Trying to Connect

Hi, my name is Phoebe and I am addicted to podcasts. I must admit before I began my addictive tendencies I tried to have several people explain to me what podcasts were. I am not sure what seemed so unclear about them to me, but it almost seemed too simple of a concept. So they are just a radio show?

Like any good addiction mine started with a gateway drug. I heard lots of people talking about the podcast Serial and figured a “hit podcast” could be my way into this podcast world. Serial kept me company during long car rides and I would start to look forward to getting in the car.

I am no foreigner to car ride entertainment as I grew up listening to “books on tape.” I continued this well into my life and just thought it was something everyone did. I realized this was one of my nerdier habits when I started driving to visit my college boyfriend and when his friends would ask me how the trip was I would say, “It was great I listened to a book on CD the whole time so it flew by.” Their reactions made me realize that perhaps not everyone spends long car rides listening to a book read to them. One summer Shaun and I were doing a lot of traveling and I suggested we listen to a mystery book on CD. Despite my initial frustration that he needed to hear every detail and I had to rewind it if we missed something this experience made the car trip so memorable. Throughout the vacation we would talk about the characters and try to solve the crime. We even contemplated sitting in the car to listen to the rest of the book because we did not have a CD player at home. Woo Wyman, the main character of the book, is still something we reference in conversations. For the record, I think it was a pretty bad book, but it made a regular long car ride an experience and an adventure.

But back to my addiction, the topic of Serial was fascinating, but what really drew me in was the narrator. I felt drawn to her and the way she was so easily able to talk to anyone like a friend. I brought Shaun into my addiction and he would fall asleep listening it. Then I introduced my sister to the podcast and got frequent texts proclaiming the innocence of the main character. Shaun and I listened to the final episode one night on our couch. Neither one of us could quite figure out where to look during that hour.

After Serial I expanded my podcast repertoire. Now my iphone is too full because I can’t stop subscribing to new podcasts. I listen to advice podcasts (“Dear Sugar”), comedy podcasts, inspirational podcasts (Tim Ferris), and now my newest find is health podcasts. There is something so comforting about being talked to and feeling like someone is speaking to exactly what you are thinking, reading, or questioning. The voices of these “podcasters”(?) give me such comfort. I can tell it seems boring as an outsider to watch me just listening to someone drone on while I doing the dishes or painting my nails on the porch. Some of the podcasts are people talking about the most mundane things. However, this new art form is able to reach me in a way that I am always searching for. The feeling of connecting with someone which I search for in literature, movies, and tv shows. I am always searching for the new “romcom” or “chicklit” book because for some reason I am able to connect with these genres better than any other art form.

Maybe the podcast is retro. It is like listening to radio programs decades ago. But this time there is a plethora of choice. The amount of podcasts out there is overwhelming. It makes it hard to listen to one too long if you feel bored. Additionally, you start to feel like you have relationships with the podcasters. You learn their history and routines. I even listen to one comic who I don’t even know if I particularly like, but I am so comforted by the familiarity of her voice and her honesty that I can’t pull myself away.

I have always had some source of comfort in stressful times. Whether it was the days when I would watch Sex and the City on repeat and my mom got used to hearing the theme song reverberate through our house and knowing it meant I needed soothing. Or the books and memoirs that I read because something about the main character made me feel like I could relate to them or their lives. Or just because I felt like they were speaking to me as a reader.

I recently took a visitor to my childhood home which of course makes you notice the little things you never gave much thought to. I noticed a quote from Catcher in the Rye that I had up on my wall since high school. Salinger writes,

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” 

The Visionless Bride

I feel terrible admitting this, but when people used to complain to me about how stressed they were with wedding planning I would secretly judge them for complaining about planning a big party for themselves.

As soon as I got engaged I knew what an ass I was for making these judgments and that the stress can come from so much more than party planning. Early on, I tried to make the process as stress-free as possible. I hired a wedding planner telling myself it was worth the cost if it would help my sanity (a lot of expenses are excused with this reasoning). I promised I would not try to DIY anything and that I would keep true to myself of not caring about details and focusing only on the big picture things.

Well 10 months into wedding planning and with my wedding 2 months away I have not been able to successfully avoid the stress. Wedding planning is just not my ideal activity.

I like fashion, reading wedding magazines, and have always found it fun to talk about weddings. However, I used to think that when people said they had been planning their wedding since they were 5 years old they were kidding, but I actually think this might be something other people actually did. While I was busy imagining my 7-year-old self as a character on Beverly Hills 90210 (blame my older siblings) they were experimenting with different types of bouquets they would hold walking down the aisle.

My lack of preparedness for being a “bride” became clear early on in the process. Shaun kept commenting on the fact that I was pretty chill about everything so I thought maybe this would work out for the best. Who knew I could be “chill” about this? Instead I ended up overheating in a bridesmaid dress store hung-over shopping for my bridesmaids’ dresses. The saleswoman started with, “What color are you thinking?” I had an answer for this! “What length?” I had an answer for this! However, the questions got harder and harder. “Do you want everyone in the same color? Style?” “What kind of shoes will they be wearing?” “What are your colors?” With each question I swear my hangover was getting worse and worse. I slumped on a couch while my bridesmaids and the ladies in the store looked to for me for answers. With each, “I don’t care,” I realized that people expected me to have an opinion. I laughed this experience off and we ended up with great bridesmaid dresses.

The next bride fail was when I had to go to my wedding dress fittings. I resented the fact that these fittings were taking up so much of my time. I will have had 4 different fittings over the course of a few months. Each one requires a trip to CT and a schedule rebalancing because the tailor is only available Wednesdays and Thursdays during business hours. Luckily, I am a student, but still it seemed excessive. The saleslady helped me put on MY dress for the very first time and I felt a relief that I still loved it. A few minutes in I wanted it off of me. This was the most expensive item of clothing I would ever wear and I was sweating in it before the big day. I walked out of the dressing room and it’s quite hard to blend in when you are in a beautiful fancy white dress. Not only that, but they put you up on a stage with bright lighting and the whole store stares at you. Then came more questions and decisions. “What kind of belt did I want to wear with it?” “What about jewelry?” I gave my mom a pained face with each question as I mumbled an unsure answer and sighed loudly. I declared that I was not going to wear a veil and the saleslady almost keeled over. “When else are you going to wear a veil?” She admonished as if this was something I had dreamed of. After skirting around the issue I finally stood firm and said, “I am a feminist and do not need to embrace this tradition!” I now enjoy bragging about how untraditional I am even though it is a pretty small detail, but it still helps give me some edge.

The icing on the unimagined wedding cake came last weekend when we went to our wedding location to meet with several different vendors. I even had the best intention of preparing for these meetings knowing I would need to have opinions about these minor details, but my life got in the way so I went into them unprepared (as a diligent student I hate admitting this, but come on they are wedding meetings). I did have some pinterest boards so thought that might count.

The first meeting was with the cake lady and as the ultimate dessert lover one would think this meeting would be the one I excelled at. Instead, I was expected to just pull out ideas from thin air and my mind went black. We went in circles for a bit. The cake lady asked, “What are you thinking for a cake?” I responded, “Well what are my options?” She responded, “I can do anything! What are you envisioning?” With each question posed at me everyone else turned to look at me expectantly. Finally, we got some options out of her and my groom chimed in (a fellow dessert fan). Every detail was like a quiz question you feel like you should know, but cannot remember the answer.

Next came the meeting with the caterer. This one was going smoothly because we had options and several other people voicing opinions. I even began to get excited thinking about eating our favorite foods with friends and family. As we planned for a breakfast the next day I casually suggested having hash browns. The caterer’s main chef kindly asked me, “What is your vision for hash browns?” Which I guess in some ways was a reasonable question because hash browns can be a lot of different things. However, I just could not pretend to take this seriously any longer. My reply was, “My vision for hash browns is whatever your vision for hash browns is.” He laughed and said he liked that answer. I realized that his question stemmed from experiences in which crazy brides would honestly care about a type of hash brown. He explained he did not want anyone to be disappointed and I guaranteed that there was no scenario in which hash browns could disappoint me.

At 5pm once the meetings had ended and it was just Shaun and me we laughed (over cocktails of course) about the expectations of us and our lack of opinions and vision. But still after the whole experience I couldn’t get shake feeling like an unprepared visionless bride.

Since the marathon wedding planning day I have joked about this with several people, some already married, some engaged like me, and some single. I have seen the variety of reactions such as, “Wedding planning sounds so fun!” “Who has a vision for hash browns?” “Isn’t tasty a vision for cake?” and the others who recount their fond memories of picking out table settings.

I have realized now that what really matters is that my groom and me are both equally visionless and find humor in discussing the possibility of having opinions at these minute details. We have the same vision for the wedding (or lack thereof) and value the same types of things. Over Thanksgiving my mom was going through my bridal magazine (although she now loves having an excuse to buy them too) and saw an article asking the bride and groom to describe their wedding in five words. I quickly responded with something along the lines of, “Rustic, warm, fun, sunny, and loving.” Shaun sat there anxiously and responded with, “Casual…(a long pause)….laid-back…fun…casual.” We got the subtle impression he really wants it to feel casual so now our standard for wedding planning is whether it is casual enough.

We were told by a couple that has been married for decades that our wedding should be deemed a success if we: get married, talk with each other, and talk to our families. It sounds like a pretty low bar that does not involve a vision, pinterest board, or any floral arrangements, so I think it sounds about right to me (although it does not include the details I do care about: fun music and dancing, lots of food, being a beautiful bride – my shallow side is still there, and love and laughter). But even if all the wishes on my list do not get fulfilled and the disasters I am prepared for do happen, then to put it in the scheme of things, this is hopefully just one day in a lifetime together. Just a drop in the rustic bucket.

Does the cold make us cold?

It is the worst part of winter in Massachusetts. The time when the novelty and joy of the holiday season is a distant memory and the first snow has come and gone, but it is too early to start thinking about spring. It is the time of year when I proclaim my hatred of winter to anyone who will listen or sometimes to myself when I am alone (which is especially awkward when you are yelling while shoveling your car and some innocent bystander walks by to hear your cursing).

I often blame winter for all problems. In a bad mood? Obviously it’s winter. Don’t feel like socializing? Of course no one would want to leave the house in this weather. Famine in Africa? Well that one is a stretch… Occasionally I convince myself that the solution to feeling down is to simply move somewhere else. I like to think my “quality of life” would be better somewhere if I were outside all the time and I would certainly be the best most super active version of myself who never felt down. However, is this really solution? Is winter really the problem? And furthermore, I heard this rumor that life is not about being happy ALL the time.

It is easy to convince oneself that winter makes people sad and cranky. The latest evidence of this is the parking situation across Boston after two successive blizzards. After the first blizzard I criticized the people who left big orange garbage bins to save the parking space they just shoveled out. Did they really think they now owned that spot for the rest of winter? I even went so far as to research whether this was allowed (it is not). By blizzard two and after several efforts to shovel out my car and laying on a bed of snow on the roof of Shaun’s car watching him painstakingly shovel his car out, I have decided that those spot savers might be onto something. Someone I know (and may or may not live with) has recently started using an orange bucket to save his spot. I am sure I would do the same if my car was not parked on a mound of snow in our driveway. The point being, it is easy to think we are all just trying to get by during this miserable time and will do anything for self-preservation, even if it once seemed beneath us or rude.

However, in the last snowstorm my faith in community was renewed. Shaun and I were laying on the couch contemplating our napping schedule when we saw an elderly lady across the street shoveling out her driveway by herself. After the first snowstorm I happened to meet this elderly lady because having nowhere to pull my car I accidentally pulled into her driveway the same moment she was trying to get home. Her friend yelled at me, but as I apologized profusely, the lady across the street smiled and told me in accented English not to worry.

We saw this lady as we were procrastinating moving from the couch and I immediately decided we had to help her. Maybe I had to make a mends, maybe I had to renew my sense I was still capable of acts of goodness, or maybe I just wanted to prevent our couch from having a permanent indent of my ass. Shaun and I bundled up and helped her shovel her sidewalk and bring in her garbage cans. To be honest, we barely spent anytime doing this. However, the woman kept thanking us and placing her hand on her heart. We insisted that she get out of the cold and waved goodbye. I skipped across the street to start shoveling our sidewalk. Maybe I had found the trick to getting out of my winter funk that did not require me to move somewhere tropical.

As we were shoveling our sidewalk we see the elderly lady open her door and call at us. Her English was limited (and we have narrowed it down that she is either Italian or Russian), but she was holding a plate covered in foil. She must have sensed we were low on groceries this blizzard because she had put cookies on a plate for us to show her thanks. Maybe she was as convinced as me that all warmth was lost in the blizzard and we had shown her otherwise. Or maybe she was just happy the crazy frantic neighbor who blocked her driveway could be useful in a blizzard…

City Feelings

There are certain cities that I have either lived in or frequently visit that each time I return to evoke similar yet unique feelings. I love that city can create such different emotions in me (although emotions are not something I am generally lacking).

1) New York City: There is no other city I have visited that creates such strong feeling of excitement in me as New York. Each time I visit, no matter how much I claim to be “over it” or annoyed with it, I get butterflies. Now that I am older and almost married I get less excited by “night life” but in NYC I feel ready to embark on an adventure when I go out at night and there is this unique potential about an evening out where you feel as if something unpredictable could happen. There are different smells and feelings of NYC based on the season. In the summer I inhale cooking meats or roasting nuts, thick air (often exhaust from buses), sweetness from good-looking New Yorkers perfumes (where are these people during the winter?), and I am used to getting dripped on by AC units suspended from people’s windows. In the winter the crisp air smells different and perhaps cleaner, although the slush on the streets is not pretty. My favorite moment of a trip to NYC is that rush of emotions I get stepping off the train in Grand Central and being whisked away in the movement of the city. Now that I got engaged in Grand Central I feel even more filled with joy just walking through. Before you get on the street and have to figure out which way you are walking (and quickly or you will get plowed over) there is this moment where I take it all in. I glance at the ceiling (quickly enough not to look like a tourist) and smile to myself. I particularly love this routine when I am alone because there is something particular fun about having time to wander around NYC alone. It is that same exciting feeling as when you got to college as a freshman and realize you can can do anything you want. I feel like I have been unleashed and I know the city well enough where I don’t feel nervous or lost most of the time and I can just explore. It is particularly rewarding to not feel like a tourist, but to not feel like a jaded local. After a day or so in this side this excitement subsides, but nothing beats that initial rush.

A view from our NYC hotel room at dusk before a night out

A view from our NYC hotel room at dusk before a night out

2) Washington, DC: DC provides me with a different and “nerdier excitement”  I lived in DC for 6 months alone and have some fun memories, many professionally rewarding memories, and some terribly lonely memories. DC feels so approachable and friendly to outsiders that it almost seems not quite real. If you have a few things down such as, never stand on the left side of a metro escalator, you need to insert your metro card in order to exit, and can name a few of the main restaurants/bars, you are pretty much set. DC never felt like home to me, but felt like an enriching life experiment. Most of my feelings there are in awe of the lifestyle people lead there. The currency is names of members of congress and the social scene feels incredibly small. Every time I visit I feel surprised that I lived there and got to lead this stimulating life and imagine what life would be like there. This usually involves inserting myself as a cast member of West Wing (C.J. to be exact). My imagination runs wild with what my life could have been like and wondering what the people around me lives are like. DC is filled with secrets, stories, and knowledge you can never grasp enough of. It is clean and almost sterile and my biggest complaint is the lack of a “cute neighborhood.” At the same time it is welcoming and easy to find a place. It is my favorite city to wander a museum in alone because it is easier to be invisible in the crowds of international tourists who lack the pretension of New Yorkers wandering the Met. In DC you are rewarded for being nerdy and instead of in NYC where I feel excited about what the night will hold in DC I feel excited about learning more, meeting more interesting people, and about what each day holds.

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A visit to DC to find a place to move into in a week..I remember telling Shaun that we needed to get a picture in front of my new office.

3) Miami: I have been visiting Miami at least once a year for the past ten years. The city has changed as I have changed. However, over the years there is nothing quite as sweet as walking off the plane and breathing in the thick sunny air (yes I have decided air changed when it is sunny out). I have a routine of stripping off the layers from the plane and immediately putting on my sunglasses and flip-flops while I wait on the curb to get picked up from the airport. I peek through the airport garage walls to spot the sun and palm trees. Miami gives me a feeling of freedom and foreignness. There is no outfit too gaudy, no pace too slow, no voice too loud, and no language unheard. In Miami my walk feels different as if I could just float down the street with my feet more free in flip-flops. I stare more in Miami whether it be at the beautiful busty models walking down the street in minimal clothing or the fact that the view from the boardwalk seems so perfectly cliché it could be a postcard.

Exotic Miami

Exotic Miami

4) Boston: As I am writing this I am staring out my window in Boston (more accurately a city right outside of Boston) and watching snow pile up so high I am convinced I am not going to use my car until spring. It is so cozy and peaceful out and it feels like we are all part of this magical weather trick. Boston feels like home in a way I didn’t expect. As I was making chocolate chip pancakes for Shaun this morning I told him it is so strange that I have become a “Boston girl” and have so firmly settled in this place, which I never expected. I am not sure where I expected to settle, but it still surprises me that I have adopted this city as my own. Boston makes me proud of its understated charm. Boston makes me feel comfortable and at ease knowing that no activity here will invoke the stress in me it does in other places. In the winter Boston is cozy and at times sterile and grey forcing me to remember what I love. It is an honest relationship – not always charming and perfect, but forcing you to endure the ups and downs. In the summer Boston is alive and beautiful with its joys hidden. As a local we can do touristy things with ease (smiling at the tourists taking picture of squirrels in Boston Common or wondering how the tourists do not find our duck boat guide infuriating) or we pick the activities off the beaten path and feel like we are part of a secret club and other people are suckers for not knowing about it. The Freedom Trail and the Boston Public Garden are open for everyone to see, but the other beauties of Boston feel like discoveries and force you to find them. The feeling of Boston is a feeling of finally belonging and being at home somewhere.

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I am still alive…

If my blog style right now were a friend I would be that friend that only calls when she has nothing else going on and is bored driving, walking, etc. I feel guilty about it truly, but hope my readers (Mom) will still read my blog even though I have been that friend we all hate.

I  haven’t written because I feel like my blog style is stories of my life (sometimes challenging or emotional) but always neatly tied up with some humorous anecdotes. It’s not that life has stopped being funny for the past few months, but my experiences have not felt blogworthy. I guess while I was living it disappointment and self-doubt didn’t seem like what people would want to read.

The more I have reflected on this the more I realized that this is exactly the type of experience and feelings I want to read about. I am constantly searching for memoirs that deal with real emotions, not necessarily the most dramatic or the funniest, but the emotions that I feel and am hoping someone else can spell out in an eloquent way. Maybe that’s why I love memoirs so much, they are basically a book full of moments – some relatable, some are ones you daydream about or have nightmares out– but they are emotions and experiences of real people. They aren’t always told as part of a nice narrative, they are significant for being the moments that they are. (Side note, Amy Poehler’s book Yes Please is not only one of the funniest memoirs I have read, but also surprisingly poignant).

I had a picture of what starting a PhD program would feel like and somehow thought I had it all figured out. Despite how many people told me starting a PhD program would be hard and different from my Masters I convinced myself that they did not know me and my experience would be different. It turns out I was wrong.

Most of the time my brain hurt for being forced to think in ways I never had before and to study graphs ( Side note, political scientists do not look fondly upon “people” who exclaim, “Who even reads the graphs anyway?” In my defense, I did not realize this was a Phoebe quirk and was really shocked when I said “Come on no one else reads them right?” and was met with blank stares.). I also spent countless hours doubting: my intellect, my judgment for doing this program, my interest in my topic, and whether I had the willpower to continue this program for however many years I had left.

I did however realize that although I was being challenged in this way there was a new found freedom I did not have when I was in a Masters’ program. First of all, even if I did not think I was smart enough, the general public tended to think I was. People looked at me differently as a PhD student. It seemed like what I said had more weight now. Uh oh…

Additionally, I no longer cared about looking cool. Since cool is not usually a word associated with being a PhD student I kind of embraced this stereotype. I could sit alone at lunch and not feel like I had to be talking to people. I did not have to go to “social hour” to have small talk with my classmates. I could float through the halls somewhat anonymously. At times it felt lonely, but mostly it was one less thing to exert energy on.

The real crisis period came when my final assignment for a course was to write my draft dissertation proposal. Most of the advice you hear as a new PhD student is to pick a topic that will interest you for many years. To me this advice seemed way too obvious to feel helpful, of course I wanted to stay interested in my topic, but how do I know what topic will keep me interested? Picking a topic felt like a huge commitment and each time I thought I found an interesting topic I would feel excited and committed to it for several hours and then the next day decide it was one that would likely bore me in a year. In order to complete the assignment I just wrote about a question I was interested in the day I had to start my paper and I have already decided I do not want to study that exact topic. I do not think I am a flakey person, but I am just appreciating the fact that I will be studying this one question for several years. That and I find decisions generally challenging. In the year of me making huge commitments (i.e. marriage) this seems like a ginormous commitment. How do I know now what will interest me in three years? Is it women in militias? Armed groups that kidnap women and girls? Armed groups in Africa? Mexico? Colombia? What makes a topic one that sticks?

Now that I have finished my first semester I feel like I should have had some key eureka moment when I realized it was all worth it and I am on the right path. Unfortunately that moment never happened and I am pretty sure it is not going to happen. I think there will be daily (or weekly during the especially rough periods) moments or cosmic signs when I am reassured that I am on the right path. I am sure of very little in this program so far, but one thing I am sure of is that in my future I want to teach and this process (torture) is getting me closer to teaching. Luckily, most people tell me it is only going to get better from here…although of course I am not sure they know what they are talking about.

Proof of Life Photo (also just want to use our engagement photos as much as possible)

Proof of Life Photo (also just want to use our engagement photos as much as possible)

TB, Transitions, and Tying the Knot

Dear blog, I apologize for the neglect over the past two months. So much has happened that it has felt impossible to stop for a second and try to reflect on things. Each day has been about processing the newest life change.

In the past two months I:
• finished my yoga teacher training
• stopped my TB meds and had my first drink of alcohol in 4 months
• got engaged!!!
• moved from our teeny beloved apartment in the city to a two-family home outside the city
• ended my job

How does one even write about all of these huge events/transitions? These are all tremendously exciting and positive events, but even so transitions are a challenge for me. I have learned that in times of transition most people are going to be anxious so with someone who has a proclivity towards anxiety I should expect to feel especially uncomfortable. Instead of trying to fight it or figure it out I have decided my best course is to try to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Here is how each transition has been going:

• Finished my yoga teacher training – I had dinner and drinks (!) with my yoga teacher trainee friends recently and one of them shared that she felt like during yoga training she was this amazing version of herself and now she just feels like a normal flawed person again. I am glad I am not the only one! The training does not feel like it happened to me. It seems strange that I was so engrossed in sequences, alignment, and breath work, and now those are just things I think about occasionally in a yoga class. During training, I was trying to meditate everyday and read about yoga non-stop and now it is a challenge for me to work out regularly and I am reading about weddings. We decided at dinner that it was such a fast transition from being normal people to extreme yogis that we should forgive ourselves if we have slacked on attending yoga classes or stopped meditating. Hopefully we will find our yogi path again.

• Stopped my TB meds and had my first drink of alcohol in 4 months – This is another area of my life where it seems surreal that it actually happened to me and that I did not have a sip of alcohol for 4 months. Now that I have the freedom to drink again I just can’t imagine not being able to make that choice. Perhaps it was not as much about the alcohol, but the fact that someone told me there was something I could not have. It made it seem even more enticing being told I could not have it (like being 19 again and just wanting to be able to drink like an adult).

• Got engaged!!! – For so many years I thought being engaged was a secret club and one day I would I get the password! It seemed like there was this huge difference between people who were not engaged and people who were. As if suddenly everything was going to change just because there was a diamond ring on my finger. I would like to destroy the myth, unfortunately there is no secret password and I am still the same person even with a diamond on my finger.

Right after we got engaged so many people told me to enjoy this time because it is the most exciting time of your life. I do not do well with events or time periods where I am supposed to feel a certain way (I have spent many birthdays crying and dread graduations). I was so excited to be engaged to Shaun, but there wasn’t a drastic change (as I felt we had already been so committed to each other for many years and had built our lives together) and life was still continuing as it had before we were engaged. 

Maybe being engaged is one big period of transition, a transition to being married, so of course I need to ease into it. It has become a really fun time and I frequently tell people that “we just got engaged,” even though it has been about two months. It is fun sharing that excitement with strangers or having people who see me on a regular basis notice my ring and ask if I recently got engaged. Being engaged is ultimately about being married and that is something I am really ready and most looking forward to.

Until then, I will enjoy the ring, the wedding planning, and the excitement, and try to remember I don’t have to feel or act a certain way, even if people keep telling me this is the “most exciting time of my life.”

• Moved from our teeny beloved apartment in the city to a two-family home outside the city – When we first moved into the two-family home we are renting (which our landlord told us is good practice for owning a home) there was a part of me that freaked out and thought we made a horrible mistake. Who knew how long it takes to paint a room? Or that in order to have a yard someone has to maintain it regularly? Or that blinds can fall down on you and slice your arm (hypothetically of course)? Or that light switches need to be moved and fixtures replaced? Or that in old houses a lot of things need to be fixed constantly?

 Since I was the one who found this house I kept fearing that Shaun was secretly thinking I made a terrible mistake. Well it has been one month and we have one room painted and one room left to unpack. We have had two visits from the electrician and several visits from Shaun’s dad who is filling in as our handyman. I have never felt so lucky to have a fiance who enjoys fixing and solving things! 

I kept waiting for this place to feel like home and again dealing with expectations that it should already. Last night something just clicked and for some reason I was laying in bed trying to fall asleep and felt at home. I am not sure what it takes to make something home. I think it might be something as small as having pictures of our memories on the wall. I think that is what made me feel at home last night. Shaun perched a frame on top of his dresser that he wants to hang with pictures from our trip to Jamaica and suddenly I looked at my bedroom differently. For other people it is about scents or having the same bedding, but for me I think it is about a wall covered in pictures of friends and family. These are things that only our home could have and you can’t buy in a pottery barn catalogue. They are cluttered and imperfect but they are us.

We have also started to build routines and make memories in the new house. Every night Shaun grills and we sit at the patio table (in the midst of our yard that is so overgrown with weeds it is hard to walk) and on special nights we treat ourselves to a glass of Malbec (with me appreciating it even more now).

• Ended my job – The end of my current job has been extra significant because it is a sign that I am really starting a PhD program this fall. I am done with my brief stint of being a working professional again and I am back to being a student. There is no turning back now. Everyone keeps telling me to relax in these few weeks of not working, but I am not sure what that looks like for me. Sitting around watching TV at 11am on a Monday? Reading for 6 hours in my yard? I need projects and places to be, even if they are something as silly as a 12:30pm yoga class or a 4pm haircut. I will try to “rest” by doing things I have wanted to do, but don’t have time for when working full-time. Working out everyday, meditating, reading the newspaper/The Atlantic/The Economist, organizing/cleaning (I know this is not typically relaxing, but its rewarding so I would say that counts), BLOGGING!, shopping, seeing friends for lunch, and trying my absolute best to embrace the transition and be in it instead of just counting down days until the next step.

Uninterrupted Eye Contact

If anyone has ever gone to a meditation group you will likely do a guided meditation and afterwards hear the other people in the group share how much they enjoyed the meditation or explain how they saw images of unicorns and rainbows. It is my opinion that there is always once person in this group who is quietly nodding along, but really found each minute of the meditation excruciating. This person is convinced she isn’t doing it right, isn’t cut out for meditation, and is trying to figure out what the other people in the group were smoking that made them visualize unicorns and rainbows.

Yup you guessed it this person is me and I have decided it is my duty to not to lie about these experiences and instead I need to disrupt the “meditation myth” and acknowledge that sometimes meditation is beyond painful.

At first in yoga teacher training I enjoyed the meditations. I think this is possibly because it was period of time in between hours of yoga in which I did not have to exert myself. Recently they have started to get more intense for me and I have a special kind of anxiety associated with them. We did one this weekend in which we had to hold our legs and arms up in different positions (which seems easy the first ten seconds but is actually exhausting) and do intensive breathing techniques. When asked what we thought of this afterwards I equated it with torture.

 The one saving grace for me in the meditations has been getting to sing (or chant is the technical term). Since I have always loved signing I feel like this is my second chance to get into singing again. I realize to an outsider a group of people chanting in Sanskrit must sound totally bizarre, but when I know I have another two minutes of holding my legs in the air I sing these songs with gusto. I think this song is especially fun and this dude seems pretty cool: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHsSPFJTUEE&feature=youtu.be (song starts about 1 min and 47 secs into the video).

This past weekend was our hardest meditation exercise yet. We were told we were going to sit cross-legged across from our partner with our knees almost touching. We were supposed to stare into each other’s eye and each have our hands in a specific position and held up at our sides with our pointer fingers touching our partner’s. 

Our teacher told us she was not going to tell us how long the meditation was going to be which immediately to me did not seem like a good sign.

The whole thing reminded me of this scene with Steve Martin from the underrated movie Baby Mamma.

Luckily, I felt especially comfortable with the partner I was paired with and we had both expressed that we were having difficulty with meditation. In the beginning it was definitely a little awkward staring into each other’s eyes, but after a few minutes that awkwardness disappeared and you kind of almost forgot you were looking at someone. We were chanting to a song so that gave us something to distract ourselves.

After a little while my back started aching and my feet fell asleep. Every time I moved a little to get more comfortable it forced my partner to move a little. I could tell she was starting to get uncomfortable too. I continued to chant and would in certain moments really throw myself into the chanting and try to send my partner signals through my eyes that expressed the, “we can do this” sentiment.

 The track we were chanting to had a few points where it seemed to be winding down so I felt a moment of relief thinking it was ending, but then it would start back up again and anxiety would wash over me. I started to loose it and felt like I was going to be sitting there chanting and staring at my partner for the rest of my life. 

All of the sudden my partner burst out laughing. As someone who gets “the giggles” frequently, of course I was going to start laughing.  We broke our hand lock and were giggling to ourselves uncontrollably while the rest of the groups continued chanting. Tears streaming down our cheeks we tried several times to pull ourselves together, but every time we would make eye contact again the giggles would hit. Finally, I decided we had to avoid eye contact in order to stop laughing so I stared at the ground and resumed chanting, trying to pull myself together. After a minute, we locked eyes again and got back into chanting and I was feeling slightly better after the laughing outburst.  

While I was writing this it brought back a memory to me of going to a meditation class with my Grandma. I have absolutely no idea why we would have done this or where it was, but I just remember going to a meditation group and sitting in the back and all of the sudden my Grandma and I were giggling uncontrollably and I think we had to leave because we could not pull ourselves together. Perhaps this giggling during meditation is hereditary. It seems like I made this up as I don’t think my Grandma or anyone else in my family would know about this, but I have this distinct memory of this experience.

We finished the meditation and found out we had been doing it for 31 minutes (I could have watched an entire episode of Sex and the City and have time to spare)! When we apologized for laughing uncontrollably, surprisingly the teacher did not scold us for not taking this seriously, but instead deemed it an authentic reaction. In fact, she said she was worried I was going to walk out during the meditation and was planning on having to talk me back into it. I am not sure if she thought this by watching my face during this meditation or if it was because I said I thought the meditation the previous day was torture.   

I can’t remember a more difficult 31 minutes of my life, but it seemed to really bond the group to have gone through something like this together. I am so proud I did it, but I can’t imagine ever having to do that again. 

The next day we had “The Boston Buddha” give us a meditation workshop. He presented a less awkward more relatable form of meditation and after the eye contact exercise I figured I could handle anything. He took us through an easy-guided meditation and asked if anyone was restless the entire time. I proudly raised my hand and his response was, “good.” He counts this as a good experience during a meditation (the other “good” experiences include falling asleep, being overly aware of yourself repeating the mantra, and seeing an image – those damn unicorn and rainbow people).

Despite his lofty name the “Boston Buddha” made meditation relatable even cracking jokes about how people can be judgey in the yoga/meditation/wellness world even though we are not supposed to be. He admitted that he struggled with meditation a lot and would have meditations when he would ask himself why he was doing it and just struggle through the whole thing. What I found encouraging was his conclusion that even if you struggle through the whole meditation it is still worth doing because it forces you to really feel these feelings and to at least take time out to be with yourself. He framed meditation as work or “mental push-ups” for the rest of your day that will start to benefit you (and therefore make it easier to commit to doing it) the more frequently you meditate. He also cited an interesting study out of Harvard studies about how meditation can change your brain in just eight weeks.

After this weekend of training I learned that it might be worth it to commit to this whole meditation thing, eye contact is not that awkward, and most importantly sometimes you just need a good giggle fit to survive a painful situation.