When You’re The Adventurous Type

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I was raised to be an explorer

Curiosity drove me, though fear lingered

The depth of the water

How high I could climb

Whether or not I had the courage to jump

Sink or swim

Hit the gas

Sometimes I said yes, sometimes no

 

I pushed boundaries and defied odds

Away from home

Miles of walking

Late nights on a dance floor

Chugging beverages with bleary eyes

With best friends and almost boyfriends

Memories that can’t be described or explained

Writing, loving, and living

Proving some people wrong

With a cap and diploma in hand

 

Then the concrete jungle called

One which I was determined to conquer

The city streets that felt like a playground

Yet an exclusive club of high-rent apartments and living

That I could not access fully

I did my best

Chasing a dream

Seemingly bound by placement of family and pride for my roots

A place I swore I’d never leave

But now I’m not so sure

 

I can feel another space calling

A wider berth

Where I can still do the little things I’ve always wanted

For the first time

Driving down a back road, going over the legal limit

Sipping tequila and/or whisky at a dive bar

Sitting on a rooftop and watching the sun rise

 

Or things I haven’t done in a long time

Looking at the stars

Wine tasting

Staying out all night

Karaoke

Eat seafood

In whatever unfamiliar town I can find

I want to grow and challenge myself

Not to discover who I am, but embrace it

Wild like fire, calm like the wind

A plethora of this and that

Perhaps not belonging just in once place

But everywhere

 

We’ll see

For now, let me satisfy my taste of kicking back

Yet going all out

This is my adventure

Want to join me?

Taking Off My Headphones

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With a portable CD player, I often ran out of battery every time we traveled; headsets were the norm, although I remember how they always broke in one way or another. Jumping on the iPod bandwagon in high school, I typically used it on the bus, or sitting on my swing-set for hours as a form of relaxation and escape. I liked that earbuds were becoming popular, but the Apple brand seemed to be the only ones that wouldn’t fall out when I put them on.

In college, I scuffed up my second generation Nano from carrying it around campus so much, and went through several pairs of those tiny speakers because they were either getting worn out or crushed in my backpack. I would honestly just walk to class or work out at the gym like I was in another world, daydreaming about all the things that I wanted to do or whomever I had a crush on at the time. There were a lot of playlists involving John Mayer, Kesha, The Glee soundtrack, and 80’s power ballads.

As my final semester progressed, I started to leave my beloved device at home; I realized how silly I looked wearing a shit-eating grin for no apparent reason, and most likely came across as unintentionally rude when my friends tried to say hello or have a conversation, and I didn’t respond because I couldn’t hear. I accumulated many scrapes and bruises from tripping and falling (i.e. not paying attention), and received the occasional dirty look due to bumping into random people on the sidewalk. Yet I also wanted to take everything in and appreciate all that was Iowa City, because come graduation I wasn’t going to have it anymore.

As I ride a lot of public transportation in order to get around, I choose to challenge myself beyond just being hands-free. I make a point to thank the conductors and bus drivers for making getting from point A to point B as easy as possible. If I’m at a store where there’s a cashier or barista, I’ll ask them how their day is going. The goal is to always take as many opportunities as I can that allow me to engage with the world around me, especially if it’s uncomfortable at first.  And most of the time, it is.

It’s enlightening to say good morning to fellow walkers passing by in the neighborhood, or to give someone a genuine compliment and see just how much it makes them smile. I’ve discovered that meet-cutes still exist, and that you can flirt on the CTA without being a creep.

Yet, it’s just as disheartening when you want to start a conversation, but you don’t want to yell over Bruno Mars or the latest TED talk. Sometimes I’ll notice that nearly everyone around me is staring at a screen, like it’s a shield from all the apps and online games that we’ve seemingly become addicted to. Shortly after the election, I witnessed a situation between two women where one used a racial slur against the other because her baby was being too loud (giggling, not screaming or crying). I was wracked with guilt over not having done more than just tell the shocked young lady to have a good day before getting off at my stop. And it’s tough wanting to be kind, but to not put myself in a potentially dangerous situation when sitting near someone who’s drunk or looks like they’ve been taking some kind of substance.

I’ve been practicing, but I don’t always get it right. As a partial introvert, I understand those who don’t have the energy to make small talk after a long day. For some, their commute is the only alone time they have before going home to a house-full of kids or roommates. If you can’t communicate much during the day, it’s normal to want to return text messages or personal emails as soon as you get the chance. And as it goes, sometimes we just do things out of habit. If you want to change your habits, you have to figure out why you have certain ones in the first place.

When it comes to being in public, my hunch is that it has to do with fear; the fear of giving someone the wrong idea if we give them the slightest bit of attention. The fear of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fear of being alone with our thoughts, and having to face the possible truths that come with them. These fears are valid, but what good will come of allowing them to dictate how we interact with our surroundings? You can ignore the person making crude/sexual comments about your body, but that’s nothing compared to standing up for your humanity, with dignity. You can get pissed at the person attempting to talk your ear off, or calmly explain that you’ve had a tough day and that you’d like to be left alone.

We can’t backtrack and act like technology doesn’t exist, or wish that it would just disappear. We need to learn to deal with it, to peacefully coexist instead of making it the enemy. You don’t have to completely unplug, but at least start by turning the volume down or wearing one earbud and leaving the other one out. If you’re going from one place to the next, focus on doing something positive (like smiling or holding the door open) rather than just avoiding taking out your phone. It takes baby steps, and at first it feels really weird, like you’re missing a limb or you have this wide open space to contend with. I’m still not entirely used to it, and I find myself mindlessly scrolling from time to time. A lot of it is generational, because I remember what it’s like to grow up without being attached to something at all hours, so that makes it easier to take a break from it.

I want real, face to face connection, and I’m not ashamed to say that I need it. If that makes me an old soul and a lone wolf, so be it. I’m willing to be a leader in order to feed myself.

Chasing Happy

 

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Chasing Happy

I’m probably overthinking this

But hell, aren’t we all?

Everybody seems to want it

But no one really knows how to hold it

It’s an emotion

A feeling

Something that you choose

There’s no one definition

Yet it has become something to prove

 

I feel like I’ve lived a divided life

Before the cloud and then there after

I’d be asked “Why are you like this?”

As the tears rolled down by face

Where’s the answer

To the thing you can’t explain

It’s up and it’s down

Like a rollercoaster

Something to keep at bay

Except from a select few

Who understand and have been there

 

It’s not that I don’t feel the sunshine

Or experience the colors

It’s just on a different level

In smaller pockets

Moments

Rather than circumstances

Because to smile all the time

Would be lying

And I’m not an actress

 

I believe in wholeness, connectivity, and meaning

That we are bound together more by struggles and challenges

Than anything else

And we chase what isn’t that

Because it’s what we think we’re supposed to do

Instead of sitting with the discomfort

Acknowledging what goes on around us

Forgetting that calling out darkness is the beginning of being a light

There’s a balance

Where some days are high

Others are low

Ebb and flow

And so it goes

When Anger Becomes Poison

 

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It’s no secret that the world is angry right now. I see it on the news programs and demonstrations. The articles and relentless debates on social media over right and wrong.  Conversations, laments, and calls to action. People are angry, and rightfully so.

I find it challenging to express my thoughts and opinions when I don’t always understand what’s going on. I want to get involved, to take a stand and use my voice, but I don’t know how to do that without getting trapped in the emotions and feelings that will come with it. I’ve gotten involved with various movements previously, but eventually had to take a step back because it took a toll on my mental health. Anger and outrage can be powerful forces that lead us to take action, but there’s a fine line between taking action and allowing it to take over our lives.

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I know what it’s like to be an angry person, because arguably I’ve lived a good portion of my life being pissed off at the world: barely a teenager, I blamed having a handicap for most of the rejection that I experienced from some of my peers and classmates, not able to understand why they didn’t at least try to get to know me. Upon freshman year of high school I switched from public to private education, yet couldn’t look past the previous pain in order to start over. Then in college, I turned that anger on myself, hating how I didn’t seem to have the courage or strength to ask for what I wanted, or needed, and rise above the ignorance that didn’t seem to go away.

And then there was my parents’ divorce; I’ve written in the past regarding why I had such a hard time with it, but have only now become comfortable with admitting that it boiled down to the fact that I had no control over what was happening. It took me to some pretty dark places, where I either envisioned hurting myself or someone else out of desire for revenge. I had to put friends on speed-dial in case I was ever seriously tempted to do anything that I couldn’t take back; and while thankfully that never happened, the rage still festered. It was an awful way to function, but back then it was either hold on for dear life in order to keep myself safe, or let go and risk being taken advantage of.

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There was no single moment of surrender, although I could sense the fatigue that went deeper than just a lack of sleep. As it usually goes, most of us aren’t motivated to get better until we bottom out, reaching a point where the only option is to face our demons or be destroyed by them. I’d occasionally look in the mirror and think, “if I don’t properly deal with this somehow, I’m going to lose my mind.” Part of me already felt like I was dying on the inside, which perhaps was necessary in order to begin the work of moving forward. A family sit-down was a good starting point in finally making peace, acknowledging the pain as well as the shortcomings in how everything was handled. When you name and acknowledge something, regardless of what it is, you give it less power.

Accepting reality, and allowing my heart to soften along with it has been no straight shot, and the rising has often come with pauses and standstills. Initially I was wasn’t sure what to do, likening what was actually freedom to standing in the middle of a clearing in the woods and waiting for a monster to jump out and grab me. I still have dreams that come out of nowhere and still deal with emotional triggers every so often: on Valentine’s Day I came across a picture that set me off in a fit, where I cried and dropped F-bombs and couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. But rather than seek out satisfaction in confrontation, I declared that whatever was going out was not in my hands, and that I was not responsible for ensuring that good decisions were made. This is not the first time that I’ve had a butt-kick in order to lighten up, and it probably won’t be the last.

I do have regrets, wondering where I would be right now if I had put more energy into actively building a career, (and overcoming the fears that came along with it) rather than kicking and screaming over a lack of  support from those who couldn’t provide it. I took people for granted, and I think I could have had better relationships if I was willing to look beyond my own grief and take control of my life, rather than allowing outside circumstances to dictate how I lived it.

I’m an incredibly deep feeler, so whether I’m excited or upset about something, there’s no hiding it from anyone. If I denied that part of myself, I wouldn’t be able to write, or connect, or love in the ways that I do.  Anger in itself is not the enemy, but rather when we choose to use it as a weapon or an unnecessary barrier in order to avoid dealing with our own pain or struggle. To be angry is one thing, but to stay angry is another battle all together.

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Though a lot of what I’ve mentioned above is personal, knowing how I handled it does play a role in how I approach discussing and taking part in what is currently going on in our country. I don’t want to be passive and just leave matters of change to those whom I feel can do a better job than I can, but I don’t want to throw myself into an ocean when I just end up swimming around in circles. Since November, I’ve spent a lot of time examining how I interact with people, especially those whom I suspect or know don’t share my point of view. I believe in listening to both sides, choosing to ask questions more than making arguments or assumptions. I believe in seeking to understand as much as I want to be understood, even if it takes a while for me to completely “get it.” And rather than take offense to someone’s anger or passionate advocacy, I want to honor where they’re coming from in the best way I know how.

I wonder how the world would be if we could admit that deep down, a lot of the outrage is the result of failure to be seen, heard, and loved exactly as we are. Are we angry solely because of what’s happening, or does it also have to do with the fact that we can’t force the people around us to think the way that we do?

I know that there are more complicated layers involving injustice, identity, and matters of life and death. I know that I have privilege, and as a result I wonder if I even have a right to contribute my own thoughts and ideas. But the conversation has to start somewhere, and the best place I can think of right now is within the context of our shared humanity. Different backgrounds, different beliefs, yet whether we want to admit it or not, we are all human here. It’s okay to be afraid of change, afraid of pain, and afraid of being alone. Damn it all, I’m scared too.

And yet, I refuse to let the darkness overtake me. If I want to lighten up, I need to be a light, both for myself and for others. The release, the laying down of defenses on a daily basis feels like one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do, since I lived that way for so long. Only this I know for sure:

Be soft, for softness is not weakness.

Be sweet, for a kind and compassionate heart will take you further than apathy ever will.

Acknowledge feelings and emotions, but don’t let those be the reason that you overlook what is good in the world, including those around you.

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Reason’s Voice

 

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Reason’s Voice

I’m often overwhelmed

By the division before my eyes

Shouting and yelling all around

An expectation that I must take a side

 

Trying to observe and comprehend

A lot of what I don’t understand

Gender, faith, race, politics

It goes over my head

Like a ball too-high in the air

 

And so I sit quietly

Not without an opinion

But without proper argument

Not know what research to trust

Or having a way to fully wrap my mind around it

 

But what is arguing if it doesn’t lead anywhere worth going?

Nowhere but the same circle

Without broadening ways of thinking

Considering the different experiences

And acknowledging a lack of insight as a result

 

Like being in a cartoon

When everyone else around you squabbles in a big crowd

For the same prize

Being right

Having all the answers

And I’m trying to keep my head above it

Choosing to hear different viewpoints, different ways

Without judgement

For I do not wear their shoes

Some ideas might be misguided, but they’re no less valid

Whether or not I agree

 

I want to be a voice

A calm voice

Without screaming and shouting

Demanding action

Yet not like a child demands a favorite toy

I want to speak not for those, but with them

As I seek to understand various angles and perspectives

Because I do not believe in an “us versus them”

It’s not about winning, but about seeing and listening

Finding middle ground

A place of rest

A voice of reason

 

Yet how to do that

While protecting my health

Mentally and emotionally

It’s exhausting and scary

The toll it takes

Is fighting cultural norms even worth it

If you lose yourself in the process?

 

Anger should motivate, but not consume

Passion for a cause should lead to real change, not violence

Get up, but don’t get dirty

Be fierce, without inciting fear

For that is where monsters feed

And I refuse to be one

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Twenty-Five

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Tomorrow is my twenty-fifth birthday.

It’s not considered as big of a deal as eighteen or twenty-one, but I wouldn’t call it “just another day,” either. I’ve seen and done a lot, but I’ve also had a few close called in the process. One was a pretty serious surgery when I was just two weeks old, and the prognosis was grim. The other was the result of a dark depression that followed me everywhere as a teenager, snickering and whispering that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough. I’ve also carried a sense of self-awareness, that what is given can be easily taken away, and just because it has been around for a while doesn’t mean that it will be there forever.

A quarter of a lifetime is something. It’s not the end-all-be-all, yet there is a sacredness and an emphasis (though I don’t know how to describe it). Maybe I’m just feeling humble. Maybe, despite the years that have passed, I’m not entirely sure if I’ve accomplished a whole lot. And maybe I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic, preferring to have balanced expectations and be surprised than the other way around. I’ve always had mixed feelings about birthdays in general, as I have to work at not getting wrapped up in what I want to happen (versus what actually does). And for the sake of not sounding conceited or ridiculous, I’ll leave it at that for now.

I haven’t picked a word yet, one that I can set both long-term and short-term goals around.  At twenty-four I wanted to be bold, and that definitely manifested itself in ways that I wouldn’t have expected or imagined. Brave sounds too cliché, especially when I don’t have a whole lot of trouble with that. Merely being, however, is an entirely different story all together. It has been a struggle, like having my hands tied and being forced to accept whatever happens to me in life. It had no sense of direction, no end-goal or destination. There has to be more to it, otherwise it doesn’t serve much of a purpose.

What about being unapologetic?

Like many, I’ve developed a habit of saying “I’m sorry” too much and too often. Sometimes it slips out when I don’t realize it, becoming my fallback even in the midst of trying to do simple things like getting from one place to another. Admittedly, it has also become my way of diffusing tension in emotional conversation or situation; rather than just allow both parties time to process what took place, I’m quick to jump up and take blame for the discomfort. Part of it has been ingrained in me since childhood, and part of it stems from fear and insecurity. I’m constantly afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, especially at the wrong time. If a question or moment of vulnerability is met with silence (more so when it comes to texting), my anxiety kicks into over-drive and I automatically assume I’m at fault. It’s not good for my relationships, and it’s definitely not good for my emotional health.

“Unapologetic” does have negative connotations: the refusal to grow and evolve, or to make changes when you know that your current path is doing more harm than good. There’s a lack of responsibility, of owning up to mistakes and taking proactive steps to make amends. And there’s an aura of self-centeredness, of basically flipping the bird to everyone around you. With my history of taking tough as nails to the extreme, I can understand why these assumptions exist. And just because I re-define it does not mean that these assumptions will automatically go away.

When I think of what tends to define me, what comes to mind are the ways in which I care for others:  depth, compassion, curiosity, sensitivity, stubbornness, grit, and patience are all driving forces that influence how I interact with people around me, despite having days where I felt like I needed to hide or at least tone it down. Not everyone communicates in the same way, or feels as deeply as I do, which is why it’s unfamiliar and therefore uncomfortable. But I refuse to apologize for trying to add light into the world, for wanting to treat people like human beings and show them that they matter. I have always known who I am, but have not always been confident in the ways in which I feel led to be my own person. With the country and the world so divided, I believe in seeking to understand as much as I seek to be understood. Whatever is done out of love, and in a loving way, should not be followed by regret. In other words, I will not take something back (that I did for the sake of reassuring, affirming, or supporting) just because a reaction might be difficult to read.

What lies ahead is unclear, but my purpose is not. Here’s to another year of opportunities, risk, creativity, faith, and adventures.

Here’s to feeling alive at twenty-five.

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When “Fixing” Is Not The Answer

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It is a scene that I’m all too familiar with, a sign that I’ve either hit a wall bottomed out again: I’m crying uncontrollably, emotions taking over my entire body to the point where I can’t even move. The tears were probably triggered by something specific, yet there’s an overall exhaustion, loneliness, or a combination of the two. It’s an emotional black hole, where the cause is probably different, but my thoughts remain the same:

I can’t do this anymore.

I feel isolated and alone.

I’m depressed and barely functioning.

When is this shit going to actually go away?

 I want to get better NOW.

You might have been there before. You might already be in the thick of it.

It’s definitely not my first rodeo: I’ve been in therapy for  five years now, to where I have people asking me if it’s really helping because a lot of the time I don’t act like it. It’s hard to explain that it has made a difference, though the feats are often small and not easily seen by those on the outside. I still get stuck, and  it’s frustrating as hell because I feel like I should have a grip on it all by now, especially the triggers of depression and anxiety that tend to ebb and flow over time. I’m still considering the possibility of medication, but would like to get a psychiatrist’s perspective before making any decisions.

I had a moment this past summer, just wanting to be done with it all. Not suicidal done necessarily, but done with the darkness and living out the definition of insanity (which some will argue I’m still doing). I won’t call it an epiphany, but I thought of something in that moment, and it has stayed with me ever since:

What if it wasn’t about fixing ourselves, but feeding ourselves?

On the other side, what more could we accomplish if we stopped trying to fix other people, but instead support and encourage them to seek nourishment?

Perhaps that’s why I’ve seemed to be going in circles over the years: I sought outside help believing that it was a one and done thing, and that I’d be fine after sorting through all my baggage. What’s more, I believed that it would lead to love and acceptance from those whom I wanted it from the most, and all would be right and well.

It’s tough to acknowledge, but real healing doesn’t work like that. There’s no formula or specific set of instructions to follow, and not every situation comes with a timeline. Processing is necessary, and medication can make circumstances more bearable and easier to deal with. But the real work has to come from you alone and for you alone. You are the solution, because you are the one who is ultimately in control of how you choose to view life, despite your experiences while living it.

Feeding yourself, I’d like to think, is doing anything that makes you feel alive, at peace, and allows you to stay true to who you are. It might involve working out, creative projects, community service, going to church, prayer, and investing in quality time with both yourself and with others. It’s a way of putting talk into action, rather than sitting around and bemoaning your story all the time. Yes there is pain, and letting it go is a lot easier said than done. But what other choice do you have? You can choose to be a victim (and from my experience, that has only led to regret). Or you can choose to be resilient, and be surprised at just how much you can do when you have an open heart and mind to the possibilities of what’s right in front of you.

You are not broken, because you are not an object or a robot. You’re messy and you feel deeply. You’re hungry for connection and real relationships. You’re human, and you yourself need the same amount of love and care that you put into anyone else.

It’s overwhelming and unfamiliar, which is what ultimately makes it scary. I’m always a work in progress, so I can’t say what it truly feels like to get “there,” so to speak.  Yet, I tell myself to just keep going. Take it easy. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time. Whether you’re pursuing nourishment literally or figuratively, it’s something to be savored, enjoyed, and ultimately worth holding onto.

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I say this all with the uttermost compassion and understanding, because I’m still striving, working, and occasionally crawling to get where I want to be  I don’t know what road you’ve had to walk or what hell you’ve endured, and that might be all you’ve ever known. I can’t tell you what to do, but I hope you’ll do something that brings you healing, peace of mind, and wholeness.  Regardless of where you’re at, remember that you are brave, you are strong, and you are loved.

To love yourself is to feed yourself.

You’ve got this.

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Making Room

 

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Many of you hugged and kissed your way into 2017.

Some of you danced.

Perhaps many of you simply let it be, but it felt like you were actually doing an army-crawl.

It’s easy to talk about hope and possibility when you’re on the cusp of something. There’s a kind of magic in those feelings, and you hold onto them because it might be all that you have. But once midnight rolls around and the real work begins, accomplishing any resolution can seem like navigating an obstacle course with a load of bricks on your back. Either that, or you want to “get there” as soon as possible because you don’t want to waste any more time or live with regret.

I get it. There’s a sense of urgency in the air, especially in days like these. But the turning of a calendar year does not take away insecurities, change habits, or rebuild what has been broken down. You have to be the one to set goals, make the effort, and stick to it (even when it gets difficult). Yet consistency can be and often is a challenge because of how people approach trying to better themselves, along with the collective reasons for wanting to. The path to success/achievement is viewed as a straight shot, never mind that there are probably going to be cracks, rocks, and roadblocks along the way. It’s all about the hustle, and once you fall, you’re done and it’s no longer worth pursuing.

And that’s probably why resolutions lose their luster after January. It’s not a lack of realism or ambition or motivation, but a lack of loving and taking care of ourselves in the process. If you want to accomplish anything, you have to understand that you’re going to trip and stumble. You’re going to have setbacks. Failure might not be an option, but obstacles are a definite possibility. Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide whether you’ll allow those things to define who you are and what you’re capable of, and whether you’ll choose to keep going or let challenges get the best of you.

I’m not sure if I resolve to do anything differently, as much as I resolve to continue what I’ve already been doing. That’s not to say change isn’t important, or that I’m avoiding making changes in my life all together. But life does get messy, and trying to ignore that reality has only led me in circles. When I make room for the mess, and I invite people into the mess, I’m able to do my part knowing that I love myself and am allowing others to love me too. And when I do my part, when I take control of what I actually have control over, the rest takes care of itself and the changes happen a bit more naturally. Approaching change with shame never works because you end up trying too hard, and you end up making choices for all the wrong reasons.

Yes, I want to accomplish things: I want to exercise as often as possible and eat healthier food so that I have more energy to actually have a career. I want to become a published writer and reach people with my words. I want to communicate (especially with text messages) in a way where I’m not constantly acting and reacting out of insecurity. These are not just goals to achieve, but habits to maintain after I achieve them. In terms of personal development, growth is never static and the work is never entirely done. There is rest and there is acknowledging the journey, yet I’m always evolving as a person. And I’m not sure if I really want to know if I’ve succeeded or not (in some respects), because I don’t want to take anything for granted.

I suppose I say all of this because the-end-of-one-beginning-of-another jargon has started to make me cringe. Yes, 2017 can be YOUR year, but why make three hundred sixty five days the end all, be all? Of course you have the capability of making it a good one, of writing a great chapter or even a great book…but that takes time, and writing anything great comes with a lot of sitting and editing. The best mentality that I can come up with is to take it all one day at a time, and put one foot in front of the other. Life is unpredictable, and you really don’t know how you’ll handle a situation until you’re in it. You can plan and map something out to a tee, but life can be turned upside-down at any given moment.

One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Remember that you’re brave, you are strong, and you can do hard things.

If nothing else, you never have to wait until midnight to start over. You can do it again and again, reinventing yourself every day if it means getting to where you want to be.

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When Loss Comes Closer

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And only the good die young…

 My mom and I had gone to see Billy Joel at Wrigley Field that Friday, and that was the song he closed with as we began to make our way toward the exit. We stopped for a little bit to dance and sing along with the rest of the boisterous crowd, but part of me was (and still is) unsettled by the song’s popularity. I had a really funny feeling that drove straight into my soul, and I remembered how I had lost a friend from high school to a drunk driving accident three years ago. But as I would come to find out two mornings later, that wasn’t the only reason why.

I will always remember the day he died, and the day I heard the news. On August 27, 2016 I was in Chicago for an unofficial high school reunion, sipping wine on an apartment balcony that overlooked the city. The next day, I was getting ready for a date when I noticed that I had two missed calls from my mom and brother, and they texted that I call them back immediately.

“There’s been a car accident and it was fatal,” my brother said. I called my mom and she confirmed the little that she knew. I don’t remember the actual feeling of being sucker punched, but all I could do was put my hands over my face and cry.

“Why?” I kept asking over and over to the empty bathroom. I had known Connor and his family from the time I was a baby; they were our neighbors and we had all pretty much grown up together. The accident happened during a rainstorm, and he was only twenty-two years old.

I laid down on my bed and instantly grabbed hold of my favorite blanket, a Hawkeye theme where the edges of the material had been tied together. His mom and sister had made it for me before I went to college, and I held onto it in times homesickness or stress. Even though I was no longer in Iowa, it continues to be a source of comfort, my “blankie,” if you will. I spent the rest of the day battling a splitting headache, probably because it was all too much to process at the time. I wanted to reach out to Kaitlyn, his older sister and one of my best friends. I knew that bullshit clichés and platitudes would be of little comfort, and more than likely more than one person was trying to pile them on.

The days leading up to the funeral were filled with anxiety, part of it relating to being in shock over the tragedy that had taken place. This wasn’t the first time I’d been faced with an unexpected passing in my life, but it was the first time I felt like I was allowed to openly grieve because I knew the person really well. On one hand I was numb, silently going through the motions and merely observing everything that was going on in the situation. But I also wanted to be strong for the others that were in mourning, as Connor was not only my brother’s best friend, but also my best friend’s brother. She has held me up during many difficult times in my life, and now it was my turn to do the same for her.

I arrived later than intended on the day of the service, so the process of saying goodbye while simultaneously offering support felt rushed and all over the place. Certain aspects of that day will remain in my memory forever: the look of anguish on my brother’s face as he helped bear Connor’s casket up and down the church aisle. My mom’s arms around me as we both stood and cried together. The way my legs shook in anticipation of finding the family and silently hugging each of them (and the way they seemed to be comforting me more than the other way around). It was all very much surreal, and I’m not the only one who felt like they were existing between reality and an unfathomable nightmare.

I had hoped and expected something inside of me to break, where the floodgates would be opened and I could get everything out and be done with it. When that didn’t happen, I became frustrated and uneasy, wondering if there was something that I needed to tap into or a switch that I needed to hit in order to find closure. I had heard that one of the ways to process the loss was to have a conversation with the deceased person. Knowing that I’m a much better writer than a conversationalist, I decided to write him a letter.

It was two pages of me reminiscing, grieving, and ultimately thanking him for being such a large part of my life. I had an amazing childhood, where the six of us practically lived in our own little world for at least a decade. At a more private memorial, I relayed stories that our parents hadn’t either known about (or had forgotten about) until then. I then did one final sendoff at sunset, releasing the words into the lake in us kids had grown up on, and would now hold a tender mixture of joy and pain. I began to understand that the grief would come in waves (which it still does) and would often hit me when I least expected it.

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There are no words to aptly describe the pain of losing someone so suddenly, and especially when they have so much life left in them. And it’s been painful to see people that loved him (and he loved just as much, if not more) in so much agony, although that’s not to say I regret bearing witness to it. In a weird and morbid way, I’m thankful that I allowed myself to see and feel everything that I could, even if it hurt like hell. Nobody wants to talk about the fact that death is part of life, although no amount of knowing and preparing will decrease the weight and impact of the loss. It fucking hurts, and it fucking sucks.

I don’t know if Connor’s passing happened for a reason, and I don’t think that everything does happen for a reason. Yet I have learned a lot about compassion, and what it means to show up for people in their darkest hour(s). For the love of all that is good in this world, please stop with the whole “If I can’t take away the pain, then it’s pointless to do anything” way of thinking. There is always something that you can do! Go to the person that’s hurting and let them know that you love them and that you’re there. There is so much love and power in the simple act of merely being there: sitting with them. Holding them. Letting them be sad and mutually sharing in that sadness.Listening. And if you can’t physically be present, you can still send flowers or a card or something. How much time does it really take to type out and send a text message that says, “I’m sorry for your loss”? Pick up the damn phone. Write a letter or an email. Whatever you do, know that the smallest amount of support and tenderness is better than nothing. Show up and show love.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but walking with someone through tragedy is NOT about your level of comfort. It’s not about you. I’ve learned how to be extremely vulnerable in those moments where I have no idea, to say, “I love you and I’m also terrified of saying or doing the wrong thing right now.” I understand that’s where a lot of the hesitation and resistance lies, because no one wants to make things worse or end up being the insensitive jackass who meant well but epically failed. There is grace in that, because at least the person is making an effort. Questions are always better than assumptions: “What do you need?” “How can I be there for you?” “Do you want to talk, or do you want to just sit in silence?” Never assume that you know what a grieving person wants or needs, just because you might want or need to do that in a difficult situation. Again, it’s not easy and often requires stepping out of your own box of comfort. But if it makes people feels less alone, then damn it, swallow your pride and do it.

I waited at least a day or so to tell anybody on the outside (unless I absolutely had to). I’ve had this habit of telling people too soon (when bad things happen) because it keeps me from being sucked into a black hole of depression and despair. Contrary to popular belief, it is helpful to have the support of those who didn’t know the deceased, or at least that’s how I feel. There were times where I needed to breathe emotionally. There were times where I desperately wanted the perspective of those who had already been through it, or whose minds weren’t shrouded in the clouds of unspeakable loss. When another friend died three years ago, I ended up turning to alcohol and random strangers for comfort. I didn’t want to numb the pain, but I wanted to feel connected.  And now I would rather be a raw, emotional wreck than go down the path of functioning alcoholism again.

Maybe it is expecting too much, or maybe it’s wanting to know that you and your experiences matter. It’s a lesson in real friendship, about who’s willing to be there and who isn’t. People make mistakes and they mess up, but pure silence does say a lot.

It’s been over one hundred days. One hundred days where I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that he’s no longer here on earth. I miss his smile, his laugh, and the way he made fun of me whenever I got tipsy. The memories still keep popping into my head, though most were from ten or twenty years ago. I post old pictures and am still hoping that somewhere in one of our houses, there is a picture of all of us together, at least one. I still feel a little guilty over moving forward with my life, especially since there are a ton of people who are still living with the pain as if it just happened yesterday. I know he would want me to live my life to the fullest, to love people around me with everything I have, and to not spend my days in darkness. I think about things that I’ve been too scared to mention out loud: weddings, babies, and a plethora of occasions that will never be exactly right without him. I continuously find small ways to honor him, whether it’s occasionally drinking his favorite beer or leaving his name on the wall at Wrigley Field after the Cubs won the World Series. I’ve never been into hunting or fishing, but those things now remind me of him. Country music is more meaningful than it ever has been, especially Eric Church and a variety of songs that now make me happy and sad at the same time. This is all neither good nor bad, but it’s reality. It’s the new normal that we all have to live with.

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It is said that pain changes with time, although I’m fully aware that it will never go away completely. I don’t know how I’ll feel a year from now, or what I’ll have learned from it in the next three or five. I understand that grief is the price we pay for loving people, but a broken heart is also an indication of a life well lived. I’m blessed, fortunate, and honored to have known such a kind soul, and I thank God for all of it.

Life is really is precious. He left a mark on the world, and I hope somehow he knows that.

I miss him. Now and always.

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Project Publish

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A couple of months ago, I submitted an essay to be reviewed for possible publication; the piece itself is a personal narrative, and one that I’d spent months composing and editing while simultaneously coming to terms with the subject matter. At the beginning of October, I finally decided to hit, “send” and then sat back to wait on a response. While it had been well-received by the editors, I was told that unfortunately it was not the best fit for the platform. I wouldn’t be human if I said that it didn’t sting a little bit, but I was grateful for those on the other side who took the time to give genuine and truthful feedback. It was the first time I’d submitted anything in a while, and in hindsight I was just glad to be getting my feet wet again.

The majority of serious writers know that getting their work out there can and often does take a long time. Depending on the genre and length, it could take years:  Write. Edit. Submit. Critique. And repeat. I first started the summer before my last year in college, where the process of researching, emailing, and waiting actually took several months. Eventually I put it aside to focus on other things, and didn’t think about trying again until after graduation. By that time I was becoming more of an essayist, which compared to fictional short stories, is most definitely another ballgame.

The past year has helped me realize that I want to take it to a platform that’s perhaps a little bit bigger than this blog or my Facebook page. It’s not about bucket lists or recognition, but having a unique perspective and sensing that the world needs it, especially right now. I’ve been told over the that I have a different way of thinking and communicating, which I’ve been quiet about because I don’t want to brag or act like I’m better than anyone. I don’t have all the answers, and there are certain situations in which I don’t think I have a right to offer my perspective, simply because I haven’t been there. Yet, I continually find myself asking, “isn’t there another way? Does it always have to come down to this or that, without any gray areas?” There are always layers and complexities to unpack, especially in a culture that’s constantly changing and advancing.

But there’s also a personal side to it, and one that I didn’t think much about while composing the original piece: writing helps me to connect with people. It’s my way of saying, “here is an invitation for you to truly get to know me, and I hope that you will allow me to get to know you.” Of course this is hard to accomplish with a multitude of strangers, particularly when sharing something on the internet. Over the last several years I’ve taken to writing uncensored versions of things and then sharing them with my closest friends, at times way before it goes public. They are my tribe, the ones that don’t mind curse words, revealing details, or occasionally using the all caps button to get a point across. To know and to be known is a beautiful and most precious gift.

This is why you cannot be creative without being vulnerable. Creativity doesn’t necessarily stem from inspiration, but a willingness to get to the heart of whatever you’re trying to depict or communicate. And it’s challenging because not everyone will understand; your words might be misinterpreted as an attack, rather than mere expression. They might say you’re overanalyzing or going too deep, when in actuality you’re just too deep for them. You have to find a balance between telling the truth and taking others’ feelings into consideration. Sometimes regardless of the disclaimers or choice of words, they’re just not going to get it. Authentic writing requires thick skin, or at least an ability to recognize when someone is temporarily lashing out versus expressing genuine hurt.

By the time this year ends, I’m hoping to have sent another piece out for consideration, one that I specifically wrote for The New York Times “Modern Love” column. Two years and nearly ten drafts later, I’ve held back because of how meticulous I’ve been when it comes to editing. I’m more afraid that it won’t be “compelling” enough, and that ultimately my point is just going to fall on deaf ears.

Of course there is life after rejection, and a singular no doesn’t indicate that there won’t be a yes somewhere else. I’m considering Thought Catalog (and others) as a main base because I’m still  a new and emerging writer, and for now that might be my best bet. It also seems to have a larger audience, and from what I understand, a submission fee isn’t required.

It’s something that I’ve wanted to do my entire life, and will keep pursuing until that door closes on me for good. If it ends up that this gift only stays between me and certain audiences, so be it. Nevertheless, it is a talent that I will not let go to waste, and will use it to make a positive impact in any way that I can.

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