Room for new things

Desk

I have a new desk at work.

It’s a simple thing, really: changing spaces within an office. In the eight years I’ve been with my company, I have moved within the building four times and been seated in four different departments. I’m no stranger to packing up my paper clips, highlighters and bric-a-brac, but this move is different.

For the last six years, I shared an office with two people who were my teammates. When you sit with someone for eight-plus hours a day, spending more time with them than you do your own family, it’s wonderful if you can get along. It’s even better if you are friendly, and the best if you become close friends.

I miss them.

I’ve been given new responsibilities and am tackling new challenges, and that feels good. I’m writing more than ever, and moving into a new phase of my career.

My new responsibilities are awesome, and I love the corner of the newsroom where I hang my metaphorical hat each day. My desk is new and clean, and I’ve quickly adopted a minimalist approach to my workspace.

After being a pack rat, an office hoarder of sorts, I shocked myself by . . . completely changing this time. Totally a 180.

Back when I had a physical office of my own, I treated it like an extension of my living room. Artwork hung on the walls; freestanding lamps took the place of fluorescent lighting. It had a cozy, homey feel, a refuge of sorts. And given I had no windows or natural light, it could also feel like a cave.

Hence all the lamps.

But that was three moves ago. I haven’t had my own office since 2010 or 2011, yet until last week? I was still carting around all those old photographs and trinkets from my larger space, never bothering to pack them up and take ’em home. I was surrounded by boxes, actually: boxes of random belongings from years and years ago.

After a while, you stop seeing stuff. It becomes a part of the background, a backdrop to your daily life; you forget about the Christmas decor on which you’re propping your swollen pregnant feet (hey, it was actually a good footrest), or the boxes and boxes of tea — so much tea — you must paw through to find a stupid spoon in your drawers.

Last week, I cleared it out. I spared nothing. I’ve been reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but haven’t extended any of her principles to my own home yet. I’ve been afraid to take the plunge, scared of starting the tidying process, but at work? I was ruthless. It was time.

I easily purged half of my belongings without thinking about it, bagging up tons of stuff I’ve been moving from desk to desk for years. Why did I still have it? What purpose did it serve? Who did it benefit?

No one.

Though I must confess that those belongings are now at home in a spare room waiting for me to bag most up for Goodwill, the physical act of getting them out of my office and away from where I sit all day, brainstorming and writing and working, has made such a difference for me — a major difference.

Everything feels scrubbed clean and new. My workspace is tidy, dust-free, uncluttered. I love having a desk clear of papers and junk and Post-Its, a place I can spread out the newspaper or my planner and not knock over ten random objects.

Why didn’t I do this ages ago . . . years ago? Why did I let myself sit each day surrounded by so much clutter? I can’t say, really. Force of habit? Laziness? Regardless, I’m never doing that again.

Though I’m still not ready to extend Kondo’s tidying principles to our home, this first cleaning hurdle at work was a powerful one.

Being a “stuff” person, I never thought I’d see an empty surface as anything but that: unfinished, barren, dull.

But now I see cleanliness and possibilities . . . room for new things.

Life-changing magic, indeed.


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Finding some (extra) time

photo


Who knew so much could get done in 15 minutes?

The day our morning routines shake out, my husband leaves for work about an hour before I do — and I typically am ready in about 30 minutes, give or take, which often gives me an elusive 15-20 minute window to do whatever before I have to leave for work.

It doesn’t sound like much, but 15 minutes of focused energy on a single task is actually a lot.

Sometimes I clean.

Or watch a slice of “Good Morning America.”

Or pack up a lunch for the day.

Or grab my Kindle and read, read, read.

Lately I’ve been wrapping Christmas presents, participating in the 12 Days of Love Letters by writing out a card and packing up Etsy orders to ship.

My new favorite wind-down activity: reading magazines! As a lifelong book reader, I never bothered to pick up one of the many mags lining the tables at my parents’ house. But after a subscription snafu wound up granting me a year of Glamour, I’ve actually been sitting down with coffee — at home — and flipping through it before work.

It’s pretty glorious.

Lately I’ve actually been getting ready for work faster so I’ll have a little extra time to hang out on the sofa. As someone who once slapped her snooze button at least three times before finally pouring herself into the shower, then running around before eventually sprinting out the door, this new routine is surprising . . . but wonderful.

It feels nice to rush less, think more.

To have time for simple projects that mean something to me.

In the quiet mornings just after I wish Spence a good day, I sit in the stillness of our space and feel . . . good.

Whole. Happy.

And if I love my 15 minutes so much? Imagine how I’d feel if I had a whole hour.


Have a happy weekend, friends! I’ll be back Monday with a big, fat, sparkly post brimming with my tips on surviving — and thriving! — throughout the wedding planning process. Dec. 16 marks one year since we got engaged. Oh, how time flies! ❤


The great English transition

Paper


I didn’t start out as an English major.

Wanting to follow in my dad’s footsteps, I started college planning to go into journalism — be a reporter, work at a newspaper, become as intrepid and adventurous as he is. I spent my first year in community college wading through the prerequisites before transferring to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2004, where I learned I’d have to apply to the College of Journalism.

And then I kind of panicked.

When I imagined my lofty journalistic goals, they had nothing to do with . . . well . . . real journalism. In my daydreams, I imagined myself typing self-righteously on a keyboard in a busy newsroom, covering some explosive local news event. I saw myself at the end: polished, professional, well-respected. I visualized all the sparkly, exciting parts without any sense of reality. I never thought about the hard work. I didn’t think about muddling through the middle, working hard to rise to the top.

Isn’t that how it always goes?

Between my sophomore and junior years of college, I actually interned for our local newspaper’s community section. I answered phone calls and emails, tried my hand at laying out pages and wrote a few features on local folks doing good in Southern Maryland. I’ll never forget seeing my name in print for the first time: the extreme thrill, the pride and awe. I still remember my first article on a local theatre director and his immense collection of costumes. I remember my lead, too.

By the time I started schlepping up to College Park every day that fall, I was a little burnt out on the newsroom. I love to write, of course — I’ve always loved to write — but I had an immediate, sinking suspicion that reporting wasn’t going to be my bag. I bonded more with the copy editors and editors themselves: those who craft their own sentences from time to time, yes, but mostly tinker with others’ words.

I like tinkering.

But reporting? I’m not a reporter. I lack the edge, the finesse, the dedication of a real journalist. Between my summer at the local paper and the following year’s internship at a D.C. daily, I accepted something I might have known all along: I’m better behind the scenes. My favorite week at the Examiner came when I left the Washington office to proofread pages in Virginia. I’m just better at tinkering.

My journey into the wide world of English came when I was finally honest about that. Though I was nervous to tell my dad I wasn’t planning to get into the newspaper biz, my parents were very supportive as I changed my plan. The same sunny afternoon I called with my idea about switching to a Bachelor of Arts, I marched over to the English building and declared a new major. It was the first time I felt really excited — and not anxious — about the future. I never looked back.

That was the first of many “adult” decisions I made in school: these little transitions that put me on a different path than the one I’d first started marching down. It was a scary moment to veer off a course I felt had been laid for a long time, but I’m proud of having made the decision — especially because it was the right one for me.

Of course, ironically, I did still go into journalism . . . though not as a reporter. I was hired as an assistant editor in 2007 and have spent all of my young career here. In 2009, I was tapped to write a local personal column that has evolved into more than I could have ever expected — and despite veering into English rather than journalism, I’m still living the dream I had as a kid: writing. Writing for a living.

So life takes us where we need to be, I’d say.


Linking up with Blogtember today on a time my life took a turn.


In honor of Labor Day, a short work history

Coffee
The magic elixir getting many an office dweller through the afternoon


So, it’s Labor Day weekend. A holiday celebrating the American worker for his or her contributions to our wonderful nation.

And you know what that means . . . three day weekend! (Actually, four in my case. Not to brag.)

I got my first job at a craft store the summer before I started college, ringing up skeins of yarn and picture frames and artificial flowers to the tune of a sweet $6.50 an hour. It’s funny to think of that now, remembering how I’d be on my feet for eight hours and earn only $52 before taxes.

That was lots of work for not lots of cash, but it felt like tons of money to a kid who’d never earned her own.

It was a fun job. A crazy job. A silly job. A job at which I once accidentally smashed a glass shelf and saw my life flash before my eyes, and a place that kept me buying so many stickers and cupcake liners that I basically worked for free. (The same was true at Borders only, you know, books.)

My time at Michael’s stretched on for years, mostly part-time, as I got an internship at the newspaper where I now work and beyond. I was logging some serious days, though “serious” meant something different to me at 20 than it does at 28. (And, I’d imagine, what it will at 30 or 40.)

I finally quit the craft store because I got an internship in D.C., and my summers were filled with reading Jonathan Safran Foer on long commutes and impromptu phone interviews that made my stomach hurt and seeing the city and walking unsteadily in heels. And trying to be a grown-up. And not quite succeeding.

Though I was only there three months, my time with the Washington Examiner — now shuttered, sadly — was one of those nebulous “formative experiences” you don’t appreciate at the time . . . but when you’re looking back, wondering how you ended up where you are, it comes rushing back. Those were days that mattered. They taught you something.

At the end of my summer internship, I jumped to Borders. I was there for years, reading and assisting and stocking. That was an awesome job.

And for a while, I worked two jobs. I started as an assistant editor at the paper where I’ve worked full time since college graduation, once spending my days laying out editorial and nights working part-time at Borders’ information desk. I probably would have gone on that way, working two jobs and running like a madwoman, except I got promoted to editor at the paper and we got a new manager at Borders. And he wasn’t too impressive. And he kept messing up my schedule.

All in all, I’ve been a member of the work force for a decade. Ten years of my life spent behind cash registers or information desks, computers and notepads. I’m fortunate to say that I love what I do each day and am continually thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given but, well . . . let’s just say Labor Day comes at a good time.

And what have I learned through it all?

Working — especially in an office — gives you experience with, um, varying personalities. To survive, you master the art of diplomacy . . . and frequently get used to biting your tongue. For office dwellers such as myself, you keep a schedule. You stick to the schedule. You get organized, keep track of deadlines. In time, you decipher the vague requests and commands of superiors to get the job done right and quickly.

You develop habits, like afternoon coffee (or tea — a must!) with coworkers, or slipping out for your lunch break at 12:15 sharp. If you weren’t a creature of habit before, you may find yourself slipping into unalterable routines and like things “done a certain way.” I’m so particular about my desk — and my computer — that I can tell if a single pen has been used or misplaced, or if my stapler is at an odd angle.

Silly things. Dumb things that happen when you’re seated in the same spot for eight hours a day.

Or maybe it’s just my OCD typing.

But really, I like my job. I like working. I love having somewhere to go, people that depend on me, a feeling of accomplishment when a reader drops me an email or says hi at a coffee shop. Despite growing up in the same town in which I still live, I didn’t feel a great sense of community until I started work at the community newspaper. It’s given me a sense of belonging — of acceptance — I might not have otherwise discovered.

There are bad days, of course. Rough days. Insanely frustrating days. But on the whole? Since money is necessary and all, I feel fortunate to work with great people doing a job I enjoy . . . and hope to have the ability to do so for a long time to come. (Or roughly 30-ish more years. I’m on the 2045 retirement plan! [Imagine the fun of seeing that on your 401(k). Only three-plus decades to go!])

So happy Labor Day, friends! Whether you’re off on a long weekend or still hitting the salt mines, keep being awesome you.

I’m off for a short vacation and my bridal shower in New York, armed with my camera and fiance! We’re on the road and (hopefully) loving life right about now. Hope everyone enjoys their official end-of-summer soiree, and I’ll see you next week.

With a pumpkin spice latte, of course. It’s time!


So I-270 and I aren’t friends, and probably never will be

Commuting


I’m totally spoiled.

For the last five years, my commute has been . . . an excruciating, horrible, soul-crushing ten minutes. Maybe fifteen at busy Christmastime (like now), or twenty when the weather is bad (those two or three mornings in winter). My drive is a familiar one: down the same narrow streets I cruised as a teen, through the center of town, past the post office and 7-Eleven and office parks. Same parking spot. Door to door, I’m at my desk before I’ve even processed what the morning-show DJs are discussing.

Last week I was given a new adventure: training at company headquarters. I’m excited to be transitioning to new software at work — and never hesitated to get on board. I like learning new skills and challenging myself. It was fun to be taking notes again, feeling like I was in school — forcing my brain to think differently, acquiring new ways of doing what I’ve always done. After three days, I felt really comfortable with the software . . . and excited about moving forward.

Only problem?

Training was in Gaithersburg. Fifty miles — and many snaking lanes of traffic — away.

In anticipation of the journey, I covered myself in war paint — or, um, chocolate. Worried I would get stranded in the D.C. Beltway’s notorious traffic, something I know all too well from commuting to the University of Maryland years ago, I loaded my passenger seat with drinks and snacks. My trusty GPS easily got me from point A to point B, and I made great time every day. What I worried would take me two hours wound up taking just one or so, and the trek home — in rush hour traffic — wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.

I mean, it was still an hour and a half. But it could have been worse. Having grown up in Maryland and listening to a few traffic reports in my day, I’m well-versed in how awful 270 can be. So while we’re not friends and probably never will be, I’m thankful the congested roadway stayed open enough for me to get in and get out without too much bother. We only slowed a few times — and never came to the grinding halt I remember from driving to school.

After just three days of making that commute, though, I’m sipping Diet Coke at my own desk with a sparkly new appreciation for how good I really have it — and how I shouldn’t take my local job for granted. As a college commuter, I was used to running the roads, getting snarled in traffic and planning everything around whether or not I’d be able to get home from College Park — but this? On I-270? This was a whole new level of crazy. If I’d ever doubted how fortunate I am to work locally, that solidified it for me.

Though I did enjoy listening to an entire audio book — Devan Siphon’s The Wedding Beat — on my drive! Tore through that baby. And I definitely polished off more than a few of those snacks, too. Like, all of the peanut butter M&Ms and that huge bag of trail mix.

That was my early Christmas present to myself.


Sometimes you drive to work with a Diet Coke on your car . . .


. . . and sometimes that Diet Coke rolls off the roof, smashing into the roadway and dissolving in a puddle of foamy soda goodness. And wrecking your hopes, dreams and aspirations for a decent morning along with it.

Each day begins with a soda. I’m not going to deny it or make excuses for it — it’s just what I do. Some people have coffee, others have tea; I have Diet Coke (or Diet Pepsi — I have no loyalty). It’s the jolt I need to get the little wheels in my brain turning, and I definitely need them to turn.

I got my first hate mail at the paper yesterday. It was only a matter of time, I guess, because no one is allowed to feel successful without someone wanting to cut them down. Someone actually bothered to hand write two pages’ worth of material on how much I suck, illuminating my “narcissism” and “atrocious grammar” (say what?). She wrote that she couldn’t “suffer through any more of my ‘articles'” without writing me, which was really kind of her. I appreciated her sweet words of encouragement on an afternoon when I was already overworked, overstressed and struggling with a variety of personal issues.

I can’t let it get to me, I know. Haters are everywhere and everyone feels the need to comment on your life and your work, especially when it’s out there for all to see. There was no signature or return address, of course; she signed it, “A Reader (Female).” As if I would think for a second that was a dude sending me a handwritten card in pretty cursive handwriting, maligning me for being an epic failure of a person. How cowardly.

Whatever. I threw it away.

But it bothered me. I can’t pretend like it didn’t, though I valiantly puffed up my chest and tried to get back to work. “This is an opportunity to prove I can take a little criticism,” I thought. “This is a story I can tell about how some clueless person couldn’t recognize my genius.”

But I’m not a genius, of course. I’m just a writer. A young woman. I have a local column. I love it and it matters to me, but I’m not perfect. Sometimes I make typos or forget words or don’t say anything sensational, but that’s the nature of the biz. Some columns are better than others. Some are a stretch, I’ll admit it. But all I can do is the best I can do, and not everyone is going to like me.

That’s a lesson I had to learn early, but it’s a tough pill to swallow: Not everyone is going to like me.

And that was yesterday. Today is Thursday, and Thursdays are always good days. I have my bridesmaid dress fitting and friends’ emails to return and my birthday is Monday and I have a great family and I’m in love with someone who loves me, so I don’t care about a pretty handwritten card with nasty words inside.

Though I do wish I had that Diet Coke right about now.

Everyone has one

The junk drawer.

Everyone has one.

I’ve been thinking about the little things that make up a life — the objects; the collections; the obsessions. Spending the vast majority of my time at work, my office is a literal shrine to Me. It’s filled with my stuff. Things — all these things — I keep “just in case.”

When I was sick last week, I was worried someone would have to sift through my office for all the work-related projects I’m in the middle of completing. On my desk are canisters of pens, highlighters, Post-It notes, red markers; I’m obsessed with office supplies. Scraps of paper line the many surfaces of my L-shaped desk, highlighting appointments I need to make and ideas for columns.

Considering we’re a newspaper, I live in a surprisingly paperless world — but even still, I have a physical “inbox.” In comes the daily mail, to which I add press releases that drift my way or recipes coworkers have shared. I also keep my notebook there — the place I scribble more notes to myself about the new software we’re implementing or tips from my bosses about new sections. My handwriting is everywhere.

But it’s my drawers — these drawers — that are most interesting. Even people who describe themselves as “messy” or “unkempt” have a method to their madness, I know, and I’m no different. Though not a neat freak, everything has a place in my office. My friend Brandon often jokes that he can’t run a finger across the surface without me noticing . . . because I notice everything. And I do.

In addition to a snack drawer (yes, a whole drawer), a drawer for more printed work-related sections and another office supplies space is my junk drawer. It’s the closest within reach, just to the left of my computer.

It’s my secret shame.

Taking one peek into this small, oblong-shaped receptacle is like starting into the eye of a hurricane. We have tiny lotion bottles, anti-bacterial hand soap, quarters for the vending machine. Lip balm in every shade and texture. Pay stubs. Allergy medicine. Mints, gum and Smarties. Extra headphones. Old prescriptions. Birthday cards, love notes and holiday greetings. A lapel pin of indeterminate origin; a pocket-sized 2010 calendar. Extra staples. A small ball of string.

None of these things make much sense to anyone — or anyone but me.

We’re not defined by our possessions. My things don’t define who I am as a person, but they don’t not define me, either. If I surround myself daily with clutter, miscellaneous objects, strange things that seem to do nothing but constrict the space in which I spend so much of my time — professionally, creatively — what will become of me?

I’m not saying I’m going to get rid of the junk drawer; you know, it does serve a purpose.

But I am thinking seriously about weeding out the “tiny things” that seem to fill every nook and cranny of my existence.

It’s spring. And I’m ready to clean.