Author: Mandy (Page 1 of 51)

You Are Here

Photo By: Ser Humano

From time to time, it’s nice to take a moment to remember who and where you are at this very moment.

Everything moves so quickly. Our attention is pulled here and there. We’re anxious. We’re 10 steps ahead. But what about being right here, right now? That, well…that we can use practice on.

Mindfulness is a concept I started hearing about while I was in college. I first saw it pop up in an article I was reading about the benefits of meditation in the workplace. The idea of being present in the moment can be conducive to better focus, less stress, and an overall sense of well-being.

Like most things, even though it’s good for us, we don’t do it as often as we should.

Planning ahead gives me a sense of security. It helps me cut through the overwhelm – until it makes me feel that very sense of dread I’m trying to avoid. But presence of mind to stay in the present can be nice. Lovely, even.

I make reminders for myself to stay in the moment and then get frustrated when I don’t. Imagine my surprise to find that mindfulness can occur when you take a break from trying so hard to be conscious. And when it does, appreciate it for the thing of beauty it is.

The other night, I went to a party at a friends house. I sat on a multi-colored rug surrounded by clothing racks with another friend and we talked. The conversation went to and fro, deep and shallow,  things big and little, and it was…nice. No purpose or direction, just being there with one other person and appreciating the conversation for what it was. A spark of connection that reminds you why this friendship is important to you and why you enjoy spending time with this person. Trust and respect for what you’re both doing and saying. Participating. No expectations. Present.

Granted, I had one can of Miller Lite in my system, but I was present all the same. And it was a beautiful thing. 

Creative Non-Fiction | Mike

I couldn’t look at his shoes. White sneakers, untied and waiting for their owner, sat to the right the living room couch. They were clean but broken in, wrinkles in the sides where the toes had bent with every step. Around the yard. To the station before his shift. To baseball games and track meets.

My stepfather, Michael, died in the early morning hours of May 26, 2007. Numb with the phone in my hand, I sank into the couch listening to my uneven breathing. My chest ached.

Sometime later, my mother returned from the hospital. She sat with me on the couch, avoiding the rubber soled reminders that he wasn’t coming home again. I hugged her. We wept together.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. I didn’t know either.

Our living room filled with people, carrying trays of deli meat and giving tearful hugs. They were trying, they really were, to do something – anything – to soothe the shock of an unexpected death.

“I’m so sorry, honey.”

“Take care of your mother.”

“He was such a great man.”      

About a year before, Mike and I sat in our kitchen talking about colleges. I hadn’t decided on where to go.

“I don’t know if you want to hear this, but I’m going to tell you anyway,” he said, folding his hands on the table. He laughed, his eyes becoming small smiles of their own. He reminded me of the Dad in “A Christmas Story” when smiled.

“It really doesn’t matter where you go to school, so long as you’re a good person. Doesn’t matter what you major in, do for a job, or whatever. Just be a good person. That’s what really counts. You’ll do it.”

Good people came to my aid that afternoon. Classmates I barely knew. The friendships I didn’t keep up with. People I didn’t appreciate as much as they deserved. They came to my house. Hugged me. Brought me iced tea. Told me to try to sleep. Smiled when my red rimmed eyes and nose dripped on their shirts.

Three weeks later, his shoes were moved to the closet. I don’t know where they are now, but I still look for them when I visit my mother. I think of him often. He may not have been my father, but he was a Dad to three: Krista, Michael, and me.

Every time I’m reminded that I have a choice to be someone good, to offer comfort or encouragement, I remember. I see his badge number on houses and in phone records. I remember to drive slower and stand up for myself.  I hear his humming and palm tapping on the steering wheel in the car from time to time – especially if it’s a Chicago song – and find myself doing it, too.

Creative Non-Fiction | Curtains

The final curtain call of a performance holds a mix of sadness and relief. You can take off your costume now, wipe off the makeup, and finally eat the bag of curly fries that’s been calling your name since you arrived for call 5 hours ago. You get to see your loved ones again. You don’t have to say, “No, I’m sorry. I can’t. I have rehearsal.”

But once there was a curtain call that changed my life.

In May 2013, I watched Conor, one of our leading men and Pride & Prejudice’s producer, address the sold-out audience after we made our bows. My smile was fixed in place as he rattled off his thank yous to the men, women, and teens hoping to get extra credit in English for attending our 1960’s take on the Jane Austen classic. It was funny and heartwarming. There was a good energy. I was tired, but the beehive itching on my head was well-worth the sacrifice. My cast mates and I could go downstairs to the after party when this was over. There would be chips, champagne, and finally, some time with my boyfriend, Brent, who hadn’t seen much of me in the past 6 weeks. My ears perked at the flat creaking with Conor’s turn toward me.

“Mandy, can you come up here for a minute?”

Um, what? Was I getting thanked for laying out the program? Reaching out to sponsors to fund this thing? Shit, I mean, it was InDesign and email but it wasn’t like it was rocket science. He reached out for my hand as I stepped toward center stage. We, and the audience, laughed. Conor was smiling at me but said nothing. This was awkward.  Bingley holding hands with Charlotte? Was it some kind of joke?

I heard a stray, “Wait a minute!” and frantic whispers from the back of the stage. All eyes turned to the back of the set: an open doorway. Brent walked through it.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have more more quick special announcement.”

Were they thanking us together? Me for the program and him for the promotional photos? He was dressed up, clean shaven but there was the unmistakable sheen of nervousness on his forehead. Then he spoke.

Before you pass out, your heartbeat sounds loudly in your ears and the whole world gets quiet. That slowing of time you saw in the movie “Big Fish”? Yep. That’s real. For a moment and longer it was me and him and the floating particles of dust in the spotlights.

“For the past five years you’ve been my confidant, my partner, my best friend and I…can’t imagine life without you. Mandy Leigh Boyle, will you marry me?”

Two sentences took hours, days, months, years, a lifetime. Inward, I was smiling and screaming and jumping up and down but I couldn’t say a word. All I could do was cry and nod. He’ll tell you that I made a noise like a motorboat.  The answer was always, “Yes.”


 

Building Better Habits

Photo by Alice Achterhof

Photo by Alice Achterhof

 

My normal system of organization can be a little all over the place.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a margin doodler. I make notes and references to other things in the margins of my notebook pages and worksheets. Sometimes, I draw things – shapes, poor approximations of people, flowers, stars. Notebooks I’ve filled don’t flow in a linear sequence. I hop around from corner to corner, writing on slants and edges. I circle and connect lines. If you tried to read it, your eyes may glaze over (and not just from my poor penmanship).

Notes notes notes.

A post shared by Mandy (Boyle) Pennington (@mandybpenn) on

Lately, I’ve been trying to make myself more diligent with my lists. Sure, I make them all the time, but my follow through can be a little lacking. I put off errands or I make Saturdays a productivity binge, which isn’t much fun – or in some cases, isn’t as productive.

Keeping my organizational energies up during the week is tough, but I’m trying out a few strategies to see what works. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

1.) Using more of my Google Calendar to map out tasks. I do this in my professional life all the time, but rarely have I used it for my personal life. Instead of limiting my calendar space to conference calls and meetings, I’ve now been scheduling focus blocks alongside appointment reminders.

Because I rely on my calendar so much at work, it was easy to adopt this habit. I can’t believe I didn’t do this more before! Now instead of worrying about whether or not I’ll forget something, I set reminders and pop up alerts to keep me on schedule so that I never get caught off-guard.

 the to do list GIF

Scheduling things out also helps me manage my time better, so I can be more realistic with when I can be somewhere or when is actually a good time.

2.) Using Google Keep. I am a prolific note maker. If you look at my desk at work, you’ll find stacks of post it notes with lists. I have a Post It open on my desktop all the time with a list. I make lists in text files. I write lists on scraps and envelopes. I text and email myself reminders. It’s a little unweildy.

So, to rein in my list-making tendencies, I’m testing out keeping lists ONLY in Google Keep. I’ve used Google Keep before for lots of different things, but my list-making bleeds outside of technology all too often. I’m hoping that this will cut back on me remaking the same lists (and also checking off the boxes are all too satisfying!)

 app google now more use GIF

Also, how freaking great is this Google Keep gif where there’s a book about a dog named Crouton?!

Right now, I’ve got two lists: things to read and things to do. Over the next couple of weeks, I’m hoping to segment and expand more so that I can use it for things like my grocery list or household chores. We shall see!

3.) Scheduling fun. No, really! I have this desk calendar that features tips for happiness every day, curated by one of my favorite non-fiction writers, Gretchen Rubin. One of the tips that was shared was the idea of scheduling fun so that you always make times for the things that bring you joy.

 football fans form feel troy GIF

As I’ve moved from winter to spring, I find myself marking dates on the calendar for day trips and adventures, cups of tea with a friend, and brunches with people who make my heart sing. I have things to look forward to, even on the busiest of days.

I’m all for the spontaneous and sure, I’ll indulge in going off the plan, but this at least gives me the structure I need to really make time for things I love – rather than filling up my free time with things I don’t.

4.) Weekly meal planning. I love cooking, but I often find that on nights where I’m too tired or too stressed, I’ll opt for takeout instead of actually cooking a meal. It’s a bummer, because I’m denying myself of the joy of making something while also giving my body stuff that isn’t always good for it. It’s particularly hard to avoid takeout when I’m in a show or wrapped up in some project or another. To combat the desire to turn to takeout, I’m trying to do more meal planning.

 south park cooking randy marsh kitchen GIF

 

Each weekend, usually a Saturday, I sit down and come up with a list of ingredients I need from the store and ideas on what I can make that week. I check in with the Mister to see our schedules and we settle on items that we think will work for each night. Then, I’ll go to Wegman’s…on a weekend.

 the hunger games elizabeth banks effie trinket 74 hunger games hunger games 2012 GIF

Sometimes, I’ll do a crockpot meal or a big Sunday cook to stretch out our options. It’s not 100%  foolproof – we’ve still opted for sandwiches or burgers on a particularly rough day, but I feel better knowing we’re making an effort for the other weeknights!

This system isn’t perfect. Heck, I wouldn’t even consider it much of a system – more like a collection of random tactics to solve my organization stresses – but it’s something. We’ll see how it goes. And like all things, the beauty is that if it doesn’t work, we can go back to the drawing board. :)

Creative Non-Fiction | Carnegie Hall

At my college’s orientation weekend, we were put into groups to do an icebreaker game.

“Say something unique about yourself,” said the orientation leader, who looked to be as uncomfortable as the 12 sweating freshmen sitting around him. “A fun fact or something that sets you apart from someone else.”

I paused to think about what I would say. The first thing that popped into my head was that I’ve sung in Carnegie Hall. My own self-doubt and self-consciousness over being insufferable got the better of me. I clamped my hands onto my plaid short-covered knees and said, “I get frequent nosebleeds.” Carnegie Hall was too impressive, too indicative of someone who knew what they were doing.

I can’t read music really well. When I went to a music and theater camp as a freshman in high school, I got put into what was basically remedial music theory. Bored kids who just wanted to sing or act their little hearts out sat in a stifling classroom that summer. Our teacher was a guy with a ginger beard and a newborn who had too little patience and too little sleep to teach us what the hell the key of G was or how to read what everyone was singing for our choral performance that week.

From Faure’s “Requiem” to Edvard Grieg’s “I Himmelen”, each afternoon I shrunk and made the voice I boomed so proudly in my school’s chorus class too small to discern from the talented musicians that surrounded me. The chamber music instructor was exasperated.

“If you’re going to keep up, you have to understand music theory.”

I felt every missed note. My “pitchy” quality was on display. Musically-illiterate. 

It wasn’t like I hadn’t had any training. Sure, I can clap out beats and read something in the key of C if you give me enough time, but sight singing? No way. Not on my best day. I was surrounded by people who could pronounce the Italian, German, and French we sang with ease. They could just look at a piece of music and sing it beautifully. I couldn’t do that. And yet a year after that miserable remedial music theory class, I was standing on the same boards where Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Mark Twain, and The Beatles shared their talent with the world.

It’s a humbling experience, singing in front of other people. You’re so vulnerable and once you’re there, you can’t lie. You can’t fake singing well. You either hit a note or you don’t. So when my chorus teacher announced that he was taking a group of selected singers to New York to perform in a festival, there was a part of me that shied from the opportunity. Yeah, it was Carnegie Hall, but did I even deserve to be there?

I threw myself into practicing the pieces they gave us. I still can’t read music, but for months, I hummed, sang, shouted and shrilled my way through gospel hymns, a beautiful piece inspired by a Shelley poem (which happens to be my favorite), and a mournful Brahms. When we got there, we were prepared. Jill, a junior, got a solo in the performance. I saved my ticket stub and teared when the last note rang out. I couldn’t believe I did it.

My euphoria carried itself back to the school year. The voice that was louder and more confident than the rest in 2nd period? That was me. The overeager beaver who jumped at any opportunity for a solo, no matter how flat she was when she had to do it in front of people? You betcha. But the girl who didn’t get picked for District Chorus because her scores from the judges put her below the cut? Yep, that was me too – and it sucked.

I put the bravado away for awhile and only let it peek out for the spring musical, and an awkward, costumed duet I sang with a junior high boyfriend. I graduated and figured I was done, save for the occasional karaoke performance. What was left for someone who couldn’t read music?

I walked by Carnegie Hall this past winter. It took me a moment to remember that my skinny, long limbed self had been filled with so much joy when I looked out at all of those seats – some filled, some not – in a place that held more history than I could have ever imagined.

I turned to my friend as she walked beside me and smiled. “I sang there once, you know.”

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