Writing Prompt: my circus, my monkeys

Some of my best ideas stem from real life…even when they completely terrify me. The following prompt is based on a true story.

The prompt:

You stay up late reading a book when you realize you are out of water. You don’t bother turning on the lights as you walk to your kitchen. Passing the darkened living room you stop dead in your tracks; sitting there in the solitude is a small red and white circus tent. You don’t own a red and white circus tent. Upon closer inspection, there are two stuffed animals sitting in it’s open doorway…

Naturally, when I traipsed into this scene, I didn’t stick around to figure out if an army of tiny clowns was going to parade out of those blue flaps. I turned right around and sent a quick text to my brother-in-law (who doubles as my roommate) to figure out of a portal to hell had just opened in our living room. Lucky for me, it wasn’t the opening scene from a new episode of American Horror Story- it was just a new toy bought for my niece and nephews. Although, I am still a bit nervous about the two stuffed animals that found their way inside- the kids had been with their mom the entire weekend.

To be continued… (sorry, I grew up with Goosebumps and couldn’t resist using my old favorite ending)

Mimosa Musings: To fan the flame or blaze on your own? (The fight over fanfiction)

Good morning my literary lovelies. I don’t know about you, but brunchtime mimosas usually send my mind wandering down unusual paths, and this weekend was no exception. My dog has been on bedrest for a few weeks now, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to keep the 85 pound mass of energy contained. To keep both of us sane I decided to pull out my tried and true method: reading him some of my favorite books. Naturally, Harry Potter was the first one to pop up in my littler arsenal.

Now, I have never been the type of girl to love by halves; when I am in I am all in. Expert or novice, I immerse myself in the imaginary worlds that I love, whether they be the Marvel or DC universe, Middle Earth, Narnia, Rhyme and Reason’s kingdom, Panem, or our very own Hogwarts. I fall in love passionately and without apology. These worlds that we love to explore come to life within us. Each person who reads, listens to or watches these stories creates their own little dimension for the characters involved; the author holds the original, but new incarnations come to life in each of us. I’ve always found this fact to be the most magical of all; my perspective of Luna Lovegood or Jyn Eros will be very different from yours simply because we interpret the author’s world very differently. This concept has never been more clear than in the realm of fan fiction.

Personally, I love to read the stories tossed up on the Internet for anyone who is interested. I find it fascinating to discover what these stories have inspired in other people; often I learn that their imaginings are far different from my own. People online grow passionately supportive or opposed to different ideals (have you ever looked at a fan board discussing Draco and Hermoine pairings- hell will freeze over before those two camps find some common ground). I’ve dabbled in the realm, finding the idea to be fun practice and good inspiration for other pieces I am working on.

Authors, however, have very strong opinions on the subject. Some have belonged to the ranks of unknown fanfiction authors, such as: S.E. Hinton (The Outsiders) has written some- even going so far as to post fanfiction stories of his own books under a different pen name. Other known authors include: Lev Grossman (The Magicians), Meg Cabot (The Princess Diaries), Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings (Beautiful), Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), Cassandra Clare (Mortal Instruments), Neil Gaiman (far too many amazing books for me to name one). In fact, some have even had their fanfiction stories re-adapted into bestselling books, the most well-known being E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey series, which began as Twilight fanfiction.

Now, in the realm of original authors, there seems to be some disagreement about how to view and handle these new creations. There are those who find it flattering that others will love their characters so much to create their own stories about them. However, many do caution about crossing the line into using these creations for monetary gain (as someone who has worked in legal for the past decade, I would strongly advise against commercializing this type of work without getting the advice of a copyright attorney, as it is a slippery slope that could land you in court opposite your favorite writer’s legal team). Some authors have read and added to their fandom, going so far as to mark certain stories as ‘canon,’ meaning true to the original work. Others will send you a cease and desist letter threatening legal action if you do not remove the offending story.

In these murky waters, I can’t help but wonder: what do you all think? Is it flattery or theft? Do you write it yourself? Do you post it online? Are you a reader? Or do you steer clear of it as much as you can? Would you be flattered or offended if someone wrote stories based off of your original work?

Camp NaNoWriMo on the Horizon

Holy guacamole Batman, I can’t believe that time is already upon us once again. My literary lovelies, my wordy birdies, my alliteration afficionados: camp nano will be back in full swing this April, and for any of you planners (and a few of you plantser) out there- now is the time to get started.

A few of you may be wondering what kind of gibberish is escaping my keyboard today, but never fear- I won’t leave you hanging out in the cold today.

So, a quick breakdown for those who have never heard of Nano: NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is an annual writing challenge that takes place every November. The brave souls who choose to gather their writerly weapons and embark on the ambitious quest have a single challenge: write 50,000 in 30 days. You can share in your successes and failures on the message boards, full of thousands of other writers who are just as crazy as you.

But what about the other eleven months of the year, you ask? Oh, how glad I am that you brought it up. These brave warriors armed with their pens and laptops started to get anxious when they weren’t engaged in their quests. They knew that any brave adventurer needed to train, to prepare for their daring November mission. So they created the notorious Camp. Think of it like Camp Half-Blood (for you Percy Jackson lovers), but for the writerly world. This Camp is a safe haven for the writer, meeting in April and July every year.

But don’t worry, my daring friends- you need not travel far to engage in this adventure. This Camp is a virtual endeavor- you sign up, create a project, and can even join a cabin. The cabins are probably my favorite part. You can join a group of other writers and have your very own private message board. You can meet other people who are just as crazy as you, bond over books, snacks and beverages, share stories, obstacles and successes. You can cheer each other on and participate in short writing challenges to boost your word counts. I’ve met many amazing people that I have kept in touch with over the years. I’ve made connections forged in the fires of the pages, bound together through the fluid chains of words.

Another feature you get to see during Camp that you don’t get for your November challenge: customizable goals. During Camp you can do whatever you want- you can set your finish line anywhere you would like. You can be ambitious and go for the coveted Double Nano (100,000 words), or go lower if you know that life is going to be crazy for you that month. You can set your goal to words count, pages, hours- anything you wish.

But wait, you say- I am not a novelist, why on Middle Earth would I want to join a writing challenge? Another good question, my fearless friend. With Nano you can sign up for any kind of project under the sun. Do you want to start writing in your journal more? Register it as your project- you are now mired in the pits of nonfiction (but beware, my dear- reality is often much stranger than the fiction that we write). Or perhaps you are hoping to pump up your blog (I know most of my dear readers have one), well sign up and start creating those beautiful posts so many are waiting to gobble up. The choice is your, my friends- this is a choose-your-own-adventure of a sort.

The challenge, if you choose to accept it, can be found at Camp NaNoWriMo. It is never too late, my friends. We shall embark on April 1st, but you can still join after that start date. You will always be welcomed with open arms in this crowd. I’ve never found the support that these fellow adventurers have bestowed upon me.

In the immortal words of Albus Dumbledore, “Let is step into the night and pursue that flighty temptress adventure.” Writing is predominantly a solitary endeavor, perhaps finding a few friends along the road wouldn’t be the worst thing that could happen. Are you ready? The world needs to hear your words, find others who will raise their voices with you.

A Blind Date with a Character (when we all look the same)

I’ve always been in love with the concept of a blind date with a book. The book is almost always wrapped up in plain brown paper with a description written in sharpie on the cover. You read these little hints, and you never know what book you are choosing until you’ve selected your perfect little match and finally get to unwrap it. You almost always discover a little gem you would have browsed right past on your own.

This is a beautiful concept that I would love to see more of in the world, but recently it got me thinking. What if we did ‘blind date with a character?’ What would it look like if we chose our favorite characters from our favorite books and wrote a little blurb about them on the brown paper cover?

My fear is that everything would look the same. Our men would probably be white, straight, young, able-bodied, good looking, physically strong. Our women would probably be white, straight, able-bodied, good looking, preoccupied with love. I read voraciously, and while I notice slight differences in the personalities, the stereotypes are still present. There are variations and outliers. But the main plots center around characters like this.

Truthfully, it breaks my heart. We all deserve to see ourselves in the books we read, the movies we watch, the songs we listen to. These imaginary worlds we escape to have infinite power to make us better people, to show us sides of life that we might not see, to show us that we are capable of far more than we thought we could be. They remind us that the world is much larger than the little piece of it we claim, and that we belong to something much bigger than we could imagine. They remind us of our shared humanity and grant us the gift of compassion. So what happens when we are only told one story? When we only see the humanity found in people who look or live like we do?

Name one book who’s main character is overweight where the sole focus isn’t her dropping pounds to look like ‘those other girls.’ Name one book about a person with MS. Name one book about an Asian girl who wants to go to broadway, or a black girl who wants to be a NASA scientist. Name one book with a boy who is desperate to teach a younger generation about the art of meditation and humble living. Name one book with an old man who is raising his granddaughter on his own. Name one book about a Muslim man or woman advocating for equal rights, or a gender fluid individual trying to make their place in the world. Name one book that focuses on mental health, or chronic pain. Name one book where the nerdy boy or girl with glasses that fog up in the rain saves the day. Name one book that is different.

The only books that I can point to as examples of these are all nonfiction. The irony is not lost on me that every single example I can give comes from real life, but not from our fictional literature. And I find this troubling. The world is so much more than the stereotypes and story tropes we have created. So why don’t our books reflect this rich culture?

Most studies have centered on diversity within children’s literature, so I’m going to focus my statistics in this area, though I think there is a strong correlation that can be found in young adult and adult books as well. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, diversity in children’s literature was pretty stark. Based off of ethnicity alone, representation was as follows in 2015:

  • American Indian/First Nations: 0.9%
  • Latinx: 2.4%
  • Asian Pacifics/Asian Pacific Americans: 3.3%
  • African/African American: 7.6%
  • Animals/trucks/etc: 12.5%
  • White: 73.3%

To be clear, these are specific to children’s literature and do not discuss other subsections of minority literature, such as sexual orientation or ableism. But it’s a good starting point when analyzing our own work. We spend far too much time telling a single story when the world is full of so much more.

As a writer, I am also guilty of this crime. I don’t show enough representation in my character groups. While I try to have some diversity, I am painfully aware that most of the diversity is found in my supporting cast. My main character is all too often a girl who looks a lot like me. This isn’t inherently wrong, because everyone deserves representation, but women like me oversaturate the market. I can see my physical likeness in a book whenever I want. I’ll probably have to follow along with a love story in the process, but I am present in the pages. How lonely it must feel when you never get to see yourself? Why can’t I ever find a girl who struggles with debilitating anxiety and panic attacks when she enters a room? Why can’t I find a book about someone who has been physically injured and doesn’t know if they will ever feel normal again? Why can’t I find a representation of my less common traits? It isn’t fair to us as writers or readers when we don’t get to fitness the full picture of the world we inhabit.

When you don’t see yourself in the pages of a story you can’t help but wonder why. What is wrong with you that made your traits undesirable to a writer? What flaws do you possess that make you less important than the people who get to see themselves. I struggled with anxiety and depression- these aren’t struggles that the heroines in my stories face. The absence of them adds to the sense that there is something wrong, something ‘other’ about me. When we continually write about single characters, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We represent so much more than one story.

Now, the contributing factors to this issue are complex and interconnected. Perhaps it is the fact that there is not enough ‘minority’ representation in the literary world (though I see issues with this mindset). Perhaps it is the makeup of the publishing industry itself choosing books that look like them. After all, studies have been done in this area too.

Credit: blog.leeandlow.com

And then we come to the issue of recognition in terms of prizes and awards given within the industry itself, as well as time and money spent on advertising the books that we create. Large literary awards lean heavily towards male authors and male characters. When you review the gender-split of winners for the major literary prizes over the past 50 years, you will see that female representation makes up only about 10-35% of the winners in each contest group. In fact, the ‘most equal’ award presented was the Man Booker Prize, which sat at 35% representation of female winners, the Pulitzer cane in a close second with 34%.

This correlation is also present in the gender of the characters written about in the winning books. In the instances where women do win, they are usually writing from a male perspective. When looking at the Man Booker Prize (our most ‘equal’) you will see that out of the past 15 years, 80% of the winning books were about male characters, 13% were about women, and the remainder was split with two main characters of opposite genders. If you review the results from the Pulitzer, out of the last 15 years, not a single book written by a woman about a woman made the list. Not one.

It appears that the issues regarding representation go much deeper than simply reflecting on what people are writing about; the publishing and publicizing industries still hold a lot of biases that we see in our culture on a daily basis. These don’t disappear overnight. And while self-publishing can help with the availability of more diverse books in the market, it is difficult when your readers cannot easily access or find your special work. The problem needs to be solved from the ground up; more readers demanding representation and more writers willing it provide it, in spite of the challenges that may be faced during the publishing process.

We are writers. It is our responsibility to tell the stories that the world needs to hear. We’ve always told stories, we’ve always had the ability to bring people together or tear them apart. There is great power with this concept, with this ability, with this passion. We must be self-critical and aware of our place and our role.

Representation matters. It mattered when Wonder Woman, Black Panther, Shuri, and Daredevil showed the disproportionately represented that they could be heroes. It mattered. It mattered to me when I saw a woman who looked like me play a role that traditionally went to men. It mattered to my friends when they saw someone who looked or thought or acted like they did in a role that was usually meant for someone very different. Representation matters. It always has, it always will. And as writers, we are in the perfect position to bring these stories to life, to inspire the love and passion that burns in the hearts of those who see our creations within themselves.

New Year, New Promise, and Welcome Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a Writer, I’m a Runner (and how they are the same damn thing)

I am not a natural runner, never have been, never will be. This is a fact that used to make me rage internally. I wanted to be that girl; there's a version of myself that I envision in some alternate reality in a galaxy far, far away. She's fit, lean, and ready to jog a marathon on a whim with a smile on her face and a light glistening of sweat that makes her look slightly magical as opposed to gross and smelly. The reality is far less appealing. I huff, I puff, I scrunch my brows into pained concentration. My hair jettisons out into a frizzy halo and the color of my face could rival the ripest tomato. I don't have any real form to speak of and could probably be confused with Phoebe from Friends as she's rushing to Central Perk. I am not a pretty runner. I don't say that to be modest or cheeky, it's true. When I was younger I even stopped for a while after being made fun of for it- my brittle self-esteem at that awkward age could not quite take it, so I avoided partaking in the activity for years- at least not when other people might see me.

phoebe-running-style-o

And so everyone who knew me was quite shocked when I agreed to take part in a multi-day, two-hundred (ish) mile relay race. I was dreading it, if I'm being honest, but I had a team of eleven other people who were depending on me- peer pressure can be a truly motivating force.

A few things happened that I never expected while I was out there on those roads, pushing through mental roadblocks and physical limitations, taking a pounding from the relentless sun and basking in the beauty of a star filled sky. I fell in love with this difficult challenge that forced me to find a sense of grit we lose in this world of modern convenience.

I didn't think I could do it- I went into the challenge simply hoping to survive long enough to cross that finish line. But there's something refreshingly human in the desire to prove yourself wrong; when you dig deep and find that resilient spirit you tucked away so many years ago. There's something empowering when you stand there staring at your own expectations of what you are capable of, holding your weaknesses in your hands and smashing them to the ground with a war cry of your own invention. There is something invigorating when you find a shard of strength you didn't know you had embedded deep your soul; that moment when you realize you actually did the one thing you always thought would be impossible. You become a fighter, you become more than you were yesterday.

There is something that we always seem to forget about grit and strength; contrary to what Instagram would have us believe- it is not always pretty, it does not always look empowering, and things do not suddenly become easy simply because you have changed your frame of mind. You don't suddenly morph into Mulan and start kicking ass without an ounce of trouble. I did more than I thought possible- but I still looked like a burnt puffer fish running down those roads. I was still in pain, my muscles screamed, my lungs went into panic mode. I still had to fight for ever inch of ground I gained, and I had to keep up a constant dialog with my own brain to convince it that my body could keep pushing. Success does not come easily, it does not always look like those inspirational pictures with the cliche captions on Pinterest. Life is messy, it is hard, and you will have to fight for all of it.

When you are out there pounding the pavement with no other distractions to steal your precious attention; your mind starts to wander into places you don't often visit. You find yourself searching for inspiration, for a reason to keep on moving forward. As I was out there on the road I thought a lot about life and what I wanted from it (apart from surviving to the finish). I thought about this past year and all of the steps that I have and have not taken towards my dreams. I thought about school, about work, about my writing. And I realized how similar my running and my writing actually were; it made each step a tiny bit easier when I realized that I already knew how to do this. I find my grit when I'm writing, I push myself, I battle with my inner critic who wants me to quit- I silence that voice. I knew how to run because I knew how to write. Knowing the patterns of the struggle reminded me that I know how to overcome them.

They say that running just entails putting one foot in front of the other, and writing is merely stringing words in a row. And yet to those who love them, they are so much more than that. These two completely different hobbies require the same frame of mind. You have to want it, you have to push, you have to fight for every advantage. And the enemy you are going up against isn't some scary monster- all too often it is that little voice in your own head saying 'you can't do this, you aren't good enough, why bother? Just stop.' You have to fight that voice with everything inside of you even when you don't believe your own inspiring words, even when you start to fall for those lies that little voice tells.

I'm a master of excuses. I can come up with ten thousand three hundred and thirty two reasons not to do something- each one more creative than the last. I do this on days I should be writing, and I especially do this on days when I'm supposed to hit that pavement. And yet with both the real struggle is simply beginning. Once you start- the world is fine, and you might as well keep on going. You have to fight the urge to be comfortable, you have to be willing to push yourself when you don't want to. You have to want it more than you want the bubble you hide in.

You have to be willing to put in the work if you want it to look effortless. I wrote a lot of horrible pieces when I started- and sometimes I still do (a lot of times). I had to keep practicing, putting words to paper as a foundation. I knew that I could sculpt it later, but I needed something tangible to work with. I had to start if I wanted to get better. It's easy to read a book and say 'I will never be that good, I am not that talented.' It's easy to forget that you are witnessing merely the tip of the ice burg that author has carved. There were months of awful work behind that. There were first drafts that were painful and difficult. There was editing and redrafting and polishing- all to create this little collection of pages that look so effortlessly beautiful.

Running is no different; it does not come easy to most people. When you see them on the road cruising along like they're floating on air- that's because they worked for it. You didn't see all of those months when they were gasping for air and pushing to reach the next telephone pole. You didn't see the struggle, you are witnessing the outcome of their hard work. They had days where the road kicked their ass, they had a time when the idea of running an entire mile without stopping seemed impossible. They had weeks where they didn't feel like they were improving at all. They would push just a little bit farther every day. They had to fight to make it look so easy, and truthfully, inside they are probably still waging that war as you watch them. These big rewards were not meant to be easy, these dreams are not ones you will accomplish unless you truly and deeply want it.

You will have to work hard, even when every piece of you is resisting. Writing when the muse is with you; that is the most beautiful time for any author- when the words flow freely like a raging river and the characters transform into living being right before your eyes. Writing is easy when the stars align just for you. But the truth is, this won't happen often. Most of your time will be spent pushing through the mental roadblock, and that fickle little muse will be off indulging some other wayward fancy. You will have to carry the story on your own. You will have to find something inside of you that pushes you forward, something that will keep you sitting there stringing one word behind another. Out on that road you will find the same thing. There is a period where the steps are easy and the pace is fast; you could go in for miles- so it seems. You feel great and your mind is keenly in tune with your body. Perhaps you have someone near you to keep you motivated; I do my best running at the beginning of a race when you are surrounded in a pack of likeminded individuals embarking on the same adventure- I beat personal records right in that sweet spot. But it doesn't always feel like that. In fact, a lot running (for me) consists of an inner dialog that I cannot turn off. It's my voice yelling to reach that next marker, to push it just a little bit farther. Most of it- for me- is hard work. A lot of really hard work.

When I did that relay- about eighty percent of the time I was not pleased with being there. It hurt- my muscles ached, there was a stitch in my side that would not go away, the sun left me parched, my face was so red police officers were actually concerned for my safety, and I was breathing like an elephant in need of an inhaler. It was not glamorous, it was not this magical moment that the fitness vloggers out there would lead you to believe. Pixie dust might sprinkle itself on them when they hit the road with their running shoes on, but not this Princess. But I was still out there. I was still fighting for every step, every inch, every mile with every fiber of my body. I didn't quit. Just like I don't quite writing when it's hard and the muse is gone.

The thing that I love about these two very different adventures; they both make me feel alive. They both push me to do things I would never typically attempt. They force me to see things from new eyes and to turn that gaze back on myself, to see me for who I truly am when my shell had been broken open and I am just a girl losing her way through life.

I am a writer; I spend my time telling stories, weaving together inspiring tales of flawed people. But this time- just this once- I got to be the character in my own story. I got to be the one to push myself, believing I was crazy the entire time. I got to have an adventure. I ate at a place called Bob's Burgers (if you've seen the animated show, then this might make you smile- they were delicious and the waitress was amazing). I also got locked in the restaurant after closing on accident. I stood in the Puget Sound as freezing cold water lapped at my knees watching the sunset with five amazing people. I walked to the dock in the middle of the night and sat on the stairs that lead to nowhere, drinking in the sights of the lights glinting from the opposite shore. I danced in a phone booth wearing a sloth costume. I ran to the Canadian border and set foot in another country (albeit fleetingly). I slept on the floor of a high school with a few hundred strangers. I crossed Deception Pass at two in the morning (albeit in a van- running it was not my challenge to face this year). I listened to my shoes hit the pavement as I ran through fields in the middle of night with nothing but my thoughts to keep my company. I found peace in a crazy world during one of the most exciting challenges I've been privy to in a long time. I cheered for strangers and had those who've never met me shout out words of encouragement (and the cowbells, oh how could I forget the cowbells). I crossed that finish line. And when I was done I stood on the back of the ferry and watched the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen- I immersed myself in it so much that I didn't even stop to get a picture (sorry friends, but I suspect it's something that just wouldn't have come out quite the same when you weren't in person). I celebrated with wine from a can, like a classy lady.

I fell in love with something that scared me. Just like with my writing, I was reminded how important real adventures are in this short time we have on earth. I was forced to truly look into myself and ask if I was the person I wanted to be- and how could I reach out to that girl? My stories taught me how to be inspired and brave; but it took a real adventure to show me what I was capable of. These two things are not so different. When used together, they can help one another thrive. My stories helped my running, and my running is helping me live more stories. I have more grit than I realized. I am stronger than I thought. Writing an adventure can be a beautiful thing, but do not forget to live them as well.

It’s about the hurt, not the happy (why the journey matters)

We all have an image inside of us, a shiny self portrait of who we want to be and how we want to live. We use it to motivate us, and occasionally to shame us into activity. It is human nature to always strive for something bigger and better. We stare at the next ridge, pointing at it and proclaiming "there- that plateau right there is where I will put my roots. That is where I want to be." And when we reach it, we realize that instead of a beautiful view of everything we have overcome- we are staring at yet another mountain with another ridge that we desperately wish to climb to. We forget what's important along the way; it's like hiking through the woods with your head down- sure, you'll see the waterfall or the grand view at the end- but what did you miss on the trail up?

We all know the usual life questions, and I suspect we all have similar answers. We all strive for happiness, for success, for health, for fulfillment. We all have these end goals in mind. And yet we forget that the end is only an infinitesimal fraction of that journey. It is the steps and the struggles along the way that will define us, not the final reward.

To see things clearly sometimes you have to flip them on their head. Instead of staring at the shiny picture of the end goal with all of its glory and proclaiming 'I want that,' stop to look at the road that will lead you to the outcome. Stare long and hard at the daily grind, the drudgery, the pain- is that what you truly want? Every dream has a price, and we all have a limited amount of currency to spend in this world; are you willing to endure? Can you find joy on the difficult road ahead? If you can stare into the face of those struggles and still nod your head in agreement and say 'yes please,' then perhaps you have found your calling, my friend.

In our modern world we glorify everything; we put these goals up on pedestals and forget all of the hard work that goes into it. You see the girl with the high paying job as she struts around in her high heels- and you want that, you want to own that persona with every fiber of your being. And yet you didn't see her working until she fell asleep at her computer, going to the bathroom to cry after having to play tough love with an employee, feeling like a failure in other aspects of her life so that she could nurture this dream. You didn't see the sacrifice, the daily fight, the doubt, the frustration; you just saw the shiny picture at the end.

The journey is what will make you, not the destination- success is just a side effect of sweat and perseverance. It is a convergence of good luck and hard work. These things do not always come naturally; there are struggles that will leave you gasping and unsure. It's easy to want the medal at the end of the race- you can see yourself sprinting across the finish line and raising your arms in victory- but can you also picture the 4am runs before work, the blisters on the back of your heels, pushing your body until your lungs feel like they want to explode, putting one foot in front of the other when your brain is screaming at you to stop. Can you accept the daily reality of going out there and putting shoes to pavement in the scorching heat of the day and the drowning rain, foregoing that last happy hour because your long run is in the morning. If you can see that image and you still want it- all of it; then you have found your path.

It's up to you to decide what pain you are willing to endure. If you want to be a writer, then you have to be willing to sit down and work on a scene that isn't inspiring you while all of your friends are out doing something fun. You have to accept rejection letter after rejection letter, wear them like badges of honor. You have to be willing to do what it takes. You have to stare down at the hours of your day and be willing to throw every spare second at the dream in your head. The work will tear you down; it will make you feel weak before it helps guide you to your strength. Every step will be a struggle, every inch will be fought for with blood, sweat and tears.

So what you must ask yourself is this: is the pain worth it? Ignore that shiny picture at the end of the road- would you follow this path even without that beacon glowing down from its lofty perch? How much are you willing to endure? Because at the end of the day, it isn't accomplishing the final goal that will make you happy- it will be looking back at every hard fought step which brought you there.

I just finished my very first relay race. I have a medal sitting on my desk waiting for its place on my wall. When I look at it, the first thing that comes to my mind is not that moment I crossed the finish line. It isn't the second I got that reward put on neck. I see the first steps, the first sprint. I see the horrible sunburn I got because I was so nervous I forgot to put sunscreen on before my first leg. I feel the jitters as I waited for my turn. I see my team nodding off in the back of the van mid-conversation as we waited for our runners because there is just no time to sleep. I remember being on the verge of defeat wondering whether I could actually push myself enough to make it to that finish line. I remember the tears- some for frustration, others from excitement. I remember my lungs burning, my muscles aching, my throat parched- and turning up the volume on my music instead of stopping. I remember freezing at the exchange point, waking up in the hallway of a high school with a few hundred strangers. I remember running through the middle of the night and staring up at the stars. I remember the internal battle I waged when my brain told my body that I couldn't do it- and my spirit picked up the fight to push harder. I remember the struggle that gives my little medal meaning. It wasn't the destination that mattered in the end- it was how I got there. It's just like with my writing; my success will not be measured by a book deal- it's in every night I put pen to paper, every time I power up my laptop when I would much rather be watching Game of Thrones.

The success is such an infinitesimal fraction of the event; you must choose what you want based off of the journey, not the destination. The truth is that when all is said and done- you don't know if you'll make it to that finish line. You don't know if you will ever be the shiny perfect person in the picture you have in your head. So at the very least, pick a road you can enjoy being on. I may never be a published author, it's very possible my name will not be remembered with the greats. But at the end of the day it won't matter. Because I love every moment of what I'm doing. I love the daily grind, I would do it no matter what the outcome was. I would write even if I was the only one to ever read those words. That is my path; that is the pain I adore, that is the frustration I am will to endure. That's what it's all about- do what you love, don't suffer for a means to an end. Because if you hate every minute of it- even if you succeed, it will be tainted and bitter. The journey is what matters, not the destination.