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Dana Johnson

Book-obsessed twenty-something with a passion for poetry, hiking, and being happy with what I have.

Month

July 2014

I Celebrated 22 by Eating Dinner Alone at Chipotle

ie. I didn’t celebrate.

At least, I didn’t celebrate my birthday on my actual birthday, and I certainly didn’t celebrate the way a typical 22 year old typically does (birthday shots in strappy stilettos at some hip bar with a group of friends???!!???? i don’t know, honestly).

Don’t get me wrong, I had cake and dinner with my family, and got a slew of presents (I’m lucky!) earlier in the week. But on my actual birthday, I went to Moosejaw, spent my evening trying out sleeping bags on the floor of the store (sleeping pad and all), walked to Chipotle and ate a chicken burrito bowl by myself, then went to a friend’s house and drink an Oberon before tucking in for the night (and I only did the last part so that I could feeeeel just a little bit average on my birthday).

You know what the best part of my birthday was? Joking around with the associates at Moosejaw, watching video clips on their register monitor, asking silly questions about sleeping bags, and ultimately laying down in a mummy bag while shoppers roamed the store.

I may not have a big group of close friends to celebrate with, but I have something I hold just as dear: These beautiful moments spent with strangers. I’m able to cherish the way the associate said “Bye forever” as he handed me my receipt. I love that small interactions with people I barely know can put a smile on my face as I walk down the street, and stick with me while I eat my burrito alone at a messy table. It’s a little bit like having friends everywhere I go. It’s a little bit pathetic… But it also allows me to appreciate the moments/interactions/opportunities that so many people overlook.

This post isn’t really about my birthday, or what I did or didn’t do for it. It’s about loneliness. It’s about appreciating the little things. It’s about being happy as all get out for the beautiful things you have, and you have so many.

I have a family who makes cake for a 22 year old. I have friends in every coffee bar and mountaineering store across the nation, and so do you, if you want to.

 

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Why I Need to Love Myself, OR Why I’m Single and Happy About It

I haven’t been in an even remotely serious relationship in well over a year, and it’s been months since I’ve had any interest in a guy. Things have been going well. I’ve been focusing on myself, and on the things that make me a happier, more productive, and healthier person. I’ve been more content with myself than I have in years, and I don’t want anything, especially a boy, to come in the way of that.

To put it simply, relationships are toxic to me. Or rather, I am toxic to myself whenever I begin to show interest in someone else. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve dated some great (and not-so-great) guys. I love having someone to open up to, to keep me warm at night, and to see on the weekends. I love the warmth that comes along with having a powerful, mutual relationship with someone. I love kissing. I love focusing intently on someone who isn’t me. But that’s exactly what hurts me.

When I begin to focus on someone new, I forget about myself. At least, I forget how to make myself happy. I put all my energy into him. I compare my standards of happiness to his. When he hangs out with his buddies on the weekends, I obsess over how few friends I have. When he goes golfing every Tuesday evening, I dwell on how pathetic it must seem that I spend every night at home with my books. I begin to look for ways to make my life appear more interesting; not just to him, but to myself as well.

I spend a lot of time alone. I am content this way. I enjoy spending my evenings with books instead of coworkers. I like having Sundays to myself to write blog posts and poetry. I like going out too… I like it a lot. But an evening at a bar is a rare treat for me, not a weekly occurrence. And the friends I spend time with are important to me, but they aren’t lifelong girlfriends that I share everything with, they are a random slew of guy friends that are great for joking around and playing foosball with. But if I want to go to Victoria’s Secret or spend the night in bed with a marathon of romantic comedies, you can bet I’m doing it alone.

The thing is, I simply don’t have the type of familial friend group that every guy I date inevitably has, and it makes me sad. It makes me forget that I enjoy my time alone. It makes me forget that I sleep easier when I’ve had a productive day of writing, or that a night of partying with friends nearly always ends in regret.

Let me be clear: The boys aren’t the problem. I am. And I accept that the reason I haven’t found a healthy relationship is because I’m not content enough with myself to begin focusing on someone else. I used to think that focusing on me was selfish, but finding self-love is truly the best thing I can do for those around me. I can’t begin to make another person happy, until I’m happy with myself. And I can’t expect anyone else to make me happy either… I have to be the one to find that joy.

If an amazing guy falls into my lap tomorrow (heh), I’m not saying I won’t pursue it… But I know that I have to be realistic about my expectations, and that I have to focus on my own happiness before anyone else’s, no matter how selfish self-love-obsessed (wut. i dunno) that may seem.

If You’re Lonely/Sad, Read A Book

I’m not saying that because “a book is like a close friend” (even though it can be). And as much as I love books (the feel of them in hands, the way new books smell like coffee and ink, and the way old library books smell so strongly of mothballs I have to hold On the Road two feet from my face every time I turn the page, or how the spine bends back on a paperback…ororor), I’m not even going to say the bit about books taking you to new worlds, or that fictional characters can be more of a comfort than actual people, or that reading makes us more interesting and attractive to others, and maybe more approachable…

No. I’m saying, if you’re lonely, read a book, because it’s therapy. It’s a practice in discipline. It’s an activity, no matter how much you love it (or don’t… But if you don’t, how did you find my blog anyway?), that forces you to stay in one spot and do something.

Sometimes, when I’m sad about something/anything/nothing (a boy that rejected me, saying goodbye to college, the smell of dirt that inches it’s way through my lungs every so often and reminds me of childhood…), I just stop thinking, and I breathe. I focus on nothing but my body…the clarity of my mind. And sometimes I walk (which is probably the best practice of all and probably what this blog post should really be about). But sometimes it helps to indulge and pick up a book to get your mind off your troubles and onto someone elses. I hate to admit this, but sometimes books can be a guilty pleasure… Much like a Netflix marathon of Greek, but I promise reading has more benefits. So, I always have a book on hand… In my car, my purse, on my shelf at work…

We all know that reading is an escape from reality, and I think we all welcome that every once in awhile.

I Don’t Like My Smartphone, and I Don’t Like Yours Either

I got my first smart phone (an iPhone, ugh, whywhywhy) a few months ago, and only made the transition from a generic brand Blackberry (which I called my Razzberry) because it was actually cheaper for me to break down and get a fancy internet/robot phone.

I thought it would be nice to have a GPS with me at all times (but I still just use Mapquest on a desktop computer and copy down the directions onto a sticky note before traveling), and to be able to Tweet on the go (but I still do all my Tweeting from a desktop computer when I am rooted at home). I guess I’m old-fashioned. Or, just, like, old.

I actually don’t like my smartphone at all, and I admit that it’s probably because I don’t bother taking advantage of all its hip features. I use it to text, call, and occasionally check my Facebook wall. That’s it. But I don’t just dislike my smartphone… I dislike yours too. You (and I’m generalizing, sorry) look at it too much. You take it on bike rides and whip it out every time you pull over for a water break. You take photos of your dinner and then share them with the world. You text while I’m talking to you. You watch fireworks through your phone’s video camera instead of with your own eyes. You freak out any time your phone isn’t in plain site. In short, you’re obsessed. And this should not bother me… But it does.

Maybe I just don’t get it. I’m a loner. I rarely get texts. Facebook notifications are far and few between. I don’t post selfies to the web, or use Instagram. My web presence is nothing impressive. But what is it that causes you to be so obsessed with your phone? Why are you afraid to leave it behind for even an hour?

And honestly, why do I even care? I think that social media and texting allows us to stay connected with those who are geographically distant from us. We can learn about people we’d never get to know otherwise. This is great. But isn’t it equally important to be able to just enjoy ourselves?

Isn’t it crucial that we allow ourselves to be alone at times? That we get off Twitter and talk to real birds instead? I live for moments when I’m away from the noise of the world. I love the weekends I spend unplugged. It’s important to be social and embrace the world around us, social media and all, but it’s crucial that we take time to ourselves… And to cherish the moments of being with someone face to face, and not just on FaceTime.

Louis C.K. gets it.

Writing Unplugged

One of my favorite (or at least most rewarding) things to do is spend an entire morning on my deck working on an essay, researching, and reading books. I love the cool breeze paired with my hot coffee. I love the natural light and the surrounding wildlife. I like when big, dozy bumble bees hover around me, mistaking my floral dress for actual flowers.

This past weekend, I broke out my typewriter and was even visited by a good friend of mine (yes, she’s a chicken, and shortly after this photo was taken she began to peck at my bruises).

JJTypewriter It felt so nice to be outside, surrounded by fresh air. This was on Saturday, and I challenged myself to stay away from my computer until 5:00 pm. Only then could I check my email, update my blog, or check the Sunday weather forecast. If I wanted to check a fact or look up a word, I was forced to put it off or use a dictionary. It was liberating.

Although I rarely check my phone and can easily go entire weekends without the internet, I do find that it can sometimes be a challenge to resist the lure of the internet, even while I’m writing. It’s become so easy to look up sources, to check my facts, to read reviews of a book I’m studying. These are great things. But it’s also easy to fall into dangerous habits, like taking multiple Facebook breaks, watching mind-numbing Youtube videos, and scrolling through the Twitter feeds of total strangers.

Writing unplugged from the internet, either in notebooks or on a typewriter, is absolutely liberating. Picking up a dictionary and carefully learning a new word is an activity I cherish, and marking my reading with sticky notes instead of browser tabs is a great habit.

From now on, I’m going to challenge myself to do the bulk of my weekend writing on my typewriter or in my old Moleskine. I’m more productive when I’m not enticed by the web, and I find that I don’t look for the easy way out of questions. If I want to know why Eliot quoted Baudelaire, I don’t type it into a search engine… I go pick up The Flowers of Evil.

Here’s to a more productive, more liberating summer!

 

Tips for Reading More Effectively

I’ve always loved reading. As a child, I was known to always have a book in my hand, to ask for novels for birthdays, and had mastered the art of walking and reading at the same time. Once I got to college, I majored in English, and my reading list consisted of various classic novels, Heath anthologies, and poetry collections. I still loved reading, but I rarely did it in my free time. Now that I’m out of college, I’ve found that, like everything else, I need to have the discipline to read effectively. For me, this means reading books that challenge me. It means reading multiple genres and getting out of my comfort zone. It means writing in the margins, consulting my dictionary, and going past the footnotes and into original references. People read for any number of reasons. I read because I love it, and because doing so exercises my literary analysis muscles, makes me a better thinker, and ultimately brings me joy.

Below are some tips that have helped me to read more effectively. These are things that have helped me to read more closely and stay focused. If you’re reading for personal growth and retention, maybe these tips will help you too. And if you have intimidating books that have been sitting on your shelf for years unopened (mine are The Bhagavad Gita and The Tibetan Book of the Dead), maybe these tips will help you to finally face them.

Identify your objectives. What is your purpose for reading? Do you read to relax and escape into fictional worlds? Do you read to learn more about the art of writing? Do you read for personal growth, for education, for mental exercise? Hopefully you read for all of these reasons. Whatever your reasons are, identify them. Doing so will allow you to set realistic goals for reading.

Set Realistic Goals. Making reading goals will help to keep you motivated, keep you focused, and will serve as a measure of your success (or failure). Make your goals based upon your objectives. How many books do you want to read? What types of books? How long should it take you? And always remember, why are you reading? If you’re just reading for fun, you can probably read a lot more books than someone who is reading to gain extensive knowledge on a single body of work (say, the complete works of Shakespeare). Be realistic.

My goal this year is to read at least 24 books. That’s only 2 books a month, a very realistic goal, considering the amount of time I spend annotating and analyzing each book. Sometimes I’ll read a single book 3 times over just to get a better understanding of it. So, for me, 24 books is a realistic goal. Sometimes I’ll finish 3 books in a week. Other times it will take me 2 months to read a single book. It all depends on what you’re reading and how you’re reading it.

Take it to the Next Level. Start interacting with your books. Write in the margins, dog ear the pages, study the footnotes, bend the spine. You can always tell how much I’m enjoying a book by how beat up and scribbled it is. Don’t just read the words… Think about what they imply. Think about the era these words were written, and about the author’s perspective when (s)he wrote them. Take the book out of context, then put it back in upside down. Don’t be afraid to play with literature. You might be surprised by how a difficult book can come into focus just by playing around with it. And taking the time to understand a notoriously difficult book is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment.

Now Read. This is the most crucial step. Go to the library, grab a book off the shelves, and just start reading!

What tips do you have for reading more effectively? Share in the comments section below! 

Currently Reading: Tales from the Thousand and One Nights

I’ve decided to begin a weekly (or bi-weekly depending on my reading habits) series called “Currently Reading” (title subject to change), where I will simply write about the book I happen to be reading at the time. For now, this is going to be very informal, but my hope is that it will evolve over time to showcase some quality literary analysis on my part, and work out my brain muscles. I need to more regularly practice analyzing literature, and although the text below is hardly an “analysis,” it is a start, and a start is 100 times better than nothing at all.

I love that feeling I get when I read something and then years later read it all over again and just barely remember it. It’s not like a fading memory. It’s more like deja vu. I’ve been here before. 

I’m currently reading Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, a book I was required to read sections of during a British Literature (I know that seems strange) course I took during one of my first semesters of college. Lately, I’ve decided it might be useful to reread pieces of literature that I was required to read in college, and see how my appreciation of them might change.

In case you’re unfamiliar, Tales from the Thousand and One Nights is comprised of stories from Persian fairy tales, Indian folklore, and edits and additions from various Arabic storytellers and scribes (Introduction). The edition I’m reading, translated by N.J. Dawood, includes many well-known tales such as “Sindbad the Sailor and Sindbad the Porter,” and “Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp.”

Before I picked up the book this weekend, I tried to recall specific details that had stuck out to me when I first read it in college. All that came to mind was that this was the story of a young woman (Shahrazad) who cunningly told stories of magic and adventure so enthralling that they delayed her death for 1001 nights. And that the collection is considered a frame narrative, a fact that was drilled into my head during ENG 294 or 211 or whatever. I also remembered that I initially found some enjoyment in the book, and that it was one of the first pieces of literature that I freely talked about during class discussion. In other words, it’s not intimidating.

In fact, despite the vulgar language and mentions of sex, many of the stories strike me as quite juvenile. I want to say that the stories are simple, but I must also point out that the framework is quite complex, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of who is speaking, of what world the story is currently in, of the fact that this is, at least physically, one cohesive work. Perhaps this is good in some ways. It means I’m getting sucked into the story. Or it might mean I’m bored out of my mind and sidetracked.

I’m just over halfway through the book now, and must say that some stories (Aladdin, for example) truly capture my imagination, while others seem to ramble on and lose me. This seems fitting, considering the slew of different contributors. Remember, this wasn’t written by a single author.

Unfortunately, at the moment, this book is doing little more than entertain me. In some instances, I do feel a twinge of something similar to deja vu, because I get sucked into a story that captured me years ago, and it’s exciting and fresh again. I’m not sure that I’ll ever read it again, but if I do, I’m curious to see how my reactions to the work may evolve. Perhaps I’ll analyze it in the future, which will likely create in me a new found appreciation for the book.

I couldn’t find the copy I’m reading on the publishers website, but here’s a link to it on Amazon (sorry):

http://www.amazon.com/Tales-Thousand-Nights-Penguin-Classics/dp/0140442898

Adjusting to the Post-Grad Life

Maybe I talk (write?) about this too much, but I’m constantly working on my transition from “student” to “educated functioning adult.” Now that I’m out of school, my goals are broad, far-reaching, and scarier than ever. Suddenly, success isn’t measured by a number, by a grade, or by how many parties I can fit into my weekend and still ace that test on Monday. Now, it’s totally up to me to define my own success, and I’ve found that a bit overwhelming at times.

I have so many goals, but it’s up to me to determine how to accomplish them. There is no syllabus out there that will map out how to ace my life. Lately, I’ve found myself looking for answers in the biographies of those I deem “accomplished.” What were they doing when they were 21? I search through blogs of my peers who are traveling the world and living off the success of their own creative endeavors. Sometimes this gets me down on myself. I get discouraged. Shouldn’t I have started my career by now? Shouldn’t I be traveling? Shouldn’t I be out there living my life instead of just going through the motions of paying my bills and getting by? Then I realize, all I can do is just live my own life. It’s time to stop worrying about the successes (or failures) of those around me. It’s time to just focus on me. (For more about how I’ve learned to accept happiness into my life, check out my article here).

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten a lot better at functioning in the “real world.” Actually, I’ve gotten a lot better at just functioning in general. Identifying my life goals, and focusing on them every day, has helped me to live a better life. I have a long way to go, and I’ve realized that there are a lot of little things that I should be doing regularly that would greatly enhance the quality of my life. It’s time to put them down on paper. It’s time to commit.

  • Meditate daily
  • Practice yoga
  • Eat clean
  • Drink lots of water (already doing this)
  • Spend more time outside
  • Unplug (impossible to do at work, but I need to do this more at home)
  • Read outside regularly (I do this often, but I need to really commit to doing it everyday)
  • Keep my office and living space clean and tidy
  • Sit less, stand more
  • Stop complaining
  • Smile often, even when I don’t feel like it
  • Plan ahead (make my lunch, set the coffee maker)
  • Follow a budget
  • Transfer money to my savings account every month
  • Stop worrying about the future
  • Submit my work to be published
  • Be happy by my own standards

Everything on my list is entirely doable. It’s up to me to commit and do the work.

What are you doing to lead a more well-balanced life?

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