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A Case of the Mondays

I think I like Mondays now.

Crazy, I know.

Something about this pandemic has made every opportunity for a fresh start seem even more important, even as the days seem to run together. I’ve started observing Monday as if it’s a Holy day – getting up early and breathing in a few moments of silence with my coffee as I reflect on the week past and the week ahead. It feels like a clean slate, a Monday morning, which is my favorite kind of slate. The latter half of the week and the weekend always get messy with loose ends and unread emails and lists of things to do – but then comes Monday, bright and clean and ready to be written on. 

I always thought I hated Mondays. The drag out of a deep slumber back into the world of the living, of the student, the employee. But in a time when there is so little structure – both in the world at large and in my personal world as a recent college graduate (living at home without a full time job) – a moment of refresh is more than welcome. Monday is a reminder to pause, in the way that weekends used to be. 

I saw a Tweet a few weeks back that said something to the effect of, “I can’t explain why but Thursday and 7pm have the same feeling.” It made so much sense to me. Thursday and 7pm share the momentum of being near the end of a long haul; you’ve gotten over the hump of the week and the day, and can begin to anticipate the beginning of a fun night or weekend. So, in the way that Thursday is 7pm, I’ve decided that Monday’s time-twin is 7am.

Monday is drinking that first cup of hot coffee and feeling the wheels in your brain lurch back to life. It’s the excitement of pulling out of the driveway at the start of a long road trip, snacks and guidebooks at the ready. It’s the first whiff of fall in the air, the calendar turning to September before a new year of school, ripping the tags off a brand new outfit before wearing it for the first time.

I realized recently that I spend a lot of time focusing on the endings of things, when I should really be focusing on beginnings. It’s beginnings that light me up and power me forward – probably why my favorite “season” for the past 18 years of my life has been “back to school.” August feels like an ending, but it’s also right before a new beginning. The “Sunday scaries” come right before Monday’s magic. Does it take an ending to truly appreciate a beginning?

I’m starting to think so.

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If You’re Looking for Permission to Do Nothing, Here it Is

The past month and a half has been a rollercoaster. In such a short period of time, it feels like we’ve collectively been through all of the emotions known to man, including some we didn’t even know existed before this. How can the world be “normal” one day – continuing on in a steady (if concerning) trajectory – and then completely halted the next?

I wish I had the answer.

This would all be easier if someone had an idea of what to do. The general population’s lack of experience with global pandemics, while a testament to the advancements of modern medicine, is, frankly, alarming. The barrage of (often conflicting) ideas about how to handle it is anxiety-inducing, to say the least. A recent poll done by the American Psychiatric Association showed that 36% of Americans feel that their mental health has been “significantly impacted” by the pandemic. So, over 100 million people. That’s a lot.

With an increase in people struggling, however, there has also been an uptick in people being willing to share what they’re going through. I’ve seen countless articles and social media posts of people urging their readers/followers to check in with themselves and their friends, which is a lovely sentiment no matter how often it’s repeated (we could all stand to do more of this, pandemic or not.)

And then there are the lists. It seems like everyone has some sort of advice to give about how to keep busy / stay calm / stay healthy. If you’ve read any of my articles on hercampus.com or theodysseyonline.com you can see that these are probably my favorite kinds of pieces to write: advice for managing periods of transition, tips for making life more manageable and more rewarding.

I’ve been thinking for weeks now about what I wanted to write in response to this sudden turn of events. My first instinct when faced with a new challenge is always to write about it, but this time I’ve been struggling to find the right words.

In the first few weeks of quarantine, I drafted my own list of ways to stay productive “during these unprecedented times.” It felt like the natural thing to do, to try to maintain some sense of normalcy until everything blew over. For some reason, though, I let it sit in my “drafts” folder and never posted it.

Since then, I’ve read countless articles with the same goal, and have actually implemented a lot of the advice in my own life. I’ve tried meditating, I’ve tried yoga, I’ve journaled, baked bread, called friends. It has all succeeded at filling up the seemingly endless days (to an extent,) and it’s comforting to know that thousands, maybe millions of people are going through the same motions.

Despite these small pockets of activity, however, most of my day is usually spent aimlessly, wandering from room to room, opening and closing Internet tabs, feeling like I’m drifting untethered in the sea.

I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed by basically everyone I’ve talked to in the last few weeks – an overwhelming sense of purposelessness that seems to get stronger as the days go by. There are only so many loaves of bread to bake, only so many friends to call. Each activity offers a welcome but short-lived reprieve from the day, but in the end it’s only a distraction. What larger purpose am I moving toward? I ask myself as I come home from another run or take another baked good out of the oven.

The current answer: I don’t know.

Most of our lives had a fairly set structure before all of this that has been completely upended. If you’d have asked me two months ago, I would have told you with complete certainty that my future included finishing up college on campus with my friends, attending graduation, and looking for a job. Flash forward and I’m completing college virtually from my family home away from all of my friends, and trying to navigate a world where most companies have stopped hiring.

No matter your situation, life looks different now than it did at the beginning of the year. Every industry has been impacted in some way, whether it’s due to layoffs, work from home, or intense and dangerous essential work (huge shoutout to all of these people who put their lives on the line to help others.)

While this experience is global and collective, it is also deeply personal. Each of us is affected in our own way, and needs to handle this differently. That’s why I’m hesitant to offer any advice on “how to make it through,” because the reality is that “making it through” looks different for everyone. Some days all I can do is get out of bed, some days I don’t get up at all. One week I get outside every day, another only once or twice. There is no guidebook for how to do this. And that’s terrifying.

But what this experience has offered me is the time to get more in tune with myself, sometimes purposefully and other times by accident. I’ve found that I’m more able to recognize when a run will help me get out of my head, or when what I need is to mindlessly watch hours of mediocre television. My purpose right now is to get through each day, and nothing else. I try to focus on gratitude whenever possible (which isn’t always easy); gratitude for the health of myself and my family, for the roof over my head, for the essential workers who are keeping us safe.

Will I write the next great novel right now? No. Will I become a master baker? Probably not. There are so many things I would love to do with this time, things that I feel like I should be doing. American culture is all about progress and forward motion, and it’s been nearly impossible to shake the voice telling me that I should be doing more, that I’m wasting time.

So here I am to tell myself as much as you that the answer to how to get through this is that there is no answer. Frustrating, I know. But also strangely calming, if you think about it. There are no rules. No one’s expecting you to be performing at the top of your game. You get to define what your life looks like, and if what it looks like is wearing the same pair of sweatpants for a week straight, that’s okay.

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Late to the Party

I want to write!

There, I said it.

I am four months away from graduating from an accredited institution of Higher Learning with a degree in English, but I still cannot accept the fact that I want to write.

“I don’t know, my high school English teachers always liked me so I just kind of took that as a cue to keep going with it.”

“I honestly just decided on the English major so I wouldn’t have to take another test.”

I have been making excuses and qualifying my decision to be an English major since before I even submitted the official form to the registrar’s office, and the crazy thing is, I never questioned why. Not until recently, that is.

I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s book (yes that eating, praying, loving Elizabeth Gilbert) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. This was part of an it’s-winter-break-I-have-nothing-to-do book binge, combined with a new year-new me mentality that sent me straight to the Self-Help section of Amazon (and my local library for the first time since high school). It started with Eat, Pray, Love, which I pulled off of our living room bookshelf in a moment of particular boredom one snowy depressing day. I wasn’t sure what to read next, and EPL seemed like one of those books that everyone should read in their lifetime, if for no reason other than to have a voice in what was once an all-consuming cultural dialogue, should I ever be asked to give my opinion. For reference, Eat Pray Love was published in February 2006, when I was most likely reading the elementary school classic My Brother Sam is Dead in the reading corner of my 3rd grade classroom. Therefore, understandably, I missed the EPL phenomenon at its height.

In 2020, 14 years after its publication, I finally got around to discovering what all the fuss was about. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. At this point “eat, pray, love” sounds more like an annoying hashtag used by Instagram influencers, or the kind of reference you can use in relation to a friend’s mission trip without having ever actually read the book of that title. A tale of forbidden love is “so Romeo and Juliet,” a tale of radical self-discovery through travel is “so Eat, Pray, Love.”

Anyway, I got around to reading this phenomenon of a book and unexpectedly, I loved it. Parts of it were exactly as I’d imagined – the excessive pasta consumption, the culture shock of a New Yorker in a foreign country, the visits to gurus and ashrams – but others struck me profoundly as… less “basic” than I anticipated? I guess it makes sense, given the enormous success of the book (Oprah doesn’t just choose any book to be part of her book club), but it was truly a “don’t knock it till you try it” experience. I liked it! I liked the story! But what I liked most was Elizabeth Gilbert’s talent as a storyteller. Her sentences made me aware of the fact that I was reading writing, words that had been purposefully strung together to be as beautiful and meaningful as possible. Is that the point of all published creative writing? Possibly. But is it always reflected in the outcome? Nope. Sentences like “I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on the water.” made me do a double take. They were the kind of sentences you want to circle and highlight and copy in large print to hang on your wall forever (I’m still seriously considering doing this).

My point in all of this is that Eat, Pray, Love didn’t make me want to drop everything, leave my (nonexistent) husband, and spend my life savings on a plane ticket to Italy, nor did it inspire me to dedicate my life to asceticism and hours of meditation. What reading Eat, Pray, Love did for me is make me want to read more Elizabeth Gilbert. Further, it made me want to read more things that made me feel like Elizabeth Gilbert’s words made me feel, and most importantly, it catalyzed the realization that I want to write words that make people feel this way. Now, I know this is not a new or original thought, but as ‘Liz’ explains in her book, there are really no original thoughts. What makes a thought exciting is its authenticity, which comes from the fact that it was created by you, and there is only one you.

Having made this realization (which was really something I already knew but couldn’t articulate), I made the short trek to my local library for the first time in years, and did a quick catalog search to find anything else written by Elizabeth Gilbert. This search brought me to the “Spirituality” section far in the back corner near the newspapers, and then to the pastel copy of Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear. I checked it out hurriedly using my license (my library card is long-lost), and drove home to plant myself on the couch and get down to it.

I was alarmed and also slightly relieved to discover upon cracking the binding that it was in rather large print and split up into short sections. Usually, this can be a warning sign, but I came to realize it was actually pretty satisfying to be able to finish a section so quickly. Her points were concise and tidy, but they made so much sense. After every section I took a moment to acknowledge the lightning striking in my brain and just let the sparks bounce around and fizzle in there before starting the next one. To be fair, I am a sucker for self-help books (I blame this partially on genetics – thanks, Dad!). I’m the kind of person who devours a sickly-sweet motivational memoir in hours (see: Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Wash Your Face), and also usually the person who takes that “you got this, girl!” energy to go out and run her fastest mile ever, or chop 6 inches off her hair that very day. For 24 hours I am the confident, creative, best version of myself, and then the effects start to wear off and I’m back where I started, wondering why I’m not yet a New York Times bestselling author or on the cover of Forbes.

If I learned anything from that book (and I think I did), it’s that I already know I’m capable all of this, I just have to believe it. The idea that the secret to achieving your dream is literally just doing it radically changed my world. There was a full-0n electrical storm going on in my brain. The main idea of Gilbert’s book is that the inspiration you’ve been searching for to achieve creative success, whatever that looks like for you, is already out there and waiting for you to accept it. How crazy is that? The thought that the inspiration for your big novel or feature film or clothing line is literally already out in the universe and will give you a chance if you are open to it? That’s some wild stuff.

I could go on about this book for days, but I won’t, because this is a blog post and it’s already longer and more rambly than I intended. My rave reviews of these books are not intended to be publicity for Elizabeth Gilbert, they are not #sponsored content, they are simply my unfiltered reaction to reading something that lit a fire in my brain. Which leads me to the conclusion that you probably reached before I did, or that I reached years ago by filling notebooks, savoring creative assignments in my high school English classes, declaring a major dedicated to writing, and starting this blog.

I want to write! Who knew? The universe knew. You knew. I knew, not even that deep down.

I knew it and I chose to dismiss it, because I hadn’t produced anything to critical acclaim or even anything of which I was overly proud. What I realized after reading these books though, is that I haven’t written anything “successful” because a) I haven’t really taken the time to write anything and b) I haven’t shared it with anyone! In the past week or so since finishing these books, I’ve taken at least half an hour a day to open up a word document and just write whatever comes into my head. The more I take time to write, the more I produce things that feel like me and sound like me and give me confidence that my inspiration is out there waiting to be tied down to a page. This blog post is an example of that. I was just sitting in my kitchen drinking coffee and the first lines came to me so I started writing, and then all of this just spilled onto the page as if it were waiting inside yelling “let me out!”

So there you have it. Some takeaways, if this was too long to read and you want the short summary:

I want to write.

I read some good books recently.

Eat, Pray, Love is actually worth the hype (I know, I’m a decade late.)

I am inspired!

That’s all for now. Talk soon.

xx,

Morgan

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25 Days Challenge – Day 2

I am writing this during the first big snowstorm of the year – it has been snowing for 24 hours and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. All operations at my college have been cancelled for the day, meaning I didn’t have to attend my 9 am accounting class, and for that above all else I am thankful. It is truly the perfect timing for a snow day, on the Monday after Thanksgiving right before all of my finals are due. The day off gives myself and my classmates some time to transition from break back into school, and to get a head start on finals (also to stay on top of Cyber Monday deals.)

For me, the unexpectedly free morning gave me the opportunity to be intentional about starting my day, namely by spending the first 10 waking minutes journaling. It also motivated me to get my 500 word piece done before beginning work on anything else (I like to call this “productive procrastination.”)

Waking up to a snow day got me thinking back to the other snow days I’ve experienced throughout my college career, leading me to consider how I’ve changed since those earlier years. I began writing with the prompt, “How have I evolved since beginning college, and what have I learned about myself?” Within 15 minutes, I had reached 587 words, and made some discoveries about myself that I hadn’t really considered prior.

And with that, Day 2 – complete!

I’ve made the decision to archive these pieces in a folder rather than publishing them all immediately, as the exercise for me is really about forcing myself to think and simply getting words down on a page. After the challenge is over, I will go back and revise, and maybe post some of them on here to start out the new year.

Now, onto the work that actually affects my GPA (and maybe some Cyber Monday shopping in between!)

May your Mondays be productive and warm,

Morgan

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“25 Days” Challenge

Growing up, ABC Family‘s “25 Days of Christmas” was the most highly anticipated event of the year. Each night from December first until Christmas Day, the channel featured a different holiday movie – and no, there are not 25 good holiday movies in existence, but that didn’t stop ABC Family from showing them or us from watching them. Around eight pm or so, my family would gather in the tv room with mugs of hot chocolate and delve into a world of glowing reindeer, sentient snowmen, and miraculous holiday wishes come true. These nights were what made the holiday season so magical for my young self. What more could a child want than an excuse to consume sugar and watch tv, and even better, to do both at the same time?

Now, at 22, the holiday season has lost much of its magic. ABC Family no longer exists, my family is spread out across the country, and the past few years we haven’t even always gotten a Christmas tree. For a while it seemed like the magic of Christmas was lost forever, but I recently started to consider – what if there was a way to get it back? What if I created my own countdown to look forward to, marking the 25 days that used to bring me so much joy?

Here is where we arrive at the title of this post, the “25 Days Challenge.” For the next 25 days, I am committing myself to a concrete goal that will help me be more focused and intentional going into the new year. Often, the month of December spirals into a free-for-all of stress and poor decisions, qualified by saying “I’ll change on January 1st.” What I’ve found, however, is that when the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve, my patterns do not change. And even worse is the added pressure of altering so much about yourself and your routine at once, along with the knowledge that everyone else in the world is probably doing the same thing. It begins to feel like a race of “who is going to fail first?”

So, the challenge. It goes like this: think of your broad goals for the coming year. Do you want to be more organized? Get a new job? Make more time for creative pursuits? Then pick one of those goals and create a concrete challenge for yourself that will establish a constructive habit before the year is even over.

I personally have many goals for the coming year, but one that I can easily measure is that I want to write more. As a college student, most of my time is spent doing academic writing, and other writing projects tend to fall by the wayside. The hardest part of this goal is simply making the time to sit down and do it. My challenge to myself is to write 500 words a day for the next 25 days. The words can come in the form of blog posts, creative writing, or even journal entries. All that matters is that I take the time to sit down and put words on a page.

This goal:

  • Takes 30 minutes or less
  • Establishes a constructive habit
  • Is measurable
  • Moves me towards my larger goals for 2020

Other possible goals include:

  • Meditate for 10 minutes every morning
  • Make and complete a daily to-do list
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Do something kind for someone else

There are no rules to the scope of your individual goal, what matters is that you create a small shift in your daily life that brings you closer to the version of yourself you want to be.

Though I look back fondly on the days of ABC Family‘s 25 Days of Christmas, I’m more excited for the upcoming 25 days of writing and reflection. What better holiday gift to yourself than an improved version of you?

xx, Morgan

(Note: this post is ~650 words – Day 1, complete!)

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Coffee & I: A Bitter Relationship

I am a self-proclaimed coffee lover. I hesitate to divulge just how many cups of coffee I drink on any given day (possibly because I’ve had so many that I’ve lost count), but rest assured, it’s a lot.

I haven’t always been a coffee drinker- in fact, I didn’t drink coffee at all until about three years ago. The summer after my freshman year of college I got a job in a coffee shop, a job I chose because it paid well and I loved everything on the menu, except the coffee. As anyone who has worked in the food industry knows, not every order comes out perfectly, or sometimes orders are sent back for seemingly no reason at all. While it’s frustrating to have to remake a meal or a drink, the incorrect order is often up for grabs among employees. Coffee drinkers like their coffee juuuust right, so in a single day there were many coffee drinks placed in the back for employees like myself. Who can turn down a free drink that usually costs $4? Not me. Did it matter that I didn’t love the taste and shook with caffeine for the rest of the day? At first, yes. But as the summer went on, I noticed myself developing a tolerance to it. Suddenly one cup didn’t affect me, then two. I even- dare I say it- grew to like the taste. By August I was basically drinking black cold brew by the pitcher, and when I left that job to go back to school, I was completely hooked.

Fast forward to three years later, and I find it difficult to get out the front door in the morning without a hot cup of joe in my hand. On a good day, I wake up early enough to use the french press in my apartment, making decent enough coffee to get the caffeine rush that I need. On a I-snoozed-my alarm-6-times kind of day (the majority, if I’m being honest) I convince myself that I deserve a $5 iced latte, a hit to my body and bank account.

So why am I writing this post? According to a study done by amerisleep.com, American women spend over $2,000 per year on coffee, with 79% of coffee drinkers having at least one cup every day. Of the participants polled, American coffee drinkers consumer between 2.3 and 3.5 cups of coffee per day, varied by industry. I am guilty of this blind coffee consumption – when it becomes a dependency, it’s easy to justify spending excess money, or sacrificing sleep in the name of “productivity.” Yes, I do believe that drinking caffeine makes me more productive, but once it gets past a certain point, coffee can lead to a lack of restful sleep and unnecessary stress, as well as an empty wallet. I’m writing this post as a challenge to myself to cut down on the amount of coffee I drink per day, to not drink it too late in the day out of habit, and to be conscious of my coffee-related expenses.

Who’s with me?

Source: https://www.amerisleep.com/blog/caffeine-kick/

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Welcome to New York

Another month, another city. Just over a week ago I moved to Brooklyn, NY for a two month stay while I complete an internship in Manhattan. Five months ago I had never lived in a city before, let alone a major city like Paris or NYC. My head is spinning from all the new sights and sounds, the new street names and train routes I have to learn, and the possibilities of what this city has to offer.

I have wanted to live in New York City since I first visited when I was around 13 years old. Like so many others, I was caught up in the magic and opportunity of this concrete jungle, heightened by my limited experience growing up in a town of 7,000. To me, New York promised the freedom to do and become anything I wanted, which around that time was probably a fashion designer or artist. I was enthralled by the people walking down the street, so different than the people I saw at home, wearing outfits as art, speaking different languages, going about their lives in a frantic rush. Now, at 21, my vision of New York is strikingly similar. Catching that first glimpse of the skyscrapers in the distance on the drive down is no less exciting than it was eight years ago, and the opportunity to actually live here for a short while is almost incomprehensible. Yes, it is loud, it is dirty, it is expensive, but it all adds to the feeling that New York is a city alive and without pretense, just waiting to let you in.

(update: since I wrote this post I got on a train going the wrong way, saw a rat on the subway, and was yelled at by multiple people on the street but hey; welcome to New York!)

My brother Jack and I at Rockefeller Center during one my first visits to NYC.
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Currently: Far from the Sea

According to Google Maps, I am approximately 193 kilometers from the nearest coastline. After conversion (thanks again, Google!) that is about 125 miles, give or take a few. I had to approximate the nearest coastline, but that seems like a fair estimate. In comparison, school (Skidmore College, NY) to home is about 200 miles, so technically I guess I’m nearer to the sea in Paris than I am in Saratoga Springs. I don’t know if that means I’m not allowed to use “she who lives by the sea” anymore, but I’ve lived by the sea far longer than anywhere else, so I’m not going to cast it off just yet.

I made my instagram account when I was 15 under the name @shewholivesbythesea (not a promo but…feel free to throw me a follow). I didn’t use my real name mostly because my mom had warned me that stalkers could find me if I did, and also partly because I was 15 and obsessed with being “different.” As with everything that we make when we’re 15, I’m embarrassed by the username when I give it out (though it’s better than my first email address, “ireadallday”), but I don’t see myself changing it anytime soon. It’s the first name that came to mind when I was given the idea to start a blog (thanks, mom), and I’m only a little bit embarrassed by it. Frankly, I still think it sounds cool and says something important about me, even if I am over a hundred miles from the sea at this current moment, and have been for the majority of the last three years.

I should probably also mention that my name, Morgan, means any variation of “sea dweller,” “sea-born,” “sea chief,” or “of the sea” in Welsh. For the first 18 years of my life I lived less than 10 minutes from the ocean, so the name fits well. Over that time I have engaged in any number of ocean activities including sailing, rowing, sea kayaking, and coastal drives- my favorite. However, I wouldn’t consider myself an “ocean person.” Given the choice between the sea and the mountains I would face a difficult decision, seeing as I love and grew up with both, but I like to think of it like this: if I lived by the ocean for the rest of my life I would not crave the sight of a mountain range. If I were to settle down in the mountains, however, I would miss the smell of the sea. I came to this realization recently on my spring vacation to Nice, France, on the Côte d’Azur. I love Paris. I love cities. But the second I saw the ocean slide into view outside the train window, my heart jumped. Salty air! Seaglass! Waves crashing! I missed it. I left Nice four days later sunburnt and rejuvenated, salt crusted on the back of my jeans.

So. That’s me. Morgan, the-one-who-sometimes-lives-by-the-sea. Stay tuned as I recap my three months in Paris and prepare for the imminent journey home, and throw in some other thoughts along the way.

Quick anecdote: My mom recently bought me a t shirt at a chain store in Paris that reads “Larguez les amarres.” It’s a cute shirt, but upon receiving it I had no idea what it meant. After an explanation from mom and a double check from trusty Google Translate, I learned that it means “cast off,” in a nautical sense. It is a phrase that a sailor would yell to shore after untying the ship’s moorings and hoisting the sails to head off on a sea voyage. It feels apropos to use after this explanation of my connection to the sea, and to mark the beginning of my voyage into blog-writing.

Thanks for reading- time to larguez les amarres!

Morgan

A snapshot from my trip to Nice, Côte d’Azur.
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The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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