Microfiction: Still

The butterflies sit in his hair, the field around him a sea stretching into infinity in either direction. He hasn’t moved in hours, and the only passing motion is the opening and closing of wings, the silent ripples that the breeze creates in the lush grass.

He can feel his partner’s approach even before he comes into view, a dark figure that parts the tide with his gait. When he kneels in front of him, he takes one of the fragile things on a finger, and it flees to the wind.

The meditation is over, but the break is welcome.

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5 Tactics to Immediately Help Stress

So you’re stuck at work or at a party or you’re in the middle of a crowded Chipotle, and suddenly it hits you like a summer thunderstorm: stress. Just like that, you go from ‘I think I *will* get guac, even though it’s going to cost extra’ to ‘I’m never going to be able to finish all the things I have going on right now.’ Some people may not be able to wrap their mind around that, but as someone who suffers from anxiety, it happens more often than I would like.

And while you can give people the pointers that work in the long run – exercise, meditation, the right amount of sleep, the corrective dosage of vitamin chill – sometimes that’s not going to be possible in the middle of rush hour.

So here are five methods of dealing with stress on the spot:

  1. Visualization and dialogue: I have found that a very helpful way of dealing with immediate attacks of stress is to imagine it as a person or object that you can talk to. Explain in no uncertain terms that you acknowledge its existence and that you will deal with it in time. Let stress stand next to you in line, but do not let it do the ordering.
  2. Count your breaths: You obviously can’t go into downward dog in the middle of Denny’s, but you can inhale and exhale (and you should be doing that already). My favorite count is a 7-second in and 11-second out.
  3. Focus on details: This is especially helpful if you can find something pleasant to focus on, like a flower or an animal. But put all your attention on an object and list as many details in your head as possible. What color is it? What size? What’s your favorite part of that object? Make up a story about it. Anything to divert your attention from the inside of your own head.
  4. Stockpile your favorite funny things: Jokes, vines, one-liners. You can even keep them programmed into your phone. Look at a few and have a laugh. I find humor is a quick way to distract myself. And if I don’t have anything, I force myself to smile. It works surprisingly well.
  5. Think of your favorite song: A happy song. Upbeat. If you can, sing it or hum it. Dance a little (like no one is watching – even if they are). If you have earbuds, listen to it on your phone. Let it take you to a better time. Enjoy it.

How do you deal with stress on the go? Tell me about it!

My Top Favorite YouTube Relaxation Channels

I’ve only recently appreciated the fact that there is a lot of awesome stuff on Youtube for relaxation. I’m not even talking about the hours and hours and hours of music and meditation, both guided and musical. But there are a lot of things I thought wouldn’t be relaxing that makes me let go of anxiety and tension. Some of them may sound weird — my list includes ASMR, and there are many that believe that ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) is not actually a thing, that it is anecdotal at best.

I tend to react to this the way I do to most self-care: what works for one person may not work for another. So long as it isn’t dangerous, hurtful or illegal, you don’t owe anyone an explanation.

So here we have some of my top five channels I watch to relax.

1. Maqaroon

This handcrafter does a lot of needle-felting (which I love to do), creates stuffed animals, and there are frequently links to places where you can buy the kits she uses. A lot of videos also have really pleasant music.

2. Funkypinkgal

This is another craft channel, but this one is more based on polymer clay charms. Really cute stuff. Again, really relaxing music.

3. Nameless (don’t be alarmed on this one — the person creating the videos had their name stolen, and to protect themselves and others, it was changed)

In Japan, there are these candy-making kits where you mix together water and dry ingredients before “preparing them” in really cool ways. I’ve never tried one of these personally, because I’ve heard they can taste a little odd (sweets across the world are interpreted very differently) but the videos are really cool.

4. K Werner Design

That’s right. It’s another craft one. This one centers around papercrafts – calligraphy, cardmaking,stamps, coloring. The pieces she makes are beautiful, and she has a ton of links and tutorials if you are inspired by her creations.

5. Grav3yardgirl

So this one is going to probably come off very “one of these things is not like the others” and I’m not really sure how to explain it but Bunny’s channel is really relaxing to me. Her biggest focus is on makeup, but she also reviews As Seen on TV products, takes the viewer on shopping trips, and does monthly favorites. Sometimes, it’s very high-energy, but her makeup reviews especially are very informative and make me feel very chilled out.

So how about it, guys? What channels do you watch when you’re trying to destress? I want to know! Tell me. I dare you.

How to Have a Day Job: Monday, Monday

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Every week, that iconic song by the Mamas and the Papas plays in my head. Which, while it’s a softer tone, isn’t too much better than the saccharine Office Space voice saying, “Somebody’s got a case of the Mondays!” And then there’s the manic Monday, the rainy day Monday, the I-don’t-like Monday (tell me more!). Think Monday and you get doom, gloom, short tempers and wailing grievers, bemoaning the loss of those sacred seconds in Saturday and Sunday.

When was it that the world decided to hate Monday? How did Monday get the short end of the stick? What high school told Monday that it was the Least Likely to Succeed? What bus drove through a puddle and soaked Monday in front of all his coworkers? Well, I’m sick of seeing Monday eating lunch alone every day. It’s time to flip the script with this. Life is way too short to begin each week with resentment, immediately counting down to the end of it. I say no more to that!

Here are 5 ways you can make Monday more awesome:

  1. Start something new: have you been meaning to start a new book but just haven’t made the time? Maybe you want to go for a walk every afternoon, or cook more, or create a better cleaning schedule. Mondays have historically been seen as an auspicious day for good habits. It’s a clean start. Give it a try!
  2. Eat that frog: if you’re dreading a certain item on your To Do list, Monday is a great time to knock it out. You’ll get a kick of encouragement and motivation that will set you on a success streak for the rest of the week.
  3. Meditate: I love alliteration, and the gentle m’s of Monday put me in the mood for some mellowing out. Take 15 minutes out of your day, find a quiet space, and take long, deep breaths. Focus on the feeling of each inhalation (7 seconds) and exhalation (11 seconds). Clear your mind and refresh your core.
  4. Begin with the best: Monday is also a great day for assessing your morning ritual. Get a good breakfast, do a few stretches, fill up a water bottle. Leave your house a little early so you don’t have to worry about running to your desk. Load up your phone or iPod with some good music, books, or podcasts. Sit in your car and drink in the morning.
  5. Recognize Momentum or Management: There’s that glorious ‘m’ again! You don’t know how your Monday is going to go until it’s over. If it’s good, you can ride the momentum and let it supercharge the rest of your week. If it’s not, take a step back and try to figure out what you can manage. Did something happen that was outside of your control? Let it go. Did something occur that you can learn from? Make a note for the future. Stay in the moment rather than dwelling on what’s in the past. Tuesday is right around the corner! Just make sure Monday doesn’t feel ignored…

What do you do to work through the beginning of your week?

[How to Have a Day Job] Bad Days and Announcements (Not in That Order)

Hi, hello, and good evening!

So I’ve ranted and raved about my newsletter series How to Have a Day Job ever since it started. It’s only become more and more important to me as time has gone on. And that is why I have decided to move it from the email-only format to right here. On the blog. In front of you. Not constantly in short sentences, but it’s what I’m doing right now so…boom.

For those of you who are new, as I said in my H2HaDJ (Ech-too-ha-DJ? Hitoohadge?) the basic goal of these posts is this:

I am here to tell you that you don’t have to be defined by the money that keeps a roof over your head, food in your mouth and a few extra sketchbooks and pencils in your bag. I’m right here in the trenches with you. We’re going to get through this together. In this weekly newsletter, I will give you activities and ideas of how to keep your soul fiery when you walk in the door from the office soaking wet. We’re going to talk to people who have gotten to the other side of the river. And we’re going to thrive together.

The first topic in the New and Improved How to Have a Day Job Series is a topic near and dear to our hearts: bad days. You know them. They’re the ones that start in traffic, wind up in awkward bad meetings, find themselves sitting next to the lunch you left on the kitchen table. They’re the days that wind up crying in the bathroom or standing at the coffee pot, imagining exactly what could be said to that so-and-so right before full-blown “you can’t fire me! I quit!” mode.

And worst of all, they’re the days that end on the couch in front of a marathon of Modern Family, a pizza, and zero sense of priorities. Priorities being the book you’re working on writing, the scrapbook gathering dust, or the sewing machine rusting away from lack of use.

Fie, I say! Fie on bad days! Fie on their ability to ruin our productivity. Fie on their screwing up our streak. Fie, fie, fie!

And thus, here I provide, 5 ways to get the better of your bad day.

1. Make the decision that it is over — Once you’ve gotten off work, stop. Close your eyes. Take 5 calming, deep breaths. And say, out loud, “This bad day is over.” Make it final. Smile. Drive home and, on your way, imagine that you aren’t leaving a bunch of bad garbage but you are coming to a wonderful evening.

2. Take a shower — Sometimes, if I really feel like I’ve been wrecked and ruined by my job, the first thing I do when I finish is take a shower. I put on clean clothes, slip on some soft socks, and immediately I feel better. It’s like a nice, hot shower can was away the muck that gets kicked up on you in every way: physically, mentally, spiritually. Get that off.

3. Don’t sit — The couch is sitting there. Or your favorite chair. They call out to you in their siren song…just a few minutes. Maybe an episode of that show you have recorded. Maybe a few rounds of that video game. You deserve it. No. No, no, no. There is time enough for that once you’re done with what you should be doing. Which brings us to our next item…

4. Arrive — Have a section of your house that is dedicated only to your craft. It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe a table in the corner. Maybe a studio (lucky you). Maybe it’s a roller cart you can take into the bathroom. Go there. Say hello. It’s been waiting for you. Sit down. Do something there. Don’t think about it too much. Just…be there.

5. Channel that energy — I know. You’ve gotten to this point in the list where you’re all, “Yeah, you know what, Katie? All this hippy crap is well and good, but we can’t all just let it go, like a Disney princess in the snow. I had a really, really bad day!” And to that, I say…okay. That is alright. Just don’t let that stew inside you. Can’t let it go? Then let it explode. Recently, I made a fantastic purchase: a punching bag and a set of gloves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten done with work, walked over to it, and just kicked the ever-loving shit out of it for about ten minutes. Use that energy, y’all. Take all that bad and turn it into something awesome. Write about it. Sketch about it. Scream about it. But try to give yourself an end to it. Say to yourself, “I am going to let myself freak out for about 10 minutes. Then that’s it.”

Decide you are better than your worse days, and your good days are going to quickly outnumber them.

Worry, Thy Name is Piglet

I talk very openly about my issues with anxiety, depression, and obsessive thinking nowadays. It used to be something I only discussed with people who would experience it on a day to day basis, which was mostly roommates. It was like a little troll that followed me around. Hanging out with me for a few hours, and you may have never seen it. I could stuff it into my pockets or stick it in the backseat of my car. But if you lived with me day to day, you were going to notice it waddling around the apartment, generally being a nuisance.

I’ve dealt with these issues thanks to medication, but what many people don’t realize is that medication doesn’t make the problem go away. The troll doesn’t disappear like one of the green mucus critters from the mucinex commercials. The medication just puts the troll in a box. That way, I can carry the troll around and go about my business. It doesn’t change the fact that I have to drag it wherever I go and listen to it being an all-around pain in butt.

Suffice to say: I still have bad days.

Recently, I was struck by a day in which I was chronically worrying. I went to the mall. I worried. I bought some cute clothes. I worried. I finished reading a book and bought a dozen chocolate chip cookies. I worried.

As I drove in my car through gross, cold rain, I listened to a meditation in which it was encouraged to greet your negative feelings.

Hello, worry.

I did feel silly.

“Acknowledge the feeling. Welcome it, and make the decision to go about your business.”

Hi, worry. Yes, I see you there. No, I don’t want to hang out. Go away. Again, my instinct was seeing the troll, the annoying little jerk-in-the-box who was bothering and nagging and that needed to be exterminated by chronic foot-up-the-ass.

The meditation then went on to recommend giving the feeling an actual character. It encouraged making this fun and whimsical. And I’m not sure why it clicked with me at that moment, but I knew what my worry was. I knew what I wanted it to be. Thank you, Disney Store.

Piglet. From Winnie the Pooh.

pigletWho doesn’t freaking love Piglet? He’s constantly, hilariously frazzled. He’s always getting blown around because he’s a little guy, and as a result, he’s just in a perpetual state of “hot mess.” Piglet is a hot damn mess.

Suddenly, my worrying took on a different role in my head. I wasn’t really mad at it, or annoyed. I was laughing at it. I was imagining my own “deary dear dear” Piglet, wringing his little paws, and I was able to go, “Piglet, chill. Oh my god, everything’s okay.”

I felt so much better.

When’s the last time you tried to change your perspective on how you were feeling about something? What is keeping you from, say, writing or finishing a project? Is there a way you could laugh at it instead of feeling stressed out?

What I’m Doing Monday: 01/26/2015

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Watching: Steven Universe – This is one of the best shows on television right now. General plot: Steven is a part of the Crystal Gems, a magical (otherwise) female fighting team who defends Earth against nasty creatures. As he tries to figure out his own super powers, they learn about being a family, dealing with the otherwise normal people of their city, and have adventures. It’s a lot of fun, and it is surprisingly mature for how it may look coming in.

Loving: Buddhify – Buddhify is a meditation app for the iPhone and Android. You have the option of selecting a given scenario and then picking one of several audio options based on the amount of time you have. So, for example, the other day when I was feeling extremely anxious at work, I listened to a 10 minute guided meditation from the Feeling Stressed section. It helped immediately.

Reading: Burnt Tongues edited by Chuck Palahniuk, Richard Thomas and Dennis Widmyer – This is a collection of strange and bizarre short stories by a variety of authors. They can be pretty disturbing, but they are very well-written. Reminds me a lot of Haunted.

Hearing: Paddle Your Own Canoe by Nick Offerman – I’m sorry, dear subscribers. I’ve cheated, and there’s no turning back now. Recently, I have been listening to more audiobooks than music, and as a result, my go-to ear snacking has been this fun, manly book by “the NBC guy with the mustache.” Pair it with his Netflix special “American Ham” and you’re in for a treat.

Doing: Slam poetry – (Author’s note here. I originally was going to look for an image that would encapsulate “Overtime” because that is actually what I’ve had to spend a lot of time doing as of late but then decided that that was really, really fucking depression. Pardon my language.) The last two Tuesdays have been spent being part of Pittsburgh’s slam poetry scene. I have now performed four pieces, and they have been pretty well-received. For those of you who have not attended a slam, it’s a competition in which poets perform a piece of writing no longer than 3 minutes and are then scored by a panel of judges. There can several rounds until a winner is found. I made it to the second round both times I attended, which I think is pretty solid for a beginner.

Sitting at the Bottom

How long has it been since I allowed myself a satisfying sit in one of Barnes and Noble’s giant comfy chairs?
When I get there or anywhere
I’m moving, on my feet,
Like a shark
If I stop, I’m going to drown in the murky suspended animation of my mind
That whirls loud and humming in my ears
Stuck underwater
And I don’t realize that it’s a constant sound until
I come up for air
In a chair.

Why am I always thinking
I need a very specific set of surroundings?
Just to turn down?
Tune out?
Especially when all I need to get from the ocean to the beach is
Five minutes
A notebook
A pen
And a chair.

Attitude of Gratitude 2014: Day 1

This week, I’m sharing five things I am grateful for each day until Thanksgiving. Do it and share with me!

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1. It’s almost Christmas. Is that a cop out? I love Christmas. I even went to the post office and bought Rudolph stamps. It doesn’t count as getting into the spirit too early (read: before Thanksgiving) because we needed them anyway!

2. We’ve gotten to the time of year where I can go out on my porch, look across the horizon through all the now-naked trees and just see the UPMC building in the distance, sparking against the sky.

3. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It makes me feel like I have a pretty good understanding of my life, because I meet those things.

4. A great collection of books.

5. Prayer. Meditation. The ability to find peace in a world of chaos. Not all can do such a thing.