Writing, copywriting, and lots of words

Twin Summertime

The first time Davey tore a piece of paper in half, I was enthralled. My tiny human being who weighed 4 pounds yesterday managed to impact his environment enough to actually destroy something. The feat seemed magical at the time.

Today I have one baby crawling, one baby just a hair shy of crawling, and two babies capable of wreaking a great amount of havoc. I’m convinced that if I left them alone long enough, I’d come back to find an entire room reduced to dust.

Sometimes life seriously feels like just putting out fires. Feed one baby, feed second baby, change diaper 1, change diaper 2, comfort Davey because he faceplanted (again), comfort Micah because Davey touched him.

Today, the babies woke us up at 3am, 5am, and, ultimately, 7am. Because I’ve decided that my Life Plan involves torturing myself on the premise that it’s good for me in the long term, I went on a run. Then I came home, packed my backpack, and headed to Starbucks to finish a couple of marketing articles with approaching deadlines.

Hitting my deadlines means leaving babies with Manny a few times a week so I can head to the coffee shop. If coffee shops disappear tomorrow, so will my copywriting career. They’re that essential.

Manny took both babies to a squadron picnic, and I picked them up from base a couple of hours later. While I was putting in my coffee shop hours, we also heard that Manny made tech sergeant this year–despite twins and all that they entail. That’s a feat, folks.

I came home and scrubbed the upstairs bathroom to celebrate.

At the end of the day we put the tiny humans to bed. I scramble to make the living room floor look less like it was bombed by Toys ‘R Us. I wash the dishes if I’m motivated, pawn them off on Manny if I’m not, drink a cup of tea if I have the energy to boil water, and pass out around 11 or 12.

We work adventures in somehow. Like excursions to Old Sturbridge Village, or a drive to New Haven experience the wonders of Ikea that I’ve heard so much about.

When a living history exhibit and an oversized department store are the most exciting things you do in a two-month span, there’s something wrong. Thankfully, the rest of the summer is looking up.

This weekend, we’re dog-sitting two of our friends’ dogs and one of my roommates from college is bringing her one-year-old to visit for a few days. We’ll see how much the crazy escalates when you add another tiny human and two more pups to the mix.

The weekend after that, another college friend and her husband are coming to stay for a few days (this must be the month for mini-reunions!).

The weekend after that, we’re heading down to PA for a get-together with an amazing group of twin mom Facebook friends I’ve never met (more on that later).

Sometime in September, a Costa Rica (or Colombia, or possibly Ecuador) trip is in the works for myself, my mom, and one baby who gets to go on his first ever international expedition, while his brother enjoys a staycation with his dad.

Things are happening! I’m going to need a lot of coffee to make it through the next several weeks, particularly if Micah keeps trying to climb everything in sight. But things are happening. I’ll take it.

New Year’s Resolutions For A Highly-Motivated Twin Mom

When it comes to resolutions, we all fall into one of three camps. There are those who look at the new year as a chance to evaluate how their life is going, identify what they want changed, and formalize their resolutions on paper (or screen). So what if they failed in the past? That’s no reason to quit trying.

There are those who forego resolutions because they know they’re going to give up in two weeks anyway. They view written goals as personal ammo that’s going to come back to mock them later.

And there are those who have their lives so perfectly orchestrated that they don’t need goals. Everyone else hates these people.

Disregarding the last group (because I hate them too), there are those two chunks of philosophies infiltrating pretty much everyone’s thoughts to some degree or another this time of year. And while I’m tempted to fall into the second group (which is ever-growing with converts from last year’s failed resolutions), I can’t seem to give myself permission to.

Experts say that resolutions should meet each of the following criteria:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timed

So, without further ado, my 2016 Resolutions, also known as the Dream Sheet, Register of Unrealistic Hopes, and Things My 26-Year-Old Self Will Thank Me For.

1. Eat two full meals a day (coffee doesn’t count as a meal; smoothies might if they incorporate kale or oatmeal)

2. Work out once a month

3. Shower twice a week (bonus points for actually blow-drying hair afterward)

4. Read all recently-purchased books before purchasing more

5. Consider actually cutting the twins’ fingernails occasionally, before they put one of their eyes (or one of my boobs) out of commission permanently

6. Write (AND MAIL) thank-you cards for all baby gifts that were given to me since… last August

7. Sweep all floors biannually

8. Purchase stock in coffee

9. Find a source for pure caffeine and spike Manny’s peanut butter

10. Set regular office hours for freelance work, starting with 10 minutes a day twice a month. No exceptions.

11. Sleep a minimum of 3 hours each day. On days when this is impossible, make up the difference within the two following

I hope you’re inspired. I know I am.

Writing hypocrisy.

Yesterday, I was sitting in my non-air-conditioned Massachusetts home, holding a glass of iced water to my forehead, sweating, and writing an article. The topic?  Keeping your house cool in the summertime–without air conditioning. My client wanted suggestions like “Use fans! Open your windows for ventilation! Close your curtains against the heat of the day!” …and I’m sitting there writing about how wonderful those options are, how you can totally make a home comfortable without central air, while taking more clothes off and cursing my home’s failure to keep the house under ninety-something degrees.

Five years of copywriting has taught me just how ridiculous the world of content marketing can be.

When I was in college, I succumbed to the same crime of inconsistency. I wrote for the university paper, and one week I’d been assigned an article on time management and procrastination–particularly, how to complete projects well within deadlines. I had a week to write the article, but I ended up drafting it (with lots of excellent advice, I might add) half an hour before it was due.

I mean, what was I supposed to do? Go to my editor and tell her that I was sorry but due to personal failure, hypocrisy, and a priority system that put that paper near the bottom of my list, I couldn’t turn the stupid article in at all?

The worst part was being rewarded for such last-minute work. As a student, I often received feedback (from notoriously stringent writing professors) praising my hard work and attention to detail on the very papers I’d written between 3 and 4am the day before they were due. Too often, the stuff I actually spent hours researching, writing, and rewriting garnered a Nice try, but I’ve seen you do better.

How do you universalize an experience like that? Just stop trying? For me, the solution fell somewhere along the lines of taking the advice and knowledge of professors and then writing to my satisfaction, not to theirs. I got better grades that way (and, I daresay, wrote better stuff) but it took most of my college career to figure out that secret.

And yet. Some days I have no idea what I’m satisfied with when it comes to writing, because when I’m particularly tired, ANYTHING looks good. And when I’m particularly energetic, nothing even seems adequate. And when I’m uncomfortably hot, all I care about is finding an AC.

Such is life.

Hello, my name is Steffani and I’m a recovering English student.

English Class BooksCurling up with a book is more discomfortable during Week 28 of pregnancy than it was during Week 27.

But I’ve spent several long nights lately curled up with a book and a cup of tea anyway, squirming to get comfortable and getting lost in stories.

I’m still recovering from the trauma that my English degree inflicted on my reading life. It’s much harder now than it was in high school to sit down and instantly get lost in another world.

Literature classes (and even journalism classes) forced me to read everything critically, on a deadline, and with an eye for analysis.

I still think of books as “texts” more than stories half the time.

I read the full manuscripts of The Iliad and The Odyssey over the course of about 10 days during senior year–along with the rest of my homework and a part-time job. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of pages of clashing bronze, Greek deities, and dysfunctional families. I read those epics so quickly because they were assigned. I wasn’t lost in the world. I just wanted a good grade.

The experience was traumatic.

Worth it, but traumatic.

I’ll reread some of those stories one day soon, because Homer deserves far more of my time than a week and a half of one rushed semester.

I loved those classes, and I’ll never regret taking them, though they changed the way I read. Lit classes also taught me that the written word is far more than a source of entertainment or information. At risk of sounding all mystic and literary-snobbish–it’s more transcendental than that.

Literature is evidence of a mind that cares to tell stories in a meaningful way. Unlike most (all?) more modern media, it requires the sustained attention and mental participation of its audience (insert Neil Postman quote here. No, seriously).

You get to know the characters. Maybe even you get to know the author. You see their faces even more vividly than if they were on a big screen. No one does the imagining or interpreting for you; you have to do it yourself.

The very best books are written by authors who have a story to tell, not authors out to write the next bestseller.

In any case, it’s been a year and a half since I took my last literature class, and I’m still recovering. But over the past few weeks, I’ve rediscovered some of the wonder of literary fiction–from wizards and elves to Holocaust survivors to gladiators in ancient Rome. And I’m remembering why I love to read.

A few weeks ago, I read a Wall Street Journal article about the value of reading slowly. Like a good human-interest story, it opens with a snapshot of a very human environment–a book club meeting in a coffee shop–and then turns our notions of what a book club normally is into something radically new (or old?) and different.

The idea is that people get together to sip their lattes or earl grey teas, disconnect from everything for an hour, and read. The group was started by Meg Williams, a marketing manager with a degree in English literature. She felt the pull of words and the need to unplug, relax, and simply read in a world that’s learned to skim everything a mile a minute.

If I could talk to Ms. Williams, I’d ask if she was as traumatized by her English degree as I was by mine.

Making things–with a nod to the past and the future

Small ShoesSometimes I write compulsively. Writing is my job, but I rarely feel compelled to write about car insurance or the rising trends in online education, which is the type of stuff I get paid for. When I write compulsively, I get out my trusty old spiralbound notebook (anything fancier would set the standard too high) and document things–anything that’ll help me remember, later on, the rapidly-changing life that I lived.

Now, for instance, I can look back over some of those spiralbound journal-y things and get a (rather biased and sometimes overwhelmingly emotional) snapshot of what my life was like in 2010. Or 2006. Lots of things were once earth-shatteringly important, when I was 19. Or 15. Or 12. I’d forget them entirely if I hadn’t written something about them. No one will ever read them except me. I mean, they’re not top-secret, but they’re not all that interesting, either.

And sometimes I knit compulsively, which is harder to explain. But in some weird way almost parallel to writing, it’s another instance of making sense of life and creating something tangible to remember it by. I can knit or crochet with an eye to the future and to the past, with a nod to the person who’ll use whatever it is that I’ve made, the child I once was who learned those skills, and the person I am now who’s investing time in working yarn and needles between my fingers.

I’m guessing the sentiment is similar for anyone who creates, whether it’s sketching, sewing, creating stained glass windows, or working with wood.

It’s meditative. It forces me to pay attention, to sit still and focus on one thing (like twenty-three rows of a crazy lace pattern) while letting my mind wander, in a way that the crazy Internet-distracted tendency of modern life often obliviates. Like my writing, I don’t necessarily expect anyone to think that what I’ve made is the best thing ever. It’s enough for me to know that I challenged myself, made something work, and that every inch of yarn in a finished thingy has been touched and crafted by my hands.

Lately, I’ve been knitting compulsively. Impulsively.  Maybe one day I’ll look at the little green sweater I just made for my future child, and I’ll think of the hours sitting in my little Guam home. Puppy curled up next to me. Wondering what corner of the world I’ll be living in next year. Ripping out rows when I make a mistake, then painstakingly putting it back together again.

I don’t have a name for it, but I feel like everyone needs that sort of thing.

The Year of Sunshine–a bucket list for one more year on Guam

Since my little rant about bucket lists a few days ago, it became clear that I need to both beef up and clarify my Guam bucket list, because it looks like I only have 13 months to complete it.

The Powers that Be (a.k.a. the U.S. military) have informed the hubster and me that we’ll be leaving our little tropical paradise next March. That’ll add up to just under two years of Guam life–22 months, 600 and some-odd days of summertime. By then, I’ll be so desperate for snow that I’ll probably resort to pulverizing excessive amounts of ice in the blender just so I can build a miniature snowman.

So, with a spirit of uber-excitement at the prospect of living in another beautiful overseas location, and in the spirit of challenging (and fun) bucket lists, I submit: the Guam do-or-die List to end all Lists.

1. Earn advanced SCUBA certification

Since becoming open-water certified last year, I’ve become way more confident in the water–especially in terms of facing swimming things with teeth. Instead of freaking out, my reaction now is usually more like, “Oooo, shiny. Come here, fishy fishy.” But I know I’ve still got plenty to learn. Along the same vein? Before I leave, I want to log at least 60 dives. If we end up in Incirlik, Turkey, next, I don’t think the dive gear will get much use.

Side note: If you like swimming, fishies, and adventure-y things, getting started diving is a fantastic way to indulge your wild side. And for Guam residents, it’s surprisingly inexpensive.

2.  Get started on grad school

I’m in the process of applying for Indiana State University’s Graduate Certificate in TESL right now–a step that would better qualify me to teach English to speakers of other languages. Plus, it’s several graduate-level classes I can apply toward a master’s degree later on, which is one of my real bucket list items. Win-win.

3. Try my hand at cooking Chamorro food

Some of my favorite grub on island comes from the BBQ joints at Chamorro Village, the weekly flea market in Dededo, and the little local cantinas that remind me of the Pacific’s version of a taco stand. Some local favorites–oxtail soup, for example–don’t exactly sound fantastic. Other delicacies like chicken kelaguen and chalakiles sound like they’re worth trying in my own kitchen.

4. Get in shape-ish

They say that Guam is the perfect place to get in shape. In my experience so far, Guam is more ideal for sweating, fanning oneself, and taking photos for Instagram. The eternal summertime often makes me want to retreat into air conditioning more than anything else. But with all the hikes, beautiful jogging trails, and scenic views around here, there’s no reason not to work some purposeful sweat into more of my days.

5. Write.

I’m a part-time freelance writer. Most of my experience has been writing product descriptions, marketing websites, or re-drafting website landing pages for various online businesses. Yes, it pays fairly well; yes, it allows me to camp out at Infusion for hours at a time and know that the investment in gourmet coffee was worth it. Plus, I love writing conversational non-fiction. But before I leave Guam, I hope to write more consistently and more creatively than before–maybe even branch out into fiction. This week, I got a fun article about eccentric geniuses published at Listverse.com, which was an exciting start.

6. Learn German. Or Turkish. Or whateverish it is they speak where we’re going

When I find out where my husband and I will be stationed next, my next step–after wikipedia-ing the country and writing one very excited Facebook post–will be to pick up Rosetta Stone and a grammar book to study the language of our destination. Germany and Turkey are the most likely candidates, but we could end up stationed in the States–in which case, I’ll just keep brushing up on my español.

7. Hike.

Hiking on Guam can be brutal, but it’s worth the blood, sweat, and sword grass. In the last year, I’ve seen waterfalls, soaring cliffs, mountains that look like they were carved from emerald velvet, and water so blue it hurts your eyes. The Best Tracks on Guam clearly details the island’s most rewarding hikes, giving trekkers hints on exactly where they should look to see the stuff that’s so easy to miss. I want to do more of those hikes before I leave–including the dreaded central ridge trail that covers 12 miles of southern Guam’s hills.