Keep reading what follows this brief note of introduction, because it will be a treat for your heart and mind (you are also welcome to skip these italics, and just get to the good stuff). These entries originated from the blog What She Does, an excellent and relatively recent creative endeavor by N.J. Florence. We've received her permission to feature some entries from her blog here on American Fantastic. To paraphrase N.J. Florence's own self-description, 'she lives in an old apartment building with her musician boyfriend, their two cats, and several houseplants. She's been writing since she could hold a pen, but never for an audience. This is the year she changed that'.
On behalf of American Fantastic, we welcome N.J. to our curious menagerie, and encourage readers to dig into her work. It's intelligent, self-reflective, and kind of weird sometimes--but only in the best ways. Please enjoy.
-John Beechem, Editor-in-Chief
originally published on 04.15.18
The other day, my office-mate was relating an anecdote about the job interview she had for her current position. “They told me,” she said, “to describe myself in three words. I said detail-oriented, organized, and trustworthy.”
“Whoa,” I laughed. “That’s spot on.” In hearing those words, I immediately recognized the person sitting next to me. That was her, alright: perpetually hyper-focused on the minute details of some highly confidential document. That, and she’s the type to find the one modest typo in an otherwise immaculate document. Nothing gets past her.
Afterwards, I began inwardly musing about what my own three words would be. It’s been surprisingly difficult to come up with something. I think positive would definitely be one. I can be, I’m sure, annoyingly optimistic—blindly so, even. I’m not immune to the effects of a good old-fashioned PMS breakdown, but generally I’m pretty upbeat.
So, we’ve got “positive.” That’s a start, but as for the other words, I’m at a loss.
But let’s see. I’ve always been a fan of personality ‘tests’—from MBTIto astrological birth charts. The results are in: I’m an INFJ, and also an Aries**. The stereotypes of these two personalities are diametrically opposed, and that pretty much describes me: “mystical” and introspective, yet kind of a blowhard when I get excited about something—usually some new regimen or system that I’m in the process of experimenting with.
Of course, depending on who you ask, these metrics are based in bullshit, anyway. They’ve got a point, I suppose; people are complex creatures, right? Nobody is going to fit into any box 100% of the time.
Still, I believe there’s something to it all, and that ‘something’ is what keeps me taking internet personality quizzes like this one which takes about two minutes to complete. (Do it! You know you want to.)
For me, the Type A / Type B tests are particularly intriguing—and perhaps particularly useless—because I always end up somewhere in the middle. Obviously, I know there’s more to life than a made up binary (see also: gender), but it doesn’t keep me from wondering where I fall on that spectrum.
Some days, I’m certain that I’m a Type B. I’d like to submit the following for evidence:
- I enjoy long walks in which I literally stop and smell the flowers
- I slowly savor the food I eat and waft the aroma of teas and coffees before I drink them (with my pinky up, duh)
- If I had a proper bath tub, I’d soak in it regularly with some salts, candles, and a moisturizing face-mask
- I take great pleasure in curling up with my kitties and reading a book at the end of the day with my Himalayan salt lamps glowing
Other days, I’m not so sure. You see, there’s a part of me that does things like that because I want to read the most books—because I read somewhere that CEOs read, like, 60 books a year. That’s a lot, and I have to stay on my game, okay? I’m the CEO of myself—captain of my soul, or whatever—and I want to be the most relaxed, damn it, because making time for relaxation means I’ll be recharged enough to get more shit done. (Some nights I can be found chugging relaxation tea and aggressively silencing my racing mind for meditation.)
Still, I know I’m not a true Type A because I’m okay with knowing I’ll never read “the most books.” It’s an ill-defined, impossible goal. But I’ve researched goal-setting and fear-setting, and when I DO have a well-defined, achievable goal, I relentlessly pursue it. I try very hard to do this in a way that won’t lead to a stress-induced heart attack by age 35. I do the absolute best I can do, generally only worry about what I can control, and that’s pretty much that. The rest isn’t up to me.
That being said, I generally “play to win.” Since beginning grad school, I’ve started to approach life like a game, which has yielded good results—and, importantly, allowed my happiness to remain intact. I enjoy thinking of ways to optimize my time spent on the planet; various aspects of my life are visualized as skill-point levels in a video game. At times, my inner dialogue runs like this: uh oh, better put more points into self-care this week, which means I’ll have to steal some from the homework meter… ah, but that’s okay, because it’s a good investment, and later I’ll be able to move the homework meter up even further… [etc.]
Odd for some, but it works for me. It helps keep everything balanced—and you know, it’s really all about balance, said the twenty-five year old on her blog.
My other office-mate told me that I was the type to “be doing yoga on the edge of a cliff somewhere.” This was hilarious to me, as the image perfectly marries these two competing sides of my personality: that which strives to be relaxed and present in body and mind, and that which must be teetering on the edge of something for the sheer thrill of it. It’s beside the point that I don’t regularly practice yoga; it’s flattering enough just to be thought of as “the type of person who does yoga.”
Besides, it’s on my ever-growing to do list for this summer.
Returning to the three words—I’m not sure I can come up with them at this juncture, but I’ll mull it over. Who says I have to pick just three, anyway? ♣
the creeley incident
originally published on 03.10.18
Last weekend was a rough one.
I’d always imagined that by the time I was an adult in grad school, I’d stop doing this kind of thing. I was so proactive about avoiding it last semester, but I guess I got too cocky. Or maybe, on some cellular level, a proclivity for procrastination is just ingrained in me.
So, here’s what happened: I had an 8-page paper on the poet Robert Creeley that was due last Friday at noon. I’d known about it for weeks. A month, really—but old habits die hard, apparently. Like old times, I forced myself into writing said paper in an absurdly short time frame, ultimately turning it in late. I did the bulk of my research for it Friday night, then went to bed at a decent hour because (obviously) above all else, I prioritize sleep. I woke up around 7:30 AM to begin writing; by 9 PM, I’d written my last word and settled down to watch Netflix.
I recently learned about something called Parkinson’s Law, which basically states that the amount of work one has will expand to fit the time window in which it must be completed. In other words, if you give yourself two weeks to work on a paper, the paper will take two weeks to complete. On the other hand—you can probably see where I’m going with this—if you give yourself twelve hours to write the same paper, it will only take twelve hours!
Obviously, I don’t recommend this method of getting shit done. There are much, much better ways—ones that I’ve since re-committed myself to putting into practice. Last Saturday was a rock bottom of sorts, and will henceforth be known as “The Creeley Incident.” If you find yourself in the trenches with a Creeley Incident of your own, here are my tips for not losing your mind:
uh oh, you fucked up: how to ‘recover’ from procrastination
- accept it // This sounds like a no-brainer, but the first step is gracefullyadmitting that you did this to yourself. Despair is a waste of the time that you no longer have. Don’t sit around and beat yourself up or blame xyz for your “lack of time.” Accept that you made a mistake and—most importantly—vow to learn from it next time.
- communicate // If you absolutely know in your sinking little heart of hearts ( as I did) that you will not be meeting the prescribed deadline, SAY SO ASAP. Tell whoever needs to know—your boss, your professor, etc.—if your work will be late. And don’t even think about coming up with an excuse; they’ll see right through it, and you’ll look even less credible. A good little script for to use would be something like this: “Dear [name], I will have [X] to you by [really fucking soon]. I apologize for the delay.” If they ask what happened, be honest: “I just did not manage my time well this week. It’s something I’m working to fix.” Notice I didn’t phrase it as a question, e.g., “Is it okay if I get this to you by…” Nope. It’s not. That’s why there was a due-date.
- mise en place // Gather your physical materials; put everything you need in one spot. You’ll be camping out here, so make sure it’s comfortable. Put your phone in airplane mode. Make sure you’ve eaten and have access to snacks (you know, for stress eating). Make sure there’s a bathroom nearby. Make sure you’re hydrated and, of course, caffeinated. (In my opinion, this is a critical step—just make sure that it doesn’t take, like, three hours.)
- plan // If you haven’t already (!!!), take about five minutes to thoroughly scope the assignment. What exactly are they looking for? What question(s) need to be answered? Skip the fluff and zero in on what’s supposed to be happening, and…
- eschew perfectionism // I could write a whole other post on why perfectionism is a load of garbage. You have no time, got it? Accept a lesser quality and move on with your life. It won’t be the best or prettiest paper/project in the world, but it’ll be done, and you’ll be happier. (NOTE: Do not confuse having high standards with being a perfectionist; there is a huge difference. The former is healthy while the latter is self-destructive. Either way, though, you have to accept whatever comes out, at this point. You don’t have time for standards!)
- work work work // Do this in time chunks. Trust me, working straight through on something for 12 hours is not an option. Work for two hours or so, then take a stretch break. Reward yourself with another cup of coffee. I gave myself 15-20 minute breaks for every 2 hours I worked; this helped prevent mental fatigue (and good ol’ fashioned despair) from setting in.
- cross the finish line // Decent job—you’re done!
… Now, never do it again! ♣
it’s the time of your lives (break down, break down)
originally published on 01.28.2018
“Do you want some tea before we drive?” I asked while putting the kettle on.
I drink a minimum of four cups per day. I love making coffee and tea; it’s an easy ritual that breaks up your waking hours. As the water boils, it gives you something to anticipate. It’s some miniature goal to achieve—some box to be checked off—before whatever else that needs to be done gets done.
- Don’t want to do your homework, yet? Procrastinate by first making a cup of tea!
- Not quite tired enough to sleep? Wind down with a cup of tea!
- Morbid curiosity propelled you down to the comments section of a CNN video on Facebook and now you’re pissed off at Greg from Iowa?Forget about that fucker and make a cup of tea!
Tea—along with aimless driving—is on my (very long) list of favorite things. I like just about any variety. I like talking about it, I like drinking it, and I like sharing it with people. So imagine my delight when this happened:
Very soon, my brother—for whom I was making said tea—will be accompanying his girlfriend, one of my best friends, to Ireland. They’ll live there for a minimum of one year. This week, he’s been moving everything out of his apartment (on top of finishing his full-length album), and was carving out time to hang out with his sister before he leaves the country.
brothers and sisters unite / it’s the time of your lives / it’s the time of your lives…
This is a lot to think about, so naturally, I was making tea.
When the water boiled, I poured him a cup. Considering I’d been healthy all winter (knock on wood), I had several “sick” teas left over from November’s precautionary stock-up. He sounded a bit stuffed up, so I gave him a handful of Breathe Easy for later. He grinned and nonchalantly arranged them on the counter-top. I’d apparently grabbed three.
“This is the exact amount of Sundays left before I go,” he said, referencing his weekly church gig.
In reality, his tone of voice was neutral. Matter-of-fact. Huh-would-ya-look-at-that. But my mind’s ear (if that’s a thing) immediately conjured up audio of Samwise Gamgee standing on the outskirts of the Shire. His feet firmly planted at the threshold of the cornfield before him, he remarks wistfully to Frodo, “This is it. If I take one more step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”
break down / break down…
Let me be clear: I am beyond happy for them. Nobody needs my approval, but here it is, anyway: I’m all for for this life-altering breach of the “normal” order of operations. It’s daring. It’s unexpected. It will lead to so much personal growth. (And, let’s just say it: I’m also totally excited for selfish reasons because it means, at some point, that I’m going to Ireland to see them… hehe).
So, yes—all of that. But there in my kitchen, staring down at a tangible representation of their looming departure date, I just cleared my throat and said something along the lines of, “god damn, that’s really coming up fast.”
We left the kitchen, travel mugs in hand, and began our drive. The winter sun had set at least an hour ago, and we sped around aimlessly in the dark while gleefully listening to a bombastic, proggy indulgence of our shared adolescence: Dream Theater’s Scenes From a Memory.
It was a fitting soundtrack for the evening, considering it was a prolonged trip down memory lane: we ended up at our Mom’s house, rifling through boxes of old toys (hot wheels and lord of the rings action figures) in search of some relic from high school—a top-bound spiral notebook called the “Senior 100,” which was a collection of teacher-assigned goofy tasks to complete before graduation.
Earlier in the night, after stuffing ourselves with tacos, I suddenly remembered something from our elementary school days. “I have to show you something,” I said excitedly, thumbs dancing on my phone to search YouTube for evidence of a PC game that came out in 1998.
“Is it ‘perfecto, Taxini is happy?’ You already showed me that.”
“Damn it! Did I really?” I laughed, shoving my phone at him anyway. (There was something hilarious about his voice pronouncing the ridiculous phrase perfecto, Taxini is happy with a tone of impatience).
In the highly likely event that you have no idea what I’m talking about, this paragraph is for you: Cluefinders was this PC game that we played while we were in elementary school. It was a franchise that was supposed to make learning “fun.” (Oh, and it did). Taxini the cricket is not so much a character as a plot vehicle—literally. He’s this little guy that ferries you—taxies, you, if you will—across some river. If I remember right, Taxini’s portion of Cluefinders teaches you spelling; his stentorian, third-person announcement of pleasure erupts when you steer him toward a word that’s spelled right. Oh, and for some reason, he has an Italian accent.
I couldn’t even tell you where Taxini the Italian cricket factors into the larger Cluefinders canon; it’s been way too long. But this mundane and very specific bit of our childhood pops into my head, unprompted, like, once a week. (Evidently, this same pop-up phenomenon happens to my brother, but it’s with some Campbell’s soup commercial from the early 2000’s).
It’s weird what sticks with you, right?
Anyway, this is all just to say that I will need a lot of tea to get through the next couple weeks. As of today, there are two Breathe Easys left before the trip. Two weeks. God damn, that’s coming right up. ♣
wheel of fortune
originally published on 01.20.18
I must begin this post with a rather unsexy disclaimer: I am not a professional tarot reader.
Now that that bit of truth is out of the way, I can say that I have, however, been studying Tarot for about a year and a half, and have been doing micro readings for myself and, occasionally, for others. This is something I’d like to improve upon, and yet it’s a Catch-22: I can’t get experience without trying, and I sometimes feel I can’t try because I lack experience.
But this is a limitation I’ve actively worked to overcome, and it’s part of why I feel comfortable sharing a simple one-card reading. If I waited until I felt ready / experienced enough / credible enough to do things, nothing would ever get done.
It’s often the case that a single card is all you need, anyway.
The question I asked this morning before shuffling the deck and drawing a card was, “what do I need to know now for my highest good?” This is an oft-used generic solicitation for divine advice to guard against one being, as the Smiths mondegreen goes, “a summoner of nothing in particular.” Basically, if you want an answer, you need a question.
The card I drew was the Wheel of Fortune, which belongs to the Major Arcana. In tarot, these cards generally signal that the matter at hand is, to use a technical term, a big deal.
The Wheel of Fortune, in general, calls us to pay attention to life’s cycles, both grand and small. In the upright position, it can be read as an affirmation that the Universe is “working” as it should: the wheel in the sky keeps on turning. If life is good, right now, that’s great—just don’t get lazy. If life sucks right now, fear not—this too shall (eventually) pass.
I tend to think of everything in my life as happening in cycles. In addition to the obvious menstrual cycle (which is reliably tethered to the moon’s cyclical phases), there’s the laundry cycle, the house-cleaning cycle, the grocery cycle, the car-washing cycle, the “friends v. homework” cycle… the list goes on and on. Part of finding the balance in life is tuning into these cycles and remembering that everything need not be completed all at once. As one cycle is completed, another requires my attention. Life is a constant juggling of activities, and the Wheel of Fortune reminds us that this is the way life rolls. It’s normal to have ups and downs.
When I drew it, I couldn’t help but grin. I know exactly why this card appeared: it’s telling me to get my ass into gear. It’s calling me to work.
And rightly so. Last month can only be described as “magical.” It was one of the best Christmas seasons on record (at least since my dad passed away when I was twelve). There can be so much pressure to maintain the intended frivolity of the holidays as an adult (especially if you’re female). I can only speak for myself, of course, but this year felt different. It was easy. Fun. December of 2017 was the culminating “dessert” for the year’s end.
I realize, in hindsight, that I’d labored all year to make it so. In the spring, while I still had a full-time job, I took a post-baccalaureate class to ease myself back into academia. When fall came, I scaled back my hours and began grad school in earnest, now with a morning schedule. I’d finally—after months (years, even) of rumination—changed my life and designed it exactly as I wished it to be. But a year ago last month, I was still working nights. Though I was thankful for my job, I hadn’t yet found healthy ways to deal with the stress that came with it, and it took a toll on my body: I caught a bad cold just in time for my out-of-town friends to visit, and stayed sick through New Year’s. I had my “game face” on, but I recall simply going through the motions. I was tired all the time, and so tired of being tired. If I felt like that at 23, something was definitely wrong with the way I was living.
This December, however, was rejuvenating; it was filled with everything I needed and nothing I didn’t. By the ninth, my first semester of grad school was all tied up with a bow, and I was reveling in the ensuing rush of freedom. As I walked out of my last final exam on that Saturday, the campus was virtually empty. The usual din of students was replaced with the wintry ambiance of the wind swirling snow flurries and the creaking of bare trees. As I began walking home, my lone footsteps echoed through the cavernous maze of buildings. I knew I’d just aced my test. I felt elated. I had nowhere to be, no presentations to prepare, no tests to study for. Best of all, I’d stayed sane throughout the whole process. I’d finished strong, and allowed myself a solid month to rest, to see family and friends, and to go easy on myself.
But all good things end, right?
It’s time. The “rest” part of the school-cycle is solidly over. As the end of January nears, the semester begins to ramp up. The homework load increases. Sadly, I can no longer live in my sweatpants and robe (though I am currently wearing both on my designated “writing day”).
I’m ready, though, to roll through another semester—bumps and all. ♣
from the earth to the moon
originally published on 02.27.15
Nine years ago today, my dad died.
Brain Cancer. That’s always the follow-up question, isn’t it? Yes, it was cancer, and yes, I wrote my college admission essay about it.
If you think that sounds crass, you probably wouldn’t have gotten along with Dad. It’s exactly the kind of joke he would have made. He died of this thing called a glioblastoma — an inoperable stage 4 malignant brain tumor — and he told us he wanted a hat sporting the phrase I’m Havin’ a Glee-o-Blast!
He was, you might say, terminally hilarious. Good one, Dad!
* * *
I was twelve when he died. Who is conscious of anything at twelve years old? Who the hell even knows what’s going on? I was in seventh grade. Every night, I went to the hospital, dutifully churning out my assigned busywork. I still wanted to get A’s. I didn’t understand that dad was dying — that, in about six months’ time, I’d never see him again.
Memories are strange things. Everything I remember about those hellish six months has been warped by either the initial trauma or the slow passage of time. I’d make a terrible eye-witness to my own life. Still, there are some things I’m forever burdened with remembering. I’ll never forget being gently shaken awake at four-something in the morning on this day nine years ago. Mom was crying but I could make out the words, “he’s gone, honey, he’s gone.” I sat up in bed. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe I could say goodbye in time. But then I saw him, and I knew there was no mistaking it.
He was gone.
The soft chords of his favorite Sacred Harp music filled the silence.
All is Well.
* * *
The Bustle in a House
The Morning after Death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted opon Earth –
The Sweeping up the Heart
And putting Love away
We shall not want to use again
Until Eternity –
* * *
I remember Mom saying that February 27th — forever a red-letter date in our family history — would be hard, but not harder than any other day. “Someday you’ll just be driving,” she told me, “with the windows down. It’ll be a nice, fragrant spring day, and you’ll think of him. That’s when you’ll miss him most.”
And I’ll be damned if she wasn’t right. Today is just another day. A thick layer of snowy sludge still smothers the yard — Dad’s yard — and prevents his little early-blooming crocuses from poking through. It’s too cold, still, even for them. But with the passing of every February 27th comes the coronation of spring. The earth is on the verge of waking up; these dormant dark days will soon give way to something better, and Dad’s garden will burst to life.
I’m dying for that first lungful of spring air. ♣