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On desk diaries and To Do lists. 

I love To Do lists, and I’ve kept a desk diary since I was eight years old. I think it’s one of the more compulsive sides of my INTJ nature, but it also serves the very practical purpose of helping me accomplish my goals. It just makes me want to do more. 

Gym? Check. Laundry? Check. Book query? Check. Blog? Working on it. 

I’ve had too many things on my list lately, which initially made me very frustrated. I like the satisfaction of closing out a week or even month with an entire list completed. But life has had other ideas, the result of which has been a large and ongoing list of longer-ranging goals.

After several weeks of frankly being entirely ticked off, it occurred to me that these longer items were the result of two primary things: A full life and bigger dreams.

I have a good career that keeps me busy. I have words in my heart that constantly need put on paper. I have a gym to go to, a venture that is giving me immense satisfaction, a full travel schedule, beautiful fur babies, family to see, and dreams to soak in, soak up, and realize.

So, while I still love my desk diary, it’s no longer my leader, but rather a complement to my life. A friend who reminds me that even though life isn’t always what I think it should be or easy or even fun, it is so very worth it.
NaBloWriMo Day 2? … Check. (Kidding! Sort of.)

NaBloWriMo

“I closed my eyes and just let go.”

It’s one of my favorite lines in my novel, Sixteen Days. A simple statement that reflected emotional nudity. A complex decision that reflected an inability to ever go back. 

As we enter this NaBloWriMo season, my goal is to share tips of this trade, secrets and tricks to improving your writing, as well as explore my own journey as an editor and author.

Care to join? Close your eyes and just let go.

An exercise in passion.

I am tired of thinking about you. Feeling about you. Of waking up in a cold sweat, broken because the dream wasn’t true. Broken because it all comes crashing back to me — the way you broke my heart and stole so many pieces of me.

Everyone says time is the great healer, but it is also the great reminder. This is the day we did this. This is the day we did that. The fucking calendar won’t let me escape you even when my mind begs.

I accept the mistake. I accept it repeatedly. I accept it and blame myself and tell myself I should have been better. And then I am angry, because your behavior has made me spiral into phases of self-loathing.

Who do you think you are? Who the fuck do you think you are?

The High.

It’s the hustle and bustle at the departures drop off point.

The moment I show my passport.

It’s the never-ending queue, the overpriced shops, and uncomfortable seat I curl into whilst waiting at the gate.

It’s handing my ticket to the check-in agent, the breeze I feel as I make my way down the long corridor, the sardine seating, and the click of the belt across my lap.

It is the high of travel I can never. get. enough. of.

I want my feet to wander across new and old ground, my eyes to marvel at a thousand cityscapes, and my heart to quicken — and stop — at a million rich sunsets.

My home is everywhere and nowhere at all.

I wander, I look, I live, I learn.

I travel for the moments, the memories, the high.

 

Live like a local.

I’ve been in England for a little more than two months now, and whenever the “why are you here?” question inevitably pops up, it’s also tied in with this qualifying-statement-meets-question-that-we-hope-is-not-true: “I don’t mean to be rude; it’s just that — don’t less than something like half of Americans even have a passport?”

Cringe.

It’s mostly asked with complete innocence. A few people have even defended Americans: “But America is so huge that you can travel your own states and have covered as much ground as Europe.” Others are noticeably disappointed, suggesting that many Americans live in an imperialistic bubble, because they’ve never ventured out of their safe zone.

When you’re in the U.S., there’s a false sense of security. Millions would like to think it’s the safest, cleanest, freest, bestest, most awesomest place ever. To challenge that is entirely un-American. That’s why this clip resonated so intensely with people around the world. Internationally, there were cheers because someone — even if it was on a TV show — finally validated that there are multiple amazing, safe, clean, freedom-filled places to live on this planet. Americans with a more expansive worldview appreciated that. Those who are decidedly less so, pretty passionately did not.

I love America. I love that country roads still have pick-ups and that we all patriotically sing the Star Spangled Banner whenever the familiar tune is heard. I love that we fervently support the causes we believe in, that gas station nachos are still a thing, and I really love that the entire autumn season is a celebration of comforting nostalgia: fall trees, cool breezes, pumpkin spice everything, baked apple pies, knitted sweaters, corn mazes and hayrides, time with family and the introduction of cheesy holiday-themed Hallmark movies that just make you feel good.

What I’m less fond of is the fear that is etched into us from the time we are born. The fear that tells us we are the only good place, the only safe place, the single best place. I guess I want to have my Red, White, and Blue slice of cake and eat it, too. I want to sing about how great and awesome we are, but I also want to feel the awesome robustness of many places around the world. I don’t want to live with the belief that the American Way is the Only Way.

So I suppose it is fitting that my latest life lesson came in the form of a haircut, the second time a haircut has taught me something this year.

I’ve been eyeing my roots for the last week. They’ve looked horrendous. I tried a box dye in desperation, which wound up giving me passable chocolate roots that blended into my dyed black hair. My cut had grown out almost three inches in two months. It was time. It was just time.

I knew the day would come, but it’d been a little fear in the back of my mind. Will they understand what I want? Will they do a nice job? Will I look stupid? It doesn’t matter how many times you travel — comfortable or not, there is a sense of foreignness, a realization of cultural nuances that are — and should be — there.

The thing is, you can tailor those nuances to be a benefit or a detriment. You can embrace them, have fun with them and go with the flow or you can be fearful and resistant. I had to be brave and choose the former.

So, appointment made, I went into the small, local salon with slight trepidation and confirmed my arrival at the front counter. I was led to my seat. I was asked what I wanted. I was welcomed. I became an active participant in the conversation. I laughed, I asked questions, answered questions, and made a friend. By the end of it all, I’d enjoyed a nearly two hour salon experience alongside lovely British ladies, our heads all wrapped up in caps like the 1950’s while we relaxed and chattered and did nothing of particular importance.

It was a human interaction and one that left me humbled. Not only do I now have an adorable black bob, but I have also conquered a social fear and can’t wait to go again.

If there’s one, single lesson I hope I can convey through my blog and Instagram, it’s that people are people, and the more you see of the world, the more you realize there is beautiful diversity but also a strong, common thread of humanity that unites us all.

Downtime.

Life has been quiet lately. I seem to vary between work-walk-sleep. I feel a little bad that I haven’t devoted this month to tons of travel, but I’ve frankly needed the downtime, and considering what September will entail, I’m sure I’ll look back and be glad I spent my days walking the ways of a Mancunian.

I’m learning that not everything in life has the movie credits ending. You know — the awesome conclusion, fireworks, and complete closure. There’s not always a pretty little bow to seal things up. This is a hard lesson for my brain to learn. It wants the crumbs swept up or it goes into shock — rage, deny; deny, rage.

So I’ve used August as a time for reflection. I feel like Thoreau, observing the changing of the leaves from my humble tree-lined view. As if you could kill time without injuring eternity. I really need to get a tattoo for that. I guess the truth is I’m slowly emerging from my cocoon, realizing that humans carry scars long after the wounds are healed. And it’s true: a scar can last a lifetime. There’s plenty of religious rhetoric about that, but I’ve found it’s far easier to quote something than to actually understand the depth of a person’s plight and realize what they are like, what they have struggled with, and — why, perhaps — their pain cannot be sealed up as nicely as an outsider opinion would like it to be.

Funny enough, I think I’m becoming the person I always wanted to be. More thoughtful, more reflective, and yes, a little more jaded.

It’s a quiet, chilly night, and I’m thinking of things that no longer exist. I’m reflective and full of memories, embracing a handful of emotions society wants us to think should only be discussed in hushed whispers. I’m sad, and I am allowed to be.

“It’s okay to be sad sometimes.”

Truer words have never been spoken.

 

 

 

His name was Yoda.

It was the spring of 2004 and, in what seems like a lifetime ago, I was a teen newlywed setting up my first home — a humble one bedroom in a sleepy city along the Columbia River. My then-step-sister’s cat, Grace, had two kittens but rejected one shortly after birth. As a result, Dory became a satisfyingly obese fathead, while her little brother starved. His eyes were wide and round, his ears slightly too large and pointy.

We named him Yoda.

When it became clear it was a failure-to-thrive situation, I took him from my parents’ house and down to my grandmother, the beautiful, beloved Cat Lady who knew how to save any life no matter how destitute or fragile. Grandma was my hero.

She fed him goat’s milk and nursed him until he was the wild, bouncing flame point Siamese he was born to be. It was then my grandpa, the burly man of steel, fell in love. Grandpa was a hard man. Tough and gritty, he’d never understood Gram’s penchant for cats and merely managed to tolerate her decades of cat ownership and neighborhood reputation for taking in any and all strays.

But with Yoda, he transformed.

Each time we went down to visit my grandparents and check in on little Yoda, Grandpa boasted of the kitten’s adventures. He laughed, telling stories about Yoda using a towel on the arm of the couch as his personal swing and motioned his arms all over the room, animatedly describing Yoda’s antics — hanging from curtains, bolting around the house, climbing onto Grandpa, and sleeping with him. Grandpa was smitten. I was delighted.

Even so, they already had a house of cats,  so once Gram had sufficiently brought the little guy back to health, I took him home as my own, though I still brought him over for Grandpa visits, which made them both very happy.

Yoda was beautiful and intelligent,  but he was a tortured animal. I have always believed his mother’s abandonment hit him hard, and he struggled to connect to humans because of it. Though I tried — so hard — I was never able to replicate the relationship he had with my grandfather, which only served as salt in the wound when Grandpa passed away two-and-a-half years later. Yoda never connected to a human the same way again.

That is … until he met Erin.

When business growth merited a move to the east coast, I realized Yoda was going to struggle to thrive again. I was exchanging my house for a condo, and he would no longer be able to roam the yard, roll in the grass, and be left to his own devices, which he had come to value to an extreme in the wake of Grandpa’s passing. I fretted, realizing he was going to be upset at having to share a small condo with my other cat and dog. I debated, not sure how I was going to make his life on the east coast a happy one.

Then my sister texted me.

“Erin is moving to Texas for grad school, and she wants an adult cat to keep her company. One that is independent and okay when she’s gone, but also a good companion. I thought of Yoda.”

It was an answer to a prayer I’m not quite sure I’d even yet uttered.

I thought about Erin — sweet, smart, capable Erin. Introverted but solid. That same sort of personality young Yoda had loved in my grandfather all those years ago: a person who could patiently love him while he did his thing.

Within a week, it was settled, and I prepared to give my Yoda up for adoption in the midst of listing my home and prepping for a 3,000 mile cross-country move.

The night before she picked him up, I spent nearly three hours with my boy. We curled up on the couch, and I brushed his long, white coat while telling him how much I loved him. I thought about my life and asked myself if I was selfish for giving him to Erin. I cried. I cried a lot.

But even as she lovingly secured him into her small SUV and drove away with him the next day, I knew I’d made the right decision. I thought of Grandpa, I thought of Yoda, I thought of Erin, and I let my boy go.

For the next five years, I watched Yoda transform. Thanks to social media, I was able to keep up with Yoda’s new life via Erin’s Facebook page and watched in wonder as my once-antisocial cat found a love he had not felt since Grandpa died. He sat with her while she knitted. He played with her. He responded to her. He loved her — I saw it in his eyes. And with every photo I looked at, I knew I’d made the right decision. For the first time in many years, Yoda had a person again. The right person. The person he’d needed all along, the one to love him the exact way he needed to be loved.

When I woke up this morning and found out that Yoda died, my heart was broken. Yoda was the first “baby” I had when I became an adult. He was such a weak little kitten that I always felt fiercely protective of him. He was an important connection to my grandpa, which only made my tether to the wide-eyed cat that much stronger. But while my grandfather was Yoda’s first love and I was his first mother, it was Erin who was his last love and meant-to-be mother.

Erin, thank you for loving our boy. Thank you for being his mom. Thank you for being his person. Yoda, baby, I love you. I hope you’re with Grandpa, swinging from the highest curtains and stealing all of the ponytail holders, my sweet baby.

On conversion.

While having dinner with friends a couple of weeks ago, they asked me if I considered myself religious. I thought about it for a moment and said, “well, I am a Christian, so I suppose in some ways I am religious.” 

The conversation drifted into talk about a recent study, which found that over half of Britons say they are non-religious. Though this is significantly lower than the U.S., our Christian numbers are slipping every year. 

Why is that? Why are these once Christian nations now living in post-Christian society?

A lot of it has to do with approach. 

“Religious Christianity” is a parasite ripping its way through good intentions, the Joel Osteens of this world (note the previous link was taken from a conservative-leaning website) promising people they will be “blessed” if they contribute to his lavish lifestyle, while the likes of Joyce Meyers persist in hatefully yelling at you to have joy. Right. 

And here’s the thing: those of us who dare speak out against the so-called prosperity gospel, the TBN televangelists of this world, are suddenly not “Christian enough” for the Cool Kids Religious Club.

The wailing and flailing and associating politics with religion to the point that you’re unwelcome certainly doesn’t make me very interested in stepping foot in a church — and I was practically born on the front pew.

Where does that leave the rest of the world?

Less than motivated. 

While walking through Manchester on Saturday, the soothing sounds of prayers and light music wafted through an area with a large amount of foot traffic. As I came closer to the origination of the sound, I saw it was an Islamic outreach. Two large tables were full of varying types of informational books, and the people in charge were standing some distance away, enabling people to freely wander up, observe, and learn at their own pace. I was surprised by how calm it felt and suddenly understood why this is a religion increasing in number. These lay people made it feel approachable.

Because irony is a thing, I continued meandering down the walkway and into a large square in downtown Manchester. As I made my way along, I started to hear someone yelling — was there a fight? An accident? 

And then…”oh no,” I thought. Dread crept upon me like vines tightly encasing an old brick building.

There he was in all his glory. 

A red-faced, loud mouth with a crackling mic, yelling at people, “know the one, true living God! You are not from chimpanzees. Evolution is not real!”

His small set up included a handcrafted wooden cross, a t-shirt on a mannequin (not sure if they were for sale or what)…and that’s it. A man and his soapbox. 

People were snickering in clusters from a safe distance away, giggling at the “crazy guy” talking about Jesus. 

It’s symptomatic of the larger issue with Christianity: the right-fighters. Notice he didn’t speak about the love of Christ or how He died on a cross. He didn’t even mention the concept of sin and how there is forgiveness. He pushed a political and scientific agenda and attempted to angrily convince passersby that this behavior somehow, some way, meant his religion was superior.

Tell me — if you were among the 53% of non-religious UK residents, which religious approach would have interested you the most? Or at least not closed the door to the positives of said religion? 

Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners at the Hands of an Angry God” is one of America’s most important and fascinating religious texts. And while I believe in Jesus and the tenets of Christianity — though I stumble, God knows — Edwards died in 1758, and the world is now a very different place.

Maybe it’s time that approach died, too. Maybe it’s time the religious right stepped off their self-righteous pedestal and learned to study the Bible without their Evangelical politics. Maybe it’s time to give people a safe space to feel welcome and explore instead of yelling religious dogma in the streets. 

 

 

(image credit: Pixabay)

I took a mental health day.

My personality has a penchant for overworking. It’s easy for me to get absorbed in strategy and doing “my best” to the point of forgetting my humanity. Last week, I hit my wall. Hard.

When Monday morning rolled around, I already had a headache — and it wasn’t getting better. I kept telling myself, “you love your job. Your employer is fantastic. You’re so lucky you get to travel while you work. Stop being ungrateful.” Despite that all being true, it didn’t make my headache go away.

I woke up with  a headache on Tuesday. I woke up with a headache on Wednesday. I woke up with a headache on Thursday and realized I was in Migraine Land. This wasn’t about needing more sleep. This was about needing more rest. Outside of federal holiday/floater days, I hadn’t taken any actual time off since last November.

Yeah, that’s not good. But I’m not alone.

The U.S. is notoriously terrible when it comes to paid time off. While the rest of the developed world lives with the expectation of down time, holidays, and recuperation, many Americans have a sense of guilt when it comes to unplugging. Add to that our lack of mandatory time off, and it’s easy to see why: even if our employers are entirely okay with it, our lack of a federal precedent has created a culture where rejuvenation as an expectation in our lives simply does not exist.

It was really difficult for me to take that day off. I felt like I needed to be vomiting in an ambulance en route to the ER to have a “sick day.” I pondered whether I needed to suffer. Should I just put in for a day off two weeks down the road and use up one of my precious few vacation days? (Side note: my employer has a solid vacation and sick policy by American standards; I’m fortunate.) I contemplated it. But with every hour that passed, I felt my mental state degrading more. I was losing focus, losing patience, losing peace. I was losing, period.

I finally caved and wrote my boss, and in an hour’s time I’d set up my fill ins and was winding down for the day.

I can’t even explain the immense relief I felt. Three days. I had three full days ahead of me to focus on mental and physical well-being.

By Friday evening, I found myself in the nearby city of Chester at a beautiful and historic hotel where the room was themed in honor of this guy. I thought about getting ahead on a handful of work projects. I pondered working on the final line edits for my upcoming novel, Sixteen Days. But I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t do much of anything that day. I took a long, hot bath. I watched TV. I ate hot food. I laid in bed and actually enjoyed just relaxing there, feeling the crisp, cotton sheets and fat, fluffy pillows envelope my body in a beautiful state of relaxation.

I healed.

When I woke up on Saturday, I was ready for miles (over eight!) of walking around Chester. And today? More walking, a cappuccino, a stroll through a cemetery (I really fancy them…), and a little too much time on social media.

I still need to take a real vacation, and I have some plans formulating for September. But this three day stint was a start. My headache is  gone, my mind is clear, and I know I’ll get into my work tomorrow and be a better employee. I don’t think the self-imposed guilt I feel at taking time off has fully disappeared yet, but this weekend I learned it’s important to take care of me, too.

So, c’mon, Monday. I’m ready for you.

 

Jelly shoes.

It was the summer of ’97, and jelly shoes were all the rage. I met up with two of my best friends, and we ventured over to the middle school to pick up our schedules and see what teachers we’d been assigned to, crossing fingers that we’d share a class period or two.

I remember my outfit like I just wore it yesterday (let’s thank God I did not). The palest of pale lime green shorts, a horizontal striped shirt with pink, orange, green and white in similarly soft hues, and jelly shoes. Same style — one orange, one green.

Yes, I wore two different colored shoes around. I was a weird kid, okay? I’m a weird adult, too. It’s cool.

I was so proud of that outfit. I felt like the most creative kid on the block. I was daring, I was unique, I was me.  I was Jelly Shoes Girl.

Then two girls on the sidewalk across the street saw me walking home and started pointing and making fun of me.

“Haha, are you wearing two different-colored shoes,” one girl belted out.

“Oh my God, she’s totally wearing two different shoes!” Her friend pointed at my feet, and they both bent over in an exaggerated laughter.

They continued to taunt me while I walked on the opposite side of the road, telling me how “stupid” I looked and that I should “go home and figure out how to dress.”

Eleven years old. The prime age for bullying and its nasty side effects. I thought about my shoes, asking myself if I’d made the right decision.

“Well, you could always just go back to wearing the same color,” I thought, pondering whether my outfit would somehow be more acceptable if I were to succumb to peer pressure.

“But I like my shoes!” I interrupted my own thoughts with exasperation. And with that, I rounded the corner and walked on home.

I continued to wear my mismatched jelly shoes until autumn arrived, and they were traded in for penny loafers, because I didn’t want to match all the kids wearing Doc Martens. This theme of doing my own, weird thing continued into high school with a terrible auburn-colored perm, the 80+ bracelets I wore on my wrists — all at once — during college, the lip color that was too dark and too glossy in my 20’s, and on into my 30’s, which seems to be a mixture of DC chic and Daria rolled into one odd ball. Oddball. See what I did there?

So, you know, embrace your weird. Carve out who you want to be and chase it with vigor, even if it hurts. You’re your greatest masterpiece and the thing you spend the most time with. Rock those jelly shoes.

 

(Top Photo: Younger sister on left; me on right wearing ankle boots with yellow ribbed socks…’cause, you know, Jelly Shoes Girl. Oddball.)