On Fear

Beginnings, Life

Over the course of the past several weeks I feel like I have been hit with the same kind of advice coming at me from so many different directions: fear is not a reason to say no.

 

Admittedly, I didn’t think much of it initially.  I was reading a book that said pretty much word for word that of all the reasons not to try, fear is not one.  Well, that’s great advice.  I wasn’t denying it, but I thought it was just a nice sentiment some author had a character say in a book.  But then it came up again a couple chapters later, and then it came up in a show I’m watching, and by now I feel like God is really trying to tell me something.

 

I even just realized that the song I am currently listening to while writing this has a similar message.

 

I get it now – I think? – but that doesn’t make facing something that scares you any easier.  I know in my head that fear is actually a good instinct that sometimes can spur you to action when you’re in danger.  But I also know in my heart that the only reason that explanation even pops into my head is because I’m trying to come up with an excuse.

 

There are a lot of opportunities or things in my life that have come up lately that scare me a little bit.  Some involve personal or entrepreneurial goals that give me pause and make me nervous, but others involve other people and the prospect of putting myself out there into a world that can oftentimes be so, very cruel.  But, I am feeling encouraged by my random (or perhaps more truthfully, ordained) stumblings across YouTube videos about seeking discomfort and running headlong into things that scare you.

 

So, while this blog post is all about fear, it is also about hope.  It’s about possibility and about how things could go shockingly well if you would only give them a try.  It’s about not letting fear get the best of you (or me…this is also a pep talk for myself here.)

 

I am choosing in this moment to heed the signs that keep being placed right in front of me and head into what scares me rather than steering around it, and I hope you – whoever is reading this – take this to heart, too.

 

After all, we’re all scared, but we just shouldn’t let it get to us.

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On Finding Your Tribe

Writing

It’s always amazing to me how spending time with other writers, and learning more about writing, can leave me so incredibly invigorated.  This past weekend, I, along with some of the other borrowed solace editors, attended the Pikes Peak Writer’s Conference (PPWC).  The very first blog post that I wrote on this site was inspired by the first PPWC that I attended, so now, after my third conference, it all really seems to have come full circle.

The theme of this year’s PPWC was “It Takes a Tribe.”  At first, I honestly did not get where this theme came from.  It seemed very different from the types of themes that the other conferences I attended had, and it didn’t make sense to me.  I am more familiar, I suppose, with the saying “It Takes a Village,” and so I think I associated these two sayings in my mind.  The thing that made this even more troublesome was that I had only really ever heard “It Takes a Village” in reference to child-rearing.  The mashup of both of these phrases in my muddled mind did not leave me with a clear idea of what this conference was going to be about.

I quickly learned, though, almost as much through just physically being at the conference as through all the different programming and keynote talks, what this theme means.  I have my own tribe.  I don’t always thing of it that way, but some of my best friends and trusted confidants have come to me through writing.  There are still friends who I met in a writing group or class four or five years ago who I talk to or see on a regular basis.  And these are the friends who critique my work and help me along on my many writing endeavors.  They are the ones who will talk to me about character arc or how to get into freelance editing for hours on end, and then pickup the conversation in the exact same spot we left off the next time I see them.

The thing that stuck out to me the most about this past weekend was that every single speaker and New York Times best selling author (there were many of them in attendance) had their own tribe.  I don’t yet have a tribe or fellow best selling authors, or well known agents, or editors at one of the big five publishing houses, but when each one of these now wildly successful authors was starting out, their tribe wasn’t there yet either.  Regardless, though, the common thread through each of these author’s stories was that their tribe helped them arrive to that spot.

One of the things that stuck out to me the most was from John Gilstrap’s keynote address.  He, like many writers, ebbed and flowed in and out of the writing sphere.  Life ended up taking him to lots of non-writing careers and stops along the journey that caused him to give up or stall on writing.  I think any writer on the planet can relate to this.  There are times when sometimes you simply do not want to write (see my last blog post, if you’re wondering if that has happened for me).  But then he mentioned how someone from a previous writing group/class, a member of his writing tribe, met with him after several years and said ‘how dare you not write?’

If we as writers have stories to share, gifts to give, words to writer, how dare we stop?  We should be so impassioned about writing that we can’t stop because our story is not over yet.

So take this as encouragement from my tribe to yours – keep going.  Writing isn’t just solitary, and it isn’t just something to do when you have time and space for it.  It’s a calling of sorts, somewhere to belong.  Don’t give up on that belonging, and if you ever need inspiration, just reach out to your tribe (or make one, by going to writing groups, events, and conferences).

I know I have been more inspired to write than ever since the conference.  Sure, it’s only been a few days, but as I’m on this journey of finding myself and excavating my love of writing from the grave it’s been in for the past year, I’ve come to a new realization that I am going to stick to this.  Writing is something that I come back to again, and again, and again.  It’s where my people live, and if that’s the case, how dare I not pursue it?

On Finding Yourself

Beginnings, Writing

I am a firm believer in talking about what’s hard.  I think it is a disservice to everyone if we ignore what makes us uncomfortable or ashamed.  There are things I believe that are hard things to believe, and I think we should talk about that.  There are also things that I hesitate to share, and I think that means I should share them even more.  This is one of those things, but it is something that has deeply marked me, leaving beauty marks and scars, both equally important in the narrative of my life.

 

As someone who adores a good narrative, I know that the hard parts must be shared as well as the good parts.  My favorite stories don’t shy away from the dark, but ultimately focus on the light.  Because there is light that comes from any darkness we encounter.  If there is one thing I know for sure in this life, it is that the light is only dimmed when darkness seems to encompass us, but there is always something good that comes out of our time in the shadows of life. 

 

I guess you could say that for the past two years, I have been living in the shadows, and for the last half of 2018 up until about a month ago, I was in one of the darkest places I have ever walked through.  I was lost in this darkness, stumbling through the best I could and repeatedly reaching painful dead ends, and I am now finally finding myself again.  I have never understood what that meant more than I do now as I slowly undo what had left me disheartened and paralyzed for so long.

 

Like many things in life, I don’t think you realize what you had until it’s gone.  This goes for the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I had been shrouded in uncertainty and doubt for so long that I wasn’t even excited about creating or writing.  I’ve come to realize that those two things which, if I’m being honest, go hand in hand, make up the very core of who I am.  When you lose all urging to do the very things that make up who you are as a person, I think the fog starts to lift and reveal the harsh reality that you’ve lost yourself.  Over the course of the past year I slowly began to give excuses for my lack of motivation to embark on even the simplest of tasks.  It all started with some bad days that slowly morphed into bad weeks, then bad months, then, ultimately what I would describe as a bad year.

 

When you are living in this place of darkness, you start to expect only bad things to come around every turn.  Road blocks start to become the norm and dismay a space to live in, not just a stop on the journey.  Pretty soon not feeling is the only way to keep on keeping on, but I couldn’t even do that.  Instead my anxiety skyrocketed and panic attacks became something I expected, crippling me to the point where all I could do was lay on my bed waiting for my cheeks to dry as I slowly drew in raggedy breaths and counted to ten over and over again.

 

Worry about things that are so upsetting they trigger these types of reactions consume everything, so it is no wonder, then, that other, more important, more fruitful, more satisfying, tenets of your life get put on a shelf far out of sight and mind, left to gather dust while more pressing matters are literally pressing in and making it hard to breath under the pressure.  But despite all this, there is still also a dim flickering light.  A light that only grows brighter in hindsight knowing that I made it – and am still making it – out of the shadows.

As I move into a new, brighter chapter of my narrative, I am struck by my desire now to create — to try new things, to interact, and to start fresh. Human beings are resilient in that they are able to continuously pick themselves up and dust themselves off. I have seen it time and time again, and I have now experienced it myself. I know that creativity is what makes life worth living, and although I’ve been rejected and gone through shadowy spurts where writing was the last thing on my mind, I still know this to be true.

So use this as a bit of encouragement. Although there is darkness, there is always light. There is always purpose. There is always that knowing — an intrinsic part of the human soul — that you will find yourself again, in a new place, but better than ever.

 

“But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10    

On Growth Spurts

Life, Writing

I, like most people, went through several growth spurts during middle school.  For most of my life I’ve been taller than the majority of kids my age, so these spurts were unwelcome.  I was more mature than many my age, too, which wasn’t always the most fun (though now I see it as a huge blessing).

I got braces smack dab in the middle of sixth grade, leaving me to be one of the only middle schoolers with metal wires stuck to my teeth and an adjuster situated in the roof of my mouth that was cranked with a key.

Growth spurts are not always fun when they occur in one’s formative years.  They make for awkward conversations, awkward feelings, and awkward appearances.  I am coming to learn, though, that growth spurts continue long after one has actually stopped growing.

Life has a way of stretching a person out.  We are all constantly being molded to fit the shape of the place we are in.  This is a type of growth, a type of re-shaping.  It is a harsh and soft process all at once.

Growth, if we are all being honest, is painful.  Even the physical type of growth can be – I distinctly remember my mother telling me that the occasional aches and pains I experienced in my limbs were growing pains.  Despite the pain that sometimes comes from growth, it is a beautiful thing.

As I have come to very recently recognize, I have been in a phase of growth for the past couple of years.  Looking back on where I was last year is startling.  There has been growth since then – it hurt at times and made me cry at others, but it was still growth.

Sometimes the only way to become a better person is to run through the fire, or slog through the mud, if I’m going to be more accurate.  I think the worst part about periods of growth is that I can tell when I am in one, mainly because it hurts in new and unexpected ways than ever before, but I cannot see the end goal.  I can’t see the person I will be in a week, in a month, in a year, I just know that person will be different than the person currently making her way through the swampland.

I find in these moments I must look to the good that I know will come of this, even though I don’t know when.  I can only grasp at what the future might bring – the brilliant dawn at the end of a dark night that I know will eventually come.  I must grasp on to hope for better times yet to come, for a better me that is yet to come.  I know one day I will be that person reflecting back on life and recognizing the beauty that came from this present pain.

And I can only hope that person will be a better one.

 

On Rejection

MFA, Writing
This is a post I never published from spring 2017, yet is particularly poignant after a slew of another type of rejections recently…

I’ve been meaning to write something about rejection for a while.  The thing is, I find this topic hard to talk about sometimes.  At this point in my writing career (stupidly early on, I must admit), I have been rejected more times than I can count.  While there seems to be quite a list developing on the writing page of this website, it took a lot of “no’s”to get there.  Even thought there have been more no’s than yeses and you’d think I would be used to rejection at this point, I’m not.  It still stings.

The past few weeks I have felt like that soda can, crushed over and over again by the shoe of rejection.

This afternoon, as a matter of fact, I was slogging around the house wallowing in the uncertainty that many of my most recent no’s have gotten me.  The last few no’s have hurt.  I’d like to be more writerly and use a word like stung which has a nicer ring to it here, but the reality is that they hurt.  It didn’t feel like I was stung by a bee, it felt like I was hit by bus.  No, like I was hit by a train.  Grad school rejections completely and totally crush you.  On my way to school today I saw a man picking up garbage on the side of the street.  He carefully put stray papers and candy bar wrappers in his bag, but when he came to a soda can deposited in the yellowing grass by the sidewalk, he placed it firmly on the cement before crushing it under his foot.  The past few weeks I have felt like that soda can, crushed over and over again by the shoe of rejection (that doesn’t quite sound right, but you get the point).

Last Friday, I was rejected not once, not twice, but three times by different literary magazines and for different creative pieces.  Three times in one day.  I set my own record.  The week before that I didn’t get into Minnesota State University, and a few weeks before that I didn’t get into Colorado State University.  Then, during a horrendous bout of the stomach flu, I was accepted to Memorial University but with no funding making it virtually impossible for me to attend.  A bittersweet acceptance, I guess we can call that one.

I don’t mean to throw myself a nice little pity party.  I mean to let you know that I am all too familiar with rejection.  It seems like in life in general, I have been rejected more than I have been accepted (this is probably an exaggeration, but I am going to roll with it).

I’m not giving up.

Despite the immense amount of crushing rejection I’ve been faced with the past few weeks, I’m not giving up.  After that terrible soda can metaphor, maybe I should, but I’m not.  Writing is what I want to do.  Rejection is part of the deal.  It’s a pretty crummy, soul sucking package deal that I’ve got, but it takes rejections like these to slowly build up that writing page.  It takes bad news to know how great an acceptance is when it comes.  It takes a heck of a lot of no’s to get a yes, but when that yes finally shows up it’s really, really worth it.

So yes, I was in tears this afternoon wondering if I’m good enough to every get a real yes. I can’t answer that question for myself (I think I’m great, I’m a little biased), but I can keep going.  I can keep trying until I get a yes – hopefully one after the other.  In a year, my goal is to be swimming in yeses.  For now, though, I’ll take that piece I just got a no on and submit it somewhere new, all the while crossing my fingers for that next grad school notification.

On Writing After College

Writing

Or, alternatively, things I wish someone would have told me.

You will most likely forget to write.  I know it seems impossible while you are in college immersed in writing everything from research papers to your weekly calendar, but you eventually it will slip your mind.

Sure, you will still write, but it won’t be the type of writing you have waited your whole life to do.  Your head will become so full of work lingo, so focused on the drama of the break room dishes, that writing another email is all you can manage to do during the day.  And yet, there will always be more emails.

You probably won’t have friends.  At least, not in the way you have friends now while enrolled in school.  Friends are friends – they stick by you no matter what.  This doesn’t change.  But your friends will stick by you via text or the occasional coffee run, not through late night study sessions or weekend hang outs.  You may go months without speaking, and then suddenly you are messaging them about their new kid, their engagement ring, or how they are hoping to go to grad school once they are no longer too broke to breathe.  This isn’t a bad thing – you will pick up where you left off each time and it will be as if no time has passed at all.  But life goes on, and time does pass, and each day the sun moves through the sky like you move through the many seasons of One Tree Hill on Hulu.

Your will to try will diminish, then come roaring back when a fresh match sparks your fire, only to be blown out again.  You will come to realize that your day is made up of the same mundane things and that nothing really changes.  Sleep will become a prized luxury that merely fuels you up to go search for your will to try for eight hours every day.  You most likely will not find it, but the trying is what truly tests your character.

You might come to relate to your parents more than you relate to college students.  You will work at a college because you think that it is where fostering of the mind occurs, where all great writing and reading takes place, but you will quickly realize there is more to life than school.  You may feel old.  You are not, but the aching of your shoulders from your bad posture everyday and the creak of your back from your insistence on sticking to an exercise routine will make you feel like you are at retirement age.  Your 401K will say otherwise.

You could start a blog.  Let’s be honest, you probably will, but writing it will become so tedious that you will instead blindly submit your short stories and poems to any literary journal that does not charge a reading fee.  And you will not write as much new material as you wish you could.  As you wish you did.  As you wish you were.

You may get stuck, wondering how to start writing the millions of ideas you have in your head.  You probably stopped writing in the little notebook your creative writing professor insisted upon you having to record the everyday magic around you.  You notice the magic, but it is fleeting.  Your ideas swim in the dank abyss of your mind instead.

You may experience all of these things, but remember that you are still the same person who was excited about graduation.  Deep down inside of your body that has become merely a series of inter-working gears that pull you up out of bed in the morning, there is a soft spot that still feels.  Do not lose that spot, protect it with the glasses, sensible shoes, business casual wardrobe, and low maintenance hairstyle that keep you sane day in and day out.

Remember the magnificent in the mundane.

On Turning Out

Uncategorized

“You say I turned out fine, I think I’m still turning out…” – AJR

It’s something I’ve heard all my life – it’ll all turn out find in the end.  Those later in life who have been successful, made a life for themselves, and seem relatively happy say during a presentation or a Thanksgiving-dinner-speech that even with all the bumps in their lives, they’ve turned out fine.  Well, what is it like in the process of still turning out?  I’m not there yet – I’m not to a a point where I can say that I’ve turned out fine.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. I’ve been living this lately. I am in a weird in between stage where I have accomplished a lot but am just starting out. I’ve come so very far but still have even farther to go. It is, quite honestly, a struggle. The in between is always beautiful, but I struggle to recognize the beauty in the moment.

Nevertheless, I am here. Still turning out.

The past year has been one of my hardest on many levels. I’ve had a hard time adjusting to a full time job – which is not what I thought I would be adjusting to this year – and have battled with my mind almost non stop. I have tried and tried again to maintain friendships that simply may not be worth maintaining. I have moved on to a new stage in life (a new confusing stage) while some of my friends have stayed in the phase they are in. I’ve tried to bring them with me, but it’s not worked out. I’ve tried to fit back into their lives, but the space that once was reserved for me isn’t there anymore.

I think that’s the thing that has been hard and unexpected. Life after graduation is not glamorous. It is mundane. It is stressful. It is tiring. And it is not at all what I expected. It is part of the turning out process that is wonderful in some ways and painful in others. Growing pains are a real thing, and they have come out in full force over the past year.

Life is continuously not what I thought it would be. The road I am traveling isn’t going where I thought it was, and it’s missing people I thought would still be traveling beside me. Somewhere down the line I will be able to say that I have turned our okay, but right now I’m still turning out.

So in the meantime, as I am trudging along the road, I have made it my goal to strive for beauty. I’m running towards things that make my spirits bright, even if only a little bit.

While I’m still turning out I am noticing the good days. The shouting cherry blossoms this spring that quieted and gave way to billowing lilacs. The fragrant air that rushes past my ear as I drive with the window down. My precious cat who greets me every day when I come home. The fact that there’s flowers on my desk at work and can go on walks outside everyday. These are the good things that help me trudge with a slightly lighter step. It doesn’t make everything better, but it sure does make the process of turning out seem more lovely than simply bearable. At least for a few fleeting moments throughout the day.

On the Circle of Life

Writing

If you read the title to this post and instantaneously thought of The Lion King, know that this was the goal. Well, that and some other things that I’m planning to address in the coming paragraphs, but it is my sincerest hope that you read these words whilst humming along to the Disney melody in your head. You’re welcome.

Regardless of the connection to The Lion King, I have been ruminating as of late on the cyclical nature of life and, of course, of writing.  In the spring I attended another PPWC and was amazed at the way everything came full circle.  It was a year later, with a newly minted me (although really not much had changed since the last edition) with slightly changed versions of the same people and more new things to learn.  It was an interesting experience, being both familiar and unfamiliar with what was going on, having the same conversations (more or less) that I had the previous year, and still feeling like everything with completely different.

I’m now going through a similar process with a new job.  It’s new, but it’s also the same process that I’m going through as the last time I was the new person at a job.  It’s in the same field as my last position, but harder in some ways and easier in others.  I’m still in school, but as a staff member.  There’s still students, but I am (supposedly) older and wiser than them.  I find myself relating to the students I help more than my coworkers.  Maybe it’s my age.  Maybe it’s the freshness of my degree (which I’m still waiting on, by the way – that silly piece of paper needs to come in the mail already).

To get back to more writerly things, I just had a story published online. (please note the literary journal is now defunct)  It was an honor, and it’s one of my favorite stories that I’ve written, but I went through the same cycle I have so many times to get there.  Why was this submission different from the other fifty that didn’t get in anywhere?  And once my story got in (again, a huge honor), the process was just like when I’ve had other stories published, yet it was a new magazine with new readers and a new idea that I had put out into the world.

I feel like life in general is cyclical.  Yes, time moves in a straight line, but in many ways, that line does a lot of loop-de-loops.  Up until a little over a month ago (it was really only that short time ago?) my loop-de-loop was the school year.  Start school, struggle through the semester, take finals, have a break, go back to school, end of year finals, summer break, repeat.  Now I will have a similar cycle, but a different role.  Now my days will be cyclical, and my years will be too, but not in quite the same way.  My writing, I’m sure will be cyclical.  I’m planning on applying to grad school again (this time only to schools I would 100% go to if I were to get in) and going through that cycle once more.  I will write, and I will edit, and I will submit, then I will write some more.  Life is cyclical, writing life is cyclical, and some of the best plot-lines in literature are cyclical.

While thinking about this concept may seem fruitless, my dwelling on this is something that I think will help in my writing.  I’ve realized that life is full of twists, turns, and now loop-de-loops, which will help me write life in a more realistic way.  I can take a character’s life and habits to a whole other level, and take The Lion King, and all the truth that’s found in that silly little song to heart.

 

On Distraction

Distraction, Writing

Sometimes, I find that distraction can be a good thing. At this moment in my life, I am slogging through the last semester of my undergraduate degree and impatiently waiting to hear back about whether or not I have gotten into graduate school. Right about now I can use all the distraction I can get.

Distraction is, more often than not, considered the bane of the writer’s existence. There are all too many things that beckon each and every writer when the only thing they should be focusing on is their writing. Writing at least 500 words a day is how to finish that novel, you say? Well, that can end up slipping to the bottom of the list when there’s website updates, blog posts, and (at least in my case) 15 chapters of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to finish up by tomorrow. In this case, I would undoubtedly agree that distraction is not to my benefit. Sometimes, though, when staring at my e-mail waiting to hear back about a submission or rereading a sentence over for the fiftieth time to decide whether or not it’s working, something to distract me would be beneficial. 

Today, instead of re-checking my submittable page, my grad school application portals, and the MFA Draft page on Facebook, I purchased my own domain name (oh, hey, addeyvaters.com, welcome to the party), watched an episode of Criminal Minds, found a new jewelry box and some 1940s prints at Goodwill (my second time to the thrift store in two days, it has become a worthy distraction), and did actually get around to some of that Tenant of Wildfell Hall reading (a little later than I should have, though, I must admit). Distraction sometimes can be a good thing. It can get us out of our heads and/or out into the real world. It can force me to have a pleasant conversation with the cashier at the thrift store or to clean out my jewelry stash now that I have somewhere new and pretty to put everything.  

With my life teetering on the edge of so much uncertainty lately, distraction has become my saving grace. If you’re a worrier like me struggling with finding ways to keep your mind off of this, that, and the other thing, go thrifting, take a walk, or create yourself a brand spankin’ new website. It will at least temporarily cease the worrier within and might just get some creative juices flowing in that writerly brain of yours. 

On Vulnerability and Armor and Words

Writing

It takes a lot to be vulnerable. To lay your thoughts and feelings out in the open and truly let others see your inner workings is momentous. Sometimes vulnerability is seen as something negative and something to hide. We are often taught to wear armor – to cover up our weak spots with something not so weak. We are often taught that to be strong, we must not let anyone see the spots underneath that armor – the spots that, if exposed, could be used against us. Spots that are soft and able to give in, whereas our armor is tough and able to deflect. Spots that are human.

I have learned this semester that vulnerability takes a lot. Sometimes parts of your own personal history that you thought were finished and dealt with can bring a lot of heartache and emotion bubbling to the surface. Sometimes you’ve actually gotten over parts of that same history you thought you never could.

I am taking a creative nonfiction course this semester. A course where there’s no escaping your history. A course where vulnerability might as well be listed as the prerequisite. Writing about yourself is hard, just like talking about yourself can sometimes be. That complex interview question of “tell us about yourself” is complex and dreaded for a reason. I have been very inspired by my sister and fellow students and their willingness to be vulnerable. I have in turn been vulnerable in my own writings. Sometimes I don’t always understand the writing of others and sometimes I’m sure they don’t understand my own work, but we all seem to have come to the conclusion that vulnerability is a must – and that vulnerability is unbelievably and excruciatingly difficult. Baring your heart on the page can leave you shaking with trepidation or fighting back tears in the middle of class, but it’s beautiful. Having the strength to bring up things that were heart-stopping and terrible, or downright wonderful, in your past is brave. Being willing to share any part of yourself that is not always visible under that armor is astounding.