Celebrating one year in San Diego

san diego 1 year collage

This week marks one year since we moved to San Diego, which means I’m edging on two years since I moved to California (Remember that little stint up in Paso Robles? A distant memory for me, too.). In some ways, it seems like I have always been here, and in others, it feels like I just arrived and everything is still fresh and new.

While there are definitely areas of my life that I’m still looking to fill (a few more friends, a partner, a place of my own), when I think about what I have done so far in this past year in my new city, I have to say, I’m pretty darn fortunate – and when it comes down to it, I’m also pretty happy. Having a pity party about not having it all right now can only last so long, and I once again give credit to my parents for helping me to see the light – and for reminding me that for the most part, the only obstacle in my way is myself. To have the flexibility and the freedom that I do, to really try to be true to myself and focus on my writing…well, not everyone has that option. As people say, things don’t happen for you, you have to make them happen for yourself.

But back to what I have done, thanks to this journey I’ve been on. One of the things I love most about living in San Diego is the priority on a balanced lifestyle. While it looks like all people do out here is surf and hike and bike and play with their dogs, I know that there are a lot of hard-working folks out here. But they really walk the talk when it comes to that “work hard, play hard” mantra. People do their jobs, but they also make time for themselves, and for friends and family. It’s just as important to make sure that you get a trail run or kayaking trip in on the weekend as it is to finish that project at the office.

As I continue to find the operational mode that works best for me (while I’m working from home), I’ve been able to have a lot more time for other things that I shied away from committing to when living on the East Coast. I avoided signing up for volunteering, I didn’t join any running or tennis groups, and I didn’t take up any new hobbies. Sure, I went to sporting events, and happy hours, and visited museums, and hung out with friends. But there were so many things I didn’t do that are now feeding my soul, and that I feel are helping me to continue on a road of self-discovery.

Some highlights:

  • I’ve run several races with my mom, and supported her as she became a runner in her own right. Bonus: some new PRs for me along the way.
  • Volunteering at the library has introduced to me to some lovely people, and expanded my literary horizons even further.
  • Tutoring middle school and high school students in English has taught me patience, creativity, and a lot about my own learning style.
  • Helping my parents with various home and garden projects has made me realize how much I love working with my hands, and the sense of productivity it brings. Which brings me to…
  • Teaching myself to knit after first buying a set of needles and yarn several years ago brings me joy from crafting things that others appreciate, and the act of knitting is a calming and fun experience.
  • Participating in activities like trail running, kayaking, SUPing, and getting back to tennis means I can enjoy San Diego’s beautiful outdoors and maintain fitness.
  • Meeting new friends of all ages and backgrounds through my various activities means common threads and a diverse set of relationships –> quality over quantity.
  • Speaking of quality: continued focused time with my family has made us closer than ever, as we all support each other in this phase of life.

Here’s to another great year ahead here at home.

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Finding my way back to writing

old writing

In January, I had the privilege of meeting an author of a historical fiction series about the Civil War. I read her first four books when I was about 12 years old, when she used a pen name and the series had a different name. A year or so ago, I discovered she had started the series again, under her original name, but with a new title. I saw that she engaged with her readers directly on Facebook, which is quite uncommon. She responds to people via email or social media more frequently and promptly than some of my friends or family. Anyway, as luck would have it, she was traveling to San Diego for a few days, and on a whim, I asked if she would be “around,” thinking we could meet. She suggested breakfast, and a few days later we spent two hours talking about reading, writing, growing up in the South, faith, and family. I left the breakfast knowing I had a new friend and mentor. She completely believed I had stories to tell, and that I needed to write them down. I was inspired, and I was going to write.

But I didn’t. Twice, she has asked me via email, “Are you writing, Jenna??” And I, embarrassingly, have not responded, because the truth is, I haven’t. Until now.

Since at least the third grade, if not before, I said I wanted to be an author when I grew up. In the early years, I wrote in spiral-bound notebooks, trying to come up with my own version of The Baby-Sitters Club, writing about best friends with luscious brown or blonde hair, one curly and one straight, of course. I wrote silly poems about boys that would never like me back – “he’s just not that into you” isn’t a new concept. I thought I could be like my first female author crush, Laura Ingalls Wilder, writing about my own family and our adventures (pioneering or not). I aspired to be at the level of Jane Austen, my second female author crush (LIW and Austen still top my list; you never forget your first loves), who wrote about the everyday stories of family, friends, love, and marriage with such eloquence and humor.

Some of you have read this story before. I went to college for journalism, writing feature and news stories, and adjusting my dream to become a star reporter for The Washington Post, only to shift gears and jump into digital communications and advocacy for nonprofits in DC, right at the time that blogging and social media really began to take off in a big way.

And nearly two years ago, I left DC after several successful and happy years, thinking I would try to “be a writer” again. But today, I find myself questioning what it really means to be something. Am I still a writer even though I haven’t blogged in more than two months until now? Am I still a writer even though I haven’t written anything that isn’t for a client in two months? Am I still a writer even though I don’t actively send out pitches to publications?

I’ve read enough books and blog posts, some by famous writers, and others who just would like to think they are famous, that sternly remind those of us “wannabes” that we need to write every day if we want to become better at our craft. That we need to “shut up and write” instead of talking about it. I’ve read Pressfield’s The War of Art, and know the demon of Resistance very well, and know I have to beat him at his own game.

In some sense, they’re right. Just like any other skill or hobby, you become better at it, or perhaps even master it, by practicing frequently, maybe every day. And there are days when you may like it, or days when you hate it, and you are counting down the minutes until you are done. I see this a lot when I read about running. As a kid, I hated running. I never thought I would become a runner. And even after my first couple of races, post-college, I still didn’t consider myself a runner. I didn’t have all the gear yet. I wasn’t fast. I didn’t run every day. I didn’t know all the runner jargon. But somewhere along the way, as I practiced and learned and even began to enjoy running, I finally called myself a runner. I get Runner’s World, I have the gear and clothes, and I use the jargon. I am faster, I am stronger, and I run more frequently. I’ll never become an elite, and I’ll probably never win a race. I don’t want to run every day. But I’m a runner because I run.

So why do I struggle so much with this concept when it comes to writing? Perhaps part of it is because there is a stigma around writing, all these expectations. You tell people you are a runner, and they don’t usually ask you if you’ve won any races. They may ask how many miles you typically run. But tell people that you’re a writer, and they want to know where you’ve been published, or if you’re writing the “next great American novel.” Not all runners are expected to be fast. But writers are expected to be good. And if I’m really honest with myself, I expect to be good.

A few weeks ago, I was one of two final candidates for an editor position at an alumni magazine. I wanted it so badly – it was the first job I’d seen in essentially all the time since I left DC that I thought I’d be perfect for, and that was in the direction I want to go. It came down to some very specific feedback about my writing – the headlines being part of it. I was pretty upset, as you might imagine. To be that close to something, and then have to start over, because my headlines weren’t up to snuff? Ouch.

Although I ultimately look at it as a lesson learned and a great experience, I also recognize that it was a blow to my ego, and perhaps has been a factor in extending my writing drought. I have quickly pushed aside ideas for stories and blog posts because I don’t think they’re interesting enough. I avoid sitting down in the morning or night to write because I don’t think what will come out will be good enough, even for me, much less for anyone else to read. So I knit. Or watch Netflix. Or do more crosswords. Anything but write. Because the nagging question deep inside me is quite possibly, “Am I a writer? Will I ever really be a writer?”

As I’m sitting here in a coffee shop with my laptop, I’m realizing that part of my challenge may be that I’ve taken to looking at writing as a chore, rather than something that I once so enjoyed. If I think about my evolution as a runner, it meant changing up my route, trying different running clothes and apps and shoes, and working on specific goals, like improving my time or besting a killer hill. I learned to stop looking at it as a thing I had to do, and instead something I wanted to do – it was fun, it was motivating, and I quickly learned all the little things that played a role in my growing passion for it.

So I think the same thing applies to my writing. It’s been a long time since I tried writing a poem, or wrote real fiction, or something that wasn’t within the themes of this blog. And clearly, I needed to get out of the house for the words to start pouring of me, so now I know that for me, I get inspiration and motivation from changing my location. When I began to see changes in my running, and ultimately, changes in my body and in my frame of mine, running became more enjoyable, and more…flowing. It’s time to get back into that spirit with writing again. It’s time to be a writer, not to be a best-selling author or to win any awards or to make other people proud. It’s time to be a writer because I like to write. And that’s who I want to be.

What have I done in one year?

whiteboard

 

A week ago was my one-year anniversary since arriving in California. When I stepped off the plane, I was excited to spend a few months in Central Coast’s wine country with my parents before diving into being a writer and consultant full-time. I figured I would end up in San Francisco, and life would be somewhat similar to what it was in DC, but with enough changes to suit my needs.

Talk about a change of plans.

A month in, I wondered if I was crazy for leaving a city I loved, a great job, and many friends. Three months in, after a visit back to DC, I was more comfortable with my decision, but wasn’t so sure about the plan to write full-time. Six months in, I had become a bit of a red wine snob, read more books than in the previous two years combined, and still had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up.

That’s when I threw all plans out the window.

My parents and I started going stir-crazy at the same time, and as a family, we decided to move to San Diego. They had lived here for two years previous to Paso Robles, and I had enjoyed my visits, so I said, why not? Nothing else was calling to me, and it made the most sense. Who could turn down beaches and consistent sunshine?

So I’m here now, and still not quite sure what’s next. Sure, I’ve been writing, doing a fair amount of consulting (I still need an income), and still running and reading more than ever. But what’s next? There are days when I look at this past year and wonder what the hell I’ve been doing, and where I’m going. There are many days when I wonder if I’ll make friends like the ones I had before, and others when I realize I may not quite want all the friends I had before. I question why I can’t figure out what I want to do, and wonder if I’m making it too hard.

And yet, it’s easy to get comfortable. It’s easy to become okay with being stuck, to not make any movement, because it’s not as scary as making things happen. Which is what got me here in the first place, right? If I had stayed in DC, doing what I was doing…would I have grown? Would I know what I know now about my relationships, about my interests, about what and who makes me tick? Probably not.

My biggest weakness is still my fear of things not happening in the way that I imagined them for so long. The fear of turning 30 and still not having met the love of my life, of still living with my parents and not figuring out my career, and of starting over. But then I remind myself that my parents essentially did this very thing (for the most part) – they changed careers, they found love again, they moved and started over. A few times, in fact. And they made it work, far beyond what they ever imagined.

So it’s been a year and I haven’t figured it out yet. My ideas and feelings and passions are a bunch of sticky notes on a whiteboard. But what have I done? Run hundreds of miles, read dozens of books, written thousands of words, reconnected with people from my past, and imagined a few new ways to live.When you look at it that way, I’ve done a lot.

Here’s to year two of my new life. Surprise me.

Honing in on my soul mission

Miraval

A few weeks ago, my mom and I were guests at a spa resort at in the Arizona desert called Miraval, known for its focus on mindful living. My mom had been a few times before, so experiencing this place she loves with her for the first time was long-awaited—not to mention, everything I expected and more. The food, the staff, the destination and the activities were all incredible. It really was the perfect mother-daughter bonding trip to start the new year, and the timing was perfectly on point. It was a nice, lengthy pause to reflect on all that I’ve done in the last year and to think about all of the great things to come.

As I’m inching my way toward my next steps in this journey I’ve been on since I moved across the country in May of 2013, Miraval’s emphasis on wellness in mind, body and spirit really resonated with me. I returned home with a few things to think about; things that I think are worth sharing for anyone practicing mindfulness and doing some soul-searching.

1. What you’re good at isn’t always what brings you the most joy.

This may seem obvious, but many of us gloss over the distinction between our talents and what Miraval’s wellness guru Tejpal calls our gifts. There are things we’re really good at, perhaps so much so it’s a job, but that doesn’t mean it makes us happy. And so goes for the things that we may not be that good at, but it brings us joy and inspires us to give back.

Our gifts and our talents may overlap a little, but to really find the answer, Tejpal suggests an exercise ofjournaling for 40 consecutive days, honestly asking ourselves, “What is my gift?” I have some ideas, but I’m going to start it this week and get to the heart of it.

2. Fear and uncertainty are a part of all unknown adventures. Acknowledge and embrace it, then move through it.

I’ve always loved adrenaline-inducing activities like skydiving, zip lining and roller coasters. But my mom’s not a big fan. While I’m having fun, she’s often terrified of the speed and the heights and the sheer uncertainty of it all. At Miraval, we participated in some group challenge activities and talked through our fears and how we hope to learn and grow from them.

For me, I think I often yearn for those big physical risks to counter my fears to take leaps in the rest of my life. I was reminded during those activities that the anxiety, exhilaration and breathlessness that I feel in quick succession is not unlike what it feels like to let go and swing when going forward in discovering our passion.

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In 2014, I won’t…

journal

Right now, a lot of people are blogging about their resolutions or goals for 2014, or recapping 2013 highlights and lessons learned. I feel like I’ve already covered a lot of lessons learned in in the last several months on this blog, since I prepared to leave DC and move to California. (If you’re new to this blog, start here to get caught up on that story). I think most of the highlights have been covered as well. So I thought I would take a little bit of a different route this time and write about things that I won’t be doing in 2014. I wouldn’t say I am “resolving” not to do them, but I’ll at least be more mindful about these things and give it my best. After all, that’s all we can ask of ourselves, right?

In 2014, I won’t…

…limit myself to the things that I did before, because “that’s the way it was.” I won’t stay on the same path just because that’s where I started.

…put off something because it’s hard or because I’m not familiar with it. I won’t say “I don’t know how.”

…forget that going with my gut is often the right answer. I won’t ignore the things that continue to resonate with me in spite of everything else.

…let other people’s behaviors and choices stop me from being the best person I can be. I won’t change my standards or principles to win over others.

…let my past get in the way of my future, or my future get in the way of my present. I won’t let the bad “what ifs” ruin the good ones.

…stop trying to get to what I want, need, and deserve. I won’t let perceived deadlines, expectations, and pressures distort reality, or my dreams.

What won’t you do in 2014?