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living my life

Megan Betz

Scenes from this new effort to have  my life  in addition to my graduate student and full-time job lives: reading, snacking, & watching my baby sleep during our family vacation.

Scenes from this new effort to have my life in addition to my graduate student and full-time job lives: reading, snacking, & watching my baby sleep during our family vacation.

I'm trying to use this year to carve out space for the parts of life I enjoy. I keep saying I'll come back to this blog more regularly, and I've yet to make that promise stick. I've spent the last five years say, "Oh, won't it feel great to be done with [school/this semester/this month] and finally wrap up a few obligations? Won't it feel good when I finally have time for myself?" 

I've been wrapped up in the busyness. I've punted my "real life" down the road. After starting a full-time job in December and realizing that it will now be years before I wrap up my dissertation--that I'm on a slower, more incremental timeline where the graduate student aspect of my identity gets whatever scraps are left over in my day--I knew that I couldn't keep waiting. I'm taking steps to ensure that I'm living my life--the live I'm enthusiastic & passionate about--now. I've joined a writing group, signed my family up as members of the local children's science museum, started cooking again, and have been better at project management. I've found that monotasking really does help me be calmer & more productive. I've even enrolled in a mindful parenting course through work & am meditating for four minutes a day. Just like my dissertation, I'm carving out this life slowly, incrementally, patiently.

I'll write about each of these things in other posts, but I want to start by sharing the project that kicked all of this off for me. As a Catholic, each year for as long as I can remember, I've spent the year's first months planning what I would give up for Lent. What would be a meaningful sacrifice? How could I give up something that would have a lasting, positive impact on me? 

It's easy for these moments to get clouded with self improvement or personal motives. This year, I wanted to try something different & reframe how Lent was functioning in my life. I wanted to sacrifice my self for the benefit of others. Each day, I tried to sacrifice a bit of my day--my lunch, my pocket money, my time, my comfort--to improve our world. It changed the way I think about each day. Uncomfortable moments became opportunities. Every conversation was an opportunity to find new ways to help the people around me. I thought more about community, health, love, & what it takes to live life in the way I want (what level of income, what social services, what amount of freedom or education or democracy). I sought out ways to serve those things.

I wasn't perfect. Some days, I forgot. Some days, I did the easiest thing I could think of or fell back to defaults. But I was regularly checking in with myself, this project, & my community. A lot of good came out of it. I learned about & supported some great causes. I did things that caused myself & others joy. I wanted to share those days' actions with you, in case they give you new ideas for serving your community (and to share my love for some great causes & people). Here we go: 40 small steps that finally cracked open me a bit, so that I could start making space for the life I kept thinking I had to wait to live.

  1. I bought mommy & me t-shirts and enrolled in the Fabulously Feminist subscription box. I got to support a feminist artist, get my daughter gifts, & stop up on goodies to share with friends who are passionate about social justice.
  2. I bought a mug from the student pottery guild, to bring beauty into my workspace & support budding artists.
  3. I sent books to Chicago Books to Women in Prison to offer support & solidarity to women who are incarcerated. They make it so easy! Use their Amazon wish list, & the books get mailed directly to the BWP office.
  4. I bought razors & toothbrushes for Shalom Community Center, to support those experience transient living conditions & homelessness. In our community, this includes a lot of families with children.
  5. I was lazy & nearly forgot, so I sent another book to Chicago BWP.
  6. I brought in all-natural, eco-friendly hand & dish soap for my co-workers to use in our shared kitchen.
  7. I called my Representative & left a message with his staffer regarding my feelings on health care.
  8. I gave my daughter a book A is for Activist in honor of International Women's Day.
  9. I wrote postcards to Congress & wrote a letter to a dear friend.
  10. I printed hundreds of pages of resources for the Midwest Pages for Prisoners, taking advantage of my student print quota for the semester.
  11. I got supplies to support a co-worker's office-wide donation call to Shalom. She was gathering women's hygiene products, so I loaded up on tampons & pads. 
  12. The universe gave back to me. I had ordered postcards to share with women in the community from a local printer back at the start of the year. In March, I had another print job for them. When I went in, they gave me the leftovers postcards they had from doing a print run to sell in the store. That's right: they gave me 1,000 postcards to share with the community. I reached out to our new local NOW chapter & set up a time to give the postcards to the organization.
  13. I got ahold of the physical therapy center my daughter had been going to & learned how I could donate the ankle braces she'd used as she was learning to walk, now that she had outgrown the need for them.
  14. I gave away clothes that I had intended to sell to fund further clothes purchases. They went to a mama in greater need than I.
  15. I wrote to my Congress people about preserving the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
  16. I subscribed to Bitch to support feminist, independent print & digital media. 
  17. I wrote to another friend.
  18. I wrote postcards about preserving ACA.
  19. I hosted a brunch with fellow female graduate students & shared postcards. We all wrote to out state Congress members in opposition to four pieces of legislation that limited access to Planned Parenthood & increased barriers to access abortions.
  20. I made a basket of canned goods & a SCOBY for a friend & fellow mom who had just moved into a new apartment.
  21. I called & left messages for my Representative--I can't even remember what about this time.
  22. I wrote letters to Todd Young.
  23. I gave money to Shalom in honor of the passing of a co-worker's father.
  24. I donated to the Trans Assistance Project to support the legal & bureaucratic expenses of those most at risk of being marginalized by our government & society.
  25. I wrote more postcards to state Congress members, this time thanking them for voting in opposition of legislation that would be damaging to women.
  26. This was a really weak day for me, so I did the same thing as Day 25.
  27. I enrolled in Resistbot & sent letters to my Representative & Senators in support of free speech & net neutrality.
  28. I used Resistbot some more.
  29. I participated in a #PinkOut in support of Planned Parenthood.
  30. I called Congress to insist the maintain funding for Planned Parenthood.
  31. I bought one of those "bags of food" at Kroger that are up by the register. You know the ones--they have a donation amount stapled to them! My goal is to put one in my cart each time I'm at the story. So, in place of a frozen pizza, I "buy" $5 worth of groceries that goes to the local food bank.
  32. I picked some of my paperbacks still in good shape to donate to Pages for Prisoners.
  33. I made cookies for the children of refugees who were supposed to be welcomed into our state. (At the last minute, I learned the family had been unable to fly over. I'm still unclear what has happened to them; I shared the cookies with friends.)
  34. I donated to Goodwill, which is perhaps the most self-serving of these actions.
  35. I surprised Joe with candy I bought for him while out running errands.
  36. I drastically overtipped.
  37. I gave money to a person "panhandling," which is actually an action I try to participate in weekly.
  38. I tipped for a friend.
  39. I paid for a cab I shared with a friend.
  40. I donated shoes to a shoe drive.

Now technically, there were 46 days between Ash Wednesday & Easter. I didn't exactly take Sundays off, but there were days I missed or times where actions took multiple days. So, there you have it. The 40 days of more positive thinking & acting that have spiraled into a new (still messy, still anxiety-ridden, incrementally improving, less judgmental, more "half-full") way of participating in my daily life.