Archive for September, 2015

In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, W is for Why

“Why?” is a question we all famously ask as kids.

Why do I have to go to bed? Why is the sky blue? Why are the dinosaurs dead? Why do I have to eat my broccoli? Why don’t grown-ups eat snacks? And my personal childhood favorite, Why do I always have to take the first shower? The list goes on.

Kids want to know why because they’re inquisitive, common sense tells us, and because they honestly don’t know yet. They don’t have the school experience that tells them dinosaurs are dead because evolution … or some giant meteor, the big bang or whatever. They don’t have the life experience that tells them eating vegetables makes you feel good and showering is a daily necessity and grown-ups do too eat snacks … just usually not Fruit Roll-Ups and Pop Tarts. Kids ask why because they want to know.

But why is still a favorite question of mine at 27.

Why do I have to wake up so early? Why is the ice cream gone? Why is the laundry machine always taken? Why can’t I just go to bed? Why can’t commuting be abolished? Why does work have to eat up so much of my time? Why am I always thinking about food? Some deeper “why” questions pop up, too, like Why do I still worry about things I can’t control? Why do I dwell on things I’m worried about and talk circles around them until I come up with some solution? Why do I still hold the occasional grudge? Why can’t I grow out of these bad habits? Why as I ending up so much like an exact combination of my parents? Why do I believe? Yet why am I a weaker optimist than I used to be? Why do I still get overwhelmed by long lists of tasks and long-term projects? Why don’t I trust myself more? Why can’t I change that? And why can’t I have this adulthood thing figured out, already?

There are a lot of whys in this world, but they’re all worth pondering. Because when you come up with the answer to “Why?” you come up with purpose. When you dig to find out why, you’re on a quest to find meaning and truth. And those things matter. Why? Because we’re human. Because the purpose of life is to find meaning. Because we’re all trying to find our life’s work and devote ourselves to it, to find what’s real and stick to it. To be alive.

Sometimes, if the question is “Why?” the answer is simple: “Why not?” Sometimes it’s disappointing (to a kid at least): “Because,” or “Because I said so.” Sometimes it’s disappointing and incomplete, even to the most adult among us: “I simply don’t know.”

And all of those responses are natural and they’re all just fine. I’ll leave it up to you to determine why.

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24 reasons twenty-somethings love fall

The weather is beautiful and so are the trees.
Hot chocolate.
It’s no longer back-to-school season.
We’ve grown out of thinking whichever season contains our birthday is automatically the best.
Football is a good reason to drink beer with friends.
Tailgating on asphalt parking lots is no longer a terrible idea.
Caramel apples.
Everything pumpkin.
Pretending to be a kid again in corn mazes.
Weekends don’t get booked as quickly as they did in the summer.
It’s the perfect time to go biking.
Crunchy leaves.
Turkey trots.
Black Friday.
Or, forget that: Online shopping.
Sweaters, blankets and boots are all acceptable again.
It’s a good excuse to cuddle.
Being lazy is quite OK on gray fall days.
Nostalgia.
The holidays are coming.
Days off are coming.
It’s almost basketball season.
There’s no more need for a beach body.
It’s not winter.

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Why it’s OK to love pajamas in your twenties

Sometimes as an adult, I feel like I wear exactly two things every day: Work clothes and pajamas.
It seems the moment I come home, whether it’s 6:37 p.m. after the average day shift, 11:03 p.m. after a slightly long night shift or a lucky 5:22 p.m. after the rare easy day, it feels like pajama time. Being at home as a twenty-something immediately makes me want to slip into comfort and slide on my PJs.

Comfy shorts or drawstring pants, here I come! Oversized free T-shirts or old tank tops, here I come! No more itchy lace trim or bra straps to adjust or belts to unbuckle before going to the bathroom. No more shoes that only pretend to be comfortable, and no more “trouser socks” that feel tight below the knee after a full day at the office. When I get home, it’s time for relaxation and freedom of motion. I throw on my pajamas and 27-year-old me couldn’t be happier.

This is the life, I think, as I finish making dinner, watch a couple of half-hour shows on Netflix, check my email (maybe), recap the day, call family or friends and accomplish a few to-do list items. To be able to lounge around in mismatched, old clothes meant only for sleeping, at my own place, on my own time is truly a freedom I’ve earned at this stage. So I’m going to savor it.

We all deserve to exercise the freedoms we’ve worked hard to achieve. Because let’s admit it, there are some freedoms we can’t really access anymore. We can’t see our college friends at every meal and eat from what seems like a free buffet. We can’t be petty to our parents and have anyone write it off as teenage angst. We don’t really get recess or art class, music lessons or snack time – unless we seek out these opportunities and create them for ourselves. And we certainly can’t resort to crying to express all of our wants, needs, mistakes and emotions.

We have to show up on time, buy and make our own food, answer emails professionally, remember birthdays and anniversaries, find time for our hobbies and energy to pursue our goals, and stay sane in this vibrant world full of pressures and expectations.

A lot is asked of us. So the least we can give ourselves is pajama time.

It’s OK. No one cares how old those shorts are or which embarrassing concert that T-shirt came from. It’s your life, your freedom, your pajamas. So close out that work day with your best effort, then get comfy. You deserve it.

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An open letter to people- and pet-loving drivers

Dear LVURKIDS,
Do you really think people need a reminder? Yeah, you’re right. They do.

Dear ARF MEOW,
I’m picturing a dog vs cat battle for affection at your house. Or in your passenger seat.

Dear RKNRL 56,
’56 is a ways back now, even in the Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame …

Dear NVRNUF1,
You even have a personalized license plate, and it’s still just NEVER ENOUGH for you!

Dear PDF IT,
Ooh! I know, you made your fortune creating that program that turns any file into a pdf attachment.

Dear FIND SNO,
Just keep going north and stop when the ground turns white.

Dear MOOVFAN,
Who doesn’t love cow moovies?

Dear BIGUY5,
There are two readings here, but I’ll stick with you’re a big guy.

Dear IB NIU 86,
Is your name on a building at NIU? With that kind of devotion, I’d guess you’re a big donor in DeKalb.

Dear REC CRE8,
Well you sure are one creative recreation professional. No one believe you?!? Just show ‘em your ride!

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, V is for Volunteering

Every time I hear an organization call for volunteers, or every time I hear a story of some great work volunteers did, I think “I should do that.”

“Yeah,” I tell myself, “I really should start volunteering, start giving back.” It’s the right thing to do. I mean, plenty of people helped me become the at least moderately successful 20-something journalist I am today, so I should provide similar help for the younger generation.

I should volunteer in a way that makes the “highest and best use” of my talents as a writer, my endurance as an athlete and my feminist belief in equal opportunity and treatment for all, regardless of any factor, especially gender. I should do my best work at my job, be the best version of myself to my friends, siblings, parents, cousins, etc, and then, I should top it all off by volunteering for causes close to my heart.

We all should.

Lots of us do, and even more of us try. But for me, so far, no matter how much I might want to begin volunteering consistently, it just doesn’t happen. I’ll start off with the best intentions, and then life gets in the way.

I’ll decide I should volunteer with the Illinois Prairie Path because it’s one of my favorite places to run, it’s the first successful rails-to-trails conversion in the U.S., and heck, it attracts just as much garbage and weeds as any other outdoor space. So I’ll get my mind set on volunteering to keep the path clean and pristine for all the runners, bikers and walkers who find comfort in its suburban seclusion. Then life gets in the way.

I move to Chicago instead of the suburbs, and realize I won’t be very close to the path during the majority of my free time. I look at the website and see there aren’t really any volunteer events, or anything listed for volunteers other than a yearly “members meeting” in which you basically pay $25 to hear a status update about the path. Not really my idea of doing good in the world, or “giving back.”

In college, I tried to be a volunteer soccer coach for the nearby park district. My cousin had coached a little kids’ baseball team at a housing project during his college years, so I thought the idea of giving back by helping youths develop soccer skills and a love for running around was a great one. In a way, it was.

But then I learned more about the program. The practices were at faraway fields not easily accessible by bus or any other mode of transportation available to the car-less me. The games conflicted with the times of Illini football games, to which I’d already bought season tickets. And I don’t even remember now for sure, but there were probably all kinds of background checks and hoops the park district would have made me jump through before letting scary, intimidating me coach any little tykes.

Other volunteer efforts I’ve tried have been thwarted by more simple factors like a lack of time, an awkward uneasiness about dropping in somewhere once to “help out” never to be seen again, or a gnawing feeling that anyone with any skills could help out at a food pantry or a homeless shelter or an elderly meal delivery service, so maybe I should be serving elsewhere.

All this isn’t to say I haven’t given a second of my time to others. I helped with one of those used prom dress giveaways during college, and I prepared food for a soup kitchen once. I participated in one of those group volunteer events, where I basically scarfed down free bagels and did some light cleaning at a church that didn’t seem to know what projects could actually use volunteer help. I donated blood, but it took forever, bruised my veins and made me dizzy. In my most fulfilling volunteer effort so far, I’ve went back to my high school and to a middle school near my office to speak about my job as a newspaper reporter and give advice on how to break into journalism.

Still, I seem to be finding all the bad aspects of an activity as great as volunteering, and that’s totally not my style. So here’s the part where I begin to discover I’m on to something. All I really need to do is find the right cause, the right volunteer group, the right organization. I’m leaning toward some type of mentorship group, and/or Girls on the Run Chicago, or anything else I find that would let me do something uniquely worthwhile using the writing, speaking, running and feministing skills I’ve built through my education and life experiences.

It seems I want to volunteer for the right reasons – because I believe it’s important to pave the way for girls and aspiring writers or anyone who may be struggling with obstacles to success. And it seems all my strikeouts are leading to something – I don’t want to volunteer with some run-of-the-mill food pantry, even though those are necessary and really help people who otherwise might go hungry.

When it comes to volunteering, I don’t really think mine is the lead to follow. But I do know that in our 20s, we’re old enough to begin seeing the world outside ourselves. We’re old enough to give this “giving back” thing a real shot. So when we try to volunteer, we should strive to serve the right cause – one that fits our life experiences and interests – for the right reasons. Then, we’ll really begin to make the world a better place.

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