More Unsolicited Advice for Graduates

So, you’re probably freaking out, at least a little bit. And it’s definitely okay to freak out. I remember what it’s like. I’m not keen on giving generalized advice, but I can offer you my experiences, and as with any story, you can take your own lessons from them.

In the months winding down to graduation day, I felt nauseous, from excitement and (mostly) anxiety. I felt like I had accomplished something huge, but still insignificant, like swimming through a channel’s rough current only to end up at the ocean’s gaping mouth.

I would remember the seniors who graduated before me, and how well it seemed they were handling things. They held their monumental moment with grace and seemed eager to leave it all behind: the classes, the homework, the confines of campus life. And then the school year would end, and the graduates would walk into the mystical realm outside the campus walls. Graduating seemed like date rape or a horrific car crash, some life-changing event that happened to other people.
My senior year snuck upon me with such velocity. Suddenly I was the one talking the most in class (and hopefully sounding intelligent), cracking out A-grade papers mere hours before they were due, and joking with professors in and out of class like we were friends. I just got good at being in college, I thought after finishing a 17 page research paper in 9 hours, and now I have to leave!

I was desperate for any form of security. I needed something –anything- to cling to. No one was safe from my not-so-subtle “soooo…where are you living next year do you need a roommate?” I met with several professors about my Next Steps, and for our 30-minute talk over Jit Joe’s coffee I felt fine, as though the only thing you needed to succeed was encouragement and emphatic nodding. But, like a good high, the feeling never lasted long. I’d wake up the next day with the same gnawing in my stomach, the only difference evident in my Bookmarked tabs, which became cluttered with various job posting sites and grad school applications based on professors’ suggestions. There was no raft that could get me across that ocean, at least in one piece.

150516alm0729-LI graduated with a Bachelor’s in English Literature with minors in Anthropology and Creative Writing. I would be going out into the world essentially unemployable. I decorated my cap with “Poet for Hire” as a joke, though I was at the same time completely serious, hoping to catch the eye of some small-time publisher or magazine editor who would spot me among the hundreds of robed graduates and think “yes, I would hire her!” and race to find me after the ceremony and offer me an interview.

That never happened, of course. I left the University Center in a daze, took a picture with the iconic bear statue, and went to dinner, where my dad promptly pointed out “Hey, honey, you’re now unemployed!”

And I stayed unemployed seven months after that.  I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you: it has been hard. Every aspect of my life is completely different than it was a year ago. Every day I had three questions lingering over me: How am I going to get a job? How am I going to make friends? How am I going to do this at all?

It’s true; I still miss my college days. Nothing was ever a surprise: I went to class, I did homework, I saw my friends. I didn’t have to worry about much except the next pending assignment I kept shoving off. I was content. But under the surface of all this new uncertainty lies possibility.

I currently work in government, for a non-profit, and at a local bookstore. I am friends with people I never would have thought I could bond with. I am still writing and got to take a class with my favorite poet. I’m becoming a local in a city I’ve always wanted to live. So many great things have blossomed since last May, and I somehow can’t believe how scared I was.

It’s understandable to feel scared, to feel lost. But the sooner you know this, and I mean really know this, the easier it will be: life happens. Excuse the obvious “open-letter-listicle wisdom,” but it’s true. Life happens. It’s that simple, though it’s not simple coming to that realization. You will not be doing your dream job at 22. You will eat rice four nights in a row because it’s easy to make and, most importantly, cheap. You will lose touch with college friends and professors. You will challenge yourself at a job you never thought you’d do. You will go out of your comfort zone and befriend strangers. You will learn how to pay bills and up your credit score and meal-prep on Sundays (all rice) for the following work week. And you will do so much more.

While walking to work one cool spring morning, the sun barely stretching over the horizon, I had my realization of Hey, I did it. I have always wanted to live in Savannah, a little haven in the swamps of South Georgia, and I was doing it. I was walking to work amidst the picturesque oaks and steeples I’d dreamed of. The azaleas were in bloom, the city perfumed in jasmine. I felt excitement, and anxious. I had swum another large stretch only to discover so much water remained before me. I already know Savannah is not my forever home, and I will begin this cycle again, but I’m not frightened as I was a year ago. I now know I am strong enough to swim, and I will keep going. You will keep going. It will not be easy, but you will be fine.

Say it yourself, whisper it like a prayer: “I will be fine. I will be fine. I will be fine.”

After Endings

On December 30th, 2014, I wrote this blog post (which if you haven’t read, take a second to pop on over there). In the wake of a new year, I wrote about the importance of treasuring endings.

Now, on December 30th, 2015, the endings I wanted so hard to keep from happening have inevitably happened. I am in a new stage of my life, a stage of post-ending, otherwise known as a beginning.

It’s hard to admit when you’re scared, but after reading my thoughts from one year ago, I had to admit that to myself. And while I still believe it is important to pay homage to the past, my focus on endings stemmed from a fear of the unknown, a refusal to accept change.

Since 12/30/14, I have had experiences I’d never imagined were possible. I spent four beautiful weeks of summer in Denver. I moved to a new city, friendless and alone. I had a job interview that consisted of meeting at a bar, getting dinner, then going through a Halloween haunted house. I tried shawarma (and loved it). I went to the movies by myself (also loved it). I kissed a boy on the beach during a moonless night. Of course along with all the great good that has happened, there has been an equal amount of challenges. I spent all of my beautiful summer wallowing in heartbreak. I came back to an empty apartment after spending lonely days in coffee shops. I applied for job after job only to be rejected.  I went to bed night after night feeling more discouraged and more uncertain.

But all these things that I’ve done, all these hardships and blessings I’ve experienced, really weren’t that unimaginable after all, and that’s a shame. It’s a shame I’ve had such a narrow view of what my life could be.

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April: after my senior poetry reading accompanied by the first two friends I made at Mercer.

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July: the beautiful end of the hiking trail in Hanging Lake, Colorado.

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October: First DIY Halloween costume (a book fairy)

What I didn’t realize one year ago is life happens, even after you think it’s all over.  You meet new people, both good and bad.  You stay out all night and fall asleep to the first rays of dawn. You ding your car on a parking meter while trying to parallel park. You read books and adopt a cat and learn how to cook for yourself.  This beginning-fresh start- new page thing I’ve always heard so much about finally makes sense. My realization is a simple one, but I never promised any life-changing insights. Life is made of cycles, of ups and downs and ups again. It flows and ebbs like the tide, a fluid motion of rushing up to shore only to be drawn back again. But I know how much I hate change and how stubbornly I can cling to an eroding shore despite the natural pull back to deeper waters. It has and still is so hard for me to let go, and the fight against the current is fruitless and exhausting. I must remind myself to loosen my hold and trust that when I’m rushed out to sea I won’t drown, but I will float.

Tomorrow I will spend my last night of 2015 with a great group of girls I met a short three months ago. New Year’s Eve 2014, I wouldn’t have seen myself a whole 365 days later in Savannah with new people, and I have no guesses as to where I’ll be a year from today, or the year after that, or the year after that, and so on and so on. All I can do is trust the current and find solace in the certainty of uncertainty.

Six Months Single

Here’s a secret: I’ve never really dated before. I’ve had steady boyfriends since I was 14 -that’s eight years of boyfriends, people- and each of them just kind of fell into place. It wasn’t complicated. It was “I like you and you like me so let’s date.” Maybe it’s because options were limited in high school, or because college still provided a separation from real-world relationship problems. But being single and 22, I’ve been smacked in the face with this reality: guys suck.

I’ve been single for six months, the longest stretch of my eight year relationship run. During those six months, I’ve casually dated a handful of dudes, a few of them kind of seriously. And as I’m still single, you can guess that they haven’t worked out for one reason or another. While some of those reasons are legitimate (that we’re living too far apart after my move to Savannah), the majority of them have one common theme. Men, it seems, are either blind to their imperfections, or willfully ignorant of them.

I like to think that I’m a sensible person with a big, big heart. I love getting to know people. I love celebrating their accomplishments and empathizing their hurts. Most importantly, I keep an open mind when getting to know someone. I haven’t met a single guy that didn’t have something that settled uncomfortably with me. But no one is perfect, and I have accepted men’s flaws with open arms, because I am not perfect, either.

But apparently, I’m supposed to be perfect. Once a boy finds something he doesn’t like, it’s over, no negotiations. Guys only see me as this fun, goofy girl who’s silly and wears quirky clothes and writes poetry which makes me so sensitive. They seem to really like sensitive. They tell me things that they swear they haven’t told anyone They cry and I cry with them. I don’t know what they see me as, but it’s not as a person, as a whole, complex being with a range of anxieties and insecurities. I am multi-dimensional and yeah, I am fun and silly and care-free, but I’m also serious and sad and critical. I am not a caricature or a persona, I am a person.

When I act outside of the illusion boys have created, it’s too much for them. When I do something to complicate my image of the caring and poetic manic pixie dream girl, they decide to move on. Boys have stopped talking to me because 1) despite their soap-opera of personal problems, mine were too much to handle 2) they were too busy for me and didn’t think I was worth their time, and as of last night, 3) calling him out for using Tinder while I was driving.

I have agonized over boys for the last eight years. I have cried over them and have blamed myself for not keeping their attention, thinking I must not be pretty or interesting enough for a guy to like me. The boys I’ve dated have all had high self-confidence, have been proud of their accomplishments while glazing over my own. I graduated from a top university with honors. I wrote a chapbook under the guidance of the Poet Laureate of Georgia, which a guy made fun of constantly, calling him “Lord Poet” and laughing when I got upset. I have never made fun of what someone is proud of, no matter how small. But it seems that men are not impressed with me despite all I have to offer, though I’m supposed to stand in awe of their young lives and all the meager things they’ve done. They expect me to be their cheerleader, their caregiver, their comfort. But can I not have my own dreams and demands and needs? Can they not take care of themselves? Like Alanis says, “I don’t wanna be adored for what I merely represent to you.” I want to be Katie, that’s it.

But maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s me for putting up with so much. Maybe, when I caught that guy swiping through Tinder on our fourth date, looking at other girls he could talk to, I should’ve turned my car around and dropped his sorry ass home, or kicked him to the curb right there on Broughten Street. Instead, we both tried to joke it off and make it through the awkwardness. After our date (where I serenaded him with Adele’s “Hello” and made him laugh until he cried), he was quiet when we were back at his apartment. I asked if he wanted me to leave, and he said yes, he was tired. We kissed goodnight. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad, but more than anything, I was angry.

I sped down Abercorn and in true cliche fashion played Florence + The Machine and sang as loud as I could. I cried and cursed. I repeated to myself: “I am pretty. I am smart. I am funny. I am passionate. I am worthy.”  Like I said, I have been upset for eight years, but driving back to my apartment, I finally felt how I wanted to feel. I felt important, and not because some boy said so, but because I said so.

You can say I’m just bitter from rejection and making excuses for myself, that I’m just another angry women who can’t make a man stay. But no matter what you say, I’m sorry, boys, I’m not taking your shit anymore.

Dear Hiring Manager,

It seems you’ve overlooked a few things that I would like to bring to your attention. Though my resume clearly states that I graduated college this past May, you seem disappointed that I don’t have enough direct experience working as whatever the position is I’m applying for. But I’m asking -no, pleading- you to think outside the box.

College might have been an Animal House-esque experience for you, but for me, though it was fun, it was extremely difficult. Mercer University is a tough school, but as you can see from my listed GPA, I did quite well despite the pressures. I took 15+ hours every semester, which means I had to stay on top of assignments for five classes. I was also involved in four organizations and had a leadership position in each. I also had a work-study job. So, yes, I would say I’m very good at time and stress management.  Yes, you’ve gathered that I’m a good writer from my cover letter and writing-related experience. I made A’s on every paper I wrote. I worked as a proofreader, a writing tutor, and a section editor for a national online magazine. But more important than all of that, I’m a poet. Poetry is precise. It’s selecting the exact word for an exact purpose, taking complex abstractions and forcing them to take physical shape in a few lines. What form of writing is more detail oriented than that? I know how to make copies and answer phones. I know how to organize and label files. I know how to write (professionally or otherwise). Just because my experience comes from a college setting does not mean I’m useless. It’s called transferable skills, and I have plenty of those.

So, you got me, I don’t have experience using Quickbooks or whatever data-entry system your company uses. But I’m a millennial, and I’ve used technology my entire life. Doesn’t it count for anything that I’m determined to learn a new skill? Refusing to consider me because I don’t have direct experience is narrow-minded and excludes prime candidates who are ready and willing to learn new things (ahem, me). I know too many smart, talented, and driven recent graduates who are still unemployed. Why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of fresh, new minds?

You’ve also made some assumptions that I would like to clear up. You see that I graduated from a prestigious university and a prestigious graduate-level program; my ambition scares you. You ask “Why would you want to work here?” You look at my BA in English and ask “Don’t you want to be a teacher or writing for a magazine or something?” Let’s be real: we both know I never dreamed I would be practically begging to work a barely above minimum-wage job. When asked by a potential employer about my hobbies and interests, I said I love to write. He responded, almost accusingly, “Oh, you’re an author. You’re one of those author-types.” I quickly told him that I wouldn’t consider myself an author at all and downplayed my passion. But I’m going to be honest with you: I love writing, I love literature, I love poetry. And while you might consider my creative passion a liability, I want you to know that I will do anything to support myself so that I can continue to write. I might be an aspiring poet, but the starving artist thing has never appealed to me. I will work hard to pay my bills and live comfortably. Hell, T.S. Eliot was a banker. William Carlos Williams was a doctor. Every dreamer needs a day job.

Sure, I understand. You see hiring me as a gamble, that you’d be taking a chance on a less-than-experienced candidate. Consider changing your perspective. Instead of looking at me as a risk, see me for what I really am: a capable, intelligent, and passionate young woman who is personable, spirited, and eager to make it on her own.

Thank you for your time. I am available for an interview at your earliest convenience.

Respectfully yours,

The Getting Over

I first heard our song, post breakup, in a coffee shop across from Forsyth Park. I was engrossed in a novel when my ears picked up the familiar acoustic notes from the background noise of buzzing conversations and clattering dishes. It was the smooth guitar riff going into the second verse, and after I processed it all, after those few seconds between ignorance and cognizance, it was too late. Every note was unrelentingly clear. There was nothing I could do but stare down at the words in my book and wait for it to end.

During the initial months after, the number of songs I couldn’t listen to went up at an alarming rate. Of course there were specific ones I avoided by immediately deleting them from my playlists, but it seemed that every time I would start listening to music, the first song that played would throttle me into visceral memories I was desperate to forget. I would frantically click next again and again and again until I could tolerate something. Though the process bordered on emotional torture, I had finally compiled a small playlist that I more than just tolerated. I would scream-sing these songs and I’d find myself, if just for a few seconds, forgetting (or at least, not remembering).

This list (a portion of which I recreated on Spotify) is held together by the simple fact that the songs are, in some way, a part of me. Just me. They aren’t tied to any memory or person outside of myself. And that’s how I found peace: knowing a part of myself had remained untouched.

But when I heard our song in that coffee shop, I realized something that hurt beyond remembering. I would always remember. No matter where I am, every time I hear that song, I will think of him. I was over 200 miles away in a place I’d never been before, a place devoid of mental attachments. But that changed in an instant, and the contrast between the old and the new settled uncomfortably in my stomach. I questioned just how new I could be, if I could really start a new life. And the answer is no, of course I can’t. None of us can.  As the saying goes, our pasts do not define us. Instead, our pasts make us, the coarse bits of our former selves stitched together like a patchwork quilt. The scraps of fabric do not appear to go together, but despite the jarring difference in colors, patterns, and textures, something beautiful is made. I’m trying to believe that remembering can be beautiful, that all this will be beautiful.

I cried quietly in that coffee shop long after the song had finished. I cried for all the buried things I hadn’t allowed myself to mourn. I cried because the hot sting of remembrance I felt whenever I thought of him had and still is slowly burning down into an emptiness, a numbness, like how lava cools into igneous rock. I know now when I hear that song again, that song I had never heard before I’d met him, I will not cry; that part is over. I will feel a sharp pain like the prick of a needle, a flare of the old hurt will well-up in my throat, but that is all. The eruption is over; the cooling has begun.

In Defense of Fall

It’s a running joke: I’m the typical “basic white girl.” I love sweaters, leggings, and little brown booties. I love red lipstick and lattes. I love putting pictures of me wearing red lipstick and sipping lattes on Instagram. I say things like, “Oh hell no, girlfriend!,” and use chat speak IRL. I drive a VW Beetle. I love telling people I drive a beetle, and love it more when they say “That car fits you perfectly!” And yes, in true basic fashion, I. Love. Fall.

Btdubs, I did cry a little.

Btdubs, I did cry a little.

Though the internet likes to equate fall to a basic girl’s Christmas, I’d just like to say, I can’t help that fall is generally awesome. I’m here to say that yes, I love flannel shirts and chunky scarves, apple cider and apple candles, Halloween and making DIY decorations. I love pumpkin patches and pumpkin carving and pumpkin spice lattes and even the Pillsbury sugar cookies with little pumpkins on them. But while there are numerous, numerous, numerous articles listing reasons why you should think fall is the absolute best, this post isn’t one of them.

I can’t put into words exactly why I love fall. There might not be a reason. It’s more of a feeling, like the warmth in your skin after being out in the sun. It floats and lingers and is made up of little things. When the sunlight rests just right on the leaves and the breeze is soft, something flares in my memory, just for a second, like the sharp crackle of a fire. I forget myself as I am now, and I feel I’ve just woken up from a day dream. I’ll stop looking up at the colored leaves and be in my grandparent’s backyard or on the playground after school, in the high school band room getting ready for a game or right outside my dorm building, already a few minutes late for class. I’m everywhere at once, then suddenly I’m not. It’s just like that, over in an instant, a knee-jerk reaction to something I can’t quite place. Memories are funny that way.

I remember making ghost cookies (Nutter Butters, white icing, and chocolate chips) with my Mema. Plastering our sliding glass door with restickable decals, pumpkins and moons and bats. Riding a broom around the yard, holding a witch’s hat. Giggling to ghost stories under blanket forts. Sneaking orange and brown M&Ms from a candy dish. Walking the wet road on Halloween night, the streetlights reflecting slick against the black pavement.. The more I try to remember, the less I can recall. But it’s that feeling-  the leaves and light and breeze and that crispness, the one that makes the hair on your arms stand straight- that’s what remains. All these fragments,their own distinct streak, blend together and make a blurry picture, a crude expressionist rendering of a burnt sunset over fields, a pile of leaves stacked in the yard, chimney smoke that climbs toward naked tree branches. The orange sky fades to soft pink, then pale blue. As the sun sets, the fields and the yard and the house and the trees melt into each other, and their darkening silhouettes turn to shadows, and then it’s gone.

Traditionally, fall represents the twilight of life, the approaching end. I used to think of fall as the mark of beginnings, and to a child, it makes sense. Fall brings a new school year, and with it, new clothes, new shoes, new notebooks with color-coordinated pencils. But now, fall seems a time of reflection and remembrance, and naturally so. It’s a season wrapped in nostalgia, that bittersweet awareness of all that was and will never be again. Maybe that’s why we love fall so much. It’s a reminder of what has passed, but also a reminder of how gentle and beautiful endings can be. Fall is like a vibrant sunset before darkness settles; a soft kiss goodnight before you drift to sleep.

On Transitions

I’m a social person. Though I’d rather stay in and watch Netflix than go out to a noisy spot downtown, I consider myself social. Maybe it’s because I’m conceited. I love talking and I love when people laugh at my jokes. I enjoy company. I enjoy people. I enjoy the bustle of life.

I moved to the Savannah area three weeks ago. I have a one bedroom apartment. I wake up around 9:00 (okay, 10:00) and make myself coffee. I read poetry. I watch Netflix. I apply for jobs and watch Netflix. I go to the grocery store to buy things for dinner, mostly Asian dishes- tikka masala with naan or chicken fried rice. I make small-talk with the cashier. I always let them know I’m new, that I just moved to the area. They look at me for a long time, almost suspiciously, and express surprise I’d move to a place where I don’t know anyone. I go home and make dinner. I watch Netflix. I get in bed and read. The days seem both long and short. I know I should write more but I can’t, should unpack more boxes but I don’t. I feel useless and lazy but overworked all at once.

When I first moved in, I ventured out on my own. I spent over two hours in Barnes & Noble. I went to Starbucks to read. I drove around Savannah with no destination and sang loud with the stereo. But now it seems silly to get out of my pajamas just to drive five minutes and sit in a hard faux-wood chair, pay for coffee when I could just as easily make it myself, and read while noisy people filter in and out the door.

I thought it would be easy to make friends. Every time I’d get settled in a coffee shop, I’d peer up from the pages of my book and gauge the scene, seeing each person as a possibility. But each time, nothing would happen. The only people I’d speak to were the baristas when I ordered my latte. I’d pack up and drive the five minutes back to my one-bedroom apartment. Make dinner. Watch Netflix until I determined it was late enough to get in bed. Read. Sleep. Repeat.

This is, by far, the biggest transition of my life. This is the first time I’ve ever lived alone, the first time in 14 years I haven’t been a student. And it goes beyond having something to do everyday: classes to go to, papers to write, friends to talk with until the early hours of the morning. I had an identity. I was an English major, top of my class, who made A’s on all her papers and poignant contributions to class discussions. I had to balance time between school and spending time with my friends and boyfriend. And on a more simple level, people spoke to me when I came into class. They came over to my table at Jittery Joes to chat while they waited for their coffee. They smiled at me when I walked across the Quad. The truth is simple: I’ve never been invisible before.

beginningsThis is a fresh start, people tell me. A blank page to fill, a beginning. When you have nothing, the possibilities are endless. At least, that’s the sort of attitude others have about my situation. Right now, I’m a young, single girl in a new city who’s trying to make her own way. It sounds cinematic, almost romantic. A coming-of-age story featuring a young woman and her passage into adulthood. But life isn’t like the movies. How do you make friends when everyone is on their phone or laptop? How do you get a job when you have to apply online and your calls and emails are left unanswered? Invisibility is an experience in itself. I’m trying to remember that. No one knows who I am, so I can be anyone. And that’s exciting, isn’t it? Well, isn’t it?

I saw a man browsing through the art magazines at Barnes & Noble. He had dark hair and an arm full of books. I ended up behind him in the check-out line. We didn’t speak, but I suppose we could have. He had his arms close to his sides, head tilted slightly down. After tapping his fingers on the hem of his corduroys, he pulled out his phone. I was so close to him, yet he seemed so untouchable. I could’ve easily dropped my books, two poetry magazines and a novel, at his feet. I could’ve asked about his selection he had tucked under his arm. Or I could’ve been blunt, told him I just moved here and he seemed interesting. What a nice story that would’ve made.

The real story, as it usually is, is much more mundane: we waited in line, he paid for his books, and he walked out into the afternoon heat.