Failures

Life

In starting this blog, my intention was to write weekly. It felt important to cement rules to this venture if I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment (hello Type-A). That goal has already collapsed. I’m not too broken up about it and instead, I’m working on embracing the failure that belies writing.

I’m not especially adept at accepting failure, though I am a highly accomplished quitter. My infamous quitting ability is analogous to my fear of failure – you can’t fail at something to which you’ve already said “no thanks”. 

I’ve always been aware of this character flaw. Over coffee, I casually mentioned to a close friend the different ratios of steamed milk to foam in a cappuccino versus a latte. “Why do you know that?” she asked. “Oh, I was a barista for a year,” I said. This, piled on top of all the other sojourns I peppered into conversations, and my friend had enough. “Honestly, what else have you done, Hannah?” In short: a lot and a little.

Off the top of my head, I’ve dabbled in – and promptly quit – the following:

  • Ballet
  • Horseback Riding
  • Brownies
  • Irish Step Dancing – but I’m easily convinced to revive my short-lived career every St. Patrick’s Day
  • Cello
  • Clarinet – twice
  • Basketball
  • Tennis – though I’ve picked up the racquet in adulthood
  • Piano
  • Voice Lessons and various choirs
  • Guitar
  • Track and Field
  • French National Honors Society
  • Sailing Club – at UW-Madison which I also sort of quit by transferring out
  • Book Clubs
  • A handful of part-time jobs
  • Sorority Life – but who am I kidding, I never really participated, to begin with
  • The Marathon – one accomplished attempt and two attempts that I quit. The jury is out for my 2019 attempt

In each case, when I felt the painful twinge of failure, I stopped. 

Now, I’m working on staying power. I most recently practiced facing failure last week while visiting Paris with my mom. I have studied French since my freshman year of high school (though, as noted, quit French National Honors Society). I minored in the language in college. I studied abroad in Paris. I listen to French podcasts and read French novellas.

Despite all that, my French is horrible. In the past, because I know it’s horrible, it has kept me from trying and failing. Most exchanges in my beloved second-language were brief, mumbled, or censored.

Maybe it’s a sign of maturity and acceptance of my own shortcomings, but on this trip, I just went for it. I had conversations with shop owners. I used verbs improperly, laughing and trying to correct myself (laughing or smiling are my other French hang-ups I avoided in the past. I felt that any time I acted too overtly happy they would peg me for the American dullard that I am). I worked with several shop girls to find my size in these adorable pajamas that I will link because they are very cute and very French and I am very proud that I used my middling conversation skills to locate a pair in a shop four arrondissements away. 

Buying a new pair of sunglasses in the glorious BHV (evidently, shopping was the main goal of this trip), I discussed different frames and became absolutely tongue-tied trying to say “polarisées”. The vendeuse politely corrected me so I could hear and repeat the native pronunciation.

When le crêpier refused to break my ten euro note, holding my warm crêpe à la cannelle hostage, my mom and I laughed as she dug change from the bottom of her bag. I asked for him to hold on for a moment while scrambled through the foreign coins, examining them on my palm. I stupidly threw in some French exclamations: “Donc“, “Alors“, and the tutting noise you hear mamans make at their children. He laughed with us, handed over my crêpe and bid us adieu. Or – more literally – bonne soirée, but you follow.

In each case, it would have been easier to shy away or ask if they spoke English. But by giving myself permission to try and fail, I interacted with more people and learned more (and now, with my rekindled love of the French language, Max has to entertain my dream to move to Paris once again). I’m going to give myself that same permission here on this blog. My made-up deadlines can be lax and I can fail to meet them. As long as I keep coming back to write then I have not yet quit. Which means I can continue to learn from my failures and love writing. Toujours et encore.

Write Steady

Writing
My favorite desk, to date. Circa 2011

I’ve finished the most steady month of writing in my life. I’ve been jotting down ideas for this blog every day, writing characters traits, copying turns of phrase I’ve read and liked.

For my fifth week of blogging, I found moments of free time to write about my egocentric obsession with personality tests. The piece had it all: Horoscopes! Enneagrams! Myer-Briggs! Harry Potter! Gloria Estefan! Introversion vs. Extroversion! 

It was utter shit. 

I wanted it to work, but I couldn’t get it right. What is more boring than reading about someone else’s personality test results? I was trying to talk about enneagrams because I think they’re having a big moment, but Jesus, those tests are complex to explain. I showed my writing to Max hoping my initial feelings were wrong. He told me he liked my use of vocabulary. If that isn’t the kindest letdown, I don’t know what is.

I spent several hours writing something that won’t see the light of day. It feels wasted, but also not. I learned a little bit along the way. Like how to accept letting go of something you wanted to be good, but just isn’t. And since I’m really committed to posting once a week and had to scrap my initial attempt, I will now give you the laziest but most effective writing form of our time: The Listicle. Probably also not the best, but at least you don’t need to read about how I’m an INTJ.

Five Things I Noticed After Writing Steadily for One Month

  1.  I’m trying new things Exhibit A – my thrown-away piece on personality testing. I’m seeking out new ideas and experiences because my self-induced deadline for weekly posts is tough. Seeing the world through this lens is really fun. I feel more inquisitive than I have in the past.
  2. I spend more time alone with my thoughts It’s taken me a long time to accept that I am pretty evenly extroverted and introverted. I used to believe introversion had a negative connotation, so I fought against it. Now, allowing myself the time to reenergize by being alone, going on a walk with the dog, and examining my ideas more closely has been really cathartic. 
  3. I have more story ideas Best Selling Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic about a transcendent level in our universe where ideas exist as their own living entities. She believes that if you allow yourself to be creatively open to these entities, then they will find you and ask to work with you. That sounds very crazy or very genius, but I’ve found some truth in that belief. I don’t have any more or fewer story ideas than I did before – but now I’m on the lookout and ready for when they pop into my head.
  4. I read more My to-be-read list grew by about thirty books in the month since I’ve started this endeavor. There is a lot to know about the world if I have any hope in writing it down. And I’m working on reading more variety. Do I really want to read the terrible right-wing propaganda my brother sends me every day? Or Ulysses? Or The Second Sex? Not really. But if I don’t, how will I know about them?
  5. I’ve let go of some insecurities I have been the critic of many an article. I dissect other people’s opinions into obliteration, especially if it’s written word. So I know all the ways people can trash me and my writing. And I’m getting over it. I’m sure a troll will find me eventually (most likely said brother with the propaganda). But at least I’m thinking in new ways and learning about myself. I’m acknowledging my insecurities and putting myself on the chopping block anyway.

There you have it: my first listicle. I have to say, I understand why so many writers use it – it’s really easy. Especially if they’re up against a deadline and wrote junk for a week straight.

Until next week! I’ll be on the lookout for something to say.

Deep Freeze

Winter

I walked home from my neighborhood grocery store last night, my toes gone numb, head bent against the wind, reusable bag filled to the brim with provisions, and I realized how much I love living in Chicago.

photo by @andrew_glatt
Chicago is the next Nordic country

Every few winters, Chicago falls into the organized chaos of preparing for the extreme cold. The grocery store was a microcosm of a city-wide event, everyone banding together in anticipation of the inevitable deep freeze. 

Most days at the grocery store, neighbors are all too happy to run you down in the aisle. Yesterday they made a little more space for each other. The liquor section was hilariously packed. I heard two strangers exchange their favorite cabernets, knowing the value of small joys over the next few days. As I was walking to the exit, my scarf was caught behind me and I grasped for the end, encumbered by my groceries and work tote. Another woman saw my struggle and pulled the end over my shoulder, telling me to stay warm out there. I love Chicago!

There is something liberating about being locked indoors. Especially in the self-care era we now reside. I will be working from home but I plan to stick to strict start and end times. Normally when I work from home I start early and end late. Instead, I have an achievable morning and afternoon to-do list. I’m going to enjoy a little mid-day workout with my free trial on the Pelaton app (can I convince Max to participate? I’m not holding my breath).

Tonight, I’m making a cold-weather staple from The Wooden Spoon, a cooking school here in Chicago (recipe below). The background noise to it all is a toss-up: the new season of Schitt’s Creek, picking up where I left off on Killing Eve, or trying to recommit to Game of Thrones (I’m the only one on the planet who can’t get into GOT). Or maybe just some groovy Leon Bridges Spotify radio.

Throughout, I’ll be checking in on Instagram and enjoying the camaraderie of everyone’s coping mechanisms. Chicago winters are not for the faint of heart. They are character building, separating the women from the girls. My best coping mechanism is repeating the mantra “this is making me stronger” every time Sally whines to go out. I’ll wave to my neighbors doing the same painful dance with their dogs. We’re in it together, if for no other reason than to bask in the supreme bliss of the Chicago summer.

Here’s what Max and I are making tonight, with a bottle of Hess Cabernet (as overheard in the Jewel wine section). We add more red pepper flakes and more cheese, because Salt Fat Acid Heat, right? (also on the streaming list for today).


WHITE BEAN SOUP WITH GRILLED SAUSAGE AND ESCAROLE

Makes 6 servings

  • ½ lb. Italian sausage links
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cans (15 oz. each) no-salt-added Great Northern beans, rinsed 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 2 fresh thyme sprigs
  • ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 8 cups chopped escarole (about 1 lb.)
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper1 tsp. white wine vinegar

Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill to medium heat.  Cook sausages 8-10 min., turning occasionally, or until cooked through. Set aside.

Heat a large Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onions; sauté 4 min., stirring frequently. Add garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add broth, beans, water, herbs, and cheese.  Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 10 min.

Slice sausage into small rounds.  Add to pot with escarole and carrots; cover.  Simmer 15 min. or until carrots are tender. Stir in remaining ingredients.  Serve topped with additional cheese, if desired.

Burnout or Burning Brighter?

Writing

Everyone has the movie they can’t get out of their head, an ending to a book they keep revisiting, or a meal that they love describing to others. I shared my most memorable meal with Max at Frenchie the last time we were in Paris. Each course felt like a new adventure we were traveling through together. For film, it’s recently The Favourite; my love for Olivia Coleman reached new heights in her sick and manipulative portrayal of Queen Anne.  Whether good or bad, these experiences create the purest memories because they are internalized and become a part of our character.

Max at Frenchie, watching our final course burn to perfection.


It’s rare, however, that I find myself thinking and rethinking an article. The news is so constant that as soon as I’m done with one story, I am on to the next, trying to digest it all at once. I typically bookmark my long reads for the weekend. But I accept that many of the digital dog-ears are likely to get buried in the ever-growing news pile. Best case scenario: I enjoy the article briefly, scan for key thoughts, and move on.

The article, How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation by Anne Helen Petersen, has had a different effect. At the onset, I wasn’t interested in reading yet another analysis of millennials. Anything that feels overtly “buzzy” annoys me. It’s the same way I feel when people commiserate over “Mansplaining” or a working woman proudly boasts she’s a “#girlboss”. We get it. It’s been dissected and understood. It’s been given a catchphrase. Can we move on to the next thing?

That said, Max and I were facing one of our countless Sunday rides home from our family lake house and had time on our hands. Max was feeling particularly overwhelmed by the week ahead and I pulled this article out of my digital pile, thinking it could help him approach some situations with a new perspective. So I read aloud while he drove. We were hooked early on. In the first few paragraphs, Petersen wasn’t following the same diatribe of critiquing the twenty or thirty-something for wanting to wear jeans to work. Right away the article touched on a feeling Max and I face constantly:

I was deep in a cycle of a tendency, developed over the last five years, that I’ve come to call “errand paralysis.” I’d put something on my weekly to-do list, and it’d roll over, one week to the next, haunting me for months. None of these tasks were that hard: getting knives sharpened, taking boots to the cobbler, registering my dog for a new license, sending someone a signed copy of my book, scheduling an appointment with the dermatologist, donating books to the library, vacuuming my car.

 Not only did it resonate, but she was listing things that were on my actual errand list. “Cobbler” has been written in my agenda book for at least six months. The shop is all of a five-minute walk from my home. Yet my damaged shoes sit in the corner of my closet, waiting to be mended. I continue to write it down as a “to-do” in vain, my list becoming a tyrannical overlord that will never be appeased.

Petersen then does a deep dive on the systemic struggle of managing the relentlessness of the modern workplace – untethered to time or space – all while being bombarded by photo evidence of the seemingly better lives your friends, family, and influencers are leading on Instagram. Who has time to make a Goodwill drop-off when you have deadlines to meet and envy-worthy vacations to plan?

Now, I’m oversimplifying the arguments that Petersen expertly crafts – the article truly deserves a full read. And yet, I am still grappling with some of the concepts. Is my generation defined by being burnt out? Or are we simply experiencing it through an honest, smarter, and newer lens?

The rat race described in the article isn’t new, just different. Petersen cites examples where millennials have been trained to optimize their workday in order to be competitive, but that the efficiency results in exploitation – lower-paying work, longer hours, the threat of being expendable. This isn’t unique to millennials. Optimization resulting in exploitation is the backbone of Henry Ford’s assembly line. It’s every cartoon of a lowly office worker literally chained to their desk. 

In many ways, millennials have it better than their workplace predecessors. They can at least enjoy their exploitation from the comfort of their own home while having Great British Bakeoff streaming on mute and their puppy snoring next to them on the couch. Joking aside, one of the regular trends on my social media feeds is mental health and coping with anxiety. Whether it’s a meme about spending a night in or a thoughtful post on how someone dealt with a mental health issue, it’s being talked about more than ever. The stress people are experiencing from work is not suddenly new, but I’d argue the coping mechanisms are arguably better – mental health is far from the taboo topic it was for generation’s past. In other words, it’s completely normal for my over-stressed husband to listen to me read an article about burnout. I can’t say the same experience would have been shared by my G.I. generation grandparents.

While I read the article to calm Max’s workweek woes, the tables turned when Petersen went on to describe the working family woman’s “second shift” when they come home from the office: 

They’re ultimately responsible for the health of the family, the upkeep of the home and their own bodies, maintaining a sex life, cultivating an emotional bond with their children, overseeing aging parents’ care, making sure bills are paid and neighbors are greeted and someone’s home for a service call and holiday cards get in the mail and vacations are planned six months in advance and airline miles aren’t expiring and the dog’s getting exercised.

I read that sentence to Max without pausing to take a breath. I looked at him, eyebrow raised. He smirked, knowing full well what I was thinking.

Save for the part about caring for children and aging parents, Petersen articulated my life exactly. The acute guilt I feel when Sally the Golden Retriever’s morning walk is not long enough weighs on me at the office in a way I know Max doesn’t experience. Throwing future kids into that mix sometimes feels immobilizing. Yet, again, is this unique to millennials? The article says millennial women are facing heightened aspirational check-boxes generated by Instagram feeds. I grew up around far too many Jazzercise moms and lived through the sexist marketing of the nineties to believe women are facing new societal pressures. The medium is just different.

My mother had four kids and still works the physically demanding job as an international flight attendant. When I was a preteen, she went back to school to pursue her dream of a bachelors degree in Art History, for no other reason than it was an aspiration. And those are just the first of many checkboxes I would list for my mom. There is a reason why so many people, notably millennials, pick their mother as their hero. Generations of women, especially working women, have been not slowed in their pursuit of bettering themselves and their families.

I am thankful to be a working woman today than any other generation prior. I have the fortune to piggy-back off so many trailblazers that did a lot of heavy lifting for me. Google, PepsiCo, Lockheed Martin, General Motors (to name a few) all have dynamic, interesting women in their C-Suite. While there is still a ways to go until business leaders are equally men and women, the path is laid for millennial women to become those major players. And while the constant image scroll on Instagram might feel annoyingly perfect., I’ve experienced just as many real stories of women eking by for the day. Chrissy Teigen has 22.5 million followers and has made her less-than-glamorous moments as a part of her personal brand. Her now meme-famous ugly cry face from the 2015 Golden Globes served as a catalyst for what so many women look to her for – a model superstar that can revel in the normalcy and imperfection of life.

Burnout Generation makes many thought-provoking points but the burnout itself is not defining my generation.  It’s millennials’ reaction to the burnout that is defining. It’s easy to acknowledge the pitfalls of modern day – the dangerous shockwaves that technology sends through a generation of people – but those pitfalls are counterbalanced by innovation. While the burnout is not going away, there are now worldwide communities that showcase both the perfection and imperfection of life. Like the memorable book recommended to them by Reese Witherspoon on Instagram, the wonderful dining experience they researched extensively through yelp, or the interesting article the bookmarked to their Evernote list, millennials are internalizing the world in a new, and sometimes better way. 

The Boss

Life

Preface: I am in no way an expert on the American historical figure, William M. Tweed. Nor am I really even a fanatic. The following mini-lesson is a loosely pieced together google search laced with my memory of junior year American History class.

William Tweed – nicknamed Boss Tweed – was the leader of Tammany Hall, a corrupt New York Democratic organization operating in the height of its power from the late 1860s to the early 1870s. For the DiCaprio fans, recall Gangs of New York and the politician trying to infiltrate his control within the Five Points – that was Tweed. Stuffing the ballot boxes with fraudulent votes, flagrant cronyism, bribery, embezzlement – Tweed was rife with ill-gotten power.  The man’s legacy has become the caricature of the nefarious politician. 

With the brief history lesson complete, let’s fast forward one hundred and twenty years later and move about eight hundred miles west. There, in the suburbs of Chicago, a couple was elated to finally have a little girl after a procession of three boys. They dressed her in lace and bows. They gave her dolls and lambs. Finally, a sweet little girl. 

Allegedly, she ripped the bows from her hair and toddled around the house, exacting her rule over the family. The lamb (stuffed with a metal music box) was allegedly used as the strong-arm man of the operation. Those who did not submit to her will would get whacked by the lamb. Allegedly. 

They nicknamed her Boss Tweed.

Anyone trying to name a blog knows its challenges. For starters, you have to grapple with the fact that if you want to write, the easiest way to do it is through the denigrated medium of “blog”. Then, you have to think of a name that encapsulates the message of the site. Now there is a whole slew of somewhat ridiculous – albeit popular – blog names. Especially for female writers. Cupcakes. Sequins. Everybody’s Girl. Wanderlust. Blonde. Goop. I love and subscribe to all of these sites – when Gwenyth tells me to take ashwagandha as a daily supplement, I take ashwagandha. Yet it felt inauthentic to model my writing after those creators or their chosen titles.

Instead, I chose something that made me laugh. My parents selected a manipulative, fat, infamous politician from the 1860s as a cute namesake for their long-awaited, towheaded daughter. Of all the nicknames to give to a bossy little girl, they picked Boss Tweed. That’s really funny and weird to me; it is indicative of my family and the way I was raised. It felt like a good title. Max will tell you little has changed; that I still am the Boss Tweed I was at age two. I’m not sure if he’s saying it lovingly, but if I’m concerned about authenticity I may as well embrace it. 

So here we are.  The domain was free and I needed a name.  The Boss Tweed. To those of you who are earnestly trying to research Boss Tweed and wound up here, I apologize. 

Resolutions

Writing

What a monotonous concept – resolutions. Thinking about all the ways I could resolve to look better, feel better, think better leaves me feeling exhausted every January. But I continue to do it – this year is my year. I open my moleskin notebook and jot down ideas. 

Resolution: I will look better. I re-examine my skincare routine and add in various lotions and potions my Instagram influencers advise me on. The new additions invariably make me break out even worse, and I cyclically revisit said Instagram feed again; this time for the cure. And repeat. Today’s latest — there is a blemish patch on the market that will microblade my problem area while I sleep. A little piece of silicon with hundreds of itsy-bitsy medicated needles can just slap on top of my zit at night. In the morning, the pimple will vanish, hypodermic needle-based diseases be damned! I’m considering it.

Resolution: I will feel better. I’m sick of feeling tired or (worse) I catch sight of my butt in a new mirror. The mantra that my body is, indeed, a temple takes on a profound truth. Plant-based diets! I pick up a new vegan cookbook, to my husband, Max’s chagrin. Cauliflower Chickpea burgers with Portobello Mushroom buns? Dinner is served! You know a great fitness goal might be? Another marathon! Pay the $200 entry fee and the financial commitment alone will spur my body to turn fat into muscle. 

Resolution: I will think better.  I give myself a heavy curriculum of newspapers, book lists, and magazines. Finishing forty books a year across all ranges of literature will make me an excellent friend to invite to a cocktail party. But I also need to stay on top of local and world affairs, so I subscribe to the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Chicago Tribune. Daily front pages plus an odd opinion piece, business news, or restaurant review sprinkled on top and I will be a whiz at the water cooler. 

Resolutions are tiring because the resolve, for me at least, is not if I’m doing these things but how I could be doing them better. And, in each case, being better is always translated into spending more: bottled beauty supplements, soaring gym fees, more subscriptions. I already take care of my face, treat my body well(ish), and I read constantly. 

So here is the resolution revelation I’m dropping: build better instead of buy better. That’s how this piece of writing was born. I built it. The one resolution that quietly sits on the others, year after year, is writing. I just created all these words for an hour and I didn’t spend a dime. The short-term satisfaction by swiping a credit card can’t be applied. This took more work because it had to be created, not purchased.

Unlike the other resolutions, after an hour I feel like I just became a little bit better. Writing makes me feel vulnerable and funny and ambitious. So I’m going to post this. I’ll let it float on the waves of the internet where I can look at it (and like every tweet I’ve ever sent, feel mortified and scramble for the delete button. In fact, Max just walked over and I minimized the browser. Why did I do that?).

Resolution: I’m going to write this year. And it’s scary. It’s also free. And it is going to be littered with errors and probably some poorly-formed thoughts because – just give me a break, ok? I’m taking the first step to being what, for me, is better. The goal will be set at once a week. Tune in. Or don’t. This isn’t 100% for you right now. However, if this thing turns into a lifestyle blog and I start hawking aforementioned pimple needle pads as a sponsored post, please come get me.