Sometimes I consider tattooing the word ENOUGH in big bold letters across my arm. This idea usually comes to me while I’m scrolling through Facebook and clicking on articles about the 30 things I need to do before I’m 30 or 75 reasons I need to be drinking hot lemon water/apple cider vinegar/chloroform every morning or why I should cut out sugar entirely or eat a raw onion every night before bed or do these 8 yoga poses to help me fall asleep. I’ll write better if I do more challenging writing exercises every day. I’ll be skinner if I start training for a marathon. I’ll be more interesting if I live abroad.

And this is when I catch myself and need to shout ENOUGH! YOU’RE DOING FUCKING ENOUGH. YOU ARE ENOUGH.

For the longest time I thought I was more adventurous than you. I was a “traveler” because I lived in a  few countries, because I grew up the daughter of a travel writer and because, post-break-up, I would cure my broken heart by leaving on some epic journey. In all sorts of wonderful ways, this did change my life.

But it’s also really freaking hard. And most of the time I don’t actually like it. And if Elizabeth Gilbert has taught me anything, it’s “tell the truth tell the truth tell the truth.”

So here’s the truth: This past year has been a pretty intense battle with myself. Moving to San Francisco was, surprisingly, harder than any other move I’ve ever made. Coming back to the States and joining the corporate grind after four years of identifying myself as a free-spirited expat left me wondering who the hell I was.

After I left New Zealand, in the span of that one year, I met a guy on OkCupid, was laid off from the dream job I worked so hard to get, got engaged to said guy three months after we met, brought home a puppy (the hardest thing I’ve ever done), got married, moved to the suburbs, decided I actually hate marketing and just want to be a writer forever and ever and – here’s the big one – decided to move to Germany (reasons behind said decision: (1) my husband’s company is based there (2) we were both ready for adventure and (3) cost of living is less and I can’t stomach the tech industry any more). It’s pretty insane to not only deal with all those life changes, but then also try to figure out who the hell you actual are.

Here’s what I found out:

(1) I am what they call “highly sensitive” – to noises, smells, itchy fabric, too many people in a room, bright lights, clutter… For a very, very long time, I was told this was a horrible flaw by a very great many people. That by having quieter hobbies meant I was a couch potato. That by not being able to stay out at frat parties all night made me lame. That needing more sleep meant I was lazy.

And then I learned that sensitivities are actually a completely real thing and I’m 100% allowed to go home and wrap myself in a blanket burrito after being in an office full of people all day. And that being sensitive isn’t a flaw, but comes with it’s own gifts. It means I can read people incredibly well. It means that writing clearly about complex emotions is easy. That my friendships may be fewer, but are often deeper.

(2) I also learned that marketing, while interesting in it’s own way, is not why I was put on this earth. After a series of writing classes I finally gave myself permission to announce to the world that I am a writer. And despite every single article telling me about the failing publishing industry, and every single writer whining about how poor they are, I have decided to tell them all to shut the fuck up.

(3) And, the biggest kicker of all, I learned to embrace that travel is hard. That while my identity has been wrapped in my travel experiences for a decade, it’s actually 99% not sunshine and rainbows. That ordering a beer in Hanoi was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve ever done and I may or may not have ordered a pizza to my hotel room (tip: don’t order pizza in Vietnam) because I couldn’t brave the traffic after a long day of sightseeing. And when I Couchsurfed for two months through Australia, I would rush back to my host’s home after a day of sightseeing and watch back-to-back episodes of True Blood, instead of forcing myself to brave another event with strangers.

These habits started formulating themselves into two understandings about my life:

(1) Not everything needs to be some character-building challenge. You don’t have to purposefully make everything hard to prove to yourself that you’re doing enough. What if life weren’t some giant inspirational Pinterest poster that says “today, be the badass you were too lazy to be yesterday” or “suck it up now so you don’t have to suck it in later”. What if, instead of constantly trying to do better, push harder, stick it out, build character, live life to the fullest every second of every day, I actually said, “I’m doing perfectly fine as I am right now. I think I’m going to eat a cookie in the bathtub.”

and…

(2) That I can push myself just enough to grow, but if I have a foundation of activities I know help me cope, I’m a much more pleasant person to be around, I’m filled with joy more often and I can stop pretending to be someone I’m not. These activities may be different from your activities. But I’m going to stop yelling at myself every time I want to go to bed at 8pm or not leave the house for 48 hours. Because if I do those things, I can do things like move to Germany.

Because this is who I am: I’m moving to Germany on Monday because I want my life to be filled with adventure. But I’m also terrified of moving to Germany. I’m scared that the language barrier will be impossible. That the weather will suck. That I won’t make any friends. That I won’t actually be able to make money writing and I’ll have to take a job teaching English or, worse, go back to an office.

And other thing? I’m also over the moon excited. I’m so freaking blessed that I’ve been able to have lived in so many different places. I can’t wait to spend my weekends in Greece or Finland. I can’t believe I landed myself a husband who, having never lived outside California, is 100% willing to jump with me and go on this ridiculous adventure.

A change this big and I’m allowed to be both – happy and sad, scared and excited, nervous and confident. And that right now, I am enough. So are you.


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5 Habits to Feed Your Creativity: A Morning Routine

by Marian Schembari on April 16, 2015

After spending a magical weekend with my best, most creative friends in Ashland, Oregon, I was challenged to re-read (and actually complete the exercises) in The Artist’s Way. It’s one month later and I’ve read two chapters. While this may sound like a bit of a failure, this magical thing has happened — I found my way into a morning routine that’s set me up to be epically more creative than I’ve ever been in my whole life.

So here’s what my morning looks like:

6:00am Husband wakes me up with his showering, coffee grinding, and general awakeness.

6:30am I turn on the bedside light and lie in bed, groggy and cuddling Puppy. Contrary to every article ever, I check my email first thing in the morning to take the pressure off. Once I know for sure that no one is about to die, I can focus 100% on navel gazing.

7:00am Morning pages.

7:30am Green smoothie! I’ve been drinking these for years and have yet to get sick of them. If I miss a few days, my skin breaks out and I have significantly less energy.

8:00am Coffee and coloring and YouTube. (Get excited for more info on this below.)

8:30am – 12pm Write like a motherfucker.

So here’s what happened: I started writing a book. Like, a book that had 10 words last month and now has 12,000. A story I’ve wanted to tell for the last decade but have never had any idea how I would go about actually doing it.

While my routine changes depending on whether I’m working from home or if my husband walks the dog or if I got enough sleep the night before, focusing on activities I enjoy first thing in the morning has better set me up to dive into my creative work in a way I never imagined doing before.

Habit 1: Morning Pages

I write about anything and everything, from what I did the day before to analyzing a therapy session to doing an exercise from The Artist’s Way. I’ve written about morning pages before using 750words.com, but I’ve switched to analogue and it’s changed my tune. Any excuse to get off my computer.

Habit 2: Inspirational Videos

This is my most recent and indulgent addition. Right now I have a mild (okay, not mild at all) obsession with Elizabeth Gilbert, whose interviews are hilarious and provocative and inspiring and always make me feel like, “Yeah, I’m creative, my work is important. Onwards!”

Habit 3: Coloring Books

While listening to that day’s video, I take my favorite purchase, Secret Garden Coloring Book by Johanna Basford, and my trusty Staedtler markers and I go to town for about half an hour. It’s meditative and I feel like I’m creating something beautiful without working too hard. This, over any other habit, puts me in the zone, after which I tend to write without judgement for about two or three hours. This is the number one reason I now have 12,000 words in Scrivener.

Habit 4: Walks in Nature

While obviously exercise is the magical bullet for any ailment ever, I’ve mostly lived in cities. And seeing that I’m a “highly sensitive person“, too much noise and traffic and smells actually saps my energy instead of feeding it. But since moving to the beautiful Mill Valley, I get to walk through trees and streams and meadows. After an hour of solitude in the sunshine, all is well.

Hiking in Mill Valley Marin

 Habit 5: 10 Minute Meditations

Meditation is the bee’s knees. I have ten minutes blocked off in my calendar at 1:15pm every day, but I usually just meditate whenever I start to feel my brain going crazy. If I have the thought, “I don’t have time to meditate, I have too much to do,” that’s the indication that I must immediately stop everything I’m doing and meditate rightthefucknow or else I will get nothing else done for the rest of the day.

I use the app Headspace. The meditations are easy and well-explained – perfect for those of you interested in benefits without chakras. Check out the video below, which perfectly captures the essence of what Headspace is all about.

There are a million other things I’ve tried to help get me in the zone – writing down every idea I have, longer-form meditation, sketching, creative writing exercises, but these are the habits that stuck.

What habits are feeding your creativity lately?


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Online Learning vs Real Life Lessons

by Marian Schembari on March 30, 2015

In my year of living more creativity and embracing my off-again on-again obsessions with everything from knitting to storytelling, I’ve been taking a lot of classes.

I’ve always had a great love for learning, buying the latest book on tidying up, personal finance or memoir writing. But, like many people, I tend to buy a book, read half of it, do the exercises (sort of), then leave said book on my bedside table where it sits, unread but half highlighted, for months before storing it for “I swear I’ll read it later” use.

Thankfully though, San Francisco is a learning mecca and I’ve been experimenting with in-person classes. Unlike college, I’ve never been too tired to go and I desperately want to be there.

My first foray into being a student again was during my yoga teacher training in New Zealand. Then again on a Trail Mavens trip where I learned how to read a topo map. At Workshop I learned to sew. At the Renaissance Center I wrote a business plan. And then, most recently, at my writing class at the Book Passage.

I also took a storytelling class through Udemy. Which, for those of you unfamiliar with the platform, is online. The class was fantastic. I learned things. I did the worksheets. I got a fantastic foundation for storytelling. But I didn’t leave feeling particularly inspired.

Not that the teacher wasn’t great. And not because the material was boring. He was and it wasn’t. The problem is that I’m always on my damn computer, so adding more things to my digital to-do list doesn’t fill me with longing. I found myself playing Hay Day while only half listening to the teacher. Being in a classroom, on the other hand, demands my full attention and I leave empowered and ready to work.

During January’s writing class my love for the written word overwhelmed me, in most part due to the room’s energy. Everyone’s attention was 100% focused on the teacher, who answered questions as she went and rewarded us with compliments and eye contact. We did exercises then and there, receiving immediate feedback. We took breaks and talked to each other about our personal projects. We shared stories we had written. We were present. Going back to my notes has not only been educational, but fills me with the same sense of longing I felt during those six hours in a classroom. I not only learned how to be a better writer, but I left feeling like one.

Online courses, though, have left me only partly educated and feeling very much like an amateur. And trust me, I’ve done them all – everything from starting an online business to blogging to running. And while I 100% value these courses, I have actually finished, and found value in, very few.

I understand why people create these classes as it’s scalable passive income. I’ve done it myself. Anyone with a skill to teach can do it and there are dozens of platforms to host your video series/ebook/online community. I might even do it again.

But I recently considered applying for an interior design program at San Francisco’s Academy of Art, where I found out that should I want to get my degree online, it would cost exactly the same as doing it in-person. That worries me. When did we start thinking the two were the same?

To be honest, the most value I get from an online course is the moment I buy it. The feeling of excitement that I’m about to make a change. The burst of motivation from getting materials via email that eventually dissipates into yet another to do.

Part of my desire to get creative this year is due to a lack of inspiration found sitting at my laptop. And while I’ve learned more online than I ever did in my four years of college, I’ve never been as inspired and hopeful as I was as a student. I wish I could marry the two.

Is this just me and the way I learn? Or have you too felt underwhelmed by learning online? I’m eager to hear if I’m missing something or if I should, from here on out, focus solely on in-person learning.


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A Podcast Love Affair

by Marian Schembari on February 17, 2015

I discovered the magic of podcasts while living in New Zealand. And while I’ve since listened to hundreds of episodes from dozens of shows – whose themes blended together with time – my inaugural listen of This American Life stands out with such sharp clarity.

It was a Christmas episode and David Sedaris (shocker) was talking about his time as an elf in a department store. I was on the ferry heading across the Cook Strait, head leaning against the window, barely registering the land disappearing behind us as I stifled laugh after laugh.

And that was that. Stories hooked me.

Back in Auckland I downloaded dozens of episodes, thinking they would entertain me during my commute. I couldn’t wait to get out the door every morning. I had My Stories. I found myself moved, every time, by the complexity of human life.

That was years ago and the only thing that’s changed is my repertoire. I drive to work now, and in those 45 minutes I listen to The Moth, Risk!, Savage Lovecast, Serial and StartUp.

I’ve downloaded RadioLab and TED Talks, but I always find myself zoning out. There’s something about real human experiences, told by the people who’ve lived them, that anchors me to the world.  In San Francisco it’s easy to forget that not everyone is either a tech worker or a meth addict. These podcasts remind me what diversity is.

There’s a 90-something female helicopter pilot from WWII, a doctor who diagnosed his mom with a collapsed lung, the young gay man still in the closet, a funeral director from Harlem. Every morning I can’t bring myself to leave the car and head into my real life.

Which is why February is my month of storytelling.

Kevin Allison, the host and founder of Risk! happens to lead an online storytelling class. Once I decided to focus this year on creativity and learning, I knew becoming a better storyteller would be at the top of my list. Whether it’s through the blog or at work, I love to connect with people. The few times I have gotten in up in front of a crowd, I felt heard.

Attendee Stories from Chris Guillebeau on Vimeo.

I think that by focusing on becoming a better speaker and storyteller, I can be a better writer. But deep down, my Big Scary Goal is to actually perform on one of these podcasts.

Two weeks after starting the course I found out that Risk! is hosting a show in Portland next month. The theme? Crisis. The story I want to share? That time I was detained in a London refugee center.

My pitch is due by next week so stay tuned. In the meantime, send me good vibes and luck.


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A Dog Story

by Marian Schembari on February 5, 2015

As part of my commitment to challenge myself creatively, I’m writing in new ways. I’ve always been too scared to try my hand at fiction or tell a story as a scene instead of summary. (Never mind actually writing it for the world to see.)

Today I’m doing both.

To ease myself into it I’m taking stories from my every day life, picking up a book I’ve enjoyed, then mimicking the author’s structure to tell said story.

Please also accept this photo of my ridiculously attractive puppy, Homer.

A photo posted by maschembari (@maschembari) on

“A Dog Story”

based on Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

When I round the corner of the trail, Homer is foraging ahead of me, nestled between the trees and chewing whatever delicious sticks and leaves he can find on the damp forest floor. He’s such a cutie this morning, a white shock of fluff in the midst of misty woods in a way that makes him look both out of place and perfectly wild. I stand there watching him, enjoying our morning ritual that’s just for us, savoring this hour alone before chores and work consume my day.

Homer can tell I’m watching him, so he looks up and stares straight into my eyes. Sometimes I forget he’s still a baby, but we’ve been together long enough for both of us to act like we’ve always had each other.

The sounds of a runner perk us both up. Good thing Homer is out of the way of the narrow trail, meaning whoever it is can sail on by. I might get to avoid the awkward, “hello” to a stranger. When I’m out here I  pretend it really is just us alone in the middle of nowhere.

I move out of the way in preparation, turning my back on the direction of the noise, focusing my attention on Homer. The sounds stop and I feel someone behind me, waiting, wanting something. I turn around.

She’s a couple yards away, almost hidden under a narrow tree, cowering in rage. Her eyes bore into me, radiating fury where I can feel it absorbing into my skin, muggy and rank. She’s tightly gripping the leash of a black dog, the fabric wrapped around and around her wrist. The dog stares at us too, aware of the sudden change in atmosphere.

She doesn’t move, just stares. I wait for her to say something, anything.

“Is he friendly?” I eventually ask, interrupting our silent staring contest. I assume she’s terrified that either my dog or hers is about to attack and we’ll be left on this otherwise empty trail surrounded by blood and fur.

After a beat, she speaks, her tone laced with poison. “He’s friendly, but this is an on-leash trail, you know. I run here every morning because it’s on-leash.”

I curse inwardly as I immediately start pouring through my mental trail maps for proof that this trail is, in fact, off-leash. I’m here every morning and have never seen her. I’ve also never seen any dog here on a leash. This is the only magical wonderland us dog owners can take our companions to roam free, chasing squirrels. What do I say? Do I argue? This woman is clearly out of control with fury and I’m not great at confrontation with strangers, especially when I’m being accused of what she seems to think is akin to murdering babies. Never mind that it’s seven in the morning and I’m having to switch from enjoying-the-misty-alone-time-mode to dealing-with-an-angry-bitch-mode.

I try to keep my voice calm. “Actually, the map online says this trail is off-leash.” I still don’t look at her, hoping she doesn’t notice how nervous I am.

“This part of the trail isn’t. They just changed it.” While her tone is icy, she’s the one who seems unsure. My blood starts to boil. This woman is fucking with my morning.

At this point Homer has stopped his foraging adventure. Tail wagging, ears back, he trots towards this woman and her poor dog. She rears back and yanks her dog even closer.

“Watch your dog!” She shrieks. Her horrible voice pierces the silence of the woods. I imagine a swarm of crows frantically flying out of the trees at this very moment.

“Homer!” I call, lightly, high-pitched, pretending I’m not completely terrified this woman is going to beat me to death.

Thank god for Homer. He stops, sensing he shouldn’t go any further. I approach him and grab his collar. It’s time to go. This is ridiculous and I have nature to enjoy. He whines in discomfort as I walk past this woman, giving her a wide berth. The air is heavy and toxic. All I can think about is getting as far away as possible. My face is red in embarrassment while underneath I simmer with shame.

Oh god she’s not done.

“This is an on-leash trail! They changed it!”

I can’t get a read on her problem and she’s angry for no reason. As I walk past her, crunched over clinging to Homer’s collar, I wave my hand up behind me as if to say, “Yeah yeah, whatever.”

“Okay”, I add, snarky, as if I’m suddenly 16 and my mom’s reminding me to empty the dishwasher.

Suddenly, the forest is sucked of all sound. The birds have stopped singing and the wind has stopped blowing and Homer’s footsteps have stopped crunching the twigs and leaves. I keep walking, sensing some horrible storm is about to hit, quickly trying to get away from this horrible woman.

I can practically hear the sound of her mouth opening, her breath inhaling, preparing. That’s when she says, echoing through nature, “You know what?! FUCK YOU!”


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