Dearest Loves

Stop your pointing fingers, loves,

Stop assigning blame.

Stop pretending you know better,

For we live by one shared, distant flame.

But how, you will ask, do I keep from falling,

Without first extending my hand?

How do I survive this Hell,

When nothing gets properly planned?

I feel so much better when I claw and I grab,

You will continue to plead.

And I feel so much better when it’s my hand that lashes,

When some other body breaks and bleeds.

I start to feel better when I pull someone down,

Into this dark, angry land of the damned.

So tell me why, self-righteous one, you’ll ocean away my sand.

No, Dearest Loves,

That’s not why I’ve come,

You’ve simply misunderstood.

I’d never dream of doing so, even if I could.

Let’s take a moment to understand, hard though it may seem,

That where we see sin,

There is neither you nor I,

Instead there is only we.

Sinners, broken, flailing about,

We’re inclined to stumble and fall.

But look for the light and soon you will find,

It’s each other we’ve had through it all.

When this we remember, it’s harder to feel

That one sinner bears all the weight.

We’re all fully culpable, yes indeed,

But we can also all be redeemed.

And when this maddening struggle is over,

We’ll stand once more side-by-side.

And then, Dearest Loves,

We’ll be truly United,

Still in name,

New in heart,

New in mind.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

April 2020 LibraRYAN Reading Group Pick/s

Friends,

Times like those we are currently living through make us stop and consider what really matters. I’d like to think it’s the idea of love. We need love now more than ever.

For many, this is a time of terrible loss. Loved ones, livelihoods, social groups, entire ways of life just … gone. At least gone for now, at least gone from the way they were.

It is important to acknowledge and reflect upon these realities and the feelings they inspire. Doing so helps them have less power over us, in that we are able to use them as fuel to power us forward, rather than holding us back or turning us ever-dangerously inward.

I’d like to do my small part to pull us back from the brink. Let’s spend this month reading about a woman — and a nation — on the precipice of some other incredible changes. That way, when we emerge once more into the sun, together we can find the strength and the grace to fight for what we hold dear.

Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
(Macmillan Publishing Company, 1936).

NB: My copy was re-released by Scribner, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. in May 2011. Find whatever version you can access — especially this month — and we can make it work.

And, as will always be the case, if you have ideas for companion reads, share them! I mean it when I say this should be a collaborative project. It will work better if you are reflected at all stages.

Until the last week of April.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

The Time is Always Now: Reflections on Reading Women-centered Works in an Unseasonably Different Women’s History Month

We are simply too hard on each other. That’s the principal take-away I got from reading Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women and Molly Millwood, PhD’s To Have and to Hold. But before we get deeper into what I hope will be a true discussion – not just me opining into the abyss – I’d like to pause on that idea for a minute. 

As humans, we are much, much too critical, bitter, defensive, aggressive, closed off, oppositional, and generally hard on each other. I’d like us to spend some time thinking about this idea – not tacitly agreeing with it, not writing it off and walking away, but really, truly, thinking about it. What examples come to mind? What memories? What opportunities for growth? Think of yourself, sure, but don’t be afraid to think bigger, either. I’ll leave you to it. When you’re ready, I’ll be here, and we can continue.

Welcome back. Thank you for permitting that brief exercise. It makes the upcoming discussion a lot easier to have. Looking back, these were heavy reads, huh? And the world around us sure wasn’t any lighter. I don’t know about you, but in aggregate, I found this all very overwhelming. Multiple times, I had to put the books down, turn off the news, and just breathe, or cry, or breathe while crying. You get the point.

Eventually, I realized that I’d been burying my feelings in order to get by — a dangerous practice that could not be allowed to continue. Thank God for Millwood and Taddeo, who delivered what is perhaps the timeliest help I’ve received in a while. This of all months, when I might’ve otherwise been inclined to look away (tender-hearted folks, raise your hands!), instead, they called me to confront all sorts of painful, uncomfortable, and scary realities head-on. As brutal as the stories contained within their masterful works were, so too is this world, and in this time of global duress, their words were exactly what I needed.

Can we actually take another minute here? We need to honor what we’ve weathered together in the month of March alone. It’s a lot, in case you’ve not been keeping track. So far (with still a week and change left!), we’ve had contentious U.S. presidential primaries, a global health crisis, the cancelation or dramatic reduction in several faiths’ practices, the cancelation of all sports (giving an entirely new meaning to March Madness), the cancelation of in-person schooling at all levels of the educational system, the cancelation of social gatherings (all sizes!), shortages in key medical supplies and groceries, an economy on tilt, and the least festive St. Patrick’s Day I ever hope to see again (important, as celebrations provide key moments of relief). This is before we take into account the long-term effects of all this mess — which may take years if not longer to undo. That we are all stressed and depressed is no surprise.

Husband and I have been “joking” (if that’s a thing) that I sure picked some month to start this reading group. If I knew then what I know now, I’m not certain I would have begun until much later. But then again, maybe that’s exactly why this was a good idea. In times like these, people need opportunities to vent, to share, to discuss, to gain some semblance of a schedule and a purpose all to themselves — and to do so without having to leave their homes. That every celebrity and #bookstagram account has started one of these babies after the fact does not surprise me — and in fact, I welcome them in this space. When one day our children’s children are learning about The Great COVID Crisis, I hope they focus on all the ways in which we came together, rather than the ways in which we’re inclined to be torn apart.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve heard lots of positive stories from these ruins. Folks paying the salaries of those out of work. Folks delivering free meals to kids who are out of school. Folks helping elderly and immunocompromised neighbors safely get what they need. Folks in the medical, emergency response, national defense, food, waste management, mail, veterinary, and utilities industries going to work, putting themselves at risk, so that YOU could stay safe. ENDLESS folks sharing ENDLESS social media posts with the intent to inform, uplift, and protect those they hold dear. These are all beautiful things.

But it’s not all beautiful. If I’m being very honest, for every helpful thing I’ve seen, there’s at least one questionable or downright damaging counter-reaction out there. These include but are not limited to: finger pointing, name calling, scapegoating, hoarding, continuing to gather in large social groups (please stop!!), and the list goes on. I’m sure you’ve seen some of these things, too. Then there’s the other, less identifiable losses, like library and small business closures, and the general rush to judgment I’ve seen even the most seasoned, reasonable folks fall victim to. The point here is that, even when we mean our best (and not everyone does, which is a shame), sometimes our actions have unintended consequences, and very often those consequences result in us being entirely too hard on one another (and yes, also on ourselves).

While Millwood and Taddeo were unequivocally not writing about COVID-19 in their respective works on women and their relationships to others (all kinds), I imagine they’d join me in the belief that their work is applicable to this situation as well. In a world of so much suffering, some of which is silent, why do anything except be better to each other? What do we lose by taking a moment to withhold our judgment, if only for a minute, when we’re here for such a short time anyway? And why does it always seem to take massively disruptive events for more people to think about this??

I won’t lie. Before this mess, I’d planned a long response about the unique challenges that women face — married or not, mothers or not — but that just didn’t feel right for these books, for these times. What we faced in the month of March 2020 goes so far beyond that discussion that I have little choice but to “table it” for another day, at least as concerns Women’s History Month.

For those saying “No, Ryan! I wanted to talk about these things,” we still have two great options. First, you’re welcome to respond to this post with whatever reactions you crafted to the books we read. That was my original hope for this reading group, after all! Second, if you’re so inclined, I’ve got some resources at the end of this post that might help guide your rumination or discussion along the way, whether you’ve joined us in real-time or plan to catch up later.

In this precise moment, however, I’ll leave us with a quick reminder by way of Millwood and Taddeo: we are entirely too hard on each other, and we can all choose to do something about that, even and especially when it’s difficult. Women’s History Month, COVID-19, or any other calendrically-significant time shouldn’t be the excuse you need to get started. As a woman, I’m telling you, the time is always right now.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

MARCH 2020 READING GROUP DISCUSSION GUIDE:

  1. Millwood-specific Question: “Silence — our own and others’ — keeps us in shame. False, distorted, and censored accounts of motherhood — our own and others’ — keep us stuck in shame. Only when silence is broken and secrets are revealed can we begin to revise the shame story” (27). If you have experienced parenthood, coupled or not, have you noticed the silence/shame paradox influence your feelings or decisions? If you have not experienced parenthood, have you seen this paradox play out in other ways? If your answers were no, think about why that might be the case.
  2. Taddeo-specific Question: “Because it’s women, in many of the stories I’ve heard, who have the greater hold over other women than men have. We can make each other feel dowdy, whorish, unclean, unloved, not beautiful. In the end, it all comes down to fear” (7). Consider the women in Taddeo’s book. In what ways did Taddeo’s assertion ring true? In what ways were their realities perhaps more complicated? Now imagine your own life. If you have witnessed, experienced, or exerted this type of control, what were the circumstances? Does reading Taddeo’s book affect the way you feel about theses moments? How might your feelings change if you were in someone else’s shoes?
  3. COVID-19 Question: How many households have suddenly realized that one partner does most, if not all, of the “women’s work?” Laundry, cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring kids around, the list goes on. How has this affected your family? What might you do to change your situation, if indeed that is something you’ve identified as a want or need?
  4. Women’s History Month Question: Prior to the announcement of March 2020’s LibraRYAN Reading Group books, had you ever heard of Lisa Taddeo or Molly Millwood? If yes, where and how? If no, why do you think that might be? In both cases, see how many other people have heard of either writer, or if they can identify additional female writers whose work might interest you.
  5. Assignment: Write a letter to yourself. Be kinder than you think you deserve. Then read that letter aloud. That is all.

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

March 2020 LibraRYAN Reading Group Picks!

Dear friends who’ve chosen to join this journey, hello! I’m so glad you’re here.

The first month of this reading group will focus on the topic(s) of love and marriage — recognizing fully that they are not necessarily the same thing, or even remotely close to it, in either direction.

March is Women’s History Month, so I chose two female authors I was not previously familiar with for us to read. They are:

Lisa Taddeo, Three Women (2019, Avid Reader Press)

and

Molly Millwood, To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma (2019, Harper Wave)

Both are works of nonfiction. I’ve already started Taddeo and let me just go ahead and say this — it’s not for the meek. However, it gives me much to be thankful for in my personal life and lots of food for thought more globally speaking. Besides, a challenging read is a good one as far as I’m concerned.

I don’t want to belabor these announcement posts any more than you want them belabored, so that’s all for today. Feel free to find the title (or both!) you’d like to read this month at your favorite bookseller, library, or audiobook purveyor. Let’s meet back here in the last week of March for our reflections — and to see what next month’s topic might be.

I look forward to seeing what we learn together.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

The “LibraRYAN:” A New Monthly Reading Experience Curated by Yours Truly

Friends,

As some of you know, I am writing a fiction series. The first book is currently at the self-editing stage, the second exists as an outline, and the third is more concept than reality at this point in time. If you know an agent who loves all things girlboss, food, and unconventional love, then I’m that agent’s person and it would be great if you could introduce us. I have a feeling we’d have fun conversations. For now, I’m so grateful for the privilege this lifestyle affords — creativity, the ability to make my own schedule, and having my time valued as much at home as it is by society — whether or not my work finds commercial success.

Don’t get me wrong. It hasn’t all been sunshine and daisies. There are days I have writer’s block so bad I can’t see straight, there are days I am fully capable but still dread writing (usually when a scene hits too close to home), and there are days I feel like I could write for days but then, invariably, life has other plans. This is all normal, I’m learning, and that learning is at least half my enjoyment at this stage. The other half is a mixture of generalized giddiness and an acute sense of purpose. I am blessed beyond measure.

There is, however, one thing about which I am constantly in conflict — unhappily at that (yes, it’s possible to have conflict and also to be happy, and no, this is not one of those times). As part of my early writing process, I’ve become exceptionally selective about what I read. That’s the political way of saying I haven’t done much reading at all — not if you don’t count the the things I’ve read as research for the series I’m currently writing. That’s work … and that’s different.

Those who know me will find this shocking. Those who don’t may also have some questions about my choice — and with good reason. While I’m generally not here for making people feel like they have to justify every decision they make, in this case, an explanation is 100% warranted, so I’m bossing up and sharing it. Here it goes:

I am first and foremost an empath. This means when I experience something, I tend to absorb it right down to my core. This is true whether the object of my concern is connected to me superficially or on the deepest levels. So, as a measure of both professional responsibility and as a way to guard my tender heart, I decided to step back from the heavy work that is losing oneself in the midst of others.’

At the time of this decision, I was all-too-caught-up in the security blanket that reading afforded me. Under the heading of “reading” all I’d really been doing was silencing myself, like I’d been doing for as long as I can remember, just under different titles and pretenses. Thankfully, with some chutzpah and an incredible support network, I put a stop to that behavior, hard as it was to do.

Come to think of it, taking reading away from myself was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make. Necessary, but incredibly difficult. Especially because I had no idea when, if ever (it felt like), I’d allow myself to have it back in the same way — voracious reading, selfish reading, all-hours-of-the-day-and-night reading, the kind of reading people spend lifetimes reading and writing about.

My decision might be controversial, but it definitely paid off, because here I am, book one nearly done, looking ahead to the future, and having trouble deciding if I want to smile or cry from the sense of pride and accomplishment I didn’t know I could feel.

Then there’s the matter of what else this means.

Now that I have a strong handle on my own writer’s voice, and what I’m able and willing to contribute to this strange blue planet, I know I can trust myself to move forward, uncompromising in the special nature of these gifts, but flexible enough to allow myself back in to the metaphorical sandbox of life’s many wonders.

Looking ahead, past the heaviness of actually doing this life, I have a lighter, companion ambition in mind. The first order of business is to restore my reading privileges — though believe me when I say I’ll be monitoring myself for the types of behavior that inspired me to take my earlier hiatus (self-doubt, being overly self-critical, obsessive editing for no good reason, etc.). Those of you who know me in real life, please continue helping me in this regard. You’re all trailblazers — especially those of you who, without any promise of recognition, unwaverlingly stand alongside me as I do the messy, uncoordinated work of clearing paths in the first place.

Now we get to the fun part!

Starting this month, there will be a new category on this blog. I’m going to call it The LibraRYAN, a playful reference to both my name and my love for reading. Each month, I’ll select a topic or theme, pick a few books that fit into that category, and share my experiences with them. To be clear, the resulting posts will be more personal essay than book review, and that is by design.

I do more “review-y” work through the Reading Words category, and that will remain a space dedicated to thoughts on specific works, presented one at a time, with the near sole intention of promoting that good work. I stand by that category, and will hopefully have reason to populate it with new content soon, but its greatest strength is also one of its greatest limitations — it leaves no room for you. The conversation basically begins and ends with “there is this great thing, and I want to make sure you know about it, because it is a great thing.”

At this point in my career and life, that feels pithy. I’m not in middle school. I don’t do book reports anymore (there’s a time and place for that, it’s just not here or now). I’m also not a book critic, in personality or by choice, so instead of making my singular commentary meatier and/or more cutting, I’d like to elevate the blog overall by including more voices, more frequently, in the hopes of building (or maybe simply inspiring?) a stronger community. If indeed you’ve read this far (a large ask, I’m aware), you’re probably wondering, “great, Ryan, but how will you do this?” Don’t worry, I’ve got you.

The answer: The LibraRYAN.

Many of you are readers — or else, why would you be here, certainly at this juncture in a long blog post. As far as I’m concerned, there are endless opportunities to connect through this shared identity, and the internet can feel like a super isolating place, so I’d like to address both of those points in one swoop. With The LibraRYAN (a new category on this blog, not a new standalone project), we’ll get to read some neat books together, which we’ve chosen together, and then, together, respond. Other than timeline and topic specificity, and my request (insistence, actually) that we keep things civil (differences of opinion never need to degenerate into attacks of any kind, ever), the rest can evolve as we do. Here’s how I see this starting at the very least:

At the end of each month, I’ll select a topic or theme to guide our reading and conversations for the month to come. I will announce that here, on the blog, as well as on social media (@rvmcgonigle). Once that happens, I’m happy to consider all thoughtful recommendations for what we could read until the first day of the month we’re intending to read them. By the end of that week, we’ll have our list of possible reads. You may choose as many or as few as you like from the list. No matter which books we choose, we’ll all have the rest of the month to read them and reflect on our experiences (pictures, essays, drawings, the options are pretty endless). By the last week of the month, I’ll post an essay, and you’re welcome to either share or guard your individual response, whatever makes you feel happy and safe. Either way, the cool part is that we’ll have already shared these specific experiences, and by extension, made the world a little bigger and a little smaller at the same time. Think about that for a minute … pretty neat, right?

Since I dislike procrastination, let’s kick this off right now, with March 2020 being our “starting month.” Welcome to The LibraRYAN Reading Group, loves. I’m so glad you’re here.

The LibraRYAN: March 2020 Reading Group

This month, we’ll focus on love and/or marriage. Suggested works may include both topics or just one. I’ve gotten us started by selecting two nonfiction books from authors whose work I don’t already know, Molly Millwood’s To Have and to Hold (2019) and Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women (2019). At least one more book would complete my rotation. Who has the right fit (or several)? If it moved you, challenged your thinking, or both, I’d love to hear about it. Ideally it’d be written no earlier than the past decade (2010-forward), so that it will be accessible to most folks in a variety of places; however, I’m not opposed to considering recommendations that fall outside this boundary where a thoughtful case can be made. You’re game? Great! We have until March 1st to solidify our shared reading list. Let’s make it happen, shall we?

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

NBNBC Logo_as_of_3.13.18

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Your Holiday Anti-Do List

Hello Friends,

As mentioned in my previous post, I’d like to make this a season of giving. My reasons are many and varied, but suffice it to say that we are all dealing with entirely too much, all the time, whether or not we realize it.

The end of the calendar year is no exception. We make lists of food to prepare, presents to buy, and rooms to clean (and clean and clean). We set goals for a fresh start in January, when everything will be different (or maybe not). We plan parties and outfits and goodness knows how many other things. And it’s just … a lot. I say this as someone who loves this time of year.

So, inspired by all the honey-do’s and why-don’t-we’s of the season (and life), I’ve curated a few of my favorite ways to practice self-care, in the hopes that you might find time to try some anti-do’s as an antidote to all this everything. Cheers to your moment of chill, to slowing down, to appreciating the littles, and giving your Self the care s/he/they deserve/s. And yeah, if that means not even reading my cute little list, cheers to that too!

Exercise

For me, this looks like morning yoga practice* and afternoon walks with the pooch. If this doesn’t sound like a lot, that’s because it isn’t. Intentionally so, as a matter of fact. In previous years, I was downright obsessive about exercising. My waistline was a lot smaller then, but my strength and endurance are much higher now — to say nothing about my mental health improvements. Letting go a-lot-a-bit in 2019 felt all kinds of right, so while I’ll be putting in the work to tone up this coming year, I have exactly zero regrets about the more relaxed regimen that got me here.

I say this not to pat myself on the back, but to remind you, dear friends, that it’s not the intensity or the duration of your practice that makes exercise work. It’s your long-term commitment. And nothing makes commitment work like being well-informed and well-prepared. The first step in this process is to stop chasing popular fads and stop copy-catting whatever made someone else successful. Instead, spend some quality time getting to know yourself and what your body can handle/likes/needs. Then, here’s the hard part, know that it is often a moving target (gee, thanks). Along the journey, if whatever that is, is entirely different from literally anybody else, that is perfectly okay and actually kind of ideal. Taking care of yourself is as individualized as it is active when you’re doing it right.

*Yoga with Adriene is my go-to, at-home resource. It’s free. It’s organized (rejoice!). And it’s available for all levels of skill or experience. Hop on over to YouTube and hit that subscribe button so you never miss a new opportunity to love that beautiful body you’re in, if this is indeed something you’re committed to doing :).

Meditate

While I’ve benefitted from all manner of introspective activities throughout my life, in truth I’m really horrible at/not comfortable with them. And that’s why you’ll find me practicing all the time (see Fail Forward, below). I’ve journaled, I’ve blogged (am still blogging!), I’ve counted breaths, I’ve sought help in the outside world. You name it, I’ve tried it — almost, anyway.

For the longest time, meditation was something I just couldn’t bring myself to investigate. It felt like bunk-y, junk science, so I wrote it off. Then I fell into the sweet rhythm of yoga practice. The deeper I got there, the more interested in meditation I became, and so finally, about a year ago, I gave it a try. I haven’t looked back since. My favorite tools are over at Circle+Bloom, but don’t feel limited by that referral. Get out there and explore the www. There’s a bunch of free resources just waiting for you to love, or hate, or laugh at — choose your own adventure, the world is a big place.

Sleep

This. One. Is. So. Important. Sleep regulates everything from metabolism to emotional state to organ health to fertility — and a lot more that I won’t get into here. I’m not a medical professional and I definitely cannot give medical advice. But as a caring friend, I implore you: find 7-9 consecutive hours during which you can close your eyes and truly rest.

The good news is that if you’ve been exercising and meditating, this will be a bit easier for you — even if you battle shift work, demanding children, snoring partners, cover-hogging pets, or a lumpy mattress. I also recommend investing in your preferred combination of weighted blanket, room-darkening shades, and essential oils. They can’t hurt Mr. Sandman’s efforts to bring you some serious zzz’s.

Enjoy a Nourishing Meal … That You Didn’t Prepare

There’s a saying that those who prepare food never really get to enjoy it. I don’t know where this adage came from, but people sure like repeating it, so let’s go with the notion that it isn’t #fakenews. Personally, I’d put money on it having to do with sensory overload, which like, if that isn’t the theme of the secular season, tell me what else is.

That said, one of the best things we can do for ourselves in times of too much everything is to do absolutely nothing. When it comes to food, this means letting someone else occasionally prepare it for you. Food is nourishing on its own, but the act of consuming a good meal made with someone else’s hands is a transcendent experience. If we let it happen, letting someone cook for us reminds us that we are cared for. And in this season, when so often we neglect our own needs in the process of caring for everyone else, I can’t think of many better things to do. So, go out to eat, dine in chez vous or at the home of another loved one. But fill up on the love you’ll receive. Then look around to see who else you might share this spectacular gift with.

Talk to a Friend or Loved One

This brings me to my next point. The holidays are hard. Don’t do them alone. Even if you’re feeling all merry and bright today, no one knows what tomorrow might bring. What if tomorrow brings the greatest achievement of your lifetime? But also, what if tomorrow brings an unimaginable loss? Or, in a more likely scenario, what if tomorrow feels like an endless march through commercialism-fueled mania, and you’re stressed and standing in line in some big-box store for three hours to get that one thing you know that one person might not actually hate, and you’re not exactly singing “Welcome, Christmas” with all of Whoville? Wait, is that just me? Sorry. Moving along.

All joking aside, what I’d like to suggest is this: fight the urge to talk about the holidays 24/7. Remember that your loved ones have full lives outside these few months as well as within them. Check in with each other, routinely and with genuine concern. Bonus points if you find ways to pair this with other caring ideas.

Pick up an Old Hobby

Always, around this time of year, I get an old, familiar itch. What with all the coziness and nostalgia of the season, taking my viola out of its case is more of a reflex than the result of conscious decision-making. It’s in my nature (more about that over here).

While it’s been many moons since I’ve played to the level of my liking, that isn’t the point. Rather, putting bow-to-strings is an act of honoring another version of myself. I remember that girl well. I honor her and how far she’s come each time I come back to the music.  Just thinking about it, I have the happiest hobbyist heart.

The message I’m sharing here is this: indulge in your past pursuits. As a culture, we’re taught to pack away the things of our youth, to “grow past” something we love, and I think there’s something really devastating about that. How many of you “gave up” sports, or music, or collecting, or who knows what else, just because that was what you did in [insert timeframe here]? I wonder what would happen if you decided that you were going to put down your to-do list and resurrect your pastime?

And Finally, Find a New Way to Fail Forward

I’m not a resolutions person. While in theory I like the organization they provide, in practice, I find them suffocating. Who needs to limit their lives to one area of growth? How absurd is that, when we stop and think about it? I’ll let you ponder for a minute…

Hi, welcome back. Maybe you still like resolutions. That’s 100% perfect for you. Blessings on your journey. But if you’re like me, and you’re less driven by the general imperative to succeed, then the concept of a “fail forward project” might be a better fit.

The idea behind failing forward is that you commit to trying something new, with absolutely no pressure to do as society says we all must, and succeed. In case no one ever told you this, nowhere is it written that you have to succeed at anything you try (and nowhere is it promised, either). We all have unique gifts and talents. We all have areas we are not meant for (mine’s advanced mathematics. Raise your hand if this is you, too!). Stop fighting yourself and start devoting a bunch more of your power to the areas of your life that you know are uniquely you. Your potential is limitless there.

Struggling to discover where your limitless power exists? Great! That’s why we fail forward. Get out there and discover all your beautiful failings! Fail big. Fail repeatedly. Fail in only the way you can. Fail when everyone else says you have to succeed. Failure is your right. Be proud to claim it! And while I hope that these big, beautiful failures do eventually inspire loads of work in areas where you can be limitlessly successful (speaking it into existence right now!), I also hope you learn to enjoy the process of getting there as much as I have.

A lot of fun can happen when we free ourselves of the limiting concept of success. After all, life isn’t an assembly line or a checklist we have to complete before we go. Life is what we make of it. So go, make a mistake or five hundred. You’re not counting them. Just keep making them until you’re tired. When you need that rest (and you will), go sleep, eat a good meal, talk with a good friend, do some yoga, meditate, journal, play an instrument, go do literally anything else that brings you joy, because moving through these lovely little moments is called living, and eventually those moments comprise your life, so you may as well have fun along the way.

Blessings to you in the New Year, however you decide to measure it.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian

NBNBC Logo_as_of_3.13.18

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

Finding My New Thankful

Living in a Season of Thanks

I have no idea who follows me on this journey, and to be honest, attracting followers isn’t why I write in this corner of the universe. For me, it’s about a spirit of sharing, of learning, of connection, and of care.

I’m principally motivated by the desire to care for others, both on- and offline, and most days I’d stake my identity on that claim. But whoops, I messed up pretty badly, didn’t I? I’ve been neglecting this corner of the universe, and for that, I apologize. More on that later. Right now, by way of hellos and reintroductions, I’d like to honor your presence by breaking my silence with a post that’s as heartfelt as it is timely.

Before we get in too deep, it may help to know that I love the holidays. If you know me IRL, you know this already. I’ve probably talked your ears off about it on more than one occasion. And if you know this blog, you also know I’ve written about my love for the season over here. It’s been about a year since I annoyed the ever-living-you-know-what out of you on this topic, so in the spirit of the season, I thought, what better time to make my return? Ha.

In all seriousness, with the holidays providing opportunities galore for stock-taking and thanks-giving, deep down I knew it was time to do this work again. But here’s the thing. I also want this to be a season of actual giving on the blog, and the “gift” I’d like to give is the reminder that YOU ARE VALUED and YOU ARE LOVED. Whoa there with the Big Feelings, Ryan! Yeah, I can hear some of you reacting to that already, but hear me out.

Oh, the holidays! The strings of lights. The casseroles. The roasts and cookies and festive tunes. It’s all so wonderful, isn’t it? It is, it most definitely is. We dedicate ourselves to celebrations and social gatherings and reminding ourselves just how good we have it, no matter what we have (or haven’t), from the time the last piece of Halloween candy gets claimed, all the way until we ring in a new year. And that is wonderful. But it’s also sort of strange. Why do we limit our work in cherishing ourselves and others to a few short months per year? No, really. Why do we do this?

I grew up Catholic, and because of this, I’m programmed to find value and meaning in ordinary things, the things I’ve called “the littles” over many posts in a previous project. Lately, the notion of giving everyday thanks has really nagged at me, and while I won’t be reopening my last blog anytime soon, I do believe this is a sensible time to briefly resurrect its message.

On that note, I’d like to share a story, if you’ll permit. First, a short but serious warning that it trends heavier than some of my other posts, so those who are especially tender-hearted may feel completely free to “hug goodbye” now, with the knowledge that you’re cared about by at least one person. I hope your holiday season is glorious and filled with as many physical, emotional, and spiritual treasures as your heart desires. I mean that, truly, and I hope we find a reason to cross paths again.

For those who’ve elected to keep reading, allow me to take you back a few years, to a season where gratitude was something I took for granted, and where “living in a season of thanks” was, embarrassingly, essentially limited to the holidays and major life milestones.

Warm Hearts, Warm Nights

On a late-spring night in 2018, I was trying not to hyperventilate on the bathroom floor. Two lines had just presented themselves on a plastic wand before me. I was terrified. I always knew I’d wanted to be a mom. In younger years, I’d planned out a family with four kids, all by the age of 30. But there I was, late 20s, about to join the mommy club for the very first time — and absolutely positive that I was.not.ready. 

The rest of that night stands out so clearly. I’ve memorized it like you memorize favorite songs or movie scripts. It took mere seconds for me to get up, place the wand on the counter, and get myself outside for some fresh air. The dog and I barely made it around the block before I asked her if she was ready to be a “puppy sister,” because her “puppy mama” was going to need some serious coaching on the matter of this giant life change. She looked up at me, Cheshire grin on her perfectly whiskered face, and kept trotting along down the sidewalk.

It was that moment, right there, when I realized this was all going to be okay. Hubs got home an hour or so later, and the poor man barely had time to breathe before I dragged him upstairs to receive The News. We were both so happy, if entirely surprised. In the weeks ahead, we did all the things couples tend to do in this season of life: go to appointments, decide how we’d eventually tell our family and friends, calculate when our little bean would join us earthside, and yeah, argue over which room we’d be willing to sacrifice for a nursery when the time came. This was bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss. Not that I knew or appreciated it.

Please Come in, It’s Cold out There Alone

[For more resources on this topic, see * at end of post].

Then the worst fear of every expectant couple materialized. We found out that our bean had been called home — just not to our house. Shortly after, past the “excuse me?” I offered the nurse, past the heaving of hearts, and later, of stomachs, past the yelling and anger and sadness, past all of it, I went numb.

Unlike the weeks before, when I’d made sure to soak up every detail of life, I approached what happened next by avoiding memory-making with a resolve that can only be described as absolute. And I pulled back from everything and everyone that mattered to me. Because that’s what happens with depression.

Luckily, though it felt like a tremendous inconvenience at the time, everyone I’d tried to push away was just as resolute about ensuring I wasn’t alone. And they loved me back into wellness, on all fronts. I’ll be forever grateful for these souls — doctors, nurses, family, and friends — across clinics, cities, and even hundreds of miles. They shared information, they shared hugs, and they shared hope, some without even realizing that they did, without even realizing they are superheroes in their own right.

Find Something to be Grateful for

This brings me to the larger point I’d like to make here. Along my journey, one person reminded me of something I think we can all learn from, no matter where we fall on the sliding scale of wellness, and no matter what season we find ourselves in. The reminder went something like this:

  1. Life is hard.
  2. Your life right now is even harder.
  3. Your experience is valid and it matters.
  4. But.
  5. There are also things to be grateful for.
  6. Look around for them and you’ll start to feel a little better each day.
  7. Yeah, I know it’s hard.
  8. Keep trying.
  9. And try again the next day.
  10. And the next.
  11. And one day, you’ll find more than one thing you’re grateful for again.
  12. And about that, you’ll be glad.

You know what? That person was right. [Person, yes, you can put that down on paper].

It is so, so important to allow yourself to be present in whatever feelings or emotions you have. Without being present in them, it’s hard to process them, live with them, and move through them into the next one(s) you have. And also, if you allow these feelings and emotions to control your life, to the point where they fully eclipse the gratitude you’d otherwise have, you might look back and regret missing whatever you’ve missed.

For me, this message was a critical wakeup call. I had to completely change my mindset. From that day forward, I made a point of finding something, even just one thing, to be grateful for every single day. At first, that was nearly impossible. It looked and sounded a lot like “Today I’m grateful for my shoes.” Not particularly inspiring, I know. But with each day, it got a little easier, and the things I was thankful for became more notable, until one day, just like that person said, I was grateful for more than one thing at a time. And then, just like that person said, I was glad — really and truly glad.

Thankfulness, Anew

That realization was about a year ago. Now we’re on the doorstep of another holiday season and I’m so happy it’s here. Sure, the holidays and their trappings bring me joy — this will never change — but more importantly, it’s been another year of love, support, and growth after the “terrible, horrible” that, in its own way, inspired my change of heart.

This year, when I count my blessings, I’ll count them a little differently. Make no mistake, I’ll still be thankful for my husband, who is my rock, for my family, who is my heart, for my friends, who are my joy, and my dog, who is my hope, but I’ll also be thankful for myself. Yeah, you read that right. I’m grateful for me, for just being here, for being present, for being able to be grateful at all. Life is good.

Before we go, I’ve also got to mention how grateful I am for YOU. Like I said at the beginning of this long-winded return, the best gift any of us can receive is the knowledge that we are valued and we are loved. I hope you know that you are both. From this small corner of the universe anyway, you’re all somebodies to be grateful for, and I wish nothing but the absolute best for you this holiday season always.

xoxo,

Ryan

North by North Carolinian 

NBNBC Logo_as_of_3.13.18

Full concept and content by Ryan Vale McGonigle

*P.S. Is someone you know struggling with pregnancy loss or the passing of a child? Are you struggling with how to best support someone in this position? Here’s a starter kit, but please, please, please, #dothework and do some research on your own. I promise, while many women feel better talking about their losses, not all of them do, and either way, the last thing they want to be is your encyclopedia. 

Two Links of Interest — Go Find More!

How To Support Someone Going Through Pregnancy Loss (HuffPo)

Dealing with grief after the death of your baby (March of Dimes)