What Do I Thirst for this Christmas?

A friend recently pointed me toward Mary Oliver’s poem “Thirst” and encouraged me to consider what I am yearning for in the coming season. I’ve been reflecting on this all month, both because it’s Advent and because I’ve been in the habit this year of writing in my One-Line-a-Day journal. I’ve found it supremely helpful to spend a few minutes summarizing the day, good and bad, before bed. However, it’s rather different to look back on a single day than to look forward several weeks toward a day seeped in so much expectation and attention and baggage.

I have been looking forward, however, with the help of a one-page-a-day Advent journal. Each day of December, the journal prompts you to answer a question about your upcoming Christmas and provides space for you to record the festive things you did that day. Many of my entries thus far include passages processing my younger cousin Santee’s death, as well as notes about what gifts I’m looking forward to giving, what traditions are new for Tyler and I, the movies we watched, the shopping I did, and the flavors I’m experiencing (like gingerbread cookies and peppermint hot chocolate).

So what do I thirst for as Christmas approaches?

Comfort for Santee’s friends, girlfriend, sister, and niblings. I yearn for comfort as well for our extended family, including conversation about Santee’s life and death. A death so near Christmas, as well as experiencing the first holiday without a loved one, is it’s own unique brand of pain. Worse because your grief is in direct tension with calls to be jolly and joyful and the insistence that all is merry and bright. Our family has experienced this before, but many of Santee’s friends won’t have.

Time to rest and enjoy the season. That means time to read a fluffy Christmas romance and watch a ton of movies. That means time to bake and make ornaments. Time to run errands without feeling rushed. I’d love to get my wedding photos organized and printed but I’m concentrating on enjoying the season, not bogging myself down with something I can do any time of the year.

Peace for all people. The peace I refer to comes from a Hebrew word, shalom, referring not only to a cessation of violence and vehemence but also the wholeness and wellness of the entire community. This won’t happen on the scale I want, maybe not even in my family, so I’ve chosen several ways to work toward providing a more peaceful holiday for others.

What do you thirst for as December trots on? Silence? Solitude? Companionship? Rest? Understanding? Shortbread? I’d love to hear the desire that sings for you.

2 Wedding To-Do Lists

Yesterday was exactly 2 months—61 days—until our wedding. Tyler and I spent this past weekend with my family, playing games and eating barbecue and addressing, stuffing, and stamping our wedding invitations. Despite the massiveness of this accomplishment, and of how excited I am to be just 2 months away from our wedding day, I’m finding myself in a constant hum of low level stress about all the details still needing to be handled.

Here is yesterday’s wedding task to-do list:
-Address, stamp, and stuff invitations for 2 remaining wedding party members
-Address 3 final invitations
-Distribute invitations to coworkers
-Mail all invitations
-Email florist
-Email coordinator
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Review photographer’s timeline
-Forward timeline to coordinator
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Email Maid of Honor re: mobility needs for hotel
-Call hotels re: mobility accessible rooms
-Visit 2 hotels to look at mobility accessible rooms
-Book hotel room
-Update “Accommodations” section of wedding website
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-Email photos to the bridesmaid who’s designing the guestbook

And on top of all those wedding items, I went to work, went grocery shopping, cooked dinner with Tyler, and read a little. Only 3 items didn’t get done. It was a productive day and I feel good about it!

Here’s today’s wedding to-do list:
-Fill out coordinator’s questionnaire
-Call salon to make wedding day apts
-Research traveler’s insurance for honeymoon
-RSVP “no” to 2 showers that conflict with wedding events
-Order gifts for 2 showers

Honestly, despite the amount I got done yesterday, it’ll probably take me a couple days to finish what’s left on this list. I’m already getting tired and my schedule today gives me less time to get wedding-related things done.

I like to try to get a lot done early in the week, when I’m energetic and am still capable of making decisions. By Thursday and Friday—sometimes even by Wednesday—I’m asking Tyler to pick what we’re having for dinner, napping after work instead of making calls or cleaning, and telling my bridesmaids that whatever they want for the shower/dinner/art project will be fine. By the end of the week, I’m less capable of handling the volume.

In addition to the big party and big trip I’m planning, I’m moving in two months. I’m trying to enjoy the time left with my roommate and her dog, stay on top of my nutrition and exercise, maintain my close relationships, prepare for married life, make sure family members and friends feel included, get ahead on my work projects, write occasionally, read, clean, check the weather, do laundry, and not bore everyone around me by talking about all these things.

One weeknight recently, Tyler asked me if anything was wrong. I had been quiet for a while, trying to think plan for all that needs to be done. I asked him to tell me that we’re going to get everything done and everything’s going to be okay.

I thought it’d be nice, though definitely not necessary, to hear. When he repeated my words, though, so sweetly, I started crying. I hadn’t let myself feel the weight of my stress until that moment. I hadn’t meant to let myself feel it at all.

Tyler asked me to pick two things I was stressed about. I picked unpacking wedding shower gifts and writing thank you notes, and for the next hour he worked on one while I worked on the other. Then we picked two things we couldn’t work on immediately—packing and moving a nightstand from my house to his apartment—and promised to make progress on them this week.

All-in-all, there really isn’t much left to do. Everything and everyone necessary for the wedding and reception are booked. My calendar knows who needs to be paid when. It’s the details that are adding up now. Still, as my aunt told me earlier today, this is normal. It doesn’t feel like it, but it is.

The most important thing is that we are blessed with friends and family and family-to-be who love us and who we want to celebrate with. The lists will get done. Or they won’t. Lord willing, we’ll be married in two months. And that’s all that matters.

List of Life-giving

So yesterday was terrible (looking at you, Justice Kennedy) and I had to take a break to color or my sudden, intense stress and anxiety would have made bees fly out of my mouth.

Earlier this week on Facebook, I promised a happier post at the end of this week and today feels like a good day for it.

Here is a short list of things giving me life lately:

-Blair Braverman: Blair and her partner Q are golden-hearted mushers with a mountain full of sled dogs and strong literary resumes. (Blair’s book is here.) She’ll be mushing in the Iditarod next year! My soulpup’s name is Boudica! And right now on Blair’s Twitter, it’s 90% puppies. Here is a recent Twitter thread documenting the afternoon when the two litters of Braverman Mountain sled dog puppies, born a week apart, met for the first time.

United Shades of America: Now in it’s third season on CNN, United Shades focuses each week on a unique community in the US, what’s important to them, and the tensions and conflicts surrounding them. W. Kamau Bell hosts, traveling and asking questions and listening to people who identify as Gullah, Sikh, KKK, indigenous, disabled, imprisoned, Hawaiian, or something else! Tyler and I watch together so we can learn together.

-Tyler’s family: I can’t share them with you, but you’d love it if I could. They’re generous and talented and funny and kind and welcoming. And I am so grateful for them.

Jackaby series: This is Sherlock meets my coworker Darrell Pursiful’s Into the Wonder series. The astute detective with an ugly hat made of yeti’s wool helps his new assist Abigail navigate a murder investigation in a fairytale (think Grimm, not Disney) fantasy version of New York. It’s fun. It’s mysterious. It’s removed from my life and US politics. Huzzah!

The Great British Baking Show: It was sprinkling in my brain the other day and I sighed with relief when I found an episode on PBS (which is such a gift). Within the first 4 minutes, I felt better than I had all day. Everything from the cinematography to the tones of voices to the music soothes and uplifts and enlivens. And it’s interesting!

-Friends: I’ve had the most interesting conversations with my friends lately. We’ve talked about annoying baby naming trends, mental health strategies, cake, arguments with partners, and kambucha. All of them have made me feel better about the world.

-Coloring: As mentioned above, sometimes I have to color to calm down the anxious buzzing in my brain. One of my favorite things to do lately is to draw on my work calendar with highlighters. I design each month with a different theme and color scheme. June was nothing but the sun and its rays until this final week, which I’ve filled with grass and flowers and weeds.

-Cake: Tyler and I went to our cake tasting/consultation this week and hot diggity dog, friends! This is gonna be delicious. Meanwhile, cake is great! If you can, I recommend getting a slice from Publix (did you know they sell cake by the slice?!) or a cupcake from your favorite local spot.

Wedding Planning (and Mental Health) Tips

Last week, a friend who recently got engaged asked me how I remained so calmly attentive while planning our wedding. “Teach me your ways,” she said.

This week, two high-profile celebrities, a designer/business entrepreneur and a chef/TV host who made the world better in their own ways, died by suicide.

So here are some major things I do to help manage my anxiety in a constantly humming, high-stress, at times overwhelming season of life. And if today is hard for you, I hope this list might give you some ideas of things that might help you to feel better.

1. Don’t idolize calm. Not only calm, anyway. I oscillate between feeling calmly capable, impatiently excited, and frantically stressed. If I don’t get enough sleep or food, I’m grumpily pessimistic. Just because you see me in a serene moment, or I’m intentionally projecting calm, doesn’t mean I didn’t spend most of the day in one of the less fun emotions. And such moods are just as real, just as natural, as the cheery ones. You don’t have to be happy all the time just because you’re engaged or your life is going well by the world’s standards. You’re still a person. You’ll allowed to feel all the same emotions you felt before, including frustration, fear, anxiety, sadness, and more. Calm is not the ideal. Healthy is.

2. Build a soothing nightly routine. For me, this is a 3-step ritual. Step 1: Take a shower or bath (more on that below). Step 2: Write down the events of the day in a 5-year journal (1 line a day). In doing so, I’m acknowledging what happened that day but also closing the book on it and setting it aside. Step 3: Read a chapter in the Bible. I was already reading the Psalms when I got engaged, and followed that book with Proverbs and now Isaiah. When I read a chapter, I’m nourishing my soul. I’m engaging my mind with something outside myself, and on Someone who can give perspective on my life and struggles and experiences.

3. Hot baths. It sounds frivolous or stereotypical but for me it’s 1000% true. Hot baths can calm you and help your body unclinch from all the stress you’re carrying around. Showering and taking baths are kind of like intentional sensory deprivation: you’re warm and comfortable, the room isn’t busy or loud, you choose the smells and sensations (bubbles, bath bombs, bath pillows, etc) that you experience. Leave your phone OUTSIDE, preferably where you can’t hear it buzz or ding. Read or listen to music, or listen to nothing. I like to give myself 30 min to an hour to enjoy my bath, so I’m not constantly checking the clock or wondering how much time has gone by.

4. Mystery novels. Usually, I read cheesy romances when I’m stressed. It’s my go-to genre in TV watching, too. But lately, they just aren’t as much fun, and I find my mind wandering to my to-do lists. Mysteries, however, are engaging enough to distract my brain from all the people I need to call, all the emails I need to send, and all the kitchen mixers I need to research. They’re easy to put down and pick back up when I have the time. They also tend to be short, so finishing an audiobook a week and a paperback every two weeks makes me feel accomplished. We may still be struggling to get the guest list under 250 people, but I finished two books last week, and I feel good about that.

5. Post-it notes. I keep 2 colors by my bed. One is for daily goals (pink). The other is for weekly goals (green). I cross things off when I get them done. If I don’t get everything done in a day or a week, I just throw the post it away and write a new one. If something distracts me while I’m journaling or reading before bed, I write it down and move on. It’s a quick aside and I’m not letting myself stay distracted by it. Again, acknowledge, then put aside until a better time to deal with it.

6. Take care of yourself. I get way grumpier if I don’t eat well and on time. I get way more stressed if I’m tired. Take naps. Eat green stuff. Go home early and read. Take a bath and go to bed. Drink a glass of water. Go for a long walk or a run. Play with the dog. Watch a funny movie or a mystery and put your phone out of reach. Sit in the sunshine. Make a hair or massage or pedicure appointment and let yourself enjoy it. When you’re taking care of yourself, you’re better able to deal with the stress and anxiety and pressure. You’ll make better decisions and you’ll handle sudden problems better. Your well-being is more important than any of the details of your wedding day.

7. Take breaks. Take breaks from planning. Take breaks even from talking about planning. At the beginning of our engagement, I intentionally tried to only do and talk wedding stuff with Tyler during the week. Weekends were for fun things like visiting friends, having lunch with family, and watching baseball games. If someone else brought up the wedding, we could talk about it. If Tyler wanted to run an idea past me, he would. But I saved all my plans and phone calls, and as many meetings and requests as possible, for weekdays. Eventually, that model broke down and we had to use the weekends. Now its even more important that we take breaks to focus on other aspects of our lives and relationships. Even just a meal without wedding talk can be incredibly helpful.

8. Let go. Let go of stuff. You’re going to be blending your living space and things and time with someone else. It’s a good idea to simplify, even to cull, so you’ll have more time and space and freedom. I’m currently knee-deep in a great book cull. Yarn will follow. I’ve cleaned out my winter closet and am going to clean out my summer closet as the season wanes. Also, let go of obligations that don’t align with what you want and need right now. That will mean saying no to good and cool things, even though you don’t want to. Letting go also gives you permission to cut out things that were never good for you.

As much as you can, let go of others’ expectations for you. Someone is going to get upset with you for something that you didn’t even see coming. It’s going to be stressful. Handle it in the way that’s best for you as a couple. That might mean placating or acquiescing because family is forever and you don’t want to alienate your friends over something that isn’t a make-or-break deal to you but is to them. It may also mean trusting the people who really love you to keep loving you, even when they disagree with or feel hurt by your decision.

9. This is fun. You get to pick out new clothes! You get to figure our your favorite flowers! You get to plan a big trip with your favorite person! So many old friends reach out to you! And a registry is the biggest, most expensive Christmas list you’ll make your whole life! Put another, less bridal way, you experience good things because of this season of life. Remind yourself of those good things. Make a list if you need to. Remember them especially when things don’t feel good.

10. Marriage plan as well as wedding plan. Try to make good habits now that you can keep up later. In the end, your wedding day is just one day. And so is today. Work on your communication. Make a budget. Cook together. Learn way more about your future in-laws. Learn way more about your parents. Don’t give up your hobbies and other interests. Don’t give up your friends. Make buddies with other engaged and newly married couples. Attend pre-marital counseling. Tyler and I consider counseling to be preventative care for our mental health (especially mine) and pre-marital counseling to be preventative for the health of our marriage.

6 Factors to Being a Copyeditor

Last week before Bible study, one of the leaders asked everyone to share an interesting fact that “won’t knock anyone’s socks off”. I could make a joke about mediocrity in contemporary church culture, but I shall refrain.

Unfortunately, the tidbit I shared missed the mark: There are hyphens, as I’m sure you know, but there are also two kinds of dashes.

That, apparently, was sock-knocking-off material. And although I hadn’t intended to explain the differences, their reactions necessitated the simplest explanation I could give. (And if you’re dying of curiosity, I’ve included this riveting information at the bottom of this post.)

Which reminded me how unusual the daily details of the publishing world are for most people.

So here are 6 things I’ve learned are important to being a copyeditor.

1. Re-learn to read.
When people read, we’re actually reading each word as a whole. That’s how we can read those those emails and Tumblr posts where evere vewel hes been repleced weth e sengle letter. It’s also how we can read something (like a blog post) a dozen times and not notice a typo. It’s why spelling can be difficult: vacuum and vaccum look quite similar, so conjuring up the image of the correctly spelled word can be hard. Copyeditors must learn to slow down and read not word by word, but letter by letter. We must re-learn to sound out words to help ensure that the spine text says Message to the Gentiles, not Message to the Genitals (yes, that really did happen).

2. You’re going to miss things.
Welcome to humanity, my friend! You might be great at spotting italicized periods that should be in regular font, hyphens that should be en dashes, or too many spaces between words. You might excel at correcting citations or semi-colon usage. But you can’t be excellent at everything. You can’t spot every mistake, even in the areas you’re particularly skilled in. But that’s okay. You’re one cog in the production wheel. Even if the buck stops with you for a particular error, rightly or wrongly, lots of other eyes examined the same material. You’re looking for so many details, it is impossible to find and correct everything.

3. Spell check is your friend, but not your best friend.
As you saw in the above example (Gentiles/Genitals), some mistakes aren’t ones spell check is going to catch because, technically, your typo is a correctly spelled word. Or maybe the word you’re looking at would show up with a red squiggle even if were spelled correctly. In this business, you find yourself second-guessing the spelling of proper names you’ve always been able to spell or that you see often. You carefully compare letters in words like “postexilic” and names like “Ahasuerus”. You know that someone before you might have misspelled that word every single time, or spelled it correctly every time save one. Spell check can definitely help with that, but it’s an algorithm and can only act that way. Still, you’ll also be grateful when spell check alerts you to some glaring mistake, like two O’s in “hope”. The trick is to focus your attention where there isn’t a safety net like spell check, but to remember that the net has holes.

4. You can’t let it affect you.
You’re a professional. You have to keep reading. You may have just read the most beautiful account of a dog’s sacrificial death that’s ever been penned, but you can’t cry over it for the rest of the afternoon. You may have read a deeply convicting devotion, but you can’t stop and dwell on it for half an hour. You have work to do. You have to keep going. You have deadlines and a duty to remain professional. You can’t read a novel like a novel; if you do, you’ll be reading, not copyediting. You can’t read a piece like a consumer, you’re a staffer. Wipe your eyes, take a picture of the question that got you thinking, and move on. The trouble with training yourself in this way is letting things affect you when you’re not on the clock. I’ve walled off part of myself to help me get my work done, and it’s hard not to sit behind the same wall when I’m reading for pleasure, not errors.

5. Reading is a tiny bit ruined.
It’s still fun, of course. But when you’re paid to read in high volume and pick the material apart, it’s hard to slow down and enjoy without the same urges to be critical. It can be hard to let yourself be influenced by what you’re reading. I love to read fiction, particularly YA and mysteries, and am so fortunate that I work in an entirely different genre. It helps separate the work and personal reading in my brain. But I still find myself bothered by a typo or bad line break in my personal reading until I turn the page. I’ve even taken a pencil to my books to mark the problem. I regularly do this with the church bulletin and sermon notes, too. The mistakes bother me until I mark them, but once done my brain can relax and focus.

6. Keep Sharpening Your Skills.
Grammar is boring, even to me. But it’s necessary. Not only to catch errors, but to be able to communicate your changes, or questions, to other editors. (And to know what to Google when you aren’t sure.) The same principle applies to the house stylebook. Basically, this just means that the company you work for has already figured out all the subjective stuff about how all the projects should look—from font size and style to whether to abbreviate books of the Bible and what pronouns, if any, you should use for God. The more you learn by heart, the less you’ll have to look up. Repetition will dull your mind over time, so make an effort to keep learning, and re-learning, as you go.

***

Hyphen = connect words or verses in the Bible
En Dash = indicate a span, like a span of time or chapters of the Bible
Em Dash = set aside a phrase in a similar way to how commas or parentheses might

Winter is Coming (and I Don’t Want to be Depressed Again)

Last year around this time, I posted about my favorite fall and winter activities. A few months later, I posted about why my autumn hadn’t shaped up to be the favorite season it usually is. Nestled in there was an admission that I’ve spent much of the past year processing in theoretical and practical ways: I was depressed. I was also anxious, though it took longer to figure that out.

This year, I’m giving a lot of thought to the coming season, but without the excitement level of last year. My favorite things about fall and winter have always centered on light in darkness, but last year there was a lot of darkness in my mind (and, I would argue, in the world). As 2017’s days get shorter, I’m preparing in specific ways to give myself the best chance of making to spring without becoming suffering another depressive episode. (I think all 5 strategies are pretty solid ways to enter into the rest of this year.)

1. Simplify. I love knick knacks. Little things that spark a smile and look cool and remind me of fun times or people or characters or concepts. I’m just like my grandmother this way, who lined all her shelves with porcelain and glass figures, and kept them forever. But too much stuff, and things not being neat, stress me out. Not badly, but my mind needs room to consider, to breathe, to be creative. So I’m making space in my life and my schedule. At work, I’m putting resources I rarely need out of sight and rotating out my knick knacks so they aren’t all visible at once. If I feel anything but peace about something I’m asked to do, personally or professionally, I take a step back and reevaluate it. Why am I anxious or worried? Is this something I can say No to and feel at peace? Are their benefits that would outweigh these feelings? If I can’t say no, what’s most bothering me and how can I manage it to minimize my stress?

2. Clean out. A little over a week ago, I cleaned out my drawers and closet, filling two huge bags of clothes to donate to a local domestic violence shelter. Some items I’ve “outgrown” and others I just don’t wear often enough to keep. I’m keeping clothes I wear, not the ones I wish I did. That includes a beloved but too-worn pair of boots, a pleather jacket coming apart at the seams, and an incredibly comfortable pair of linen pants I never want to iron. I’ve been careful to buy fewer clothes than I’m giving away, and only very soft, very practical items. (Other than that one dress, but it’s practically got a cape!) Last year, I only wanted to wear soft, easy, warm clothes, and if that’s helpful to my brain when it’s struggling, it’ll be a better for mild seasonal blues, too.

3. Build good habits. I bought a light therapy box. I know I get a little down in the winter because my element is sunlight (it’s the most relatable thing about Superman, who I generally dislike). And, with shorter, darker days, I’ll need some extra help making sure my body is getting the sunshine it needs. Happy light to the rescue! … I hope! I need to build the habit of using it every day and in the right way. Only then can it do the good, darkness-dispelling work it was made to do. I also need to incorporate a better prayer and Bible reading regimen, which dispels darkness in a different, but equally real, way. Eating bigger breakfasts but fewer snacks are also on my habits-to-form list. And none of this will mean much if I don’t get enough regular, quality sleep. It truly is amazing how much I starve my body, little by little, of these two basic needs: nutrients and rest.

4. Take social media hiatuses. Presumably, an ideologically catastrophic event will not occur this Nov. 8 like it did last year, and so the most serious bout of depression I’ve ever experienced will probably not be triggered. However, accessing social media definitely contributed to my anxiety and depression last November and December, and I’ve noticed that I’ve struggled under its effects since then, too. I’m much better able to absorb terrible news at 11am or 2pm than right before bed or right after I get up. Also, some days are just worse than others, in terms of the type of news or what’s happening in my brain. A stormy mental health day needs a social media hiatus, especially from Twitter. Very terrible news might necessitate a break, too.

5. Choose manageable goals. I want to finish NaNo. I want to do it in order to recapture the joy participating in NaNo has brought me in years past and to help jumpstart my fiction writing life again. I managed to complete the 50,000 word goal last November while depressed, so I’m reasonably confident that I can do it again this year. However, I’m doing this for the experience, not the product, so I’m going to be looser with the rules than in the past: I’ll count blog writing in my word counts and won’t restrict myself to one project. I might rewrite my NaNo project from two years ago (cozy murder mystery with ghosts) or I might try a new idea I’ve been kicking around since the summer (also a cozy mystery). If one project fails on me, I’m planning to just pick up the next one and keep writing. Finishing NaNo requires prep work, like making and freezing meals ahead of time and making lists of scenes and characters and basic plot structures. For me, it also means planning well for the days I’ll need to be traveling and scheduling specific rest times throughout the month.

I don’t want to end with something cheesy like “Stay positive!” but if there is a 6th strategy, that’s it. I’m looking forward to Hallmark Christmas movies, chili, snuggling under blankets, candles, a fire in the fireplace, Christmas trees, crisp air, apple pie with ice cream, and Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

If you also tend to have more mental health struggles in fall and winter, I’d love to hear how you’re preparing for the next few months!

Things I Miss about Manchester

I’ve lived in Manchester twice, the first time in the neighborhood of Withington for 4 months and the second time in City Centre for 6 weeks. The flat I lived in the second time was about 10 minutes, walking, from the Manchester Arena where this week’s suicide bombing targeted young concert-goers and their parents. I would have been one of those people offering, at 2am, a cup of tea, a chance to recharge phones, even a spare bed.

To honor this city I adore and greatly miss, I’m making a list:

1. The people. Individual people, absolutely. The first I knew something had happened in Manchester was when I started getting Facebook notifications that friends had checked in as safe. But I also just miss the spirit of Mancunians. This is a former industry town, red-bricked and soot-stained with old canals and some gleaming new facades. First-rate public transit. Prams (strollers) in parks. Excellent museums and art galleries. Where there are more students than you can reasonably hope to count. Where I once saw a person in a rabbit costume walk sedately up the street. Where the Queen once attended a couple’s wedding in city hall. Where I could look up from my kitchen table and into the faces of passengers on the top level of a red double-decker. Where a statue stands of Abraham Lincoln, commemorating that though the American Civil War decimated Manchester’s economy, the ending of slavery in the US was worth it. They are extraordinary people.

2. Piccadilly Gardens. From hot chocolate at an outdoor table to watching children play in the fountain, from whirring over the city in a carnival swing to the Primark at the corner (good grief, I miss that Primark). I miss just walking through on my way to Arndale’s food court for lunch with a friend or to Printworks then a pub. (Both Arndale and Printworks are mere blocks from the arena.) I miss the ridiculous two Starbucks locations on opposite sides of the square, and a Cafe Nero, and another Cafe Nero around the corner. I miss getting desperate enough for a single Krispy Kreme donut that I pay that price and queuing for the bus in the freezing cold. I also miss running to the first stop up Portland Street when I arrived too late and my bus had already shut its doors to depart.

3. Food. MCR loves curry. And American restaurants. And Chinese food. Mostly curry, which is as it should be. And Chinatown is fantastic (I have a favorite place). Krispy Fried Chicken, Kansas Fried Chicken, and various other establishments (including KFC) can be avoided quite well, thank you. (The meat is hallal, there’s no such thing as extra crispy, they fry in olive oil, and it’s the greasiest food you can manage to find in all the Isles.) A friend begged me to go with him to the Arndale mall food court when Taco Bell opened. I know someone who threatened to move when the American-style burger place in the Northern District burned. But oh, goodness. The curry!

4. Parks. This is very much an English thing, but Manchester’s parks are amazing. I already talked about Piccadilly Gardens. Then there’s the one nearest my flat in Withington with double duck ponds and willows that look ready to whomp. The one where the Salford and Quays meet. The one where my friend took her boys to play every day, even in the rain, and where I also took them when I babysat them. The one we’d cut through visiting friends in Fallowfield. The one where I saw a 5-actor production of “Pride & Prejudice”. The ones attached to homes in the National Trust, great sweeping grounds of manor houses like Dunham Massey, Tatton Park, and Lyme Park (the house used as Pemberley in the classic “Pride & Prejudice” miniseries). There are even a couple more I can’t place. But parks are well kept and well valued by Mancunians.

5. City Katie. I’ve written about her before. She was her best self in Manchester. And she got really good at applying eye liner, mascara, lipstick, and blush on the train. Less so on the bus.

I long to hear the Mancunian accent. I long to queue! Every Christmas I miss the markets with an almost physical pain. I find myself wistful for a particular yarn shop, wishing I could get my watch battery changed at a certain hardware shop. I yearn for a specific Italian restaurant and please, please give me Nando’s! Did I mention Primark? I miss Primark. The Piccadilly Gardens one.

Manchester is truly English (much more so than London), truly British (see halal meat and curry), truly in love with sports (Man City over United any day), truly lovely in just about every sense of the word. And I am so, so sorry for them. I am also immensely honored to have called Manchester home those short, pivotal times in my life.

Things I Already Miss about NYC

I spent last week in the city of lights, specifically in Brooklyn and I was immediately a bit of a snob about it. I miss the narrow, tall house, the smooth wooden banisters, the orange and red tulips on my dresser. I miss the wonderful friends who hosted me. And here are some other things I miss.

Delivery on everything. We didn’t even order in groceries or pillows or bagels or postcards. But I could have. And I’ve missed that freedom.

Interesting food. Also bagels. And pizza. And macarons. And cart pretzels (even though I didn’t have one, they were always nearby). The restaurants themselves were fascinating: long farm tables so you can share a workspace, round tables stacked with silver plates of pastries, a narrow counter at an open window, a tiny square table in a former church.

Walking culture. I almost never say, “Let’s walk there,” in my life in Macon, GA. It’s still rarer for everyone in a group to assume we’ll walk. Even at church I take the shuttle to and from the back lot where I park. But in NYC, of course we walked the 1.2 miles to the book store. Of course we walked the 8 blocks from the restaurant to the theater. And I’m happier doing so. And I discover so much more along the way. And the Brooklyn Promenade my first night in town irrevocably captured my heart.

Trains. I love them so much a friend called me Sheldon. Mostly, I love that I can travel hundreds of miles without long waits and baggage hassles (as in airports) and while free to read, write, crochet, work, or any number of other things not possible when driving. Trains are soothing, scenic, inspiring, and the least stressful way for me to travel.

Good public transit. Set me down anywhere in a city like New York, ask me to get anywhere else, and I can do it. I don’t need a car or bulky bags—I can’t take anything too heavy with me—I just take myself where I’m going. I get to people watch. I get to share the space and experience with strangers. I’m also, as on trains, free to use my time because I’m not busy driving.

Connections. I had no idea how far the Chrysler building is from the Empire State building. I had no concept of how close Brooklyn Bridge is to Freedom Tower. I saw movies and read books about New York, so every place in New York was a shot framed under a lamppost, a pan of the skyline, every location disjointed and without context. I couldn’t see how the pieces fit together, relate to one another, and continually marveled at how near things were, even more than how big. Plus, I love recognizing a place I’m seeing in front of me from a favorite TV show or a well-loved movie (“You’ve Got Mail” came up a lot).

History. Yes, I love history. Give me a good museum and I’ll be happy all day. But NYC is, in so many ways, sacred ground. Every inch I walked and every train car and every seat in every restaurant has been vital in a person’s life. More than one person. In an old city, my heart beats in the echoes of all the heartbeats around me and before me. For centuries. Including people I admire and people I ought to admire but don’t know.

Art culture. Sculpture installations, galleries, musicals, plays, schools, book stores, and every other form or product of art. NYC is a place for art. When you visit the city, you’re expected to see at least one Broadway musical. The names of galleries and museums can be rattled off by people who have never been been to the Big Apple: The Met, MOMA, the Guggenheim, the Natural History Museum. And I do love art in Macon as well, and in Atlanta, but there isn’t a culture surrounding art in the same way.

Parks. City folks love—and need—parks. And NYC’s parks are unique, like The Highline: a former above-ground rail line full of trees and grasses and flowers weaving through the West Side along the river. Sitting on a bench in Cadman Plaza, I watched children race their scooters and nannies change diapers while a tiny soccer practice was underway. I live near a wonderful park that I use often, but NYC’s walking culture combines with the unique flavors of neighborhoods for delightful beautiful in high contrast to the surrounding miles of concrete. Not that NYC lacks green beyond it’s parks. I was delighted to find tulips growing at bases of nearly every tree on the sidewalks of Brooklyn.

City Katie. I love who I am in a city. I move through the world confidently. I’m comfortable. I’m so happy. Even when something goes wrong (or many things), I have options and I solve problems. Some days the city wins, but I win far more frequently. I’m flexible, patient, amused and amusing. I do so much in a day. I buy things that bring me joy and that I don’t mind carrying for the rest of the day. (It’s a good litmus test, really: am I going to regret buying this after carrying and keeping up with it for four hours?) I have access to almost any experience I desire. I’m creative. I’m so tired by the time I flop into bed at night. I’m on a constant adventure. I love being this creative, curious, confident, capable person. Driving to work in an ill mood this morning, I missed her the most.

Reflecting on Autumn

On the Fall Equinox, I shared some of the things I was most looking forward to this season: hot chocolate, bonfires, holidays, NaNo, crisp skies, candles, chili, peace on Earth and goodwill toward one another.

Well, things haven’t really gone that way. This autumn was dominated by:
-the election of Trump;
-the bombardment of Aleppo;
-the stand against the North Dakota Pipeline;
-a bout of mild depression;
-a lack of enthusiasm about my NaNo project, catching up with friends, cleaning, cooking, or almost anything (see “depression”);
-a vicious cold that sequestered me in bed for 3 straight days and a string of migraines; 
-over 70 days without rain, necessitating a burn ban (no bonfires) and shriveling leaves, making them drop sooner;
-wildfires that destroyed thousands of acres and hundreds of homes, killed countless animals and half a dozen people, and clogged the sky with smoke;
-very warm weather marked by cold fronts that dropped the temperature by 20-40 degrees in a single day;
-porch renovations I’m excited about but that make the backyard look and smell like a construction site;
-the dog’s thievery and shedding, which have made me unwilling to crochet.


As a result, I haven’t spent my time in the ways I expected. I can’t fully explained why the election bottomed out my personal motivation or if that mild bout of depression was a coincidence. But my autumn has largely consisted of reading, donating money, writing letters to my congressmen, calling those congressmen, signing petitions, debriefing with friends, and creating talking points in case an argument breaks out at a family gathering. I’ve been inside more than normal, from smoke to construction to illness. I’ve had almost no motivation to publish, even as a long-term goal. I’ve struggled to pray. I traveled every weekend of November and most of them in December, only attending church twice.

For comfort, I started listening to Christmas music two days before the election and started watching Christmas movies one day before (which was also my birthday). I mostly listened to unusual holiday songs so that, when I grew tired of them, I could move to the more traditional songs and carols. With 4 days left, I’m still happily singing along in the car.

I didn’t finish decorating until the 15th because of low energy, but I did almost all my Christmas shopping online for the same reason, so I was done earlier than ever, with ten days left until Christmas. (Though so far I’ve only wrapped the dog’s present.) 

I’ve seen my family much more often than usual, which is a definite bonus. My parents bought me a new laptop I’ve yet to transfer my files to and assembled new bookshelves for me, opening a host of new organization possibilities. I took a fantastic vacation in October with my best friend and read some excellent books.

I am still deeply afraid of what will happen next month, next year, and the years to come. I know that, being pretty neurotypical and very privileged, I have hardly suffered. But on this, the shortest day of 2016, I am hoping this is the turning point for more light and better health. This is my wish and prayer for the world, as well as for myself.

My Favorite Mostly-Christmas Songs

I’ve been listening to Christmas and holiday music since November 7 (two guesses why). I started slowly but now I’m listening to little else, so I thought I’d list a few favorites and why I like them. In no particular order:

O Come, O Come Emmanuel—Points to Enya for bringing tears to my eyes every time I hear her version. Double points for an artist/singer/musician friend whose version also brings me to tears. This song is largely responsible for my love of the word “Immanual” (my favorite spelling).

Chiron Beta Prime — This song is special to me because the person who recommended it to me was a bit tortured. He was also a devoted follower of Christ, so when he recommended his favorite Christmas song, I was expecting something just a step sideways from traditional, but something with overt Christian themes, perhaps a re-imagined hymn, perhaps a bit of a downer. Instead, I found an upbeat song shielding a dangerous situation, a sci-fi story full of clever puns and tongue-and-cheek humor. Sometimes we use humor to reach out for help, to subvert expectations, to slip a message to a trusted friend. With everything I know about my friend, this makes a lot of sense, and when I hear the song, I remember him. This year, though, it’s a little hard for me to listen to.

Breath of Heaven — I relate to this song year-round and go to it often when I am struggling spiritually. I pray its words. I close my eyes and let my spirit stretch out toward God, reaching, singing, praying, seeking. I listen to it again and again. Furthermore, I relate to stories, and the honesty with which this one imagines Mary’s feelings and fears and uncertainties impresses upon me that Christ’s birth occurred amongst real people, with lives as complex and emotions as strong as yours or mine.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day — I knew the song before I found the poem that forms the lyrics in my mother’s poetry anthology. I love the structure, the progression of a person’s feelings, and as I age I increasingly relate to a narrator who wants, more than anything, for the promise of “Peace on Earth” to finally come true. The carol ends with hope without diminishing the despair possible when the world’s human inhabitants persist in abusing, torturing, neglecting, frightening, killing, and ignoring one another.

Silent Night — I learned to sign the first verse of this carol when I was no more than twelve, after taking an ASL class with my parents at my church. My signing is stilted and incredibly limited, but like studying any language, what you learn expands your understanding of the world. Furthermore, I love to encounter this song in the privacy of my home or the darkness of a theater or worship event when I can express my worship through the physical movements of signing, essentially singing the song in two languages at once. And I sometimes find my mouth closed up, as I sing through my body alone.

Oh Little Town of Bethlehem — Simple, classic, slow, beautiful. Reminiscent of a still, dark night pregnant with promise. The song reminds me of Christmas Eve when I was a child, of the giddy excitement of traveling through the darkness to my grandparents’ house, laying sideways in the seat and staring up at the stars, wondering which one led the wise men to Jesus and hoping for a shooting star to wish on or the glimpse of a dark shadow with a pinprick of red light.

We Three Kings — I’m going to be ornery for a moment and point out that the wise men probably didn’t arrive until Jesus was two, just before the family fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s murder of all the boys in Bethlehem near Jesus’ age range. Also, there were three gifts and at least two but probably many more wise men. Which contributes to my personal tradition of the nativity set’s wise men traveling through the room during Advent, shelf to shelf and across the mantle, arriving at the rest of the nativity set a few days after Christmas. *clears throat* Now, then, this song resonates with me as a journey story. We are searching in our lives and what we’re searching for often changes. But for Christ-followers, the overall journey of our lives is toward Christ, toward God, toward perfection and light and hope and beauty. We endure varied and strange landscapes, asking questions, holding on to the purpose and worthiness of the journey even when we have no idea how much longer we’ll have to be traveling.

White Winter Hymnal — I find patterns and repetition comforting. If you’ve heard this song, you already know why I like it. If I measure my breath carefully as I sing along with Kirstie of Pentatonix, I can almost just manage to hold out until she takes a breath before the last of nine repetitions of the first line. But I also love that the song is vague and a little weird. It refers to a single moment, the description is open to interpretation, and so the song feels more like a poem than a carol, reminding me to notice. Whether or not I understand what I’m seeing, I should notice as I move through my fellow humans: the color of a scarf, the way a child is bundled against the cold, the feeling in my stomach as my foot slips on ice. (According to my roommate, the song refers to goats in scarves, which is also kind of wonderful.)

Honorable mentions:
Mary, Did You Know? — performed by Pentatonix
Snow in California — Ariana Grande
Feels Like Christmas — Straight No Chaser
Winter Song — Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson
Ding Dong Merrily On High — performed by the Lowcountry Children’s Chorus (which I was a member of as a child)
Christmas Canon — Trans-Siberian Orchestra