Life Lessons From A Giant Spider Attack or Pull Yourself Together And Stop F’ing Crying

If you don’t know Anne Taintor, you totally should!

Let me set the scene for you, it’s a beautiful day and I’m driving to the gym. I decide to roll down the window. That’s when a spider the size of a small dog dropped down and was swinging in and out of the car right at my eye level. I tried to roll the window back up, but, of course, that trapped us in the car together. I pulled over. “Pulled over” sounds calm and rational. What I did was more like swerve wildly while yelling, “OH GOD!!!!!!!” at the top of my lungs until I eventually stopped pretty much in the middle of the street.

I flung the door open and thought maybe I could knock it down with my foot. Yeah, I hit the spider into the car and it started crawling in the window switches. Oh hell no. Big ass spider gets in, I get out.

Standing next to my spider infested car, I was completely clueless as to what to do. I was really prepared to just let the spider have the car, because clearly he wanted it more then I did. People would probably be understanding. “Hey, did you get a new car?” “Yeah, spider the size of a toddler wanted the other one.” “Oh, yeah. That happened to my cousin.”

Approximate size of spider

But I knew that wouldn’t work. So, I tried to calm my abject terror and opened the door. To my surprise, the spider wasn’t behind the wheel about to drive off. He was crawling next to the seat on his way to the pedals and I squashed him with my shoe. VICTORY WAS MINE!

So the lesson to me was: even though you think the giant spider is going to eat your face off,  if remove yourself from the situation for a minute and regroup then you can find a new way to attack the problem.

“Beth, did you ever get the opportunity to apply this lesson outside of this death defying spider incident?”

As a matter of fact, I did! So glad you asked!

Recently, someone told me that my goal of being a graphic designer probably isn’t going to happen like I expect and I should reconsider. I listened and smiled politely during the thirty plus minute run down of all the reasons why I was not cutout to be a designer all while going from dumbfounded to profoundly sad inside. They may as well have said, “You know all the time, the money, the sleep, etc. you sacrificed to go back to school? Totally wasted.” As the day went on, my feelings snowballed until I finally decided they were right. I was pulling the graphic design car over, getting out and letting the spider have it. I had been defeated and I was done trying. I kept hearing my teacher’s voice in my head telling me, “Don’t let them see you cry. You can cry here, in my office, but never do it out there,” and managed to keep it together.

It was sorta like this. “Look, Lisa. If you look closely you can actually pinpoint the exact moment his heart breaks in two.”

The next day when I was removed from the situation, something inside shifted. I went from profound sadness to anger. I turned into one of those girls on Maury Povich shouting, “Whatever! You don’t know me! I do what I want!”  This person does not get to tell me when to give up. It’s not like I want to play in the NBA or become a ballerina (but you better believe I would rock the shit out of the Nutcracker). I’ve only been out of school for 3 months, so of course I still have a lot to learn. I may never be Stefan Sagmeister or Louise Fili, but I will keep learning and improving. I will get where I want to go, because I am either too smart or too stupid to stop and I absolutely refuse to hand the keys to my ambitions over to someone who doesn’t deserve them. No one but me gets to decide when I am finished.

Truth be told, I’m always happiest and at my best when I’m fighting against something. So, Captain Bringdown, thanks for the motivation and, one more thing before I go:

BOOM.

“Do The Work” or The Wisdom of Freddie Rumsen

Sometimes you hear what you need from the weirdest places. This one ends happy and is short, I promise. There’s even some bad language!

I’ve been walking around feeling incredibly sorry for myself lately. The intern/job search isn’t going as expected (yet) and getting all those, “Thank you for applying, APPLICANT NAME HERE” e-mails starts to wear on you around #10 or so. And someone, whose name sound an awful lot like Teth Trousil, may have made an ass out of herself crying her in favorite teacher’s office not once, but twice in one week.

Anyway, in case you didn’t know, I’m a huge Mad Men fan. When I talk to people about Don, Joan, and Peggy, I’ve been told more then once, “Beth, you know it’s not a documentary, right?” Those people are jerks. So, last night we see our hero, Don Draper, at pretty much the lowest point of his life. Without going into too much detail, he got drunk in the office, a coworker, Freddie Rumsen (a recovering alcoholic) snuck him out and he passed out on his couch. Knowing Don is basically rebelling against the rules put in place by the company to keep him on the straight and narrow or get him fired (google it if you’re interested, I’m trying to keep this short), Freddie says to Don:

“I mean, are you just going to kill yourself? Give them what they want? Or go in your bedroom, get in your uniform, fix your bayonet, and hit the parade? Do the work, Don.” 

If I were wearing pearls I would have clutched them.

It made me think of the book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (which you must read and by “you” I mean, “everyone in the universe”). I’ve been so focused on the wrong things and letting my setbacks, which aren’t even really setbacks, define me. In the season premiere, Peggy locked her door and dropped to her knees with this cry of anguish and I almost cried, too, because, well, let’s just say I could relate.

But Freddy and Steven Pressfield are right: the only way out is through. You sit down, do the work, and you show them what the fuck they are missing. You show them why you are great. Not were great or could be great, but ARE great. Because no one else is going to believe it, if you don’t believe it first.

I’m kind of scared about what comes now that school is almost over. By “kind of,” I of course mean, “extremely,” because long-time readers know that I’m pretty much scared of everything. But I have to believe that if the universe has gotten me this far, that it wouldn’t abandon me now. Maybe I should think of this as the calm before the storm? Wait…that sounds a little awful. Hm…maybe I should work on my cliches while I have some free time.

Anyone Seen the Track???

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Our Lady of Forgotten Sorrows and Unwritten Songs
“O, our Lady of Forgotten Sorrows and Unwritten songs, pray for us sinners, though we are unworthy. May all our endeavors contain His graceful spark of creation while serving the highest good. Help us never forget that our sorrows are temporary and our ultimate glory, though a mystery to us, is well-known to our Divine Protector. Amen.”

I’ve been off track lately. I don’t even think I was in the same zip code as the track. But the worst part was, I didn’t even realize it. You know when you are walking with someone, they stop, but you don’t notice and keep talking and walking like they are still right there with you? Yeah, that was me, but whoever I was walking with stopped like 8 miles ago. After a shitty week, approximately 35 pounds of Halloween candy and a few sucky conversations, I finally realized I was not handling things as best I knew how. But the good thing about this life is that every moment is a chance to start again.

Last semester I was so stressed with my classes, intern search and other things. I let it get under my skin and let it interfere with life in general. So this semester I thought, “Well, I’m not going to do that again! I’m not going to be stressed out and I’m not going to let people get to me and I’m not going to let anything deter my awesome time.”   On the surface this sounds fine, but I realized what I was doing was putting a big ol’ spotlight on the things that I didn’t want and giving them my energy, instead of focusing on what I do want and giving that my energy. I was playing defense instead of offense.

Knowing what you don’t want is super important, but use it to create positive thing. Instead of thinking, “I don’t want to be stressed,” I should have been thinking, “I can handle anything that comes at me. I got this,” and putting my energy into that. If you’re making a cake and your eggs are expired, your flour has bugs in it and you dropped the butter on the sidewalk and now it has all kinds of rocks, glass and questionable substances in it- your cake is going to suck. My cake was sucking hardcore.

But there was one good thing that came out of everything! Well, more then one, but we are just talking about one right now. When I was in the midst of crap I wanted to channel it into something. I realized I hadn’t done a collage in a long time, so I searched my old-timey graphics, found these gorgeous bug illustrations, and that inspired the collage at the start of the post. I also used it for a pop-up card project in my 3D design class. The photo reminded me of a holy card, so I wrote a little story about her and that prayer to go with it. It makes a better illustration then pop-up card, but I’m pretty happy with it. To me a “forgotten sorrow” is something that seemed completely devastating at the time, but later we see that had the situation not unfolded exactly the way it did, we never would have been able to move on to something better.

Sometimes I’ll see these projects from my classmates and I’ll think that the project is so personal, that I almost feel uncomfortable looking at them. In my mind I’m thinking, “Oh crap. Danger! Danger! What do I do?? Where do I look??” It’s like walking in on someone in the bathroom. Usually I just say something like, “Looks great! Nice use of color!”, don’t think about it too much and move on to the next thing. I think this is one of those projects. Don’t analyze it- or me- too much. We’ll just move on to the next thing.

Until next time!

-Beth

We’re Always Networking

IMG_20130727_114631I know I write a lot of posts about networking, but I have a good reason- I royally suck at it. I go to these networking events and end up hanging out by the free alcohol, which you would think would grease the wheels a little, but it totally doesn’t. All that happens when I drink is I believe I’m a criminal mastermind who absolutely MUST engineer a mustard bottle heist (while maniacally giggling) and I (badly) lip sync to every song whether I know the words or not. Oh and I’ll probably tell you this one story about dancing on hay bales just so I can do the hay bale dance. These things are mildly entertaining (at least to me), but they don’t make a good networking strategy. So, I’m always striving to be a better networker- reading books, articles, and painfully slowly trying things out.

One thing I read that really struck me is that we’re always networking whether we realize it or not. Just interacting with people is networking. How your present yourself on a day-to-day basis is so important and so often forgotten. I know I forgot it for a very long time. I don’t mean how you dress or anything. I mean just being the type of person you would want to work with. You know that saying, “Be the change you want to see in the world”? Well, be the type of person you would want to help out.  No one is saying you have to be super freaky happy all the time or a constant damsel in distress. Then people just start to think you have a drug problem or are trying to convert them to your religion. A guy at my old job was super freaky happy all the time. Turned out he was stealing things out of people’s lunches. Be genuinely you, because you’re awesome. Being genuine, helpful, and hard-working- and not stealing from the fridge- go a very long way.

I think we all know people who are extremely good at what they do. Sometimes those people are nice, flexible and it’s a joy to work with them. Sometimes they are anything but those things and you’d rather jab your eardrums with a rusty nail then work with them. Now let’s say you are in a position to help someone career-wise who are you going to help? Fun and Flexible or Eardrum Jabber? Even if their skills weren’t quite as good as Eardrum Jabber, we’d all probably rather help out Fun and Flexible.

We can’t just wait until we’re ready to make some kind of change to decide, “Oh, okay, I think I’ll stop being a jerk now that I need help from people.” If you are going to be a jerk, then own that, but realize you’re probably going to go it alone. Some people prefer that and it really isn’t a big deal to them. For me, though, I’ve found that it’s a much easier road if you’ve got some people who genuinely want to help you out.

Not everyone is going to like you. Not everyone is going to be happy when good things happen for you. People are going to try to undermine you and some people you’ll be friendly with just because it’s better then being their enemy. But they’re the exceptions. Most people are nice and kind and want to help others out just because it feels great to help people.

One of my favorite quotes is from Conan O’Brien. “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen.”

Now enjoy this unrelated musical interlude from The Beastie Boys. I’ll be over here doing my hay bale dance.

Beth’s Guide to Weight Loss…or Something

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I realized I’ve lost 70 pounds. You would think that would be a little hard to miss, but if you’ve read here before then you know I’m not always on speaking terms with obvious. What made it less obvious is that it was slowly over a lot of years and had many stalls and restarts and twists and turns and jumping off one path and on to another…and I’m still not done. I’ve got about 30-40 pounds to go. But slowly is better then never and time is going to pass regardless.

I’ve always been somewhere between chubby and sideshow fat lady (with my Greek genes I’m just glad I’m not the bearded lady) and have tried just about every weight loss plan known to man, both healthy and not so healthy. Really, if you want to know how to lose weight, ask a fat person, because we’ve tried them all- for a few hours at least.

If I could impart one bit of wisdom to those who want to eat healthier or lose weight it would be this:

WRITE DOWN WHAT YOU ARE EATING. 

Most of us are eating way more and way more junk then we realize. When I first started this whole thing, I went to Weight Watchers (which is a great program) and the weeks that I had the biggest losses were weeks that I religiously wrote down every single bite that went in my mouth.

I’ve recently been using My Fitness Pal, which is a website and app that helps you record your exercise and calories/food to achieve your fitness goals. I was only using it to track my exercise and one day thought, “Hmm…I should put my food for a few days just to see.” Dear God! No wonder I haven’t lost any weight lately! Low carb/high protein works best for me and I was hardly getting any protein and my carbs were TWICE what I thought they were. Now I’m trying to kick my 2 a day Kind Bar habit because I was getting a ridiculous amount of carbs from that alone. I guess it shouldn’t be shocking- the good ones are all coated in chocolate. See what I mean about me and obvious not always getting together?

Another little bit of wisdom I wish someone would have told me years ago:

Just because you are working out, don’t expect to lose more weight. 

Maybe it’s just me, but when I exercise my weight loss slows to a crawl. I have no idea why, but it happens to me every single time. But take heart! There is a way to still see some progress without using the scale. Take measurements! Waist, hips, chest, calf, arm and thigh- or any part you are interested in and measure every one or two weeks. Since I’ve started doing the weight machines, I’ve already lost an inch off my waist and a half inch off my hips. Considering I don’t have much of a waist, that is huge for me.

My last little bit of wisdom:

You can only get what you want by moving outside of your comfort zone.

I am so guilty of this and I know I am not alone, because I see it all the time in the gym and life in general. We only go so far and then it’s like we hit an invisible barrier. “Eh…that’s good enough” and stop. Some book I read said something like the most effective leaders are the ones who are comfortable going into the unknown. Because that’s what it’s about really, isn’t it? That fear that we might fail or, God forbid, succeed and then what? Will people cheer us? Or abandon us? Or maybe they’ll expect us to always succeed and what if we can’t live up to our own new standard? So it seems easier to remain where we are. But if you really want something, the only way to get it is to tell those voices to cram it, push forward into that unknown and take it. It’s hard, scary and takes commitment, but if you want it bad enough then that’s what it takes. It is the rare person who is handed everything they want with no work. Besides, you don’t want to be that person, because everyone hates those people and we like you!

Have a great week!

The Gym Is Not Always Torture (But It Sorta Is)

Juvenile-Harrys-Ladder-to-Learning-66I love my gym. Oh, I still hate working out about 75% of the time,  but my gym is non-stop entertainment. It’s as if Wal-Mart had a gym. In general I try to keep my head down, avoid eye contact  and be as completely unassuming as possible. I figure I don’t want to anyone judging me, so I try not to judge anyone else. We’re all there for the same reason, because we want to workout and are poor and/or cheap. But sometimes it’s hard not to notice the, um, “eccentricities” of the other exercisers.

I always wonder if the world is full of weirdos, if I just notice all the weirdos, or if eventually we are all the weirdos. Yesterday when I was using the torture chamber known as the overhead tricep extension machine (seriously, look at this thing, why did I think it was a good idea?) and repeatedly hitting myself in the head with the handles while trying to adjust the weights, I’m pretty sure I was the weirdo. But at least I wasn’t the guy who never uses any equipment, wanders the entire perimeter of the gym (in jeans) over and over while swinging his arms like a windmill on the loose during category 5 hurricane. I can’t take my eyes off him because I keep trying to figure out if there is a pattern to his flailings and he’s on to some new super arm workout that the rest of us haven’t caught on to yet. I don’t know how he hasn’t knocked anyone unconscious.

My gym is divided up into four sections, which I’m guessing is probably the same as most gyms: the cardio area (treadmills, ellipticals, etc.), strength training machines (lat pull, thigh abductor, etc.), free weights (dumbbells, weight benches), and a big open area for things like kettle bells, those big stability bouncy ball things, and whatever other lunacy personal trainers are inflicting on people these days.

Until recently I never ventured out of the cardio area, which has it’s own form of crazy. Like the girl who runs on the treadmill in flip flops, the guy who randomly yells out, “WHOOOOOOO!!!!” on the elliptical machine (and looks like a forgotten member of an 80’s glamrock band), or the guy who cranks the treadmill speed up to 15 mph, lifts himself up on to the side rails and just touches the belt with his tippy toes. Closely related to him is  the 75 year old lady who puts the incline up to 900% (approximately), the speed up to 88 mph (approximately) and then hangs on for dear life like she is going to shoot off through a hole in time and space. I wouldn’t even have noticed her except for the fact that she glares at everyone like we were trying to steal her man. I accidentally made eye contact with her once on the way to the locker room and she gave me such a, “Bitch, what is your problem?” look that I was both horrified and impressed.
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I’ve lost over 50 pounds (it’s not as impressive as it sounds, I’m still chunky) and need to firm up. So, I broke out of my cardio comfort zone and into the strength training machine area. This doesn’t sound like a huge deal, but if you’ve been reading here for any length of time, then you know that I am scared of everything new. But I psyched myself up and did it and actually love it (I blame all the blows to the head from the tricep extension machine). I’m an Amazon who puts muscle on fast. In old-timey days, I would have been prized on the farm (my parents could have got 6 cows, a spinning wheel AND a goat in exchange for me) and if I were born on the East Coast or was smart enough to go to an Ivy League school, I’d have been perfect for a rowing team. I guess strength training should have been an obvious fit, but sometimes it takes me and obvious a while to hook up.

In the process of venturing into a new area, there’s a whole other world of odd. Like the man who does one rep on every single machine or the lady who wore a full prairie skirt, poncho, Olivia Newton-John “Let’s Get Physical” headband, and metallic silver high tops on the thigh abductor. By the way, how absolutely awesome a name is “thigh abductor”? It’s like it’s going to steal your flabby thighs and leave nice toned ones in their place, like a super fit Santa from Heaven.

Anyway, I’ve noticed that this strange phenomenon of people sitting on the machines. I don’t mean resting between sets, I mean just sitting there like it’s a loveseat at Costco. If it were only one person I’d think they needed a longer rest, but over the last few days I’ve seen about 6 people, who, unless we are working out at exactly the same pace, are just sitting at the machines, not using them at all. What are they doing? I can only check Facebook and fake text so many times and after about 8 seconds I’m out of things to do between sets.  Nothing that calls itself a “seat” at the gym is comfortable (they all seem to be designed to go up your crack and/or correct spinal alignment), so I can’t imagine sitting there when I don’t have to. There is no view of the TVs or even really anything except other machines.

We can see the free weight area a little, but if there is any spot I try to avoid even looking at, it’s the free weight area or as I call it, “The Yard.” There are a few guys who I am pretty sure honed their physiques at the finest correctional institutions and, based on the faces and noises they make, should add more fiber and water to their diets.  On the rare chance I see a woman over there I think she is either a super tough chick like in a Quentin Tarantino movie and could kick all our asses five ways till Sunday or needs to be rescued and I should secure a safe house. So, barring anymore strength training machine blows to the head or daring rescue attempts, I’ll be staying out of The Yard.

The Harder I Work The Luckier I Get or, “Congratulations. I Suck.”

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Lately I’ve been thinking about that saying, “The harder I work the luckier I get.” Trying to decide if it’s truth or a crock. I know many, many hard working people who can’t break through to a level they consider successful and others who seem to glide through life getting nothing but green lights, good parking spaces, hot partners and people waiting to throw cash at them.

I was talking with some classmates when one brought up the website of an artist he personally knew. He saw that this other artist’s career had kind of taken off in a way he didn’t realize and his words were something to the effect of, “What the….? Sonnofabitch!” Even though he respected her talents, seemed to personally like her, and was happy for her success it still made him a bit jealous and sad. Now, you have to know that my classmate is someone I, my classmates and teachers are universally jealous of his talents and who also works extremely hard. During critiques the comment he gets most is, “Wow! How did you do that?” So, it kind of caught me off guard. All I could say was that I understood. It’s that sick feeling of being happy for their success, disappointment with yourself, puzzlement, and a healthy dose of guilt for being a jealous douchebag to a friend you sincerely do want good things for. Things seem to come incredibly easy to some people.

But situations look so different from the inside. We don’t always get to see how hard someone works behind the scenes. From our point of view, it could just look like they are breezing through life collecting accolades with a four-leaf clover, rabbit’s foot, horseshoe, pot o’gold and three 7’s tattooed on their charmed butts. BUT we don’t see the hours of work they put in or the sacrifices they make so that make their successes appears effortless. We aren’t privy to the times they may have thought, “When is it my turn?” when everyone else around them seemed to have everything going their way.

I guess in the end, I have to believe that, “The harder I work the luckier I get” is truth, because, well…I just have to. It’s putting every single ounce of faith into yourself, knowing those hard days caused you to grow in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise and not stopping until you can look around and say, “See? I knew I could.”

Coming up on Friday, the thrilling conclusion to the work in progress a few weeks ago. Tantalizing teaser, it came out a billion times better then I imagined and it’s probably my most favorite thing I’ve created. Til then, enjoy this super depressing Ray LaMontagne song, Let It Be Me, that sums up those feelings when your faith seems to shake a little.