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Becoming a minor expert

Maybe you’ve memorized all of the U.S. presidents since George Washington. Or you can instantly recognize any type of flower and remember it by name. Whatever the subject, being a “minor expert” can be really gratifying and a lot of fun.

What’s a minor expert?

I first heard of the term a few years ago on an episode of the podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. As a minor expert, you don’t know everything about a subject, but you know more than the average person. And it seems that whenever you dig in deeper to any subject or pursuit that you’re interested in, you want to continue to learn more.

The key to identifying an area where you can be a minor expert is that you genuinely LIKE the subject and are curious about it. Otherwise, it’s just no fun. There should be no forcing yourself to learn about the Civil War if it bores you, or trying to learn about trendy whisky cocktails if you prefer gin. But if you follow your natural interests wherever they lead, you really can’t go wrong.

A trick to help you on your way

One trick I’ve found to easily absorb chunks of information associated with minor expertise is to keep the information out in plain sight, where you can interact with it on a daily basis. It’s a trick that teachers use all the time. My third grade teacher listed all of the helping verbs (there are 22, in case you’re even remotely interested) on a chalkboard and left it up all year. Every time I was bored or my mind wandered, I’d look over at that chalkboard and those verbs. Eventually, I could recite them from memory. And I still can! In high school, I’d stare at a banner that snaked around my math classroom with the first 20 or so digits of pi, and after a while, I could remember way more of that number than any mass communications major would EVER need to know.

Holy crap Jenna these are SUPER nerdy examples. Get it together. The point is, even random, not-so-interesting stuff sticks if you’re exposed to it enough.

If you prefer your inputs to be audio-based (and not as nerdy), you could replay a song or a podcast or a recitation of a poem. They key is repetition and familiarity. Personally, I’d like to learn how to tie some fancy knots, so I think I’ll dive into this website and print some photos to keep by my desk!

knots
c/o animatedknots.com

Whatever your topic, becoming a minor expert can help you meet new people, discover new interests and increase your confidence in your abilities. Because the goal of becoming a minor expert is not just the knowledge itself, but, as Gretchen Rubin asks, “where will it lead?”

Are you a minor expert in something, or do you want to be? I’d love to hear!

– Jenna

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An ode to my Caboodles

Caboodles has a fun origin story. The company was created in 1987 when People Magazine printed a photo of Vanna White with her makeup collection, which she kept in a tackle box made by the Plano Molding Company. Plano Molding saw the story, realized the potential of this untapped lady market, and bam, Caboodles was born!

vannawhite
Caboodles was first class, paying cash, sittin’ next to Vanna White.

The first Caboodles case stayed pretty true to the tackle box shape and functionality, but was coated in perky shades of white and peach. The company reissued a limited edition version of that first case for its 25th anniversary in 2012, which now resells for up to $200 on eBay.

caboodlesa

Soon enough though, the lines softened and the color options expanded. I still have my pink, peach and turquoise Caboodles case from the early days, which I’ve used to hold everything from makeup to chemistry sets to plumbing tools to art supplies. They were a staple of sleepovers and “getting ready” rituals before middle school dances (a spritz of Love’s Baby Soft and some Bonnie Bell Lip Smacker and you were GOOD TO GO).

From the start, Caboodles were marketed to a female audience. They are still portrayed as girly, fun, and frivolous accessories. Candy-coated signifiers of superficial pursuits.

caboodles1

BUT. There is something about a Caboodles case that always made me feel powerful. And I suspect I’m not the only one.

Humans are a species that rose to dominance with the help of tools. We used flint to make fire. We fashioned a wheel. We created an axe, and then cut down trees in order to make more tools we could carry around with us. And in modern culture, where women not only get paid less than men but are also allowed fewer pockets, access to portable tools (and the self-reliance it provides) still feels like a bit of a power play, doesn’t it?

Caboodles, in all their pastel glory, helped open a new world of possibilities for me, and I hope for a lot of other girls as well. They were fun of course, and that was the initial draw. But they came to represent so many values that weren’t previously being marketed to girls with the same vigor they were for boys, like organization, preparedness, and competence. Caboodles represented CAPACITY, in whatever form you wanted it to take and however you wanted to fill it. And that is some sneakily powerful magic to unleash for a young person, whatever their gender.

caboodles4
Sure, you could use that little brush for face powder, but why not a fingerprint kit for your fledgling private-eye business instead?

It’s been 32 years since Caboodles hit the scene, and they’re marketing the original designs in a new “Retro” line. I’m having fond thoughts about what delightful items might soon be filling the pink, purple and lime green Caboodles of middle schoolers (and adults!) of all genders. Maybe some fuzzy stickers for trading with a friend, homemade lunches, raspberry pi computers, insulin shots, Burts Bees, or a harmonica or two. The possibilities are endless.

So the next time you catch a glimpse of a Caboodles in the wild, say a silent thanks to Vanna White, and imagine all the possibilities that are waiting to be explored in that little piece of pink plastic perfection.

– Jenna

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Feeling the gap

I’ve been thinking about an often-cited quote from Ira Glass, host of This American Life:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

― Ira Glass

I’m feeling the gap, BIG TIME. And the only thing that seems to help me keep moving forward is to not think about where it’s going or who likes it or who hates it or if anyone even notices it.


the-creative-process


c/o Big Leap Creative

I’m trying to embrace the shitty first draft, even if it ends up as the final draft. For now, it doesn’t need to be good. It just needs to be written.

– Jenna

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An Introvert’s Guide to Saving the World

On the morning of the Women’s March in January 2017, I was not out with the crowds holding a protest sign. I was in the emergency room having a panic attack.

A few months later, I was watching a talk show where the hosts were playing Two Truths and a Lie with some celebrity guests. If you’ve never played, here’s how it works: someone tells you three statements, two which are truthful and one which is a lie, and you have to guess which one is the lie. There were five people playing the game on the show, in three rounds, and not one of them guessed the lie in any round.

I easily guessed all three of the lies correctly, and I wondered why everyone on the show had…so much trouble?

There were signs! One person changed their tone of voice when saying the lie. Another made his lie much more specific than the truths. And in the final round, I could tell that the guest had started with a truthful statement to make it seem believable, but had embellished it with a lie at the end. It was so easy for me to see what was happening that I couldn’t imagine how none of the other guests or hosts had noticed.

But that’s how life works, isn’t it? We see other people’s talents as important and big, but our own as silly, simple and commonplace.

I’m an introvert. Every day, I take in tons of information about the world around me, and then I need alone time to process it. I read, I listen, I watch, and (hopefully!) I write. I understand human nature and I can see things others cannot, and I want to use that ability to help people and improve the world around me.

But right now, those with loud voices are screaming for change (or against it), and it can feel like the world does not have the time nor the space for the type of gifts an introvert can give. Every day I read invitations to join a protest or a rally. I see activists confronting politicians and demanding to be heard. I am so grateful for their work, and yet those kinds of actions feel overwhelming and out of character to me as an introvert. I feel guilty that I’m not making more of an obvious impact, and that I can’t “put aside” my personality for important causes. In the past, I would resolve to change this, and then a few days later feel completely burned out from acting in a way that doesn’t reflect who I really am.

But trying to deny your gifts is never the way to bring about change in the world. If you are an introvert like me, and struggle with how to both make a difference in the world and still be true to yourself, here are some things that might help:

  • Don’t assume other people see the same things that you see. THEY DO NOT.
  • Stop thinking others are more qualified than you. They’re not. They’re just louder.
  • Pay attention to your community – Your gifts of attention, empathy and intuition are important to those around you. You can make so much impact one-on-one with another person, whose pain or trauma may be too hidden for most to see. But you have an ability to hold space for others, to listen without immediate action, judgement or expectation. Do not underestimate how important this is. I think if there is one place in which an introvert should push themselves to growth, this is it. Reach out to those around you (one-on-one, in person or through your writing). Use your ability to see deeper truths to help connect with others and be an outlet for growth and change on a personal level.
  • Help others make sense of information, and to see patterns and systems of thought they may miss. One great tactic is to find a friendly extrovert with an open mind and tell them all about your ideas and the things you see. They can help spread your ideas and amplify your voice.
  • Practice sharing your gifts. This might be challenging at first, but it is absolutely possible. And the more you practice, the easier it will become. Writing is a great way to begin (this post is me walkin’-the-walk, my friends!).
  • Don’t look back. Don’t judge yourself on your first efforts, your worst efforts, or your non-efforts. Pick one thing you can change and be in the moment in this ONE thing. Remind yourself that it is enough. It is everything.

 “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more successful people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every kind. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these qualities have little to do with success as we have defined it.”

-David W. Orr

It’s okay if you get anxious in crowds. It’s okay if you feel nervous to call your senator. Maybe one day you will do these things, or maybe not. Either way, you are important and your gifts are important, and you need to get comfortable using them. You can answer the call to action in YOUR OWN VOICE, quiet though it may be. The world needs you, just as you are.

– Jenna
P.S. If you’re looking for some introvert kindred spirits (besides me!), here are a few:

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You need a Saturday tub

Let me set the scene. It’s Saturday afternoon, and you are determined to power through your consistently mile-long list of tasks around the house. You decide that it’s FINALLY time to hang that holiday photo you had framed three months ago and that’s been sitting on a side table in the living room ever since, silently mocking you and your best laid plans to finally have a nice house, dammit. Well, no more. You will get this done TODAY. 

First, you have to track down a hammer. You find the toolbox in the utility closet, but it’s too high up for you to reach, even on your tip toes. So you head to the laundry room where you keep the step stool. You notice that the dryer cycle has finished, so you pull the towels out of the dryer to fold them. The first towel you pick up has frayed and left a long string, so you head to the kitchen junk drawer to get some scissors to cut it off. When you get to the kitchen, you see the box on the table for an Amazon return you need to make, but it needs to be taped up, so you go off in search of some packing tape, which leads you back to the utility closet, where you realize you forgot the step stool and still can’t reach the toolbox. In the span of a few minutes, you’re now juggling FOUR unfinished projects in your brain (and around the house) where there was once only one. THIS IS EXHAUSTING. And also, very Phil Dunphy:

On one particular Saturday, when this particular series of events happened to me, I decided that there had to be a solution that could help me better focus on the task at hand and stop being so scattered. And try as I might, it was not going to involve some aspiration goal of “mindfulness.” So I grabbed a tub that was holding some cleaning supplies, emptied it out, and kept it with me as I worked my way through all the tasks that I had unwittingly piled on myself.

That day, as I finished task after task that appeared as I worked my way through the house, I added whatever tools I used into the tub. Once I finished hanging the picture, I put the hammer, a small box of nails, and some the 3M strips in the tub. Later, when I needed a pair of pliers to break the seal on a bottle of glue, I put those in the tub as well. And so it continued.

Here’s what ended up in my tub:

  • Hammer
  • Small box of nails
  • scissors
  • 3M velcro strips
  • 3M hooks
  • Labeler
  • spray bottle of glass cleaner
  • Microfiber cleaning cloth
  • Paper towels
  • magic eraser
  • Packing tape
  • Sharpie
  • Box cutter
  • cleaning gloves
  • screwdrivers (both phillips and slot)
  • pliers
  • needle and thread
  • notepad, to write down longer tasks I noticed but couldn’t finish that day (you COULD use your phone, but beware of distractions!)
  • step stool (this obviously didn’t fit in the tub, I just kept it with me as I worked my way around the house)

The Saturday tub has changed a small part of my life in a big way. Now, whenever I’m in GET THINGS DONE mode (Saturday or otherwise), instead of passing by an item twenty times, and feeling that small ping of stress from an unfinished task every time, I can stop, pull out the tools I need from my tub, and finish the task.

The genius of the Saturday tub is not in what it adds, but what it takes away: DISTRACTION. Instead of trying to change the way my brain works, the Saturday tub helps me to keep my focus on one task at a time. It is a gentle nudge in the direction of focus. A tactile reminder that I don’t mind working hard, but the right tools can help me work smarter.

“It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.” -Samuel Johnson

Would you consider creating a Saturday tub? What would you put in it? I’d love to hear!

– Jenna


 

P.S. If you’d like more great tips like this one, sign up for my (occasional) newsletter so you never miss a post! I’ll also include some fun extras that aren’t on my blog!

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Some of the voices in my head, part I

The saying goes that you are the sum of the five people closest to you in your life. I’d say that’s probably a useful idea in some contexts (changing your habits, getting support for your goals) and really harmful in others (like abusive relationships or feeling trapped in a job or career you don’t want).

But one thing I know for sure is that what I read, watch and listen to on a regular basis determines largely the quality of my experiences, along with the self-care and optimism I allow myself on any given day. If you’re interested, here are a few of the voices that I love and that help me to remember this world is a good place and there are always people paying attention:

Ashley C. Ford

Ashley reminds me that all of the things I try to hide about myself are the things I should actually be broadcasting loudly to the world. The first time I read her writing, it felt so real to my own thoughts that I lost a good three hours diving into as much of her work as I could find. One of my favorites was about living like you’re 40 in your 20s.

It’s nearly impossible to not feel happy watching this video of a talk she gave at the 99u conference earlier this year, where she struts around the stage with her colorful overalls and a giant grin. And when she starts telling her story you will be riveted (her talk starts at 2:22).

Austin Kleon

Austin’s blog is one that I read every. single. day. without. fail. He has such an earnest and authentic voice, and a great eye for digging up the magical within the seemingly mundane. He calls himself a writer who draws, and he embodies the kind of “I’m-this-but-also-this-and-a-little-of-that-too-and-look-how-they-all-complement-each-other” career trajectory that I admire and that inspires me to step out of my comfort zone. He’s written a series of books about creativity that are small in stature but packed with so much great wisdom and real talk, in a fun and friendly voice. I met him recently on his book tour and he is as nice and down to earth in person as I imagined he would be. I think anyone who is looking to embrace more creativity in their lives should read as much as they can from Austin, but here are a few recent favorites: Operational Transparency, his podcast interview with Crafty Ass Female, and below, the hilarious What we did when you went to bed.

whatwedid

I’ll be writing more later this month about some of Austin’s ideas that have inspired me. Can’t wait to dig in to that!

Heather Havrilesky

Heather writes the Ask Polly advice column for New York magazine. If you’ve never read it, it’s less Dear Abby and more a weekly essay-length dive into the human psyche in a sometimes uncomfortable, often poignant and always honest fashion. Heather rips off the Band-aid from the wound you thought you were hiding so well from the world, and then proceeds to console you with the harsh yet comforting reality that yes, it was totally obvious this whole time, but no one was paying any attention to it anyway. Then she gives you the advice you need to hear, about taking care of yourself, admitting your limitations as a human, and realizing it’s okay to ask for what you need. Here’s an excerpt from a recent column where an overworked reader lamented that wanting to leaving their job to focus on law school made them feel like a “quitter” and that they were ashamed when they got a full 8 hours of sleep a night when they should be getting more done:

You are killing yourself. Do you hear me? And you need to stop that. You have a body with limits. Live inside of it. Listen to it. You are here to enjoy your life. That is your first job.

So train your head to say new things. Be relentless about THAT. This is not a choice between torturing yourself with 100 hours of work a week and turning into a useless quitter on the couch. It’s a choice between happiness and self-destruction. Stop destroying yourself, and start honoring your feelings and your heart.

She recently published a book of essays, which I haven’t read yet but am dying to dig into. And for those of us who like a bit (or in this case a truckload) of sarcasm with our advice, she’s started a newsletter written by Ask Polly’s evil twin sister, Ask Molly. This lady has many layers and I love them all.

Finally, Nadine Stair…or at the least the idea of her

There’s a poem that makes the rounds on the internet now and again, attributed to an 85-year old Louisville woman named Nadine Stair. But Nadine Stair did not write the poem, nor did Nadine Stair likely ever exist at all. Wikipedia says the earliest version of the poem was written by American humorist Don Herald in the 1930s, then published in Readers’ Digest in 1953. It was later translated into Spanish and passed around in email chains, where it was often incorrectly attributed to the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. When it was finally included in an anthology of writing about women and aging, the fictitious Nadine Stair was listed as the author in order to make it appeal to female readers.

Now, I have no idea what is or isn’t true about the history of this poem, but it really doesn’t matter to me. It’s just a lovely poem that inspires me. And it’s a great reminder that not only should you pay attention to the voices you let into your head, you should also pay attention to what those voices inspire you to DO and to BE.

Here is a modern version of the poem:

If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.

I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.

– Nadine Stair

It’s Sunday night, and the work week starts tomorrow for many of us. Just remember, when you head back out into the world, that you may not always be able to choose the people around you, but you can absolutely choose the voices you let into your head. Feel free to borrow some of mine, or tell me about your favorites in the comments!

-Jenna

 

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30 Posts Hath September…or June, in this case.

How is it JUNE already? It seems like only yesterday that I was making New Years resolutions on which I had no realistic intention of following through. But now, well, here we are with bathing suit season upon us and I managed to forget every day for five months that I wasn’t going to eat bread or that I was REALLY going to try to get into morning meditation.

But let’s move on from the perpetual shortcomings of “January” me. “Summer” me really wants to start writing more regularly, so I’ve decided to set myself a task of posting something here every day in the month of June.

Now you may be thinking, “crap on a cracker, Jenna, that’s THIRTY posts, and you’ve posted less than ten times in the last FOUR YEARS. This is never going to happen.”

Well, first off, your bad attitude is the reason we can’t have nice things.

Just kidding, that’s not you speaking, it’s me. Or, more specifically, the me who doesn’t meditate and considers sourdough bread its own food group. But SUMMER me, she is an eternal optimist, and she says “you got this, lady, it will be fun!” And since she is the one currently running the show and getting ready to squeeze herself into a swimsuit (sourdough bits be damned), this is what we’re doing now.

I want to explore some fun stuff that I like, love, or just think about regularly, and that I often assume other people aren’t interested in. But maybe you are! And if not…well, it’s my name on the blog, after all, so let’s just dig in, shall we?

In an effort to hold myself to some sort of standard and not just prattle on aimlessly for a month, here’s my rough plan for the remaining (29) topics for the month. They are in no particular order and with no particular context (you’ll just have to wait and see!):

  • Miniature magic
  • The Saturday tub
  • Books I’m Reading Now
  • Living In
  • Drawing for non-drawers
  • An introvert’s guide to saving the world
  • How many Ss in Crossssstitch?
  • Getting Things Done
  • Beautiful Data
  • Hallmark, why aren’t you better?
  • Color coding and why it makes everything better
  • Tactile goodies
  • If you’re reading this, sorry but you probably need to be your own Julie
  • Summer holidays
  • Everyone needs (and has) a story
  • How to be a minor expert
  • You should be doing puzzles
  • CVA
  • Libraries
  • Some of the voices in my head
  • My inability to commit
  • Some tips that may or may not make your life better
  • Personality tests
  • Simple luxuries
  • The case for Jill Clayburgh
  • Zines
  • Finding your purpose
  • Why a workshop?
  • How did this go?

I’m excited/nauseous but I think we’ll all come through this okay (both bathing suit season and the blog posts). Come back tomorrow for more!

-Jenna

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Our Strengths Are a Distraction

The world has a love affair with pointing out a person’s strengths and weaknesses.

They just adore telling us that to get ahead (whatever that means) we need to learn to maximize our strengths instead of focusing on our weaknesses. People say it a lot, they write it a lot, and it irritates me…a lot. Not because it’s not true (it probably is), but because it’s not the point of the whole endeavor.