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.