The love of a dog (you heal me and I heal you)

“He was able to walk today without any assistance.” I clapped my hand over my mouth and shut my eyes, feeling the prick of tears. Yesterday you couldn’t; I didn’t know if you would ever be able to do that again. Those who say you are just a dog have obviously never loved a creature quite like you.

We weathered through a week of hell as you lost the ability to move your legs, curled up by my side on the floor, carrying you to appointment after appointment as we searched for the cause. It was one week of terrifying questions and focused observations; you comforting me as much as I was comforting you. And then our miracle man solved the mystery; wheeling you in for emergency surgery while we waited. It would be six hours before his exhausted voice would tell us you were okay, though it would be days before we would learn if you stood a chance for a full recovery.

Ever since you were small you made a game of testing my patience- pushing every single button your little paws could reach and then, unsatisfied, chomping on the remote for good measure until every last nerve was frayed and exposed. You, my dearest little love, were always meant to be my test. And my heart never stood a chance. You were mine and I was yours. Has there ever been a more beautiful tale to tell?

Like a sword pounding against a rock, I always felt helpless and blunted by you. You tested me in a way that I was unaccustomed to, in a way that I was wholly unprepared for. What I didn’t know was that you were my whetstone, sharpening me, strengthening me for the road we were destined to walk together. You turned me into a sword strong enough to fight both of our demons. We protect each other like Sam and Frodo; gentle and fierce.

It seems we were often at odds, you and I; fire and ice learning to balance the other. It was a dance we knew so well as we pushed and pulled at one another. We were constantly teaching the other; you reminding me that the world is meant to be lived in and explored, me coaxing you to understand that gentleness is always the best approach when facing others. I would protect you from the wayward squeakers as you liberated them from their plushy prison. You would protect me from the dangerous intruder you caught peeking through the living room window (to this day you have not realized that it is your own reflection).

Our battle of wills brought us together, though the road had been a bumpy one. I am not sure when we stopped antagonizing one another and became allies that could rival the best stories. It seems it happened slowly and then all at once. You were mine and I was yours. I wouldn’t trade a moment of it, every single sacrifice was worth it to have you in my life.

You see, what you don’t realize is that you have always been my talisman- my happily ever after in a world that I dont understand. You don’t care that I’m weird, extremely awkward and constantly anxious. You never once doubted in my abilities, though I often doubted myself. You simply loved me, finding joy in those tiny moments we spent together. You are my patronus, keeping the darkness at bay. You are my adventure, my reminder, my friend. You are my rock, my touchstone.

So right now, my dear little love, let me be yours. Let me help you the way you always helped me. Let me be the one to guard the door and keep the monsters in their closet. Trust that I will protect you during this difficult journey we are beginning- even from yourself at times. You will be okay, my darling. You are so strong and resilient. You have always tested me, but I have always tested you too. Now we are in this together, fighting on the same side as you slowly heal. Its going to be okay, my little one. After all, this is not the first monster we have faced. We made one another stronger for moments just like this.

Paper Wings and Winding Roots (be brave, my dear)

We are told to be brave, to leap without a safety net and teach ourselves to fly. And yet we are warned of Icarus, whose waxen wings melted when he soared too close to the sun. We are told to hold onto our roots and bury them deeply in the Earth, lest we forget where we come from. And yet we are warned against rigidity, and how those afraid to move will never get anywhere. We are taught to be all things, to reach for every moment this world has to offer. But we are warned be realistic and understand that dreams do not come true for all. We are taught to be everything and nothing, to break the mold, but be a cog in the wheel. It is no wonder it takes us so long to figure out if we are birds or trees, both or neither. We wander this world in search of answers and new questions. We wait for the lightning strike that will sizzle in our soul, sparking within us a fury and direction, a passion we cannot contain, showing us a path hidden amongst the stars- a path made only for us.

Can I let you in on a little secret? I don’t think there is one- a road to follow, stepping stones that will lead us forward, illuminating the path ahead. I think we were made to be wanderers, to dance in the fields as well as the skies, to climb the trees and swim in the lakes- we take two steps forward, one step back, spin in a circle, run a mile, fall and rise, rise and fall. There is a beauty in the chaos, a mystery in the motions. We are not meant to follow paths, we are wild at heart, no matter how hard we try to pretend otherwise.

As humans we like order, we like consistency; we like to point at our destination on a map and trace the road that will get us there. We have far too much faith in this system. We built cities in grid patterns, installed lights two by two to illuminate the paths we made while blotting out the stars above. We search for the recipe to perfect happiness, read books by people who found their own as we scan for the secret ingredient we could steal to find ourselves on that same peak, all the while ignoring the desperate plea from our own heart. We ignore who we are to fit into the mold of who we are supposed to be. We ignore the wild, unmanaged forests until we need an escape, a way to get back to nature, a way to rediscover our souls. So why do we insist on ‘finding our path’ when paths were never in our nature?

We are wanderers, searching for the illusive fluttering beauty known as happiness. We are adventurers, praying to uncover a well of passion and hope within ourselves. We are birds, soaring the skies and daring the sun to melt our wings. We are trees burrowing deeper as the storms rage around us, trying us knock us down to size. We are everything, we are nothing, we are stardust and promises.

I’ve spent forever searching for a meaning, taking classes, finding a good job, buying books, saving money for a house, for a car, for a vacation. Planning and planning and planning to see the world, but ignoring the wonders in my own backyard. Step by step I dutifully followed the road they promised would lead me to a good life. The scenerery changed, but my heart did not, my soul was tired as I plodded along, bored with the directions given to me, exhausted with the life I found myself in.

Perhaps what I need is to stop searching, to stop looking for the path that never existed. Perhaps I need to learn what wandering feels like, to tear up the map I’ve been trying to draw and truly look around this place I have discovered. It is not perfect, in fact, it is far from it- but I’ve learned that imperfections are the things I am most drawn to. I want chaos and the beauty of mother nature. I want to wander and throw caution to the wind. I want to dig into the Earth, swim in the seas and soar through the clouds. I want to soak up every story ever told and hear my own words ringing in the voice of another. I want it all, I want nothing. I want roots, wings, and maybe some gills. I don’t want paths and trails, I want stardust and promises.

Squiggly feelings and sleepless nights (hello anxiety, my old friend)

Have you ever leaned back in your chair too far and felt that jolt when it seemed like you were falling? Have you ever missed a step when you were walking down the stairs and suddenly your stomach was in your throat and your heart was pounding in your ears? It feels like that. But it doesn’t go away.

Have you ever watched a scary movie and felt your body tense waiting for something to jump out at you? Only it doesn’t, so you just keep peeking through your fingers and holding your breath? It’s like that, but without the giddy excitement of knowing that the monsters on the screen can’t hurt you.

Have you ever been driving down the road when your seatbelt locks up for no reason, as though it thinks you are about to crash even though everything is fine? And you have to sit there, locked in for a while, unable to really move? That’s what it’s like.

You are fighting phantom enemies with a smile on your face because no one else will understand. You are calm as a cucumber on the outside while your stomach is full of squiggly jumbled lines, your heart is pounding, hands sweaty, and you just can’t catch your breath. It is a strange moment when you find yourself trying to convince your own brain that you are okay, that everything will be fine, that you will survive this false alarm it has raised.

What people don’t realize about anxiety- I know when I’m being irrational. I know when my brain is looking at shadows and screaming ‘monster.’ But I can’t stop it. It’s not just a thought process; it’s a physical response. It’s like a migraine; I can feel it coming, but I have no power to change it. It is a tidal wave that rolls over me, washing me out to sea. And it’s so damn exhausting trying to paddle back to shore against the current.

I am not always like this. I can be the girl who (outwardly) rolls with the punches. I can be the girl who kicks ass, takes names, and dances backwards in high heels. I can be the girl who argues the intent of Nochlin’s essays on institutional powers, debate the merits of Ravenclaw vs Hufflepuff. I am the girl who can be serious, or funny, sarcastic or plain annoying. I am the girl who can be a lot of different things.

But I am also the girl whose heart was hammering so loud in her chest that I thought it might break the skin. I am the girl who discreetly made her way to the bathroom to fall apart in the middle of the workday. I locked the door, slid down the wall and sat with my head in my hands, eyes shut, gasping while trying to remember how to breath as the panic rushed through my veins, leaving me weak and terrified. Then I stood up, brushed myself off and went back out with a forced smile. I made coffee, joked with coworkers and answered the phone that just wouldn’t stop ringing. No one knew. Not a single soul realized that I was broken and terrified inside. Not one person noticed the way my eyes darted, the way I continually tapped my fingers and toes to expel the excess energy, not one person noticed the cracks showing through my carefully placed facade. No one knew that it wasn’t the first time. No one knew that it wouldn’t be the last.

I’ve had anxiety for a long time; it ebbs and flows, some moments in life are much harder than others. Some days I face my ‘normal levels,’ usually surrounding social situations. And then there are times where I spend months in a constant battle of wills with my own brain, phrases like ‘self-care’ and ‘I’m just tired’ forever on the tip of my tongue. As I write this, I can feel the squiggles inside squirming. I am jumbled up and desperately hoping I can keep my head above water. I’m writing this in hopes that I can bleed some of these emotions away; if I can capture them with words and release them into the world, diluted and harmless- then perhaps I may find a moment of peace. Perhaps I will be able to sleep for just one night.

If you don’t know what it feels like to see your own worst enemy in your eyes; then I am thankful. I hope you never do. But I sincerely hope that you remember those like me who do their best, even when it isn’t good enough. It is exhausting to spend your day hiding your monsters and your nights trying to slay your demons. It is exhausting when you lose power over your own thoughts, over the very things that make you who you are. It is exhausting to always say ‘I’m sorry’ over things you can’t control.

I had many reasons today to be anxious; I have been feeling that shadow creeping over me for some time now. I knew that today would be difficult. And yet, do you want to know what pushed me over the edge into a full blown attack? Keep in mind that I know it will sound silly; as I said, I am well aware when my fears and anxieties aren’t rational. But I can’t stop them. The little barb that managed to rip open the storm clouds overhead was a tiny thing- I finished my book and didn’t have another one to start.

At face value, it’s comical really. But the truth behind it is a bit deeper. My books are my escape hatch out of a world that I can’t control and into a realm that makes sense. There is order in my books, I feel grounded in them. They give me something to cling to in a world that sometimes appears far too foreign to me. They are my touchstone. They distract my brain when it wants to scream and wail; silencing these damned thoughts and giving me a respite from the anxiety that plagues me. When I feel the pressure that foreshadows an anxiety attack, I dive into the pages of another story to keep my brain from focusing on those imaginary little demons it conjures. When that life preserver was ripped away, I found myself drowning again without the hint of land in sight. My brain started screaming, and I was brought down to my knees.

That’s what it’s like; that’s how frustrating and irrational it is. I am normally a strong person who can carry the weight of my own little world, and yet when anxiety strikes all rationality goes out the window. I can be knocked to the ground by a missing book, by a ringing phone, by an oddly-phrased compliment. Anxiety and panic can be debilitating; though many don’t fully grasp what it means for those of us who continually struggle day after day. For those of you who do not face this battle, be thankful. I am so glad you will not find yourself in these trenches. But please, have compassion for those of us you find here struggling. To my brothers and sisters in arms; you are brave, you are strong, and you are not alone. We are in this together, allies in this war against ourselves.

Hopes for Another Year (birthday wishes)

Today was my 29th birthday. Gulp. That’s right, my friends, the 365-day countdown to a new decade begins right now. I feel like I should be veering towards an end-of-twenties crisis (like I did last year), but I didn’t. I kept waiting for it, for that slight tinge of panic as I have that sudden realization of my inevitable mortality- but it never came. Nope, instead I enjoyed my delicious mimosa(s), I wandered around a historic mansion (which led to some awesome new story ideas), traipsed through a shady part of town to see an old garden, and ate lots and lots of chocolate while hanging out with my fur babies listening to the rain outside.

Every year I blow out the candles and make the same wish. It is the same one I make when I see a shooting star. I have never told a soul what it is, out of some odd superstition that never really left me when I grew up. I won’t say the exact wish, because I still feel a bit of loyalty to the childhood version of me that would cross her heart and promise herself that she would never tell. But I will tell you that it had to do with happiness, with contentment, with finding that spark of strength within yourself. It was an abstract dream about a world in which I wasn’t always the person that I undoubtedly was. This year I will be retiring that old wish, putting it away in a dusty box along with the old dreams I outgrew. That’s because at 28, I finally figured out how to make my wish come true all by myself.

It’s true that my life is not at all where I expected it to be at this stage. But its also true that I’ve been through more than I could have imagined at this point in my life, I am a different person than I was when I drew up the picture of what my life would be like in my 20s. And I’m okay with that. I’ve always taken the scenic route, following the long road home; so it isn’t really a surprise that it took me this long to start figuring my life out. 28 was a big year of growth and change for me. I had to do a lot of soul searching, I had to face a lot of fears and crack my heart open over and over again to bleed out the poisons I had given sanctuary to. I had to embrace the people that lift me up, and step back from those that held me down. I had to sacrifice, I had to be selfless. I had to be a calm voice of reason when my world was upside down. I had to be brave, I had to acknowledge when I was weak. I had to invest in myself. I had to proudly claim who I am as a person and tell the world that I was worth it. I had to start living the life that I always talked about. 28 was a hard year, but it is also the year I have been most thankful for. I took root and grew towards the sun. And I’m not done yet.

29 will be no different. Changes will be constantly on the horizon, my life will continue to shift and morph into something that I may not recognize in a year. But I’m so excited for this new adventure. I have so many hopes for this coming year; perhaps that’s why it doesn’t scare me, getting older- because I see so much more waiting for me up ahead. I’m not just aging, I’m still growing.

This year I dream of finishing my first degree (at the very least I should be really close by the time I hit 30). I dream of finding a new house that I can call my own. I dream of focusing on this blog and my writing in general. I have been so scared of truly investing in my writing, and I think I need to do this for myself. I need one year of being brave and daring with my words, tossing my stories out into the world to do as they wish. I am so sick of hiding from who I am, from shrugging off my writing. I am ready to own it- like it or hate it, at least it will finally be out there. I dream of taking a trip to somewhere I have never been. I dream of being healthier with my lifestyle. I dream of perhaps finally marrying the man I’ve been in love with since I was a young, idealistic 20-year-old girl. I dream of reading more books and living more stories. I dream of another year full of growth and changes. It’s time to pull together an ‘end of 20s’ bucket list to inspire me for the next year.

Cheers to one more trip around the sun, my friends. Getting older doesn’t have to mean you are aging. Growing up doesn’t always mean growing old. The best way to remind yourself that your life is worth loving is to actually live it. I’m not going to let myself down this year.

Welcome to Women’s History Month

March is going to be a beautiful month; I level up (ringing in the last year of my 20s as another candle is added to my cake). On top of that grand event, we are also celebrating women’s history month: a rabbit hole I can easily shimmy down for hours at a time. I had big plans for February, but found them waylaid after a car crash left me hurting more than I care to admit. While I am still far from 100%, I am desperate to get back into my regular life, and my soul has been aching to write. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to dive back in.

Women’s contributions to the world are often overlooked and underappreciated. The advocacy for the female sex is typically demeaned and condemned. Women are underrepresented in the entertainment world, which hit particularly close to home as a writer. We are the ones with the power to sway perception and portray a deeper truth; we must live up to the challenge.

I am a feminist, and I do not apologise for this fact, although many decry my choice. I have faced the violent verbal vitriol that many who hold my views have had spat at them. I remember the day that a man told my little sister that women should understand that their place in the world is that of a dog. I remember the day that a man told my mom that if he paid for dinner and he wanted sex, then he would get it. I remember the first time I was afraid for my safety because of my gender- an occasion that has arisen more times than I can count. I remember hands touching my body when they had no right to be there, I remember the way my heart pounded in my chest as I tried to react. I remember the first time a friend of mine cried to me after admitting she had been sexually assault. And I remember the friend after that, and the friend after that. This is why I am a feminist; because I believe that I should be able to go for a jog in my own neighborhood without a weapon or large dog.

I believe in feminism because I believe that all people should be treated as equals, no matter your gender, race, age, sexual orientation, or any other societal demographic we are labeled with. That’s really what feminism is all about- equality. It’s about the privilege of self-determination and personal autonomy. It’s about being able to decide how I want to live my life; whether that means dancing backwards in high heels through the corner office, or playing patty-cake with a chubby-cheeked cherub who shares my eye color. Its about living your life as you see fit.

Are there issues within the movement; absolutely, it is a human invention and is therefore inherently flawed. It is discouraging how portions of the movement espouse the very privilege that they are trying to point out. The traditional story that you hear is the plight of the middle class white woman, and yet the struggles that women of color faced were crucial and should not be ignored. I am a story teller, and these are the stories that must be told. As they say, my feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

I don’t have much to offer the world, but I have my stories. I don’t have a big platform, but I have this little rock to stand on; I think it will do nicely. This month we celebrate strength and diversity because they go hand in hand. I hope you are brave enough to join me down this dangerous path; the stories of our past will shine a light on our future, the tales of our heroes will inspire our own souls to greatness. We must never forget the roads we have travelled and the stories we have heard, because these are the things that change worlds.

There is no ‘Other,’ There is only Us (finding small hopes)

There is far too much darkness in our world these days; too much hate, too much pain, too much anger. We lost track of the common threads that bound us together and now we are lost, traipsing through an unfamiliar place. I grew up believing in a world far better than the one we have made for ourselves; and let there be no mistake, we have created this poor broken thing. I grew up believing in the heart of the words spoken by great humans like Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. When we come into this world our souls are soft and unhindered by the rules and stereotypes that society places on us. As we grow we begin to believe these false narratives that we have been given, seeing the world through a very specific set of eyes and that are not open to the whole picture. We refuse to let ourselves grow because change is always so damn scary. So we lock ourselves into our chosen worldview and close the blinds. We demonize those we call ‘others’ because we do not understand them; after all, they are not like us. Or are they?

We are responsible for the world that we create, for the narratives that we contribute and consume. In the coming weeks I’ll be tackling this topic a lot from a multitude of angles, but today I will start with just this one. There are far too many voices out there to only be listening to ones that are similar to our own. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states in one of her beautiful speeches, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” If we only ever listen to one story, to one narrative, to one side, then we rob ourselves of the beauty that is lost in the unknown. Ignorance is a dark and dreary place in a world that holds so much promise.

In 2017 we saw people rise up and stand together, we saw the opening of deep wounds in a hope to extract the poison, we stood, we clashed, we fought. We saw backlash, we saw anger, we saw fear. I was deeply moved and deeply troubled at the same time. It is true that every important societal shift came to us through a painful struggle. We celebrated one of these battles yesterday when we recognized a man who lost his life in the pursuit of a better world, for tolerance and love. We are living in an interesting time, and we are the ones who control what kind of world we pass on to our children.

It does not always take grand sweeping gestures to invoke substantial change. Sometimes all it takes is turning the tide within a single heart. We are not often aware of our biases and prejudices. The first true step to change is one of brutal honesty coupled with an open heart. To understand what is different from us requires us to step outside of the walls we have built and expose our souls to something new.

In the spirit of change and hope, in the spirit of great men and women who have fought this battle before us with words instead of swords: in this spirit I challenge myself, as well as you, if you are up to the task. Go out and explore the world- do something new, talk to strangers, explore cultures, read books by authors you have never heard of, watch movies you would never see. Discover what is ‘other’ to you and make it familiar.

I am going to start this challenge with something simple: I challenge myself to read about places I have never been to and lives I have never lived. I will immerse myself in their words until I see I see my own truths within them. My diversity reading challenge starts now. Any and all suggestions will not only be welcome, but will guarantee a future post to discuss them. So please- if you have any books, movies, videos, songs- anything at all that inspires diversity or speaks to your own soul- please share.

We owe it to ourselves and one another to hear all of the stories that the world is trying to whisper in our ears. It is only with a view that encompasses the full human experience will we ever find the peace within ourselves that we have always been looking for.

New Year, New Promise, and Welcome Back

I missed this place, I missed writing on these blank pages, I missed talking to all of you. I miss reading all of your words and finding a connection in the infinite digital cosmos we have here. It’s been far too long, my dear friends. It feels good to be back. I hope 2018 finds you all well and full of hope for the coming year.

This past fall I decided to finally plunge headfirst into something that scared me- that’s why I wasn’t here as often. Life has been so busy and full, I was trying to keep myself from being too overwhelmed. Although in hindsight, I missed this too damn much. I decided to go back to school after nearly a decade of talking about it. The stars aligned, I was so sick of spinning my wheels, I had a little bit of money saved up and I was finally ready to leap into it. I was terrified- I work full time and decided to take classes full time in the evenings as well. I learned very quickly that you are always capable of so much more than you ever realized. I did it- every single day was planned and regimented, every waking moment had a schedule attached to it- but I did it. I walked away from my first quarter with all A’s and an unhealthy addiction to energy drinks.

Just when I thought I couldn’t take anymore something happened, something that shook me to my core. My dad got hurt the day after Thanksgiving while hanging Christmas lights. We beat the ambulance to the hospital and watched him get wheeled out on a stretcher, pale as a ghost. We heard the call for an emergency surgical trauma team over the speakers in the ER and wondered if it was for him. They put us in a separate waiting room before telling us what his condition was. I remember sitting there wide eyed and counting the tissue boxes piled up on every end table- 12. He had fallen from his second story balcony while putting up Christmas lights. By the time the ambulance made it to him his lung capacity was down to 20% and he was making peace with his maker. I met the doctor that sliced a hole in his chest and put a tube into his lung when he was reaching the point where he nearly stopped breathing. In spite of everything, we were lucky. He broke five ribs, punctured his lung, broke his collarbone into five pieces, cracked his scapula and fractured his spine in three places. But he was alive and, miraculously, he wasn’t paralyzed. We were lucky. Three days in the ICU, nine days in the hospital, a month of in-home care provided mainly by myself with a little bit of help from siblings, two trips to the emergency room, a plethora of doctor visits, and a long road ahead of him, but he is alive and he can walk.

It’s a strange thing to see your parent walk for the first time after an accident that nearly left them in a wheelchair. There’s an odd sense of pride that kept me wondering if he had felt the same way when I took my first steps. It’s an odd moment when you take care of a parent that once took care of you, when you learn the struggles and frustrations that come with care work. It’s a terrifying moment when you realize how easily life can change, how little control you have over the things that happen to you and the people that you love. It’s a liberating feeling when you decide to use these dark moments to inspire you to be better and to live more fully.

2017 taught me many lessons. My family had far too many ‘almosts.’ We almost lost my childhood home to a fire, we almost lost my cousin to the Las Vegas shooting, we almost lost my dad. With every single ‘almost’ we were reminded that there is still hope that comes with every lesson. There is no time to wait to tell someone that you care, spend quality time with a person you love, read that book on your wishlist, go back to school, chase that dream- if all you have is right now, then you need to make ‘right now’ count. That is what I am taking with me into 2018. A hope and a promise that this is the year I won’t hold back.

I don’t want to wait until I am ‘less busy’ to write. I don’t want to wait until I’m done with school before I start climbing towards my other goals. I don’t want to take tomorrow for granted anymore. So here I am, doing something that I love simply because I love it, not because I’ll get anything else out of it.

To all of you, I hope you don’t take this new year for granted. I hope you feel the world so very deeply. I hope you laugh and cry, fall in love with others and yourself all over again. I hope you push hard, fight for what matters to you, strive to reach your goals. I hope you find more than you did a year ago. It won’t be a perfect year, you will face challenges and struggles that you never expected, but I hope you find something beautiful in each of them. In 2018 I will be looking for hope and living a life that I can be proud of if I don’t get to see another sunrise. I want to be excited about the life I have lived, not just the one I am striving for. Happy new year, my beautiful friends, it’s good to see you all again.