed a little easier than launching a website. I'm hoping to keep it adequately updated in the coming months as I continue to get published, make progress on my book, and reach other writery (not a word) milestones. Please, PLEASE like me. 

Finally, I am hoping to get my name in print a little more often, which means I will try not to suck at submitting new stories to places like Chicken Soup for the Soul. I will try not to suck at actually reading the creative writing newsletters and calls for submissions that are delivered to my inbox on a golden platter and eagerly await my eyes on webpages I have bookmarked.

I hope you will join me on this journey of re-inventing myself as a writer! And hey, maybe this means I'll actually start blogging more.

<3 Madison      

Friday, January 22, 2016

Family vs. career

So I was on a date the other night (please hold the applause) when my handsome companion and I ventured over to the daunting subject of family vs. career when you live in a place that makes it hard to have both. I disclosed my hopes of ditching freelance work entirely and eventually finding a steady editorial or staff writing position of sorts, and he empathized with how difficult it is to achieve that where we live. Although I don't want to announce where I live on the Internet, I will say it's a relatively small and uneventful town. If you're not a doctor or a lawyer or someone who works for one, it's rare to be considered too much of a big shot. While I'm certainly not saying it's impossible to achieve my goal of being a successful writer and still live near my family, there's no denying that it will indeed be tricky. To be honest, I'm not sure where to begin.

I've always known that people like me belong in places like New York or Chicago. I know I could find countless opportunities to be the kind of writer I want to be in a bigger city with bigger publishing demands. In fact, I recently had the opportunity to be an in-office writer for a popular website for millennials dangled in front of me. Yes, they were based in New York. I wasn't given a solid job offer, mind you, but I was told that IF I lived in New York, I was free to apply. I was even given a list of requirements for the job, and it didn't sound hard at all. Following that experience, I pretty much had an existential crisis for about a week.

Over the last year, my family has really made its way towards the top of my priority list. A plethora of different events cultivated this, but after years of feeling depressed, abandoned and alone, being surrounded by loved ones is all I really want. The thought of living in a tiny apartment in a big city where no one cares about me makes me feel quite miserable. I could never do it. My desire for love will always come before my desire for money, and my desire for happiness will always come before my desire for success. I've had this discussion with many more before my handsome companion, and they all empathize. They all think I should leave this town without looking back and go where the writers go, but at the same time, they all project the overall sentiment of, "But it would sure be lonely, and we sure would miss you."

My older brother recently landed a job closer to home, and he and my sister-in-law are so excited about moving back that it almost makes me emotional. It's been so challenging for them to live away from family and friends as of late, and they don't even live that far --- a couple of hours. But they don't want to make a trip out of every visit. They want to go to more family gatherings, accept invitations to hang out at the drop of a hat, make memories closer to home, and just BE HERE. And I get that. I totally get that because I want the same thing. But I don't know how to reach my writing goals when I don't have the resources and opportunities to do so. As they say, the struggle is real. That seems to be the 20-something motto these days. Many of my friends are in similar boats filled with big decisions and difficult compromises.

I guess this issue really boils down to what is most important to you. Some people will choose adventure and opportunity at the expense of family time, and others will choose the exact opposite. I wonder if there is a happy medium. And if there is, I wonder if I will ever find it.

Until then, I choose to believe that I can have my cake and eat it too. It's my cake after all.

<3 Madison    

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My end of the year hopes for you

Hello wonderful friends.

If you have still been keeping up with this blog in spite of my absence or emailing me to tell me that I've inspired you in spite of me not lifting a finger here in two months, I have nothing but gratitude for you. It's made me furthermore realize that quality really does exceed quantity. I hope you are all doing well!

If you've been following this blog for a pretty good while, you probably know that I always get into a really reflective mood around this time of year. It's a time of looking back on the months that have passed and setting goals for the ones to come.

I've mentioned more than once that this has been a difficult year for me, but I've really struggled to articulate how and why. Every year has its highs and lows, but I've been hit with so many lows that I can barely keep up with the highs. I've always been able to turn my pain into poetry and make healing sense of my misfortune, but every time I've tried to sit down and truly portray where I've been and where I'm at this year, I've come up empty. It's almost like my writer self went on vacation without telling me and is refusing to come back home. It's frustrating, painful and bewildering. Because writing is one of the only ways I know how to communicate, I feel lost and useless when the words refuse to come to me. But as I sit here and try to figure out how to give you guys a new post worth reading --- a post that will make up for all the ones I've failed to write in recent months --- I realize that it doesn't have to be so complicated. You guys are my friends. You guys don't care about how well I say something or if I even say it at all. All you want from me is the open honesty and raw humanity I've been dishing out from day one. So this is me trying to give it to you...

My mom has been sick for a majority of this year, and I've watched her suffer in ways I never thought I would. I've been told not to reveal anything specific, but I will say that it's difficult to describe what it's like to barely remember a reality when she was well. All I've known, day in and day out, is her being sick. And it's so easy to feel invincible. It's so easy to feel like nothing bad will ever happen to you. Anything can happen at any moment. I fell down the steps this morning and was on the floor before I even realized what had happened. Being hit with bad news or a moment of extreme misfortune tends to work the exact same way. No one is immune to injury, sickness or pain. And my mom isn't the only person in my life who got awful news this year. I just can't even elaborate.

Anyone can get sick. I can get sick. You can get sick. The person sitting next to you can get sick. Your best friend can get sick. Your pets can get sick (more on that later). Your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife can get sick. (In fact, I just finished answering an email from a client who's wife is gravely ill.) One of my beloved dogs even got sick this year. We were told that she could live anywhere from five days to five years, but she didn't even make it five weeks. My bottom line is this: We don't live in a bubble. And I'm not suggesting we live in fear of something bad happening (HELLS no). I'm simply saying that the moment you learn how to care about people and acknowledge everyone's mortality is the moment you grow up and see the world outside of your little box of problems that don't matter. Very little can be a problem for you when you have greater and more dire things to worry about.

On top of the aforementioned misadventures, I also experienced the loss of love at a level of intensity I never have before. The kind of loss that is the emotional equivalent of being violently ill and unable to function at a normal level. The kind of loss that feels like a train hurtling towards you, and all you can do is brace yourself for impact. The kind of loss that feels like losing a small, but important part of yourself. The kind of loss that feels like watching a strong and sturdy rock shrink into a flimsy pebble. It's such a universal feeling. Once you experience love, there's no going back. It changes you. And unfortunately, it can devastate you. I've healed tremendously, but I still cry about it. I'm crying about it right now (because duh). Pain often has a tendency to sit in your pocket and remind you of what you no longer have, but after awhile, it becomes a piece of your story. And every piece matters. EVERY PIECE MATTERS.  

So there's a little taste of what I've had to deal with this year without reliving every last gory detail. But trust me when I say it hasn't been all bad. I watched my older brother get married, and his wedding day was one of the best days of my life. I watched my younger brother graduate from high school. I got published in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book, a longtime dream of mine. I tried new things. I made new friends. I went on an epic trip and paid for it myself. I got a job at Waffle House, even though getting a "real job" has always terrified me. And better yet, I've been doing surprisingly well. It's harder than it looks (PLEASE be nice to/appreciative of waiters and waitresses, my friends), but I'm doing it. I lived through the interview. I lived through training. I lived through adjusting to a whole new work environment. I lived through my first morning rush hour without being supervised. And I'm sure I'll live through the 17-hour shift I have coming up on Christmas Day. (Time will tell on that one.)

In a nutshell, I made it. My slightly battered heart is still beating, and my slightly heavy soul is still glowing. I'm alive. I'm well. And in this very moment at least, I'm happy.

Here are my hopes for you as we bring another year to a close and prepare for the next one:

I hope you take your life goals as seriously as you take brushing your teeth.

I hope you anticipate love instead of loss.

I hope you mend the relationships that matter and let go of the ones you no longer have room for.

I hope you realize that crying can be just as necessary as laughing.

I hope you tell the people you love that you love them even more than you already do.

I hope you take it easy and regularly check in to make sure your every need is being met.

I hope you choose understanding over judgment.

I hope you are receptive to wisdom while also allowing yourself to make your own mistakes and learn your own lessons.

I hope you make staying in touch with your friends a priority.

I hope you count your blessings, even when they're a little harder to find.

I hope you experience great courage and immeasurable joy.

I hope you give yourself a chance. Always, always give yourself a chance.

Talk to you soon?

<3 Madison      

Thursday, October 22, 2015

An honest pause

I haven't been beating myself up over my sporadic blogging habits as much as I used to these days, but when I really stop to think about this blog and all the opportunities that have come out of it, I feel really sad. It's almost as if a close friend has moved away, and while we still talk and see each other every now and then, it's not the same. There's been a change. There's been a shift. I'm far from being the person I was when I started blogging 4 years ago, and that's both a good thing and a bad thing.

I know I've given adequate reasons for my sporadic appearances, but the fact that I've strayed so far from the soul searching explorer I was when I first started has me feeling pretty down on myself. I feel like I've taken too many stops along my journey to observe scenery and waste time. I've veered off my path and have pretended it doesn't bother me. I reach occasional milestones and then don't try as hard to reach new ones. The passion has burned at times and fizzled at others.

When I first started this blog, I was bursting at the seams with passion, ideas and potential. I made it my mission to do something writing related every day, and I never settled for less than what I wanted to achieve. I knew exactly what to say and exactly how to say it. I didn't care about followers, money or notoriety, but some of that stuff followed anyway because the passion and work ethic came first. But as I've grown over the years, reality has settled in and grown-up responsibilities have taken priority. I have more bills now. I have to buy a car. I need another job (or two or three). I don't get out as much as I should and barely know what to write about outside of what happens in my brain, my heart, and the walls of my home. My ability to inspire others has diminished because I can barely inspire myself anymore.

In short, I need to remember how to live before I can remember how to write.

Some not so fun facts for you:

- I've been trying to write a new Tiny Buddha post for 3 months. It's taken me 3 months to write this one post, and it's still not finished. It might not ever be finished because it feels so forced at this point. The ones I've written before have been written in a couple of days, if not a single sitting.

- I want to write more stories for Chicken Soup for the Soul, but the topics I find fill me with nothingness. "I don't know which story I should tell for that one," I think to myself. And I honestly don't. That may make me sound like the laziest bastard ever, but I'm telling you...I feel like I don't have very many stories to tell anymore. I've told all the stories worth telling already, sometimes in many different forms. I have to create new ones. I have to find the stories because unfortunately, the stories won't find me.

- Almost every blog idea I've come up with this month has been cast aside in favor of paid work and the book I'm trying to write.

- I have 16 webpages bookmarked in a folder called "Writing" on my laptop. They are full of resources, tutorials, publications seeking submissions, articles about overcoming writer's block and anxiety, and so much more. I never look at them. I rarely open them. I have nothing to say in response to them.

- I compare myself to other writers constantly and tell myself how much better I could be doing. I never used to do that. Other writers inspired me. They never made me feel threatened or inadequate. We were all on the same team. Now I feel like the awkward kid jogging behind everyone else and not even bothering to keep up. Mainly because I feel like I don't have the energy to.

- This year has been one of the worst years of my life. I'm trying to turn my stress, pain and disappointment into art, but I barely know how. There are people out there who have it way worse than I do. Who am I to complain?

So here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to stop pushing so hard. I'm going to do what I have to do to pay my bills, pay my dues, and pay my future self, even if certain writing ventures suffer for it. I'm going to believe that my future self will be less shitty than my current self. I'm going to choose sooner over later. I'm going to take a vacation with one of my best friends and see and do things I've never seen and done, take risks that need to be taken, and find stories that are waiting to be told. I'm going to finish writing my book. I'm going to treat my fellow writers as teammates rather than rivals. I'm going to stop giving people a reason to assume I do nothing all day. I'm going to accept the fact that adulthood can no longer be put off, no matter how scary and overwhelming it is to be an adult. I'm going to slowly cut ties with people and things I depend on too much and learn how to depend more on myself. I'm going to remind myself that the soul searching journey is an ongoing one and that peace, happiness and clarity are fleeting. And I'm going to continue writing for this blog because I can't ever see myself giving it up after all it has done for me. I just need to take an honest pause so I can give it what it deserves.

BUT DON'T PANIC. I know this sounds like a break-up post, but it's not. I hate those. I will always blog when I feel inspired or have something to say. But I don't feel inspired right now, and I don't know what to say.

I will be back as soon as I do.

<3 Madison  

Monday, September 7, 2015

5 things my angry, bruised and lost inner self wants to say

Today feels like a "mentally throw up all over my blog" sort of day, but I can only hope you find something inspiring here.

1. I used to have three happy, healthy dogs. They were my family. They were my friends.

We had to put one of them down in November of last year, which pretty much destroyed a part of me. I will get to honor him in an upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul book. But not even a full year later, another one had to be unexpectedly put down. And she was only 5 years old, even though the average lifespan of her breed is up to 15 years. She only got 5 of them.

I don't understand why time feels so brief and loss feels so heavy, but I do know that the people and things you love can be yanked out from under you at the drop of a hat. Stop fighting over shit that doesn't matter. Stop sticking your nose in business that isn't yours. Stop digging holes of drama and resentment. Stop waiting to tell someone what they mean to you. Stop believing that you have all the time in the world. And stop believing that having feelings and caring deeply about something/someone is a weakness. It's not.

2. A creative or freelance job is still a job. Don't ever let anybody tell you different. Creative people work harder and pour more of themselves into their work than most people realize. I constantly have to wear a filter when talking about my work, whether I want to complain about it a little or simply explain it to someone who doesn't get it. I hate the redundant questions, the blank stares, and the silent judgment. When I tell certain people about my job, I might as well be telling them I'm secretly an alien or something. Is it really THAT hard to understand? I write things, I submit those things, and then people pay me. If you get paid to produce something, you have a job. Just because it doesn't fit someone's narrow definition of what a job is doesn't mean it's not legitimate. So if you're a disheartened fellow creative screaming at me to "PREACH IT" right now, I tip my hat to you for working hard at what you truly love and daring to be different. It takes a lot of courage, passion and resilience to do creative work for a living. You are on the right track, and you will change lives. Not very many people can say the same.

3. I think love should be greater than fear, pain, confusion and conflict. Call me a hopeless romantic, but simply having pure love in your life is worth the risk of the messiness that comes along with it. I used to feel differently. If I had the slightest inkling of uncertainty about someone, I pushed them away before later coming to realize that there will be some degree of doubt and uncertainty with EVERY person you become involved with. You have no possible way of knowing how something will turn out unless you're blatantly surrounded by red flags and warning bells.

It is a beautiful thing to love fearlessly and unapologetically. You may get hurt more easily than people who guard themselves, but guarded people miss out on so much in the end. Love is messy no matter what. But I will always welcome it, regardless of timing, questions, risks and obstacles.

4. I sometimes wonder what happened to the person I was before the reality of a writing lifestyle and the discouragement of paying my dues swept into my life at breakneck speed. I was so full of hope, possibilities, and faith in myself. I was overflowing with ideas, and I did something every day to bring myself closer to a more successful tomorrow. That self still comes out every now and then, and I've managed to accomplish some pretty cool things, but I am most definitely not living up to my potential. And I wish I was. I wish I could go back to the self who was unscathed by writer's block and the harsh realities of a creative life.

5. I posted this on my Facebook page the other day, but I want to post it again here because I think it's an important reminder:

Every person you meet is on their own journey and experiencing life in a way and at a pace that makes sense to THEM. The only life experience you need to be focusing on is your own.

Calling someone ugly doesn't make you any prettier.
Calling someone stupid doesn't make you any smarter.
Calling someone slow doesn't make you any faster.

Every SECOND you spend criticizing someone else could instead be spent improving yourself. Judging others is such an energy-sucking and futile activity. If you can't contribute something positive, don't contribute anything at all.      

<3 Madison 

Friday, September 4, 2015

Should feelings have an expiration date?

Raise your hand if you've ever been in one (or all) of the following scenarios:

~ Crying over something/someone you lost several months or years ago

~ Getting angry over something you thought you had adequately resolved last week

~ Feeling like a radically changed and empowered person one day and a weak, hot mess the next

*awkwardly raises hand on all counts*

It has been said that grief does not have an expiration date, which is totally true. But what about our other feelings? Should they have an expiration date?

Are we allowed to get angry over something that once felt resolved and justified? Are we allowed to be embarrassed about something that happened days or even years ago? Are we allowed to suddenly be afraid of something we thought we weren't afraid of anymore? Are we allowed to get our feelings hurt all over again by the mere memory of something that hurt our feelings in the past?

I'd like to say yes. I think we are allowed. But that still doesn't stop me from occasionally feeling like my ever-fluctuating emotions aren't justified. Sometimes I drag people through the mud with me without meaning to. Sometimes I behave in an overly dramatic manner. Sometimes I analyze the absolute SHIT out of something that may be better off left alone. And sometimes I simply feel like I don't have the right to have intense feelings about something that is over and done with.

I don't have the answers to this emotional phenomena, which is why the title of this post is a question rather than a statement or an idea. I rarely know how to deal with my own feelings. I'm rarely able to tell the difference between what's worth bringing up and what's worth letting go. Sometimes I wish my feelings and thoughts had an off switch, but if that were the case, blog posts such as this one would not exist.

So with that said, I'm handing the torch off to you guys today. Should certain feelings have an expiration date? How much past analyzing is allowed without getting a slap on the wrist from the personal growth industry? How can you tell the difference between what should be fixed and what should be left alone?

I need a friend.

<3 Madison    

Monday, August 24, 2015

A little epiphany about fear

Fear is an elusive subject for me. It's tricky to define, tricky to conquer, and tricky to write about. In fact, I usually steer clear of posts and books about fear because so few of them offer up anything new. So I don't blame you if the mere title of this post bores you to tears.

As most of you may know, I have pretty high anxiety levels. I get myself worked into a frenzy over the smallest things. Making and posting this video felt like a huge accomplishment to me, even though most people might consider it a simple task. I never, ever thought I would have the guts to put myself out there like that, but I did. And even better, I received a good response. Some of you were even greedy enough to ask me to post more videos! (Not happening, folks.) ;-)

Facing fears has been something of a project of mine lately. Proving myself worthy of the things I'm afraid of has been like a minor addiction. I've been inspired to work on my verbal communication skills, open up to people more than I think I ever have, start setting goals again, take risks, and look for opportunities to better myself both personally and professionally. I haven't made any sweeping changes in my life (I prefer baby steps), but some seeds have certainly been planted in the right places.

And the more I learn about fear, the easier it is to face. There's still a lot I don't know and a lot I need to work on, but I experienced a pretty inspiring epiphany the other day: The lead-up to the thing you're afraid of is WAY worse than the actual thing you're afraid of. 

The hour before the job interview or first date.
The plane ride before the skydiving.
The sleepless night before the big decision, presentation, or other work/life experience.

But once you're face to face with your fear and have reached the point of no return, anxiety tends to dissipate. You made it. The thing is happening. There's no turning back. And most importantly of all, you're still alive and well!

It's a comfort for me to know that the build-up of tension and nerves is the worst part --- not whatever it is I'm afraid of. Once I've taken the jump, it can't get much worse. In fact, it's usually all uphill from there.

And don't even get me started on the relief, joy, and/or sense of accomplishment you feel once it's over! Most of the time, reward and growth can be found on the other side of fear. By simply getting to that other side, in whatever capacity makes sense, you've already made a ton of progress and shown yourself what you're capable of. It's a wonderful feeling.

Class dismissed.

<3 Madison