A Day in The Life of Micha, the Author, Anthropologist and MSW Student
I write novels, I write poetry, I write anything and everything. This blog is my "I have things I want to say" space. And apart from that, I guess you could say I'm a coffee-loving-wine-sipping-nature-worshiping kind of gal who lives with her husband and their puppy.
I wanted to change the world, you see. And that's taken various shapes and forms over the years. I love a genuine debate, but despise verbal assaults.
I'm here for the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the oppressed. Come to me all who have suffered at the hands of others, and we will rise above it.
Five years ago, I opened this blog. I took a chance on letting the world see my inner thoughts. From there, it became a place to rant, to escape, to process. I changed majors, graduated college, moved across the country, began and ended law school, started a masters degree and have made some beautiful memories.
I wanted to do a little “back in the day”, just to see how different things really are.
Big Things in 2014: Top Movies: American Sniper, Maleficent, Captain America: The Winter Soldier Top Songs: Happy, Dark Horse, All About that Bass, Blank Space Culture Phenomenon: The Ice Bucket Challenge Oldest Human: 111 year old Alexander Imich (who survived the Holocaust and Soviet gulags) Internet: Bots outnumbered humans for the first time (this would be relevant in 2016) Time’s Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters
I feel like the fact that this was only 5 years ago blows my mind. So much has changed since then-far beyond the top entertainment. Who knew that in just a handful of years, I’d be politically savvy, I’d be trauma-informed and interning as a master’s student?
The journey has been wild, folks. But that’s how you know it’s gonna be a good story.
I figured it had been a while, and I wanted to make sure I wasn’t leaving anyone high and dry.
I’m now successfully beyond the caffeine-and-preservative withdrawals. I’ve been off soda (pop) for 2 months now and it’s going well. The longest I’ve been without it is 6 months, so still a while to go before I beat my record, but darn it, it’s a start. Next steps: remove the sugary drinks from my life: like pre-made tea. This one is going to take a WHILE. Especially because I actually enjoy them for taste not energy.
I had a super successful KissPitch-with 5 likes on a single pitch! I’m approaching 4 weeks on a few queries and I’m (im)patiently waiting. But I’m also writing a new book, just in case I get lucky!
What else? Apart from the snow days, my MSW placement is going super well! I’m learning a ton and I really feel like I’m reaching new levels of awareness. I told everyone in my private life and now I can talk about all the reasons I left law school with all the people who want to know.
And speaking of school, I’m closing in on the halfway point of my program! It feels like I’m ready to get out there and make changes. B got into his PhD program! So this summer we’ll be moving once again (for the last time for a while). We’re both super excited, and I look forward to getting back to culture!
I’ve been focusing on self-care lately, and it’s been paying off. I’m mostly just ready to be moving along in the process.
Anyway, I just wanted to pop in and say I’m still floating!
And go drink some water-you look a little dehydrated.
And since you’re here, I hope you’re having a rewarding Monday. I wanted to focus today on a little pesky subject that gets the best of us: burnout.
The newest title that millennials get to add to our giant repertoire is the “burnout generation”. I have to say, as someone who has experienced both being a millennial and burnout, this rings especially true.
So what is burnout?
Well, it’s the way you can go to a job for months or years just fine and then wake up with extreme dread about going in. It’s the way little things didn’t bother you and now they’re all you can think about. It’s wanting to pack up and run away rather than face one more day of your life. It’s that cynical depression that makes you furious that it’s even happening in the first place.
According to psychology, burnout can be traced to helplessness and the feeling of being unable to control your environment. A person experiencing burnout may have problems figuring out what to do with their life, may switch jobs more frequently than is industry standard and may have some major health concerns related to burnout (not just psychological ones). Psychology Today mentions that therapy and meds may just erase the symptoms, instead of dealing with the burnout itself.
Ways to fight it are the same things that have been harped on since the beginning of time: sleep more, workout, eat right, self-care. But what if that only post-pones the feelings of existential dread?
Then you wouldn’t be alone.
There’s a Buzzfeed article that talks about what burnout looks like for millennials in more than just a job capacity. It talks about errand paralysis-putting the same to-do list on your calendar (or bullet journal) week after week because you can’t seem to complete it or the inability to return clothes, to mail packages, to complete basic adulting tasks. In fact, the following quote came from the same article (and consequently hit me like a ton of bricks:
” But these students were convinced that their first job out of college would not only determine their career trajectory, but also their intrinsic value for the rest of their lives. I told one student, whose dozens of internship and fellowship applications yielded no results, that she should move somewhere fun, get any job, and figure out what interests her and what kind of work she doesn’t want to do — a suggestion that prompted wailing. “But what’ll I tell my parents?” she said. “I want a cool job I’m passionate about!” ” –https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennials-burnout-generation-debt-work
I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a long article. But it’s also 100% worth the read. Because sometimes it’s nice to know you’re not alone. I’m not saying it’ll get better. I’m saying you don’t have to face it alone.
The last of my #PitMad queries came back this week. It wasn’t quite the yes I’d been hoping for. And in fact, wasn’t a yes at all. But to have multiple agencies request fulls was a beautiful thing. It means that people believe in my story, my ability. And in the end, it was a “fit” issue that led me to the beginning of the process once more.
But here’s what I gained: a successful query letter. A successful manuscript that people can believe in. Confidence.
I mean, I’ve been through this process a fair amount. I had a 90k manuscript that got rejected a LOT. And I put it away, to give myself a break. I started new projects, started new processes. Outlined. Drafted. Edited. You know, the writing stuff. And I ended up with this 60k piece of work that I enjoy reading, and that I actually LIKE editing. And that’s new. I believe in my work.
So as much as it hurts to have come so close (I’m talking that last gasp before a contract close) and leave empty-handed, I know that it’s a project that someone will take.
And in accordance with that, I sent out 2 dozen query letters this weekend. And I have another set that will go out in a month or so, pending any responses. It’s gone through an additional edit since this last round, and I feel even more confident about it.
I mean, how great is it to know-to just know-that you have something worth putting energy into, and participating in the process to do just that?!
Guess we’ll see where this leads!
Wish me luck!
And for those interested, #PitMad is a Twitter based manuscript pitch that happens 4 times a year. More information (including what hashtags to use, who/what/when) can be found at: https://pitchwars.org/pitmad/
To understand where this post is coming from, it is important to know that I’ve been in a very pensive, reminiscing attitude lately. I’ve been working on a new book in which much of the young adult culture of the early 2000s plays a part. But also, I’m about to start the semester and that’s the point where I start thinking about how I got to where I am.
Part of the business of growing up is a little thing I’ll call “going corporate”. Masses of people leaving behind the neon hair, the black and red eyeliner, the studded belts and chucks for business suits, natural hair colors and 9-5s.
And I’m not having it.
So many people my age (and older) make comments like:
“I don’t know what I was thinking about that hair.” “I can’t believe I wore that/dressed like that/went out like that.” “I’m so glad I grew out of that.” “I’m so glad that phase ended.”
And that’s fine… for them.
But I look back at the pictures, the memories, the status updates and I don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed. And the thing is, I can’t remember ever thinking I’d made a mistake. In my closet you’ll find business clothes-interview attire, internship outfits. But you’ll also find band tees, studded belts, two pairs of chucks, and skinny jeans (yep, even my size). My makeup is all deep and vampy.
So imagine my surprise when the suggestion came across my screen that instead of just 2019, we should be celebrating 20NineScene (Scene being the neon cousin of the emo culture that I reference above.). And I could not be more excited.
Because you see, we are the cycles we have lived through. Yes, I believe in moving past periods of time that are too negative for you, that are toxic. After all, what kind of (future) social worker would I be if I supported toxic environments? But why should I (and may others) feel that there is something to be ashamed of by exploring who we are?
So this 2019, instead of walking longingly past Hot Topic and pining for the days when I didn’t feel like a kid in their parent’s business suit, I’m going to allow myself one final rebellion. I want to slide into 2020 (and the return of the Roaring 20s) in the throes of the crimson and black smudged eyes, the black-like-my-soul outfits, the spiky hair, the splashes of neon breaking up the monotony. I never stopped listening to the music I did in high school, and in fact I prefer it to the stuff now (I’m exactly that old). Grunge music like Nirvana and Three Days Grace. Emo punk like All American Rejects. Emo pop like Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy. Dashboard Confessional. My personal favorite, Boys Like Girls. My Chemical Romance. And so many of the glorious others.
In high school, I had so many dreams about who I would be when I approached my current age. And I’m honestly nowhere close. I thought I’d be done with school, traveling, maybe even semi-famous. And if I’m honest with myself, I still hold out for that. It’s why I took a chance on a manuscript that I sent out before winter break to agents. I believe in that manuscript like people praying in church. It’s raw and honest and hopeful-everything I am at my core. I believe that someone will look at it and see the potential, will give me a chance to prove that it’s worth it. I believe in myself.
And none of that would be the case without the high schooler who felt the world a bit too much. Who needed validation more than air. Who wasn’t afraid to rock the red eyeliner, the spiked hair, the black wardrobe. I believe in her as much as she believed in the future. And that’s why I’m completely in support of 20ninescene. Because why on earth would I ever choose to lose who I am just to “go corporate”?
This Winter Break I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I really dove into my hobby and I made it work for me. I’ve got one fully polished manuscript, and I’m about 10% of the way through the first book of a trilogy (doesn’t that sound impressive!). But in just a hot minute, I’ll be back at classes, this time with a field placement and I’ve realized that I’m going to need to block my time more prudently. So.
Make the time
I’ve got a calendar all set up, which shows me what my major obligations are. I’ve got class days marked in one color, homework blocks in another and writing blocks in a third. This way, it’s the most important date with myself-and I’ll be able to keep on track. (Famous last words, I know.)
I’m not talking field trips here, I’m talking the thing you’re looking at. Sometimes the words just don’t plop on the page as quickly (or numerous) as you beg them to. Change fonts. Change programs. Switch handwriting (or languages!). That difference will let you pick out editing mistakes, and may just get you out of the slump.
I learned this trick from NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Sometimes all you have is 15 minutes. And that’s plenty. Take your 15 (or 10, or 5) and jam as many sentences as you can into that time. Don’t go for edited masterpiece-just go for words on a page. Do this 4 times and you’ve got your hour of writing for the day.
Start with your favorites
This one I learned the hard/easy way. For me, starting at “Sentence One” and taking my idea start to finish is hard. Great for continuity, terrible for inspiration. I’d always have that “But I wanted to write THAT scene” syndrome. So with the polished manuscript, I jumped out of my habit and wrote what I call “Scenes Out Of Context”. (I even label them as “SOOC: Scene Name”). I have a list of scenes that I know need written, and I start working on whichever one seems the most awesome to me at that moment. About halfway through, I’ll decided none of them sound awesome and then I’ll start “Sentence One”. Which, by then, I’ve got a great idea of how I want the tone to be, I’ve got enough to do some foreshadowing and I’m not offended by linking the chapters together (which adds to my word count).
Use said, then add
This last piece of goody info is actually an editing piece. I discovered that the easiest way to come up with the basic manuscript is to low-ball it. Write through the skeleton of it, using only the most basic of dialogue tags: said. Don’t describe things unless absolutely necessary to the scene. Don’t describe the characters unless absolutely necessary to the scene. And give yourself the most basic of word counts. For a 62k book, I gave myself a 35k skeleton goal.
And then? As you edit, you’ve got a feel for the people. Apart from the obvious editing (grammar, punctuation, etc) you can now search your document for “said” and add in fleshed out dialogue tags (any number of which will give you an additional 1-10+ more words). Then add in the descriptions that you left out: buildings, aromas, the way the food tasted, what the characters were wearing, any mannerisms that weren’t obvious in the skeleton but you knew were there. (Leave notes as you add bones, so you can add in stuff later and not forget!). I added several plot-hole-fixers during that point, and an additional 15k words in just “meat” that I’d left out. That way I knew my structure was solid, and the rest added layers.
See anything I missed? Any tips you’d have added? Any of these not work for you? Let me know!
It’s time to discuss the past year. Or more realistically, let’s call this blog the one where I discuss what happened this past year that made me not want to blog anymore. Because it’s a story worth telling. But in order to tell it, we’re going to have to back up. To last year.
Picture it: 2017, the world was growing accustomed to changes, and not all of them good. Little old me was graduating with a bachelors in cultural anthropology and I was headed to law school to complete a dual degree: a JD (law)/MSW (social work masters). That summer I threw myself into every money making scheme I could so that we could afford the move across 1000 (a little less, actually) miles of uncharted wilderness (well, America, really). I said goodbye to the people who had been there, for every hiccup and misstep in my life and trudged out in search of something new, in search of myself.
The first day of law school was postponed for the eclipse (which was overcast, so we didn’t actually get to see it). But surely, this was the sign I was waiting for…right?
Day one: the theme of the day should have been “You will probably want to kill yourself more than once, and we know that. It’s a sign you’re in law school. You’ll probably also develop a severe drinking problem. Also totally expected.” That’s honestly all I remember from the first day. And that should have been a sign in-and-of itself. But I trudged on.
Grades in law school aren’t like undergrad or most other post-bac programs. You aren’t graded on how well you understood the subject, but how well everyone else understood in comparison to you. Therefore, you could get a 98% on a test (you won’t) and normally, you’d see an “A” at the top. But in law school, if everyone else got a 99% or a 100% (they won’t), then you’ve failed the test. [Realistically, the highest score was a 35% and that’s an “A”).
So finals came around and I hit rough patch after rough patch (including taking a test so delirious from a food allergy that I was hallucinating) and grades came back. Talk about a hit to the ego. I took the break to reset from the havoc that was first semester and tried to throw myself into second semester. I did not go out, I did not engage in social activities. I stayed home and studied. I stayed at the school and studied. Every weekend (and I mean EVERY) you would find me, nose in a book, looking for nuggets of knowledge that I needed. I would get to class hours early to do more reading and prepping. And that continued for 16 weeks. I studied for finals 16-18 hours a day. For two weeks.
But by February, just six and a half months after the journey began, I no longer felt like myself. My major complaint (my presenting problem): I felt like a robot. No hobbies, no way to break myself away from the grueling gauntlet that was first year law school. No more being myself. Just torture. And that’s when I kept hoping that I would get hit by a bus. I wasn’t actively suicidal, I just wouldn’t have stopped it from happening. And as much as I knew that that was not okay, I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough. So when second semester grades came in and I was placed on academic probation (for insufficient grades), the final straw broke.
All that hard work, only to be told “not good enough”. I received the notice on official letterhead that read more like “You should reconsider being a lawyer” than “you need to take these remedial classes”. I told myself that I would start my MSW in the fall and I just needed a break from law school. That was the first week of May.
June 13, I was on Snapchat with a law friend who asked if I’d talked to a 2L (second year) friend in a while. I said I had, and that she was excited about starting an animal law group. He told me to check my email. Sure enough, I had an email from the Dean, telling the school she’d died the night before. And as I read the obituary, I knew what words they weren’t saying. She’d died, but it wasn’t an accidental event.
I wondered if I would be next. I wondered what separated me from her. I wondered if law school was worth it. And ultimately I decided, no. I looked at my tattoo, the compass in my life. I didn’t sign up for four years of pain and torture and hating myself. I kept telling myself that if there was some way I could prove that “it” was worth it, I would stay. But I deserve to be happy, to value life and to wake up to a life I wish for.
I was so nervous about starting a new program (because of my experience with law school) that on the first day, I made an appointment with the on-campus counselor. I was a wreck, a shell of a person. No coping tools worked, I’d burnt through them all trying to just survive. I’d lost my sense of self.
I put off telling my parents until I had made up my mind officially. I’d still harbored a hope that maybe with time, I could be more ambient towards the idea of coming back. But each time I walked into the law school and it made me sick to my stomach. I knew I wasn’t going to ever go back.
And I couldn’t bring myself to write, to be myself until I decided what it was that I even wanted out of life. I had to stop blogging because I didn’t know who I was, figuratively.
I’m starting 2019 clean. I’ve got goals, personal and professional, and I know that I’m still turning into who I will be, but it’s a better life than I would have had before.
In 2019, I’m
-getting to work with undocumented victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking and stalking
-publishing my book
-getting to work in the emergency department of a hospital as a student clinical social worker
-taking care of myself, as a complex, multi-faceted human being
-living (and making steps towards) the life I wish for
And I hope, with all I have to hope, that you find the courage to be yourself, to be authentically you. That you make the hard decisions because you know that you’re not giving yourself the ability to grow and thrive. You deserve it. I promise.