The past is gone. But wait, there’s more!

Whenever I think about the passage of time, I think in song lyrics — specifically this one: “The past is gone but something might be found to take its place.” (Thank you, Gin Blossoms)

Once I noticed that line hidden in obvious earshot in the chorus of the popular “Hey Jealousy,” I was drawn to it immediately. It’s true for everyone. The past is always gone. We can remember it all we want, but we’ll never get it back. The past is always gone. The lyric is true no matter who we are, but its emotional value depends on where we’re at in life — if we’re looking forward to exciting things to come or lamenting bygone times that brought us great happiness.

In each of our lives, there’s an element of both of these sentiments. In our twenties, many of us have exciting moments on the horizon of strengthening relationships, building commitments, succeeding in the career world in ways we find meaningful, adventuring and being ourselves. Yet many of us have moments when we look back and there’s no other way to say it: we plain miss college — miss our roommates and the closeness we shared, miss the $2 latte day at the best campus coffee shop, miss the atmosphere where friends and fun were two of the top priorities, maybe even miss a couple of our professors whose expertise guided us and an academic environment that taught us, if nothing else, how to learn about ourselves.

The further we progress toward 30 and beyond, the more marvelous moments our minds might stock up to recall with fondness. Maybe that’s why the lyric about the past didn’t strike me right away in college. Maybe, with a few more years behind me, I have that much more to miss.
The past is gone and that much is true, but the second half of what’s become my favorite Gin Blossoms line is just as true, too: “Something might be found to take its place.”
These words, to me, represent the hope and strength we need to move forward, even when we’re stuck in a moment of sadness for a past part of our life that we can never recreate. These words are a reminder that the best way to deal with the past and overcome nostalgia is to create a wonderful future.

Sitting here in the present of any particular moment, we can never truly know what elements of the future will take the place of the happiness — or the sadness or the struggles — of our past. We can’t always know, but we can find the answers. We can keep moving forward. We can do this. And we don’t really have a choice. Because “the past is gone but something might be found to take its place.”

The song doesn’t assure us that the future will be just as satisfying as the past. It uses the word “might,” which leaves a lot up in the air. But that’s what self-determination and free will are all about. Let’s use them to find our path and to find something new to take the place, not of everything in the past, but of everything we’ve loved. Let’s start now. Happy 2016.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, Z is for the end

Grow up at the end of the alphabet like I did and you know what it’s like to come in last, to bring up the rear. But by now, even the Aarons,

Abbingtons, Adams’ and Andersons of the world know what it’s like to be last. Everyone takes a turn. And that’s the beauty of growing up.

Each and every one of us has failed at something, be it large or small, and came in last in one rat race or another. These last-place finishes have given us an appreciation for all the times we finish near the front of the pack, symbolically, in our careers, friendships and families. We’ll hit a dead-end from time to time, but we’ll learn from it. And that’s the beauty of growing up.

Every phase has its end. Crawling ends in walking. Puberty ends in maturation (maybe). Ill-fated relationships end in dramatic breakups or the sadness of heartbreak. High school and college end in the fanfare of graduation. Jobs end in tense meetings or freeing moments of “good riddance!” Friendships end gradually, mysteriously. Races end at the finish line, duh. And twenty-something life ends at thirty. We know these things from lived experience now, and that’s the beauty of growing up.

So Z represents the end, that’s easy enough to see. But if you think about it, you don’t actually see the letter Z used all that often in the English language. And I think that’s symbolic, too. It’s a little linguistic gesture of luck, wishing us all good fortune along our journeys and bidding us all this unspoken wish: May your beginnings be more frequent than your ends; may your ends bring new beginnings and may you always see that every end is evidence of the beauty of growing up.

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A happy life … One daydream away

Here’s a late-breaking addition to the list of things that are different as an adult: daydreaming.

It just isn’t the same. Without classes to space out in and without assigned reading to have open while falling deep into thought, daydreaming feels different. It’s not any less satisfying, but it’s certainly less common. I’ve realized, I miss it.

As a teen, I’d daydream about getting asked to the homecoming dance or getting to wear a football player’s jersey to school on game day as his girlfriend. (Such meaningless, stupid desires to aim for, I know now, but they were on my high school mind nonetheless.) In college, I’d daydream about getting an internship with the Chicago Tribune or having a fairy-tale romantic ending to what was best left as a great friendship. I’d daydream to relieve the stress of desiring it all — my dream job, the ability to write for pay, the continued closeness of family and friends, and love, a relationship to bring it all together — but having none of it at the moment. Daydreaming was an escape.

It still can be, but I find myself using it as a strategy less and less often. When I space out during boring budget meetings I’m covering for work, my daydreams are far more shortsighted. Usually I’m just pining for sleep or for the dinner I didn’t really get to eat because the meeting started at 6 p.m. and I had to fight the slow annoyance of suburban rush hour traffic to get there on time. Or I’m impatiently waiting for the next weekend, can it please mercifully come! My daydreams have shrunk in imagination, and at the same time, in relief. Whoops.

Maybe this means I’m a little more present in the world at the moment. Maybe it means I’m closer to “having it all” than I was in high school or college, so my brain can live in the now without having to look forward to having things like a hard-fought career and a wonderful relationship of teamwork. Maybe.

But maybe it also means I’m not thinking far enough in advance. That I’m not dreaming big enough. That I should be expecting more from myself now that I have earned the securities I have in my job and my life. I guess I just need practice. Daydreaming practice.

It’s easy to let daydreaming fall by the wayside when the constant nature of adulthood weighs you down. Each day you have to wake up, work out (if you’re active, which is a good thing), prepare food, commute, work, prepare more food, try to do something more productive than just watch TV and go to sleep with enough time to generate enough energy to do it all over again. It’s exhausting.

But it’s life. It’s our gift. And we can see it that way if we just allow our minds to expand on it and take us elsewhere in a nice daydream every once in a while. Starting now.

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Growing up … One song at a time

If you’re like me, you’d love to find a band that gets you. A band whose songs speak to you — lyrically and musically — throughout your life no matter your mood or age. Whose music reflects you and enriches you and surprises you, no matter how many times you listen to it.

And if you’re like me, you’re not sure you’ll ever find that band. Blame it on father time. Blame it on growing up. Both are unavoidable.

Music is personal. Even when it’s pop tunes or anything mainstream produced for the masses, music is different for everyone who hears it because of our backgrounds and mindsets, our influences and preferences, and this is one of the miracles that makes us human. It’s originality in a nutshell.

But since we’re all so different, finding that perfect understanding with any one band and maintaining it for more than a couple of years is like finding earbuds that actually stay put — practically impossible, but worth a try all the same.

I won’t bore you with a historical listing of my favorite bands and why and how they’ve spoken to me at different times in my life. You all have your favorites. The ones that brought you through the awakenings and coming-of-age moments of middle school, the awkwardness and uncertainty of high school, the pressure and desire of college, the newness and overwhelming freedom of twenty-something life. Insert them here.

Then look at that progression. Try listening to your middle school favorites now. It might be good to reminisce for five minutes, but then I bet it feels pretty laughable. High school jams might seem shallow, hollow. And college tunes likely still resonate, but in a way that feels like something’s missing.

And it is. But it’s not the band, it’s you. It’s all of us. We’ve changed. We’re not the us we were 5, 10, 15 years ago — even if we’ve retained a lot of the same friends, hobbies, interests, habits.

The same can be said for any artist that ever sang a song. And that’s why it’s practically impossible to find a band whose progression through life and lyrics and notes will match ours. Because as we change, bands change too, and no one does it the exact same way. Originality in a nutshell.

But let’s not give up; there’d be no fun in that. We can keep progressing through artists and enjoying songs as they come to us and as they speak to us. There’s nothing wrong with that. And we can comfort ourselves with people who see our changes and change alongside us. Because better than a band, the ones we love can always find a way to understand us.

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Why it’s OK to love the Christmas music station

‘Tis the season for a lot of things and Christmas music certainly is one of them. It’s in car commercials, on radio stations, pumping through shopping malls and serenading office parties. It’s unavoidable, and yet, I find myself seeking it out.

It seems every passing year I listen to more and more Christmas music and I do it more and more on purpose. I can’t figure it out. Unless it’s just another one of those things that’s attributable to adulthood and the passing of time. It must be.

Growing every little bit older and more mature makes us want to appreciate things more. It’s like we realize time flies by too quickly, so we need to enjoy it consciously. It’s as if we realize life is fleeting and limited by nature. And that drives us to act differently, to show more gratitude, kindness and understanding, to live with all of our senses, to appreciate everything. Even hearing “Sleigh Ride” a minimum of three times in one day.

Overplayed tunes aside, there’s plenty to appreciate around Christmas. There’s the changing of the seasons, the pumpkin bread at Starbucks, the lights on houses and apartment balconies, the excuses to go see family, the free food at holiday parties, the unexpectedly light traffic, the classics like “It’s a Wonderful Life” constantly on TV, the simple feeling of warmth people seem to exude despite the impending months of cold, the silver bells and jingle bells and gosh darnit the Christmas music.

Maybe unabashedly listening to Christmas music makes me feel like a kid again. It could be that enjoying “Frosty the Snowman” without embarrassment brings out the snow-loving explorer in all of us, even as we grumble about scraping the fluffy stuff from our windshields and fighting traffic as drivers forget how to steer in it. Christmas music is nostalgia incarnate, good times past packaged into a simple song. It’s a time machine, in audio form, so why not cram as much of it as possible into the month leading up to commercial America’s favorite holiday of Christmas.

So as Dec. 25 approaches, I’ll continue to have the Christmas station on and you’ll often find me jamming out to seasonal songs – even if for no other reason than this: it can’t be Santa’s big day until I hear “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” at least once!

Merry Christmas to all, and to all some festive tunes.

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The contradictions of the Christmas list

It’s right around this time of year when an assignment comes due. This isn’t an assignment at work or at the career center where I volunteer — it’s one I owe my family.

Thanksgiving hasn’t even hit, and it’s Christmas List time in my think-ahead family. When I complete the assignment of emailing my mom some things I’d like as gifts, I’m sure to feel the same way I’ve felt each year after sending that email: materialistic.

There’s no avoiding it. I will have just sent a message about, you guessed it, material goods. And I will have thrown out the window the idea of need and listed a bunch of wants, unnecessary yet fun things like new Ugg boots, expensive running tights and back massage certificates.

Listing what I want for Christmas makes me feel selfish and spoiled — things I’ve worked hard throughout my twenties not to be. I’m blessed to have a supportive and stable family, but I try not to take advantage of that.

Throughout the year, I pay all my own expenses and try to do little things, like send real thank-you letters, keep in good touch with close friends, share candy and goodies at the office and call my grandparents occasionally, that show my appreciation for all the fantastic advantages and privileges in my life. In my heart, I’m thankful.

On Thursday when we go around the table and list things we’re grateful for, I’ll have plenty to say — my mostly enjoyable, challenging and important job, my reasonable and understanding boss, my simple ability to move all of my body parts and function fully, without disability, my enjoyment of physical activity and healthy eating, the friends I know will always be in my life, my faith, my fiancee and plenty more. I have so many things to be thankful for, but I know I don’t show it enough.

And then Christmas rolls around. And there are so many celebrations. Believe me, I’m not complaining. Just listing all the occasions for which people want to buy me gifts, even if I don’t need them, makes me see the blessing and the curse of it all.

There’s the real Christmas day, on which my family still has managed to celebrate with gifts in the morning despite three twenty-somethings working new-kid schedules that often include holidays. Then there’s Christmas afternoon, when my fiancee’s family gathers for a gift extravaganza that hasn’t scaled itself back to a Secret Santa or a cards-only occasion. Before the big day, my mom’s side of the family gathers over the weekend for a variation on the Secret Santa theme, and it’s a grand fiesta of family and festive foods. Before even that, it’s my fiancee’s family at it again, gathering for the German tradition of St. Nicholas Day.

It’s a first-world problem, for sure, but the spectacular celebrations of Christmas always make me feel materialistic along with blessed and loved. I’ll make some donations, but somewhere inside I’ll still feel selfish. I’ll give plenty of gifts to others, and I’ll put as much time and thought into them as I can. But I’ll still feel some guilt about the nice things I’ll gladly receive regardless of need.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be a time for materialism. So it’s time to change the focus. When my Christmas list comes due, I’ll find a way to complete the assignment — I am a rule follower, after all. But maybe, gradually, I’ll also find a way to work less material goods into the picture, leaving more room for what the season truly is all about: love, family, support, charity and a fresh start. Wishing you all that and more this holiday season.

Speak soon. Stay lucky.

Marie

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One wish for a better world

I wish people weren’t so hypocritical. And I wish it most when it comes to our families.

There are times that bring families together. Births, birthdays, religious ceremonies, coming-of-age occasions, graduations, weddings, retirements, deaths. Aside from the obvious downer at the end, it’s hard to choose a favorite. Then there are things that tear families apart: insults, grudges, slights, distance, time, selfishness, laziness. I don’t know which is worst.

But families remain central to our lives, even as we progress through our twenties. Even as more time passes from the days when we lived with all of our immediate family, those relatives are a rock and steadying factor. Even as time progresses and some of us start our own families or come closer to doing so, those who raised us remain central.

Yet we let our families slip down our priorities list all too often, taking for granted that they’ll always be there for us. I’m guilty, that’s for sure. In fact, my family’s dependable presence and unconditional love are things I take comfort in assuming will be there forever, even when I’m not showing the most kindness, caring or consideration, even when I’m being selfish and putting my own thoughts, needs, wants and interests before those of the people who matter to me the most. Even when my selfishness takes so much precedence that I lose sight of the priorities I place on people, loyalty and dependability. Family is still there.

And when is this sad selfishness most apparent but at the time of a loved one’s death. Inevitably, there will be a lot of family time around a death, and this can be good and bad. Good because family can offer comfort that only those who truly understand you can provide. Bad because family time around a stressful and sad occasion can lead to old tensions flaring and new battle lines being drawn.

Also inevitable are the realizations. They’ll be different for each of us. Often they involve time. We’ll realize we should have spent more time with our families — the ones we were born into and the ones we choose. That’s what old people always say on those work/life balance surveys, anyway: they regret working so much and not spending enough time with their families. But why do we have to let this become a regret before we try to do something about it?

Time, I guess. It’s such a limiting factor that we blame it for our inability to balance our lives and put into order the things that are or aren’t important. Time is why we don’t see our families enough, but time isn’t the culprit. We are.

So if we value our families, let’s start showing it. If we love spending time with our families, let’s start doing it. Don’t wait for the next joyous occasion or tragic one. Don’t wait even for the next weekend. Keep the people who matter in your life central to it and do it now. Because you never know when it’ll be too late.

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