They say writing works like a muscle, and if you don’t exercise it, it atrophies. I guess that’s true, because this feels awkward. I remember writing used to be a release for me, one that didn’t really require effort; I could just ooze onto the paper and half the time it would come out decent. But I dropped the habit somewhere along the way, and I’ve forgotten how to ooze.
I still like the idea of writing. Writing papers for school was always satisfying, but a completely different skill set. Scientific papers are all facts and direction. There’s no fluff, just pure clarity. I feel weird approaching my other writing that way. As much as I might like them to, my inner workings have not achieved clarity. Writing my thoughts is sometimes like herding cats.
If writing is like a muscle, it should get stronger the more I use it. That’s part of the reason I’d like to start blogging consistently again, and carrying a notebook with me.
It’s hard, because life pulls me in so many directions. I have work, I have paintings to finish and paintings to start, I have books to read, people to see, laundry to wash and a bathroom to clean … but I miss what writing used to be for me. I miss the feeling of release, and how it helped me process. I think it’s worth the time investment.
Last October, I started offering commissions and selling my artwork. Here is that story.
I’d been toying with the idea for a while, but always as something my future and superior self would do. I was still a full-time student with a part-time job, and of course a full-time overthinker with imposter syndrome. But I finally just decided, what the heck–if it fails, all I have to lose is my pride.
I started simple, just posting on Facebook offering commissions as a Christmas gift idea, and got a few requests from family friends. Over time word got out to a few more people, I connected with some other artists on social media, and made a Facebook business page listing a few items for sale. It’s now been almost nine months, and with eight commissions and two other sales under my belt, I’m starting to get a better idea of how the process goes.
Working with people. People can be incredibly kind, and creating something personal and special for them makes my work much more meaningful.
Expanding my artistic comfort zone. I accidentally discovered a niche, as most of my commission work came from people asking for watercolor portraits of deceased loved ones. This work was fairly new to me, but meaningful, and definitely improved my skills in watercolor and portraiture.
Making money. This one is obvious. After all the time and money I’ve spent, it’s rewarding to see it start to pay for itself.
Working with people. In full honesty, most people are nice, and I really didn’t encounter much negativity. For me, working with people was difficult because I’m anxious and self-conscious; it just required a lot of social energy that I’m not sure I can sustain. I didn’t like how this anxiety leaked into my art space, which is usually a peaceful escape.
Stress and creative constraint. I’m sure all artists put pressure on themselves, but doing commissioned work adds another layer. You have to create to someone else’s standard, following their preferences and priorities instead of your own.
Sales and marketing. I find these fields interesting, but they’re not my natural talent. Selling your own art means essentially becoming a businessperson, marketing and managing sales and setting your own pay. I underestimated how challenging that would be, and ended up selling myself short.
Overall, my experience selling my artwork has been positive. In an ideal future, I’d like to spend more time on my own projects and have more variety in commissions; I’d also like to learn how to make and sell prints and not only originals.
The main obstacle to my success has been managing my own time and stress, which arises from my introverted personality and mental health struggles. Despite the stress, I’ve still enjoyed the experience; the satisfaction of doing a good job and the happiness I see in my customers makes it worth it.
COVID-19 has upended our equilibrium, and “normal life” took on a different face for nearly all of us. Now that the area I live in is starting to ease out of quarantine, I’m taking a look back.
Of course there have been downsides to socially isolating. On a larger scale, economies are suffering and unemployment is rising. I’ve seen college life thrown upside down as professors scramble to move everything online, seminars are cancelled, jobs are lost, and students flounder in a sudden onslaught of decisions and uncertainty. Several of my friends were forced to delay graduation, and several favorite classes like dance and orchestra were simply cut short. I’ve seen friendships and family relationships strained as everyone takes a different interpretation of what the “stay at home” order means and how seriously this all needs to be taken. Some close friends who suffer from mental illness deeply struggled with social distancing, feeling trapped and more alone than ever.
One of these friends was my roommate. Trying to help her stay positive and see the bright side probably helped me at least as much as it helped her. I’d tell her about how I read on the news that fish can be seen in the canals in Venice for the first time in decades, and how the decrease in pollution from China is so dramatic it’s visible from space. We’d take advantage of virtual lectures by multitasking; she nearly finished crocheting a baby blanket while attending linguistics. Our apartment was cleaner than it had ever been. We were forced to spend time with ourselves, free from so many of the usual distractions of normal student life, and while it was sometimes uncomfortable and painful, it pushed us into self-improvement and we became more aware and intentional. We ended up acting as each others’ therapists, and in doing so, we were giving therapy to ourselves.
At the very least, I know quarantine has been good for something. It’s been good for wildlife and decreasing pollution, it’s been good at forcing me to introspect and evaluate the way my life used to be, and it’s been good because I’ve grown much closer with a friend. I think that if this experience can do those things for all of us, we’ll come out of this much better than we were before.
They don’t know me here.
We spend every day in each others’ company, and no one knows my name. I sit behind them in class, walk pass them on sidewalks, and no one turns to say hello. They don’t notice when I’m there, and they don’t notice when I’m gone. I’ve made sure of that.
I’ve been around. I’ve seen the way this all works, and I know my place. I fill in the background like the black curtain behind a stage. I hang on the outskirts of society, faceless and nameless in the anonymous crowd. I’m accepted, just as lampposts and park benches–standard, commonplace, part of the scenery.
I am not forgotten; I was never known in the first place.
I grew up in America’s public education system, and I’ve heard all the complaints. “We’re never going to use this in real life.” “All they do is teach to the test, this isn’t real education.” “There’s no point in learning this random stuff.” “I hate history, it’s just memorizing a bunch of names and dates.”
“Why can’t I just focus on what I care about, and not waste time on all the rest?”
Well my fellow concerned student, let me tell you.
Imagine you’re a kindergarten teacher. You have a crop of four-year-olds staring back at you. Some will be doctors, some teachers, some construction workers, some accountants, maybe a few pilots or politicians or athletes, but you have no way of knowing which kid will end up where. You have to teach them anyway, so what do you do? You start with general skills, stuff that pretty much everyone will end up needing. You teach them reading, writing, and basic recognition, introduce them to how school works, and start building skills like imagination, problem solving, and working with others.
See, none of these kids really know what they want yet. Sure Mike might tell you he’s going to be an astronaut, but ask him again next month and he’ll tell you he’s going to be Mickey Mouse.
Fast forward and now they’re in grade school complaining about times tables. They still don’t really know what they want to be, but they’re starting to pick favorite subjects and least favorite subjects. Mike knows he’s never going to be a math teacher, hates math, and wants to quit. What do you do, fourth grade teacher? Do you let him? Of course not. Like it or not, Mike is going to encounter math of some sort in his life. He’s going to need it throughout the rest of school, he’s going to need it to settle a tab, and he’s going to need it to help his seven year old daughter through her hated times tables. He’s going to need to learn that some parts of life are more or less mandatory, and they won’t always be pleasant. He’s still in fourth grade with plenty of time to change his mind, and if he quits now he may deeply regret it later.
At this age, kids are still learning things that everyone needs to know at least to some degree. They’re still becoming themselves.
But now Mike and his classmates are in high school, and certain subjects have never seemed more useless to him. He’s set on being a physical therapist, and classes like history and algebra are “ruining his life.” He’s balancing his precious time between applying to his dream college, practicing for state tennis, taking the ACT, trying to have a social life. Mike hates just memorizing names and dates and formulas, it’s so pointless to him and he can tell you exactly why.
He’s never going to use this.
This is wasting his time when he could be chasing his actual career.
He has become a slave to the system!
But Mike, what happens when you get into your dream college, walk into your required general ed math class, and have to delay graduation because you couldn’t pass? What happens when you enter your first anatomy lab and find that it includes mountains of rote memorization, just like your hated history class, and your physical therapy career is suddenly hanging by a thread? What if you need a second job and suddenly find yourself with no marketable skills outside your niche, or your dream job also requires experience in networking and web design?
Mike is missing the big picture. He doesn’t see that if he doesn’t remember when World War II happened, he won’t understand the significance of literature from the 1940’s or the development of the atom bomb. He doesn’t see that if he can’t do simple arithmetic in his head, he has no hope of doing complex derivatives; he’ll get so bogged down pulling out his calculator for every step that he can’t see the problem as a whole. If he can’t memorize different muscle groups and their function, he’ll never be able to know what his future patients need. To get to that higher level of thinking, he has to know the basics and he has to be fast at them. There is no shortcut to knowledge. In most cases, the only way to know something is to grind, memorize, rinse, and repeat. In most cases, the only way to get to advanced skill sets and professions is to first work your way through the boring, tedious, awful basics.
As stated by an anonymous Quora writer, “One cannot apply what one knows in a practical manner if one does not know anything to apply.”
Our workforce is a complex and interconnected network with several roles that need to be filled or the whole society collapses. In each graduating class, we need a new batch of food service workers, civil engineers, psychiatrists, surgeons, bankers, journalists, the list goes on. Mike’s class needs to fill those roles. The education system faces the task of preparing them without knowing who goes to which role, so it does the best it can: it prepares everyone for everything. At the end of their average high school experience, nearly everyone in Mike’s class is prepared enough that they could essentially go into any major or any career and have a chance.
When Mike gets to college and decides to change his major to Technical Writing, he isn’t already hopelessly behind because his high school teachers made him write essays. When Mike presents himself to an employer, he isn’t an automaton with no skills beyond the task at hand; he is a well-rounded human being with a wide intellectual overview of the world. When Mike continues on through university he does well because he knows how to work the education system, and he realizes that his historical knowledge is making his writing stronger, his time in anatomy is helping improve his tennis game, his math skills helped him save up for a new laptop, and his persuasive writing skills helped him write a great cover letter land a job.
Because Mike, at the end of the day, education wasn’t for what you thought it was. It was for helping build you into better person, giving you a vast array of knowledge, and teaching you how to think. Intelligence cannot be found in a vacuum. Even though your high school subjects are divided and taught separately, they’re really all pieces of the larger puzzle that work together and build off of each other, and you cannot be well educated by ignoring half of them. School was an opportunity, and if it was a waste of your time, that’s partly your fault.
In many ways this system is broken, but in the most important way it succeeded.
Education must not simply teach work–it must teach life.
Have any of you ever been here? You see a thousand gorgeous bullet journal spreads on Pinterest, get all inspired, and then completely fail?
This is me. I love the idea of bullet journals–the aesthetic, the organization, the doodling, all of it. But it’s hard to make it work in practice, especially as a student. I just don’t have time in the day to give every week a beautiful spread or keep up on twelve different habit trackers. What I really needed from a bullet journal was space to keep track of all my assignments that was easy and organized, but still looked nice and aesthetic of course 🙂
It’s taken me a good while to figure out a balance, but I finally have a regular set of spreads that work for my college life, letting me be organized and simple while still having some visual fun.
So without further ado, here is the beginning of my 2019 bullet journal! (DISCLAIMER: Some pages have areas that are blurred out or covered in white boxes; this was done to protect personal information such as my daily schedule, location, etc.)
And that’s it! I’m happy with how this turned out and had a ton of fun making it. Here’s to a more organized and productive 2019!
For more tips on bullet journalling as a student, click here.
A lot of bullet journal inspiration online just doesn’t really work for students. I mean, let’s be honest; we’re busy, and we don’t have the time or the mental space to be carrying around seven coordinated markers, updating a bunch of daily trackers, or devote a few hours a month to drawing out gorgeous spreads with a seasonal theme. Even some posts I’ve seen that claim to be for students just seem ridiculously time consuming. Like, nah. I have lab reports to write!
Fortunately, the best part about the bullet journal system is that it’s completely adaptable.
Here are my top five tips for realistically bullet journalling as a student.
I used my old bullet journal and my new 2019 journal as examples. (DISCLAIMER: Some pages have areas that are blurred out or covered in white boxes; this was done to protect personal information such as my daily schedule, location, etc.)
For each day, have a separate space for your schedule and your to do list. I’ve found it super helpful to split every day into two, one for my class/work schedule and one for assignments/tasks. Having your schedule blocked out each day is great because you can visually see how much time you will have, and be sure to never forget a class or accidentally go to class when it has been cancelled. Writing out your to do list separately also gives you a visual reference of how busy you are, and prevents assignments from getting lost in the shuffle.
Have a simple method to track assignments, such as this one. I write down every assignment on the day that it’s due, and write in regular reminders about big projects. There are several homework tracking methods out there, but I like this one for several reasons. It’s not complicated and it’s not on a separate page; it’s right there with your regular to do list that you look at all the time. You don’t have to refer to separate syllabuses or websites for each class, and you don’t have to worry about forgetting a small assignment or missing a due date. For big projects I write them on the due date, and write in a task such as “work on XXX project” on several days throughout the semester leading up to the project.
Cheapness is WAY more important than aesthetic. Especially after a long session on Pinterest or Instagram, it can be tempting to buy the best journal and markers out there and make every page a work of art. There’s nothing wrong with that, but let’s be real, we’re college students with limited funds. All your journal needs to do is work, and all you really need is a notebook and a pen or pencil. I found dotted notebooks at my local Walmart and they’re honestly really good. I use a cheap gel pen and gray washable marker that also came from Walmart, and some colored pencils I got as a birthday present years ago, and that’s it. You don’t need much.
Keep it simple and consistent. The whole goal of bullet journalling is to decrease your stress level, not increase it. I figured out a simple weekly layout that works for me, and I do it the exact same way every week. This was so helpful for me because I didn’t waste any time staring at a blank page trying to come up with a beautiful layout while my brain was buzzing with ten other things. If you find yourself stressed out trying to make everything beautiful or getting so caught up in designing spreads that you put off your homework, stop. Find something simple, and add crazy embellishments only if you have time and it makes you happy. As a bonus, simple spreads are more relaxing. My favorite spreads are those that have a lot of open space, light colors, and simple layouts. With all the business of college, it’s nice to have your journal be a clean space that makes it easier to breathe.
Finally, make it work for you. Do you need more space? Try giving each day half a page or a full page, or getting a bigger notebook for next time. Do you think you’re bad at drawing? Try printing out images and gluing them in, only drawing simple things like stripes or stars, or just skipping drawing and letting your journal be simple. Do you feel confined trying to fit everything in boxes? Skip the boxes and have a series of lists, or even just one big running list. Do you love gorgeous complicated spreads? Find time for making them between semesters, on weekends, or in small increments throughout the week when you need a break. Try things out, and as you find things you don’t like, change them. It might take a lot of trial and error, but you’ll find a spread that is uniquely yours.
Happy journalling! I love to hear more advice and ideas in the comments 🙂
Be willing to be a beginner, every single morning.
Do you know someone who actually keeps their New Year’s resolutions? These people are few and far between, and they get rarer every year. According to U.S. News, about 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail or are given up on by February of the same year. That statistic isn’t surprising, because most of us know we’re really bad at New Year’s resolutions. We’re used to not achieving our goals, and yet come January first, there we are again with our post it notes and motivational quotes.
This phenomenon is so interesting to me. Every year I see my friends and family set their sights high, and for a week or two they do so well. The gyms are full, kale is sold out at the local grocery, budgets are tightly kept, the sun is shining bright. But inevitably everyone misses a day, or doesn’t reach their first benchmark, and we all slide right back to our old habits. And we know it, and we tell ourselves it’s okay. When the new year comes, we suddenly believe in ourselves again and tell ourselves that now is the time, this time we’re actually gonna do it. But we usually don’t. It’s kind of sweet how we can start over and over again with such innocence, but sad how we so rarely succeed.
I’ve been this person, time and time again, until last year when I finally found a system that works.
First, here are the general principles that led me to this system. These can apply to any goals you want to set, whether you want to try my system or not.
Break big goals into small goals. Part of the reason so many of us give up on our goals is that they are way too big to tackle. It’s okay to set this kind of goal, but it makes it much easier if you break it down into smaller pieces. Set small simple goals like writing before you turn on the TV, writing a chapter every two weeks, or writing for a half an hour each workday. These small goals should be easy, and achieving them will encourage you.
Set goals you can measure. We’ve all done them, but vague goals are quite honestly a waste of your time. These goals are bad because it’s hard to determine how successful you’ve been. How much “more healthy” do you want to be? What qualifies as “eating right”? Instead, translate this vague goal into something you can measure: eating a full serving of vegetables every day or avoiding sugary foods before lunchtime. The idea is to write your goal as something that you can definitively say “yes” or “no” to. That way you know exactly how far you’ve come and can’t make excuses.
Approach goals as a choice, not as something forced on you. Another reason we often fail is our whole approach to resolutions. Don’t think of it as “I need to lose weight.” Immediately that phrasing gives rise to stress, urgency, negativity, and even loss of self-worth. Think of it instead as “I choose to lose weight.” It’s a small change, but it makes a big difference. You are the acting agent. You are doing this because you want to and choose to, not because anything is making you. It’s empowering.
Have regular reminders/accountability systems. When you’re the only one keeping you accountable, it can be hard to stay on track no matter how committed you are. Your accountability system can be as simple as writing your goals down next to your mirror or having a friend work on the same goal with you. You can also set up a small fitting reward for each benchmark you pass, such as letting yourself buy a new running outfit if you go running every day for two weeks. Do anything that works for you to keep you from forgetting, keep you motivated, and keep you from cheating yourself.
Set goals over things you can realistically control. Of course, your goals need to be possible. It’s good to push yourself, but a new year has no magical power to make you Superman. Don’t set goals that depend on other people’s choices, or really that depend on anything but you. If you’re not sure how much you can handle, put your big goal on the back burner and try a smaller goal first. If you make it just fine, bump it up, and if you don’t, adjust. The goal is to succeed, no matter how small.
Avoid strict timelines on larger goals. This one is arguable, but makes a lot of sense to me. It’s okay to have a ballpark time you want to get it done, but it’s almost impossible to anticipate how your circumstances might change. Instead, set deadlines for your smaller goals and hold yourself to them. It’s much easier to meet a short deadline than a long deadline, and your short deadlines are adjustable if you have a sudden change in your pay, health, or free time. This flexibility allows you to keep your goals realistic, and still know you’re pushing yourself and will reach your goal as soon as you can.
Keeping all of this in mind, I came up with my resolution system last year.
It starts by identifying four main areas of your life that you want to improve or focus on. For example, last year my four areas came from a quote from one of my church leaders: listen, learn, labor, love. This year my four categories are spirituality, education, wellness, and creativity. Of course you can use as few or as many categories as you want, but try to keep it less than six so it’s manageable. It’s okay for these areas to be big and even vague. These ideas are what you want to work on for the whole year.
Then, explain what you want to improve about each of those big areas and brainstorm things you can do to make it happen. This can be messy and slightly vague if need be. The goal here is to get all your ideas on paper, articulate your desires, decide what is most important to you, and start to think of realistic measurable actions you can take to improve your “categories.”
Each month, set a smaller goal for each of your areas and review the goals you made the previous month. Make these something you can realistically do in a month (even if you have to break up something larger). This monthly approach lets you adapt your goals to whatever works best in your current environment, break up your big goals into something concrete, and keep yourself accountable by regularly evaluating your progress. A month is about how long most of us make it with your resolutions before we quit, so it’s the perfect space of time to pass between regroups and restarts. For example, one of my big areas this year is education, and my January goal to improve this aspect of life is to finish at least four applications for summer internships. This is something measurable, not too challenging, and appropriate for the time because most internship deadlines are coming up in February.
Each week, set five even smaller goals and hold yourself accountable to at least three of them. I know it sounds odd but hear me out on this one. I got the idea of setting five and holding myself to at least three from my sister who’s done it for years, and I absolutely love it. Having five goals gives me flexibility to include any random goals I feel the need to do that don’t really relate to my resolutions. For the crazy busy weeks, or for weeks when I overestimate myself, I only have to keep three of the goals and feel okay about letting two fall by the wayside. This system allows you to stay accountable and push yourself, but allows you to slip up without failing. Having these goals weekly lets you break up your monthly goals into bite sized pieces, and they’re very adaptable, simple, and hard to forget.
Rinse and repeat. Each month, look back briefly on your progress and then plan our your next steps. Each week, make manageable goals that move you forward and make yourself do at least a simple majority of them. If you have time and want to push yourself, these monthly and weekly goals can be big. If you’re very busy, they can be small as long as they are there and you are accomplishing them.
Remember, the goal is success. It doesn’t matter if it’s a very small success, it is still success, and it’s always better than aiming too high and accomplishing nothing. Start with small steps that you know you can do and do them. As you move forward, you’ll gain more confidence in yourself and your ability to succeed, and you’ll be emboldened to try bigger and better things.
Happy New Year everyone! I’d love to hear your resolutions and how you help yourself succeed.
Success is going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.
It’s been a while. If anyone reading this is new here, my name is Cammie, I love the world, and I made this blog as a space to put my musings. I haven’t posted anything here for over two months. This is that story.
This fall came with a lot of changes, transferring colleges, changing my major, starting a new job, moving to a new state, all those fun things that seem to keep happening at this stage of life. Overall these changes were very good for me, and I was excited and so ready to take off. I’m not a very patient person. I mapped out my courses, started planning grad school, charted career paths, all of my biggest dreams and goals, and it was deeply inspiring … and yet, somehow deeply discouraging. There were my aspirations hanging above me, and there I was, trudging through just another basic day. Somehow the dream didn’t translate. I’m sure we’ve all experienced some form of this. You get yourself so pumped up over a new project, listen to all the motivational quotes, feel ready to conquer everything. But after being continually confronted with the the mundane daily drudge, your motivation goes stale.
To an extent, I think that’s how life just is. Our big benchmark moments and dreams are rarely felt in the day to day grind. The day to day is full of frozen leftovers, laundry, spam email, mismatched socks, and plans to be better someday. This fall I was in my ideal major at a great college, but that wasn’t my everyday reality. Each day was wake up to the alarm, get dressed in the dark throw in a half hour of homework, speed walk through the cold, try to stay awake through lecture, try to tutor frustrated students, throw together some food, collapse on the couch with a laptop and a few textbooks, maybe have some social interaction, retire to bed. Rinse and repeat. My health has never been great, but it declined even more. Somehow in the wash of all of this, I was forced to confront the mental health issues I’d been stubbornly ignoring for several years. I saw myself going through rapid cycles between panicking that I wasn’t productive enough and feeling so deeply sad and overwhelmed that I was effectively paralyzed. I had my first panic attack, which left me more rattled and unsettled than I’d thought possible, and I felt on the verge of another for weeks after.
A few weeks before finals, a girl on my campus killed herself by jumping off of a fourth floor balcony. The atmosphere on campus was subdued for the rest of the semester, a weird mix of sadness and vulnerability and stress and slight fear. My roommate was on suicide watch, and one of my neighbors, and probably several others I didn’t know about. So many nights were spent in tearful conversations, falling against each other on our cheap couch and staring into the void of the future. The weather went colder, the skies went darker, the Christmas slogans and carols around us felt somehow unreal and removed.
This sounds very melodramatic as I’m writing it out, but that’s how we felt. I knew that this sort of thing happens to everyone. We all hit slumps and have down days, and they stink. I’d heard that so many times, almost always followed up by a statement about the need to keep going and how good times will come. Logically, we all know that dark days don’t last forever, and we know that we’ll be okay. But it doesn’t feel that way in the moment, when you’re stuck in the everyday drag. The negativity isn’t removed as part of someone’s motivational speech, it’s right here, yelling in your face. When you feel both anxiety and depression, you’re torn between the constant panic that you’re ruining everything and the dragging weight of sadness and self-loathing, which can quickly lead you down a spiral of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don’t worry about me, I’ve started counseling and the break has been very good for me. And in a way, this semester has been good for me. The hard times have a way of increasing our humanity and making us softer.
Moving forward I think things will continue improving. I’m learning better ways to deal with stress, and my schedule next semester will be less busy. I’m not sure where this blog is going to go, but I do want to get back into it. I anticipate making a few more changes to my setup, and probably getting on a schedule of posting once a week. Writing used to be a source of peace and renewal for me, and I’m hoping that it can be that way again.
I want to end by saying this. If anyone reading this has recognized themselves in this story, or is going through a hard time right now, or has thought about suicide, I want you to know that you’ll be okay. There are so many things that you can’t control, but what you can control is how you react and fight back, even if it feels like fighting against yourself. There is still part of you that’s innocent and happy and whole, even if it feels like a distant memory. Find things that make you happy, even if they’re little, and find people who care about you. If you can’t think of anyone, please drop a comment and I will talk to you anytime you need it. I really mean that. We all need each other, and we’re all benefited by coming together.
“You’ll have moments when you feel like a lion, and moments when you feel like a mouse. Just know that no matter how you feel, you still have a heartbeat and a soul worthy of love, so learn to roar even when you feel small, because you are more than the feelings you have.”