Create Fearlessly

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Today I was flipping through this Moleskine reporter’s notebook I frequently use to jot down random ideas and I found a quote I had taken the time to not only write down, but to note the author, book, and page number. I suppose I thought I may need to use the snippet eventually.

“So, this above all: Find your own voice.” Christopher Hitchens in Mortality, page 50.

I have this idea for a story that may not be as completely original as I think it is, but I have certainly never read it, and I want to. Unfortunately, I have realized my idea might be becoming a bit of a Sci-Fi adventure and I know very little about the genre.

Are there still truly original ideas, or is everything simply either satire or pastiche? Yep. I learned a new word, AND I took notes on three of the possible meanings. I also read a couple of things discussing the concept. 

I don’t want to write some silly little story. I did that in college and my instructor gave me a C- on one of my favorite stories from my adolescence. He said it was trite and I should work harder to write something more significant.

What if trite is all I can manage? How can writing bring me so much joy and leave me terrified all at the same time? It seems genuinely and dramatically unfair. Now I want you to imagine me running into my bedroom and dramatically flinging myself on the bed facedown and sobbing until someone notices my need for more attention and comes to console me as I protest the injustice of my personal insecurities. 

I have been mulling over this idea for about 15 months or so. While I was working on a different idea I finally thought of a possible way to solve the problem I was having with how to introduce a certain situation in the story. Which was a bummer, because it was the thing making the whole story possible. 

I think I have finally figured out why “Only the good die young” and how to explain fate and the secret of life. Turns out, it’s not just a good cup of coffee. Despite my inability to believe in the popular religious explanations of our creation and our death, I may have found a way to explain the purpose of it all.

I feel like I have been searching for an explanation for my entire life and when I was unable to find an existing one I decided to come up with my own. I don’t imagine it is much different from Joseph Smith and his golden tablets. Oh! Except I invented mine. There was no revelation or scripture delivered to me. Phew. That would have been awkward. 

So, in light of the absence of divine intervention, I am going to try to tell the story in my voice. The way I write and think. I am going to tell the story I have been working on all this time.

Worst case scenario?

Someone will call it trite instead of funny, clever, or original.

Best case scenario? I write my story and I am proud of it. That rarely happens.

Wish me luck! No. Wish me courage.

I just need to Create Fearlessly.

Lovely Bridges

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I land in Baltimore and head to pick up my rental car. I am on a highway headed towards a huge bridge spanning an impossibly large body of water. 

I hate bridges. I probably hate bridges more than any other person on the planet. 

As I approach through the toll booth I find myself wondering if this is the only path to my destination. The concrete barriers stand still, but I am convinced they are waiting to jump out and scrape along this vehicle that doesn’t even belong to me. Why is everyone driving so fast? Why aren’t they more afraid? Those big blocks are going to get them! 

Relax. Everything is fine. Wow. This is truly beautiful. I wish I could stop and take a photo. I will never be able to explain how the blue water of the bay is shimmering below me. 

I relax the death grip I have on the steering wheel. I descend onto the next section of the bridge and feel a shocking twinge of disappointment that solid ground is barreling toward me. 

I want to ride again. 

Distorted Beauty

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Selfies became a lot more fun when I found apps like Prisma. Now I can make myself look like a cartoon character even if I don’t know how to draw. 

I guess some people may think selfies are ridiculous, however when you spend as much time traveling alone as I do, you gotta get pictures somehow. 

It has nothing to do with vanity. 

I spent years hating every single picture that I ever saw of myself. I struggled to smile for the camera. I tended to avoid pictures if I could get away with it. I simply did not want there to be any record of the way I looked. 

I made funny faces. 

I am too fat. 

My nose is too turned up and my nostrils flare when I laugh too hard. When I am mad. When I am tired, happy, or sad. Okay, my nostrils just flare a lot. They are active little boogers.

My neck is short and thick. 

You can’t see my collar bones. 

I am built like a potato, all lumps and no curves in the right spots.

I perpetually looked constipated or pissed off in almost every picture. 

I was dressed wrong. 

I was not thin enough. 

My hair did not look right. 

My teeth looked odd. 

I spent so much time berating the image of the girl on the paper that I couldn’t appreciate the memory that had been captured. 

It goes beyond a low self-esteem. I was full of loathing and resentment. I just knew I was not enough. 

I hated the camera. I made fun of “those silly girls” who had the audacity to playfully pose for their own shutter. I convinced myself they were somehow the antithesis of who I should be if I was to be taken seriously. 

There was not one single event that was the turning point. Slowly, I started posing for photos with friends. I started out standing behind everyone a peeking over their shoulder. There must be a hundred pictures of my son and I with me grasping his shoulders and peering around his head. 

Once iPhones had the forward facing camera, making faces in the camera replaced making faces in the mirror. Don’t lie. You know you do that too. It has nothing to do with liking the way I look, it’s almost like a curiousity about what my facial expressions look like to other people. 

Occasionally, I take a photo that doesn’t look too bad. If the light is just right and I am relaxed I like some of the photos. Honestly, part of it is practicing posing, angles, and lighting. I feel like I am making progress. 

I’m not going to pretend like I feel like I look good the majority of the time. I still hate so much about what I see. 

Aging is difficult. 

I have more acne than I did as a teenager. 

I can’t even begin to imagine what is happening to my pores, all of the sudden they decided to become prominent, and they collect debris like tiny gaping hoarders. 

The skin on my face is thinner, drier, more oily, blotchy, and something is happening my eyelids. It’s as if the tissue is migrating to under my eyes instead of holding my eyebrows up. 

My eyelashes have decided to abandon me. Perhaps they have migrated up to my brow. 

There is a very deep ravine marching across my forehead. There is no way to smooth it out anymore. 

There are gray hairs sneaking their way into my brunette locks, which has taken on a dull sheen if I don’t get it colored by a professional. I was also unaware of how the shaft would become thinner and increasingly prone to breakage. 

And don’t even get me started on my chin. All I can say is tweezers are no longer optional. Perhaps this is the lash’s new address. 

Despite my dissatisfaction with essentially every body part and feature, my son has my smile and my nose. Really he looks very much like me. I think he is the most handsome dude ever. I realize you are most likely suffering from the delusion that your son is the best looking kid to walk the earth, but you are mistaken. It’s okay, I won’t correct you. Well, not out loud anyway. 

How can I despise the features of my face, when I see them on my son and feel they are perfect? How can I tear down someone else’s child? Bet you didn’t know I was someone’s perfect child. I would never say the things to another woman that I say to myself. There is a bit of honesty I was going to insert right here, but it really made me sound like an asshole. It had to be cut. Just know I am not as kind as that last statement sounded. I am really quite snarky. 

So, what have I learned? 

It takes a conscious, purposeful effort for me to be kind to myself. Sometimes it takes just as much for me to be kind to others too. I have to frequently redirect myself and somehow prove that I am not quite the ogre-spinster I picture in my head. 

Yes. I know. Looks are not everything. If you are nice and behave in a warm, loving way, you are are beautiful. There are a million other cliche phrases I can insert here to fight the good fight against the shallow tide pool of my judgemental mind. Let’s be real though. A girl wants to be pretty. I want to feel pretty.

I’ve spent years trying to pretend I didn’t care and acting out all my tomboy fantasies. I kept my hair chopped off, dressed in horrifically ugly T-shirts with obnoxious sentiments, I even wore a doo-rag religiously for several years. I was trying to prove to myself it was okay for me to hate the way I look. I didn’t care anyway. So there! 

All I managed to accomplish is a profound delay in acquiring the skills necessary to operate the various tools of femininity.  

I still don’t know how to use the curling iron. The blow dryer is frequently a disaster.

I can’t paint my own nails. 

Eyeliner is pretty much hit or miss. 

Eyelash curler? Oh, the medieval torture device that must have been invented by a masochist? Nope.

The eyebrows? Yeah, that’s tricky. Mine are frequently crooked, giving me a mildly surprised expression. 

My clothes frequently don’t exactly go together. How the hell do people know what makes an outfit? Maybe there is a book. I should google that. 

Despite my desperate and often humorous attempts to appear like I have an ounce of taste, I like it. I like wearing clothes I think are cute. I enjoy having long hair. Red lipstick is my absolute favorite thing in the world. Sometimes I even feel kinda cute. 

So, I am going to keep taking the damn selfies and practice smiling like a girl. I am going to take selfies making funny faces too. I may even try to learn how to giggle. I owe it to myself and all the people who love me to record the fact I was here. 

When I am lucky, I will see a glimpse of the daughter my mother thinks is beautiful. Maybe someday I will feel a little less disdain towards her. 

Talking to Myself

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Jason Isbell asked me an important question tonight. I was driving to Tulsa for work. 

“Are you living the life you chose? Are you living the life that chose you?”

Okay. Jason Isbell was not actually in the car. I don’t even know him. He certainly doesn’t know me. I’m not even certain this lyric is all that profound. But, I like it. I actually kinda love it. So, thanks for serenading me in the car Mr. Isbell.

I have noticed I have a strong affinity for collecting slogans, lyrics, sayings, and quotes. I relish the ability to wave away whatever concern I may have with a meaningless dismissive exclamation I have stolen from someone else.

It is all bullshit. 

I can collect a thousand memes from Word Porn or any other Facebook page to save me the trouble of actually expressing myself. If it sounds trite or stupid, it’s okay. It wasn’t my thoughts. I didn’t sound insipid. 

Not that any of these nice little sayings are insipid. I saved them, along with hundreds of others. They do manage to inspire me. 

Okay, wait. Let me be honest. I was actually just kinda letting my mind wander, as it likes to do, and I was thinking about all the content whores who just keep sharing the same old tired quotes and memes. The 15 different pages that shared the same click bait cluttering my newsfeed. 

Are there any original ideas anymore? Am I doomed to see the same movie remade a thousand times? Although, I did enjoy The Magnificent Seven. It’s hilarious. Chris Pratt can come be my sidekick any day. Plus, he’s a cutie pie. 

None of this is the point though. So, what is the point? 

I guess it’s just easier to allow the fear of failure to prevent me from writing or speaking from a vulnerable place. It’s far less frightening to share a stranger’s vulnerability. 

What if I am not clever enough? What if my idea is stupid? Do I even have an original thought? I guess it all boils down to that inevitable question: Am I enough?

So, I’ll continue to collect quotes, lyrics, and memes. I will continue to scribble my ideas down and attempt to fashion them into something worth reading. I don’t want to doom my characters to a life they don’t get to experience. Besides, what’s the worst thing that can happen? I embarrass myself? Eh. I do that regularly anyway. 

If I could do anything, I would…

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IMG_9180If I were a truly brave person, I would live a life full of travels and adventures to wild and exotic lands. I would jump out of airplanes and ride a raft through the Colorado River. Climbing mountains would be just another afternoon for me.  I would not let anything stop me.

However, I am not a courageous person. I am terrified of heights, and not entirely certain I would enjoy an adrenaline soaked trip through the rapids. Nope. I am a chicken with a serious fondness for private bathroom facilities.

If I were not afraid of how it would all turn out, I would be a brave writer, pushing the boundaries of polite narrative, and I would set the world on fire with my keen insights and challenge societies to make a change. I would challenge the status quo, and I would surprise my readers with a gripping tale of redemption.

If I were not secretly painfully shy, I would sing at karaoke bars, shocking the audience with my fearless performance. I would be forgiven for my untrained warbling voice just because I was having enough fun for every one.

I would audition for leading roles on stage and film. I would fearlessly embody my characters, and tell stories that need to be told. I would inspire the masses and my Oscar acceptance speech would be remembered for years.

This would be a grand time, and it would be completely out of character for me. I wonder how close I can get, while remaining authentic to my true self.

Of course I am not going to do most of these things. I do not sing or act. I am certainly not going to jump out of a plane. Climb a mountain? Yeah, right. 

Are fears a manifestation of self? A protective mechanism of sorts?

Are all fears meant to be conquered?

Well, for now I will take it a little slower, and master the tasks immediately before me. I do not have to compete with others for personal achievement. I just have to do the best I can.

Maybe someday, the rapids will call my name.

The art of allowing yourself to achieve your dreams

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When you have spent years telling yourself that you are a loser, and you cannot do anything right, it is difficult to move on, and chase your dreams. There is a real danger for me to indulge in negativity. I have made the decision to work on writing something substantial, and it is damn scary! I find myself wondering if my life, and the things I have learned are applicable for anyone else. I wonder if it is interesting.

Then, I get over it. It does not really matter what happens with the finished product. Even if it is just an exercise in self-awareness, it will have been worth it.

I am still struggling with self confidence, and I have to make a decision every day. I have to decide to chase my dreams, and if it turns out that my first attempt is not good enough, I will have to regroup and try again.

There comes a time where you have to tell yourself to shut up and just do it. It’s like the nickname my FB friends gave me,  Swoosh. That is enough evidence for me to put aside my insecurities, and do the damn work.

After all, I have nothing to lose. I just happen to have every thing to gain.

What is the worst thing that can happen? Worst case scenario? I will have something written which I worked hard on, and I will have remembered the lessons I have learned.

So, what is the lesson? Get a grip. Grow a pair. Get on with it already.

I am on page 62. (Double spaced pages.) It is rough, and there is a lot of editing and revising that must be done, not to mention more to write. I am pleased with the progress I have made, and I am excited to keep working. This is my dream. Who am I to ignore my dreams?

If the losses I have seen this year serve any purpose for me at all, I need to remember this:

  • Life is short.
  • You have no guarantees for tomorrow.
  • If you wait until you are ready, you will never do anything worth while.
  • Do what you love.
  • Love what you do.
  • Tell the people you love how much they mean to you.
  • Easy come, easy go.
  • Just do it already.
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Photo credit: Me- May, 2015- University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN