Thursday, May 5, 2016

GirlPowerUp

I'm so flattered when people notice that I haven't blogged in a while. You guys are great.
I haven't been writing because my classes are getting more intense and I've been buried in reading. I also had/am having a pretty rough patch as a mom (maybe I'll write about it eventually, who knows...) and I've been venting to my sister on the phone when she calls, so I get it out of my system. But it's only a matter of time before I get riled up enough about something that I can't focus on my homework AT ALL and I have to write it out. You know, cause the internet really deserves for me to put it in its place.

I draw a lot of what I write about from actual conversations I have with people (as opposed to, say, lizards ;)). You never know what you might say that gets gears whirring in my head, and within the next few days, I'll have spun it together with a few other comments and timely articles I read and voila, I go into what I call "videogame power mode". You know, that look where the character pauses, raises their head and hands, opens their mouth and eyes wide, and fire comes out and stuff? Jonas tells me this is called a "powerup", and it's actually from a show. Whatever. I think ya'll know what I'm talking about:


So here goes... I got powered up about feminism.
DON'T GO AWAY. I don't even know quite where I'm going with this yet or what all I might have to say about it, so I hope that means it won't sound canned.

I'm pulling from several posts by Rachel Held Evans in addition to my own thoughts, and trust me, the parts that I quote of hers are going to be the strongest. Sometimes I'm blinded by the fire coming out of my eyes when I PowerUp and I need help articulating why I feel so strongly. The articles I'll cite are parts A and D in a series she wrote where she breaks down specific questions that come up about women in the church (women teaching, women breadwinning, etc.). I love it when I stumble upon a community or movement that I identify with but previously did not know existed, and I'm drawing so much confidence from Evan's counter points to stricter, [culturally] traditional Christianity.

I don't really have time to brush up on when and why feminism became a bad word in society. Some feminists make that label their defining characteristic, and it is a little tiresome to hear anyone constantly bring up that one issue of theirs that they just have to weave into every conversation, telling you how hard their life is because of this or that. I get that that's annoying. For me, that thing is probably parenting. Parenting is ridiculously hard, and so far, it doesn't really get easier, so yeah, I think and talk about it a lot.

I don't feel particularly oppressed as a woman. I do think that being a woman makes some parts of life more difficult, but there are some things that are probably harder by virtue of being a man, too. The church should be the torchbearer of women's equality, but instead, it seems to focus on all the things that make women and men different, and many times, how women can be properly subordinate to men.

Feminism in the church, tends to a) NEVER gets talked about or b) be thought of as an unholy menace. This has much more to do with our cultural norms, religious and secular, than it has to do with the Bible. Not surprisingly, most (all?) men I know don't seem super worried about women's rights. I don't say this in a condescending way, but I know that I don't understand some parts of life that go along with being a man, and the guys in my life just don't have the same view on my life as a woman as I do. Duh. What I find much more surprising is that many women I know don't seem to be interested in women's rights. It really makes me wonder if I'm a mega complainer for pointing out (and being angry about) some aspects of my life that I view as being negatively affected due to my gender.

As a side note, I have this weird thing about the word "rights". I don't believe in rights, only privileges. I don't like the idea that anyone is entitled to anything, only that we fight for what we think is right and good. Perhaps that is naive, but since it is important to me, I just wanted to point out that when I talk about women's "rights", I don't think that men or women deserve anything in particular, only that men generally have more parts of society working in their favor and I'd like to see women have equal opportunities.

I'm not anti-men. I'm not even anti-respect for men. In fact, I'm not even of the mind that men and woman can do all the same things exactly the same way, or that they should. Google defines feminism as "the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men". That's really not all that provocative anymore. And yet, alarmingly difficult to achieve

More than people (including women in the church) being blatantly anti-women or unconcerned with fair opportunities and treatment for women in all realms of life, I think we become accustomed to norms such that we don't even realize when women are getting the short end of the stick.  

I know this is duplicitous, but at the same time as wanting to be empowered and bold and regal as a women, I don't like being defined by the fact that I am a women. Perhaps my idea of successful feminism is that I'm just seen and treated as a person of worth, not simply as a woman, for good or bad. Put more eloquently, Evans quoted, "Femininity does not define me; as a woman created in the image of God, I define it, in community with my sisters." The church - as I see it - does not grasp this nuance particularly well, at least in terms of its rhetoric.

I have many wonderful women in my life, spanning many ages and skill sets and lifestyles. I really enjoy talking and hanging out with other women, but does that mean that we're doing "women things"? I don't think so. It means we're doing things, JUST THINGS, together, and we happen to be women. Why do we have to compartmentalize things further than that? I don't want to go to Women's Bible Studies and Women's Retreats and read Women's Books. I just want good fellowship and good books.

I grew up with a lot of Christian literature and voices saying, "you're a princess, we're the bride of Christ, you're a precious daughter", blah blah blah. Those things are actually true, but what's with all the girl language? Can I only be reached by the Word of God as girl in need of a self-worth boost at every possible opportunity? No. THAT image, of women as extra fragile, helpless, emotional jellyfish is a social construct that we buy into so much that we think the only thing that can help is these special messages "for women". It's a marketing ploy to make money off people who want to feel special because of their gender and it separates us from the true identity of a child of God - one where labels do not add or detract from our worth. Male or female, slave or free - these are labels that we use to define ourselves, not labels that God uses to parse out love or worth.

I don't think that the church should 100% mirror society or anything, and there's no denying that we're marketed to based on gender in many circumstances in the "real world", but Jesus didn't relate to people based on their gender alone. Jesus didn't write books for women and books for men. So why, then, do we find the need to approach men and women in the church separately?

I used to help decorate at my church and sometimes men in charge (both of whom I love and admire) would tell women who were doing most of the work that "it needed to be more masculine so that the church was inviting for men". I admit to being too easily riled up at times, but that infuriated me. I genuinely am sad that many men don't want to be part of the church, but let me tell you, that's a heart thing, not a decor thing. I hate it when church culture gets caught up in petty details like that. I want church to be inviting for people, but no amount of masculine or feminine or neutral decor contains the gospel message. Sorry to fling out stereotypes, but most men probably won't notice the decor anyway.

Church culture also gets very tied up in gender roles as they pertain to relationships in dating and marriage. An example from Evans that sounds all too familiar: "I remember countless conversations in the dorm rooms of my conservative Christian college about how to defer to a guy as the 'spiritual leader' in a relationship, an ideal that far too often resulted in women deliberately diminishing their own gifts, ideas, and dreams in an effort to better play second fiddle."

Most of you know that Jonas and I married very young - I was 20 and he was 21. I have always been a strong personality, bent on dictatorship, and Jonas is a much gentler, more thoughtful and introspective person. He does not sing in church because he prefers to take in the music as he worships (I used to be embarrassed that he wasn't "participating"), and he doesn't offer to pray out loud. We've been married long enough now that I respect that we have different approaches to many things, but when we first got married, I had this idea that Jonas was really going to need to "step up" and be a spiritual leader so that I didn't overpower him. My idea of him being a spiritual leader was him prompting me to have a morning Bible study with him every day, despite the fact that that is SO not either of our personalities. Jonas does lead in his own way, but it's not patriarchal. He is often the one who makes me step back and evaluate my runaway mouth or my un-Christlike behavior, and he's always the one who loves me unconditionally (I don't use that word lightly, as I am not a great unconditional lover), and this is pretty darn Christ-like.

As a wife, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about whether I'm respecting or submitting to Jonas. Sometimes I feel guilty about this, but mostly I don't think about it at all. We interact human to human, not man to woman. We interact as Karissa and Jonas, whose communication styles do not always mesh. Sometimes I do or say something disrespectful, and sometimes so does he. I tell him when I think he's wrong, and I don't always agree with him. If we argue and argue and can't come to a consensus, sometimes we just go our own ways with it. We also try and say sorry when we know we've been disrespectful to one another. This is a much more liberating and practical arrangement than worrying about whether I'm fulfilling a woman's proper role. Who decided on proper? In my experience, what church culture calls proper is usually not what Jesus actually said.

Evans: "I’ve sat through women’s Bible’s studies in which I was taught how to convince my husband that something is his idea, even if it isn’t, in order to keep the hierarchy intact while still getting my way. (I think manipulation is an unintended consequence of hierarchical marriages, which perhaps should be the subject of separate post.)"


I absolutely fall in to that trap (not unique to the church) where I say "let's" do this or that instead of "please do this for me" so as to "soften" my real meaning. I think diplomacy in speech is a good skill to have, but I hate that women collectively feel the need to (and are trained to) be non-confrontational. Most of the time when I suggest, "let's clean the car", I have no intention of being part of that chore (because I'm doing other chores, mind you), but I still say "let's" because I don't want to be a wife who orders her husband around. Contrary to popular belief, I do not like TELLING people what to do. In the words of Deadpool, "I'd learn to change the oil on our car with you, but I don't want to". Jonas doesn't dislike me for my candor or my "softened" requests, but I cut that "let's" BS out whenever I catch myself doing it, and as a result many people tell me "I'm so direct" [especially for a women]. Nuance and time-and-place considerations are good, but manipulation is not. {image}

Evans: "You see this sort of language a lot in complementarian literature: 'real men,' 'real women,' 'real marriage,' 'hardwired,' 'programmed,' 'blueprint'—as if masculinity and femininity are rigid, set-in-stone ideals to which we must ascribe, rather than fluid expressions of our unique selves."

The term "complementarian" is new to me, and I'm always secretly proud when I didn't realize that something had a name, because it means that I haven't spent gross amounts of time fighting over churchy technicalities. When people start throwing out terms like "complementarian" in daily conversation when they're upset, you know they've been in the church a long damn time. Get thee to a bar or something, seriously.

But since it came up, the definition of Complementarianism is: "a theological view held by some in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, that men and women have different but complementary roles and responsibilities in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere". I agree with this on the surface, because as I said before, I do think that there are general differences between men and women. But if I dig a little deeper, that premise mucks up so much of what I love about marriage, in particular. My favorite moments of being married are not when I'm cooking dinner and Jonas is walking in the door from work. I actually love cooking and I'm thankful that he works hard to provide for us, but those roles are circumstantial in our family, not identifiers. The moments where I feel most alive and most "together" as a couple involve sharing an experience or a conversation that we find equally enjoyable, stimulating, exciting, or mind-bending (get your mind out of the gutter right meow). 

We do compliment each other, but I don't see gender as the primary factor in that. I have many personality traits that are more masculine and Jonas has many that are stereotypically feminine. We still manage to compliment each other (and bug the heck out of each other) because we're different people, but that complimenting is not solely (or even primarily) gender based. We are probably better suited to non-traditional family roles, but for the time being, we happen to fulfill fairly classic gender roles in our family. It's still very difficult for me to be confident about a non-traditional approach to gender roles in our lives, but it hardly takes any thought at all (on my part, at least), to realize that classic complementarianism is not the best - or even a Godly - approach for us. 


I know I've been harping on church culture a lot lately. It's hurt me a lot, and ingrained some serious character flaws in me that have and will continue to take me years to uproot. I'm resentful about that. But, I think that my church (and many churches) have many wonderful, Biblical, helpful things to say and teach as well. I want to be ever more like Jesus, not evermore like human's interpretations of Jesus, and that's why I get so angry when I believe something false that I learn from church culture. I don't think that very many people in the church set out to twist the gospel, but it's really easy to do. I'm positive that I've done it myself. Nothing makes me more upset than realizing that I'm going along with something that I consider to be "good" and Christian, only to realize that it's a lie. That's the main reason why I'm so critical of what I garner from Christian circles and so noisy about the things that I think it gets wrong. 

Now, let us return to feminism. Like I said before, I think what people find offputting about feminists is that they always seem to have an ax to grind. But why are you (hypothetical person) annoyed or silent when I point out how a situation is degrading or unequal for women? I'm sorry (#notsorry) that it makes you uncomfortable or that you didn't think that through before speaking. I'm not trying to shame people most of the time when I bring up how a situation pertains to women's rights - I'm simply trying to bring awareness to the fact that there is actually a problem that we often fail to see because no one [at church] talks about it!

There's been some recent backlash against being "politically correct" (thank you, Donald Trump...). I don't really get it. I understand that it's a little bit harder to think about everything you say so that you don't offend people, but that's actually kind of a good thing. It's a good thing for you just to keep your mouth shut sometimes or to go out of your way not to belittle or demean someone else. I'm not sorry it annoys you when I point out your offensive comments or actions. It's difficult to decipher what's a joke and what's actually demeaning sometimes (they're often one and the same), and I make some non-PC jokes, but I also really care about being respectful of everyone I can think of. I feel bad when I blunder, and I try and take it into account the next time I hear or see someone being mistreated. "Why can't I just be me in private?" Because "me" needs to cut the racist crap, that's why. Why is not being a bully all of a sudden uncool?

I kind of hate this quote because it makes me think about all the world's problems that I genuinely can't give my energy to, but seeing that gender roles affect all of us, every single day, I think I can use it here effectively and say, "if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor". I do have a bit of an ax to grind when it comes to how "the system" handicaps women in the workplace and essentially punishes parents, but I will give you a real world example of how men and women can learn to recognize and combat unfair treatment of women in society. Granted, this is kind of a first world problem example, but I think it's subtle and probably quite common.

I worked for a previous employer for about 5 years, up until I had Ira. I did not like my job, but I was good at it and I was respectful and a very low-maintenance employee. There was a man who joined the department I worked for toward the end of my time there, and he was not good at his job and he was disrespectful to his coworkers and immediate boss as well. He did, however, have an [unrelated] college degree (so I assume he made much more than I did) and he was full-time compared to my part-time. At the time, I was asking for additional and more complicated projects. Mind you, I had 5 years of this job under my belt and I had long since mastered the tasks that I already did. Instead of giving the new project to me (even when I offered to take work home or work remotely so that my schedule could accommodate the project), they gave it to him. I wasn't happy about it, but I didn't throw a fit, either.

Then, I mentioned it to my dad, who said that they probably chose him because he wasn't pregnant. That's what really set me off about the whole thing. From an employer's standpoint, I understand that maybe my life was less predictable than his, but considering that I had come back to work after my first child (before my maternity leave was even up, in fact) and the other reasons I already mentioned that I would have done the job better than my co-worker, I was furious at the thought that my womanhood had gotten in the way of my life. Actually, I wasn't furious about my womanhood, I was furious that I wasn't given an equal opportunity in light of it. That situation was a big part of my decision to quit that job, and that guy even got fired later for not being good at his job. It would mean a great deal (and not cost you much) to say something if you see women discriminated against on the basis of their gender in your workplace.

Also, don't freaking tell me I can't do something because I'm a girl. Even (especially?) if it's a role in the church. Evans has some excellent points in her blog posts about how women led in the church and society in both the new and old testament, and men didn't say, "we can't listen to them because they don't have any authority." Short of it having to do with higher levels of testosterone, it's probably not true that a girl can't do something. And hello, people can take testosterone if they're that worried about not being as buff, or whatever. Like I said before, I do think that men and women are different and there are some basic *general* characteristics that go along with a person's gender (there is something extra about having carried your child in your own body), but since the heck when is "is your husband coming" a good question about how qualified I (ME, not him!) am to complete a task. Are you kitten me right meow? Das rude.

I'm not just angry-writing here. I write posts over several days or weeks, so it's *somewhat* meditated upon. But it's okay to be angry about injustice. Jesus was publicly angry at times.  One more time, I want to reiterate that for me, being a Christian feminist doesn't mean that I'm angry at men. Maybe a few specific men at times, but I also get angry at specific women at times. Anyone who thinks feminism doesn't concern them is in danger of being an "oppressor by virtue of being neutral in situations of injustice". So go on, get mad. Pay attention to injustice, and don't stand aside and let it happen in front of you. Rip off your shirt (okay, not really), clench your fists, and get all anime on un-Biblical attitudes toward women in the church.

And now, I'm going to PowerDown....

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Style Icon: It's All Gucci!

Well kids, this is my 401st blog post. Thanks for sticking with me. This space is such a fun outlet for me and it has pushed me to be bolder, louder, honest-er. And that in turn has started so many conversations behind the scenes that have genuinely changed my life. This girl right here used to be as introverted as they come, and maybe I still am, but I never thought I'd have more true friends than I could keep up with. What a lovely problem to have. So once again, thank you all for being a part of this blog and the conversations that spring from it. Stick around for 400 more! 

I can't get enough of the 1970s revival going on in high fashion right now. Colorful, flowly, sexy, girly, edgy, and flattering to mom bodies. What could be better? My entire wardrobe is basically genuine 1970s, but a lot of the design houses have tweaked the color pallet just a bit this season and added some tropical elements. I'm loving that too.

Gucci is not a fashion house that I've thought of as "my style" before. Gucci bags are the pits. But as I looked through photos of the past several shows, my blood pressure starts to rise from the all-encompassing awe of how deeply exciting I find it.

I'm just going to throw a bunch of gorgeous pictures at you now, and hope you're catching all these glory rays. [some sheer tops going on, fair warning]

If this were all one big dreamy catwalk, pretend we were sipping girly cocktails in the front row and listening to this:














What's your favorite piece? The green wedge sandals, the mega eye brooch, the gold gloves, and the moto jacket.... I start picking my favorites and then I've picked every single piece. HEARTS FOR EYES.

Elements to look for when jamming your drawers with the fabulous 70s: plastic shades with big, colorful, and round lenses, strappy platform heels, embroidery, fringe, lame, 2010s do 1970s do 1900s (Victorian revival, rows of buttons/pompoms), boho, turbans, pastels, huge bow blouses, straight hair with bangs, nude lips, over the top sequins, pattern mixing, pant suits, velvet and big beads. In short: all my favorite things.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Graceful At Last

I've never loved my name: Karissa. I don't hate it, but I don't love it. It comes from the Greek word, "charis", meaning "grace". That's why Karissa is often spelled Charissa or Carissa. People try and spell my name Karrisa sometimes, too. I immediately love any barista who can spell my name correctly. That said, I'm not one of those people who is really particular about my name. As long as you talk at me using a name that starts with a C/K sound, I'll probably respond. Unless you're that one guy who immediately said, "Karissa, huh? That sounds like 'caress'..." Ew. Get away from me.

Like me, my mama takes the meaning of names very seriously. Growing up, she would remind me from time to time that my name meant "grace". This troubled me for the longest time, because I felt that it was very unfitting for me. I don't think of myself as a very graceful person. I bruise very easily and I'm also really talented at running into everything.  My legs perpetually look like a 6-year-old tomboy's. I tried to be regal and poised, and it was more trouble than it was worth. That struggle has become a theme in my life.


A decade or so later, it occurred to me that maybe "grace" meant more like, being gracious. That was a slightly higher calling, but as it turns out, I'm not great at that either. Self betterment and all, but seriously, some people on this planet are legitimately not smart. I try and love them still, but the struggle is absolutely real. Again, it really bothered me that my name didn't describe me properly in any sense that I could think of. 

I'm telling you all this because my sister encouraged me to share my testimony recently and as I've been thinking about it, the concept of grace takes center stage. I was struck by the suitability of my name at last, after all these years of being really "meh" about it. Thanks, mom. 

You see, charis refers to the grace of God, and even though I'm sure my mom told me that a million times, I didn't understand the grace of God at all until recently, and even now, I'm sure I don't fully grasp it. Even my Chinese name means "grace of God": En Dian, 恩典, which is very strange to Chinese people, because that's not a term that is widely known in China, and certainly not a proper name. 

I grew up in the Church - I mean, you can't get more churchy than being the child of missionaries. But even as a kid, I was very aware that my parents were the missionaries, and I was along for the ride. I received Christ at the ripe old age of 3. I don't even remember it. I got baptized at 13, mostly because my little sister was getting baptized and I felt that it reflected poorly on me not to be baptized before (or at least at the same time as) her. I did believe, but I was sure that I wasn't "good enough" to commit to truly following Christ (which I thought meant never sinning again, basically), and so I was kind of lying by engaging in the symbolism of baptism. At least, that's what I felt like I was doing at the time, even though it was a flawed view of what following Christ really means. I would come to find out that being perfect is kind of the opposite of what God calls us to when we decide to follow him. 

At any rate, I wore a hot pink bikini and got dunked in a muddy river in the middle of the Taklamakan desert, and then people got mad at me because we lived in a predominantly Muslim area and I wasn't supposed to wear a 2-piece bathing suit. Yeah, I was kind of a brat. 

I was a class-A little Pharisee, really. A bikini wearing Pharisee. I spent most of my childhood and all of my young-mid teenage years trying to be good, and I was good, as teenagers go, but I was also miserable. I struggled mightily with depression in high school, and I felt so betrayed that when I cried out to God for his help, I didn't hear anything back. That tormented me for years. I distinctly remember sitting in a blue bedroom, painting with clouds, forcing myself to pray and read the Bible for multiple hours a day, because that was what I thought would make me good. I thought it's what God wanted or required of me, and even if I didn't understand God, I understood how to follow rules.

I'm sickened by the fact that somehow Christian culture or youth group culture or Sunday school culture leaves a kid with the idea that salvation is on their own shoulders. Not every church misses the point of Grace, and I think that many of the church leaders I knew growing up were wise and genuine followers of Jesus. I don't know who to blame or whether there is anyone in particular really to blame for crippling legalism, but it was so ingrained in me and many kids I know who grew up in the Church. It's the biggest lie out there, and it absolutely destroys lives. Real lives. Lives that I have been and am a part of.

Understandably, parents (myself included, now) stress "being good" in all areas to our children. Hitting people is not good, lying is not good, etc. I want to teach my children morality, but it is so, so difficult to impart the truth that no amount of being bad (in any realm) changes God's love for you. I don't think any human parent can honestly say they treated their child with 100% the same unconditional love whether they never disobeyed or whether they wreaked havoc every second of their existence. Maybe that's why it's so hard to believe that God is a truly unconditionally loving parent.

When my parents moved back to the US for good, I was 16. Within a month of having moved to Santa Maria, I decided I was leaving the Church. I didn't broadcast this or renounce my belief in God, but I didn't want to be called a Christian or be a part of the Church as I knew it. This felt so dangerous, because I genuinely had no idea where I would go on this journey or where I would end up. Complacency? Eternal limbo? Hell? (The answer ended up being a 3 year - aka Eternal - limbo.) I didn't know anyone else who was going through the same struggle of faith - at least not openly. A lot of my friend's moms already thought I was a bad influence for dating a Catholic guy and listening to secular music and not wearing turtlenecks. You think I'm kidding, but I'm mostly not kidding. Imagine, then, the pressure of "coming out" as not-sure-I'm-a-Christian. Basically the only thing worse (and this is a joke, but actually kind of horribly sad and true) would be coming out as gay in the church culture. 
But I was so sick of failing to be good enough (my happiness or self worth being dependent on my own works or strength), and I was so sick of going to church and feeling like no one was being honest with me. I knew, in a textbook kind of way, that God was good for me, but I didn't know who he was anymore, and maybe I never had. If he was what the church said he was and if some of the church-goers I knew were accurate mini-mes of Jesus, I wanted nothing of that god. Ultimately, I found the agony of facing some sort of ostracization better than lying to myself that this version of Jesus was who I really believed in or that I wanted this kind of life. 

What was real? I didn't know, and I thought that I should start from the very, very beginning and only hold on to what I could be sure of. What I was sure of was very little, and honestly, it remains very little. I only continued going to church anymore because my dad required that I go to some sort of service while I still lived at home. I thought that was archaic and burdensome at the time, but it indirectly saved my life. 

For background, I was dating this nerdy, hot, art-dude named Jonas. Some of you may have heard of him. ;) We eventually got married. I was definitely not into the churches my parents had been trying out, but one church that they had tried out and decided against was Element. Their electric guitarist could really shred, and she was a girl! Some of you may know Michelle, she's now my bff. ;) But the pastor made a fart-in-a-wetsuit joke from the pulpit and my parents kept looking (sorry, Aaron! Lolzzz). (To be fair, that's a simplistic reason for why they kept looking for a church to join.)

So, like I said, I had to attend Church, per my dad's rules. I decided to go back to Element on my own (well, with Jonas), and soon thereafter, Aaron preached through a series on the Song of Solomon. I found Element engaging and I learned a lot every time I went to church. I was making some life choices that were not "good", and I was aware of that, but here I was, forced to be in church anyway. I had made it a priority to be honest with myself, and I knew that I couldn't pretend that I was on board with the Church or my life as a follower of Christ if I was knowingly going against his commandments. Kind of like the baptism scenario all over again, but sans bikini. 

I know this sounds incredibly arrogant, but I was not ready to live for Jesus. Maybe I had to experience being lost  - and know that I was lost - in order to want to be found. I think I had been lost all along, but I thought Jesus and I were on the same page, when we really weren't. Really, Jesus wasn't on my page, and it had been bothering me for a long time. [image]

The Song of Solomon messages pierced me. Song of Solomon, as it turns out, is rated R. There's a lot of steamy stuff in there, and it was not what I was used to hearing about in church. I appreciated the candor and was struck by the relevance of scripture. I'm a sensual being (not in a weird way, I'm just being honest), and I was made to be that way by God himself. I was told many times growing up that there was no place for that in the church. I had to be modest and pious and unattractive at all times. No one actually said the bit about being unattractive, but I always felt stifled by church culture and honestly, I liked being beautiful. I liked it when other people noticed. One great thing I learned from the Song of Solomon series is that it is OKAY TO BE HOT. God created all that is beautiful. I'm not a scourge of Satan if men notice that, and I'm not a pervert for noticing beauty in other people. 

I thought that following Christ meant surrendering myself, which is does. But I thought that if I surrendered myself, He would ask me to give up any and everything that I loved, and I wasn't willing to do that. I thought that it was inevitable that God would test my devotion to him by taking away what I loved most - Jonas. But another thing I learned from the Song of Solomon, is that sin ultimately destroys, even if it is gratifying for a time. That truth so clearly applied to me. I knew that my deliberate choices to be "not good" allowed me to be free, by my own definition of "free", but I was also beginning to see that the secrecy and guilt (even if that guilt was about disappointing my parents rather than hurting a Friend who laid down his life for me) was hurting my relationship with the one I loved most - Jonas - instead of binding us together.

Now, I wasn't about to be all, "I'm breaking up with you because I need to focus on Jesus." Bullshit. BUT, the realization that my lack of commitment to genuinely following Christ was actually hurting me and bringing me another brand of misery - that realization was a tipping point for me. In my memory, it was almost like I made this change on a dime. I was suddenly ready to own the fact that I could never be good enough or bad enough to change God's feelings toward me, and that freed me to love him with no strings attached. And that's it. That's what made me decide to follow Jesus. I finally truly believed that He loves me, whether or not I'm good at loving him, and no matter what loving him looks like in my life. 

That is, in very simplistic terms, what grace, charis, is. It is permission to rest in what God has given to me, free of charge. And you know what? It is so mind-blowingly great. There is really nothing more powerful or important in my life. My sister Annelise wanted me to share this because she said that not many people, at least not many millennials, get to hear a life story of how choosing to follow Christ made someone more free and more happy than they were before. Before my introduction to grace, "faith in Christ" was always the antithesis of freedom in my life. And yet, I honestly believe that Jesus does not call us to be slaves, he has RESCUED us from slavery! 

I often call my faith and the story of my journey to belief a "hard sell." It's pretty personal and pretty divine (as in not by my own willpower) and I don't know why someone who doesn't believe would buy it. It is not fun all the time, but it gives me hope, even when life is at its very worst. I have friends and siblings and siblings-in-law who haven't been able to reconcile an ugly world with the existence of a good God. You know what? I can't always either. I don't have answers for everything, or even very much at all, but that is what is so beautiful about faith to me. It FREES ME from having to answer everything out of my own finite brain power. I could never hope to understand fully what and why Jesus did what he did for me, because I sure as hell don't deserve it. Am I a logic-less, backward freak for trusting in the grace of God? Maybe! I am ridiculously okay with that. 

I have found so much joy and meaning in accepting the grace of God, that I don't give two poos whether other people think that is foolish or not. I'm done bending my belief system to fit other people's standards. And here's the semi-logical argument I find for believing something so strange and otherworldly as the gospel of Jesus Christ: better to believe it and find out that it's true than not believe it and find out it's still true. When I tell people that, I worry that they'll think that my logic is driven by fear. But for me, it dispels fear. True fear was the realization that I was basing my eternal destiny on my own goodness. I simply couldn't live up to my self-imposed ideas of perfection. 

I referenced earlier that after deciding to strip away all the ideas I had about what it meant to be a Christian and start from scratch, I ended up with very few things I knew for sure. Now, I'm not a universalist, but if there's one thing I've learned, it's that Jesus meets different people in different places. I know this in part because I've been so wrong about some things that I held to be so right, and if it happened once, it could happen again. I believe in the most basic form of the gospel (Christ died for my sins, rose again on the third day, and if I accept that gift, I'm his homegirl for ever and ever, amen), and most of the rest of my beliefs I hold more as informed opinions, for the time being. 

People who don't believe in Jesus as their savior tend to have a lot of questions about different philosophical points. I don't mean to belittle having doubts and questions - I have loads of them myself. I just no longer feel held back by my lack of understanding on so many issues. For me, that's the definition of faith, and it's all that separates me from anyone else who does not believe. 

Reveling in my freedom in Christ makes me feel like a bad Christian most of the time. And I kind of love it. I am so, so happy to be done with the church culture's idea of "good". BUT, I do believe in Truth, and I do seek to obey my Savior. I read through the Bible when I was 16-17, and ever since, I've felt pretty unmotivated to read any more of it. Is this a good thing, even if it's in the name of "freedom in Christ"? No! There is such a thing as discipline and obedience. I am still learning to recognize the good in rules that God has given to us and to follow them out of love. He has called us to evangelize (I could write another miniature book on my thoughts about everything that can fall under that category), pray, read the scripture, tithe, be baptized, etc. I am still recovering from the lies I cocooned myself in for so long, and even if this is dumb, I resist obedience if I can only do it out of shame or guilt. 

Change in my heart can be slow, but I've seen it happen, and I trust that God knows how to irritate me enough to get me to continue changing. In fact, he gets an A+ in irritating me. And still, I want to be with him and be more like him, and that's what makes me sure that I've made the right choice. If it sounds Kumbaya and not-scientifically accurate, you might just be right. And it is glorious.

[image] "I once was lost, but now I'm found..."

God calls some to be scholars, debaters, philosophers, theologians, and generally brainy and specific about their faith. I will always seek to know more and uncover solid truths and articulate my beliefs (including reading his Word, which is the main way he has chosen to communicate with us), but relying on those practices as the end rather than the means nearly cost me my life. Instead, I think God has called me to be a joyful, colorful, occasionally cussy witness to people who are done with a Pharisaical lifestyle. I wish that this story was less messy in the telling and much more intellectual, but the very fact that accepting grace is not my natural bent makes me think that it is what God wants for my life. He changes people, and by his grace, I am a very changed woman.

The enthusiasm I feel when I talk about how this affects my heart renders me unable to shut up. You've probably gathered as much. Being "poor in spirit" is one of the best things that ever happened to me. It doesn't feel totally safe, because sometimes I am faced with big and difficult questions about what it means for my life that I trust in God. I question whether my wishy-washy heart will still believe in the face of tragedy, but I would rather live in the tension of the unknown than live with the lie that I can reach God on my own merit or that I will ever have answers for everything. 

I don't think I've put this whole story and the word "testimony" together before now, but there you go. To me, escaping my original idea of Christianity is almost as miraculous as quitting a bunch of drugs. I can honestly say I am 10,000 times happier being a "bad" Christian than I was trying to be a good one. God has called me by name to be his own, and that name is Grace. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Amateur Mother

A situation requires a very high level of potential embarrassment in order for me to consider whether or not I should publicly write about it. I am not easily shamed or embarrassed – or rather, when I am, it is easy for me to laugh it off.  However, as any parent of a pre-schooler could probably tell you, children complicate the ability to deflect embarrassment.

My sons are animals. They’re really sweet and cute and a lot of the time, but they’re animals. John Oliver recently likened supporting Donald Trump to having a pet Chimpanzee – they’re entertaining until they start ripping your limbs off. That’s how I feel about my sons. They have two settings: sleep and mischief. As Bunmi Laditan noted, I spend all my time breaking up fights between the two children I had expressly so they would entertain each other. 

Ishmael’s deviance of choice is kicking Ira, or kicking whatever object Ira is trying to use. Ira, in turn, will go up to Ishmael and shove him in the chest with both hands and laugh his bum off about Ishmael staggering backward and crying. I'm convinced that people who believe in the basic good of humanity don’t have young children.

Ishmael's other hobbies include stealing candy, destroying property, and lying about everything. Meanwhile, Ira has perfected acting entirely deaf when I talk in his direction and then by the time I’m yelling at him to stop whatever he’s doing, he turns and looks at me and shouts, “OKAYYYY!” with almost as much sass as my 16 year old sister. Their go-to responses to questions are “I don’t know” (when they clearly do) and “HE did it!” 

Ishmael’s behavior has been especially discouraging recently because I can't find any kind of discipline that consistently changes his ways. And I really don't want to get into a positive vs. negative reinforcement battle right now, because I know that's probably what you're thinking is wrong with me. That's what I would think is wrong with me if I were someone else reading this.

Deep down, I know that he is bored and ignored most of the time, and that’s why he acts out. I feel guilty because I’m the one who isn’t engaging enough with him and I’m the one who is trying to accomplish 10 other things while simultaneously keeping both children alive. More so than any shocking thing my children say or do, I'm embarrassed to write about my life as a parent because I believe it’s my failures that make them unpleasant to be around.


Let me tell you a little story about something that really broke me as a parent... 

Ira has been sleeping in a vintage crib that I painted when pregnant with Ishmael. All of the fumes I inhaled are probably what caused Ishmael to be born with so much hair and a temperament that challenges mine in every way. Because it's a vintage [probably illegal] crib, it's must smaller than modern sized cribs, which are almost the size of a twin bed. At any rate, Ira could easily crawl out of it if he had the mind to, and I'm pretty surprised he hasn't had the mind to so far. Knowing this, my mother kindly bought us a regular-sized crib at the thrift store, but it was too big to fit up the stairs in one piece, so Jonas had to dismantle it first. 

While I was clearing off a space on the boy's bedroom floor - aka the place where toys go to die, as they become a mine-field for unsuspecting adult feet or lost forever under piles of underwear and broken sunglasses - I grabbed a yellow toy truck about the size of burrito. Something sloshed out of the truck bed onto the carpet in a remarkably viscous, straight line. The color was suspect, so I lifted my doused finger to my nose, and I can not describe to you the feeling I had when I realized that it was urine. Actually, I can. It was mind-bending disbelief coupled with an internal, "What. The. Hell." Jonas and I looked at one another and agreed, "That. That is truly weird."

I share a bathroom with three boys, so I see a lot of urine in places it shouldn't be. I don't love it. But something about imagining my son purposefully peeing in the bed of a toy truck instead of in the toilet so horrified me that I really felt like he might be a troubled person. I was afraid to tell anyone about this, but one of my sisters is a nurse and she thought this story was hilarious and relatively normal, so I've taken a deep breath and shared it.  

Now, I honestly think that this is probably on the spectrum of normalish boy behavior. I'm sure I'm in for lots more surprises in having sons. I think it will only get funnier as time goes on, and I don't think there is something wrong with Ishmael. If he reads this someday, I want him to be assured that I don't legitimately think there's something wrong with the way his mind works. I did some pretty bizarre, unbelievably unsanitary things out of pure curiosity as a child myself. But I have been at my wits end for how to deal with him, and this situation played into a the decision to get him in to school as quickly as possible. I just typo-ed "pissable", which I find worth noting here. 

Ever since Ishmael was a baby, he’s loved to get out of the house. He and I are very different this way. He’s almost always on excellent behavior when we go out, and on worst behavior when we're home. After we’re done at one store or destination, he always wants to go on to another, and begs not to go home. Ira, on the other hand, asks to go home frequently, though he never wants to be left out if we are going somewhere.

Ishmael is dying to learn. I don't just sense this, he tells me so himself. He pretends he’s at school and he talks about school often, even though he’s never been (he's not even 3 and half yet). He immediately focuses, comes alive, and becomes a joy when we read, play playdough, play jenga, go the park, or go to the library, but for whatever reasons (many legitimate) I can't provide all the stimulation he needs at the levels that he craves it. 

He needs more than I can give him, and while I'm okay with that, it's not an easy thing to be secure about when you're an amateur mother, daughter of a professional mother. Even though we’ve always planned to put our kids in school (as opposed to home-schooling), I thought that we’d delay it as much as possible so that the stay-at-home parent (which turned out to be me) got to be with them as much as possible in the youngest years and shape their character. I thought - and have been told - that the opportunity to shape a young character is basically the highest calling a mother can have, and that it's terrible to let anyone else do that. 

As it turns out, spending all day, every day together shaping one another's characters doesn’t seem to be the best thing for Ishmael and I. We're definitely being shaped, just into funky postmodern sculptures with limp arms and dripping faces. I must pause here and say that there is good in being the primary care giver for my sons, and I wholeheartedly believe that parents have the honor and responsibility of teaching a child how to function and flourish, whether or not they're the primary care-taker for their kids. I don't take that lightly or wish that someone else would handle all of it. I'm just realizing that me being the exclusive shaper of Ishmael's young heart and mind may not be the healthiest of options.

If you don't believe me, check out this terrifying drawing that Jonas sketched for one of his classes. When the boys saw it, they both pointed and said, "mama." DON'T ASK. (I don't even know...)

I read this article a long time ago, written by a former nanny who is now a mother to children of her own. This is slightly out of context in regards to what she was saying, but she referred to mothers as "feeling both out of control and deeply responsible". I'm a realist when it comes to rights and fairness in this world, but motherhood can feel like the most unfair, uncontrollable collision of impossible feelings and situations. So responsible, so helpless. 

"They are great at their jobs, even though child care is easier when all parties allow the late-capitalist delusion that it isn’t a job at all. Like maybe they’re doing the work because they just love children that much. Though, having done it, I know it doesn’t always feel like a job but something else much trickier, with fewer boundaries and higher stakes." No rules, all the consequences. 

One of my primary roles in life is to be a mother to these children, and I don't understand why God would choose to give me a task so unsuited to my natural giftings. Why can't this work be fulfilling and uplifting to all parties involved? Actually, I think I do know God lets it be this way, and it makes me not want to have coffee with him. He's forcing me to rely on something other than my own brain power or gifts such that I grow and learn and am stretched and have to admit that I'm a slobbering, blubbering, broken down mess all the time without his mercy and grace (which I am gifted at ignoring). I guess I will have to continue learning this lesson until I no longer have children, which Lord willing, will be a long damn time. But seriously, why can't children eat artwork and learn discipline from hours of delicious sleep? Maybe that will be what it's like in heaven, where everything is as it should be. 

I strongly believe in early childhood setting the tone for life, aka "providing a good foundation", and that makes me queezy, as I don't feel that it's going very well. However, I am still hopeful that my less Catholic-school more free-range approach with result in idyllic scenes of me with two teenage sons, all bffs, co-writing a political blog while monetizing our hobbies together and renovating a pink Victorian mansion somewhere in South East Asia. It could happen, right?

When I see other people who love to be with pre-schoolers and who understand how to engage them, it’s pretty obvious that Ishmael needs that, and I don’t have it. He has always been harder for me to relate to. He is deeply caring, and I think he might be an artist or an inventor, which thrills me, but it also makes me look at myself and wonder if I'm also that mysterious and slippery and complicated a soul. He is often so emotional that I think his constant crying is "crying wolf" and I worry that I'm like one of those 1950s fathers ingraining in him that boys don't cry, only because I'm so exhausted by his levels of sentiment. Is he my carbon copy or my polar opposite? Most likely, he's just his very own brand of person and I don't know him very well yet. Too often, we don't bring out the best in one another.

I found this paragraph in a draft for another post that will never see the light of day. It was about a weekend I spent in LA with some of my siblings and just one son: "It was such a departure from my reality, especially since I only had Ira with me. It was both wonderful and sad to realize how much I enjoyed time alone to focus on Ira. He seemed to blossom in front of my eyes and I loved playing with him, even when I was frustrated at pulling him off the kitchen table for the thousandth time. It made me ENJOY having children. I always love having children, but I do not often enjoy it."

The first few years of my parenting journey were heavily influenced by post-partum depression, which I did not realize I was dealing with at the time. It certainly contributed to my over-all sense of dislike for that time period, and beside being extremely difficult, it also made me feel so guilty to find rest and enjoyment in my "easy" child, and constant frustration in interacting with my "difficult" child. Even the naked fact that there are now two of them meant and means that I can rarely focus all my love rays on either one of them as much as I wish I could.

Showing favoritism is one of a very few things that I find unforgivable in other parents. As usual, I've had to face this ugly struggle that I never expected to have to deal with in myself. This is a taboo topic for pretty good reason, but I think there is a need for these topics to be brought out in the open, because if I'm struggling with it, I'm pretty sure some other moms are too. Nothing makes an amateur mother feel like less alone than having someone else voice our deepest fears.

I must clarify that I genuinely love my sons equally. I don't always like them equally, and they take turns being the more frustrating one. I don't think it's wrong for that to be my reality, but it is wrong to treat them differently in light of that, and that is hard for me. One has been in my favorite age-range recently, the other is at a notoriously difficult stage. I'm sad and fearful as I watch Ira, who has been so much easier, descend into the 2-3yo window (18 months is the sweet spot, so far!). It makes my uterus shriek, if you know what I mean.

On top of that, I quickly blame Ishmael in a situation in which they're both in trouble, because it seems much more likely that Ishmael understood his actions and still deliberately hurt Ira. But recently, Ira has adapted to become conniving and devious in his own right, and I'm less likely to favor his side because he's so "helpless".

"out of control and deeply responsible" (artwork source unknown) 


So far, I've only heard one nugget of wisdom that made me feel less miserable about trying to navigate this situation. "When we're being honest, our favorite kid is the one giving us the least amount of trouble right now." I find that to be true of myself, and I cling to it because it means that my sons both get a chance to be "the good one" sometimes. But I also question why there is a need to compare and why there can only be one that I'm the most happy with at any given time. Or why I base how "well" things are going by the level of happiness I'm feeling.

I can see clearly that they're very different kids and I know that comparison is a deadly habit in general, but I think parents are lying if they pretend they don't compare behavior among their children. Thank goodness that motherly love seems to be an uncontrollable resource that never diminishes based on behavior, no matter who its channeled at. I hope it's not arrogant to say that that's the image of God in us as parents, and thereby the thing that I am least responsible for in myself as a mother.

I think what I had started to say about school got lost in all my feelings about being unjustly subjected to parenthood-by-fire. School turned out not to be the point of this post at all, but anyway, Ishmael will be going to school in the fall, if all goes well. I hope it helps regulate his behavior and gives him tasks to put his heart into and helps me feel less guilty for being the sole ruinner of souls. 

As much as I writhe around under the title of "mother", my sons are precious to me. Precious little ball and chains. Apart from losing a great deal of liberty as an adult upon having children, parenting is most difficult because you do love these young humans with all your might, and that makes the possibility (and reality) of messing them up so crushing. Nothing makes me smile more than to watch them experiencing joy, and nothing rips me up more than feeling like an impostor of a parent, responsible for their miserable human behaviors. 

For everyone's sake, I wish I was a professional mother. But I'm not. I'm only an as-good-as-I-can-be-right-now mother who is actively trying to be a better mother. And that has to be enough. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

642 Prompts: New Tenants


Artwork by Olaf Hajek 

Prompt: The people who will live in your house after you move out.

2/22/16

The uneven paint seams unnerved them. They assumed I must have been a sloppy person. They "refurbished" all the decay I called character. No appreciation for the decrepit and useless fruit-drying vents in the floor. They got rid of the green claw-foot tub. They ripped out the blackberry brambles and put in gravel. They called the gold ceilings gaudy. They swapped the whistling beveled panes for air tight glass that you can see miles away through. They amputated every vine fingering this home, the bastards. In fact, they let every vagabond who rolled up the cul de sac traipse through that old place and they sold off my collections, my monuments, my mementos, for $2-5. They gutted and de-souled that home until it was just a house - somebody else's house. But their daughter put an orchid in her window, and that's something. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Heartshaped Mixtape

The "Musings" category on this blog is one of my favorite series of posts. Don't you love it when you meet someone new (or are hanging out with a close friend) and they ask you a question about yourself that you don't know the answer to, OR that you have a really interesting answer for, but no one ever asks about that topic? That's what I aim for with this category. 

This question has been on my list for a while, but Valentine's Day seems like the perfect time to ask it: 
Did you ever make a mixtape for a sweetheart? If so, what was the format, and what music did you choose?
I do love sharing playlists on Spotify, but it sure was romantic when someone you admired handed you a hard copy, freshly burned soundtrack to their heart, back in the day (2005).

Music might be able to convey all the words you are too shy to say to your crush, but mixtape songs also reveal so much about the giver. 

When Jonas and I were dating, I would give him all sorts of little gifts.  I made him some mixtapes of my favorite stuff and we still have them so that someday, our boys can listen to them (if they can find a way to play cds!) and maybe love it, maybe laugh at it. True to my tendency to overwork things, I even wrote out explanations of what I loved about each song for Jonas. 

The first song Jonas ever showed me was "Crash into Me" by Dave Matthews and I think the first one I showed him was "Coffee" by Copeland. "Crash into Me" is still our official song, and I still love "Coffee" too, though it didn't make it into our couples-hall-of-fame. The main line I wanted him to hear in that song was, "I'd stay up all night, just to hear about your day." That song perfectly captures what it's like to want to be married so bad, but be ridiculously young. 

I made a Spotify playlist of my mixtape for Jonas. I think the cds were part of my gift to him for his 19th birthday. He's turning 26 in a few days! It's both fun and embarrassing (Angels and Airwaves) to look back on this playlist. There were a few songs that I had totally forgotten about ("Silence" by Takka Takka), but one song that's on here that gets me just as much as ever is Joni Mitchell's "For Free". Most of all, I love that these discs are like a time capsule of our relationship. It already feels like a long time ago. 

There were a few songs I couldn't find on Spotify, and in a way, the missing songs are the songs that make these discs special. Back when everyone had CDs and owned the songs they listened to, you went out of your way to own the special stuff (or at least burn a hard copy of the rare versions of things).  Songs not on the playlist:

Sweet Nothings by Venice Maki
Swse Me by Michalis Hatzigiannis
Track 15 - a Russian techno-dance song
Eternal by Evanescence
Love 'em and Kiss 'em by Plumb

If you were to make your significant other (or secret crush!) a mixtape today, what's one song that would for sure be on it? 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Over the Hill

I imagine myself on the "highway" of life, with freedom to move around (mostly forward, I hope) and even take a path off the main road from time to time. This is probably a very Western view - that I have so much control. I'm not upset about this reality, but today I envisioned myself in more of a narrow corridor where life is the thing doing the navigating and I really have no choice but to follow its course. This occurred to me as I realized all the times I've considered myself different or even above the habits and rituals of aging (or more precisely, those more aged than me) and the same number of times I've been proven wrong.

Harold and Maude, my favorite young-old people. 

I wonder what it's like for older people to read along as I come to these conclusions and if they try and remember what it was like NOT to know what I have only just figured out. Like I said before, I don't really resent the fact that I'm not in control as much as I used to, and perhaps that's the first part of being an adult - you stop being enraged when you realize that you're powerless. Instead, you just adjust your path (or rather, your thoughts or feelings about THE path) to best accommodate what you can't change.

I've written about getting older in terms of appearance and wisdom before, but in the past few months I've had a few realizations that really made having "arrived" at adulthood come in to focus. I'm currently 24, and I've heard that 25 is the big shift, so it looks like we're right on track. It doesn't feel bad or sad to be getting "old", but the shift is noticeable and it does feel kind of strange. I didn't expect for there to be such palatable changes, nor for them to happen so early. It doesn't seem to have come because of having children, either. I wasn't feeling this way last year, and it doesn't feel like very long ago that I felt like a high-schooler mascarading as an adult. Which leads me to realization number 1...

1. Time is a black hole. The things I think of as having happened "last summer", actually happened four years ago. The Sandy Hook shooting happened in 2012!!! What?! Lupita Nyong'o won an Oscar 3 cycles ago instead of in the previous cycle. See also, movies that "just came out", aka I've been to the theater about twice in the last three years.

2. My taste in music has ceased to evolve. I peruse the new releases every week and my response is, "what is this junk?!" I now know what "mom's music" is going to be when my boy's tell their friends: the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Killers, the Shins, Modest Mouse... I do listen to a wide range (including more current music), but those are some of the bands that will remind me of "being young".



Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, literally the coolest pregnant woman of all time. 

3. Fully cognisant human beings don't remember 9/11. Something about 9/11 came up at the dinner table the other night and my 16 year old sister referred to "the bombs" (not planes). Freshman in high school today were not even born when 9/11 happened!

4. I'm no longer the person with all the answers about technology. How does Snapchat work? Does ANYONE know? Does anyone that I know know? Do I care?

5. I no longer think being stuck in my ways is entirely negative. I highly value the ability to change ones mind, but I find myself with solid and lasting views on spiritual and political topics and I don't worry about whether they're unpopular to voice in public. Andddd... I am loving this!

I hardly recognize myself! (image

6. I'm now as old as people who I used to think were old. I recently met up with an old youth leader of mine and was startled to realize that when I met her 11 years ago, she was 24. Even though I'm writing all of this, I still feel unsure about a lot of things in my life, but I thought my then-24-year-old leader was as adult as they came! Also, 50 is no longer old to me, 90 is old.

7. "Those snatched eyebrows? So sus, she must be turnt to try and throw shade at me like that!" If you didn't understand that at all, don't worry, I had to study for like 20 minutes to translate it into: "Those amazing looking eyebrows? So suspect, she must be drunk to try and dis me like that". Not that that makes any sense either, I'm just trying to illustrate that when my brothers visit on school breaks, I don't know half the words they're saying anymore. My slang is stuck in it's own era. I don't swear around my mom, so I say "cool" a lot.

8. Famous people are now younger than me. Karlie Kloss and Kate Upton? Yeah, I'm older than them. Justin Beiber, Kylie and Kendall Jenner? Babies. And that is weird. I hear the year people were born in and I'm all... "wuuuuut? I was already x years old!" It's especially weird to admire someone and realize they're younger than my youngest brother. Similarly, the stars that I had crushes on are now old. Leonarda DiCaprio, I love you, but you're really starting to look too old for me.

Jonas contributed that older people now talk to him in conspiratorial tones about "young people"...

Reading Business Insider probably makes me old-ish too, but at least I know where to go to figure out what's cool and what's not these days! What I learned: Thank goodness I don't say "bae" or "on fleek", and Bernie should run again next election cycle if he loses this time! I also downloaded that app Wishbone and I've gotta say, it's kind of addicting. I'm currently plotting how to monopolize the scene with more sophisticated WYRs (Would You Rather) and simultaneously realizing how few poos I give about which prom dress is prettier (neither). I've even stopped trying to figure out who the male celebrities are that it's trying to make me choose between.

What makes you feel like an adult, or otherwise old? Not responsibility stuff like paying bills or learning how the heck to invest money, but cultural stuff and identity shifting!? What music defines your youth? What newfangled thing can you not wrap your head around? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

How to Sell on Instagram

This is a really long instructional post. To break up the text, I'm going to post pictures of some of my favorite things I've seen while browsing the Instagram shop universe!

I've been selling vintage items and books on Instagram for about a year now, and I continue to love it! I've never done an expense report to find out exactly how much I'm making, but on average, I'd guess I bring in about $300 per month. That doesn't sound like a ton, but it's enough for me to buy new inventory and pay for enough expenses (some groceries, occasional gas, clothes and books for the boys, an occasional item for myself, etc.) that I don't have to take any money from Jonas' account. It goes a long way toward making me feel productive and somewhat independent. It also alleviates any guilt I would feel for taking money Jonas earned at a really hard job to pay for something frivolous like thrift store trinkets for myself.

Yep, coulda bought my wedding dress on Instagram, of all places... 

I notice that a lot of SAHMs (including myself) have tried the direct sales approach, be it Stella and Dot, Pampered Chef, Mary Kay, LuLaRoe, Keep, etc. I can think of 1 (mayyybe 2) people doing that who I think are probably making good money off it (and by good money, I mean the same or more than I am making off Instagram). I don't say this to belittle direct sales, It's not impossible to be good at or make money at, but for me, being successful at it negated the whole reason I needed a job like that - it was stressful and a big time and energy commitment, which took away considerably from being home with my boys. I also felt constantly pressured to cold-call and generally be a sales person in a way that was very uncomfortable for me. I learned some excellent skills and lessons and ended up with a kitchen full of amazing products during my time with the Pampered Chef, but ultimately, the costs outweighed the benefits for me.

Around the year mark of being at Pampered Chef, Jonas' boss told me that his sister made a killing selling thrifted items on Instagram. I asked him to clarify because I'd never heard of people selling stuff on Instagram before. I also had someone offer to buy a sweater that Ira was wearing in a picture on my personal Instagram account, which struck me as weird and maybe creepy. I found out after a few months selling on Instagram that that is a highly coveted limited-edition Baby Gap sweater. I also started looking at the feeds of two ladies I know who sold on Instagram, and started following a few shops on my personal instagram.

I already have hoarding tendencies, but I'm also pretty good at getting rid of stuff, so I'm constantly trying to figure out how to make a buck off of clothing or other junk that my boys have outgrown or we no longer need or want. I also have a decent eye for style, if I do say so myself, and I was confident that I could bring a stronger (more desirable) collection of items to the table than a good percentage of other shops I was seeing. Not least of all, reselling thrifted items gives me an excuse to shop as much as I wanted and make money.


These are the two pieces that broke my heart the most not to call mine. I stalled on buying the quilted dress because I was hoping it would go on sale (it was out of season at the time), but someone else bought it out of the blue. I think the baby leotard was posted in real time and I just didn't claim it fast enough. Waaaaa! 

If you love to shop and/or you end up with a lot of good-quality cast-offs from your kids, here are the basics of what I've learned about how to open and run a successful shop on Instagram.

Starting out:
  • Set up a PayPal account. It can take a few days for your bank to confirm all your information with PayPal, so you want to have this squared away before you open shop. 
  • Start a new Instagram account with a thoughtful name. I personally find it very cluttered when people try and mix their personal and shop accounts. It's also confusing for your customers if you decide to switch your account name once you are established, so don't just make any name up without pondering it for a while. 
  • Set up your shop rules and keep them posted. I started off just copying what I found in other shops as well as throwing in a few ideas I had, and then adjusted them as I gained more experience and found out what was really needed. To give you an example, some shops require that you comment with your email in order to claim things. My shop rules specifically state that asking for more information about an item will hold your place, even without an email. Unfortunately, sometimes buyers get catty over a particularly desired item and it's difficult to resolve arguments without making people angry if you don't have pre-written rules to direct people to. 
  • Consider posting other basic information. The IG selling/buying community is pretty friendly and even close-knit in some cases. People want to know you as a person and they also want to make sure you're not a scammer (there have been instances in which people sell items and then never ship to you). Consider posting a picture of yourself and/or your family and doing a small introduction! 
  • Post a few teaser images of items you'll be selling before officially opening for business. This can feel torturous (I waited until I had 200 followers), but you will also be much more confident when you start selling things during your first sale instead of trying to sell to 5 followers.
Gain exposure:
Some people prefer to keep their accounts private, but I highly recommend having a public shop. I can see how in some cases, a private shop could create enough intrigue that you'll follow just to find out what they have (and then maybe forget to unfollow!), but most of the time, a private shop is enough of a deterrent to me that I'll never bother requesting access. Private or Public, networking is essential for IG shop success. There are lots of ways to increase traffic to your feed.
  • Make friends. I'm quick to be chatty online in general, but often a comment will turn into a mini-conversation, and several mini-conversations can turn into an allyship with another shop. Besides gaining a new friend, these allyships are very beneficial for your business, especially if they are with a well-established, well-respected shop. IG friends are always quick to promote one another's shops and tag each other when they come across giveaway sign ups (more on those later), etc. It always helps to have a few extra ladies on your side and extra pairs of eyes looking out for you! My IG shop friends also keep me informed about good new shops or buyers who are not worth the trouble, and even scammers to watch out for. 
  • Share for Shares (S4S). S4Ss are the less annoying cousin of "follow for a follow" that random people on Instagram may have solicited from you before. You, or any other shop, can post a S4S (usually the actual text "S4S" or "Share for Share?" on a photo or blank background) at any time, and anyone who responds agrees to post one of your photos in return for you posting one of theirs - it's an easy way to "cross pollinate" your followers and get new eyeballs on your feed. You can even specify exactly which photo you would like other shops to post for you. Even better than S4Ss are Circle S4Ss. These are much less common, but often more effective and efficient - in a Circle S4S, everyone who comments shares every other commentator's shop as well. It's a little complicated to understand if you don't have much of a context for IG shops yet, but trust me, they're cool. My other S4S tips are to be brave in requesting a S4S from shops you admire, even if they haven't put a call out for one (the worst the can do is say no, and at best, you get your shop shared by a popular shop!) and to be strategic about when you ask for a S4S. Don't overuse it and do pay attention to the high-traffic times of day/week (for me, weeknights from 6-9pm PST). Also, follow S4S rabbit holes. If you see that shop A has just shared shop B, check both shop A and B to see if either of them have posted a S4S so that you can jump on it too! 
  • One strategy for gaining followers is to follow a lot of other accounts. I love using Instagram's Search page to see what accounts are suggested based on the things I already like, and that's a good place to start. I also look at who my favorite shops are following. Overall though, I don't like the mass-follow tactic - some of the people you follow will follow you back, but real customers will find you on their own. I'd rather have that than an extra 1000 followers who are hanging around but never buying, and then having all that extra junk they post show up in my feed. On the other hand, when real customers see that you have a lot of followers, they feel assured that you're worth following. 
  • "Steal" customers from shops similar to yours. This is not as bad as it sounds. When a shop that I like and carries similar things to my shop is having a sale, I follow along in real time and see who is buying. Then, I tag those customers on items of my own that are similar or that I think they will like. This works especially well with books. DO NOT actually steal business from other shops by tagging shoppers on the exact same product that you are selling, or you will quickly be hated by other shops. Sometimes, there will be more than one person who wants something, and if I have one, then I will tag a backup buyer on exactly the same book or item that someone else is selling. However, it is nicer to wait until the item the other shop has actually sold, so that that shop doesn't lose business from the backup customer in case the first customer bails on paying (which happens fairly often). 
  • Tag lists. A tag list is a photo that you post (it should say "tag list" or "master tag list" on it) on which people can comment if they want you to tag them every time you have a sale - it's basically your loyalty club comprised of customers who consistently likes what you post. It can be a pain in the bum to tag everyone once you get a robust "loyalty club", but sales are much healthier when you do. People on your tag list generally tend to buy regularly, and it pays to notify them when you are posting rather than risk your images getting lost in their feed. Many shops/shoppers are following at least 1000 accounts, each posting around 30 images in a row every time they list items. Tag lists are also excellent if you're a buyer. As both a buyer and a seller, you can also turn on notifications for accounts that don't offer a tag list or if you want to make sure that you see a "discount" posting. If you choose this option, your phone will let you know every time they post a photo (people think I'm extremely social because my phone is constantly making noise). 
  • ISO (In Search Of) Lists. This is one of my favorite parts about selling on Instagram! Get to know what your followers collect or are in search of, and REMEMBER IT! You can do this by memory (tricky), or keep track of it in the comments of a special photo in your feed. That way, when you can't remember who wanted what, or you're at the thrift store trying to decide on whether to get something or not, you can check the notes people have made about what they want. For example, in my bookshop, I keep track of certain authors that people collect, or just that so-and-so likes books about ballerinas. Even if I don't find everything my followers are looking for, I tag them on things I think they will like in other people's shops and they really appreciate it. 
  • Giveaways. Instagram shoppers love a good giveaway, and it's a great chance to attract new followers. I generally center my giveaways around a specific holiday or when I'm reaching a milestone follower number. I usually team up with other shops for a giveaway to take full advantage of cross-promotion - it's like a S4S on steroids! I could write a whole separate post on the intricacies of giveaways (what works, what doesn't, how/who to collaborate with, how to count entries, how long to let your giveaway run, etc. etc.), but perhaps another time. I will, however, mention the loop giveaway, which is where multiple shops join together to do a giveaway and everyone who enters must follow all the shops in the loop. It's called a loop because once they've liked your photo promoting the giveaway, they can tap the photo to see what fellow-giveaway-shop you've tagged, go directly to that shop and like their promotion photo, and repeat until they've been directed back to your feed, thereby completing the giveaway loop (another thing that is easier seen than explained). 

Everyone asks me how I find such cool clothes for my boys. This is how! 

Conducting a Sale:
The following section is probably the most personalized of this whole process. Lots of IG shops are "outlets" for brick and mortar shops (aka, already well established and generally higher end) or Etsy shops. Some shops do periodic sales, in which they do a live succession of photos at a specific time (my shops run this way). Buyers will be watching your feed at the appointed time and claim items during or soon after your sale, while you are around to answer questions. Other shops simply post an item here and there on no specific schedule, or post photos of items that are cross listed on Etsy or Ebay. Still other shops post sporadically and then you contact them via a private email to inquire about pricing (I find that method stressful because I feel like I'm asking them to do a lot of extra work when I'm not at all sure that I'll be purchasing from them). Then there are shops that mainly sell vintage, and other shops that mainly sell modern gently used clothing that their kids have outgrown. While there is some crossover, the audiences for those two kinds of shops differ (as do kids shops vs. lady's shops - most of the brick and mortar outlet accounts are for ladies). With those distinctions in mind, here are some guidelines that I adhere to because I find them the most efficient and successful as a seller and as a buyer.

One other note about shops - sometimes there are multiple versions of one shop (I have a regular shop and a bookshop under similar names). Some categories of merchandise, like ephemera or books, can be overwhelming to post along with other items, due to sheer numbers (I usually post at least 30 books at a time, compared to 15 or so items of clothing per sale). I split my bookshop off from my regular shop about halfway through my first year, which was frustrating a first, but ultimately the right business move. If you don't do this, the people interested in clothing (the heartbeat of the shop community, in my opinion) start unfollowing you when you spam them with books. The book-buying community is smaller, but very loyal.
  • If you're selling clothes, measure your items with a measuring tape as well as providing rough modern size estimates. Vintage items often don't have tags, or don't have a size on the tag, or run smaller than modern sizes. The most common requested measurements are length (shoulder to lowest hem), STS (shoulder to saddle), and PTP (pit to pit). If you're selling non-clothing items, consider leaving part of your hand or a coin or something in the photo to provide scale. 
  • List your items in order of size (smallest to largest makes the most sense to me). I don't actually do this, but it's a good idea. Buyers who are looking for specific sizes don't have to wait through your entire post to see what appeals to them if they know that the size they're looking for is at the beginning or the end. 
  • Treat stains and prewash. I also very rarely do this because I'm by no means an expert on vintage fabric (many vintage items are too fragile to machine wash, and there are many methods of soaking, specific to different kinds of garments). I'm afraid that items will shrink or that I'll set stains or make colors bleed, and I'd rather sell items as-is and let the buyer fix things up to their liking. Because of this, I am upfront about the condition of items and take detailed photos of any flaws. 
  • Group your wares in themed posts. There's a lot of variance on this point among shops, but I quickly found that posting out-of-season clothing was not lucrative. Kids grow too quickly to buy clothing 6 months in advance! When I'm selling books or home decor, I like to group items by theme (like a "Rainy Day Sale" of activity books for kids, or a "Treat Yourself" Valentine's sale of jewelry and vintage fashion magazines for women) or category (such as vintage baby dress slips, or hardcover picture books). Personally, I think this tactic intensifies interest and intrigue. It does require some hoarding and long-range planning, however (both of which I'm good at ;)). 
  • I prefer to post one item for sale per photo. Some shops post photos with multiple items in a photo for sale (which means they don't have to post as many photos), but I think it ends up being counterproductive. If one item in the photo sells but not the other, then you have to specify that in the caption and continue updating it if more items sell, and it can be annoying for buyers to click on a photo thinking that some or all of it is for sale, and then find out that that may not be true. 
  • Promoting a sale vs. Flash Sales. I like to post a teaser image(s) of what I'm planning to sell in my next sale and promote it for a few days before the sale. This builds up excitement and concentrates your orders (more people will show up in real time to shop if they're prepared for it). It also gives buyers the chance to ask for a sale-specific tag, even if they're not on your master tag list. Flash sales, on the other hand, are unannounced, which I rarely do because you miss out on all the benefits that I just listed. As a buyer, flash sales can be fun (especially if you're getting notifications from a shop) because there's a lot less competition for items that might be in demand. 
  • Be as prepared as possible before doing a sale. I write down the captions (prices and any flaws on an item) for each photo/item before each sale, and I write them down in the order that I will post them. I also like to take my pictures in order so that I can retrieve them from my phone picture album in the order that I plan to post them. Having everything ready like that allows you to post all your items in a sale fairly quickly. Because sales are in real time, I don't want my customers to lose interest or be interrupted by something going on in their lives or homes - I want them to see as much as possible of what I'm posting, and if I have to come up with the caption, take the picture, and edit it in the middle of the sale, I run the risk of them having to move on to the next part of their day before I'm done. 
  • Specify any special buying instructions. Most of the time, the rule about claiming/buying an item on Instagram is first-come-first-serve, aka "fast fingers" - the first person to put down their email (you need an email to invoice via PayPal) or otherwise indicate that they wish to purchase wins the right to buy the item. For items that a lot of people want, you must specify beforehand (in the caption of the photo) if you're selling that item with a raffle or OBO (Or Best Offer). In a raffle, you set a price, and everyone who wants to buy it puts down their email. Then you select a winner at random, and they pay you the set price. OBO is more like Ebay - you set a time that the bidding will end and prospective buyers can outbid each other until the time runs up. The winner pays you whatever they bid. 
  • Specify shipping and handling fees. Shops either include shipping in the prices that they list, or add it later. Make sure you prominently display which method you decide to go with (in your policies and/or the info section at the top of your profile). I charge 50c per order to cover what PayPal charges me for using its services and add on exact shipping (by weight) in addition to the prices I list. I always provide people a shipping estimate upon request before they purchase an item. 
  • Sell unlisted items via DM (Direct Messages). This is related to the ISO lists that I covered in the "exposure" section. As I get to know what customers like, I will often sell directly to them via Instagram's private messages without ever publicly posting those items for sale. Particularly with books, I'm often DM-ing people pictures of the inside of books they're inquiring about, and I always ask, "is there anything else you like or are looking for?" Based on their answer, I often suggest books from the boxes that I haven't listed to sell yet and if they buy the books I pick for them, they get a sense of having found a hidden treasure, and I don't have to do the extra work of preparing and listing it to sell. A note about DMs: if you're sending or receiving a DM from someone you've never had a private conversation with before, the receiver must go into their DM inbox and accept your message request. I sometimes fail to see these requests, so make sure you tag that person in public to let them know you're about to send them a DM. 

The 80s never looked so good as they do on that lilac turtleneck. Swoon! I've also fallen in love with psychedelic prints, particularly by the designer Alex Coleman. 

Misc. Tips:
  • Pick a niche style, and stay true to it. I post a variety of items (modern and vintage books, modern and vintage kids clothing, vintage toys, ephemera, vintage home wares, etc.), but I stick to what I like rather than trying to appeal to the masses, and trust that buyers who like my eye will find me. I do buy some things for specific customers, but I don't, for example, sell Little Golden Books or Disney books because I don't like them. Even if I could make a few extra bucks by attracting customers who want those books, I don't have as good of a sense of what to buy in those categories because they don't interest me, and that tends to backfire in terms of profit anyway. 
  • Not all vintage is created equal. Some shops post a LOT of stuff - just about anything vintage. I, on the other hand, am a cautious buyer. I aim to resell most of what I buy, so I don't buy it if I'm on the fence about whether my customers will like it. I also don't want to have to list it and then continue discounting it until someone gives in and buys it for next to nothing. Vintage stuff isn't hard to find once you know what to look for, but some of it is outdated for good reason. 
  • Keep your feed short. Once I've shipped an item that has sold, I delete the photo of it (though I keep a photo on my computer). Buyers do not want to scroll through hundreds (or thousands!) of photos in your feed to see what you have available. The lower an item is on your feed, the less likely it will be seen and subsequently bought. If an item that I've posted hasn't sold after quite some time, I will often take it down and squeeze it in to another sale (perhaps with a new theme!) a few months later. Sometimes sellers do want to keep images posted of what they've sold so that you can get a sense of their eye for style, but if you go this route, I suggest that you at least make collages of "sold" photos and repost them as one new picture to help condense your feed. Some shops even open a separate account for the express purpose of archiving sold items. 
  • Instagram is NOT the place to list truly rare or valuable vintage. Instagram buyers are not the same community that buys from Ebay or even Etsy. People on Instagram expect lower prices - they're in it for the love less than the collectability of an item. Most of the buyers are also poor-ish moms doing this for fun or for spending cash. There's a high turnover for vintage kids clothing (a lot of dibbs-ing and sharing going on) so clothing, especially, sells much faster on Instagram than it does on Etsy, but again, for slightly lower prices. Even if you find an amazing item, no one on Instagram is going to pay you $200 for it. 
  • Lady's clothing is much harder to sell on Instagram. I think this is partly because women's vintage tends to be pricier than children's, but it's also a much finer science. Truly successful women's shops know a lot about vintage clothing history (and trust me, there is a LOT to know), travel frequently to acquire clothing from private estates, meticulously clean, mend, and style items, dress mannequins, take professional photos, etc. Prices tend to reflect all the work that goes in to it and the collectible nature of many of the pieces. It's also much more difficult to find women's vintage that fits a modern women well than it is to find well-fitting children's vintage, which is another reason why I suspect that it's difficult to half-assedly sell women's vintage. 
  • Get to know brands and vintage tags. When I first started this business, I was baffled by how people could tell when thrifting whether something was vintage or not. As it turns out, all you need is a little bit of time to get used it (seeing tons of vintage being sold by others certainly helps). You'll get to know a certain look that vintage tags have, especially the "information" tag you find under the brand tag (narrow and white, almost "papery", with plain black type). Unfortunately, lots of kids vintage no longer has tags, I suspect because some kid didn't like the feel of it on their neck. In that case, you learn to tell by the kinds of fabrics used (synthetic fabrics were much less common back in the day) and the general style. Some kid's vintage tags/brands to look out for are union tags (also in adult clothing), Cinderella, and HealthTex (there are so many more, but I'm blanking at the moment). Buyers love it if and when you can find a vintage piece you're selling in a vintage ad! Handmade clothing is also a good bet - they usually have no tags (or even evidence of one) and the inside seams are prominent - you'll also get to know the look of handmade after a while. As for modern clothing, Tea Collection, Baby Gap (especially certain lines or patterns), some Old Navy, and HandM sell well, among others. There are many higher end brands like Mini Rodini that people go crazy for, though that's a slightly different buying community and you'll probably never find those at a thrift or consignment store!. 
  • Learn the discount days at your area thrift stores, and follow estate sale businesses on facebook (to find out when and where they are and see photo previews of what's inside). If you're intro thrifting for fun, you probably already do this. In my area, the last day of an estate sale often has 50% off everything, even though it's generally picked over by then. I usually get their as early as possible for Estate Sales, but I definitely shop discount days at thrift stores so as to make as much profit as possible when I resell. 
  • Harness the power of the hash tag. Hashtags have two great advantages for shops - advertising and organizing. I use organization hash tags such as #3r_caldecott to note books I post that have won the Caldecott Medal (an award for children's illustration). The hashtag needs to be unique to you, but once you've tagged all the applicable books in your shop, your customers can easily click the hashtag and see all the books that have won the Caldecott. I also check out what hash tags are trending on IG and add them to any photos of mine that are applicable. Finally, I use hash tags in conjunction with giveaways or other shops when we do joint sales. That way shoppers can click a hashtag (such as #tbt_vintagesale) and see what multiple shops have posted under the same category. Again, this is a good way to get crossover traffic from other shops (just don't use a hash tag like that without permission). 
  • Screenshot everything. Not literally everything, but any time you're nervous about something (any arguments that erupt), or promise to do something for someone, or someone else promises to do something for you (you win credit in their shop, or they offer to give you free shipping because they goofed on your order), screenshot it so that you have proof later, if need be. In general, communicate with people as much as possible. If you don't let someone know that it's going to be a few days longer than usual before you can ship their items, for example, let them know sooner rather than later. Most people will just ask you if they're wondering where there stuff is, but sometimes people assume you're a scammer and report you to PayPal. This has never happened to me, but it does happen. If anyone accuses you of something fishy (that DID happen to me), make sure you report your own side of the story to PayPal as well so that you don't look like you're "running from the law". 
  • Transfer money from PayPal into your actual bank account. If you're like me, PP money will easily be spent shopping on IG if it sits in your PP account. To combat this, I transfer money into my actual bank account every time I hit about $100 in PP. I'll transfer $80 out and use the remaining $20 to buy things that I want and pay shipping costs for packages that people have just bought from me. 
  • Live thrifting. Live thrifting is where you let your followers know that you're headed to the thrift store and then you post pictures while you're at the store and buy anything that people claim. It's kind of fun, but ultimately not very profitable for me. I usually will just buy what I think will sell, but I occasionally livethrift items that are cool, but pricier than I would buy normally (I don't want to buy something I'm not sure I can make a profit off of and then have no one buy it). The one disadvantage is that you have to estimate shipping cost on the spot and then stick to your quote, even if you lowballed. It's also a good way to gauge interest if you're trying out some new ideas about merchandise and you're not sure what the response will be and therefore don't want to sink a bunch of money into it right off the bat. 
Packaging and Shipping:
  • Get thyself to Walmart and buy a postage scale. They cost about $20 and mine weighs anything up to 3lbs. When you ship through PayPal, you have to report the exact weight of your package (to the ounce), and then you pay the post office via PP, and print the unique-to-each-package paid shipping label from home. If your package weighs more than 3 pounds, you either have to borrow a bigger scale (or go have it weighed at the post office) OR if there are multiple items in the package, weigh them one at a time and then add it up on paper. That situation is only really applicable for books because you can't ship anything weighing more than a pound from home unless you're shipping with Media Mail (which only applies to books or other media). Also, the scale comes in handy when baking. ;) 
  • When shipping books, weigh before you tape/seal the package! I can't tell you how many times I've built some crazy paper bag parcel packaging for a stack of books, only to realize it's too heavy to weigh in one piece on my scale, have to cut open the package, and do it all over again. I had to tape a reminder to my desk to help me out with this one. BUT make sure you count the weight of the packing material too. 
  • Shipping rates can be really confusing. To start with, you have the option of which service to use. PayPal works with USPS, so I do too. Next, which service within USPS is right for your package? Media Mail? First Class? Priority Mail? I always want to make shipping as affordable as possible for my customers. Media Mail is the clear way to go for books unless you're shipping one paperback or something, in which case you can sometimes send it cheaper using First Class (under one pound). For an easy and thorough breakdown of rates for each type of mail, I rely heavily on this lady's wonderful post. I bookmarked it on both computers that I use and reference it constantly. For larger, non-book, non-clothing packages, flat rate mailers are almost always the best way to go. Flat rate envelopes and boxes come in several shapes and sizes and you can order them from USPS or pick them up at your local post office for FREE. You pay a flat rate to ship in them (starting at $5), regardless of weight. Well, I say flat rate, but it's actually a little bit of a cheaper flat rate if you ship from home using a flat rate package than if you use flat rates at the post office (yippee!). I use flat rate mailers for clothing sometimes, but often, I can fit clothing into a polymailer and still have the package weigh less than a pound (before the 1lb mark, First Class is a better deal than Flat Rate/Priority). 
  • Polymailers are basically plastic bags with a glue seal that you can order from Amazon in multiple sizes. I ship smaller books and objects in these and it's SO nice to have a ready made bag to ship in. For larger books or stacks of books, I usually end up building a package, which takes time. I build packaging out of paper grocery bags, bubble wrap (sometimes), and tape. I HARDCORE recycle packages that I receive when I buy books or other stuff or when family members get something from Amazon in nice (non-box) packaging. Don't even get me started on shipping vinyl records or large format magazines. AHHH. You can buy bubblewrap polymailers too, but they're kind of pricey.
  • You can estimate shipping for larger (or any) items by weight and dimensions using USPS's shipping calculator. Prices may vary depending on where in the US you're shipping to. Shipping in boxes is almost always a bust. The box needs to be big enough that you can affix a label to it, but boxes quickly become too heavy or too large to be efficient in terms of shipping cost. 
  • If you mail from the post office, make sure you get a tracking number (usually on your receipt) and a customs form if you're shipping overseas (I very rarely do). I think you might be able to get a customs form online, but I've never done it. Tracking is included automatically when you ship through PP.

World's best keyring holder, hilarious apron, fantastic quilt that gives me hope for learning to quilt myself, and a crazy cool gumball "machine" just like the one my husband's grandpa made! 

Paypal Details:
PayPal isn't too complicated, and you'll learn the ropes best with a little bit of practice and a little bit of checking it out on your own. There are options to refund customers when necessary (in full or in part), remind customers that they haven't paid their invoice yet, cancel an invoice for someone who hasn't paid and doesn't respond to your prompts, and even get your postage money back if you mess up a shipping label you've already paid for. Those things are all fairly intuitive, so here are the ones that you need to know right away or that might not be as obvious.
  • Invoicing. Congratulations, someone wants to buy your stuff! They'll most likely have claimed an item by commenting on your IG photo with an email address. Within your paypal account, you're going to want to go to Selling Tools - Manage Invoices - Create New Invoice. Just plop their email into the "bill to" section and plug in the item description and price for the item(s) they claimed. Don't forget to add shipping and any notes to the buyer that you may want to include. Hit send, and wait for that cash to roll in! ;) 
  • You can ship any packages from home without an invoice by going to paypal.com/shipnow. This is perfect for when you need to ship personal packages (like a Christmas gift). 
  • To avoid PayPal fees, you can gift money instead of invoice. I don't like to do this because I think it's dishonest in most cases AND you don't end up with an itemized receipt like you do with an invoice. If you gift someone (or they gift you), they'll have to print a separate label (using /shipnow, above) and then there will be two half paper trails instead of one complete one like you'd have with an invoice. I often need to go back and check that I'm packaging the right items that someone paid for, or make other adjustments, and it's much harder to track those kinds of details without an invoice. 
  • Taxes. PP does require you to submit your Social Security number at some point for tax purposes, but I have yet to go through tax season since working this little business, so I'll have to update this later if it comes to anything. 
  • As I mentioned before, PayPal takes a small percentage off of every dollar you make with their help. Some people just work that fee into their prices, but others (including myself) add up to $1 to each invoice to help absorb that expense (I charge 50c - sometimes that's more than PP is taking off that invoice, sometimes its less).
If you have a shop and just read this (bravo!), did I miss anything important? Do you disagree with anything? If this is your first introduction to selling on IG, is there anything that you still have questions about or are confused about? I'd love to know so that I can fine-tune this guide to be as useful as possible. I hope this is the beginning of something exciting (and profitable!) for you. I love this "job" and I think you will too!
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