mid-thirtysmth or We’ve Only Just Begun

I guess in many ways, it’s fitting that the last week of “regular” posting on The Wheelhouse Review coincides with the first week at a new job. In many ways it feels like I hit pause on my life in January 2012 and am just now picking up where I left off. Except that I’m four years older and wiser and finally learned how best to do my curly hair.

It’s also fitting that I’m leaving one season and starting another as I leave my early 30s and fully dive into my mid-30s. I still maintain that this is a wonderful and amazing decade, that it’s so much better than my 20s. So for my final piece, here’s what I learned from the first half of my fourth decade.

There’s No Dream Anything


Last week someone asked me if my new job was my “dream job.” I replied that I was excited and honored to have the opportunity, but that I didn’t believe in “dream jobs” anymore. There will invariably come a moment when the honeymoon is over and daily routine sets in and there’s nothing dreamy about it. Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but if you live long enough, like Lelaina Pierce, you realize that reality totally bites. And that’s ok! It doesn’t mean something is wrong or not a good fit or that you messed up. In a way, this biting reality is a gift–it keeps you from diving too deep into just one thing when there are so many other great things to experience in this life.

Choose Your Own Narrative

Courtesy of Debs (https://www.flickr.com/photos/littledebbie11/)

Courtesy of Debs (https://www.flickr.com/photos/littledebbie11/)

No one would ever guess that I spent 19 months out of work once. That I cleaned offices and babies’ bottoms to make money. That in my most recent job I often had to do laundry and take out the trash. Why would they?  I don’t highlight those things on my resume.

And yet, in reality, it’s those experiences that make me worth hiring. They taught me how to be resilient, how to find value outside my work, the satisfaction of working with my hands (and the respect I have for people who do “dirty” jobs), and mostly, how to be grateful. I have a higher tolerance for BSwork (and a lower tolerance for abuse or BS).

Obviously, I know how to spin the negative–I really don’t highlight certain things on my resume. But I also have learned that we choose the narrative of our lives and that affects how we live it. Four years ago, I had to choose between feeling miserable and sorry for myself when I was out of work, or try to make the best of a negative situation (and yes, I understand that I’m privileged that those 19 months out of work were just a brief period of rest in an otherwise stellar career). Choosing the “red pill” changed my life. It helped me to see the world in a way that I would have missed if I had chosen to wallow. In fact, seeing the world that way changed me for the better.

You’ve Got One Life-Show Up For It

Courtesy Heidi Forbs Oste (https://www.flickr.com/photos/forbesoste/)

Courtesy Heidi Forbs Oste (https://www.flickr.com/photos/forbesoste/)

I get it, YGOLSUFI is not as catchy as YOLO. Bu I have found that showing up for each day and being present to them is the way toward contentment. We’ve all noticed that the day flies by when we’re busy and occupied, but a lot of that busyness is just spinning wheels. Showing up every day to what’s in front of you, paying attention to it, engaging with it, and living your life keeps you grounded. It also helps you find beauty and joy in places you might not otherwise have looked. This is truest when life is difficult and there is suffering–ignoring or denying pain or hardship makes things worse. Showing up doesn’t mean putting on a brave face and pretending away the pain. Sometimes it means getting angry or crying your eyes out. Sometimes it means acknowledging the crap and looking for the places where joy and hope and love are hiding. Show up to your life, be present. You don’t know what you might find there.


Courtesy Shawn Campbell (https://www.flickr.com/photos/thecampbells/)

Courtesy Shawn Campbell (https://www.flickr.com/photos/thecampbells/)

It was true four years ago, it’s true now: moisturizer is your friend. I know this from personal experience: I will turn 35 in five weeks and I am constantly mistaken for a 25 year old (younger, if I don’t wear make up) and I am currently debating with myself whether I should wear my glasses so that I appear closer to my age. You want to crush your 30s (and hopefully beyond)? Get some eye cream, use it twice a day (dotting it under your eye and along the corners with your ring fingers), get some moisturizer, use it twice a day (circular, upward motions–and don’t forget your neck).

Nothing Lasts Forever…and That’s a Good Thing

Courtesy David Mao and unsplash.com

Courtesy David Mao and unsplash.com

The past four years of weekly writing have been life-changing. I’ve loved most of every minute of it (there were a lot of craptastic minutes though). But one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that life is broken up into seasons and that’s a good thing. Spring and summer are my favorite seasons–I would love for it to stay like this forever. And yet when fall comes around with its changing leaves and sweater weather, and winter shows up with it’s coziness and slower pace, I’m grateful for them too. Seasons change, we change, everything changes. But that means new graces, new mercies, new hope every morning.

Thank you for sharing this season of my life with me.

Grieve Responsibly

Somewhere over the past year, I hit that point in my life where I’d spent enough time crying over disappointments and broken hearts and well, tragedies, to learn a bit about the grieving process. The older that I get and the busier my life, the less bandwidth I have to linger too long in dark, weepy places (you’ve got to get those groceries at some point)–and life is full of them. The good news: when people obnoxiously tell you that “this too shall pass” it’s true. It shall! But until it passes (like a kidney stone), it pretty much sucks. Here are some tips on how to grieve responsibly.

Courtesy of Buzzquotes

Don’t Wallow
A few years ago, a friend of mine experienced a breakup and she just really wanted to wallow in it. Like hard. Then when I experienced a breakup not long after that, I decided to similarly soak in my sorrow. That was a terrible idea and since then I’ve adopted a no-tolerance stance on wallowing when grieving. This doesn’t mean that you don’t grieve. I am all for staying present in grief, letting tears come, not fighting the sadness or pretending it away with a happy face. But just as TLC advised us not to chase waterfalls, we shouldn’t chase grief. Don’t let yourself make the grief about all the other disappointments you have in your life (“no one will ever love me,” “God took this away from me,” “remember in ninth grade when Laura didn’t invite me to that party???”). Honor the loss that you just suffered by being in it. Then, put on your clothes, shave your face if you must, put on some makeup if you do (yes, even if you’ll just cry it all off dramatically in the office bathroom), and keep on going. Continue reading

The Underemployed Girl’s Guide to Unemployment

We here at TWR are no strangers to the barren wasteland of unemployment. Having spent considerable time navigating my own way out of the office after the words “your services are no longer required” are uttered, I decided to cobble together this handy guide for those of you who find yourselves jobless. As always, you’re welcome.

1. Come up with a signature move. Football players have their endzone dances in times of victory–why not trademark a sassy and unique response to the heave-ho in your moment of defeat? For example, my most recent job loss occurred due to “corporate restructuring.” Had I only read the writing on the wall (aka a vaguely threatening and misspelled email regarding productivity from a higher-up with a loose grip on grammar), I would have been able to prepare what I wish had been my parting words: “Restructure THIS!” and then moonwalked out the front door with both middle fingers blazing. Or there was my previous job, when my boss let me go after I told her I was pregnant and she informed me that “this path [I] had chosen” was going to “interfere with [her] travel plans.” Looking back, the perfect retort would have been, “Oh, you’re going on a trip? What time does the bus leave for HELL?” Continue reading

Begging at the Temple Gate Beautiful

Author’s note: This post was written in response to two emails from two friends who both got some disappointing news this past week. 

To my dear sisters,

It seems that this week the darkness overcame the light and the proverbial shit overtook the proverbial fan. I’m sorry.

I don’t know what else to say to you, except that it’s ok to sit in the pile of dirt and cry. It’s ok to call this what it is–disappointing, heartbreaking, more than you can bear.

Please don’t “stiff upper lip” these heartaches. You can’t sit on the grief and pain and pretend it away. You can’t say “first world problems” and minimize your disappointments. Your inner demons would love for you to think that this heartbreak is just a minor setback, that you should be grateful that you ONLY have to face this disappointment. Please don’t do that.

There’s a story in the New Testament book of Acts about a lame (crippled, not uncool) beggar who was brought every morning to beg at “the temple gate Beautiful.” One day, Peter and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, saw him on their way into the temple courts. They stop the man, and instead of offering him money, they heal him and he begins to walk and praise God–a miracle on all counts, because this man had been crippled from birth.

“Silver and gold have I not” (and they wouldn’t fix the problems anyway–although they would buy us a lot of gin and tonics to drink on the dirt pile), but what I have I offer freely:

It feels like the pile is positioned right outside the “temple gate Beautiful.” We can look into the courts longingly, but something keeps us from entering. Beauty and Glory live beyond those gates, the fulfillment of all we’re seeking. But we’re crippled and dirty from our pile.

The Christian faith is the story of Beauty and Glory seeing our wretchedness–first world, third world, etc.–and loving us. While we were still putting on our stiff upper lips, Beauty and Glory came outside the gate to us and sat down in our pile of dirt. It covered itself in our grief and pain and transformed it into Hope. It honors the pain by redeeming it and makes us all beautiful in return.

I’m sorry to say that the only way out is not around but through–through the pain and grief, through the hard work of opening yourself up to be hurt again one day. But Beauty and Glory is the gate. And Beauty and Glory is the guide. And if you let it, Beauty and Glory will win out the day.

But don’t try to make this pain beautiful or glorious yourself. You can’t will it to happen. You can’t pretend it away. You can’t wash away the pile of dirt. That’s Beauty and Glory’s job.

So, my dear sisters, let me sit with you and wait for Beauty and Glory to come outside the gate. One day every tear will be wiped away and our mourning will turn to dancing. Until then, we’ll sit in the pain together and “ring the bells that still can ring…. that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)



The Funemployment Driven Life

Another lifetime ago, before the glamour of long-form blogging captured my imagination, I was what we in the business call “a professional church lady.” Though I am no longer a professional Christian (let’s face it–we’re all amateurs in that game anyway), I have often wondered if my new calling in life is to be the “Funemployment Whisperer,” and to help others find their true, less-stressed paths in life. Like Esther, perhaps I was called down here to DC for such a time as Sequestration.

I don’t mean to make light of the real issues of unemployment or reduced incomes. That so many Americans were already out of work and now more are being financially penalized for choosing to serve their country professionally is outrageous. We should do something about that (see below).

But for the most part, Funemployment and Sequestration are like kissing (but not dangerous) cousins. With Sequestration, you get to keep your job while also being required by law to do whatever you want (and not check your email) for one day a week for three months. Sure you don’t get paid, but if time is money, the will of the government–nay, the American people– is that you just got a bonus of 24 hours of you time. Treat yo’self 2013.

So what is the freshly furloughed federal worker to do with all this free time? Here is an updated version of Funemployment for Overachievers.

Friendship is Magic

I know that from our dialogues it might appear that my co-editor and I have been the best of friends for years. But prior to our mutual bouts of Funemployment, Ryan and I were merely acquaintances who would speak to each other almost exclusively in Arrested Development quotes. Now we g-chat almost daily (admittedly, still sometimes in Arrested Development quotes) and would count each other among our best friends. So who else do you know who is sequestered? Probably most of your colleagues, right? Maybe some acquaintances? Why not use the free time you all have to actually become friends? It might actually help boost morale when you’re not sequestered, which leads me to my next idea…

Government Workers of America, Unite!

Now that you’ve found your Sequestration Buddies, it’s time to make some plans. With our Funemployment, Ryan and I started a media empire with our free time (ain’t no thing),and since May 2012, over 17,000 of you have read our work. Have you ever wanted to start a blog? As long as you don’t call it awheelhousereview.com, we’re fine.

In all seriousness though, from experience I’ll tell you it’s much easier to face a day full of free time with people than without (yes, even if you’re an introvert). You can volunteer. You can start a book club. You can throw a party. You can cast and put on a show at the end of your three months, like in summer camp (a suggestion for a potential revue, courtesy of one of our readers: Furlesque). Finally, if you’re super bored, you can all go do one of those embarrassment-tingle-eliciting Segway tours (but you’re only allowed to speak in GOB quotes from Arrested Development while you do it), just make sure you do it before…

Day Drinking

I always have such a sense of “awww” when one of my friends suggests “day drinking” on weekends. It’s adorable–people who have jobs think that consuming adult beverages during a weekend day is day drinking. Guys, that’s just having a weekend. It’s not day drinking. Stop calling it that.

No, the glory of day drinking is being able to do it when everyone else is working. So it needs to happen between Monday and Thursday (Fridays don’t count either), perhaps around 1-2pm. If you are drinking earlier than noon, you might be an alcoholic. If you’re drinking later than 2pm, it bleeds into happy hour. On second thought, that’s not really a bad idea…

A companion to Day Drinking is Day Shopping. There are few things in life that can crush your soul in tiny increments more than buying groceries on a weekend. But running your errands on weekends is for those not fortunate enough to have a government-sanctioned–hell, it’s the will of the people–day to beat the crowds and buy food. Seriously, the only people in stores during the day are moms, truants, and the funemployed. It’s like having your own private Target/Giant/Safeway/Whole Foods. The dizzying speed of how quickly you can pick up your stuff and check out will astound you. And you’re going to need a few bags of chips for what’s coming up next…

Furlough With Furlong

DC summers are hot and humid. So there are going to be days when you really don’t want to be outside. Those are the times when you gather your friends together, make a pitcher of sangria, and watch TV or a movie together. Maybe pick a day and watch all of Edward Furlong’s movies and then discuss the socio-political implications inherent in promoting artificial intelligence. Just make sure to not reveal state secrets while you’re chatting (looking at you DoD friends). Or–if you must–watch The West Wing, Veep, House of Cards, or Homeland and pretend that you’re at work (that’s not at all sad).

Sequester Yourself 2013

Yes, your income has been reduced by 20%. That isn’t a joke. And your productivity is slowed because of the sequester. And as a friend from the EPA pointed out, it’s not just “wasteful” government spending that is being cut; programs that do things like ensure our water is clean are also being affected. Let’s let that sobering thought sink in for a second (and consider doing something about it).

Now that you’re depressed (and switching to bottled water), let me tell you a story. For the past year and a half, my income has been reduced by much more than 20%. What’s crazy is that I didn’t realize how much money I’d often waste. When you have money, it becomes easy to spend it–when you don’t, it becomes easier to save it. When I work from home, I make my own meals and coffee. I also have more time, so I walk more places instead of taking public transportation or a cab. Sure, there are bills to pay, but a lot of the time when we fear losing money, it’s because we fear losing disposable income. Friends, all income is essentially disposable (other definition). It can’t last forever and you can’t take it with you when you’ve been mortally sequestered. It will amaze you how the pain of a reduced income can wear off when you’re focusing on friendship and being content with your free time. So when you do get more money, you’re able to enjoy having it, but also be content when you don’t. I have never felt more free.

So how will you spend your Summer Sequestration? Let us know in the comments–or, spend one of your free days and write an essay! We’d love to hear what you’ve been up to (and why you haven’t invited us).