Happy Father’s Day

My dad never told me how to live my life, he simply set an example for me to follow. He was always a strong man. I know every kid believes that, but he always proved me right. My dad was a firefighter- he worked harder than anyone I’ve ever known, did everything he could to make our lives better. And then when I was in second grade, something happened that would change our lives forever. He was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

It was devastating. My dad was strong, he could fight off the monsters and keep the darkness at bay. His career consisted of saving lives and running into burning buildings when everyone else was running out. He was also on the K-9 search and rescue team where he responded to major disasters like the Oklahoma City bombing. His life was built around his strength- both mental and physical. And suddenly, he couldn’t walk across our yard without a cane. He would be driving down the road and would suddenly lose his vision. And perhaps worst of all for him- he couldn’t work on the line anymore, he had to move to a desk to support his wife and four children. For such an active man, the reality of losing control over your own body must have been shattering, but he never breathed a word about it. He continued on, pushing through and persevering.

It was a rough year- when we were still learning what the disease meant and what it could do to him. And then there was the game of discovering the right medication- it was like playing Russian roulette, you never knew what to expect from each one. Would this one make him grumpy? Would it make things worse? Or would it help his limp go away? Eventually life settled into a new routine, most days the cane went away, but the limp was still there. We knew we would never be the same again. MS is an invisible disease, no one would ever be able to see the daily struggle, but it was always there, hidden under the surface.

We all have bad things happen in our lives. Some people let those things define them. People will use these moments as an excuse, a crutch. My dad used his moment as a challenge. He never let his disease stand in his way. He couldn’t be on the line at work anymore, so he worked twice as hard at the desk- ensuring safety for his men, occasionally going in for practice burns. He wouldn’t always tell us when a relapse was hitting because he knew we would try to make him slow down. My dad only knows one speed: go. He fought through the pain, the discomfort, the fear. He chose to define his disease, he was not going to let it control him. He stayed active. He was strong in every way possible.

He would never let anything stop him. Even when he fractured both of his legs- they didn’t need casts because of the location of the fractures, and they hurt, but not that bad- so he kept running. Every single day. He would never let anything stop him.

And because of that, I have leaned to do the same. The worst moments in my life do not define me, I decide what matters. I wont let anything stop me, even when it seems impossible. He has always believed in me, so I can believe in myself. He taught me that you have to work hard to accomplish your goals, nothing will ever just be handed to you. You need to be thankful for everything you have- even your health is a precious commodity that might not always be available to you. He taught me to make the best of everything, you only live once and you might as well enjoy it. And when all else fails- take a break, go outside and enjoy nature- because it is the most healing element in the world.

I see a lot of my dad when I look at myself: my work ethic, my stubbornness, my nerdy jokes (I can dad-joke with the best of them), my belief that even the craziest dreams are possible- so many things I got from him. I am proud of him, of everything he has accomplished and all of the things that he has taught me. We shouldn’t appreciate our father’s only one day a year. But sometimes it is good to be reminded of what is important. He is the most influential person in my life. At 27 years, I can still say my dad is my hero. And for that, I thank him. Everything I am can be traced back to him. So for all of the lessons, all of the unconditional love, all of the times you simply shook your head when I brought home another ‘winner’: thank you dad, for everything.

 

Introverted (I’d love to hang out, but…)

It’s a frustrating paradox that the most fulfilling moments in my life happened when my stomach was twisted with nerves, my anxiety was at a fevered pitch, and every synapse in my body was firing off warning signs, begging to understand how I could have possibly been so stupid as to agree to the activity at hand. So many fond memories that I am so proud of now, moments that have been able to enrich my body and soul- what would have happened if I had been too afraid? The white water rafting trip, jumping off that bridge into the river, telling that one special man that I loved him, getting on that plane to Vegas, pushing off on that zip line, going in for that job interview, going out to that one happy hour with the friends that feel more like family now- everything that makes me who I really am happened in these moments. So why do I fight them inside on such a fundamental level?

I am an introvert to a textbook degree, I practically embody that definition. I prefer my solitude- books are my constant companions, I would choose staying at home and watching my newest Netflix obsession in my pajamas with my fiancé over going out with a group of people, without the slightest hint of hesitation. I crave my down time, my moments spent lost in my own thoughts, not having to constantly analyze the social cues of others. I get invited to social occasions- and in the moment that I agree I am so excited, but five minutes after the person leaves, I am plotting the most inconspicuous way of getting out of it. And it’s nothing against them, though I’m sure they wouldn’t understand that if I tried to honestly explain it. That cliché line of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ doesn’t seem to go over very well. A million possible excuses start dancing through my mind- can’t say I’m sick, it’s too transparent, and besides, I used that last Wednesday. How about broken leg? I’ve never broken my leg before- yes, that one could work. But would it be painful or expensive? (For those of you without social anxiety, you are probably wondering why on earth I could ever be considering actual threat of bodily harm to get out of something that you wouldn’t even think twice about doing. Then again, those of you with it will probably be nodded your head in understanding and pointing me to the nearest staircase to throw myself down).

I get anxious in social situations, deeply uncomfortable with small talk. Perhaps its deep-seeded insecurities rising to the surface, perhaps I’m just wired differently. Don’t get me wrong- I can still go out and have fun, I have a group of friends who I adore, I look forward to my happy hours just like everyone else. I’m not like Sheldon, I can read social cues as well as the next person, and 95% of the time you wont even be able to tell that I’m uncomfortable. It’s an internal battle I’ve learned to mask over the years. I have a Batman exterior over my Bruce Wayne inner thoughts. No one will see what I’m really feeling unless I decide to show them. So when I go out, I am fine, I smile, I joke, I laugh, it may seem that I just take a bit longer to test the waters. But inside I am weighing every word I just said, watching your reaction and calculating what every twitch of your nose might mean. And when the night of fraternization is over, I will be exhausted right down to my core. Again- it’s not you, it’s me.

So here is the ultimate dilemma of the introvert, the socially awkward, the one who’s tummy ties itself in knots at the thought of small talk with someone I’m not already intimately familiar with: do you step out of that box and join the rest of the world, in spite of your flat lining comfort levels; or do you stay at home and plan for the ‘next time’ when you will be brave enough? Or perhaps simply plan to tackle that adventure solo. I know which one I would like to be, but I am also painfully aware of which one I really am. For those of you who live for the social scene, I am sure that this will sound strange to you- the way that someone like me can fear and simultaneously crave these moments that you live for.

It gets exhausting, letting those ill-conceived phobias rule you. I am a firm believer that the more you push yourself outside of your own comfortable little box, the easier it will be. So this year I’ve decided to challenge myself to say yes more- and actually follow through, no matter how much the insecure little girl inside wants to throw herself on the ground kicking and screaming until she is allowed to just stay at home. The best parts of life are when you are dangling out on that limb. But today I need a reminder of that, of why I am trying to make myself painfully uncomfortable all of the time.

And so I look back at the past few months, at all of the good things that happened because I chose to be brave instead of comfortable. I applied for a new job within my organization- and I got it. I love it, there is not an ounce of regret when I look back at that decision. I went to a dealership and bought a car that wouldn’t threaten to break down on me every other Thursday (to someone with social anxiety- stepping into the car dealership is like Harry Potter entering a Death Eater nest- you know going in that it will be ugly, and will not be over quickly). I went on a trip to Vegas, something completely new for me. I went zip lining down Freemont street. I put myself out there and started this blog- and people are actually looking at it on occasion (still blows my mind). All of these things have happened in the past few months alone. I have been trying so hard.

I have come to a conclusion in the past year, one that was painful to accept; these feelings that I get- they wont ever go away. No matter how hard I try to overcome them, pushing myself out of my comfort zone over and over again in the hopes that I will learn to stop being afraid of social situations- that will never happen. This is a war that has to be fought one battle at a time. I have to deal with my phobias head on one moment at a time, blow by blow. I have to struggle, I have to fight the inner child constantly reminding me that one trip down the stairs could solve all of my problems. I have to fight to say ‘yes’ and then build myself up until I actually follow through. I will always be awkward, I will always feel stupid at the end of the conversation, I will always feel my heart start pounding in a panic when I agree to do something new. But I have to keep doing it. Not to make it easier in the long run, because the individual decisions will never be easier. I have to do it so that next time I want to say no, I will have one more reason backing up my decision to say yes. I will have one more memory of a time I decided to be brave and had an adventure. After all, what is life worth if you are too afraid to experience it? I cannot let my fear dictate my actions anymore. I will be brave- awkward, yes- but brave.

 

 

Things I Learned from my Dog

In honor of best friends day, I have a confession to make. You were bound to find out sooner or later, I would much rather be up front about it. I am one of ‘those’ pet people. There, it’s out! Wow, does it feel like a weight has been lifted or what? I will admit, I like putting Easter bunny ears or Santa hats on the dog when the correct season arrives. And there is a slight possibility that I have a picture of him sporting a human jersey for my favorite football team (I’ll leave the specific team anonymous for now- I think it’s best that I only throw one bombshell on you at a time). And really, he doesn’t seem to mind; after all, I do occasionally make him his very own cake (Okay- I’ve only done it once, and it was when he turned a year old- that doesn’t seem all that unreasonable to me, I think I’m quite tame for a pet person). Now the cat- he’s the smart one, he’s managed to escape all of my photo sessions simply because, well, he has discovered how to use his claws. That’s a battle I only fought once- I learned my lesson. The cat rules our roost. But really, I’m not that bad. I just love my critters. In my mind, pets are a part of the family. A large part of the family.

When we brought home the little ball of fur that has since morphed into a 75 lbs mass of muscle and sloppy kisses, I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I had expected that I would be teaching him; how to come, stay, roll over, don’t bark, eat the burglar, do not eat the mailman (no matter how tasty he looks). I never expected that I would be learning so many lessons from him. Here are just a few of them:

  • Always be excited to see your people. ALWAYS. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had a rough day, or they didn’t change the toilet paper roll (or they moved the bone that you finally managed to hide in the perfect spot under the covers)- be excited to see them and you will brighten their day.
  • A walk will fix everything. It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind. Link is always quick to give me a little yip when the sun is shining and I have spent too long working on my laptop. Sometimes all you need to push that reset button is a breath of fresh air and some sunshine.

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  • Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, because looks are often deceiving. Link is a German Shepherd- he is supposed to be tough and scary. But, as I’ve learned- sometimes it is the ‘toughest’ ones that actually have the biggest hearts. And sometimes those who give the appearace of being unusually serious are the biggest goofballs of all.
  • Respect the ‘little guy’: treat everyone equally, whether they are a Grate Dane or a little Chiuaua, treat them well. You’ll be much happier making friends than enemies.

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  • Just because someone barks at you, does not mean you have to bark back.
  • Down time is important. When you feel overwhelmed, sometimes the best thing you can do is find a quiet corner and chew on a bone
  • Be slow to anger and quick to forgive: It’s okay if the cat thinks its funny to bop your nose and run away when you want to nap. And if he gets you with his claws on accident, why not answer him with a big sloppy kiss instead of a nip. After all, he does let you chase him sometimes. He can’t be all bad.
  • Work time is for work, and play time is for play. You need both to feel happy and fulfilled.
  • When you are in a bad mood, sometimes all you need is a snack. And if a snack doesn’t work- a nap is usually the perfect trick.
  • When someone is sick or sad- cuddles are always the best medicine.
  • Never be embarrassed: who cares if you ran into the wall? You were busy staring at that suspicious squirrel on the fence.
  • It isn’t whether you win the game that counts, as long as you play. Missing the ball just means you get the added adventure of sniffing it out.
  • If it seems like the cat is doing something naughty- he is. Whine and alert the humans immediately.
  • Always be willing to make new friends, but be wary who you allow close to you (anything with shooting quills is usually a bad idea)
  • Always trust your intuition, it is usually right.
  • Be ambitious- why settle for a stick when you can take the whole log?

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  • Be curious about the world- there are so many new things to learn, taste, see, smell. You will never learn unless you try.
  • Be passionate- always. The world is an exciting place, if you are willing to embrace it.

 

 

 

Life and Work: The Balancing Act

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Like nearly all other writers out there- I have a day job. Now, fate was kind to me, and it is a job that I deeply enjoy- but it is also a job that takes up the majority of my week. Between the time it takes me to get ready in the morning (I move glacially slow before 7am), my commute to and from work, and my time actually spent there- that is about 12 and a half hours of my day, 5 days a week, already spoken for. That’s just for my regularly scheduled programming; sleep sold separately.

We live in a world where we are constantly moving, other people and things are poking and prying for attention- in fact as I sit here typing this, I have a black and white kitty attempting to head butt my fingers off of the keyboard to pet him already- before giving up and sitting on them. That will show me.

I wish I could tell you that there was some secret to making it all work- managing to have your day job, your writing career, friends and family that feel both valued and loved by you, and still squirreling away some time for yourself. I would love to impart some words of wisdom that would transform you into the superhero of your own life, kicking ass and taking names.

But if we writers know anything, it is that growth is only born from the struggle. Becoming a good writer is like anything else in life- you have to fight for it. You have to decide that it is important enough. You have to learn the balance that will make you (and those that you love) happy. Now, I don’t have a magical solution- but I do have years of trial-and-error that have helped me get closer to my own balance.

For starters, and I can’t stress this enough- whatever you are doing, be present in it, be fully immersed- in all aspects of your life. If you are writing, be in your writing, not poking around online (unless it is research that you cannot make it through another scene without). If you are spending time with loves ones- be in the moment. Do not ‘take two seconds’ to check up on the status of your last blog post- because trust me, if you seem to be distracted they will probably notice and say something. And that conversation will go much better for you if you don’t have to ask them what they said because you were only halfway paying attention. We live in an age of instant gratification- don’t fall victim to it.

Second, know and maintain your schedule. When you have a laundry list of things to do each day, and only a couple of free hours to cram them in- take the extra time to plan. Perhaps you have happy hour after work tomorrow, and you know you won’t ‘have just one and head home early’ (even though you always tell yourself that you will)- maybe you should go to bed early tonight, so you can wake up and get a bit of writing done before work. Or perhaps your schedule fits better as a lunch-hour or weekend writer- know yourself and your schedule, otherwise you will be setting yourself up for failure.

Don’t run yourself ragged. You need time for yourself too, after everything else is said and done. You need to recharge. Getting outside and going for a walk, or starting a workout routine can be helpful. I know it seems counter-productive, this whole post is about finding time to write in your busy schedule, so why add something seemingly unrelated on top of the heap of items you should accomplish? Trust me- your work will thank you. Your brain needs a break too. A big part of finding the time is to use the time you have available more wisely. I am a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. So give yourself regular breaks, get your blood pumping and your brain working more efficiently- then you will need less time to produce a higher caliber of work. Sometimes the answers are hidden in plain sight, and sometimes all you need is to take better care of yourself.

At the end of the day, it will come down to you, it will come down to whether you want this enough. Writing is one of the hardest things I have done, but I don’t know how to be me without it. That is my reason, that is my purpose. I do this for me.

 

 

Jumping off the Bridge (crossing out of the comfort zone)

I once jumped off of a bridge because my friends did. (Sorry mom, but I can explain).

It was early spring, and still cold enough to be comfortable in jeans and a sweatshirt, but the sun was out and there was not a drop of rain in sight (a rare treat in the pacific northwest). We were on a white water rafting trip for my friend’s birthday- the first time I had ever done something like that. I was already feeling emboldened because I had not only managed to climb into the raft without any help, but I had also succeeded in staying in it the entire time- didn’t even lose my paddle! So naturally, being dry and warm in my wet suite- it seemed like a perfectly logical idea to take the guide’s offer to climb out of my little raft and scramble up to the cement monstrosity we had just managed to pass under. I even convinced my sister to follow along (again- sorry mom, but big sister peer pressure is a force to be reckoned with).

That was all it took- not even gentle prodding, just the mere mention of this possible adventure, and there I was. Standing on the cement railing, staring down into the dark rushing waters below me as four rafts of college aged students (most of which I didn’t even know) stared up at me with gleaming expectation in their eyes.

Now, let me explain something to you- a vital element to this story. I have two big fears: heights and deep water. And there I was, standing on the edge of a bridge glaring into the eyes of both of them. I remember thinking that after everything, I wouldn’t be able to do it. I would be the only one to turn tail and walk sheepishly back down to the rafts, dry as a bone. I stood there and nearly froze, perched precariously on the railing, staring down into the black water. And then my friends started cheering for me- perhaps they were able to see the slight hint of panic in my face, or they noticed the way my muscles tensed and I stopped breathing.

I knew that all I had to do was take one step off of that ledge- just one, and then there would be no more going back, it would be done. It would be over in a heartbeat. All I had to do was go- and forget the fact that I was stepping out into a void of nothingness. Before I could let my brain catch up and realize what I was doing, my body moved.

You always expect that something crazy and adventurous would go quickly, it would be over in the blink of an eye- I would hit the water, and all would be right in my world once more. Don’t let the lies fool you- that’s not how it happened. Everything was suddenly going in slow motion. I had more than enough time for my brain to catch on to what was happening and berate me for what a stupid decision I had just made. Jumping off of a bridge? Really Katie? A bridge? Isn’t that the exact example all parents use because its just so ludicrous, who in their right mind would do it? I am pretty sure I could have read the entire works of Sherlock Holmes and Don Quixote- and still had time for a spot of tea- all in that endless moment from when my feet left the cement bridge to when the water engulfed me from below. And all I could do was stare at it’s lapping waves as I approached, as the dark expanse of water slowly grew larger. The whole time I was hoping it wouldn’t hurt too bad when I hit, and secretly willing my body to magically learn the art of teleportation and zap me back up onto the bridge.

And then I was in, the water was cold as it enveloped me, slowing me down as I sunk towards the bottom. It was done, I was kicking towards the surface, fleetingly wondering how deep this little water hole really was, and whether Lake Placid style crocodiles could ever hide in a place this far north (fully immersed underwater, it seemed like a plausible possibility- so I kicked harder). I half floated, half swam back to the raft where my friends pulled me in and I looked up to watch the next person take their death defying leap.

I grinned like a Cheshire cat the rest of the way- and I’m actually doing it again now as I relive this memory. There is something about knowing your boundaries and your fears- and tossing them to the wind anyways.

If there is anything that I have learned, it’s that every story we have worth telling starts at the edge of our comfort zones. We just have to be brave enough to take that leap outside of our self-imposed boundaries. I am the first to admit that I forget this fact a lot. But this year I have been fighting for my adventures, the spice that peppers my writing. Some days all I want to do is curl up on my couch and ignore whatever is waiting for me outside that door. But the other thing life has taught me- you never regret opening that door, even if it all turns out disastrously- you have one more memory, one more moment to shape who you will become. I don’t know about you, but I want to be the girl who did something- even if it was as crazy as jumping off of a bridge in spite of your fears.

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