The search for that ‘Big Magic’

Let’s be honest here: I haven’t really channeled creativity beyond cloth-covered cubicle walls in nearly two years. Two years.

A second piece of honesty: it’s really hard to channel creativity whilst immersed in traditional corporate America. I’m fortunate to have forged muddy, puddle-ridden pathways for my creative juices to flow down…though, admittedly, the puddles have dried up from time to time. But enough of these metaphors.

Here’s a list of the most creative things I’ve done in the past year that I can think of right now at 12:57 a.m. off the top of my head:

  1. Moved my guitar from the couch to the corner of my living room because Nick never puts shit back where it belongs.
  2. Created a photo book on Snapfish of our trip to the Bahamas last June (woo wee).
  3. Painted my nails an outlandish color – does this count?
  4. Fashioned individualized birthday cards using blank cards I purchased from JoAnn Fabrics, because I’m too cheap to pay $3.50 for one damn Hallmark card.
  5. Made two necklaces and one bracelet.
  6. Painted flowers on my glass salt and pepper grinders using nail polish.
  7. Borrowed a friend’s woodworking shop to make Nick’s Christmas present: a pin travel map.
  8. Wrote letters to two penpals.
  9. Photographed our hike through Olympic National Park.
  10. (Barely) Started writing my novel.
  11. Cooked. A lot. Which I really do find creative and enjoy immensely.
  12. Attended a coworker’s gallery opening of her beautiful photography.
  13. Followed the instructions on my first MakersKit to make essential oil bathroom spray, bath balls, and a candle. (My Christmas present from Nick, who clearly noticed I’ve been starved of creativity… bless him.)

It’s 1:08 a.m. I allotted myself 10 minutes and, even though I racked my brain for all possible projects, I struggled to write the list above. As our president would say, “SAD!”

This is not acceptable.


One of my dear penpals – who also must have sensed my struggle from 3,000 miles away – sent me “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert for Christmas.

I’m only on page 61, but Gilbert has made me recognize and accept the absurdly short list above, and other areas where my creativity has been lacking. My short bio on this blog has included this paragraph for the past couple of years:

“I am always going, going, going (and talking, talking, talking). There’s something wrong when my mind isn’t whirring with new poems to write, blog posts to compose or tweets to tweet. It’s even weirder when I’m quiet. Trust me.”

Over the past two years I’ve only written two or three poems, two or three blog posts, and a mere handful of tweets.

And that’s just not acceptable.

Emily’s real-life ‘adulting’ in 2015

I moved out of my parents’ house last January after my college graduation in December. I didn’t write much in 2015 (sorry, 14-year-old self), but you’ll remember this post about my breakdown in Walmart, and perhaps this post from September, where I offered a glimpse into what the hell I’d been up to.

I’ve been busy. And, as my ex boyfriend’s dad told me in November, “This has been quite a year for you.”

He’s right. But he doesn’t know the half of it.

Here are 15 things I learned in 2015 as a first-time, real-life, full-fledged, compound-modifier-loving adult.

I realize that we’re almost into February, but hey, better late than never.

1.) That beeping sound your carbon monoxide detector is making? Take it seriously.

You’re not in your father’s house anymore, meaning the detector probably doesn’t just need new batteries.

2.) Enjoying a week’s vacation and getting paid for it is one of life’s most wonderful things.

Especially when you’re cavorting around Europe and haven’t a care in the world.

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3.) Beware of Friday the 13th

While I watched snow float to the ground on Friday, Nov. 13, and marveled at the world’s silence, my parents were having the worst night of their lives. It involved a vehicle and an overexcited yellow lab puppy. I’ll never forget my father’s voice wavering on the phone and hearing his sobs.

We managed to surprise him over Thanksgiving with another little bundle of love that is growing by the minute, chewing sneakers, and having accidents in the house.

We know he loves her.

4.) Things from college can come back to haunt you.

Someday I’ll talk about this.

5.) Your heroes and mentors are capable of disappointing you.

But that disappointment only makes you stronger.

6.) Your alcohol tolerance level will drop once you’re done with college. Be careful when you drink double IPAs at work events.

I swear I’ve never acted like a complete imbecile, but I do take advantage of the free drink when I can get it.

7.) That/those relationship(s) you had in college? They might not make it. And that’s perfectly okay.

Moving on while the other stays behind only works in a relationship when you really really want it to. If you can’t picture yourself going to college parties and waking up hungover in a beer-soaked house nearly a year after you’ve graduated, you’ve moved on in more ways than one.

8.) The importance of hobbies.

They teach you this in high school, but they don’t in college. I started taking guitar lessons. In fact, I have one in a couple days. I need to start practicing.

9.) The definition of insanity.

Every boyfriend I’ve ever had has been, like me, the youngest child in the family. I dated the same people over and over again and each time I expected things to be different.

This time is different. His name is Nick. He’s 23. He has a younger sister (six years my junior). He’s an engineer. We think differently; we do different things; we have different hobbies… and yet it just works. I poke fun at him like the little sister I’ve always been. He teases me and drives me crazy. It’s perfect.

10.) Love is love.

I’ll never forget it when my ex boyfriend’s new girlfriend’s mother (confusing, I know, and the reason I met her is a long, stupid story), said something like “I can’t believe they allow that in the army. I’m Catholic and I just don’t agree with it” to me as she shook my hand back in 2013. She was referring to a graduate from a neighboring college’s Army ROTC program who’d been announced at the 2013 military ball with her wife. Her wife.

I remember smiling uncontrollably when they’d be announced. She must have scowled.

When my ex and I walked away from her, I turned to him and said, “Seriously? This is the family you chose?”

I’m proud of myself for saying that to him. And I’m proud of my parents for instilling an indifference in our family toward sexual orientation so that I can enjoy the company of my friends and loved ones without being worried about which gender they enjoy sleeping with. Because, guess what? It doesn’t fucking matter.

11.) You’ll never forget your first car.

My 2000 Volkswagen New Beetle, fondly referred to as “Bubbles,” popped in October when the mechanic listed the repairs she needed in order to pass inspection. Because it wasn’t practical to keep her, I traded her in for a little black Hyundai Elantra GT. Her name is Pippa.

And yes, I cried when Bubbles was lifted onto the flatbed and sobbed even harder when she disappeared around the corner. Then I got in my new car, pushed the START/STOP engine button, opened the panoramic sunroof, hooked my work phone up to the car’s bluetooth for music, used the backup camera to back out of my spot and drove on with my life.

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12.) Take risks. Take risks. Take risks.

Kiss the guy who keeps looking at you from across the room at the party.

Book that plane ticket and travel to Europe by yourself.

Make the speech that people will remember.

As Marilyn Monroe said, “I’d rather be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.”

Be ridiculous. 

13.) You’ll have bad days at work where you want to tear your hair out, but the good days make it all worth it.

Eh. Not much more to blow out on this one.

14.) Write letters and thank-you notes. Send a gift to someone randomly.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about living on my own, it’s that receiving mail that isn’t a bill usually makes my entire day. I sent a few Christmas cards over the holidays, wrote a few letters to some pen pals that I’d been neglecting, and sent my brother Adam a few “housewarming” gifts when he moved into his apartment back in the fall. I know it makes me feel good, why not spread the love?

15.) To be a generic twentysomething, travel and do fun stuff.

Winery visits on a Saturday morning? YES! Taking a class at the Culinary Institute of America? Sign me up! A weekend trip to Ocean City, Maryland? Sounds like a blast! While making my student loan payments and rent are priorities, I’ve learned to stop blanching at the price tags attached to experiences.

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Update: where has Emily been?

It’s been awhile. I know.

But that’s because I’ve been white water rafting and hopping on a plane to Europe and going to the beach and making new friends and drinking beers and traveling for work and hosting parties and eating ice cream and pretty much just loving everything about this post-college life.

I wanted you to know that.


Cheap jewelry and women’s underwear: a meltdown

I had a meltdown in Walmart about a month ago.

I’d grabbed my Suave Sweet Pea and Violet body wash, pack of men’s razors, perused the small appliance aisle, picked up a few vanilla-scented votives and successfully located my mother near the grocery section so I could place my items in her cart. When I realized I’d forgotten to pick up a pair of gloves, I took off and expected my mom to follow me.

Little girl’s. Little boy’s. Handbags. Scarves. Cheap jewelry. Women’s underwear.

Little girl’s. Little boy’s. Handbags. Scarves. Cheap jewelry. Women’s underwear.

Little girl’s. Little boy’s. Handbags. Scarves. Cheap jewelry. Women’s underwear.

Little girl’s. Little boy’s. Handbags. Scarves. Cheap jewelry. Women’s underwear.

Little girl’s. Little boy’s. Handbags. Scarves. Cheap jewelry. Women’s underwear.

I saw the same Walmart associates again and again. They stared at me –– me, in my tie-dye pants, moccasin-style boots, bright green Michelin-man coat and the mess of colors on my hat, complete with ear flaps –– every time.

Little girl’s. Little boy’s. Handbags. Scarves. Cheap jewelry. Women’s underwear.

No gloves. No mom. No answer on her phone. No matches for my candles.

Nobody to come home to every night. Nobody to ask me, “Did you have a good day?” Nobody to eat dinner with. No dogs, thus no tails wagging. No reason to go home. No home.

I found scarves for $4.99 and an array of sports watches for $10, but no gloves.

The good news is, I, breathless, found Mom in the coffee aisle, lightyears away from the little girl’s, little boy’s, handbags, scarves, cheap jewelry and women’s underwear sections.

When I nearly started crying at the sight of her, she calmed me down. She understood that Walmart, though gargantuan, wasn’t entirely to blame.

She slept on the couch in my living room for one night before leaving me be.

Letting me be.

Ten reasons why Emily shouldn’t get a dog right now

10.) Money. Vet bills. Accessories. Cool collars, beds and fun toys!!! Wait. Focus. Why care for someone else when I’ve only just begun caring for myself (and the giant peace lily in my family room)?

9.) Shedding. Unless I get a hairless dog, like Cruella de Vil’s Fluffy:


8.) Barking. Because my neighbor’s dog is kind of annoying. Even though I know he/she just wants to get off the darn leash and go for a walk for once. Phew. Had to get that off my chest.

7.) Accidents in the house. Because, though I loved that little black cock-a-poo, Oliver made messes in the house throughout my childhood. Even when he reached doggy adulthood. He who used to run into the back screen door never learned right from wrong. In retrospect, he would have looked really cute in one of those doggy diapers. Human diapers may have even worked…he didn’t have much of a tail. Hmm…

6.) Wait –– I don’t have carpet. Huzzah! But this is supposed to be a con list. Whoops.

5.) What if she’s territorial? My boyfriend would probably have to sleep on an air mattress if my dog ends up anything like my brother’s golden retriever. And she would, of course, sleep in my bed with me. She’d be my little princess. She’d have a pretty green bed in the corner, but she’d never sleep in it because she’d be welcome on mine. It’s a queen. It’s definitely big enough.

4.) She’d take over my life. As seen in #5, I’d basically let her walk all over me. Which is what dog owners are supposed to do, right? They’re too cute to let down…

3.) No drinks right after work. Dorothy’s gotta go potty sometime.

2.) No weekend trips. Or a life, really. Because, like I said before, she’d take it over. She wouldn’t be like a cat whose food bowl I can fill and litter box I can clean. She’d be my version of a human baby, because God knows I’m not ready for that shit yet.

1.) I’m looking too hard. She needs to find me.

Hakuna Matata

My grandmother used to do fingernail inspections.

“Let’s see your nails,” she’d say whenever we had a free moment together.

She’d usually make a little clicking noise of disapproval with her tongue because, c’mon, I always bit my nails and often had dirt under their gnarly remains after playing outside with the boys.

She would make a clicking noise today.

Despite taking nail-health vitamins and frequently brushing on coats of nail strengthener, I’ve been snagging my fingernails on furniture and clothing while softening them beyond repair when I wash my dishes. Having braces forever cured me of biting my nails, but lately I’ve been taking the snagged edges and tearing at them with my fingers. The nail strengthener formula stung my exposed nailbeds just a bit ago as I brushed it on while sitting at my new kitchen island/table.

Sure, Grandma would make a clicking noise with her tongue today if she saw my fingernails, but I don’t need to worry about it. In fact, I don’t need to worry about anything. 

I have a job. I have a car. I have a roof over my head (AND A DECK AND A PORCH AND A WASHER AND DRYER AND A PARKING SPACE) and food in my pantry.

I don’t have a homework assignment due at midnight. I don’t have three projects to do and an exam to study for after I get done with work.

She’d make a clicking noise today at my fingernails, but that’s the only click of disapproval I’d get from her right now.

I’ve been sleeping deeply and dreaming –– DREAMING –– for the first time in years. I have no worries. The only clicking sound I hear now comes from my stovetop when I light one of the gas burners to make myself dinner.

Hakuna Matata.

Indefinitely growing up

Burning the “Boyfriend Box.”

Finding handwritten notes shaped like a triangle or artfully folded into a square and throwing them away without even reading them.

Not getting upset when your dad paints over the height measurements you –– at 13 –– and your ex boyfriend had recorded in brown Sharpie on your closet’s wooden frame.

Putting that sweater in the donate bin –– even though it still fits you –– because you’ve had it since eighth grade.

Realizing the book “How To Get Over the Nerd You Used To Call Your Boyfriend” your mom gave you when you’d been dumped at 13 isn’t relevant anymore because you can now just buy wine. And get drunk.

Reminiscing for two seconds when you find handwritten essays from your favorite high school English classes (and narcissistically admiring your own cursive)…then adding them to the burn pile.

Wondering why it was ever OK for your high school to give out martini glasses and beer mugs as prom favors while noticing you’d never put pictures in the engraved picture frame they gave out two years later when they finally smartened up (THE GLASSWARE PROMOTES UNDERAGE DRINKING, DUH) because, even then in your teenage naïveté, you probably figured you wouldn’t care about that prom date in a few years.

Throwing out bouquets of dried flowers. Bouquets of fake flowers. Bouquets of roses made of feathers. And a giant-ass Valentine’s Day card.

Rearranging your closet –– ridding it of porcelain dolls you find really creepy, making you wonder who got you interested in collecting them in the first place –– and finding just enough room for each article of clothing you own.

Settling in indefinitely
Going to a job interview.

Getting the job.

Looking for apartments on Craigslist.

Finding the perfect apartment.

Realizing everything you’d done in your childhood bedroom to settle in for the “long haul” has to be done all over again. This time more thoroughly.

Saying goodbye to more clothing that you’ve had since high school that you really don’t need.

Putting more tee shirts sporting your high school’s musical or play or event into the donate pile.

Preparing yourself for the number of complaints sure to come from your parents and brothers when they see just how much stuff you have to move.

Living for a few more days under your parents’ roof, under their care, under their security blanket.

Looking into buying a washer and dryer, a bed and more furniture for your place.

Growing up.

Fame to shame and back again

The high school’s athletic department spelled my last name wrong on my first-ever MVP plaque for varsity cross country in 2006. Trevor, the men’s MVP recipient and my then-senior-in-high-school brother, hadn’t noticed the misspelling on his own plaque.

The physical education teacher apologized profusely, taking them back and promising to have them redone.

34119_1433227322690_1029585_nThat plaque –– with my properly spelled last name –– hangs on the lime-green wall in my bedroom at my parents’ house… next to the 2010 version, and above the 2007, 2008 and 2009 versions. Five straight years; every season I ran for the varsity women’s team.

Under the 2010 cross country plaque begins a similar saga for track: 2008, 2010 and 2011.

I had no idea that, when I finally hung the plaques up last Christmas, they’d be taunting me in a year.

To shove my award-winning past down my throat even further, there are plaques for school records held and MVP plaques/sportsmanship awards for individual races/meets/seasons.

34579_1433228162711_6570496_nNow I find racing bibs, seed number stickers and individual metal spikes in my childhood bedroom and throw them out without a second thought or glance.

That 100-pound life of mine? It’s been over for more than two years since I decided to pursue a different kind of lifestyle in college. And I’ve found success –– a lot of success, actually –– but I’ve also let my body down.

I feel like shit probably 75 percent of the time now. My doctor says I’ve reached a healthy weight, proportional to my 5’2″ stature and the lifestyle I lead, but I’m reminiscent of those high metabolism days when eating my weight in food refracted on the scale instead of reflecting.

Achieving a healthy weight doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy with the loss of tone in my muscles, the weight gain in my face and –– while this may seem like a perk –– the need to buy new bras to support a larger cup size.

I’m fuller, more of the hourglass figure women so desperately want… but I’m about ready to trade it in.

I stopped running because I hated it, the running part, I mean. Not to mention the drama on my college cross country team (almost wrote “country” without the ‘o’…not on purpose, I swear!) and coaching methods I did not particularly agree with. Maybe building a method of my own and running on my schedule will be the breath of fresh, cold and wintry air my cabin fever needs in order to be sweated out. Not to mention the 10 pounds I’d really like to shed.

So I’ve invested $100 dollars in my new RUN-BECAUSE-IT’S-HEALTHY-FOR-YOU,-EMILY initiative.

$30 on new Sauconys (the comfiest running sneaker you’ll ever find; I snagged a deal at Dick’s).

$60 on a new sports bra (you pay a hefty price for…well…having a hefty chest).

$11 on bluetooth earbuds (originally $40; I had Amazon credit to use).

So screw you, lime-green wall.


‘Though years have fled and years shall flow’

My voice wavers during the Alma Mater, turning into my grandmother’s not-so-great singing voice I remember hearing during church services while growing up.

Think about Bradley. Think about those quotes that supposedly make you feel better about things being over. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Yeah. That crap. You paid thousands of dollars NOT TO CRY RIGHT NOW. So smile.

“WiTh mYrTle WrEAtH wE’ll DEcK thY bRoW,
bONA’s, oLd ST. BoNA’S.”

Remember when you were a junior in high school and your mom graduated in this very chapel? Think about that, Emily. She was smiling as she walked down the aisle. NOT crying. You’re FINE.

“The verdant leaves our love avow,
Bona’s, old ST. bONa’S.”

Okay, okay. Some of the other graduates around you aren’t singing. They kind of suck. Maybe they can’t find their programs? None of us actually learned this shit. You’re fine, Emily.

“Thy name was ever fair and bright:
We’ll keep it thus with memory’s light
And laud thy glorious Brown and White,
BONa’S, Ollld sT. BoNA’s.”

But seriously. WHAT THE HECK? I hadn’t planned to graduate this early. Haley, sitting two rows ahead of me with the purple-y hair…SHE’S ready. She’s been ready. She even said she felt bad for me because she commuted, so she doesn’t have the same connection to the school that I do. One more verse. One stanza away.

“Our HEaRts shAlL EVeR be thy shrine,
bONa’S, ollllLd St. BOnA’s.”

I remember coming in here and studying the stained glass windows for two different classes. One with Dr. Tate, and the other with Bob Donius. I think… Clare College is kind of a blur to me now. Thank goodness Denny had me take all those classes my freshman and sophomore years. I wish he were sitting right behind me instead of diagonally. He’d probably keep kicking my chair and distract me from the tears welling up in my eyes right now.

“Around thy name shall honor twine,
Bona’s, old St. Bona’s.”

When my freshman-year R.A. said this goes by way too fast, I honestly didn’t believe her. She said to take a lot of pictures. I hope I took enough pictures. 

E’er hallowed shall thy memory grow:

Shit. Here come the tears.

“WiTHin OuR SOulS tHy LoVE sHalL gloWw
BOnA’S, oOooLLd ST. BoNa’sS”

"Done," said the alumna.
“Done,” said the alumna.

The dreaded questions

“What are you going to do?”

“What are your plans?”

…the dreaded questions people from high school asked me last Wednesday night as I slowly sipped my Labatt Blue Light.

“I’d like to do this.

“I’ve applied to this place.”

“I’ve interviewed at this other place.” 

“I interned there.”

“I’ll live at home, eat my parents’ food, feed my parents’ and brother’s dogs and try not sink into a deep depression come late January when everyone goes back to school and I. Stay. Home. In my raspberry, sky blue, burnt orange and lime green 13-year-old bedroom.”

Finishes first LBL, excuses self (ESCAPES THE AWKWARD QUESTIONS), approaches bar, buys drink, leaves tip and takes a sip.

Rinse and repeat.

Answer more awkward questions, receive hugs from people I haven’t seen in four years and get talked up by my brother’s 27-year-old friends who *GASP* didn’t realize their friend’s little sister would become a full-fledged woman someday.

I don’t think I realized adulthood for me was on the horizon, either.

Finishes second LBL, excuses self (ESCAPES THE AWKWARD PICK-UP LINE-ESQUE CONVERSATIONS), approaches bar, buys drink, leaves tip and takes a sip.

By my fourth drink, I’m ready to leave the small-town bar and sleep in my childhood bedroom. I’ll figure this shit out eventually. Next time I go back there, I hope I have some answers.