Dreaming of the past and the future

"A connection between past and future"
Photo credit: gioiadeantoniis

The dreams keep coming. In them, people from my past filter through modern scenes – high school classmates, estranged family members, ex-boyfriends. Some meetings are awkward, some are familiar and comforting, some are wishful thinking. But almost every night for the last week, visions of my previous life have visited my dreams, making my days full of reflection and curiosity.

It’s not the first time this has happened, but why so much all at once? I suppose it’s fitting in this sabbatical I’ve been on for the last three months and counting. It fits right in with my only somewhat newly rekindled relationship with my grandparents that I hadn’t regularly spoken to or seen in more than 10 years. Or emails I’ve received from other relationships gone dry for various reasons throughout time. Or maybe because like they say, the past can be the key to your future?

For me, my past and the memories that go with it have always been a huge part of who I am. I review old diary entries, pull out photo albums again and again, and read letters and cards from loved ones that I first received years ago. A lot of what’s in my past, and who is in my past, have led to decisions I’ve made as an adult – some good, some bad. I’ve let my past run me over, and I’ve let my past remind me of what could be different in my present and my future. And like many others, I sometimes revisit my past when I shouldn’t, even though I know it will hurt me, again.

But more and more these days, I’m realizing that there’s a way to get closure with your past that doesn’t have to involve tears or fights or disappointment. And again, maybe because of this transition phase I’ve been in, I’ve given a lot more thought to who and what from my past I want to include in my life moving forward. Even if I decide that someone doesn’t necessarily need to play a role like they once did, I’ve found ways to acknowledge them and their impact on my life in a way that provides meaning to me, and makes me feel good about it, and I think and hope, for them.

But just because people appear in my dreams, doesn’t mean I’m compelled to reach out to them and reconnect. Sometimes, it just means I’m thinking about them and wish them well, or I am remembering happier times. And I know that as I continue to take the next steps in this journey I’m on, wherever I go, whatever I do, there will be even more people that are in my present life now that will end up in my past. That part I’m still a little worried about, because even now, it’s tough dealing with a loss of connection with friends I just left behind in DC a few months ago. But that’s what comes with moving and life changes of course. Perhaps they’ll be appearing in my dreams in the year to come.

New beginnings: California, here I come

East Coast to West Coast
East Coast to West Coast

I’ve been thinking about what to say in this blog post for a few months, maybe even more, since the idea first started forming in my head. And in the last couple of weeks, saying it out loud and in emails have made it more and more of a reality, but somehow, saying it on this dear old blog of mine that I’ve been writing for six years is what’s going to really do it for me… so I’ll just say it:

I’m leaving DC, moving to California, and pursuing my lifelong dream of being a writer. And I’m doing it just short of two months from now.

For many of you on the inside circle of my life, this isn’t a surprise. You know the story, or you at least knew it was a spark of an idea at one point. To you, I say thanks for listening, and thanks for challenging me to go for it.

But let’s back up a bit to the beginning. I moved to DC in February of 2007, a semester early out of college, and raring to get started in the city I had pined for since my first visit at 12 years old. “I’m going to move there someday,” I told my parents. “I’m going to write for The Washington Post.”

Fast forward about 10 years — I still wanted to move there, but I was also debating giving magazines a shot in New York City. “Newspapers aren’t hiring,” I told my parents. “So I’ll get some other writing job, and maybe do advocacy work.”

Six years later, I’ve had some of the most amazing career experiences anyone could want. My first job was at a top PR agency, my second had me meeting Ted Turner and Rick Reilly and kids who wanted nothing more than to prevent malaria and help girls go to school. And in my most recent job, I’ve worked with some of the smartest, most connected, and creative people I’ve ever met — all of us inspired by our two fearless leaders who have made the communications, technology, and philanthropy worlds a better and cooler space.

I wouldn’t give any of it back, not for a second. But it’s not my dream. In a “book” I wrote for school at nine years old, my bio said, “Jenna’s favorite food is macaroni and cheese, her favorite movie is The Sound of Music, and she wants to be an author or a teacher when she grows up.” Nineteen years later when I started to think about what I wanted next in my life, I realized it was all still true…but I wasn’t doing a very good job at really pursuing that last piece. Sure, I write this blog, and I write for my employers’ blogs. But Tweets and email marketing don’t make a writer — at least not the type of writer I always wanted to be.

I’m not heading off to another job. I’m not going back to newspapers, and I’m not running off to write the next 50 Shades or Harry Potter. What I will write for, and what I will write about may cover the extremes — health and food, and culture and family, and love and life…I’ll figure it out. What will matter most is that I will be giving it a shot, the shot that I swept under the rug when I left school because I thought I wouldn’t get hired as a journalist, because it seemed silly to try to actually get a career doing what I did for so many nights at the school paper.

About three years ago, a friend on his own journey to figure out his next step asked me what my perfect day looked like. I couldn’t answer him then. But when my dad asked me two months ago, my mind started churning, and within 24 hours and a couple of conversations with friends later, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And that I wanted to do it now.

So why California? There are two reasons; one is more simple, one is harder to explain. The first is family. Anyone who knows me knows how close I am to my parents. As an only child, they are my best friends and my rocks. With my extended family in Louisiana and no other obligations, the idea of being near them for the next chapter of my life makes me feel whole and happy. And the fact that they now live on a ranchette in the middle of wine country doesn’t hurt. And that they have another Corgi coming to join McGee.

The second reason — it’s just time for a change. I love DC, I love my job, and I love my friends. But for the last couple of years I’ve been feeling restless, and I knew a scenery change was imminent — it was just a matter of figuring out what I wanted to do. I could write here in DC, sure. I could do a lot of things here, though, and since factor number one is pretty important, factor two makes it easy to make the switch. There’s something in my bones telling me that California will suit who I am as a person, and bring a sense of place to me that I was starting to miss here in DC, without family, without a companion, without a dog.

So that’s the story, for now. There is so much more I could say about my friends here in DC, about what’s next, and how I came to this decision. And I will say it — in this blog, and to you, if you’d like to know more. And of course, I’ll be writing about this journey, fittingly, a journey to be fearless, and a journey back to the person I wanted to be as a nine-year-old little girl.

Thank you to everyone who has made me feel like my dreams are worth pursuing. I’m ready to find out what happens next!

Do you doubt yourself before you’ve even started?

I knew I wanted to write about this, but I didn’t know the title until one of the new trainers on The Biggest Loser said it to a contestant tonight. Aha! I said.

But realizing that the answer to that question is often yes for me is not quite as fun. If you’re already feeling bluesy about your body before you get to work, the answer is YES, you doubt yourself before you’ve even started. If you worry about messing up a project before you’ve even written out the plan, the answer is YES, you doubt yourself before you’ve started. If you hear news of a friend or cousin getting engaged and think, it will never be my turn, then YES, you doubt yourself before you’ve started.

Of course the “you” in this story is me. But maybe it is you, too. I want to wake up each day and feel motivated and inspired and happy with who I am, but a few days a week, I’m feeling the exact opposite. I’m annoyed with everything and everyone, I don’t trust that I’ll succeed, I don’t believe that I’m valued and needed as a coworker, a friend, a daughter. And I want to go to bed feeling motivated, inspired, and happy with who I am, too. I want to know and believe that I’m loved by many people, that I’ve got plenty of opportunity ahead, that life is full of so many surprises and challenges, just waiting for me.

If I don’t doubt myself before I’ve even started the day, life would be so much easier. Don’t you agree?

On The Biggest Loser, these contestants are trying to lose dozens, maybe hundreds of pounds. Some of them have been affected by tragedy or trauma. Some of them have lived a life of doubt, shooting themselves in the foot before they even allow themselves to have a dream, much less go after it. I watch these people, and I the trainers asking them why they doubt themselves, why they fear becoming someone accomplished and great and loved and healthy. I shake my head, I say, come on – get with the program! Get rid of all the crap floating around in your head and be a believer – be someone who believes in yourself.

I suppose that even though I’m not on a reality show trying to lose weight, I could do that, too. Could you?


(*Looks like The Biggest Loser is making an impact on the bodies and minds of more than just the contestants on the show, according to this NPR piece)

The Why & the How

Once the conversation is started on a big (HUGE), issue that runs deep and wide, has stretched through your heart and mind and soul for years, and become a part of your very existence, you wonder when it will ever be closed. If it involves someone close to you, someone that is always going to be a part of your life, and always has been, or has for most of it, it’s even more of a question – when are all the questions answered? What questions can we ask? How does this end?

Sometimes, it never ends. Sometimes, just when you think it’s beginning, it’s ending. The hardest part though is knowing what you’re trying to get at. Is it the why that you’re still wondering about and wanting to resolve? Or is it the how now, the what now? For some of us, we need to know the why – we need to know why people acted or act the way they do, why things happened the way they did – why did we have to go through that? Others just want to put the past aside and deal with how it’s being addressed now and in the future.

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Dreams, alligators & ahas!

I had a weird dream the other night that I was at my uncle’s house, hanging out with him and his son, my beloved cousin whom I fondly remember playing cops and robbers with and racing around on our bikes as youngsters before all the drama began with that side of my family. In the dream, one of my aunts was there, but I wasn’t really paying attention to her. And then suddenly, there was an alligator in the room. I guess in my dreams they aren’t elephants – it would only make sense that the Cajun girl has a giant gator as my metaphor. Then I put the gator in the tub in the bathroom and locked the door. Dream over.

Talking this over today, I started musing about the symbolism of this. This is of course on top of the fact that now that Dan has left, I’m back to not sleeping through the night, and having an increased amount of weird or bad dreams. I seem to be always running from someone or something in them, or hiding or fighting not to get hurt. Hmmm….

The ahas! are coming more lately. Not just with the dreams (and boy do those make a heckuva a lot more sense lately), but with why I have all the feelings I do, why I can be such a control freak, and why I chose someone like Dan as my significant other. Those self-help books DO make things come together, I assure you. In one sitting, I must say “that sounds just like me!” about a million times. It makes so many things connect and I don’t feel so bad about some of it.

My friend also went to an alligator farm in New Orleans recently, so maybe that was part of it. Although some of my family has had some not so friendly encounters with gators, I personally have only enjoyed the taste of their meat.

On a separate note, I have a question: If you made a major life change when you weren’t expecting to – career, relocation, etc – why did you do it? How did you decide? What triggered the change? Were you scared? Confused? Emotional?

Earlier this week, I saw the scale had gone up even more than I thought at the doctor. I was appalled. I was disappointed. I was pissed because I’ve been working out every day and eating so much produce I should start my own farm in my apartment. Then back at the office I was pissed when I saw an email that set off about 57 emotions, and fortunately, my amazing teammate let me ramble on for about 20 minutes about what direction I’m headed in. Sometimes we need that. I needed her to tell me it was okay to be confused and scared.

Aha moments, anyone? What did you do with it?