Going Camping

This week, I had planned to write the beginning of a short story that we would both contribute to. I was really looking forward to kicking this off and even had a few ideas for how I would start things.

And then camping got in the way.

This weekend, I’m camping in Dworshak State Park with a group of friends. I’ve been looking forward to this for months and months, and yet it still managed to sneak up on me. So much for being the organized Smudde child. So, instead of kicking off our fiction writing collaboration, I’m just going to talk about why I love camping.

When we were kids, we would go camping every summer. Sometimes we would camp with our neighbors, the Mesners, and other times we’d invite people from the Smudde clan to join us. I remember swimming and biking and roasting marshmallows. Some of my favorite memories are of us sitting around the campfire, blowing bubbles over the flames and eating scotcheroos.

When I was little, I think I liked camping because it felt like an adventure. Looking back, I honestly wouldn’t really call what we did camping. We had running water and flushing toilets and sometimes even electrical hookups so we could watch videos on our tiny TV. But, to a seven-year-old, it felt like we were really roughing it and it was exciting. I felt like I was in one of my fantasy novels, the young heroine searching for a lost treasure or some mythical woodland elf presiding over her kingdom.

Twenty years later, I still love to camp. Even at 26, I still feel like I’m going on an adventure, but now it has the added benefit of getting me away from my responsibilities. Nowadays, I have way more on my plate than I ever did when I was a kid and every year it becomes harder to de-stress. After work, I go home and try to relax, but inevitably find myself looking at my work email or thinking about an upcoming project that I need to tackle. On the days where I don’t do that, I sit around and worry about finances, about my career, about literally everything in my life. The only time I can seem to shake this off is when we go camping.

When we arrive at the campsite, the very first thing I do is shut off my phone and put it away. Basically when I go camping I disconnect from everything, but not just to relax. While camping I physically cannot connect so I’m never tempted to look at work email or poke through social media.

Going camping is not only an adventure, it’s also the easiest way to get away from everything that causes me stress.

I am so excited to head out to Dworshak this afternoon. I’m looking forward to drinking a beer by the campfire. I’m looking forward to finding a sunny spot by the water to read my book. I’m looking forward to waking up to birds chirping rather than a noisy alarm. I’m looking forward to spending time with people I love away from the stress of real life. It’s going to be a kick ass weekend.

Sorry I didn’t start our short story this week like I promised, Daniel. I’ll try to kick it off on my next post.

-EMS

 

Handling Stress Like a Champ

As you already know, this week has been crazy. Next week I’m travelling to Virginia for a conference and I have been desperately trying to get everything done before I leave at 5 a.m. on Monday. I’ve been so busy I’ve been taking my work home and working until about 7:30 at night. After I put my work away, I usually turn on Netflix and have a beer to recover.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m just trying to set the scene because, after scouring my brain for writing topics, I finally settled on something I’ve been familiar with this week: stress.

I am absolutely no stranger to stress. In high school, I took Advanced Placement classes and participated in the marching band cult. In college, I took an average of 5 classes a semester, worked part time, had an internship with the communication department, and helped run the Association for Women in Communication. Honestly, between the ages of 15 and 22, I was made entirely of stress.

Nowadays, my life’s a bit more lowkey. I work 40 hours a week and, after work, I go home and do what I want. So this week has been a little rough because I’m definitely out of practice with the whole managing my frustration thing. I’ve really had to summon up the work ethic and serenity I had in college.

Before I jump into my methods for stress management, I don’t want this to be a humble brag. I know in high school and college I was an overachiever and was even called a “unicorn student” by my advisors. I’ve never sought out that type of glory and I absolutely don’t revel in it. It’s just who I am and I’ve come to accept it. I’m a neurotic ball of nerves when it comes to work and I would definitely not recommend being like me.

0 out of 10, would not recommend being me.

Here are my tips for managing stress. This post is honestly more for me than it is for you, Daniel, or even our readers. I will be referring back to this while I’m in Virginia to keep me from pulling my hair out.

  1. Make a list of the shit you gotta do: Yes, this is a very basic tip, one you probably learned in your high school health class, but it fucking works. I still rely on my to do lists because it takes  that overwhelming sense of “oh fuck, I have so much to do” and puts it on paper. When I looked at my list for this week, I actually only had like four things to do and four things is much easier to swallow than a million things.
  2. Prioritize that shit: Again, a simple tip, but when I say prioritize I don’t mean just list things in the order you should do them. First, list things as “I will die if I do not do this” or “I can survive without doing this.” Then, move on to what you need to do to keep your job and your house. Then and only then figure out what order you should do it in. When you first start making your list, you might feel like everything on your list is life or death. I can assure you that it’s seriously not. Me printing the materials for my meeting seemed like a huge ordeal, but it did not come before me calling my student loan provider to pay my bill because not paying that bill could compromise my financial situation. See? It’s easy when you think about it.
  3. Make sure you make time for you: This might seem to contradict the last point I made, but I would argue making time to relax is essential to surviving. If I just wallowed in my stress and continued to work through the night, I would feel like death all week. I’ve been making time for Netflix and beer because, without it, I might not survive to make it to work the next day and then nothing would get done.
  4. Budget your time: This is essential, especially when I’m working on a writing piece. It’s so easy to spend hours and hours working on a piece and forget you have other things to do. So, when I’m at work, I set time limits on certain project. For example, yesterday, I have myself three hours to draft my homepage article. No more, no less. That way not only could I get that article done, I wouldn’t waste an entire afternoon switching out adverbs to make the article perfect.
  5. Accept that not everything will get done: This is where that prioritized list comes in. Sometimes you just honestly do not have the time to finish everything and instead of compromising your sanity to try and get everything done, you just need to accept it. I did. This week I had an annual report I needed to finish, but it was such a big task I knew if I worked on it I wouldn’t be able to do anything else. So I took a look at my list of “what do I need to do to keep my job?” and decided that the little things were more important than the report. And guess what? I felt so much fucking better.

Those are my tips for how to survive stress. Hopefully these are helpful.

Also, have I mentioned how much I’m looking forward to Saturday?

-EMS

 

Found Cool Stick

Yesterday, you told me to write a post about how awful the two-party system is in American politics and why it sucks that we’re going to have to choose between Clinton and Trump. Sorry, I’m not going to do that. I’m just tired. I’m going to be honest, these last few weeks have been stressful.

Now, when I say stressful I don’t necessarily mean bad. Just busy with not a lot of “down time” for myself. In the past few weeks my ferret, Bandit, went into the hospital, I had family come to visit, I’ve had big projects on my plate at work, and I was sick with a migraine just to name a few things. It’s been busy and I just feel exhausted. I feel like I haven’t had a break since mid-May.

Anyway, that’s not what I want to talk about in this post. What I want to talk about is how I handle stress. It’s taken me a long, long time to figure out how to handle stress and anxiety in a healthy, constructive way and honestly I can sum it up in a very stupid phrase: Found cool stick.

As you know, I have this phrase tattooed on my left wrist because it reminds me to address my stress in a healthy way. What it basically means is celebrate the little things, even when you don’t feel like celebrating.

When I first started working at WSU I was having a hard time adjusting to living away from my family and being independent. I was stressed constantly and lost interest in my hobbies. I just didn’t feel happy. One day I was out walking on campus and found a free art magazine. In the magazine was a silly editorial comic called “Little Victories” or something like that. It had things like “Made a souffle that didn’t collapse” and “Pronounced hor d’oeuvres correctly.” It was obviously supposed to be a joke.

The last panel included a cute drawing of a dog holding a stick and it said “Found cool stick.” For some reason that just really resonated with me. In that moment I thought to myself “Why is that dog so happy? All it found was a stick! Oh, it’s happy because it decided to be happy.”

It was like a light finally came on in my head. I was so stressed because I was letting myself be stressed. Now stress is inevitable and I’m not saying that people who are stressed are just stupid and don’t know how to just not be stressed. What I realized was that I was letting my stress and anxiety run rampant and ruin my life without even putting up the slightest effort. That’s why it was consuming me, because I wasn’t stopping it.

The dog was excited it found a cool stick because it let itself feel happiness and pride for its small accomplishment. That’s how I should live too. I shouldn’t focus so much on what’s stressing me out. I should give myself the chance to feel happiness over little things, even if to some they don’t seem that important. Things like getting up in the morning without hitting snooze or finding matching socks. For some reason I wasn’t giving myself credit for stuff like that because it didn’t seem important. I’ve found that if I start to celebrate all of my victories, even the little ones, I felt better and happier. I was no longer dwelling on what I couldn’t do. I was focusing on what I could do.

I know, I know. I’m adding a whole lot of depth to a two inch editorial cartoon that was just supposed to get a chuckle or two, but it’s art and I’m allowed to interpret it how I want, dangit. It was so helpful in such a low part of my life that I decided to get it permanently on my body. Every day I wake up and see those words and remember life is what you make it. Making a kickass grilled cheese is just as impressive as finishing a big project at work or running a marathon if you let it be.

Sorry for switching topics on you, Dan. Maybe next time I’ll write about American politics.

-EMS

The In-Betweens

I wasn’t sure what to write about today.  I’m still coming off the three week Batgirl rant.  You recommended writing about my cat, but I didn’t really know what to say about her.

This week has been productive, but with the upgrade that was salary I realized that it was more a step sideways than forwards.  I’m being paid more, and less, at the same time.  You ever felt that way about something?  Where it’s way better and super bad at the same time?

Usually my go to when I’m in a not-so-great situation is to declare that its stupid, its poorly thought out, its unfair or bullshit- then after some time I get over it and I adult my way through.

This time I’ve tried something else where I try and just say to myself “That’s how it be” and spend more energy thinking about the outcome rather than the action.

Well I’m finally in a situation where I don’t really get a good solution.  So I’ve been stressed and annoyed.

I feel like sometimes my life is a melancholy punctured by happy moments instead of the other way around.

On the drive home today I was thinking about the little moments in each day that I love.  Usually its the “in-betweens.”  Things that occur between moments, that connect my day and make sure that I’m on track.

I like the little tone my blue tooth speaker makes when I turn it on or off.

I like when I get to work, I drop off my coat and my bag at my desk and walk all the way to the back of the building to get some black tea.

I like how it feels to write with a Tül pen in my grid paper moleskin notebook.

I like the clickity-clack of my mechanical keyboard at my desk.

I like the walk down to my car after work and I listen to the cars roar by.

I like the delicate scratching sound my straight razors make while I’m shaving.

I like the really satisfying thwack that sounds when I deliver a proper kick into a hanging bag.

I like the way my body wash permeates the shower as I’m washing myself.

I love when my girlfriend messages me in the morning.

I like that my books are arranged in the correct order on my shelves.

I like when I have a full set of anything.

I like when I’m able to take the time to clean my desk; it seems like a fresh new start to making a productive mess again.

I like how my cat has to end every encounter with a slow bite of my index finger.

I like the slap sound a playing card makes as it hits the table.

I like the feeling you get when you’ve done everything your supposed to.

I like the solid click of the dead bolt as I lock the door.

I like the smell of my hands after I wash them.

I like the sound of rain on a sidewalk.

I like the gentle dance of smoke that rises from a cigar.

I like when a song is able to effectively use negative space in its melody.

I like the tightness of my feet when I first tie my shoes.

I like finding the Dorito that has been stealing all of the flavor.

I like when a wall has an interesting texture.

I like when I can listen to a song on repeat.

I like when doing something really simple really well.

I like clean, straight lines.

I like sitting at the bar right after it opens and no one has tainted the quiet.

I love when my girlfriend smiles at something I didn’t know I was doing.

I like getting refreshments before going on a long drive.

I like going to a store even when I don’t technically need anything and wondering if I’ll find something I didn’t know I wanted.

I like dragging my finger through dust on an old forgotten shelf.

I like running my thumbnails along the metal clasp of my watch.

I like when I drop something on accident and catch it like a ninja.

I like buying new office supplies.

I like looking at the wall of drinks in a convenience store.

Thinking about these moments helps the stress go away.  It makes the day seem more satisfying.  It makes the little things seem more important than the broad strokes of life.

What are your favorite in-betweens?