An ordinary life

Behind the bar at Octane. Photo credit to Mercedes Tarasovich-Clark. A year is a surprisingly long time. At the beginning of August last year, I was on the verge of starting my first non-temporary office job. I had never seriously considered a career as a freelance writer, personally blogged or mixed a classic cocktail.

After spending several months in a cubicle, I was restless, lethargic and generally miserable. Tutoring and freelancing were the only paid gigs that reflected what I'd learned during my time in school, so I focused my energy there. At a certain point, it was too much. I'm pretty good at pacing myself, but six hours of sleep couldn't replenish the amount of energy burned each day.

Then I got an offer I couldn't expect -- a chance to learn the art of craft cocktails from one of my favorite bartenders in Birmingham. Two years' experience writing about cocktails had given me a taste of the industry, but not the deeper knowledge I needed to cover the topic in depth. My full-time job wouldn't accomodate this change, so I put in my two weeks' notice.

Yes, I quit my job to tend bar. Yes, it may sound like a quarter life crisis. No, it was not a bad idea.

So far, it's been one of the best decisions I've ever made. I have learned how to properly stir/shake a cocktail, explain a bar's worth of product and actually taste wine/beer/liqueur/liquor. Historical cocktail books became my reading materials, and my drink flashcards became a permanent fixture in my purse.

I love it. I love it all, and through it I've become part of the up-and-coming food and drink scene in Birmingham.

With my recent career and lifestyle changes, I've been considering splitting this blog into sections: writing, mixing and running. All three are topics I love, and each brings a part of my life into balance. However, the division into three separate blogs might be out of reach both financially and time-wise. For now, I will categorize posts based on these topics.

Today's title comes from a yoga instructor's discussion of the importance of an ordinary life. Obviously, my definition of ordinary has drastically changed over the past few months.

You got to hold on

call me maybeOut of my ten or so 2013 New Year's resolutions, only one has been doable. I have turned off the radio. At first, it was a struggle. Top 40 pop music is not challenging. Each saccharine-sweet song follows a predictable pattern and ends within three minutes. Some songs may be catchier than others, but none are truly remarkable. It's easy.

Silence and good music aren't. Each forces the listener to confront parts of his or her life that are easily overlooked when overlaid with silly lyrics and a pounding beat. After three or four days of complete silence on my morning drive, I was more refreshed and slightly less grumpy. The drives between tutoring sessions became opportunities for reviving my energy level, not trying to keep it artificially elevated with coffee and radio programs laced with celebrity gossip.

As a music writer, finding and tracking new artists keeps your writing fresh and your friends and readers excited. Turning off the radio gave me the chance to look up bands that friends had suggested, like The Lone Bellow, or were promoting, like St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Once I started looking, I began rediscovering amazingly talented local groups and friends of friends.

On one particularly stressful afternoon, I turned to one of my Spotify playlists. Though I was stuck in traffic and already 30 minutes late for an appointment, I started to relax. By the end of the third song, I almost felt like I was sipping pinot noir in a warm bath, not zooming around from job to job.

Each day, each of us chooses what to consume. For me, music is sustenance for my spirit just as food sustains my body. Choosing quality here is necessary to my happiness, and has allowed me some space that is distinctly mine. So far, it has freed up time outside the car for me to begin to work on other resolutions that have been so easy to break. Next up, exercise.

Today's title comes from The Alabama Shakes' "Hold On."

Stuck inside this rut that I fell into by mistake

kittehIn college, overcommitment and sleep deprivation were not the norm. They were the expectation. Studying physics and English literature, interning (then freelancing), working the occasional part-time job and tutoring filled my days and much of my nights. Starting a job in a corporate environment after college didn’t help my schedule. Instead of freeing up time I would have tutored to make ends meet, my desk job motivated me to tutor more so that I would be doing some meaningful work. After each day of 7-10 hours of mind-numbing digital paper pushing, it became one of the only reminders that I had the potential to make a difference in the world.

During these days, I honed my social media connectivity skills and plumbed the depths of my nerdiness with the podcasts and amazing websites that my friends had shared. At work, I made one close friend within my department. We quickly figured out a schedule of legitimate-ish activities that broke up the (web surfing and) data entry. However, the first few days were rough. Neither of us knew if the other was a well-disguised psychopath or, as it turned out, an Archer aficionado and YouTube master. He started roughly three weeks before I did and turned in his two weeks' notice four days before I did the same.

After we stopped working way out Highway 280 (Pass the "Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here" sign, go up the hill and it'll be your next right), we kept up through e-mail and social media. Kind of.

Aside from the friends I work or live with, most of my social interactions resemble a game of catch up. Most of what I know about their lives comes from either their social media profiles or their responses to a random text. Part of it comes from an inherent fear of what will happen if I let go of a part of my busyness. I have been a tutor AND student AND freelance writer for long enough living any other way is ... inconceivable.

Recently, I have started trying to pry away little pieces of that busyness to make time for family, friends and self-care. My budget got even tighter, but the time I have to enjoy is much more valuable. If not for social media, most of these conversations would be inquiries about mutual friends and their quotidian activities. Instead, we talk music and religion and beer and science and love.

The main problem now is figuring out a way to allot just a bit more time each day to communicating with friends. For now, I'll stick with the relationships I have -- they're way more entertaining than cable.

Today’s title courtesy of Relient K’s “Be My Escape.”