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.

I Will Never be ‘Normal’ (and how I inadvertently discovered ice cream tacos)

I have always had an idea in my head of the type of woman that I wanted to become. I pushed aside all of my personal phobias and eccentricities; I don’t know if I thought I would grow out of them, or if I believed that I could simply will them into nonexistence. If I stopped acknowledging my flaws, perhaps they would just disappear. I knew that the person I was didn’t align with the bold woman that I envisioned to grow into. I was going to be that shooting star; a bright, intelligent woman with style to boot. I was going to be clever, I wouldn’t be afraid to dance in a crowded room, I would jump at any and all opportunities. I would have a thousand stories for the hundreds of off-the-wall experiences I had. I was going to be fun, sparkly and spontaneous. Impromptu midnight drive to the coast so we can watch the sunrise? Bring it on. Skinny dipping at the lake- why the hell not. Learning a new dance in a room full of stranger? I thought you’d never ask.

I didn’t expect to be the way that I am, wrapped up in my own little shell like a turtle. I didn’t anticipate that my tongue would still tie at the most inconvenient moments, forcing my face to turn ketchup red as I scurried away to internally berate myself. I didn’t think that twenty-seven year-old me would still be intimately familiar with the flash of panic that raced through my nervous system at the mere prospect of being left alone in the room with another person to partake in that dreaded act known as small talk. I didn’t think my hands would still get clammy and my voice would get quiet when I made a comment and didn’t get immediate responses. I didn’t think that adult Katie would still be fighting the same demons that I raged against ten years ago. No, I did not think that these would be daily struggles in my life.

I am a master in the arts of self-sabotage. I am a creature deeply in love with her comforts. Tonight I knew exactly what my plans were going to be when I got home from work. I was just settling into the rare treat of a hot bubble bath coupled with a good book I’ve waited all day to read. And then a wrench came flying, smashing right through my meticulously well-laid plans. My fiancé knocked on the door and let me know that his friend reached out and invited us to meet them at a cool foodie place over in Portland. And we would have to leave right away. You see, his best friend got engaged last weekend, and today his fiancé got a promotion at work- they wanted to celebrate, and they wanted to share that moment with us. I am ashamed to admit that I actually hesitated. One part of me was bouncing up and down screaming, ‘yes, it’s Friday night, let’s go do this! Where are my boots?’

But then there is the other voice. It’s a quiet but persistent little creature. It twists my stomach in knots as it stand awkwardly in the corner, tugging on my sleeve and whispering to me that it’s not a good idea- I’ll just say something stupid, there will be those awful moments of complete silence and wouldn’t it be so much better to just ignore the entire world while I hide with my bubbles and book? This is the voice that takes my self-esteem, crumples it up into a little ball like it’s nothing ore than a piece of tarnished notebook paper, tosses it on the ground and then drives a Zamboni overtop of it. Twice. And then takes a match and lights it on fire for good measure- all with an apologetic little frown. If you’ve ever seen the movie ‘Inside Out,’ I like to picture Sadness- turning everything she touches blue. That’s what my little voice is like, she is the unofficial face for all of my anxieties.

The rational part of me understands that my fears are generally unfounded, but emotions can easily overpower any and all rational thought. It is a battle that I am not always well equipped to fight. I had hoped that if I started pushing myself out of my comfort zone, that the fear would stop and I could learn how to function like a relatively well-adjusted adult. But alas, that is not how this war is won. It must be fought one battle at a time. I have to learn to push myself out that door no matter how many times that little voice inside tried to throw herself on the ground kicking and screaming at me to turn around and go put my pajamas back on like a good little girl.

And yet tonight, I took a deep breath and said okay. Because I knew it was the right thing to do, I knew that I would have fun once I got out of my own head, and I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t. You see, I have one fear that is actually bigger than my fear of all forms of social interaction- and that would be the fear of watching my anxieties slowly erode all of the relationships that mean anything to me. Because sadly, that has happened in the past. This is a tragic tale I am all too familiar with, a lesson I have learned too late- one that I do not wish to breathe fresh life into.

So I put on my cute jacket and my new necklace. And I started typing this post in the car as my fiancé loudly sang his new favorite song ‘The Death of a Bachelor’ as we drove to Portland. And you knew what happened? We had a great time. We hung out, we talked, we laughed, we ate some awesome food (including an ice cream taco- what? Yes, you heard me right- a waffle cone ‘taco shell’ with ice cream inside, drizzled with magic shell chocolate sauce to keep the whole mess contained). Tonight we did what normal people do. And it felt fantastic. Because I forced myself to get out of my own way. Because I chose to control my anxiety instead of letting it dictate my life for me. And that little voice inside? She was too busy happily munching ice cream to poke at me.

Tonight I won a small battle in a war that I have to fight every single day. And you know what? I’m proud of myself. Because for one night I did what everyone else does, and I enjoyed myself. Growing up I always had an idea of the type of woman that I wanted to be. But it wasn’t realistic. I am not that perky picture-perfect spontaneous woman. I like to have at least a semblance of control over the situations that I put myself. But that doesn’t mean that I have to hide in my house and avoid the world. It just means that I have to try a little bit harder to get myself out that door. It means that I have to force a smile until I start to feel a real one forming. It means that I have to laugh and joke until I feel the tension ease from my shoulders, until the sickening knots in my stomach begin to untangle. It means that I have to be stronger than I ever imagined, it means that I have to fight. And you know what? I am so proud of the woman that I have become. I am not the woman that I had always envisioned, but I am stronger than she ever could have been. I am awkward and quirky, I am nerdy and passionate, I dance even though I have no rhythm. But I force myself to step out of my comfort zone to truly live my life every single day. So yes, I am proud of the neurotic mess that I am. I am unapologetically me- and that is the best battle I have ever won.

 

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.

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

Cheers to Facing Fears

Bottoms up, my friends, and welcome to my personal niche out here in the interwebs. Can I let you in on a little secret? This terrifies me. Ironic, isn’t it? A writer who is petrified to let others read her work. Always so quick to snap down the lid of the laptop or toss the ink stained page back into it’s binder anytime I think someone has attempted to sneak a peek at my work in progress. And let’s not forget the death glare and eyes shooting daggers that would send even Jamie Lanister running for his mother.  Yes, I am well aware of how ridiculous I sound. It’s like a sky-diver who’s afraid of heights, a baker who’s deathly allergic to sugar. I could go on, but I’ll save you my exhaustive list of analogies.

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Right now you are probably wondering what could have possibly possessed me to go against everything in my nature and send my words out into the ether for anyone to find? Simply put- it was time. I was sick of waiting for that illusive ‘someday.’ I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I could remember, it was a given- that was my calling in life. But the funny thing is, the rest of the world didn’t seem to get the message. When I stepped out my front door to face my future, the literary road was not laid out and waiting for me to come dancing along with a song on my lips like Dorothy and her Yellow Brick Road. No, the road outside continued to look suspiciously like ordinary asphalt. That didn’t matter, I told myself, I was still young- I could use the time to hone my skills, learn what made the greats so astounding. After all, what was a writer without a few scrapes and experiences to color their work?

So I went out into the big bad world and soaked up all that I could with my modest income. Actually, I went out into the world and found myself an adult job- one I grew to love. I work in the court system, and I have to say- I can’t make up the kinds of stories I hear there. It is something new and exciting every day. But every night I would still come home and carve out some time to invest in my passion, clickity-clacking away at my keyboard like my very soul depended on it. Any maybe it did- if I didn’t write, that fire inside would consume me.

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Naturally, when I decided that it was time to start taking my work more seriously- the research ensued. And, as it turns out (ready for a real bombshell)- if you want to stand a chance at publication in the modern world you need a blog. Feel free to swoon dramatically, I nearly did. That was when I had to ask myself a question- how far am I willing to go to chase that dusty old dream? The answer was simple- as far as I had to. Even doing something as crazy as starting the daunting blog. Here I was, staring up my at my figurative Everest, wondering how I could possibly learn to feel like I wasn’t just winging it every day.

Enter Tipsy Typer.

I’ll spare you the mundane and surprisingly frustrating story that is the search for an adequate blog name someone else hasn’t already scooped up. Curses to those who came up with my ideas a year before they ever found their way into my head. Okay, kudos for jumping out on that limb long before I found my own wings- but still- a few curses. Little ones. Okay, I’ll still read your own damnably clever blog.

This cozy little home of mine is the first step, and after all is said and done, I have to say I am exhilarated to actually be doing it. I’m not going to pretend that I have this whole writing thing figured out- in fact, this blog will mostly be about my own journey trying to navigate this complicated little ecosystem we seem to have. I’ll make mistakes- but perhaps I can stop others from repeating them. This will also be a place for those odds and ends I find in my research, it will be a testament to the daily happenings that shape my work- after all, inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places.

So cheers, my friends, here is to facing our fears. May we help each other climb many more mountains along the way. If there is anything that life has taught me, it’s that the things you are most afraid of have the most to offer you in the end. It’s time to be brave.