Monday, May 2, 2016

5 questions to ask yourself this May

The fact that it's May already has me feeling a bit anxious and reflective. This specific time of year always makes me think about the rapid passage of time - even more so than my birthday or New Year's Eve. Maybe it's because I realize that the year is almost half over, even though it feels like it's barely started. Maybe it's because the flowers are blooming while I remain in a bud. Maybe it's because big changes always seem to happen in the spring (and fall).

Whatever the reason, I'm more focused on trying to get my life together than I've been in months, if not years. I feel the pressure. I feel the burn. And I wish I could say I feel the passion and motivation, but those two are a bit more fleeting.

All of that said, I think it's good to feel scared and to feel the pressure a little. It means you're able to recognize that something in your life isn't quite right and that you're not making the most of the fleeting amount of time you have. If we're not careful, we'll blink and find ourselves living a small or unsatisfying life a decade from now. We only have so many tomorrows, so many months, so many years.

If you share these slight feelings of May panic and uncertainty, I invite you to ask yourself the following questions with me.

1. How do I feel when I wake up in the morning and before I go to bed at night?

Track your thoughts and emotions for a week or two if necessary.

2. What are my top ten priorities?

Be honest with yourself. I can almost guarantee you have things on that list that shouldn't be there.

3. What makes me happy?

Make room for what makes you happy. MAKE ROOM FOR IT.

4. Am I taking care of myself?

Spoiler alert: My answer to this is a resounding "NOPE." Points for self-awareness?

5. On a scale of one to ten, how strong is my support system?

You can't fight your way through the suckiness of life on your own, no matter what society says. Reach out. Spend time with people who care about and encourage you. Talk about things.

Let's try to end 2016 with a bang.

<3 Madison   

Monday, April 18, 2016

It's okay to be a late bloomer.

(The following post was submitted and declined on another website, so I'm publishing it here instead. Weeee, creative control!)


There are so many things I'd love to shout from the rooftops for all teens and young adults to hear, but if there's one thing that especially hits home for me, it's this:

It's okay to be a late bloomer.

You are going to encounter many moments of feeling hopelessly behind in life. You are going to compare yourself to other people in your age group and feel tempted to treat life as a contest or a finish line you have to pass in order to achieve happiness and success. You are going to feel anxious, depressed, ashamed, and find more questions than answers about the path that lies ahead of you. And believe it or not, that's okay. That's normal.

I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that everything is going to be okay. I wish I could tell her that it's actually pretty weird to be engaged, married, a parent, or a homeowner before the age of 25. (Hell, maybe even a little after that age.) I wish I could tell her that growing up sucks and she still has plenty more years to be acceptably young and confused.

I wish I could tell her that she will reach little milestones in life in her own time and in ways that are unforgettable. Her first kiss won't be with a boy who hasn't sprouted leg hair yet or the asshole she was infatuated with in high school for some reason. It will be loving, memorable, adorable, a little awkward, and worth every second of the wait. She will experience first love and loss with a best friend who will always care about her, not some guy who tossed her cheesy pick-up lines and tried to get into her pants before getting into her heart. She won't get her driver's license when all the high school beauty queens with rich dads get theirs. She will get it at the same age Carey Mulligan got hers, and one of her best friends will be there to witness the long-awaited triumph. She will spend the first few years out of high school being a badass writer with her name published all over the Internet and then get her first service industry job when her skin has thickened enough to deal with hangry people and grumpy co-workers. And she will have a positive attitude and work hard because having her own money will be more of a priority. She will grow up slowly, but be told on multiple occasions that she's wise beyond her years.

Sometimes life comes to us slowly and in smaller, unexpected doses. Time is a thief, and we spend too much of it worrying about things that don't matter. It doesn't matter who gets married or pops out a baby first. It doesn't matter who finishes college or lands a dream job that actually pays the bills first. It doesn't matter who falls in love or has sex first. These things happen when they happen. Some people peak early, and some people peak late. It's just life, and no one makes it out alive anyway.

While moving forward will always be important, you don't have to rush. Set simple and achievable goals that will lead to the bigger and more life-changing goals. Ask questions. Forge professional and creative relationships. Learn as much as you possibly can. Stay in touch with yourself, and know that it's okay to change paths, even when the one you're on is all you've ever known. Wake up every morning and consciously decide to put one foot in front of the other.

It's okay to be a late bloomer – as long as you choose to bloom at all.

<3 Madison 

Friday, April 8, 2016

Why you should never burn bridges and build walls

This topic has been heavy on my heart lately, and I can only hope that I say something that reaches you before it's potentially too late.

Don't burn your bridges.

Don't cut people off, push people away, or believe that you don't need old friends, lovers, family members or employers anymore. I'm so notorious for this. I see it as an exercise in leaving the past in the past and moving forward in the only way I know how. And in the moment, I believe I'm doing what's best for me. But I've missed so many opportunities and connections. I've abandoned so many homes I fear I'll never be able to return to.

A few examples:

1. I had a terrible falling out with a very good friend soon after high school. We wreaked havoc upon each other and became living, breathing definitions of bridge burners. That was 6 years ago. I have no hard feelings whatsoever, but we're strangers now. Her current life couldn't be more different from the life she had when we were in high school. She's married. She has a good career and a nice apartment. She's pregnant. Things will never, ever be the same between us, even if we do reconnect.

2. I pretty much poisoned some of my closest friends against the first person who broke my heart. I told them everything, including things that were probably none of their business. I wanted to make sure they knew how much pain I was in. I wanted to make sure they didn't let me go back to him. I wanted to make sure I didn't go back to him. I concluded that he would never be a part of the lives of the people around me anyway, so why the hell not? Well, since healing tremendously and rekindling the wonderful friendship we had prior to our brief romance, that person has become one of my best friends in the entire world - someone I love and respect deeply. Although we may never be romantically involved again, I actually love the idea of him someday being acquainted with some of my friends or feeling like a small part of my family. Too bad everyone thinks he's a jerk.

3. After losing the first freelance job that paid pretty well and really put my ass to work every day of the week, the client I worked for tried to help me find another job within the company. I turned down every offer (with good reason), but still expected her to stay in touch until something clicked. She didn't. I tried reaching out to her during a horribly dry spell of unemployment a couple of years ago, and I didn't hear back. She could've helped keep the ball rolling for me if I had simply stayed in touch and given her something to work with. And she's not the only client I've lost touch with over the years either.

The lesson: You never know what will become of a person's role in your life and heart. You might be angry at someone now, but find yourself wanting to call them in the midst of a difficult or stressful situation later. You may think you'll never work with someone again and later realize that they may be your ticket to a major work opportunity. You may think a friendship or relationship is over and then discover that maybe it never really was.

Whatever the case, you can't see the future. You NEVER know how involved certain people will be in your life later on down the road. So keep them within reach. There are clear and obvious exceptions to this rule, as is the case with every rule, but more often than not, your feelings towards people are fleeting. Anger passes. Pain heals. Indifference evolves.

Build bridges. Don't burn them.

<3 Madison

Thursday, March 31, 2016

I've never loved myself.

A small series of seemingly insignificant moments led me to a bleak and unsettling realization last night: I've never truly loved myself.

I've loved almost everything but myself. I've poured my heart and soul into friendships, relationships, writing, other people's dreams, and relatively unextraordinary activities, but at the end of the day, it feels like cooking a bunch of food and giving it all away without saving a single morsel for myself. I feel perpetually lost and empty and perpetually confused as to why I can't cultivate this elusive self-love everyone speaks of. I've had brief moments of what appeared to be self-love, but it's never real. Love is powerful, lasting, and all-encompassing. It never truly goes away, whether it burns as bright as a flame or as dull as a lantern in the dark. Loving something on a part-time or occasional basis isn't love. Therefore, I can't say I've experienced truly radical self-love. The kind that helps me move on from what doesn't serve me and inspires me to live a stimulating and authentic life that doesn't involve working, sleeping, Interneting, and simply trying to get by.

I always seek to love things that can love me back. When I receive love, attention or validation from another source, I feel an incredibly warm sense of content. But it's fleeting because those sources can only give me so much. Nothing and no one realistically has the capacity to complete me or live a fulfilling life for me. I can't be at the top of anyone's priority list except my own, and I don't know how to get there.

When I fell in love for the first time, it felt like the most beautiful thing in the world. He filled all my empty spaces and bandaged all my wounds, but it was all temporary. He couldn't fix me. He couldn't wrap my problems in a pretty bow. So when it ended, I was right back where I started - wounds and all. And I blamed him. He hurt me. He couldn't accept the love I was willing to give. He abandoned me.

Being loved by him made it easier for me to avoid the work of loving myself. It took me months and months to realize this from a place of awareness and gratitude. It took me months to realize that it couldn't have ended any other way. You have to lose what you love over and over and over again before you realize that the missing piece of the puzzle is you and what you're depriving yourself of.

And yet, I continue giving all my love and all of myself to other people. To other people's lives. To art, music, long drives, to-do lists, my dog...All in hopes that somewhere along the way, I'll find what I need. But I'm afraid I won't find it like this.

<3 Madison

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

10 word stories that are all connected

So I recently discovered a creative writing/poetry phenomenon known as 10 word stories.

Armed with inspiration, leftover remnants of a heart I've been struggling to heal, and the fact that my emotions can sometimes be summed up in only a few short words these days anyway, I decided to write some of my own. And although it slightly deviates from the type of content I usually tend to publish here, I'd like to share what I came up with. If you pay close attention, you'll notice that each of these stories is merely a chapter of a much larger one.

1. You bid on my heart with no intention of paying.

2. I wore a grin made of hope and reckless abandon.

3. You pushed me away, but I didn't want to leave.

4. Red flags decorated my mind, but flowers decorated my heart.

5. I fell for you the way leaves fall in autumn.

6. When nothing in my life made sense, you somehow did.

7. You placed me on a pedestal. I called it home.

8. We had a remarkable love that was doomed all along.

9. Your eyes tell a million stories. Your hands create magic.

10. You broke me slowly, and I begged you to stop.

11. You gave up on something you may never find again.

12. "You might break my patterns," you said. But I can't.

13. You found a female version of yourself. That's pretty boring.

14. Is her love for you the same color as mine?

15. I unsuccessfully tried to shove somebody else in your place.

16. I thought I had nothing to lose, but I did.  

17. I've cried enough tears to fill wells and grow trees.

18. I always believed I was strong. Then I met you.

19. Time drags like the love you weren't ready to cherish.

20. Perhaps I miss being yours more than I miss you.

<3 Madison

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