Sunday, May 22, 2016

Graduation Anniversary

Mulling over the significance and personal impact of my college graduation — which happened a year ago last week — has largely dominated my internal monologue in the last twelve months.

I've never been big on anniversaries for anything. In high school, I laughed at couples who celebrated their "month-iversaries." The anniversary of my mom's death has become more meaningful as my memories of her fade, but that's more about time passing in general than a specific number of days or months or years.

Even so, I vaguely expected (maybe hoped for?) some sort of insight from the arrival of the date marking one year since graduation. Some measure of closure, maybe. The core of my struggle has been the discrepancy between society's high value and enthusiastic celebration of graduation (it's the launching point for the entirety of your adult life!), and my contrasting spiral into a frustrated and confused depression upon experiencing said important life event. I still hate that I struggle so much to reconcile those perspectives, but I have gained — at the very least — some understanding of why it happened/is happening. I'm not quite ready to blog about those complex and deeply personal reasons (most of which are directly linked to my ego). But I can now express some hope for the future, which I was completely unable to do six months ago.

I'm sloooowly setting up a life in Nashville, and I carefully keep in mind things I can look forward to here:

  • I have friends from my restaurant job
  • I have several "friends of friends" connections that I can leverage to make more friends
  • I can afford my own apartment, which I am extremely excited to set up and decorate
  • I have several professional connections that I am hopeful will lead to a full-time job
  • Nashville always has fun events happening, and I know where and how to find them — and I have the energy to go! 
  • I have friends in nearby Chattanooga, friends with whom I can plan camping trips
  • I'm plugged into the UNC alumni community, through which I can make more friends
  • I know of several opportunities for the type of volunteering/community service that I enjoy
  • There are many cafes, restaurants, breweries and bars to check out — I'm far from being able to say what my favorite places are
  • I can run the Rock & Roll half marathon next year, with a better time — OR run the full marathon :)
  • Flying home is quick and easy
  • Nashville has so many pretty parks that are perfect for hammocking and reading

I guess what this list shows is that I'm learning how to focus on the future rather than the past. For me, graduation was like getting dumped — but I reacted like my boyfriend had died. It took me a long time to stop dwelling on the good times that were over. I'm still not completely healed, but I've trained my mind to not go there anymore, which helps me not hate life as I experience it. Quitting my first job and moving to Nashville was largely about gaining enough calm and space to rebuild a stable psyche, and I'm happy that I've been succeeding at meeting that fundamental need. Happy to report that emotional breakdowns are occurring no more than twice a month! Which is a huge improvement from every day, as it were in Austin. 

So..... one year after graduation, I can finally say: here's to horizons, hazy as they may be.

Blue Ridge Mountains, Dec. 2015

Friday, May 20, 2016

My Apron Is a Shield

My apron is a shield
Deflecting the slosh of lava from the dish pit
Invincible to smears of aioli and au jus
Bombed by bad tips!
Dodging sniper customers!
Complaints whiz past!
Barrel through the land mines of forgotten drinks and sides!
Escape the siege of flirtations cooks!
Managers throwing menu quiz questions like barbed arrows!

And this steak is too rare!
And where's that lemon I asked for?
And we need more crackers, ten minutes ago!
And is there tarragon in the sauce?

My apron is a shield.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Half Marathon Musings

I used to think I was a person not motivated by numbers. I'm values-oriented, not metrics-driven, I thought. My half marathon last weekend forced me to acknowledge that I was mistaken. I got a huge thrill from the numbers involved with training for a long race. How many miles today? How many miles this week? How long did it take? What's my pace? My mileage splits?

Those questions started simmering in the first few weeks of my training, and sizzled into a full boil when I bought myself a GPS watch about three weeks before the race. All of a sudden, my numbers were recorded and analyzed for me with new breadth and precision. I focused more than ever on keeping my training pace under 8:30 (the slowest pace I could maintain and still meet my finish time goal). After runs, I studied a graph generated by the watch that showed the correlation (or more accurately, a happy lack thereof) between my pace and elevation change during runs.

(I think it's very good that I never weigh myself, because I can imagine myself becoming unhealthily obsessed with manipulating those numbers, too.)

Most of all, I loved knowing that every step I took during every training run was a direct input to my final race performance. That big-picture goal was immensely motivating to me, and I never once skipped a run or "cut corners" (figuratively or literally) on run lengths, as prescribed by the training plan I adopted from the Internet. Somewhere Mile 7 during my half marathon, I reveled in feeling the payoff from those 10 weeks of dedicated training (259 cumulative miles of training). I felt so strong and ready and... vindicated? There has to be a word for that, for the thrill of running a half marathon at goal pace because you trained super carefully for 10 weeks, and while you’re running the race you can feel so wonderfully that those 259 miles of training are paying off. It's like the feeling of getting handed your diploma after years of studying.

The diploma analogy is especially apt, because I see a perfect parallel between my approach to school and my approach to the half marathon. I stayed motivated for school because I knew that every reading assignment, every homework assignment, pop quiz, and midterm exam, all contributed in some way to my final course grade, overall semester GPA, and eventually my cumulative college GPA. The same "cumulative contribution" structure held true for the half marathon training, so I stayed committed and motivated. And loved the feeling of payoff.

This is also a key factor in my feeling of aimlessness since graduation. Where are my incremental measures of progress? What's the quantitative reward at the end? What even is the end? What am I working towards, and how do I tell if and when I'm making progress? These questions make me want to curl in fetal position under my blankets.

Now that my race is behind me, of course, I wake up in the mornings and wrestle all over again with the question of whether to run or not. When the motivation is internal only, it's a lot harder to act... I'm going to sign up for another race ASAP so that I can once again add external motivation to my running — and bring up those numbers once again — for the thrill of the race.

As for my adult life overall, or my career... goals, approach, and motivation still TBD.

with my sister, Mary McCall, at the finish line of the Nashville Rock & Roll Half Marathon (4/30/16)

Sunday, May 1, 2016


If I were a famous author who died tonight, the following excerpts from an email I wrote to a friend recently might be published in my posthumous biography. But unfortunately I don't have a career (path?), which precludes the opportunity :/

I wish I knew what I wanted in my career. I'd chase it so whole-heartedly if I knew what it was. My year since graduating has been characterized by feeling directionless... At Crossover I felt like a rat on a wheel, working absurdly hard without knowing why. My life pace is a lot slower now, especially since I'm once again between jobs: I left the magazine a couple days ago (a move endorsed by the director of my fellowship because the magazine didn't have the organizational capacity to support me). Luckily, the fellowship is allowing me to complete my remaining 70 hours over the next seven weeks or so with Southern Foodways Alliance. The role allows me to work remotely from Nashville and consists largely of researching for a book about Southern cocktails and blogging about Nashville to build up hype for a symposium that SFA is hosting in June. It seems like a relatively fun, low-key gig. I'm frustrated by having to switch jobs yet again, but trying to keep perspective... at least I'm still getting paid, and it's work I expect to enjoy. 

I wish I didn't love my restaurant job so much. I make about $15/hour and the work is easy and fun. I used to think I was someone who enjoyed challenge, but maybe it's just that I like variety and learning. At the restaurant I'm learning a lot about food, drinks, and people, and my only friends in Nashville are my restaurant coworkers. I can so easily see myself falling into this as a full-time job just because it feels safe and pleasant. But at the same time, my ego and my degree are shouting at me that I'm "above it" and should get a "real job." I feel immensely discouraged and overwhelmed at that prospect, though, after two immensely disappointing experiences with "real" jobs in the past year — jobs I thought would be fulfilling and fun. 

Either way, my current plan is to stay in Nashville for another year. I've already started apartment hunting. The idea of having my own place as a center of calm and peace is shockingly appealing. My life has been tumultuous at best in the past year, and I'm thinking that facilitating external stability might help me develop some internally. I'll half-heartedly look for degree-utilizing jobs in the city, with ever-sinking expectations — and keep waiting tables and learning French wines in the meanwhile. 

Happy things include: my summer plans, which are a week in Austin to visit Alban, a week at home with family, a wedding in Chapel Hill, a family vacation in Puerto Rico, and a couple of weeks of hiking in July with Yasamin. Trying always to focus on the positive...