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.

Thank You to My Everyday Heroes (Phoenix in the Fire)

“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

-Gandalf

The fires are still burning; the west is still awash in flames and blackened embers. And yet, with this devastation, a phoenix was born, rising from the ashes that fell from our skies. I have found hope and love in a world that has gone dark. I found a common urgency for kindness and community as our fears grew. Yes, the fires still burn, and yet our hope has not been extinguished.

California, Oregon, Washington, Montana; all are ablaze and in desperate need of help. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the acreage lost to the actively burning fires stands at 1,652,402- and this number continues to grow every day. That’s not the total for the year thus far; that is simply the large scale fires that are still burning.

I’m in the Pacific Northwest where we are still fighting the Eagle Creek fire on the Oregon side, which has consumed over 33,000 acres of land in the scenic Gorge area. I have friends who were evacuated from their homes a week ago and don’t know when they will ever be able to return. My dad’s house was threatened by a spot fire that erupted when an ember flew from Eagle Creek and landed on the Washington side of the Columbia River. It landed on the same night my dad stayed awake with a hose protecting his home from the embers that fell where he lived. Archer mountain, 4 miles from my childhood home, was dry as a bone and lit up the sky. It’s still burning. It’s tiny in comparison to Eagle Creek; a mere 209 acres at the last update. But it was in my backyard, and when your neighborhoods are being threatened; it doesn’t matter how small that threat may appear; it’s still a natural entity that has more than enough power to consume and destroy everything you care about.

That first day was terrifying; the fire kept growing, the evacuation alerts kept coming, and the damn wind would not stop blowing. I wasn’t necessarily afraid of the fire itself barging down the door- I was afraid of the live embers that were dancing through the air for miles around and erupting into spot fires where they landed. I was terrified of losing my neighborhood, the place that stored all of my fondest memories of the world when it was far less complicated. I was scared of losing my childhood home; the only place that ever truly made me feel like I belonged in it. But most of all, I was petrified because my dad is stubborn as hell, knows enough about fires to be confident (he’s worked for the fire department for over 30 years), and he didn’t want to leave his home. He lives at the end of a dead-end street out in the middle of nowhere; and if the fire came, it’s projected route would cut off his only exit if he hesitated too long.

There’s something insidious in the simple fact that there are situations where you will have no control. There is something poisonous in the knowledge that for those life-altering moments, you might only have enough power to watch the news reports, to follow the weather and pray. This is something our poor friends in Texas and Florida know well. You might have to go to work and explain to your boss why you can’t really concentrate and why you are checking your phone every five minutes, or why you are jumping at unexpected noises- you will explain that you set up evacuation alerts to let you know if your dad needs to leave his home- to let you know that you need to make him leave. That powerless feeling; it burrows deep into your soul; you can’t eat, you can’t sleep, you can’t think or talk about anything else. You function under the sole motivation to collect more information. Because collecting is the only thing you can do. It’s a cruel twist of fate for us humans who have a deep desire to play the puppet-master of our own lives. So you pray- you pray to anything and everything you have ever believed in. Because what else will you do?

We’ve had good news this week; our first responders are amazing- there are truly no words for the appreciation and love we all feel towards them right now. They have been everything; our sun, our moon, our stars. They remind me why we all wanted to be like them when we were little; they remind me why heroes claim the name that they do. They saved our homes, they saved this little community of ours. They dug in their heels, they gritted their teeth and they fought with every ounce of energy they possessed. They fell asleep where they sat- for only a few hours before getting up and doing it all over again. It’s because of them that my friends still have their homes. It’s because of them that my dad’s home is still here. It was their hard work that allowed a young mother to finally bring her children back home after their evacuation alert was lowered. It’s because of them that I can finally start to breathe a little bit easier. The fire has grown; but they held the line and ensured that it didn’t grow towards our homes. Since the last time I wrote, they’ve managed to reach 15% containment on Archer Mountain. That’s pretty amazing, given the terrain and less than ideal weather. They’ve been stretched so thin that there are fire burning in our state without crews attached to them- because they can’t afford to sacrifice the resources. They’ve been here fighting for us instead.

There was a shift in the wind that was good for my little piece of the Gorge; but bad for my friends across the river. They have just shy of 1,000 firefighters on their side, including several hotshot teams (think navy seals of the firefighting world), over 100 engines and a small fleet of helicopters; they sit at 7% contained, and expect to be fighting this blaze through October at least. They’ve done an amazing job; over 33,000 acres, and only 3 homes lost. I know I say that like it’s nothing, but I can feel the shot through my heart with those words. 3 homes; 3 homes like mine full of memories and beloved items; a symbol for your life, a safe place that you will struggle to find again. Every loss hurts. Because we’re all here enduring this together; every loss is a reminder that all it takes is a change in the wind or an errant ember to drastically alter our fates and the lots of the things we love. We walk a hairs width out here, but we walk it together. And we have the bravest warriors to protect us. I say only 3 because without these brace souls with their spot-streaked faces, we would have lost entire towns. They did that for us.

There is something that arises from the darkness that we endure; there is a quality in all of us that only seems to show in these moments of distress. While there are still some who will take advantage of the darkness, ones who will do horrible things; like stealing the vehicles and gear of our firefighters- these lost souls are rare. Most people come together, remembering what is important at the end of the day. All of our differences and disagreements fall away. None of it matters anymore when you walk into your personal hell, you cling to anyone near you; even if you were shooting daggers at one another the day before. The world has gone on around us; the news reminds me everyday of the battles we are all waging, the ideologies we are fighting for, the hopes that we cling to. But for just a moment; those things don’t matter- they do- but, our different don’t matter. People don’t ask you who you voted for when you are reaching out for help. They don’t wonder what you posted on Facebook an hour ago, unless you were begging for an update on a loved one, or looking for a place to stay the night. My daily interactions now include people asking and volunteering information about themselves, their homes and their families. It’s found in the traditionally cut-throat litigators at work asking for a continuance on their case because opposing counsel has been focused on protecting his family and his home, which are on level 2 evacuation notices (level 2 means ‘get set’ and be ready for level 3- 3 means go now).

I found hope in places I didn’t expect it, from people I didn’t necessarily see as being as selfless as they were. This is probably a flaw of mine that I need to work on. On the first day a girl I knew who wouldn’t be caught dead out of her designer clothes and makeup was driving up and down the evacuation zones helping people get their livestock to safety. Neighbors would show up to help each other with trailers in tow. So many items were donated that they were running out of places to store them. At some sites simple things like coffee turned into gold. Businesses offered free food to emergency responders and those displaced. People you hadn’t talked to in nearly a decade would reach and ask how you were- because they remember where your parents lived when you were friends back in school. Strangers spoke words of comfort and compassion to me; they shared the stories of those impacted and brought an overlooked issue to people’s attention. I will forever be grateful. People cared. People helped. And they still are.

It’s just like what we saw with Harvey; when it mattered, we showed up. We reminded each other what we are truly about. When everything is done, I am sure we will go back to squabbling about politics and debating lifestyle choices and generally causing discontent on social media. But there will still be this experience between us; these common things that we endured together. We will still remember those unexpected heroes who showed up when we were in need, the ones that remembered where we were from and took the time to listen when we were scared. Personally, I will try to remember that most people are made of tougher stuff than I realized. We found a small patch of common ground; it might be burnt, and blackened, but it is still our ground, it is still the path we have walked together.

Tonight I pray for everyone who’s struggling, who’s fighting, who’s scared. Tonight I pray for our first responders and our everyday heroes who just showed up. I pray for the west with our fires, for Texas who has a long road to recovery, and for everyone being impacted by Irma. I pray for India and the flooding they’ve been fighting. We might be facing different foes; but it’s the same battle. No matter how far apart we are, no matter what we each believe; we are all in this together. We are stronger when we stand as one, when we reach out, when we put our differences aside and look at each other as humans. I will never turn away, I’m still watching, and when the moment comes- my hand will be reaching out to help you the way others have helped me. Thank God for these everyday heroes; they are the best we could ever hope to become. I strive everyday to live up to what they do.

My Heart and My Hope are in Texas

Hope doesn’t always come in the form that you would expect; it is not hidden in the tone of a speech or written in the drafting of a bill. It’s not going to come swooping out of the sky wearing a cape and decreeing justice for all. True hope comes from simple gestures and an innate sense of compassion. It comes in moments of desperation and defeat, it comes without warning, without prompting, and without demands. It comes from us and the choices that we make. It comes in the way we see one another, the value we place on the lives of people we will never truly know. It comes in a moment of need, it comes with arms wide open and heart full.

It is no secret that we have divided, that the chasms we have created go far too deep for simple sutures to heal. It is no secret that the issues we have rumbling to the surface are ones that will take years to address with any degree of accomplishment. And yet this week it didn’t matter. This week brought the sad reminder of what gives me hope in our country. It is in the simple fact that we have spent months grinding our heels into the dirt staring at one another defiantly; and yet people are still quick to jump up out of their fight stance and help when the need arises.

This week my heart is with Texas. It is with the friends I know and the strangers I do not. It is with the pain and the devastation, and the hope that we will not relive Katrina all over again. I’ll admit that it scares me; the fact that I haven’t heard from some of my friends makes me nervous. Watching the devastation on the news breaks my heart and leaves me at a loss. Mother Nature doesn’t care about your political stance or the color of your skin. She doesn’t care about your gender, your age, or your economic stability. She strikes where she pleases and she reminds us mere mortals of what we truly are.

And yet, out of this devastation, something has risen; something profoundly beautiful in its simplicity. People are helping each other again. They aren’t fighting, they don’t care what you look like or what you believe; they are showing up and giving everything they have to give. They are giving hope.

Today I was able to watch a truck driver be rescued as the reporter tried not to cry. I watched boats manned by both professionals and laymen float through neighborhoods in search of anyone who needed help, anyone who needed out. People with the needed equipment drove hours to show up and assist those they have never met. I’ve heard stories of people who have opened their homes to those who were displaced. Some souls have taken to social media to let loved ones know that their friend or family member is safe. A man who owns a furniture and mattress store opened his doors to anyone in need of shelter, ushering people in saying he had plenty of beds and chairs. He even offered up all of the food they had available at the restaurant his business had inside. People are giving selflessly because there is need. Calls for help are being sounded, and brave souls are going out of their way to respond. News reporters who don’t generally wind up on the side being reported came forward and helped those in need while on the scene; they rescued elderly people trapped in their homes, they directed rescue crews to those they encountered who were trapped, they reminded us of what is important.

It wasn’t about the story or the ratings; it was about that moment of pure humanity and compassion. This right here- this is what we are about; this is the empathy we forget sometimes. This is the hope that will get us through.

When someone is in need, it doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from; their cry should be answered. And right now- people are responding with loud, resonating voices. They are stepping forward, they are doing everything they can with what they have. With the deepest of wounds comes a reminder for hope. Don’t forget the good, no matter how much the bad begs to be seen. Watch these unexpected heroes who simply showed up when they were needed. They are what this country is all about. They are the ones we need to emulate.

My heart is with Texas tonight; all of ours are. Tonight my wishes are simple; I hope that these people find safety, compassion, and help. I hope that we never stop answering that call. I hope we remember the wounds of our past and use them to improve our present. I hope we can remember what a brighter world looks like and how deeply important it is for each and every one of us to look out for each other. Our differences don’t matter right now. Helping one another; that is the key. I hope we never forget.

If you wish to assist, contact The Red Cross at 1-800 RED CROSS, or visit their website at redcross.org. You can also text the word HARVEY to 90999 to make a $10 donation. There are other organizations also accepting donations to the relief effort, but please do your research prior to donating to ensure that your time/items/money will be used appropriately.

Fighting the Tide

When I was a little girl I was swimming in a crab hole at the beach with my sister. We didn’t notice that the tide had changed and the sand bar hemming us in had been submerged. We just kept swimming around, buoyed by our life jackets as we raced around the deepening cove. It took a while before we noticed that we were drifting out into the ocean. And when we realized that our feet couldn’t touch the sandy bottom anymore, we bristled into a full blown panic. ‘Just swim back’ everyone said- a simple solution coming from someone sitting safely on shore. But we weren’t strong enough or big enough to fight the outward current. We just kept slipping slowly with each wave. Finally my cousin swam out and towed us back, all in a row like wayward ducklings. That event never stopped us from plunged back into the frigid ocean, but it did make the dangers more poignant. It kept me aware as I grew up that sometimes you can be swept away by something much stronger than yourself.

As writers we feel everything deep in our souls, magnified tenfold; joy and pain, peace and chaos, love and hate- we mirror the emotions swirling in the world around us, our hearts bear the sweetest burden of empathy for this life and those who struggle and persevere alongside us. It is one of our most pronounced strengths, and also one of our most misunderstood weaknesses. Oh, what a strange curse; to feel the world so deeply, to carry all these stories in our hearts, swarming with every emotion imagineable. Some days I feel like I’m crazy. The very power that makes me able to create is also the very thing that can cut me to the quick when wielded incorrectly. That being said, it should come as no surprise that at times those darker shadows hidden inside can pull at me, sucking me in to an uninvited embrace.

I’m known for being a positive person, for finding the silver lining, for rolling with the punches that life can throw, for shaking it off and moving forward. Most people in my life don’t realize that this trait is one I’ve  intentionally fought for; I see the light because I remember when my world was full of darkness. I say positive things because I need to hear them in order to believe them. I was young the first time I slipped into my own version of Dante’s Inferno. I walked through my nine circles of hell, climbed my mountain of Purgatorio, and found myself on the other side. I know the value of this journey because it’s seared into my soul.

I made my way through and felt a genuine peace on the other side, but there’s something that no one talks about when it comes to the taboo of mental health. Even when you ‘win’ your battle- that doesn’t mean it’s over. I am able to embrace the small joys in life, but there will always be a piece of me that remembers. There will always be a sliver of who I am that is holding its breath and waiting for the other shoe to drop. A part of me cannot help but wonder if and when I may slip back into that abyss.

It started with an anxiety attack. I’ve always had these to some degree, so I wasn’t all that worried at first. But then they got worse, culminating in one that left me physically shaking and trying not to cry in the back of a car on a short road trip just a few weeks ago. It’s just stress, I told myself. Everything is fine. I didn’t notice when the rest of the warning signs started jumping out; looking back it is so obvious that I was heading for deeper waters, but I couldn’t see it. I lost interest in everything, didn’t have the motivation on for the simplest of tasks. I told myself that I was just getting lazy when I didn’t clean or write (this Nano has been an ongoing struggle), but it went deeper than that. I couldn’t focus anymore; realizing halfway through a conversation that I had no idea what the other person was talking about. Or rereading the same line over and over again because the meaning wouldn’t soak in. Editing my novels became a nightmare of repetitive actions with nothing truly behind them. Some days insomnia kept me awake, and other days I could barely keep my eyes open, my sleep schedule moving up into the double digits. 

Even the dog noticed before I did. Link is not particularly cuddly; he only wants to be close like that when someone is sick. I should have known that he sensed something was wrong when he wouldn’t leave my side, pressing himself close beside me when I lay down; one day even going so far as to flop down right on top of me and lay flat- like he couldn’t get enough skin to fur contact. And then on Saturday I could barely get out of bed, opting for sweatpants and a baggy shirt because I didn’t have the energy to do my laundry or put jeans on. I had no choice but to admit that I’d been blind to all of my warning signs once again; I had lost my footing, and had slipped for no real reason. There I was, halfway out to sea before I even realized there was a hint of danger.

There’s something about depression that makes you feel so damn small, so insignificant, so pointless. There’s something about that darkness that makes you feel so weak, so helpless, so broken. It’s hard to admit to yourself and to others that perhaps you can’t do it on your own. People want to fix you without realizing that you are not a math problem to be solved neatly on graph paper and turned in on Monday morning. Not everyone understands that you can be sad deep in your soul without having a reason you can articulate. You can have a good life and still feel like you are drowning.

I’ve been down this road before, and the only real benefit is that I learned all of the wrong things to do once upon a time. Mainly; trying to fix it all on my own. It goes against our nature to admit out weaknesses. But at the end of the day, it is the bravest thing you can do. Instead of pasting on a plastic smile, this time I took a deep breath and I opened up.

We always forget that we are not the only ones who have been forced to face our demons. We are not the only ones who have hurt deep down in our souls. When I made my confession I had a certain expectation when it came to their responses. And yet I was so wrong; instead of judgment, I was met with compassion. When I couldn’t force myself out of bed, my fiancé curled up beside me with healthy snacks and turned on our favorite show. When I wanted to stay there all day and melt into the mattress, he coaxed me out with simple goals that would nudge me back towards normalcy without sending me diving under the covers again. He didn’t try to offer solutions when there were none to give, he didn’t get frustrated with the fact that he had a hundred other things more important to do. He just gently reminded me that I wasn’t alone and that it was okay to let myself feel it all for a little while without wallowing in it.

My friends forced me to get up and go out with them- no questions, no expectations, just a group of us in the woods on a rainy Sunday. I always forget how healing nature can be, how easy it is to put your life and your problems into perspective when you are surrounded by so much beauty.


There are some battles you should not face alone. And that’s why I’m here right now, spilling the less-than-glamorous secrets of my life for anyone to see. So if I don’t post as often as I used to- be patient with me, I’m still trying. Every day is still a bit of an effort; some more so than others. I’m just reminding myself to take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other. I slipped, got in over my head, and now I just need a little help to tow myself back to shore. I can do this, but I do not have to do this alone. Sometimes the bravest thing you will ever do is admit that you need someone else to help you on your path.

Cheers to the weekend, you weekday warrior (find your kindness)

Happy Friday my dear friends, we have survived yet another week like the Warriors that we are! We zigged and we zagged, we lost some battles and won others. No matter how daunting or exhausting things got, we put one foot in front of the other and kept on pushing through. Here we stand, on the cusp of a well deserved break (unless you work weekends, then I offer my deepest apologies, feel free to send curses my way for unintentionally bringing it up. Please save this and read it when your own weekend is set to begin and revel in the fact that I will probably be at work at that time). 

You deserve to kick up your feet, lean back and take a long sip from your favorite beverage. You have earned this, and damn, does it feel good. For once just forget about the trials and tribulations of your daily life, the to-do list you’ve written, the frustrations of the past week- right now is about living in this one moment, something we do far too little of, I am afraid. It is all too easy to wish our lives away, waiting for the next best thing. I am just as guilty as any other.

It is no secret that we live in a tumultuous world right now, the daily frustrations are hard to escape. And if you are anything like me, that constant barrage of negativity finds a way to seep into your soul like rain through a sweatshirt. It leaves you cold and exhausted. So this Friday, I think we owe it to ourselves to take a different angle. We live in a tumultuous world, true; but if you start looking in the right places, you will see the beauty hidden amidst the turmoil.

I live for small joys, tiny moments of peace and hope that sustain the soul and refresh the spirit. I wouldn’t be able to survive doing what I do, surrounded by the things that I hear without this little trait that reminds me to look for the simple joys. They give me hope in a world that I don’t always understand, in a life that does not always understand me.

Another storm hit my town; harsh winds and freezing rain peppered us all night, leaving our roads slick and shiny this morning, covered in a layer of ice that did not want to give up its new residence. It wasn’t until I made it out to Ellie (that would be my car, I like to name inanimate objects), that I remembered I lent my ice scraper to my fiancé during the last winter storm- and he broke it (no blame cast, just a fact). Frustrated at the prospect of being forced to wait for the ice to melt off my windshield, someone presented me with a small act of kindness in the form of their spatula. It worked surprisingly well at scraping the frozen sheet off my car, once I got over feeling silly weilding cooking utensils at my 3,000 lb vehicle like a witch with her magic wand. I thanked them, and was able to slowly creep down the road on my way to work- I even managed to make it in on time and get a decent parking spot (yay for little victories)!

You see, these small acts of kindness are what tie us together, they are the things that bring back our humanity in a society where we find ourselves far too emboldened to demean one other from the safety of our social media screens. All it took to change my day and my mood was a spatula- a regular, plastic cooking utensil. Grand and profound gestures are not always required when real people are at stake. Spreading joy is what will bring us back to our roots, remind us of the good that resides in us all. We cannot categorize one another as good and evil, friend and foe- when there is so much gray area in terms of real flesh and blood people. These smalls kindnesses can be found in the most mundane details of life. Even something as simple as asking a co-worker if they’re feeling better will remind them that someone cared enough to worry about them.

The other day someone paid for my coffee at the drive-thru when I was just having one of those mornings. So I paid it forward and hoped the red truck behind me would find a smile to light up the beginning of their day, just as I did. When I got to work last week there was a feather and a flower sitting on my desk- no note, no one running in asking if I saw it. Just a feather and a flower that left me with a sense of peace. When my sister was out standing on a crowded street in the rain, a stranger came over and held their umbrella over her head simply because she looked cold. The other day a Judge that I work with came to my desk to personally shake my hand and thank mefor publicly   standing up for a cause that deeply impacts his life and the lives of his family members, he said it meant a lot to know that it mattered to someone. Last weekend my mom was in a car accident, and the other driver made a point to find a blanket from his car to wrap around her because she couldn’t stop shivering. After his car was towed from the scene, my mom was able to drive him home, surprising even the police officers who responded. Kindness attracts kindness, one smile will be contagious to those who receive it. 

People seem to thrive on contention and frustration, some get satisfaction in the fight, in the struggle, in slashing at their opponents. There are time in our lives when we are all guilty of this- it is universal. But that does not have to be our driving force if we do not wish it. Stand for kindness, embody the values you wish to see in this world. There is a time to gear up for the battle and fight. But it is not all the time.

So this Friday, to celebrate the end of another crazy week, find the joys amidst the chaos. In a world that is constantly moving, you deserve a chance to sit still. You’ve fought like hell this week, take a break, remember the joys that sustain you, revitalize your soul. Have a beautiful weekend my friends, don’t forget to look for the sunshine in spite of the clouds.

Reading Dangerously

Books have the ability to shape minds and sculpt opinions, they are as diverse as the people we share this beautiful world with. They can change us if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves and our beliefs. What we choose to read will show in who we become as people, and, as creators, it will become apparent in what we bring into this world. Whatever your chosen medium is, you have the power to make an impact with it, to become timeless and honest. I want to write books that change people, I want to pen articles that make others question what they thought, or provide them with a glimmer of hope that they are not alone, that they have an ally in a world that has too few. I want to write Dangerously, and to do that, I must read the same way.

When I was in high school we had weekly opinion pieces to write and then group debates on a myriad of subjects we originally knew nothing about, and a few key topics our teachers were brave enough to let us choose ourselves. One of their favorite things to do: make us argue a side we deeply opposed. Why? Because it forces you to learn, it compels you to challenge your own views and opinions and, in effect, discover a sense of compassion for those you disagree with.

It is no secret that we live in an interesting time; though not as unique as we may imagine it to be. We have hot button issues that compel passions within individuals that are unrivaled. Passion is a double-edged sword, and in a world of misinformation, skewed propaganda, and sensationalization: passion can be a unforgiving and dangerous blade. It seems that searching for information and challenging our own thoughts has become too difficult a task. It is far too easy to get swept away in the sea of words we have billowing out around us.

At the end of 2016 I started working through some of the books I’ve left idling on my shelf, books that ignited a curiosity and passion inside of me, some of them made me question my current belief system, and others managed to reinforce my opinions with information that I did not previously possess. They gave me a fire, and a deeper understanding of the world around me. And they reminded me of how complicated and colorful our world really is. 

I believe in tolerance and compassion, but there are many cultures and social issues I still only had limited knowledge of. I felt unable to voice my opinion in fear that I was missing something. At the same time, I feel we all have a social obligation to help one another and defend each other from unwarranted hate and preconceived notions.

It was my desire to challenge and educate myself that led to a very specific goal this year, one that I suspect will continue far longer than these 12 coming months. The challenge: to read dangerously, to confront my own views and biases and force them to make a case, to expand my knowledge and, with that, my understanding of this complicated world that we live in. It is a year to remember those long-forgotten facets of our history and find the correlation with our current troubles. It is a chance to propel ourselves to be better people.

I was originally thinking about monthly themes, and while I may eventually transition that way, right now I am simply enjoying the extensive and random selection of books I own but have been sitting unread. I have books covering all subjects: history, religion, race issues, sexuality, the sciences, biographies of strong women, athletes, and world leaders, philosophy, classics and modern tales that shape us in unseen ways. I have books that I suspect will support my current beliefs, and ones that I have a strong inclination will test them. 

Now, I have hopes that this will be somewhat interactive, though I think it will evolve a bit as we go. I have just finished Voyage of the Damned, a phenomenal book I will be doing a follow-up post on in the coming week (spoiler: I highly recommend it). If you would like to see the 2016 books that inspired this, feel free to peek here: Tipsy Typer’s Top Ten Year-End Literary Lovelies

My current selections include an overview of world history in the form of The New Penguin History of the World because, well, I am a bit rusty and I’ve tried to read this lengthy tome many times- darn it, I will do it this time! Also, I am finally reading The Quran; I’ve always had an interest in religious studies and have read the texts of other religions, but have never made it to this one. Thus far it has been very eye-opening in terms of some of its similarities to a few other predominant religions. I think a big part of understanding and having compassion stems with educating yourself on what is important and fundamental to other people. Religion is a driving force for many, and learning to respect that and understand the similarities as well as the differences will go a long way on our road to acceptance and appreciation. I also just started a promising new read that follows my underlying theme: Threading My Prayer Rug

But I want to ask you all: what suggestions do you have for me? What books have changed you, expanded your views or made you ask questions? The genre, the subject matter, geared towards children or adults- there are no boundaries, any book that made you feel something, learn something, or challenged you in some way; I’d love to hear about it and add it to my list. And if you care to immerse yourself in your own Reading Dangerously challenge, feel free to comment; I think sharing this experiment with others would only help us all grow.

Cheers, my friends, may we forever find the strength within ourselves to keep growing and changing.

Love in a Time of Hate

“This will always be the land of the free, so long as it is the home of the brave.”

-Elmer Davis

I don’t know when our differences became bricks we used to wall ourselves in and close ourselves off from one another. I don’t know when we decided that we must scream to be heard in a world that is already far too loud. I don’t know when belittling another’s opinion made us feel more emboldened with our own. I have no idea when we decided that the world had to be seen in black and white, right and wrong; without the shades of gray I’ve always so dearly loved. We drew a line and determined that everyone must take a step, make a stand, choose a side. And then grab a stone to hurl towards the other crowd. All while forgetting that we know so many faces over there. If we demonize them and their ideals, then we can forget the people underneath. We seem to forget that this country of ours is not a comic book- we do not have heroes and villains. We have people. Perfectly flawed people with beautifully varied colors that shade our background and our perspectives. When did we decide that we had to prove the other side wrong to believe in our hearts that we are right? When did we determine that there had to be a wrong answer?

Because tonight, I am exhausted. I am disheartened, I am frustrated. The worst part of this whole mess: we did this. We are still doing this. We want to point the finger at someone, we want to cast blame and doubt, we want to force the other side to concede when they feel just as righteous as we do. We are chasing each other around in circles and we don’t even recognize that the hate we are pointing out in them is also being mirrored in ourselves.

I don’t care who you voted for, just as you don’t care which box I checked on that piece of paper. It doesn’t matter. No lines need to be drawn on my sand, there is no tallied score. We do not need to tear one another down to build ourselves up. We do not need to search the darkest corners of the other’s camp, and hold their worst up into the light as a glaring example of what is wrong with them and their opinions. Because these dark corners- they do not make up the whole of our respective camps. You can not paint millions of people with one brush. Those shadows- they are only a small percentage, they do not define the group.

I am not a democrat. I am not a republican. I am not a conservative. I am not a liberal. I do not wear a label like a name tag. My views land all over that beautiful board we call democracy. What happened to us? How long have we required a title; locking someone up in a box with a small description of the contents- we do not belong in a zoo. ‘Over here you will see the moral fallacies of the Republican Party, and if you take a left at the Statue of Liberty you will behold the dark lair of the Democrat and their misguided ideology.’ No. This is not us. This is not the country that I have always loved, this is not the country that I was raised to believe in.

Not every person who voted for Trump is a racist. They do not all hate the LGBT community. They do not all feel that women are objects to be used and thrown away. Just the same way that not every person who voted for Clinton is corrupt, on a witch hunt for your guns, or a ‘libtard crybaby,’ if I have my terminology correct. Yes, there are some that fall into these categories, but I do not believe that they are the majority. If anyone would take just a moment to stop and actually listen to someone of the opposing opinion without interrupting to explain why their views are better- then maybe they would come to this same conclusion. The point that I am trying to make is that, if you speak to people on either side of the line, you will realize that both have a deep misunderstanding of what is important to those opposing them. It is fueled by fear and misinformation. We need to stop assigning labels to people and inferring their beliefs and opinions based on these snap judgments. We do not belong in boxes. We do not need to drag others through the mud in order to bring more credence to our own beliefs.

Wasn’t that the beauty of this country? We were a haven for those who didn’t belong, those who were persecuted for their beliefs, for their views, for their way of life. We spilled our blood to defend our right to maintain our own opinions without fear. And here we are- destroying each other and everything that we hold dear.

There is a difference between maintaining your views and being respectful of another’s. We are not monsters here, none of us are. And if we took away the labels, perhaps we would begin to realize that our views really aren’t that far apart. Perhaps we would begin to see the path that needs to be followed. Perhaps we would find our compassion again and rediscover the beauty that we used to see in one another long enough to listen- truly listen- with an open mind, without pre-recorded objections and insults to shoot out randomly like poisoned barbs.

We are scared of one another- in a country that prides itself on bravery, we are terrified. Is that it- is that the crux of our anger? Because we don’t know what will happen and we don’t recognize the world that we’ve always lived in. We lost our compassion. I believe that we have a responsibility to one another. We have to look out for each other. We have to protect one another and our rights.

I will admit that I am afraid for us, for my friends, for the values that I stand for; but I am not alone. So to those of you who are in fear because of the color of your skin, your nationality, your religion, your gender, your sexual orientation- for those of you who feel exposed and unprotected in a world that suddenly feels so cold- I stand with you. I stand for you. I will not watch from a distance as you are screamed at, pushed, threatened or hurt. I will fight for you with every fiber of my being. Because I believe in you. I believe in your rights. I believe that you make us better, stronger, more compassionate. I believe that you bring light to a dark part of our society. In a world where you feel like your voice is being lost, I will listen. And to those of you who are afraid for your right to free speech, religion, the right to bear arms- I will protect you. I will not stand idly by if you are unjustly called a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe. I will defend you when you are in fear of retaliation for ideals that you personally do not hold. Whether your belief systems align with mine or not- I will not let someone harm you. Because I believe in peace, I believe in leading by example. I believe in treating others as I wish to be treated. I believe that we are responsible for creating the world that we wish to live in.

In Portland yesterday there was a protest that devolved into a riot. It made international news- there was damage, and as I drove by the city today I could not miss the signs of hate left behind. But what you probably didn’t hear about are the volunteers who got up early today to clean up their city. They did not go to the protest, though many of them supported the protestors. They were not responsible for the damage. But they did not want to see their city hurt or torn apart by hate. So they cleaned, they painted, they erased the harm and brought back the beauty. The peaceful protestors that started the event did not condone the violence that erupted. And yet, though they did not personally resort to violence themselves, they still chose to raise money to pay for the damages. They raised $10,000 in one day. They took responsibility for the world they wanted to live in. These are not things that you will probably hear reported in the news. But these are the people that we must emulate- these are the one who responded to hate with love. They do not question who is right or who is worthy of their respect. They do not cast blame for what has happened. They simply want to see their community thrive. This is what we need. We need to protect each other. We need to respect each other. And we need to remember that our differences are the very things that make us so formidable. United we stand, divided we fall. I do not have to agree with you to respect you.

No more hate. Our candidates have dropped their stones, the mud has stopped flying. That does not mean that we need to pick them up and continue this bitter war. We must stay vigilant; we must still protect our ideals. But we do not have to destroy each other in the process. We are past the point of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ No, now we must come together. The time for fighting is gone, the dice was cast and we have a future to work on. Now we need to look forward and have an open discussion. We have come too far to fall apart now. We are worth too much to destroy ourselves.