Friday, January 11, 2019

A Fearless Wannabe

I could describe my childhood self as many different things. I was an incredibly shy little squirt. But, just you wait until I was behind closed doors with my parents and older brother, my carefully cross stitched lips would burst open and a full on ham I would become. I was a little lady for as long as I can remember. While other girls on my t-ball team ran out to the dirt piles to run around before the game, I would carefully hand my purse to my mother for safe keeping, push up my round sunglasses, and take a seat in that filthy dug out, crossing my legs and folding my hands over my knee to stare at my freshly painted manicure. I had no idea how to play t-ball, but I sure had the look.

The one thing I definitely cannot honestly describe my childhood self as would be fearless. Growing up, I could convince myself I was scared of anything. I went through my phases, like any child does, finding myself terrified of cats, dogs, the dark, heights. Spending time in a church pew every Sunday, I even feared that the rapture had happened anytime I couldn't find my mom or dad. I could develop a new fear over night, while other fears could disappear out of my grasp.

I am happy to say that I did grow out of many of these fears. I love adorable doggies and my mind goes to other possible scenarios before assuming I was left behind in the rapture when a loved one doesn't text back right away. I still don't do cats, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. Nor will I be finding any ounce of joy or thrill by standing on an inch of glass with a 1,000 foot drop below me.

The bizarre thing about fears is that they only hold power over us when we give them energy to exist. When that fear enters our mind, that is when the shock collar instantly attacks us, reminding us that we once told ourselves we are scared of that "it", whatever "it" may be. My internal shock collar of fear awakens me with high jitters the moment I see a tiny, innocent, fur ball of a creature scurry across my apartment. A mouse.

Now, growing up in the boonies of Nixa, Missouri with a room in the basement and three acres surrounding us, a mouse finding it's way into the house is to be expected. I would scream bloody murder at the ball of lint running faster than a cheetah across the room, my warrior of a father would come downstairs, practically catch the thing with his bare hands and escort it back outside.

I was terrified of a creature that was smaller than my palm that could disappear out of sight if I even thought about blinking one eye. But, there was an order of events and I knew that it would disappear as soon as my dad could put his Nikes on and head outside with that fear of mine.

So, what is a girl to do when she encounters that somewhat nostalgic fear of hers in her studio apartment in Chicago, Illinois? Well, I'll tell you what I did. I screamed bloody murder and then realized that I had no set sequence of events that would follow. My dad was 8 hours away back in Missouri, though I know he sat up in bed hearing my scream all that way, but unfortunately he couldn't handle this for me. This was now my fear to face.

I can't say that I handled this mouse attack, that was truly just an encounter, gracefully and maturely. I instantly became scared to walk around in my 500 square foot abode. I would jolt out of bed at night thinking I heard the mouse or accused the mouse of intruding my bed. I was dramatic. There was no grace or bravery or maturity to be found.

My sweet boyfriend Nick and I sat out dozens of traps for days. Trying different bait to suck in the poor grey marshmallow with legs. We would keep our shoes on tightly, having no intention to go outside anytime soon, just in case we touched the mouse during war -- it could bite our toes off! Part of facing your fear, is being prepared for the worst, obviously.

We finally caught the rascal, or should I say the very expensive $2 mousetrap from the bodega around the corner caught the rascal. And I, Ashlyn Elliott, came face to face with that fear of mine as I swept it into an old cracker box with a swiffer to accompany the unwanted house guest out. While staring at the now still creature, that I was sure is in a much better place, I noticed we clearly made progress over those few days. The little guy even had a few of my strands of hair wrapped around him. I'm sure it was a keepsake to remember me by and not because I shed horribly.

It is a scary world we are living in. Sadly, it always has been. The older I get, the things that scare me shift slightly. Rather than being scared to jump off the diving board at the community pool, I am scared of not having anything successful to share at my high school reunion. I am scared of the crippling debt I will be in for a long while thanks to school tuition rather than being scared of letting go of my mom's hand at the first day of kindergarten.

I look at our world that is quite literally on fire and full of anger and hurt, and that tiny mouse seems to be a whole lot less scary.

It is about perspective. We are the ones that grant our fears power. Big or small.

Whatever fear it is that seems to be haunting you and I, let's face it. And sometimes, the best way to face it, is to simply dismiss it from holding power over us.

You are stronger than you think. These monstrous spooks that seem to be suffocating you now will soon turn into tiny spooks that you will be able to smile back at with a brave stride.

Release those anxieties and heavy thoughts that are puppeteering your day to day. Use that energy toward things that actually fuel you and bring you peace and joy. You deserve that.

At the end of the day, however, it is life. As much as I preach to myself that I am the bravest girl in this world and can face any giant that enters my life, I still find myself unknowingly acting out the best impression of the Cowardly Lion stuttering "I do believe in spooks. I do! I do! I do believe in spooks."

So, here I am world, a twenty three year old girl ready to charge into this new year standing up to those that make me feel inferior, scurrying away from evil cats that are out to get me, overcoming my financial anxieties, and still staying away from mighty roller coasters that would never intentionally fling me to my death.

Balance must be present in our lives, even with our fears and anxieties. Choose your battles, choose your jitters.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Stuck in Second Gear

So no one told you life was gonna be this way...I never knew the truth in those lyrics until very recently. For years, I had watched sitcoms just like Friends, allowing me to fantasize and look forward to the years of growing up ahead of me. I was so eager to splash around in a fountain wearing matching outfits with my closest friends or strut down the Upper East Side in a tutu skirt just like Carrie Bradshaw in Sex and the City. These shows, and so many others, were centered around the growing years; the twenties and thirties we all experience.

 It is without a doubt that these years spent charging full force into the real world are some of the greatest years of adventure and struggle and bliss. A messy cocktail with a sweet garnish of anxiety disguised as an umbrella hovering over the glass. I am still very early into my twenties, yet I can't help but gawk at the fact that I am far beyond my teen years, the years that felt so safe and filled with immense confidence. Where did all of that confidence drift to? Another hopeful wide eyed blonde girl in a small town high school assembly, I do hope.

One thing that has remained sweetly consistent since my pubescent years is my love for a sitcom. These mindless short episodes full of larger than life characters, outrageous plot lines and tender moments have always been my escape mechanism. I will always invest in my favorite series, movies, and lengthy seasons of comedic reality that are so near to my heart. The truth is, I learn something new, or better yet, relate to something new with each episode I re watch. These sitcoms and other series that depict the knack of growing up have shaped us into our twenties and beyond, without us even knowing it.

The older I am getting, the more I am realizing how the twenties seem to be nothing like they are depicted in a sitcom and just how fascinatingly realistic these stories are. Bravo to that.
      (i.e. I have never related to Rachel Green more than the past few months as I am pouring coffee for others, just dreaming of successfully living that big city career life one day. Oh and HOW do these three girls have money for all of these cute outfits, and just curious what their rent may be living in a giant Manhattan apartment?..)

It is quite fun to see just how well our "twenties" seem to line up with Hollywood's standards. And the results I have found, very scientifically, of course, are quite encouraging. A list just brushing the bullet points of this revelation. Some truths that we unknowingly relate to, and other truths that perhaps we could add to our own lives.

A checklist for your growing years, according to your -- er-- my favorite TV shows. More specifically, the timeless series, FRIENDS. (Thanks, Netflix for the recent rebirth!)

  • Have your Central Perk
Perhaps it is simply because a sitcom has limited sets to work with, but the idea of having a single meeting place, a go to, provides a comforting sense of consistency. The many chats exchanged on the large couch at Central Perk, or the hilarious banter that charged through the living room painted an iconic shade of purple; these places made Friends immensely charming and so easy to yearn for.

The best thing is, most of us have our Central Perk, our places that we flock to for comfort and sustainability, without even knowing it. Not everyone is a creature of habit like I tend to be. For me, though, I love having my go to places that become associated with the people I meet there. At this point in my twenties, my "sets" are varying. I have a set for work, and home, but also sweet places to spend with those I love. Nick and I find ourselves at the local coffee shop or family owned deli around the corner from my apartment quite often. Here we can share a bite to eat accompanied with conversation and some smiles. There are sweet breakfast hubs that I eagerly look forward to returning to, as I know I'll get to share a scene, some genuine time with some of my closest friends and family. It could be simply the city that you dwell in or a specific comfy couch you and your bestie always share the best talks on. Begin to notice those places that bring you joy and force you to create memories with others.

  • Have your thing that you DO
To put it quite simply, very rarely did you see a thirty minute episode revolved around the plot of Monica, Rachel and Phoebe laying in the living room scrolling through feed after feed. How boring, honestly. These characters and interactions have been so successful because there is action taking place. This is the perfect time to find a hobby that is actually exciting to you. Keep your days spent at work exciting. Plan a fun outing on your days off. Take the time for yourself whenever you need it, but fuel your days, that are brutally limited, by doing something. I catch myself far too often wasting precious time gazing at a screen. I am choosing for my sitcom to steer towards a new plot line. After all, it is situational comedy -- create a situation!

If you are scratching your brain trying to think of something to do, go buy a new couch and get a few of your closest friends to help you carry it up the stairs to your apartment. Let the "pivoting" commence.

  • Have your people that are there for you
You become a sum of the people you spend the most time with. We saw the bond evolve on Friends. The group of six had somebody anytime they needed a somebody. They annoyed each other, they loved each other, and they created moments together through it all. Having your people is so important. Sitcoms have displayed a truth that I have begun to apply to my life: quality over quantity. It isn't about the number of loved ones that surround you, but the positivity, joy and strength they bring to your daily life. 

Keep in mind as well, just as guest stars make quick appearances in various episodes of a long series, there will be guest appearances in your life as well. Some friends that come into our lives are not destined to be a series regular, and that is okay. Love the moments they spend making a guest appearance, and go on with the season when that episode ends.

  • Cue the laugh tracks
No matter how many times I have seen an episode, I will still laugh out loud when Phoebe sees Monica and Chandler together for the first time, or when Joey just can't seem to get his "French" language down. For years, this show has provided us all incredible reasons to laugh, and that doesn't seem to be stopping soon.

Laugh, laugh, and laugh some more. Make others laugh, make yourself laugh. It truly is the greatest medicine on the market. Some of my very worst days may hold a giant belly laugh at 11:30 pm, and suddenly that day became great. Let laughter surprise you, let it play. Our favorite characters dealt with some hard and relatable issues, but there was always a punch line that peaked through. We do not need to belittle our hardships, but we can find the joy through them. 

My dad has always wished me a good morning by saying "Be sweet, and make someone laugh today." I try to do that every day, even if that 'someone' is me. 

And so, I don't believe that there should be any shame that Friends and shows like it are at the top of your favorites list. They certainly are at the top of mine. These shows may not hold suspense or murder, but they do hold incredibly relatable scenarios. Let us not forget the laughter that they hold as well. You see, our world is so painfully harsh right now and the journey into our twenties holds trials on its own, why not escape for twenty two minutes and maybe learn something about these years we are in? 

(** Check out the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Hollywood to see the recreated Friends set that is pictured above. The Elliott Fam had the best time! **)

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Free Falling

Hayrides, bonfires, warm treats and busy schedules always filled with fun. The fall season arrived abruptly, as per usual, but I have somehow welcomed it with open and generous arms. I am actually stunned at myself, a true summer girl, feeling very excited and almost at peace that fall is here. For whatever reason, the autumn season always seems to solidify routine and a series of heartwarming events that I seem to be craving now more than ever. The cooler weather seems to be comforting me; we will talk again in a few months to see how ‘comforting’ I am finding the brutal winter season.

 I am beginning to mold into what a life beyond school seems to be offering me. My hours are long, my days are short. An undetermined pace and balance of time itself is brewing each week. And here we are, nearing the middle of October, making holiday plans and watching the scenery outside change before our eyes. Time speeds up faster year after year. I used to think adults were being dramatic as they'd say that in passing to each other at the grocery store or around a dinner table, but they were only speaking the truth that all of us surely encounter in our life.

 I still feel a tiny bit lost in this journey after college. And, I think that is still a tiny bit okay. I find glimmers of clarity each day surrounding the direction I am going in and trusting that powerful adventure. My day to day struggles aren't so much of "Why is nobody hiring me?" Or "What do I do without homework?" but more along the lines of "How do I still keep my creative spark alive while working a 9-5 job?" and "How do I properly rid a mouse out of my apartment?" It is a powerful turning point to realize that just as seasons come and go so quickly, so do our personal struggles and victories.

 Seasons, sometimes unfortunately, cannot be ignored. This season very well may hold the greatest triumph for you thus far, while also holding a gut wrenching disappointment that cannot help but change your current "normal". We must be prepared for change to happen, we must embrace it, and we must allow every part of it to just be.

 This Sunday evening, my very short "weekend" is winding down (Can you really consider one day off once a week a true weekend? That's another discussion.) and I am noticing a new season is in full swing like never before. It is a giant rush of wind that charges down a narrow street just to reach us. It has arrived and I am content. The beauty is truly in the details, but we have to slow down and choose to see those details. What new details are bustling around me in this new season? Well, let's see here.

 Go, Go, Go -- I am in a very busy season right now, like most us on this planet are. I now have a set routine that rarely budges even a slight minute out of schedule. I have two jobs that consume me. One, that is introducing me to a whole new side of the entertainment industry and fuels me with responsibility and a productive mindset. The other, simply pouring coffee and serving cakes to pay the bills. Rather than having the luxury of taking a nap in between classes (throwback to sophomore year), I now rush to job number two just in time to change my uniform and clock in. This new season has caused me to grow up faster than ever before. Though I am not in my ideal place currently, at the end of the day I am grateful that I have a job, and two really great ones for that matter.

 Penciling it in -- My time spent with those I care about is now rare. But, oh so treasured. I now have a greater appreciation for the love that is in my life. I never thought I'd reach the day that I would have to schedule a coffee date with a friend two weeks in advance. And if I didn't write it down in my planner, it is as if we never even conversed about the possibility of 'Coffee @ 2 pm on Sunday.' We all had it so easy in college. You wanted to hang out with a friend? Surprise, they were already around the corner from your apartment thinking the same thing. Oh, how we took those aligned schedules for granted.

 Prioritizing priorities -- As much as I would love to say I am living successfully on my own, working a full time job in a high rise, sharing adorable dates with a handsome guy I get to call my boyfriend, making smart financial decisions, meal prepping every week, hitting the gym daily, AND not having to find a pair of socks in the bottom of my hamper because putting in a load of laundry every few days is a breeze... I simply cannot. Only some of those things can be true on any given day. Each day, my priorities shift and I have to do what is best for me that day. Have I eaten cake this week? Absolutely. Have I gone on a run daily? Only once in the past couple of months. Is getting to the grocery store a task that always results in me regretting the now gaping whole in my bank account? Yes, and how disheartening. So what if I can't do it all right every single day? I am trying, and that is all that any of us can do and should do. If each day only brings one healthy and proactive stride, then three cheers for me. Life beyond graduation is one very forced giant bite that none of us can fully chew, so join me. Spit it out. Take smaller bites and chew slowly. It will all get done eventually, but we cannot force it.

Colors are shifting -- On a more realistic series of details, fall is here so the colors outside are just deliciously vibrant. Trees are debuting new rich hues that catch my eye every time. The air is crisper, making my coffee intake cozier. The city is alive in a whole new way. Chicago in the fall is something for the movies. I walk down the street in my newly bundled up fashion and I seem to breathe in sync with the world hustling around me. It hits me at the most necessary moments that we are all in a new season together. Taking on new challenges and viewing new colors for the first time in a long time.

You are not alone in this new season. The pumpkins, the crisp leaves, the dashing wind, these things are all changing right there with you. And, if you look past the picture perfect instagram feeds and the fake small talk in the elevators, your fellow friends and colleagues are all changing as well. It is okay and it is actually remarkably beautiful. Notice the details and embrace them! A new season is here, and it could be your best season yet.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Happy Not Back to School

“Don't you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address. On the other hand, this not knowing has its charms.” (Joe Fox, 1998)

Yet another beautiful time of the year to share my love for my very favorite movie and display how well it correlates with my life. Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail” has been the movie that has clutched dearly to my heart since I was a little girl. I watch it six to twelve times a year, and I find more charm in it with every viewing.

Every back to school season, I think of Joe and Kathleen exchanging the aroma and nostalgia this time of year brings. I’m always able to add on to the sweet list of imagery Joe Fox creates.

For me, Back to School has always been the true New Year. A new year to make bold decisions and set goals for the next nine months. A new wardrobe to help define yourself. A brand new supply of pens, stationary, journals and a shiny new planner. And a new outlook that always makes you want to strut onto a rooftop and shout “THIS IS MY YEAR, IT IS FINALLY MY TIME TO THRIVE, LET’S DO THIS!”

This happens year after year. Second grade, eighth grade, even junior year of college. A new academic school year brings a redefined self.

However, that power mantra and attitude shifts slightly when there is no school to be going back to. For the first time in roughly eighteen years, I am having trouble smelling the scent of newly sharpened pencils. As a graduate, my chains attached to the academic calendar have been cut free and I am not going back to school this fall, a feeling that I have never known.

I feel as though I am the frustrated pupil begging the teacher to share the answer on the test, and not getting very far with this plead. After catching up with many of my classmates and other recent graduates around the country, we are all feeling the exact same way.

None of us has it more figured out than the other. But, here is what has been on my heart with the back to school season approaching. Tips for all of us to consider, Back to School for the Non Back to Schooler.

Create a Constant
Routine, of any variation or capacity is good for us. Students experience immense amount of growth during the school year because a routine is at hand. For many, a work schedule creates a steady routine that brings forward purpose and consistency. Maybe consider a guaranteed event that happens every week to enhance that continuity. Sign up for a class that meets weekly, something warm and familiar to you or something completely out of the blue that may bring great discovery and growth. A dance class, cooking class, improv class, yoga class… possibilities are endless. Consider a weekly church service or time of community and reflection. Creating a consistent world you can flock to once a week that is not your workplace or your roommates will bring revival and something exciting to look forward to.

A cluttered house reflects a cluttered mind. But, I also believe the same is true about a cluttered social media feed. Of course, purge all of the old clothes, items and momentos that are keeping you from moving past your college years. I would also urge you to do the same with your social media algorithm. We are now living in a world where the majority of our day interacting with “others” is through a screen rather than real life. Never forget: you CHOOSE who you follow. If you are consistently putting yourself down or wondering “why not me?” after scrolling through instagram, Facebook, or twitter… click the unfollow button and never look back. Be kind to them when you see them on the train, but do not feel that you must carry the weight of their social media presence just because you received your diploma the same day that they did. 
As insane as it is, a mighty social media purge can be your greatest form of self care for a good while. Do something for yourself now that you are off campus. Rid the toxicity out of your sight. If you are allowing screen time to consume your day, at least flood it with positivity and folks that will challenge you to grow.

Set Goals
If it seems as though the rest of the world is starting afresh this August, you can too. Find the excitement that this completely open world is sending you and run with it! Set goals for the next month, three months, nine months. Proclaim a mantra that is yours. Revel in the fact that you did that thing you never thought you could do. Just because you are not living in a penthouse with your dream career does not mean you are not on your way to that. You are still so young in this world, but allow each day to be a step closer to that dream.
Be proud of how far you have already come and designate this new non-school year to the greatest year of growth you have ever had. Just because your time in school is over does not mean you are finished learning. Make mistakes and push forward. Write your goals down and ask a friend to hold you accountable to these goals. This is the best group project a teacher could assign.

And so, as a very vulnerable recent grad, I assure you I am taking all of these things to heart as well. I am on a suffocating job hunt, struggling to find clear direction and purpose, and for the first time in a long while, actually wishing I was back at school; simply for the comfort and the ease of being able to say “I’m still in school.” But, I am charging forward, knowing that my current thoughts and fears are valid and very easy to overcome.

This back to school, I am buying myself a new outfit for whatever my next big “first day” might be, drinking an iced coffee, and busting my rump to inaugurate this new year of possibilities. Because, it is back to school time and I still have a mighty amount of growth and learning to do.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

You are Blossoming

And just like that, we have welcomed the scorching month of outdoor memories and bliss that is July. I can associate a visceral memory with every July I have lived so far. I very much light up when I think of melting, sticky popsicles, beach vacations with the whole family lasting for weeks, and summer camps consisting of fun compressed schedules. Always leaving you no choice but to live in a steadily sweaty state of outer physique.

I know that this July will bring sweet memories for me to reminisce later on down the road. I believe that this will be the July like I have never had before. Nearly two months have passed since I walked across the Auditorium Theatre stage to receive my diploma (er, diploma holder, that is) and this real world seems to get “realer” each and every day.

This past weekend I finished moving into my first studio apartment. It is a dream abode with everything I could have wanted. It is exactly what I need to finally get going on all that this post grad life has to offer me. I am already feeling so inspired and empowered to get things going, even though I’m not even definite on what those things are.

I’m not sure about some of you other recent graduates and anxious dreamers, but this introduction to the great abyss that is outside of academe is providing a bountiful share of ups and downs. Of course I was expecting this to happen and I do know that even greater trials are on their way. Some vulnerable check ins, surprisingly frequently, bring all of this to my attention and also provides peaceful clarity that this is all a beautiful part of my story.

I catch myself nearly everyday feeling as though I am simply stuck in the middle of the monkey bars. I think we all experienced a moment on a playground like this as children. I seem to be using all my strength to stay lifted and swing to the next bar above me, my might loosens simply by dangling. I have had to teach myself that getting mad at myself and anxious during this time will not benefit me in any way. Though I do not feel it or see it, I am doing wonders each day for my future.

You see, all of us are constantly growing and blossoming, even when we cannot see it. Hard work and consistency cannot simply disintegrate. I find many new things on the daily basis that could very easily, and often times do, ignite anxiety and add weight to my life. But, I cannot dwell on them and allow any unknowns to define me.

There is no mistake in the present moment. I am right where I am supposed to be, doing what I am at this moment with the community perfectly knit around me for a reason that I am not supposed to grasp right now.

The only thing that we can all control each day is getting out of bed and doing one thing that might make the future brighter. The reality is, one thing will easily turn into ten things. Imagine what the future present moments could hold by putting this effort in now.

If you are struggling (and who ISN’T now and again) to make some personal growth happen while you’re trudging through the pits, consider a few of these ideas. Get a great workout in, create something that has always been in the back of your mind, prepare your whole week’s worth of nutrient dense meals, call a friend and plan a much needed coffee date.

You cannot at all control the timing of your life. However, you can control how you spend the time you are given and create pathways for success to roar in. Fellow dreamers that are swinging in the middle, let us join together and support each other through it all. May our support and hard work remain consistent. Our time will come. I promise you, sweet flower, you ARE blossoming.