Nano is Coming! November Goals Unveiled

Hidden amidst the costumes, the piles of candy, and the pumpkin spice coffees, dodging past Winnifred Sanderson, Michael Myers, Pennywise and Chucky- just beyond the veil of Halloween, a mystical adventure awaits the daring writer brave (or crazy) enough to wield their pen like a scabbard and charge into the unknown foray of the blank page. That is right, my dear literary lovelies, Nano is just around the corner. As in a couple of days away. The hourglass of October is nearly spent, the precious Nano prep time is coming to a close, and soon the curtains will part for November as the main attraction commences.

I will be honest with you, for all of the time I have spent organizing myself for November- I still don’t feel anywhere near being ready for the month. I don’t think I have ever starting November 1st feeling fully prepared, and perhaps that is where the adventure truly is. It’s all about walking into the challenge with the nervous anticipation clawing at you, asking whether you can make it or not. Will you take the castle, or retreat to find a dragon to help you slay your literary foes in December? We shall find out together, my friends.

As per the usual, it is time to make my writing goals for the next month. The past few months I have been working on finishing old projects- mainly in the form of editing. And while I haven’t found as much success with these projects as I had hoped, I think this is a theme that I need to carry on with throughout the year. This is a year of finishing, of tying up my loose ends so that I can move forward with confidence into whatever 2017 has in store for me. And so, my Nano project is going to be an old one that needs some new life breathed into it. I’m going to be picking up a project I started in Camp Nano this last summer. I didn’t get very far into it, and what I did manage to do needs a complete re-write. So I’m taking that old idea and creating something new. The benefits: I know a little bit about how these characters act and how to make them translate on the page. The cons: everything that I had before is essentially being scrapped, so I will be starting with a clean slate. I’m excited to get it going, to finish it. It’s an idea that I find intriguing, and I am curious how it will play out. I have my general plot figured out, but I always leave a lot of extra wiggle room when I plot so that I have the ability to adjust if the story starts steering me in a new direction halfway through.

In the spirit of the ‘out of this world’ Nano theme we have going this year, I am going to be shooting for the stars: it will be a ‘go big or go home’ Nano. This could either be an epic year, or it could spark and fizzle out before the month is up. I guess we shall see. So, on to the goals:

Naturally, my minimum word count goal is 50,000, courtesy of the Nano challenge. But this year I am going to make yet another attempt at the crazy, coveted goal of 100,000 words. I have tried to hit this mark for a couple years now, but I have not managed to make it. I usually start to slow down and come to a screeching halt at about the 75k mark- a milestone I am still incredibly proud of, but I deeply desire to hit that ever illusive goal, mainly because I have tried and failed so many times in the past.

Second: I am going to try to post every day of the month (gasp). This is yet another goal that I have striven for the past couple of months, but haven’t even come close to. I’ve been struggling lately with the blog, and I think it’s been pretty apparent. Life has been incredibly busy, and I feel like I’ve lost my voice. The best way to fight this little struggle is to embrace it. I need to nurture my daily habits until I start to see myself again in my work. I have to push through my self-imposed barriers to remember who I am as a writer. So if you see me waning on occasion, feel free to leave a comment and kick me in the booty- there is nothing more motivating than the people who are fighting right alongside me.

I am so excited and yet also incredibly nervous. I am terrified that I am taking on more than I can handle, after all, the holidays are upon us, and that has always been a busy time for my family. Then again, if I want this type of life, these are the challenges that I must give myself every single day. This is my favorite time of year, and I get to immerse myself in my favorite activity. Whether I get a gold star on my goals or not- at least I am still out here trying. That’s really all I can ask of myself.

So today- after the football game, of course (GO HAWKS!), I will finish getting myself ready for November. I will work through the Mount Everest pile of laundry I have waiting for me (it’s embarrassingly awful at this point, but I wasn’t kidding when I said life has been busy, I haven’t even had time for this simple chore). I will clean the house and figure out a few simple meal plans for the moth. Then I will be off to the store to stock up on some of my favorite snacks and drinks (tea time for the win! And perhaps a few Hershey kisses as word count rewards). I will go on the Nano website and stare longingly at the travel mug I hope to reward myself with if I hit 100k. I will go over my prep work one more time and make a few minor adjustments. Then I will take a little bit of time to relax with the book I hope to finish by tomorrow (otherwise it will be a long month before I get a chance to read the conclusion).

Tomorrow I will let myself fully enjoy the excitement of Halloween, one of my favorite holidays. I will settle in and watch Hocus Pocus and The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown. And then when the clock strikes midnight, I will begin my daring adventure. Care to join me, my friends?

Going Bananas (while being chased by gorillas) – for charity.

Only in Portland will you find yourself dressed as a banana, running for your life across a bridge as a brigade of gorillas chases you. That was a snapshot of me at 9:30 this morning. Today was the first annual ‘Go Bananas’ fun run, supporting the ‘Free to Smile Foundation.’ The people who put it on were quick to let us know that they had never organized an event like that- but they did an amazing job! We were provided with costumes, food, drinks, coffee mugs, pens, keychains, banana flavored chap sticks, and shirts. The best part: every penny went to the foundation, which provides surgical and dental services to poor and underprivileged children throughout the world. A few local dentists participate and decided to help out a great cause in even more ways.

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I haven’t been running in a long time, I will openly admit that I haven’t followed through with my fitness plans the past few months. But when you are presented with the rare opportunity to run through town dressed as a banana- this is not something that you can pass up. I was looking forward to it all week- singing the old ‘go banana’ cheers that I learned when I was knee high to a grasshopper (sorry, I love that saying and never get to use it). That being said, I was very surprised that I was actually able to run the majority of it. Granted, it was only a 5k, but that’s still a lot when the only marathon training you have participated in over the past few months involved Netflix or Hulu and bags of popcorn.

I had a blast, they made us feel so welcome. My mom went with me, and we met a few of my coworkers there. We got there early and were able to spend some time with great people- you would be surprised at how many inappropriate jokes you can come up with when you are dressed as a banana- I’ll spare you my witty puns, but rest assured- they were pure gold. Although, I must admit, it was a bit off-putting to be given a banana as a pre-race treat (and yet it did not stop me from actually eating it).

The dentists who were running the event dressed up as our gorillas and ran the entire thing with us- ‘chasing’ us along the trail in full costume as people (and the local fire department) took pictures. It felt good to be passing smiles along to unsuspecting people who were just out and about on their regular business and wandered by when a bunch of bananas were running down the sidewalk from a pack of hungry gorillas. All in all, I would have to say that today was a rather successful day. Another memory made, another race I will be sure to join next year, and a whole new level of motivation to get back out there and start running again. It felt so good to cross that finish line- and knowing that a few boxes of voodoo doughnuts were waiting for us didn’t hurt either.

 

The Fears of a Woman

I was raised to be a strong woman. I was taught to demand respect, to be soft when compassion was needed, to be tough when circumstances called for it, to stand my ground when the world wanted to push me around. I was raised to believe that I could do or be anything. So when did it become okay for faceless individuals to decide that what I had to offer the world amounted to no more than boobs, an ass and a pussy? That sounded a bit crude for my usual work, didn’t it? Yea, that’s what I thought too. And yet that is the world that we live in. A place where I am judged by the body parts that I possess and what I am willing to do with them.

My daddy never taught me that boys would be boys and could say whatever they wanted about me as they passed me in the street. My older brothers never shrugged their shoulders at the prospect of a man following me down the sidewalk making lewd comments. My fiancé never mentioned that it should be viewed as a compliment for a man to catcall me or reach out and grab my butt on the street because it meant that I was desirable. No, these were not things that I was ever taught. And yet they are the excuses so easily given and readily accepted. I don’t have daughters, but I have nieces. I have a mother, I have aunts, I have a sister. These rationalizations are not okay, and yet we shrug our shoulders and say boys will be boys. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, I know the vast majority of men don’t fall into this category- the men I am close to in my life- they respect women. So where did this idea come from that this behavior was acceptable?

A comedian once asked a sold out auditorium how many of the women had been sent a picture of a man’s penis on their phone- virtually every hand rose. If you pick ten random women on the street and ask them if they have ever been sexually assaulted or felt in fear because of the aggressive overtures coming from certain members of the opposite sex, I can guarantee you will have almost a unanimous yes. Every two minutes another person in America is sexually assaulted. In the amount of time it takes you to read this- how many people have been hurt, have been scared, have had the fabric of their lives forever altered? One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape, and nine out of every ten victims of rape are female.

I work in the court system, and one aspect of my job includes a process known as voir dire, although most refer to it simply as jury selection. During this process a group of random people from the community are gathered together in an open courtroom to answer very personal questions pertaining to the subject of the case that we happen to be hearing that day to determine if they can be impartial. We handle a lot of sex cases, and as such, we have to ask these random strangers to voice their own histories. The court or counsel will ask the question ‘Have you or someone you are close to been a victim of sexual assault?’ I was shocked the first time I saw so many hands raise, and even more disheartened when I heard how many people raised their hands for themselves. And then the next question, ‘How many were reported’- it was like a tidal wave of fingers falling from the sky, leaving a solemn few raised alone.

Is this the world that we want to raise our daughters in? Are these the lessons that we wish to impart on our sons? The justifications of what we call social norms have a profound effect on our younger generations and what they will deem to be acceptable. Most young women believe that sexual assault is common, that catcalls and booty-grabbing in the halls of the high school are normal; and sadly, they are right- but that doesn’t mean that they should be. During a 2014 study, sociologist Heather Hlavka questioned young women regarding their views on sexual harassment and assault. One young woman’s answer speaks a terribly revealing truth, “They grab you, touch your butt and try to, like, touch you in the front, and run away, but it’s okay, I mean … I never think it’s a big thing because they do it to everyone.” These same young women were also very candid about the fact that they probably wouldn’t report any such events, believing that they would be ‘making a big deal out of nothing,’ many didn’t even view it as assault until it crossed that threshold into the realm of rape. When asked why they wouldn’t report it, they stated that they were concerned that they would be labeled as whores, sluts, or be accused of lying and exaggerating. Their silence, our silence, speaks volumes.

The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30 years of age. Females between the ages of 16 to 24 are four times more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault than the general population, the statistics for those enrolled in college drop only minimally- to a mere three times more likely. This was when it happened to me. And I know that I am not the only one carrying the burden of an untold story. In fact, it is estimated that out of every 1,000 sexual assaults, only about 344 are actually reported to the police. How many of your friends, coworkers, or family members have one of these experiences that they simply haven’t told you?

Infographic reads "The majority of sexual assault victims are under 30." Statistic is broken down into five age groups.

All too often the finger gets pointed at the wrong person. It becomes a matter of what the victim did to incite the behavior- as if men are mere animals with no sense of self-control. People assume she must have been flirting, dressed provocatively, over imbibing in alcohol- a million different justifications, as if they excuse the transgression, as if she was asking for it. When I finally told someone about my assault, the response that I received was ‘well, now you know how to not get yourself into that situation again,’ as if it were my actions that forced his hand. When my friend finally found the strength to tell a police office what happened to her, the response that she received was ‘good luck with that.’ My friends, victims of assault find enough reason to blame themselves- and is it any wonder? When we are told that our actions are the cause. Last time I checked, no still meant no, and my body was still mine to decide what to do with. No one has the right to take those decisions from you.

I keep hearing that women objectify themselves; as if dancing provocatively, wearing a crop top and short-shorts or reading a smutty romance novel suddenly invalidates a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. Try reversing this picture: if a man chooses to wear skinnier jeans that show off his assets- I don’t go up and pinch his butt or grab him from the front. If a man opts to watch porn, that doesn’t give me the right to run in and jump on top of him. So how are these examples any different when viewed from the perspective of a woman?

Someone I know recently posted a comparison to a very controversial book relating to some of the political conversations surrounding this topic:

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But you see, there is an inherent flaw in this reasoning. My issues with the statements that he made have nothing to do with the ‘naughty words’ that were said. My issue was the intent of those words- it was in the insinuation that a rich man can grab a woman’s intimate parts and that it is okay, hell, that it is desirable. To me that is a far cry from reading a risqué book about the fetishes of two consenting adults. It is the fact that a grown man believes that this is an appropriate way to talk about women- regardless of whether he is in the presence of only men or not. To compare the two is an attempt to minimize the true intent of the statement and to ignore the truly insidious problem we face as a society.

Most men are good men, this I believe. But that doesn’t change the fact that a large portion of the female population will wind up on the wrong side of this equation at some point in their lives. We have cultivated a sense of rape culture by normalizing behaviors that should not be shrugged away. No more ‘boys will be boys’- they know better. We can teach them better. And no more girls blaming one another or themselves for decisions they were not given the opportunity to make. No more calling names likes slut or whore, no more raised eyebrows as we ask what she could have done to avoid the situation. Our bodies are our own, and until that basic human right is given the respect that it deserves, this battle will continue. I don’t know about you, but I am terrified to have my little nieces grow up in a world where they will have these same fears that I had. I am enraged by the fact that so many of my friends and family have a painful history that echoes my own. We are sisters in our suffering. And it is not acceptable.

How many minutes have you been reading this? How many more people have been hurt? While it is true, that the numbers of sexual assaults have been slowly declining over the decades, that does not mean that the problem no longer exists. These are conversations that must be had, stories that must be brought out into the light, experiences that need to be understood to be stopped. This is not a complicated right to be requesting. What do I want? I want to know that I can walk into a bar with my friends without someone reaching out for a touch, that I can go for a jog in my own neighborhood without clutching a can of mace and keeping one earbud out to hear approaching footsteps. I want to know that my sister can walk down the street without fear from the man that started catcalling her and moved in her direction. I want to know that my nieces will be able to walk down the halls of their high school without being touched or put in fear. I want to be able to go out and dance or read a smutty novel without someone acting like that means I have given away my rights to simple decency. I want to be treated like the lady that I am, the ladies that we all are, not an object to be yelled at, taunted, touched or used. That is the world that I want to raise a daughter in. That is the way I wish to raise a son.

 

Surprise Skeletons and a Late Night Run in the Rain: My Week in Review

This morning I decided that the next step in my accountability plan is to report back here- if I have to tell you about my successes and failures, then perhaps I will try a bit harder to give you something good. I know I get spotty with my follow-through, but it’s time to change my thinking and hold myself to the promises that I made. I’m also going to get a bit more specific with my goals- that way I can actually give myself a ‘grade’ for the week. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of these new ideas in place until this morning, so this review is going to be a bit of an overview.

It’s been a crazy whirlwind of a week, mainly because of work. I went in Monday morning slightly dreading an activity I had on my agenda that day. But a co-worker turned that all around for me. I hadn’t been in my own office for more than a few minutes over the past week and half because I was busy covering for people in other departments. I missed my little hole in the wall and my lovely little plants (all named after Wild West personas). When I stepped into my hallway all of the lights were off and my office door was closed- both very unusual things. When I opened it, this is the sight that met my eyes.

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Meet Burnie, borrowed from the Fire Department to give me a nice little scare. It set the tone for the rest of my day; Monday way going to be good, come hell or high water- I was going to be happy and productive.

The rest of the week was a bit of a challenge on the work front, leaving me a tad exhausted and creatively tapped out by the time I got home. I worked on my editing, but not as thoroughly as I wanted to. I was having a hard time getting into the story, I even tried switching to a different project at one point, but without much luck. I got a little bit done, but there is a lot left to do if I want to meet that goal by the end of the month. At this rate I may need to turn October into another editing month (with a dash of Nano Prep sprinked in, that’s right, we are getting close my friends!).

On the bright side, I’ve been trying to journal a bit more- to keep myself sane and mindful. And while I haven’t been keeping up with it daily, I did finish out the journal I’ve been writing in (yay). I love cracking open a new one, and actually- I’ve come a long way since I started this last one. I love going back through and re-reading where I started vs. where I ended. Today I am going to pull out a new one (I have a couple stock-piled), and see what happens in the next few months. It’s been helping. I’ve been feeling more centered, more in control of my life and aware of what’s going on around me. I need to try to unplug a bit more often though. I’ve been catching myself dinking around on my phone a lot without doing anything productive, so that is something to work on this coming week.

Last night I was sitting in my pj’s listening to the rain outside and attempting to get some editing done, but I was getting distracted by the blasted interwebs. So you know what I did? I am so proud of this- Zach and I got up, changed and went out for a late night jog in the rain! Yay for finally getting my booty back out there! We took it easy because its been so long since we last went out. But it felt good to get moving. We signed up for a Stage Race next summer, so we’re getting back in shape for that. I think I’m going to sign up for a few 5k’s to keep myself motivated.

Overall- I didn’t have a home run week, but I’m slowly adding new elements to it. Considering the exhausting work week- I am still proud of what I did manage to get done. Sometimes we have to be flexible, sometimes life throws you a few curve balls that you have to roll with. I am forever a work in progress, but at least I am still working.

 

Don’t Let Fear Rule You (The Social Anxiety Win)

I came to the realization a long time ago that my social anxiety will never be ‘cured.’ It is as much a part of me as my freckles, the scar on my lip, or my affinity for Harry Potter. Much like my fear of heights, I can face it, I can find a work-around; but the fear itself does not change. There are no magical solutions that will make me forget to be anxious. There is nothing that will stop my heart from racing, nothing that will keep me from analyzing every word I say and every move they make. No, these things will not change. But I have to fight through them anyways. Some days I am prepared for the battle, and some days I am holding that white flag high above my head (or more appropriately- on the door that I have locked myself behind).

I can’t even begin to explain the frustration that starts to build up after a long week of uncomfortable moments with people that could be fantastic to get to know- if I could only get out of my own way. Sometimes I wonder what kind of person I would be without it; who would I have become if this wasn’t always following behind me like a damn shadow? I have never been a big fan of ‘normal,’ and in most situations I don’t even know what that word is supposed to mean. But there are days where I would give anything to just feel normal. I wish I could understand what it’s like to step into a room and feel genuinely excited about the prospect of meeting new people, not terrified that these new people might not like me. Is it kind of like walking into a library full of new books? Full of possibilities, and promises of new adventures? What is it like when fear doesn’t rule over you with an iron fist? What is it like when you can walk into a party and not feel like you are stepping into your own personal battlefield? Tell me friends, what does it feel like to be normal?

I’ve been feeling closed off the past few weeks, no matter how hard I’ve been trying at this ‘social’ thing. The distance has been palpable, and I haven’t really known what to do about it. I keep trying- I’ve been making plans, racking my brain to initiate conversations, smiled when I wanted to turn tail and run. I even made plans for an overnight trip with another couple. I have been avoiding all thoughts of this potential adventure, because otherwise I might just start having a panic attack right here where I sit. Surprisingly, my efforts have actually been paying off- I was even able to hold a few lengthy conversations with a superior at work who has traditionally made me feel notoriously awkward. That’s right my friends- full conversations with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But all week it felt like work, desperately grasping at conversation starters. So when Saturday hit, I had mixed feelings. We were invited to a BBQ by a friend. There were only going to be a couple of people that I knew, and, more importantly, I was going to be meeting the wife of one of my fiancé’s best friends for the first time. She is a master at the ‘girl thing,’ it’s what she does for a living, and I am a twenty seven year old who still hasn’t completely figured out eye liner. I know she’s nice, but would we really have anything in common? I wanted to make a good impression, but I was nervous- very nervous. As it turns out, my anxiety was unwarranted- she wasn’t able to make it, and therefore I was left to my own devices with the other strangers.

There are rare instances where you just hit it off with people and all of the awkwardness quickly goes out the window. BBQ night turned into one of those nights, and for the first time in a long time I got a taste of what it felt like to be a normal social person. There were seven of us total, which, as it turns out, is a pretty good number to keep conversations going without it getting too overwhelming. It was interesting- these were seven very different people with very different life stories and experiences. We had some military, all but two had undergone some major relocations throughout their lives. Everyone had stories, and everyone felt comfortable telling them. It was liberating (and the steady supply of beer didn’t exactly hurt my social game). I was able to talk without too much fear of what people thought, I told stories and people actually laughed. I felt like I was a part of something; a rare moment that I crave with all my soul.

Perhaps I am not as far gone as I thought I was. Perhaps its just a matter of finding people that you don’t have to force a conversation with. Perhaps its simply a matter of learning to relax and let go of those internal filters. Maybe the stars aligned just right or I was abducted by aliens and they implanted these really nice memories instead. Whatever the reason, I’m glad that I went. And perhaps next adventure, the terrifyingovernight trip, wont be as scary as I have feared. There’s only one way to find out: take a deep breath and jump.

The Character Challenge (live the story)

I always wanted to be a badass. But, as it turns out, being tall and wiry with virtually no muscle tone, chipmunk cheeks and glasses does not scream ‘fear me.’ No, I know what you are thinking, with my verbal jujitsu, how could I possibly be anything but hardcore? And yet it’s true. Even when I put on my sassy pants people tend to refer to me as ‘cute’ rather than ‘ferociously pee-your-pants terrifying.’ If the zombie apocalypse suddenly broke out, I strongly suspect I would not be the gun slinging hero that pulls together the remaining humans- I wouldn’t even be the zombie charging forward to eat said gun slinging badass. No, let’s face reality- I would be the zombie who tripped over a garden hose and happened to impale her poor little noggin on a gnome, effectively ending her anti-climactic undead existence.

Perhaps it is my own lackluster abilities that draws me towards the strong characters I write. For just a brief little period in time I get to pretend to be these brave beings that I’ve always wanted to emulate. I get to live a thousand and one adventures through the gifts of a few pages and some ink. I get to be tough, to do the things I could only imagine in my regular day-to-day life.

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I’ve had an idea percolating in my brain for quite some time now, but it didn’t really resonate with me until Memorial Day. I live in the Pacific Northwest- first rule of living here: Don’t be afraid of the rain. Second rule of living here: When the sun decides to grace you with its presence, you go outside and enjoy it. So I did just that. A couple of co-workers and I decided to go on a hike we had never done before. It was supposed to be seven miles round trip- more than I’m used to, but not that bad. It wound up being eleven. Along the way we had to cross about a dozen creeks by hopping from one dry rock to the next until we made it to the path on the other side. When we made it to the lake we decided to follow the trail around it. When it split into two sections, we took the one closest to the water. This, incidentally, turned out to be a mistake, but we took it in stride- the motto of the day being ‘let’s have an adventure.’ So when the lake came up and over a portion of our path, we decided not to turn back, instead we took our shoes off and waded in. And when our path culminated in a rock wall about twice my height- we climbed it. Then, when the sketchy wooden planks were the only things keeping us from falling into a mud bath below- we ran across. It was safe to say that we managed to have our adventure.

Over our celebratory drinks and BBQ afterwards, I couldn’t help but come to two realizations. First: no beer will ever taste as good as the first beer after a long hike (Thank you Stella Artois for your lovely concoction, it was truly perfection). Second: I just might be capable of some of my own badassery after all. Perhaps I do have it in me to be like those tough women I write about. Maybe, just maybe, I am not like those fictional characters because I have never given myself the chance to be. After all- I just walked 11 miles on a whim, I climbed a rock wall, I forded creeks, I waded into a lake that had snow merely feet away- me, I did that. I have to admit, in spite of the fact that my muscles are currently screaming at me every time I try to stand and my back is the color of the Kool-Aid guy (note to self: never forget the sun screen at post-hike happy hour)- I feel a bit like a badass.

And that was when the ideas really started taking root- what if I decided to challenge myself to be more like my characters? What if I try to live a life worthy of the stories that I tell? The Character Challenge (okay, so I haven’t put as much thought into the name- I’ve been more preoccupied with the content). The goal will be two-fold: to gain better insight to enrich my writing, and also to help me become a more well-rounded person in general. It’s for my own character, as well as the character of my characters (apologies- I had to do that just once, don’t worry, it’s now out of my system).

I’ve always believed that it is the truth that is hidden in a piece of fiction that is what makes it come to life. Personal experience is a large part of that truth. So why not try to improve myself along with my work? At the very least, I’ll have some good stories for my next happy hour. It will be a great way to get into my characters’ heads while simultaneously cleaning out my own. It will also be a bit of an experiment: perhaps I will find something that really makes a difference in my work.

So here is the first challenge: Physical badassery

Generally speaking, physical ability is the bedrock of any literary badass. This is actually something I have been meaning to work on anyways- I have let myself get out of shape and I hate it. Keeping your body fit and healthy is one of the best things you can do for your brain. So this little challenge will double as an experiment: will I notice any difference in my writing abilities as I proceed?

I think its about time to fish those boxing gloves out from the closet and see what I am capable of. Game on.

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September Goals

This year seems to be slipping through my fingers faster than my dog when he realizes it’s bath time. September is almost upon us, and with that comes a new set of goals and aspirations, something I have been talking a lot about the past week. So what will be on the agenda this coming month? (drum roll please)

September is going to the month of returning to my roots, of refining what I have, its going to be the month to go back and make things shine. I have a large number of projects in some stage of the editing process- in my mind they are still not ready for beta readers, although I know of at least one that is so close I can almost taste it. I have far too many projects languishing in this semi-unfinished state. So this month I am going to hone in and start the tedious task that is editing. I’m actually really excited about it. When I was cleaning out my desk yesterday I came across on of the notebooks containing all of my plot notes for my Twisted Fairytale (I have yet to commit to a name, so nicknames will have to suffice at this point). This one is the closest to completion, and it was one of my all-time favorites to write. That’s probably because when I started it, I meant for it to just be practice, there was no pressure with the prospect of future eyes roving over it in judgment. Along the way, I fell in love with the concept and have been pouring more of my heart and soul into it. It’s about time that the little creation see the light of day and get some input that will really make her shine.

I’m going to also take the time to refocus this blog, getting back on track with quality content that will hopefully interest a few people. I am feeling rejuvenated, and I want that to show in my work. I am going to run with this energy while I have it. I am excited to plunge back into the research and start jotting down lines for a few of the topics I have lined up in the coming weeks. I feel like I’ve lost my voice recently, and I am finally getting it back.

Personally, I am going to keep in mind that balance I’ve been talking about. The plan is to keep up with my journaling, even if it is only for fifteen minutes at night. I will start getting up early to work out, my body is just as important as my mind. I am going to work harder at staying in the moment and giving my full attention to whatever I happen to be doing.

So here we go, the goals, simply laid out:

  • Journal 5 days a week for at least fifteen minutes
  • At least 5 blog posts a week
  • Edit Twisted Fairy Tale until it is ready for beta reading (I am hoping to work on a few other projects, but this is the one I want to have done by the end of the month)
  • Work out 30 minutes five days a week
  • Follow meal plan
  • Walk the dog every day (or substitute another activity to keep him sane)
  • Research projects: 15 minutes a day minimum

I am so excited for this month, it is going to feel fantastic to start getting my projects ready for others to see. It’s terrifying, but that’s the name of the game. I can do this, I know that I can. I just have to make sure that I don’t burn myself out this time around. I have to stay mindful and keep on track. It’s going to be a beautiful month, I can feel it now.

 

 

Goals from the Ground Up

I have always been single minded and passionate when it comes to the goals that I set out, the dreams that I wish to accomplish. But I am coming to a slowly dawning realization about myself: I have always been the type to have big dreams, I make bold proclamations about goals that I will accomplish, setting out the self-improvement ladder that I wish to climb, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty follow through I get overwhelmed, I fizzle down until I burn out completely.

There is something to be said for chasing your dreams with a vengeance, for putting 110% into everything that you do. You’ll have time to rest when you are dead- isn’t that what they say? The problem with this little nugget of advice: it’s unsustainable. I’ve tried it, I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. You are not built to be on the ground running night and day. Even the ocean knows that it cannot continually charge in it’s assault against the shore- even it knows that there is a time for the tide to go out, to retreat and find safety in it’s own calming waters. Life is full of waxing and waning; there are moments when you will be fully charged and ready to conquer the world, other days the only thing that will heal your soul are yoga pants, a ratty sweatshirt and a mug of steaming hot tea. There is a balance to life that you must embrace.

The difficult piece of this advice: there are far too many things in this world to do and experience, it feels like a waste of your precious time when you are not actively chasing down one of them. The world that we live in is overflowing with adventures to have, new experiences are constantly bubbling over, just waiting for your attention. Is it really any wonder that we struggle to slow down? Can anyone truly blame me for wanting to experience it all?

I have always had high expectations of myself. I want to be the Wonder Woman of my own life. I will openly admit that I selfishly want to be the kind of person that truly lives and makes it all look so damn easy. But the truth is that it’s not easy, and no matter how many times I don a cape- I am still not a super hero. I am simply a girl trying to figure out what path is right for me, or whether I should opt to forge into the overgrowth and create my own.

The crux of my issue was always the same: I needed to learn to follow my own internal rhythms, I needed to scale it down and focus on one thing that a time. I make goals that are too big for my lifestyle, ones that I will never been able to reach out and grab because they are simply to cumbersome for my bumbling fingers. I don’t make room for the question marks in life. Some of the best experiences I have had came without warning, when I took an opportunity that was presented to me without any idea where it would lead. When I try to over-plan my life to fit those illustrious goals, then I don’t make time for the real adventures that the world is literally throwing in my lap. There are so many things in life that you cannot plan or prepare for. There are wrenches out there who have a singular goal in life: to throw themselves into any well thought out plan you may have created. There are inevitabilities and contingencies. In a nutshell, you cannot plan for everything, and nor should you. By ignoring these possibilities, you are setting yourself up for failure and frustration.

I need to stop trying to plan out virtually every minute of my life and give myself an opportunity to actually live it. There is a balancing act that I need to work on. It is time to take one of my own lessons to heart and work on baby steps, to build the foundation that will serve me farther down the road. I need to focus on one piece of the puzzle instead of overwhelming myself with the big picture.

August is almost over, and with it, the goals I have set for myself have turned a bit sideways. So it’s time to take a deep breath and slow it down. I knew that this would be a busy month, so I think I will forgive my lack of focus- at least this time. For the next eleven days, I am going to start setting myself up for a successful September.

My goals for the last part of the month:

  • Put up a new blog post every other day
  • Plan out some of my topics and research projects for September
  • Finally finish the first draft of my July Camp Nano project
  • Walk the dog daily (otherwise he turns into a bored psychopath- think of a three-year old on a sugar high and you’ll have a rough idea of the madness that ensues. I’m just thankful he doesn’t have opposable thumbs)
  • Stretch twice a day
  • Make up my meal and fitness plan for September (because cultivating the body is just as important as cultivating the mind- and its also the one I am constantly neglecting).

There- that doesn’t seem too crazy, now does it? I need to work on the building blocks to get myself back on the right track. I need to work on my balance. With baby steps I will stand a chance. I have a hundred other things on my much bigger to-do list, and this doesn’t meant that I wont attempt to tackle a few of them while I am at it, but right now I am building my base. I need something solid to leap from. I will never make it if I don’t first create a firm footing to rest on. I can breath easy knowing I am building the habits that will help me succeed later.

This World Will Not Change Me

I am not a hero. I have never run into a burning building or set a broken bone. I have never knowingly charged into danger knowing that I might not make it home when all was said and done. No, I am not a hero. But I was raised by one, though he would never call himself that. My dad is my hero, he is my example on how to live. My dad has run into burning buildings, he has whisked people to safety, he has helped them die as peacefully as possible when there was nothing left to do, he has searched through rubble for the telltale hint of a human soul. My dad has run into danger knowing he might not make it home. He has been hurt, he has been broken, but he has never stopped getting back up and doing it all over again. Because it was the right thing to do, because it was something that he could do. When I was little, I didn’t think much of it; it was just a fact of our lives- other people’s dads went to office buildings wearing suits, my dad charged into burning houses wearing a rather different dress code. I remember special goodnight kisses before shifts, going to visit at the station houses, camping trips with his ‘work family.’ Looking back now, I see the truth hidden behind the smiles, I see the pain and the reward that being the hero can bring. There is not only glory to be found, there is so much more buried below the surface if you only take the time to look.

On April 19, 1995 evil struck in an unimaginable way with the Oklahoma City Bombing. I had just turned six, but I still remember the footage of the building, only a portion still eerily standing. When the call rang out for help, my dad answered it. He flew out with his search and rescue team to assist in whatever way he could. He was never one to stand back and watch, he always had to help.

This is my dad during the search and rescue after the Oklahoma City Bombing:

The second picture where he is sitting on a bucket was a shot taken and used in Garth Brook’s 1995 music video ‘The Change,’ which doubled as a tribute to the victims and rescuers of Oklahoma City. If you ever feel the desire to watch, you can view the original video here: Garth Brooks ‘The Change’ original music video.

When I was a little girl I was so proud of this video- that was my dad! I would pop in the VHS tape and watch it over and over, just to see him right here. Today I found the video again- having a deep yearning to hear this song once more. And when I reached the scene I knew so well, this image hit me like a truck, making it hard to breath. For the first time I saw what it really portrayed. Pain. He never talked much about what happened there, we would get some stories as we got older, but it was nothing like seeing him in that moment of raw heartache and disbelief as the world was falling apart around him. I know they were there primarily as recovery- they flew in after many of the survivors were already rescued. Their mission was to help give peace to the families who lost so much that day, by allowing them to bury those they loved. And it took its toll on all of them. Seeing the devastation of so much hate will do that- it is a side of humanity that no one is ever ready to face. For the first time I saw how much my dad sacrificed to help others.

And then I came across this- a picture he took and kept from that time.

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It’s just a simple sign. But it was powerful. It was a reminder, it was a promise- it was an embodiment of all that we are. When we have no other choice, we find out what we are made of inside, and it is usually so much more than we would have ever anticipated. Through our pain we find strength in one another, we find hope in a lost world.

“The Change”
By: Garth Brooks

One hand
Reaches out
And pulls a lost soul from harm
While a thousand more go unspoken for
They say what good have you done
By saving just this one
It’s like whispering a prayer
In the fury of a stormAnd I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

This heart
Still believes
The love and mercy still exist
While all the hatred rage and so many say
That love is all but pointless in madness such as this
It’s like trying to stop a fire
With the moisture from a kiss

And I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world will know
That it will not change me

As long as one heart still holds on
Then hope is never really gone

I hear them saying you’ll never change things
And no matter what you do it’s still the same thing
But it’s not the world that I am changing
I do this so this world we know
Never changes me

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

Today I haven’t been able to get this song out of my head, I keep coming back to the same thing, the words are burning through my veins. I wish I could do more. I wish I had more to give. I am not a firefighter, a nurse, a doctor, a police officer, a soldier- there are so many things that I am not. I am just a girl, just one solitary girl who finds her power with the written word. Some days it seems that is all that I have to give. And in a world that seems to be shattering right before my eyes- I have to ask myself if that is really enough?

Words feel so small in the face of so much pain and anger. But it is all that I have. I would like to think that I would step forward if the opportunity were thrust upon me, that in the heat of a moment I would make the selfless choice, I would do what my dad has always taught me. As the song says, “I do this so the world will know that it cannot change me.” Perhaps the most powerful thing that we can do is prove to the world that it will not make us jaded, it will not stop us from caring, it will not smother the flame of humanity we all started this life with. This world will never be able to create so much fear in my heart that I stop trying to help. If I find myself forever mired in these struggles, facing the choice of giving more of myself than I think I can bear to lose- I would still fight. The darkness of this world will never change me. I will always try live by my dad’s example. I will always try to fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. I will always try to be a welcoming smile in a world full of bitter anger. I will always try to be a voice of reason in the screaming crowd. I will always fight- even if it means using the only power I possess- my words. I have spent enough of my life idly standing by. I will not be afraid. I will not be bitter or jaded or angry. I will not be changed.

We let fear rule us all too often, we allow the anger to twist our thoughts into venom that we thrust upon others. We turn our backs because there is so much that we can’t process yet, we think that this world will never change. Fear breeds helplessness, which in turn feeds anger. We create our own vicious cycles by giving into the temptation that is giving up. We turn our backs and wonder where all the heroes have gone, we never stop to look down and recognize ourselves for what we could be. You don’t have to change the world, you simply have to hold your ground and not let it change you.

The news is full of stories and speeches touting hate and segregation. We are afraid of one another because we refuse to open our eyes and search for the truth beyond what the reporters and politicians are telling us. We refuse to discuss the true issues. Our own ignorance will destroy us. People speak of building walls and closing borders, all the while forgetting that the majority of our disasters are home-grown. We forget that these people we are turning our backs on- they are really no different than us. It seems we forgot that age-old rule to treat others as we wish to be treated. My four year old nephew understands this concept, but many of the adults that I know have let it slip away. We have the power to change this, but we would rather blame everyone else. We listen to the fear mongering that has inundated our media- forgetting that they simply want a story they can sell. We listen to the voices that are screaming the loudest without focusing on what they actually have to say.

I refuse to give into the darkness that we have cast ourselves in. I refuse to turn away from someone who needs my help because I am afraid. If enough of us decide to be brave, we can banish any monster. I refuse to let this world change me. I will be soft, I will be kind, I will not scream, but I will not stop speaking. Because my voice is all that I have. Perhaps it is all that I need. I know that we are capable of so much more, I have seen it. Every hero must pay a price. I have seen the cost in my dad’s eyes. But I have also seen the reward. I have heard the stories, I know the price of the choices that I wish to make. That will not stop me from making them. Because I was raised to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is, no matter how many people try to scream that I am wrong. I will not back down, I will not break. I will keep getting up. I will not let this world change me.

What I do is so
This world will know
That it will not change me

Be Our Own Heroes: Spread Hope

They say that anger is just love disappointed.
They say that love is just a state of mind.
But all this fighting over who is anointed,
Oh, how can people be so blind?

There’s a hole in the world tonight.
There’s a cloud of fear and sorrow.
There’s a hole in the world tonight.
Don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.

-The Eagles

Tonight we are unified in mutual pain; all of us bleed for the lives cut too short, all of us cry for a world that can never be what it was yesterday. We are the same, and we are different for our losses. Where is our hero tonight? Where is our modern day MLK to tout the evils of violence and lead us towards a better tomorrow? Who will save us from this mess we have made? How many scars can we etch into our own hearts before we stop feeling the pain? How many times can we tear one another apart before there is nothing left to save? We are angry, we are afraid, and we are hurting.

I wont pretend to understand, I know that I never will. There are shoes I have never walked in, there are worlds out there that I have never seen. I cannot say that I understand what it means to fear because of the color of my skin. I cannot say that I know what it’s like to carry the pressures of a badge and be forced to make life or death decisions in the blink of an eye. I know that hindsight is 20/20, and we have all been blind. I know that none of this should have ever happened. I know that some people have prejudices in them, and I know that some people make the wrong decisions at the worst times. I know that the world is not so simple as to be categorized into good and evil. We are not angels and demons; we are simply humans.

We want to let the anger overpower the pain so that we don’t have to feel it anymore. We want explanations, a reason, an enemy. We want to find a villain in these stories, someone to blame, to focus our hatred on. We are so busy pointing the finger that we forget what the real enemy is. It is not black culture, white culture, or the power of the police. The true enemy is hate. Hate is the explosive expression of fear and anger. We are not each other’s enemies, we do not have to be.

We distance ourselves from the problem by talking in generalities, we jump to conclusions based on cursory facts. We forget that these instances are about real people. We forget that there are two sides to every story. Does racism still exist? Yes. Do prejudices against the police? Yes. We keep taking large swaths of people and painting them with one brush instead of looking at them individually. It’s harder to hate when you look at a person, not an abstract idea. These problems that we have will not be erased in large sweeping gestures. This is a battle fought one small moment at a time. We have to stop categorizing one another and simply view each other as people. We have to learn to be kind again.

There will be no knight in shining armor coming to save the day. We have to do the saving. We have to start the painful conversations to stop the violence. We have to be willing to take a step out of our own shoes and look at the world from a differing perspective. We have to re-humanize one another. It will be the little actions that save us; asking someone how they are- how they really are- and waiting to hear the answer. It is about giving a simple nod of recognition when you pass someone in the store. It is about helping someone in need, it is about standing up for those who cannot do it themselves. It is about protecting one another. It is in these moments, when we are connecting, that we are the most human. It is in these moments that we will find our hope.

Most of us are not hateful, most of us are just tired. We are exhausted from the violence, and truthfully- we are scared. But we are not alone. We are all in this together. United we stand, divided we will fall. So here is the challenge: go out and show the world some kindness. Remind one another that the world is not always an ugly place- it will forever be what we make of it. Expand your horizons, speak to someone you don’t know- connect with a culture you don’t understand. Or simply give a smile to someone who looks like they need it.  Remind everyone that the world is beautiful. Spread hope instead of despair.