Monday, November 24, 2014

How to Write On the Internet (And Get Paid For It)

"Would anyone be interested in a blog post about how I got started writing for the internet? Or like..no?" I tweeted a little while ago asking if any of my twitter pals/readers wanted to hear about how one twerpy millennial managed to channel the habit of blogging about cheese into an actual recurring writing gig at a few major websites.

No, seriously, I started this personal blog my freshman year of college, talking about quesadilla Tuesdays at my cafeteria. A few brave souls have emailed me after having read the whole of my blog archive, and it makes me cringe but also want to hug them. Who the hell cared about quesadilla Tuesdays? Well, no one. But you have to start somewhere, and describing my every day life was the place I began. I've been blogging for almost ten years, on a now-defunct site and a few variations of this here blog. I didn't start trying to make money, or even thinking that anyone I didn't know would read it. I started because I loved writing, and I continued because I needed writing. But eventually it did become something I wanted to start doing professionally, and this is how I broke into it.

One of my biggest frustrations in college was that my writing professors didn't consider what I was doing online to be legitimate. They automatically assumed my work wasn't valid, that it wasn't "real writing," mostly because it took place on the internet, where anyone could open a tumblr account and call themselves a writer (it should be noted that I am of the school of thought that if you are writing, anywhere, you are a writer). I took a class in freelance journalism writing and got a C minus, because my professor and I were always butting heads about the format of assignments. She did freelance work twenty and thirty years ago, back when you had to own the latest copy of Writer's Digest and query publications by snail mail. That's well and good, but I was already existing in the new, digital marketplace, and every time I tried to get a little guidance on it from the people who I was paying to teach me how to write, I got shut down.

So I graduated, armed with plenty of knowledge on how to submit to literary magazines that didn't pay and, if I wanted to, try build a time machine back to 1993 and pitch a magazine article by typewriter. What I didn't know was how to take what writing I was already doing and become a professional. Now, for the sake of this, I'm going to assume a base knowledge of almost nothing, which is what I had when I started out. Chances are you may know many bits of this already, so just skip ahead if you feel informed on the topic. (Also, keep in mind that I am in no way a big-time-writer-person who sips caviar off of little fancy crackers all day [do you even sip caviar, how would I know]. I have a day job. Writing is something I'm still working at breaking into full-time. But I recognize that I've worked hard to get to the position I am, and there are people trying to get here right now. So this is for you, if you'd like to hear about it.)

Writing. You know how I said the only thing that makes you a writer is if you write? Okay, but you'd be surprised how many people have asked me how they can write for internet publications like I do and then, when I ask if they've got a blog or a tumblr, they say "well, I don't write yet, but I want to." I mean, I'm not covering new ground here by telling you to write if you want to be a writer. Write about boys, write about school, write about your relationships or your politics or your thoughts on growing older. Write about whatever it is you want to say, but just do it.

I do have a couple of tips for the whole making-your-own-blog thing. It boils down to "Don't do what I did," basically. When I started, blogger was the main hub for writing stuff. Now I'm stuck with a blogger-hosted site, and while a friend of mine does the design work for it, it's severely limited by the capabilities of blogger. I'm in the process of overhauling and sliding over to wordpress, but it's long and slow and it's gonna take me a while to iron out. In the meantime, my home site is a blog that doesn't really look professional, which is less than ideal. Try for wordpress if you're looking for a more traditional feel, or do tumblr - because it's easy for people to follow you and very simple to play with the design on.

Anyway, once you're writing, do so regularly. Even if you don't get paid, even if only your mother reads it - it's practice. I didn't go from waxing poetic about quesadilla toppings and touching stranger's knees to what I write about now with zero practice. It took a while before I started writing things that, while still rough, had a quality to them that made people care. I didn't know it at the time, but I was building my style and voice, and none of that was wasted effort.

Now, you're writing...and you want to get paid for it. Here's what you do:

Pitching.  Pitching is the first step to writing for websites other than your own. It functions as an introduction to your work, and a selling point for whatever it is you want to write for the website you're pitching. It's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the site's tone and content, so you can make sure they'd be interested in what you're trying to write for them, and that they haven't already covered it before. Some places will give you details on how to pitch and who to pitch to, and if you're lucky, exactly what they're looking for. Dig around on contact pages and mastheads and address your pitch to the proper channels, in their preferred format. It takes a little time to do your research, but it greatly increases your chances of succeeding.

Here's an example of a successful pitch. I started writing for xoJane earlier this year based off a cold pitch I sent them (cold meaning unsolicited).
I'd crept around their site (and googled) for any tips on how they prefer to receive pitches. They like the suggested headline in the subject line, a few details on who you are and where you've written before/what you've written about, and then a short paragraph detailing the proposed piece. You don't need to send a completed piece (chances are, unless it's asked for, no site's gonna read it if you send them a finished piece). Keep it direct and concise, while making sure it sounds interesting. It's also good to ask about rates and let them know a date by which you'll be taking the pitch to other sites.

Rejection will happen, for sure. I've been rejected a billion times (okay not really but it feels like it). Actually, I get article ideas rejected once or twice a week from the sites I freelance for. It's not a personal insult, it's really just a chance to retool and see what else works. Rejection sucks but if (oh god, this is so cheesy, I can't believe I'm saying this honestly) you take it as an opportunity to get some insight on what you're doing, it sucks way less. Also, a nice thing you can do if your pitch gets rejected is to take it to another site you think it would work for (something I do all the time. Recycling is good the earth and your brain too). 

I've long had a list of the sites I want to write for. When HelloGiggles launched, I wanted to write for them desperately, and I've wanted to write for xoJane for ages too. Some places I haven't worked up to pitching yet, but they're on the list, like The Hairpin or The Awl. I would sell a kidney to be able to write for The Toast or The Butter or The Rumpus. It helps to be an avid consumer of the thing you want to create, and that in turn helps you when it comes time to decide who you're going to pitch what to. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The List.

I have a list of things I won't do for love. Like that one song, but in reverse. The list grows and changes along with me, fed a steady supply of superstitions by my tumultuous upbringing and still-emerging sense of independence. I've never been in love, not quite, but the closest I ever came to it was enough to teach me that it's indeed a slippery slope. One second, you're just giggling over a text, and the next, you are reshaping your entire life around someone who may or may not be worth it.

So my default setting is, and has been, that no one's worth it. No one is worth losing my sense of self, the cocoon of nurturing I have set around myself. I cannot stomach the idea of sacrificing even an inch of my hard-won ground to stand on, even if it's with someone else's arm around me. No one is worth the emotional upheaval, the danger of caring too much, the months it takes to recover from a blow to the heart. I can't bear the idea of giving up something I have worked so hard to gain — my independence — even if my independence cannot always keep me company on a long night. No one's worth putting on real pants for and going out with after a long day of work. (Okay, kidding on that one. I'm sure there's a few who are worth real pants.)

There's two parts of this that bother me; one being, kay, sure, but what happens when you do meet the person who seems like they're worth it (and how do you stifle the whispers of what if long enough to find out). The other is the idea that perhaps my view of love, true love, is somewhat fundamentally flawed and in need of reevaluation. I mean, duh. I don't need a degree in psychology to tell you that there's something a bit jarring about the fact that everything I think about love seems to involve the concept of losing. It can't be healthy to believe that love only takes away.

****

When I've talked about this to others (some of them board-certified therapists), they'll ask if I know anyone who's in love who doesn't seem to bear the huge burden I imagine it to give. Well, sure I do. It seems like not a week goes by without another of my friends getting engaged or married or cohabiting or becoming Facebook official even. And while I'll joke on twitter about the blow this news delivers, the truth is I'm happy for them, and I get to be included in some of their lives in ways that show me what good, healthy love can look like.

But that's not enough. I have a fear of the dark, see, and knowing that most of the people I love don't share it isn't enough to cure me. Once, I walked into a dark forest after midnight to see the stars, and even with flashlights and friends aplenty, I was too scared to go deeper into the woods. I made my friend wait with me by the well-lit train tracks for the others to come back. It didn't matter that none of them were afraid. I knew they knew that nothing was out there to hurt me, but I didn't feel the same certainty in the pit of my stomach. So I sat by the tracks and missed a night of star-gazing that I'm sure I would've remembered forever.

It's not enough for me to know that others have been lucky in love. It's not enough to know that the issues I have with the idea of romance stem from the twenty years I spent in a home that was, at best, dysfunctional, and at worst, abusive. I can know all that, and feel all that to be true, but the list still remains. And each time I'm presented with an opportunity that looks like it might lead to love, I run in the opposite direction, shedding truth all the way.

****

A long time ago, I decided that it would be better to live with arms wide open than with my heart closed off. I led with my heart, and trusting it has only brought me out of a dark place and into a better life. But I almost picked wrong, when it came to romance, and now I sometimes feel like I'll never be able to know if it's right, when it is. If it ever is. Perhaps the fear of falling in love is normal for us all, or for my generation at least. But I know that for me, it runs deeper than most. It is encapsulated in a lifetime of watching the most formative figures of love in my life make each other miserable. I can still remember when he made her so angry that she had an extremely rare outburst and threw a table fan at his head. I can still remember the way it crashed against the wall and how all he did was laugh. 

More than most, I am terrified of ending up in a relationship that is doomed before it even begins. But where is the balance between necessary caution, wariness, and my long list of nevers?

I have learned, I think, to live with my heart open in regards to most things. Friendships, dreams, empathy, hope. I know that the one thing I still keep myself locked up tight against is love, as if even the slightest waft of it on the breeze could infect me and ruin me forever. It doesn't help that I've been abused by men, that I've watched almost all of my friends be mistreated by men. But I think it goes beyond that — to me, love is the ultimate vulnerability. It makes you weak. It lets someone in where most don't go, and it gives them power over you. Power that can be used to make you feel good, or to hurt you, and sometimes it's on accident and sometimes it's not. In my experience, it's almost never on accident. 

So what's a girl to do when her view on love is that it is a warped and twisted thing, bound to suppress and tighten, leaving no room to breathe? All I've ever seen of love is that it lets someone else get tangled up inside you until you don't have the strength to make them leave, until it's turned into twenty-five years of your life spent in a controlling, abusive relationship, one so intertwined with who you think you are that you can't even see it. It's the frog in the pot, the heat turning up so slowly that you don't notice you're being killed slowly. I am too terrified of being hurt, being controlled, being made to feel small again, to chance it. And so I see one glimpse of love on the horizon, and I run. Fast.  

****

I used to think the primary problem was that I was unloveable. That no man would look at my body, my mind, my struggles and my strengths, and sign on to deal with it. I know now that this is not true. With age and experience and a rough tumble getting started on my own in life, I have a better grip on who I am and what I like about myself. This, in turn, has helped me to stand firm knowing that I'm a dang cutie with a sense of humor that's 90% more entertaining than most things in life and a fascinating brain and that any boy who drew my fancy would be primarily lucky to have me except for the weeks when I'm too depressed to shower. 

So that's not the problem. The problem isn't not knowing anyone who's got a healthy romantic life. It's not that I feel that men can't be trusted (although this is more often true than not), and it's not that I don't know where these fears stem from. I can know all of this, and still. Still I find myself with that choking feeling in my throat when I picture a life together, where I am part of an us, where we are Mr. and Mrs. or even just a couple. I think of love as suffocation, a potential smothering of everything I hold so dear. 

I want that to change. I don't know how. I hope, one day, I'll be able to come back here and tell you it did, and I do.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

In the Gravel.

I used to have a lot of anxiety about driving; always afraid of doing something wrong, getting in trouble, pissing another driver off. I used to have a lot of anxiety about everything in general and in great detail, but bearing the responsibility of manning a very heavy hunk of metal propelling at a great speed down the road was particularly harrowing for me.

It hasn't been til this last year or so that I've realized how much I genuinely enjoy driving. Last summer I was essentially given my first car, which was amazing - but it's a stick shift, which I had never had to learn how to drive before. Learning how to drive manual left me in tears every day for a week. I cried in parking lots, I cried when I stalled at stoplight, I cried when I rolled backwards down hills, I cried when I threw the car into the wrong gear and it felt like I had just killed it dead forever. I'm not actually a big cryer, even when stressed, but something about this foreign driving method wrung me dry for ten days.

I swore to myself that I wasn't going to be able to do it. Driving stick shift was for everyone else who knew how but not for me and I was terrible and a failure and I needed this car to get to my first job outta college, I needed this car like I needed nothing else in that time. I needed to know how to drive this car in order to do everything I needed to do in my life. If I didn't learn how to wrestle this creaky vehicle from first to second to third properly, if I couldn't coordinate my hands and legs and clutch foot right, I wasn't going to be able to do life after college and I would have failed myself.

Um, whoa, girl, learning to drive is not the end of the world and have you ever considered you may have a problem with stress? Okay, rationally, I knew this. I knew I would learn how to drive the car and that my life would not be aversely affected by this week of trauma (Also yes, thank you, I am medicated for the stress thing). But I couldn't feel it, the certainty that everything would be okay, and it sent me into a panic.

It took me a few months to figure it out, really. I was able to drive it within a week or two, but I stalled twice a day. And then once a day, and then once a week, and then barely at all, ever. This summer hit, and it'd been a year, and I was irrationally proud of myself for mastering this simple skill. A few weeks ago as I was driving home from running errands, I found myself on a back country road. The setting sun dappled through the trees, I had the windows rolled down and the radio up, and I just kept driving, because I wanted to. Because it was a perfect day for it, because I didn't have anywhere to be, because I could. But mostly, because it was fun.

****

A few days ago I was on my best friend's mother's couch, a place where I often find myself when I'm at wits end. After relaying some news and telling a few funny stories from my day, I circled around to the things that were bothering me, the problems I was having, the challenges I'm facing.

"I don't get it," I said. "It feels like it's easier for everyone else, like they know something I don't. Am I doing something wrong?"

She assured me I wasn't. "You know, honey, life is in the gravel," she said.

Life is in the gravel, and as much as I want it to get easier, quicker, better, now, it's not. I've felt a little stuck, a little beaten up, and it's affected different areas of my life. Rationally, I know I've made so much progress in a short time, and that at twenty-two I'm worlds - galaxies, really - away from where I was at nineteen. But sometimes, it just doesn't feel like it. It feels like I'm going to be stuck in the gravel forever, like I'm never going to learn the secret everyone else holds smugly behind their smiles.

When I'm in a depressed period, I tell myself "It won't be like this forever." It's a mantra that allows me to remember that there have been happier times before and there are happier times ahead. When I'm in the gravel, as I have been a lot this year, it's hard for me to remember that it really won't be like this forever. As much as I can tell myself that, it doesn't often permeate the layers of stress and late nights and overdrawn bank accounts to get to the spot where I feel it's really going to be better. Where I know it, without a doubt, where it's a certainty in the very core of me.

It's quite possible that nobody has that certainty I crave, or that I won't ever have it myself. All I know is that right now, I'm in the gravel. I know a lot more than I did when I was young, but I'm beginning to realize that I know so very little. I'm trying to make decisions that are healthy and balanced, that will set me on the right path, but so often I feel like an impostor at the adult's table.

 I wasn't prepared for this, and I don't know the way.


****

Tonight, I took another drive - this time, deliberately. I took my time, circling around town, relaxing into the shift and the clutch and the rumble. I rolled all the windows down, turned the music up, let my hand drift in the stiff wind. I did it because I wanted to, because a good drive at the end of a long week can fix a lot of things. The very first taste of fall nipped at my hands as the sun set, just a hint of coolness sneaking into the air. The moon rose, full and bright, reflecting off the trees on the rise.

I drove just a little bit, because I need to save the gas until Tuesday, whereupon I will hand over a thick wad of ones to the gas station cashier and apologize sheepishly for using tip money, and they'll say they understand, it's what you have to do to get by. As I crested over the last freeway overpass before home, torquing the engine just enough to make the shift into fourth without a struggle, I let the wind whip my hair around my eyes. I let it whisper promises to me, and I let it carry me toward home.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Burning Plains.

I tuck myself into the booth at a cafe that's a block from my house. I've become obsessed with their cold brew, and however ironic it is that on my days off from my job making coffee I go to sit and read in a different coffee shop, I still do. Today's book is Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint, by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I haven't delved into spiritual memoir in quite some time. In fact, I've been avoiding it, just like I avoid the Bible. I can't deal with someone telling me I'm doing it wrong, or that they've found the right way to do it, when I'm struggling in what feels like this never-ending wasteland of figuring out faith.

But Nadia has tattoos, she uses the f-word, and I follow her on Twitter, so I feel like if anyone has a shot of speaking things to my fragile spiritual life, this book would be it. Not that I've got my whole faith hinging on a book, but I'm in a place where I need to hear something. Anything at all, really. And I am entirely desperate for it to not be another condemning sermon on how depression is a sin.

Shortly into my reading, I come across this passage: The Bible is not God... Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority.

My jaw drops, and I gasp out loud. "What. WHAT." I'm talking to myself in a crowded cafe. If the multiple times I've dropped a chip down my shirt and fished it out in full view of the baristas haven't convinced them I'm a little crazy, this will certainly do it.

I don't even care, because my god, this is the most revolutionary thing I've seen. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the gospel of Jesus Christ does not have the same authority. 

WHAT.

You mean all this time that I've been struggling, trying to figure out a way to reconcile all the horrible things the writers of the Bible had to say about me simply because I was born with the chromosome combination of a female with the quiet certainty of God's love for me that I've felt since I was a child, you mean that I can look at it all in this light, I can turn it on its head, I can say, "Sorry, Paul, but your words just don't matter as much to me as Jesus' do." I can be like, yo, I know you said in Timothy that you don't permit a woman to speak in church, but JESUS never made that rule, so fuck off?

I mean, WHAT.

This might just change how I see the Bible. I'm still not ready to read it again, but if I am, one day, it'll be with this in mind.

****

There was this woman in my parent's church when I was growing up who meant a lot to me. My family lived near hers in a rather remote area, so from a young age I would babysit for their kids. She and her husband were my pastors at one point. She took my senior photos, and functioned as a mentor for me. When things were rough at home, I could show up to their house and feel like I mattered, like someone cared about me. They were a safety for me, a place where I felt loved.

I don't know why I'm thinking of her today. Perhaps it's all the moms in the drive-thru where I hand out coffee, reminding me of how great she was with all of her kids. I left when the youngest was just a toddler, and I had a sudden pang when I thought about how those kids who I'd watched since they were babies were probably in elementary and junior high now. I wondered if, had I stayed, would I have been in their lives as they grew up like she was in mine.

When I walked away from my family, it also meant leaving church family. For those unfamiliar with church culture, it's a large extended community that knows your business, and you know theirs, and while there were so many issues in the one I grew up in, an undercurrent of love and community anchored it. I am able to see past the condemning theology, the sexism and tightly confined women's roles, and sometimes, the outright damage that community did to me - and I miss it. I miss knowing that the people I saw two and three times every week loved me and cared about me. I miss feeling like I mattered, like I was part of a big family that fought and bickered but also put food on my table when I had none, that gave me Christmas presents when we couldn't afford new shoes. They listened to my heavy heart and, at times, held me while I cried. I sang beside them, ate with them, put on community events and went to conferences and camp with them. I was part of a them, and we cared for one another.

So that's what I think of when I remember this woman. I remember driving her minivan with her three sleeping children in the backseat and feeling a little awed that she trusted me this much. I remember crying in her living room, awash in a fog of depression, at one of the lowest parts of my life. I remember the gift she brought to my high school graduation party and I remember picking up her kids from preschool.

I don't know what she heard about me, when I left. But I know that leaving my parents meant leaving their church, because my dad was a pastor there, and no one would believe me, and so I cut myself off and tried my best to forget. I didn't exactly go around asking for help, but after I was gone, she never reached out to ask why. Those ten years of my life in which she was a pivotal figure just...didn't matter, anymore. Not when there was a pastor's reputation on the line. And so she faded from my life, and I from hers, just like I did from every other family whose homes felt like an extension of my own. Multiple families who knew me, who I grew up with, and not a one asked me if the rumors were true, if I'd be home for Christmas. They receded into the back pews in whispers and dimming lights. I didn't lose just one family - I lost two.

This experience has left me, at times, bitter, saddened, heartbroken, angry. But more than anything, it has left me with this question: If Jesus left for the one lost sheep, and the Church is supposed to embody him, how come no one came for me?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Come Gently.

It's coming up on a year that I'll have been out of school. Less than that, since I officially graduated late last summer, but this month will mark the year anniversary of the end of my undergraduate career, and I get a little reflective around those kinds of milestones. Well, really, who am I kidding. I'm a writer - I get reflective about anything. But a year seems like a good marker. Progress made, shortcomings discovered, organs removed (I don't miss you at all, gallbladder).

When I moved, almost a year ago now, I didn't stop and look back. I felt like I couldn't catch my breath, like I hadn't been able to really fill my lungs for far too long. I forgot to tell my friends that I was leaving - they found out the day before, or sometime after. I packed up everything I could hold and dropped the rest; possessions in the trash can, obligations left on my front stoop.

I won't say I was unhinged, or close to losing it. But I was desperate, and had been for a while.
I blazed out of there like a fire was at my back. I didn't want to leave, but I knew I couldn't stay.

Once I moved, I slept for perhaps a month straight. Then I started working, and threw myself into the task of learning to live like a normal human being. Not one with demons in her closet, with monsters breathing down her neck. I needed to live in a place where not everyone knew my story, where the looks people gave me were once of nonchalance rather than pity. I needed, in so many ways, a fresh start.

In some ways, that's what I got. But the idea is kind of a fallacy. You cannot leave everything behind, much as you might want to. It will all follow you, slowly, obligations and monsters wending their way up the freeway behind you as you blast forward in an attempt to shake them off your back.

****

I lean against the counter of my best friend's kitchen, yellow walls refracting the setting sun around us as I'm chopping a shallot for the very first time. She's teaching me how to cook, at my humiliating request. Tonight is homemade pasta sauce from scratch. We settle around the dinner table, blue mason jars filled with water, dog scampering around our feet. It is simplicity and laughter and peaceful and all the things I left looking for.

We pause the movie we'd been half-heartedly watching to talk about death and grief and the kind of sadness that permeates every breath you take. I tell her that I am dreading mother's day, that I will wake up depressed and lifeless and avoid the greeting card aisles. I say she'll feel that sadness that encompasses all, come father's day.

We agree that people think death, or tragedy of any kind, ends when it happens. She lives with her father's absence every single day; there is never a moment in which I've forgotten the peculiar and strange story of my parents and me. But people stop asking, because they think it is over and done. It happened, it stopped happening, you look happy, you must have moved on.

It's never that simple.

****

I may have moved far, far away from my parents, in body and spirit, but I still see them in myself and hear their echoes in my ears daily. A friend's husband asks me to compliment her on something, and rather than seeing it as the sweet gesture of caring that it is, I immediately flash back to my father's control of my mother's appearance, and it takes me an entire evening to work through the fact that this is different and not something to fear. I wake up from nightmares, and when my youngest brother's birthday passes again, with me not there, I cannot sleep from the crushing guilt. I have my father's hands, which is why I keep my nails short to the quick - the longer they get, the more they seem to take on his shape. I see the hands that hit me echoed in my own hands. My laugh, when I'm really laughing, is the exact same as his. We throw our heads back in the air with a cackle and a toss. No one else in this place would know that, because I am an entity devoid of context, an organism independent, not the pastor's daughter - just Becca, the girl who laughs with abandon. 

No one else knows that I have my father's hands. And as glad as this makes me, because this is the thing I fought for, this fresh start - this independence - sometimes it still makes me sad. Because I loved my father's hands. 

It is a complicated and ever-present grief and it does not come with a guide to help you navigate it. You simply learn to live with it. 

****

Last week I went out with friends four nights in a row. This time a year ago, that would've been impossible. Not because I didn't have friends, because I did - and they never stopped inviting me. I just physically couldn't do it. I did not have the energy, the life, the willpower to keep up in everything. It was all I could do to move forward each day, forget drinks at the end of it. 

But here I am now. Conversing over kitchen tables; watching movies and making jokes throughout; drinks and dessert in a crowded bar with coworkers; traipsing across parking lots and sitting above the city with knees bumping, picking out constellations with sticky ice cream on our hands. I have friends, new ones and old ones both, but now I can muster the strength to step outside. It's an amazing feeling. 

I am easing into normal, have been this whole past year. Going on dates, flirting with boys, free dinners and failed expectations. Going to friend's houses and laughing for hours and hours on end. I go to work every day and most of the time I even like it. I have an appointment this week to take my (very first) car to (my very first) mechanic. My room is gradually and gradually getting cleaner. I brush my teeth and floss every single night. Some days, I even remember to pack a lunch. This time I only kept the library books past two overdue notices, not three. I have a stack of clean work aprons in my closet. I bought new sheets. If I don't have an appetite these days, it's due to recent surgery, not a fatigue of heart and spirit. I sometimes even go to the gym. 

I no longer wake up sobbing at three am. Tears still come, but these days, they come gently.

This is why I left, for the moment when I realize that I am waking up into a brand new life that I built. I waited so long and fought so hard, and now? 

And now, life.

****

I do not know what is next. More late nights and early mornings and laughing til drinks spill from noses. More awkward first dates and set-ups and weird boys from tinder. More friends to hug firmly and more people to love and miss and hope good for. More songs to be sung, more fiction to be dreamt, more things to write and share and give away. More disappointments, more victories. More times to be wrong, more things to learn, more birthdays and Christmases and Fourth of July cookouts. More cooking in the kitchen, more midnight adventures. More surprises, more things I never could've seen coming, good or bad or both. 

Here, in this last year, I have had my taste of living.

I only want more of it. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This is the Part.

Dear Heart,

I know you've been at your wit's end as of late. Things have not gone where you expected them to, you've been frustrated, you've wondered why it is that every time you think you're getting somewhere, another obstacle pops up in the way. Two steps forward, ten back - that's been the theme for far too long now, or so it feels.

You think wasn't it supposed to all be better by now? You think you've tried hard for long enough and that it would be really nice for the universe to drop a life into your lap, neatly wrapped in brightly-colored paper, bow and all. Because you're tired, because it's been a long winding road, because your heart sometimes feels like a massive black hole in the center of your being and you think it might start to swallow you whole if you don't get a shot of happy straight to the beating middle of it all.

It is hard, I know. It's been hard for a while. But I think you've been forgetting something, or trying to forget it, because it's a rather inconvenient thing to remember all the time and honestly, it's easier to let these things recede to the back of your mind when things are making you tired and sad and you'd rather just sleep.

This is just the beginning of your story.

This is the time before it gets good.

This is the getting to the good, the part where you slowly began to stand up, stretch, look around you, and marvel at the world.

Isn't it big? Isn't it bright? Isn't it wonderful?

Do you think that sometimes, you maybe miss the point about what you're doing here? I think maybe you do. Getting out doesn't happen in one day, one phone call, as much as you thought that perhaps it did. It didn't happen in the years you spent toiling through school, multiple jobs, bills on your own, living situations that didn't work out, the insomnia, the night terrors, the sobbing into a pillow case behind two locked doors praying your roommates didn't hear. Life isn't neat and you don't get to phase quickly from one point to the other. It's a long, winding, messy journey, full of fits and starts and false endings. Life is full of shit sometimes, and it's all interconnected in one massive yarn ball of connections and turn-arounds and there's a time when you get rest and there's a time when you work your ass off and they can come six hours apart.

The point of you being here, right here, on the grass-colored floorboards of this house's back porch, here on the tiled floor of the back room of your work, here on the rug in front of the fire at your best friend's mother's house, hererighthere? The point is not that you're supposed to be okay, or happy all the time, or opening up a basket of life abundantly that's been neatly wrapped and presented to you.

This is the time when your character has been built, your walls have been scaled, and you have left into a new life and a new land. This is the time in the after but still the not yet, the in-between, the beginning of the rest of it all. This is the time when you're learning to live again, not just get through the day, not just slide by, but to truly live. 

This is the part where you open up and unfold your arms from around your middle and begin to dance again. Tentatively, one foot in the water and the other out, a bizarre version of the childhood ditty you once knew so well. This is the part where you let your hands fly out and encompass the sky just because that sunrise is so damn beautiful, and there will never be another one like it, and you made it to this point alive, and it's a good day to breathe the scents of spring.

And you don't care who sees, because they were not there to see you screaming silence into the dark. They cannot chart the lines between here, now, and there, then, and be proud like you are.

Those who do not know how far you have come can either learn, or stand aside. You are free to be in and of yourself, and it does not matter what they say. You cannot be brought down by it, and isn't that the best thing? Isn't it wonderful?

Isn't it bright, here in this part?

You will still spend some days in bed, swallowing the pills dutifully each day. It will still hurt to breathe sometimes, not all the time, though, and isn't that good? Isn't that wonderful, that in the times when it hurts and you feel like each inhale is a stab to the heart, you can remember that perhaps tomorrow, or the next day or the next, you will wake up again and feel less numb and more whole and this will have been a passing moment?

You will remember this one day, with a sentimentality that only distance can lend. I know it isn't fun in the thick of the bills you cannot pay, the screeching of your car engine that you cannot afford to fix, the almost daily questioning of your purpose and path, and the painful work of figuring out who you are and where you are headed and what you think and feel and what to do about it. It isn't anything you'd wish on anyone, that's for sure. But these days will not be like the ones that came before, the ones that distance cannot do anything but dull the pain of. And isn't that something? Isn't that something good?

I know it hurts still. I know there was that one night you drove home in tears, blurry streetlights telling you this wasn't the best idea. You sat in the driveway and sobs shook your car, and you begged God to please, please, please make this hurt stop and stop quick. You were honest, not for the first or last time, when you said that if it didn't stop you were afraid the sadness inside would become a black hole that would eat you alive. The glow from the lamp along the road touched your head, colored your hair orange, danced shadows across the windshield.

I think my point is this: now, here, this happens less and less. You breathe freely more and more. Every day that you woke up then was another chance to fight the battle to survive; every day that you wake up now is another chance to be happy.

You've been wondering where you're at, and I'm here to tell you: this is the part where you learn to live again.

Congratulations.

Don't waste it.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Music & Surgery.

Hi there. This is a story with three parts. 

Part 1: I'm raising money to cover the cost of a much-needed surgery. Luckily, I have insurance, but my out-of-pocket costs are still high and are required up front. 

Part 2: I recently released my first EP of original music out into the great wide internet. You can listen to it here. It's a project that took half a year and it carries so much of my heart in it. Generally, it gets sold for $7. 

Part 3 (here's where it all comes together): I hesistated to do another fundraising campaign becuase I didn't want to be that person who is always asking the internet for money. But a friend suggested involvement of my EP, and that sparked a little lightbulb for me. I would love to give you this music that I made. I would also love to be able to pay off the cost of getting an organ that has caused me pain for months removed. Maybe both of these things could work together. 

So here's what I'm asking. Donate $5, or however much you want, and get my EP entitled "I Found You." You can get some delicious tunes for your ears, and I can get some delicious surgery for my insides. Sound like a plan?

Please head over to this page to donate and receive your download link. You'll have to enter your email when you donate in order to receive said link.