Unavoidable Angst

Ever since my angsty tween years of journaling, I’ve knows that it’s harder for me to write when I’m happy. Contentment is just not as entertaining as awkwardness, anger, or apathy (the miseries of growing up, really). It’s much more interesting to watch Lena Dunham play out the romantic and professional woes of a twenty-something on HBO than it is to follow around a happily married young professional with a healthy savings account.

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Where’s the drama? Where’s the hyperbole of hysteria over the bad dates and binge eating and credit card debt? Where is that black hole that I wished for so long would just open up and swallow me to end the existential suffering? I filled journal after journal with words dowsed in despair over my youthful heartbreaks, self hate, and unrequited love for Nick Carter.

Nick Carter_Backstreet Boys

As I grew up, looking back on those thoughts and experiences became almost embarrassing (who’s not embarrassed by their 14 year old self?), but I could never get rid of the journals. Every time I tried, my fingers just flipped through the worn pages – that familiar angst – and I would end up clutching them even closer. They still live with me. And with Mr. Rathroy, I guess, though he’s too much of a gentleman to admit it if she’s peeked inside any of them…

“The pain returns with such eager delight. So quick to remind you of your expendable existence in another’s heart. Your body, rendered undesirable, wilts. Your mind, proven unnecessary, deteriorates. And your heart, mercilessly rejected, explodes.”

I seriously wrote that when I was a teenager. I mean, yikes.

The words that teenage Kelly wrote, oftentimes in despair, have served so many purposes. They were an outlet for a tortured heart, a creative exercise to mix my tragic words with those of Shakespeare, a voice for a girl that just sought to stay anonymous. But scanning through those words now provides an entirely different perspective – an acknowledgement of what it took to become who I am. Yes, it would be really boring to follow me around with a camera today. I’ll admit that I am entirely too happy to be entertaining. But that angst, that awkward phase, that rebellious streak, that desire to have a black hole open up and swallow you – that’s our common thread. For some of us, those feelings and phases mercifully fade when you graduate high school. For others, it might seem like there’s still no end in sight. But those are shared struggles – something that almost everyone can relate to.

I’m thankful for the Carrie Bradshaws and the Hannah Horvaths and the Liz Lemons because they make it seem not so uncommon to stumble and even be miserable at times along your life path. They give legitimacy to periods in life that most people hide in journals or in the depths of their own hearts. Falling down is how we learn to get back up, and there should be no shame in that, especially when it’s a universal experience.

Fourteen-year-old Kelly couldn’t have known the impact that her words would have in the future. All I wanted at the time was to pour out my feelings and in doing that, I gave myself concrete proof of how far I would go. It’s really easy to forget the pain once it dissipates, but anytime I question my journey, question my progress, or question my writing skills, I can look back on those worn pages, filled with that familiar angst, and know that I’m heading in the right direction.

The Apple of My Eye

I pride myself on being a good dog owner. To me, a big part of owning a dog (and especially a pit bull), is the responsibility you take for their behavior. I want nothing but positive feedback on my silly, lazy, wuss of a dog. So, when she barks her face off at the doorbell or pees on the floor when we have visitors, it doesn’t bode well for me.

Mr. Rathroy and I have spent a serious amount of time teaching Piper the rules and boundaries of our lives. Our teamwork in dog training is actually one of the biggest producers of my baby craze – it’s like training wheels for raising a kid. I mean, if we can teach Piper to sleep in a crate at night, certainly we can handle a baby, right?

Don’t answer that.

But, because of her squishable face and incessant desire to cuddle, Piper gets spoiled by almost everyone else in her life. And when those people watch as we flatly tell her to go to her bed while ignoring her puppy eyes, we take a lot of flack for being too strict. No, she can’t get up on the bed. No, she’s not allowed in the kitchen when we’re cooking (Mr. Rathroy is barely allowed in there. Have you seen the size of it?). And no, she doesn’t get a treat for doing what she’s told – that’s what she’s supposed to do.

I’m pleased as pie when we take her into a coffee shop and she lays down at our feet while we order. I love that she sticks her nose over the top of the mattress to say good morning instead of stomping on my head to take over my pillow. And I beam with pride when she goes into that crate without a fuss. But sometimes…

Sometimes, her face is just too squishable. And her cuddling is just so incessant. And her manners are so stellar, that we break down.

And we break down hard.

Piper_PeanutButter

Lap Dog

Piper Cuddles

I mean, if you’re going to spoil a dog, at least make it special, right?

I couldn't lick both mixers.

I couldn’t lick both mixers.

Priorities 101

Welcome to your crash course in adult priorities. The class is Pass/Fail and there will be a test every single day. Some days, you won’t even know it’s a test, and on those days you can rest assured that you are failing.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been on a parkour course between the workplace and the home place – trying to keep a handle on the revolving door of adult life. You mean I have to do laundry again this week? And why are people still sending work e-mails at 8:00pm? Nothing ever settles or stays clean or is laid to rest and I’m left with an ever increasing list of tasks that need tending. And on the opposite team are my beloved Mr. Rathroy, our dogchild, my new favorite workout routine, and the oh so anticipated drama of House of Cards. Not to mention quiet time that a person might use for some light reading or blog writing…

Despite the juggle routine, I had been feeling pretty smug about my pass to fail ratio these last few weeks. Sure, I haven’t blogged in a while, and our house is a tad less tidy than I would prefer, but I was killing it at work, finding time to exercise, and everyone had clean underwear. That sounds like winning to me. That is, until a particularly rough Monday landed me and Mr. Rathroy on the couch with beers and a couple House of Cards episodes. Normally, I would allocate that time in my mind as a deserved break or fun bonding time with my husband, until I realized the next morning that there was no food in the house.

Mr. Rathroy would have Carl’s Jr. for lunch the next day (not that he minded), and I would spiral into guilt-town for spending an entire evening on my ass instead of taking care of something, anything productive. Where were my priorities? And from there, the snowball grew. It chased me down my mountain of to-dos like a bad Indiana Jones dream until I found myself on the floor of our bedroom, huddled in the corner next to the outlet so that my phone could charge while I held it to my ear to discuss a work emergency at 9:30pm. Smug doesn’t last long in the corner…

I’ve been hearing a lot about the rule of thirds lately. It’s been applied to everything from social media posts to personal finances, and it might be time that it applies to my own priorities. I still feel like I’m being chased by the insatiable snowball at times, but I’m hoping that setting goals and standards for task hierarchy will help me stop running and start accomplishing.

1/3 Work

1/3 Home

1/3 Fun

This is, so far, just a theory. I am currently not the leading expert on setting appropriate priorities as indicated by my muddling through these words after an 11 hour work day on a laptop in bed with a snoring husband next to me. There are a lot of things about this current picture that would change according to the Rule of Thirds, and that’s exactly what I’m hoping for. Whether it stands the test of time as the greatest Priorities 101 lesson remains to be seen. But it will be a shift toward balance, and I think all of the thirds in my life will appreciate that.

A Swift Kick in the Ass

I finished my book today. I sat down to read through what promised to be another insightful chapter only to realize that it would be the last. Only pages upon pages of references would follow this chapter, and then what?

Sheryl Sandberg_Lean In_Book Cover

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thoughtfully and ravenously making my way through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. It’s been a daily dose of inspiration, motivation, and learning about my own inner boss. Since starting the book, I’ve made long term career goals for the first time in my life, we’ve started shifting toward an equal division of labor in our household (because I finally let go of the need to do everything myself), and I’ve even registered for my first continued education course since graduating college in 2007.

It’s been a big couple of weeks.

So when I turned over the last page of narrative, I went a little pale. The Acknowledgements and References at the end of the book made it look like there was still so much to read – so much wisdom to gain and mental power to build. But, alas, it was over. I had underlined and dog-eared my way to the end. And now I was done.

In a daze, I surveyed the room, looking for something, anything with meaning that could fill the unexpected void. I sent a text to Mr. Rathroy knowing that he would sympathize or joke or somehow make it better. And boy, did he deliver.

Text_Book

He responded immediately and my eyes welled up with tears before I could even open my lock screen. It could be literal. It could be metaphorical. It could be anything I wanted it to be, and that’s exactly the point. I needed the swift kick in the ass that Sandberg’s words gave me, but all of the follow-up was of my own doing. I’ve started making moves and leaning into my own career and for the first time in a long time, I feel like I’m capable of creating whatever life I want.

So, yes. I will write my own book. It may never be in print, but it will be a powerful, real life example. And I hope it helps inspire someone else to create the same for themselves.

The Plight of Pretty Girls

Trying to write a blog post in a coffee shop on a rainy Sunday afternoon is a serious test of my focus powers.

Two women are speaking emphatically about something and the only word I keep picking up is, “lesbians.” For some reason, I keep smelling cocktail olives. Like, really overwhelming vinegar and I’m pretty sure my mocha shouldn’t contain either of those ingredients. And espresso machines are really loud.

And finally, two men have been sitting on the comfy coffee house chairs interviewing a series of women. I have no idea what the interview is for, but their body language is fascinating and, if I’m not careful, I get caught staring at them.

Both men are probably in their 30s, dressed casually, and not overwhelmingly attractive or unattractive. And the first woman they interviewed was a twenty-something, smiley, long-haired blonde. I have no idea what they were discussing but, boy were those men leaning into whatever she had to say. Lots of agreement, smiles, and hand gestures and the men were dominating the conversation. As I watched the interaction, I found myself wincing and thinking about how hard it is for attractive women to be taken seriously. I agree with all of the studies (and have seen it happen in real life) stating that attractive people have it easier in life – they tend to succeed more naturally because their looks become an unfair (and hopefully subconscious) advantage. But, having things handed to you because you’re pretty is not the same as being taken seriously. Women can be pretty and smart. Beautiful and boss material. And those two traits shouldn’t influence each other. But when a room full of men deciding someone’s professional fate just smile and turn off their ears, it marginalizes their abilities, their brains, their accomplishments.

I know that the plight of attractive women is about as popular as the argument that young, white males are unfairly pressured to succeed. Poor, beautiful girls. Life is so easy and all you want is to prove yourself with brains in this world. I don’t expect everyone to get it, or care, but watching these coffee shop interviews unfold is just too interesting not to provide commentary.

The next interviewee is equally smiley. She’s using lots of hand gestures and gives no hesitation after the questions. This time, the men are leaned back in their leather chairs. Both with hands on their faces – stroking a goatee or resting their head on their hands – and legs crossed. They smile and talk less than in the previous interview but are taking notes this time while the woman answers their questions. It looks more like an interview and less like a date – and the woman looks less like a high school cheerleader (sorry for the stereotype in a post about how unfair female stereotypes are…).

There’s a third woman in the hot seat now and I’m so preoccupied with large-scale physical biases in society that I can’t watch anymore. Reflecting on my own professional journey, I realize I’ve benefited from unfair advantage. I’m pretty sure I’ve been hired, promoted, and mentored before because I reminded the male decision makers of their daughters. Since before I was a teenager, I learned to play to non-verbal communication and that my smile would work faster than my words (which is disheartening because I sure love words). It’s knowledge that I’ve been working to unlearn as I progress in the workforce and try to let my accomplishments and ambition speak for themselves. A smile should go a long way in this world, but it should go the same length no matter who’s face it’s on.

Divide & Conquer

Last night, Mr. Rathroy made dinner. On top of an already busy week, I had signed up for a special 6 p.m. preview class at U Barre, the latest (and greatest) workout trend, with Girls on the Grid. I was even less in the mood to discuss our dinner plans than normal, especially because it meant a trip to the store during grocery rush hour.

That morning, I had gotten out of bed an hour and a half before Mr. Rathroy. In that time, I got myself ready for the day, took care of the dog, made our daily green smoothie, and even baked a fresh batch of peanut butter granola. And even though I had chosen to do all of those things, I found myself very annoyed. Why did I have to take care of everything (and in the dark no less) while he ignored his alarm and went into work later than usual? Doesn’t he know how much work it is to curl my hair and feed him every morning?

By the time I went into our dark, sleepy room to say goodbye before I left for work, I was in full domestic rebellion – not a great way to start our interactions for the day.

After a few hours of reflection in my cubicle, I sent an apology text and, because Mr. Rathroy is the greatest and most understanding man in the world, he responded with a heartfelt thank you for everything that I do. I knew that I was being a martyr and that I had never even asked him to help that morning. I just grumbled about how nice it must be to sleep in and how lame it is to be the lead homemaker. I decided to ignore the fact that I my lead homemaker status was self-appointed.

So, when it came time to discuss the fact that we had nothing for dinner, I knew it could go one of three ways:

  1. I could take it on as my unspoken responsibility to feed my husband and trudge my butt to the store so that he could eat while I went to the barre class
  2. We could split the responsibilities and he could take care of dinner since I was already scheduled to be out of the house
  3. I could have a meltdown about being a square peg in the round hole of traditional female roles and we would order Chinese food

We went with the second option and It. Was. Awesome. We each picked a couple dishes that we’d like to have on our menu for the week and drafted a grocery list together. Mr. Rathroy went head first into grocery rush hour and cooked up a storm while I flailed around gracelessly on my tippy toes during my ballet-inspired workout. By the time I got home, I was elated about my newfound exercise routine and Mr. Rathroy had made roasted vegetable mac & cheese from scratch and puff pastry wrapped jalapeno poppers…Uh, why had we not made him Head Chef of the Rathroy household yet? The kitchen was spotless, the food was still hot, the dog was curled up in bed, and he was patiently playing Forza4 until I was home to eat dinner with him.

I quickly realized that I had become a bulldozer. I took it upon myself to try and take care of everything around the house. My office is closer, my hours are more flexible, and my paycheck is smaller, so why wouldn’t I make up for it with meal plans and freshly baked granola? I took those life responsibilities off of his plate without even asking him. I made it my obligation to keep the house clean and do the grocery shopping, which in my mind, meant that no one else knew how to do it correctly.

Mr. Rathroy is not only fully capable, but is happy to pitch in and work for our lifestyle as much as I do. And when we split up the mundane responsibilities, they become less of a burden which means we’re both happier to contribute. And after devouring half a dozen homemade cream-cheese-filled jalapenos last night, I’m happy to release control of the menu and share the tasks that create our daily experiences together. And who knows, maybe I’ll be the one relaxing with Forza4 and a freshly prepared meal next time…

Life Among the Trees

In the 4th grade, we did a huge rainforest project. Each student selected one flower, one animal, one fungus, and one bug that lived in the rainforest and researched it extensively (as extensively as a 4th grader could research before the internet was invented). Our finished product was a life size rainforest display in our school cafeteria for open house. Complete with a rainforest sound track, water misters, and 3D artistic renditions of each researched critter, this project was the peak of my elementary school career. It was the reason that I traveled alone to the jungles of Costa Rica and one of many motivations for my two trips to Africa. It’s the reason that Madagascar is still on my bucket list and why I appreciate decomposers like the dung beetle.  But it’s not the only experience that pushed me to be a professional in the environmental field.

From being told to go play outside when I was bored to camping trips with my family, I was repeatedly exposed to the outdoor world and how much bigger it was than me. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I started thinking the world revolved around me (my parents might contest that based on some of my teen years). As a kid, I understood that I was a small part of something really big. Something worth having around. Something that made me feel magical and calm and happy.

Tree Planting

After a stint working with ducks that taught me how to do tick checks and made me face my fear of fish (seriously), good timing and a solid reference got me a job with trees. I knew that I was passionate enough about broad environmental issues that I could peddle trees no problem, even if I didn’t have specific arboricultural experience. It was expected to be a 6 month, grant funded position so I tried not to get too attached. Two years later, I’m still peddling trees and it’s given me similar feelings of magic, calm and happiness that I felt when I was a kid. It’s been obtuse and difficult to pinpoint, so I just enjoy the dirt under my nails and the smile in my heart.

Tree planting hands

I talk about trees all day, every day. I notice trees no matter where I am. I judge entire cities based on their trees. Mr. Rathroy is sick to death of trees. Because it’s my job. But, while I couldn’t articulate the driving force behind it for a long time, I really REALLY care about trees above and beyond my job duties. And yesterday, I finally learned why.

I attended a 9 hour workshop about trees yesterday. Yeah, we talked about trees for 9 hours. I met people doing research on the economics of wildfire (an issue near and dear to my drought-ridden Californian heart), people that have received national awards for their work in climate change, people that cared even more about trees than me. I learned about research that links faster rates of recovery from stress to a view of trees. I learned that life expectancy can be predicted based on the amount of available green space and tree canopy in your zip code. I learned that trees can improve your focus, prevent asthma, reduce crime, and benefit your psychological and physical well-being. I saw numbers and graphs and references and scientific proof of how important trees are to our communities.

Staking a young tree

And after the 9 hour science based workshop, I went to a 3 hour dinner with speakers, board members, and executive committees to debrief on the day. After we settled around the table with wine and ravioli, we were asked to individually share our “tree story.” Having worked in the tree world for a couple years, of course I knew my tree story – a peach tree that my parents planted where I sat for many afternoons reading aloud and sharing stories with its leaves. But as we went around the table, I was amazed at the breadth and depth of others’ stories – trees connected people at this table to their marriages, their parents that passed away, their childhood home, their favorite memories. And after all of the science and all of the logic behind the importance of trees, the most important fact of the day was that trees make you feel. Whether it’s magic or calm or happy or any other emotion, trees are deeply rooted in our hearts.

Not everyone is interested in the facts and figures, but everyone has a tree story. Maybe it’s a tree from your youth. Maybe it’s a tree that you have yet to meet. Whatever it is, honor the memory and the emotion that it brings you. Plant a tree. Hug a tree. Read aloud to a tree. I bet that if you reconnect with trees, you’ll feel that magic all over again.

What’s your tree story?

California redwoods

For extra inspiration, check out this video from one of the tree organizations that I work for. I even have a cameo in it!