I have a love/hate relationship with moving. The beginning of it is always the worst: looking at everything I have to do; the mountain of things I need to sort through; the boxes I have to put together, fill, and then literally move. It's a mini-nightmare of mine. The upside of it all is that, by going through all of my things, I start to downsize. Each time I move (which has been a lot recently), I take boxes and bags of things to donate. I declutter, if only for a little bit. I clean house and get organized again. And really, there's nothing more I love than reorganizing all of my things.

The end result is always wonderful. It's the process I loathe. As a kid, I would want to move rooms every other month. Not because I suddenly didn't like my room, but because I could picture how I would arrange my furniture in the other room, and how I would organize it, and therefore have a beautifully organized space that would make everything in my life go so much smoother. As an adult, the mentality is similar, but the practicalities of actually moving homes instead of just rooms (e.g., forwarding mail, transferring services like rental insurance and cable, etc) are annoying. So I focus on the good and remember that each box I pack to take to my new home will be filled with only the things I really, really want. It's time to clean house, get organized, and donate what I don't need. What better way to start the New Year?

Where to next?

I've been sitting on this post for a few weeks now. It's the reasons I've been silent over here for a while. Okay, one of many reason. (The other reasons are I'm about to move -- yes, again -- and I have to find time to pack when I'm not dealing with the holiday rush of working in retail. So you see, I'm lucky to have survived Black Friday, and I am very sleepy almost always.)

Let's start here: Change is happening. Big, major changes in literally every aspect of my life. As previously mentioned, I'm moving. I'll be living with four roommates downtown, and I'm so excited to get to know them and explore the city more. And now the big one... In a little over a month, I'm leaving my full-time management position job in retail to go back to school for something that has been dancing in the back of my mind for six years.

I'm studying to become a paralegal.

This has been a long time coming. It's funny, the other day Facebook reminded me (with that little "On this day X years ago" feature) that when I started my freshman year of college, right out of the gate I was thinking about changing my major law studies so I could become a paralegal after graduation. When I was younger, my dad used to always say that if I didn't do something in law, he wasted a lot of time waging arguments with me. In fact, I remember playing lawyer as a kid -- I used my parents' old (dead) cell phone and would pace around in our basement, pretending to be debating the terms of this or that while in a bathrobe carrying a toy dog Beanie Baby. Because that's what I thought lawyers did: wear robes, carry dogs, and have fancy black cell phones they could click closed in annoyance when things didn't go their way.

Judith Beheading Holofernes

Today I have a day off from work, and I'm forcing myself to be productive and put this time toward my writing. (And reading. And catching up on my DVR list and finally watching more of Stranger Things). It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to start writing again. I sunk back into my old routine of turning on the soundtrack to my WIP, which for this particular work in progress is the score to Kill Your Darlings -- nice and dark and moody -- lighting a candle, and setting everything else on silent and do not disturb.

I find I'm writing less with each session, but the content I'm producing is better. The quantity is decreasing, but the quality is more than making up for it. It's weird to not be writing as much, as fast, as I used to. I'm adjusting to the new pace of my voice, and I think the reason I'm going slower with this one is because I'm putting more consideration into the first draft. Not that I haven't put a lot of time and effort into my other drafts; I guess it's just that this one demands more of my thought and attention. It's pickier than other stories I've written. That's half the fun, this newness of relearning how I write. The challenge of sussing out the proper mood of the story.

Anyway, this afternoon, I finally begun Chapter 4. And because I'm big on accountability, I want to share another, longer excerpt with you. This one really demonstrates the role art will have in the novel. I mentioned before how much I loved studying art history when I was in college, and now I get to put all that knowledge to work! And who knows, maybe someone will find all this art history stuff as exciting as I do and do some research of their own. Or not. Whatever floats your boat. (But I think it's cool, so, you know, do whatever I'm just saaaaayyyyyiiiinnnng it could be fun. I think it is, at least.)

TMoD -- which has a full title and is not just some vague and meaningless acronym I'm using, I promise -- is going to be about many things: murder, love, art, crime. Here's a slice of it, in the early stages of setting the scene for the Big Events that will happen throughout the story.

The painting the two characters discuss, for reference, is "Judith Beheading Holofernes," and it's a favorite of mine from the Baroque movement. Take a look at it while you read the excerpt.

That would be enough

This week, I've been taking stock of my life, inventorying the things I have, the things I want, the things I need. I'm finding that there are a lot of "haves" and a lot of "wants," with very few "needs" between the two.

A few months back, I wrote all about simplifying things. I got about halfway through that simplification before I got distracted (as I often do in my busy days) and left the job unfinished. As such, I'm still finding that I'm stuck in a lot of mess and mayhem. Being surrounded by things and having things happen to or around me makes me feel very passive, and it's making me anxious. Which is why I've taken active control of things again so I can steer everything back on path.

Part of this inventorying has me literally getting rid of a lot. I'm packing up the clothes I don't wear for donation. I'm taking out the trash and reorganizing what I have and love. Remember, I have multiple existential crises a week about what I'm doing with my life. So, naturally, as I'm sorting through the physical junk in my life, I'm looking at the mental junk too. Metaphorically, I'm doing the same. I'm letting go of events and emotions and the past -- things that have done nothing to help me but only put a hindrance on happiness.

This purge has lifted an invisible weight I didn't realize I'd been carrying for so long. Sorting through things has me realizing the obvious connections between what I want and need that I never noticed before. I want to be happy -- I need to create. I want to have a comfy home -- I need stability. I want to learn and grow and love and live and do a thousand things. I'm tired of letting life flit by without grabbing on, so I'm grabbing on. How do I do that, after so much time?

I just start. I say 'yes' to things again. I work on restoring my energy. I move forward looking for a small, more affordable place I can live and create. I hold my friends and family closer. For me, that would be enough. I don't need a lot of money; I don't need any fame. I need an outlet, and I need to get back to focusing on myself and what I love to do most. The reason I haven't felt right lately is because I let go of writing and creating for so long because I had other responsibilities. I don't want to let it slip anymore, because the longer I leave it, the more off I feel.

I'm finding middle ground in life, and creative ways to make everything work for me. I'm sussing it all out, still, and really the reason this short post sounds so rambling is because I'm not finished untangling everything.

Right now, it feels like a lot of my life is about to happen. There are moments waiting for me in the wings, about to enter. They're just waiting for their cue, and in a few breaths I'll be delivering that fateful line. I can't really, rationally explain the feeling. But just you wait. Someday soon, something great is going to happen.

Many things, all at once

Hello internet, it's been a while. Many whiles. Sorry. I haven't forgotten about you -- I just got super, crazy busy. Well, you know, busier than normal. Which means I've been very, very, very busy doing many things, all at once. And while doing these many things all at once has taken a toll on my stress (and knocked me down a little last week with a wicked bug), these things are all exciting!

Let me catch you up on the few things I've been doing that I can talk to you about. They're all fun and surprising and make me the slightest bit self conscious as I don't often like being at the center of attention unless it's while debating something I'm super passionate about, but since I'm becoming rather passionate about this, let's all pretend I'm not nervous about sharing it. Faking it until I make it, one day at a time.

One project I was recently involved in was actually something that sparked a bit of magic in me. Friends -- of all different talents -- came together for a shoot on a beautiful property in Harwood, Maryland. Kelsey Mattson (whose work is spectacular, please look at her website and see everything she does!) met the owners of the farm and wanted to do a stylized shoot on the property, and because Kelsey has this magnetic energy to her, everyone she spoke to was more than willing to donate their time. It was more than worth it, and I'm sure what I got out of that Thursday night on the tranquil farm was more than they even realize.

The farm, Harwood Hills Farm, is an agro-tourism location that is the ideal venue for a peaceful wedding. Naturally, then, I stepped into a gown for the night and became a bride. My hair and makeup was done by the brilliant Caitlyn Meyer, the dress was borrowed from Wren Bridal, my ring and earrings from Kajs Jewlry, and I had a stunning bouquet from Crimson & Clover Floral. Kelsey planned and styled the shoot, and the entire thing was shot by Sarah Culver (again, another person whose work I've admired for a long, long time before getting to work with her!).

The other night, I saw three preview images from the shoot and I could not believe how incredible they've turned out! And if those were only the previews... I cannot wait to see the end results! I shared one of the images on Instagram, and wanted to share it here as well because !!!!!! I still can't believe the entire night was real. It was pulled straight from a dream.

Planning & Styling - Kelsey Mattson (@mattsonmade
Photography - Sarah Culver (@sarahculver
Floral Design - Crimson & Clover (@crimsoncloverfloral
Paper Goods - Townley Prang (@townleycreative
Dress - Wren Bridal (@wrenbridal
 Jewelry - Kajs Jewelry (@shop_kajsjewelry)  
Hair & Makeup - Caitlyn Meyer (@caitlynmeyermua
 Venue - Harwood Hills Farm (@harwoodhillsfarm)

Lightbulb moments

More often than not, I get so caught up in trying to make things work -- in life, in writing -- that I forget to slow down, take a breath, and recognize what's happening around me. I get swept up in the chaos of more more more, hurry hurry hurry that I don't realize that while I'm forging forward toward something else, I'm missing moments now.

Cue lightbulb moment number one: The present is important. When it feels like my exhaustion is permanent, and that the stress and work is nonstop, I have to remind myself to tap the brakes. Don't rush through things; sit in the moment. Acclimate to it (even if it's uncomfortable).

Cue lightbulb moment number two: Surviving isn't enough for me. When my anxiety gets bad, which it has been for the past week and a half, I have to remember to seek out things I love. It's extra energy and effort, but happiness is worth it. Surviving the day isn't the ultimate goal, though sometimes that's all I can focus on. I want to find something significant to smile about. Usually, I find it in a book, or in my writing.

And, speaking of writing, let's talk about that a little more. Because I've mentioned it a thousand times already, but it's worth reiterating again and again until I start to fully practice what I preach. I love writing, and even if I get only enough time to write a chapter, my time feels well spent. I feel fulfilled. But writing is hard, so sometimes on my days off I forget to sit down and chip away at my current work in progress because when things aren't clicking, I flounder. But when it goes right...

Chapter 24

My 24th birthday was this past Sunday. I spent the day doing only things I wanted to do. Namely: surrounded by pretty things (candles and flowers) relaxing, eating good food (see example of chocolate-covered gluten free pretzels below), spending time with family, and watching my favorite movies (Rear Window, Elf). It may sound boring, but for me it was perfect.

As with each birthday, I also took a few moments to look back at the last year and assess. What did I do that I loved? What can be improved on for the next year? Where do I want to be at 25?

This year, much like last year, was filled with change. I'd moved apartments two more times. I started a new job, got promoted, got promoted again. I made new friends who are wholly different from me and also still very much the same. I went on more trips than I have any other year of my life -- with friends, on planes, to cities and beaches. For the first time, I saw the sun set over the water instead of experiencing a sunrise (west coast beach, and all).

At 24, I think I've learned a lot. I've learned enough to know that I know very little, and that I have a lot of growing and learning still to do. But more and more, I'm finding my confidence in what I want versus what I do not want. That being said, I wanted to share my list of 24 things I believe. Maybe you'll agree, maybe you wont. Maybe next year, I'll have changed my mind. That's something I'm learning to: changing your mind about something isn't a failure; it shows you've learned something new. Growth! Remember me mentioning that a few times here?

Accountability (more TMOD)

Slow and steady. That's been my writing motto lately. Trying to force it on days when I'm too tired to write, or not feeling any sort of motivation to create something halfway decent, is (obviously) not working. And moreover, it's frustrating. I hate not being able to do something well, which often stops me from even trying. When it comes to writing, that just won't do.

First drafts are rough. Period, end of sentence, no argument necessary. There's not "unless" or "but" to follow that up with. I know first drafts are rough, both in the writing and the process. It's sloppy and painful. When I'm ready to write, I love it. Embrace the mess! But because I've been having a stress-fest lately (woo, fun!), it's stopped being fun, which is something I will never let happen to my writing. I love writing, and I don't want to let anything take that joy away from me.

Life obligations beckon, though, and -- as I've said a thousand times on this blog -- it's becoming harder for me to find time to write. So I'm letting go of the burden of expectations when it comes to this novel I'm writing. T.M.o.D will be done when it is done. I will chip away at it until I am satisfied. Until it makes me happy.

That being said, it will get done. I'm not giving up on this book, even if it takes me years to write. I have to come to accept the fact that I do not write as fast as I used to because I am working full time to support myself. I have to accept that the way I write is different. I am different. My process, my work, will reflect that. One part of my process I do not want to let go of, though, is accountability. While I will write at the pace I find comfortable, I do want the world to remember that I am writing a book. That it is something that will happen. You'll be that voice in the back of my mind that quietly asks, "Hey, have anything new to share?" So let me share something! Again! Because accountability!

Here's a snippet (once more, unrevised) from chapter 2 of T.M.o.D. And while you're at it, you may as well peruse the inspiration board for the book.

Me versus food

My relationship with food has always been a difficult one. As a child, I was picky beyond belief. If given the choice, I would have had the same dinner every night: chicken, rice, and corn. Every now and then, maybe I'd switch it up with some mac and cheese, or chicken nuggets instead of regular baked chicken (plain, mind you).

When I got older, things became more complicated. At fifteen, I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which in a way may explain why I was always deferring back to plain, unseasoned meals as a child. Apparently, everything I was eating was making me sick. No wonder I was falling behind on that little pink growth scale my pediatrician always showed me. It was difficult to gain weight because the food I was digesting was slowly poisoning my system, and the longer it went on, the worse it got.

Suddenly, anything with gluten was off the table. Literally. No wheat, no flour, no barely, no malt. Do you know how many things have gluten in them? A lot. Do you know how much I suddenly wished I could have a regular sandwich, slice of pizza, piece of cake? And then when I got to thinking about all the food I had never tried before, and now would not get the chance to try, I started to really hate that I wasn't a more adventurous eater at a younger age. Now, when we go out to eat, I have to stick to things like salads or fruit mixes which, don't get me wrong, are delicious but not exactly exciting. Or filling. A beautiful snack, but not a satisfying breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Hence, I eat home. A lot.

Here's the thing about food allergies: they're usually pretty serious. If I had gone undiagnosed, I would have had a majorly increased risk of cancer, along with other potentially fatal health problems. It's great that gluten free is now becoming more main stream (yay for better, tastier options than they had back in 2006!), but unfortunately not everyone understands that eating GF is not only a trend. For me, it's essential if I want to live a somewhat normal life. If I don't, I'm incredibly sick for a substantial amount of time. Even the smallest amount -- say, if my "safe" pizza was cooked on the same pan as your regular pizza -- will keep me down for weeks.

Something particularly frustrating with having Celiac Disease is that I know I will never truly get better. Like my anxiety, this is something I will have to learn to live with and manage. Managing it, though, is proving to be difficult, especially when I'm attempting to live on a budget. Buying gluten free is more expensive, and often the packages of food are smaller than non-gluten free options. Beyond the financial annoyances is something more significant: it's still affecting my health.

A city so nice they named it twice

New York, NY, USA
Here are some more of my favorite pictures from my short weekend trip to New York where I got to see the sights and smell the smells. I'm working to remember to take out my camera more, but sometimes I get so excited I completely forget I even have it on me. Like I said. Working on it.

If you haven't already, make sure to read my post all about Hamilton and how jaw-droppingly impressive it was.

How lucky we are to be alive right now

Broadway, New York, NY, USA
This time last week, I was in the middle of New York City. A block or two off of Broadway, I was getting ready in my hotel room for something I was anticipating for months: HAMILTON!

And to answer the question everyone asks ("How'd you get tickets?!") -- my dad's thrifty, and he plans waaaaayyyy ahead. Which is why we took the train from Baltimore up to New York for my birthday, sat in the highest balcony with a surprisingly perfect view. I was anxious to finally take in a musical I was not only a fan of, but also envious of. You know when you get that pang of jealousy that someone created something so brilliant before you thought of it? That's quickly becoming me with everything Lin Manuel Miranda touches.

Unsurprisingly, the show was even more spectacular than I could have imagined, and the experience was near indescribable. I'll give it my best effort to describe it anyway.

Look around, look around at how lucky we are to be alive right now.
In short, it's everything you'd think it would be and more. Not only is the writing complex, and the characters beautifully played, but the mechanics of the show were incomprehensible. The choreography was simple but powerful, and the goddamn set! Now there was a character in and of itself. It was sparse in design, yet everything had a severe purpose. Watching the show, it was hard to remember that the writing came first, and that the stage came second. It almost seemed at times that pieces were written specifically to interact with the stage mechanics.

When I left the theatre that night, other than buzzing with the excitement of 1) being in New York for the first time 2) seeing my first show on Broadway and 3) HAVING THAT SHOW BE HAMILTON, I remember the extreme sense of admiration at Lin Manuel Miranda's talent. On the one year anniversary of the show opening at Richard Rodgers' Theatre, though LMM himself did not make an appearance, his presence -- his passion and precision -- could be felt. This man is reinventing the game, and not just musically speaking.

That night after the show, I wanted to write. I was literally fidgeting with the need to create, to make something that lasts, that matters. My Gilgamesh crisis, all over again. Anyway, I wasn't going to get sleep anytime soon because, you know, I still couldn't believe that had all just happened, that it was real, and Hamilton was stuck in my head. The songs, the incredible framing of the story... I was inspired to take a second look at all of my work and take what I had learned from the near perfect execution of Hamilton and somehow apply it to my writing. Here were my major takeaways.

Find your happy

What makes you happy? I've been sitting with this question for the past month whenever I go through my dark days. I take a moment and count the things I love, the things that bring joy to my heart and shoots excitement through my veins. I have a compiled a list (because that's what I do when I'm stressed). It's both very specific, and very broad.

First on my list is probably obvious: books. Literature of all kinds lifts my spirit, no matter how bad a day I'm having. It gets me thinking, takes me to far away places. I could sink in between the bindings of my favorite books. The sun has risen and sunk again without me realizing because I'm so engrossed in a world of fiction. It's when I'm happiest; it's when I'm most myself.

Following that, I always get absurdly excited when I find a perfect reading spot. (See picture above. Location: St. John's College.) Somewhere sunny but cool, maybe a light breeze. Somewhere I can sit and disappear into the book surrounded by something beautiful. (See above picture again. Because I mean, really, come on.) I like trees, I like benches, I like quiet corners of libraries that smell like old pages and ink.

Prepare to go full-nerd with me, because learning and debating is also on my list. Let's learn about new things and then sit down and argue about them! Not in an angry way, mind you -- but a passionate way. I don't care if we agree or disagree, and I'm probably not too concerned with winning you over to my side (though don't be surprised if I try). I just love smart, deep, meaningful conversations that challenge me.

I love movies. Stuck in Love is still a favorite. I love music. Anything Mumford and Sons makes me cozy-happy. I love long, tight hugs from friends. I love the sound of someone pouring coke into a glass. Freshly mown grass reminds me of my childhood, and fairy lights make me dreamy.

In listing all that I love, I'm finding my reason -- my place in life, my path forward. It's exciting, this clarity, and I cannot wait to see where it takes me.

Top 5 reasons I love Annapolis

Annapolis, MD, USA
Fifteen months ago when I moved from Ellicott City to Annapolis, I was anxious about how I would fit into this new city. I had never lived anywhere else, and I had very little idea of who I would be in a place that wasn't my home. But faster than I thought possible, Annapolis has become my home. So what makes Annapolis so great? Let me tell you...

Annapolis has a rich history! Four signees of the Declaration of Independence came from Annapolis. We are home to the oldest state capitol in continuous legislative use, and City Dock is the only remaining pre-Revolutionary seaport in the United States. Main Street is lined with beautifully preserved architecture. And did I mention that Francis Scott Key, penmen of the national anthem, actually attended St. John's College? It’s true! (Check out some of the buildings at St. John's College, emblazoned with his name.)

Maryland is one of the lucky states that gets to experience the four seasons in all their glory. Summer is hot and ideal for sailing, autumn is crisp and golden, winter is a snowy wonderland, and spring is rainy and green. Sometimes the weather fluctuates through all four seasons in a week, but that’s half the fun!

Annapolis is the center Maryland. Forty minutes one direction will take you to DC, while a forty minute drive the other way will get you to the Baltimore Inner Harbor. Landing smack-dab between DC and Baltimore is very convenient for traveling between the two busy cities, but it does cause a bit of a divide with sports teams come football season.

Like music? Great! How about art? Even better! And food? Don’t get us started! Annapolis is thriving with culture. If you enjoy spending your nights listening to live music, you’ll love Rams Head, five minutes down the road on West Street. But maybe you’d prefer the Annapolis Opera, Annapolis Chorale, or the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra. Visit our open air theatre and take in a musical or two, and then stop by an art gallery to check out the local talent! If you’re a history buff, we’ve got some museums you may like, too. Annapolis also boasts some delicious restaurants, large and small. There’s a wide array of options, from classic seafood (try the crab cakes anyway, extra Old Bay, please!) to Mediterranean, Mexican, French, Chinese, Italian, and more! Plus, our coffee shops are more than your average Starbucks—though don’t worry, we have those, too!

Artists, midshipmen, lawyers, and restorationists. It’s hard to put the people of Annapolis in a box, but we all have one thing in common: warmth. It’s never hard to start a conversation on the docks with a stranger, or even get a great suggestion of where to find the best, cheap dinner downtown. Snowed in? There’s always someone willing to lend a hand to help shovel you out! People are kind and genuine. It’s a friendly city that’s easy to fall in love with.

I couldn't be happier in Annapolis, and the longer I live in this city, the more things I find to love. It's a perfect place to learn about who you are and who you want to be. Ellicott City will always be my first home, but I'm proud to call Annapolis my new home.

TMOD Teaser

Lately, it's been difficult to carve out time for me to sit down and productively write. It takes a little bit of time for me to get to that mental space I need to be in to actually write something worth saving. And typically, after work, I'm a little too sleepy to think straight, let alone put together sentences that would ever make it past a cursory round of revision.

That being said, I'm making more time. I'm writing more, and working on a project I am extremely enthused about! I'm calling it T.M.o.D. It has a real title, but I love it too much to share with the world until the first draft is complete and the novel is somewhere closer to finished. I posted a little synopsis on the Pinterest page for the book:
Winter, 1949, upstate New York. Four boys (James, Theo, Scottie, and Lewis) live in the cluttered attic of an old dormitory at an ivory university. They have ambition and art; all that's missing is the money. In walks Lucie with her romantic ideals, treacherous wit, and surprising air of serendipity. Happening upon a mysterious journal filled with a wondrous tale of forgery and fortune, rapacity runs rampant among the artists. Nothing is more deadly than desperation.
This book is very aesthetically driven. It deals with art and passion and jealousy. It's dark, romantic, and exciting. Or at least I'm hoping that's what it will be! The entire plot has been fleshed out in detail, as have the characters and settings, and I am so excited to start writing it in earnest.

It's been a while since I've shared any of my writing, so I thought I would post a quick snippet from chapter one. The draft is still rough around its edges and in the early stages, but here you go...

Where I'm going / where I want to be

About twice a week, I have an existential crisis. It's very exhausting and vaguely entertaining in its dramatics as I start to hyper-plan and panic about every aspect of my life. I think about where I'm living, what I'm doing, where I want to go, and what I want to be. Sometimes, it feels like time is running out for me to make some of those monumental life decisions because I keep looking ahead at what could be and man does it seem like the future is much closer than it used to be. In these fits of anxiety, I get struck with a brilliant moment of clarity where I realize that right now counts. This is my life, and I am in the middle of living it. Am I doing it right? Am I doing it well? How can I make the most of it?

I don't have the answers to all of these questions yet; I'm still searching them out. It feels like I change my mind every other day about the direction I see my life going, and part of me is terrified that once I make a decision, it will be unchangeable. I'll be trapped in some version of my life, wishing I had chosen the second option.

One of my biggest fears is losing control over my life. I despise the idea of being stuck, of being unhappy and unable to do anything to change it. It's part of the reason I can be so indecisive at times -- why I have a sort of wanderlust of the mind. I can vividly imagine a dozen different scenarios played out, for better or worse. It makes me scared to move forward at times. I'm fighting that fear every day.

What if I moved to a different state? What if I stayed in Annapolis? What if I wanted to become a teacher? What if I worked in marketing and journalism? One thing I know for certain is that I want to keep the people I love close to me. I want to continue to do what I love: write. I want to create things and be happy and be able to take nice, clean, deep breaths. I want to fall in love every day and be sure of my choices, knowing that if I am unhappy, I can change things. I am never trapped, even if it feels like it sometimes.

When I need to remind myself that nothing is permanent, and that life is whatever I want it to be, I think of one of my close friends from high school. She knew she wasn't as happy as she could be, so she made some changes. Big ones. She moved over 26 hours away from the hometown she grew up in. She left the classes she was taking and the job she was working behind to find what made her happy. Based on what I've heard, she found it. I admire her bravery more than anything. I wonder what my version of bravery will lead me to?

Where I'm going: I don't know yet. I'm still feeling out the multiple paths diverging in my wood. I'm hoping that there will be a time when the path I'm meant to travel becomes more clear. I'll keep watching and planning. Where I want to be: In a place of peace and security, wherever that may be.

Indian Rocks Beach

Indian Rocks Beach, FL, USA
I made a promise to myself this summer: I will pick up my camera more. I want to take more pictures and capture more moments on film so I can look back at them later and remember it all. When my family went on vacation this July to Indian Rocks Beach on the west coast of Florida, the few times I wasn't covered in sunscreen, sand, and saltwater, I did just that. Pictures were taken, memories were made. These are just a few of my favorites.

Human exhaustion

I've had writer's block for the past six months. Actually, it's less "writer's block" and something more along the line of "writer's (missing) motivation." Or, more on the nose, "human exhaustion." I've made posts about all the crazy goings ons with regard to my day job -- which, I will state again for the record, brings me much joy due to the amazing people I work with and am surrounded by 40+ hours a week -- but here's the thing. Even on my days off, I'm too tired to actually write.

On my days off, I do all the adult things I'm supposed to do during the week but am too tired to actually do because I'm a sleepy person who wants to just lay on the ground for a few hours until I have to make dinner and then eventually/inevitably fall asleep on the couch. I do laundry, clean dishes, vacuum, yadda yadda yadda. Recently, I've been packing, because tomorrow I'm switching apartments again which is a whole other story about stress and boxes and messes.

What was I getting at again? Oh right! Writing. Yes. So, because of ALL THE THINGS happening, I haven't had the motivation/energy to sit down and write anything of substance. A few weeks back, I started writing the beginning of a new story I am excited about. I'm calling it T.M.o.D. (which I know the full name of but is a secret for now) and!!! I LOVE IT!!! I mean, the little bit I wrote the past week needs to be seriously rewritten, but now I know what I want and what I don't want for it to become. The pinterest board alone gives me all the excitement and inspiration, and I swear, every time I look at it I have the best intentions of writing but then I remember it's almost 10PM and I still have to have dinner or clean the bathroom or hang the clothes that have somehow found their way onto the floor of my room.

I'm going to get back to writing. Soon. I have a vacation coming up that I intend to spend on the beach, reading, or inside an air conditioned home writing. I'm hoping I can hold myself up to that expectation. At the very least, some serious reading will get done. And plotting. The writing will come. I'm still working on find that balance.

The helpers and the light

This past week has been overwhelmed with outrage and despair. Between the audacious court ruling in the Stanford rape case, to the news coming out of Orlando this morning, I've been struck speechless. I've held off making any posts on social media because I am honestly having difficulty putting into words the heartbreak I feel over it all. And, just like with the similar news stories I've seen all too often in these past years, I have a tendency to see these reports and spiral. I will never grow numb to this.

Does this news affect me personally? At a macroscopic level, no, though there are arguments to be made that every terrible act in humanity should affect us all personally. We are responsible for the continuation of tragedies and injustices if we do nothing to stop it. I cannot help but feel it all deeply. The lack of justice -- the shattering acts of violence -- strike me hard and I swear, it rattles my bones. I feel the tragedies as if they are my own. So let me restate: We are responsible for the continuation of tragedies and injustices if we do nothing to stop it. Do something to stop it. Speak out, own the tragedies as if they are your own and do something, however small, to work toward ensuring that things like this never happen again. We owe it to ourselves to fight back against such horrors.

At times like these, I allow myself a moment of anger, a moment of sadness, a moment of contemplation and action, and then I unplug. The bombardment of news coverage can be suffocating. I'll read it all; I'll become more and more upset, feel more and more useless. So I do what I can. I grieve, I give in to the emotions, I do what I can, and then I close my computer. I will not let the darkness consume me. Not when there is so much light to be found, to be created.

For every article of tragedy, there emerges a story of heroics. A lesson from Mr. Rogers comes to mind every time something like this happens: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"

The two Swedish students at Stanford. The first responders in Orlando, or the hundreds of people donating blood to those injured during the attack. Tragedies like these are meant to tear us all apart, yet it does just the opposite. We come together for strength, for comfort, for understanding. The darkness brings out the brightest lights in humanity. Open your eyes, look through the darkness, and see the galaxy of stars before you. Realize that you are part of it.

Don't allow yourself to drown in the news coverage. If you feel overwhelmed as I often do, step back. Hug someone. Do something kind, brave, and genuine. Find a way to feel safe, and look for the helpers. Look for the lights. Become one yourself.

Work is third

The other week, my sister and I got complimenting tattoos. I got the moon and she got the sun. There's a lovely quote I read once that I was drawn to right before we went under the needle: "You and I share the same sky; that's how I sleep at night." They're still healing, so we're staying out of the pool and sun for a little longer -- meaning we are both as pale as ever -- but I am obsessed with them. I love having another thing that ties me and my sister together. As if we didn't have enough evidence that we're super close.

Work (as a tangential update) is still crazy. Most of my week is spent working -- and it's crazy and hectic and exhausting but I love it. Really and truly, I love it. The people I work with are the kindest and most fun people I could ever hope to be surrounded by! Every day, even the hard ones, I look around and think about how lucky I am to be where I am, with the people I am with. But honestly, work is taking up a good amount of my time. As I was getting used to this new schedule of mine, I realized I had started to let some things slip. I was forgetting to spend as much time with family and friends, because the time I had off I wanted to relax and do nothing. Which I still do (I'm doing it today); I do get a certain pleasure of telling people I did absolutely nothing at all with my day off. But I was letting other things I love slip.

Reading, for one. Writing, for another. I hadn't finished a book in way too long, so this week I opened one that had been sitting on my shelf for about a month and finally started reading it. Now I have about fifty pages of this 640-paged book left.

And the whole "remembering to actually talk to people who you don't only work with" thing is getting better. I'm working on saving up some of my energy to spend on friends and family, because I miss seeing them as much as I used to. And no matter how much I love work, I don't want that to be the only thing in my life. I need to remember that and make a conscious effort to say yes to spending time with people, even when I'm very tired and would much rather say no, I'm going to go nap. I won't remember that nap or how tired I am in fifty years; chances are I'll remember spending time with my friends.

In the wise words of Leslie Knope...
“We need to remember what's important in life: friends, waffles, work. Or waffles, friends, work. Doesn't matter, but work is third.”


For the last two weeks, it's been stormy and gray. Today, the sun came out, and with it, I've come to a sappy realization that I'm really, really happy with where I am in my life. I've come a long way, and I'm pretty proud of myself.

Okay, so I'm still stressed about figuring this whole "adult" thing out. But I'm guessing that's more of a fake-it-till-ya-make-it situation. No one seems to know what they're doing anyway. You just get really good at pretending until suddenly things start to actually work out. AND THINGS ARE WORKING OUT REALLY WELL LATELY! Not to jinx it, but I'm getting really excited about what 2016 is doing with me, and I hope the trend continues. I don't think I've ever been in such a good place with both my work, friends, and personal life.

A lot has happened since my last update in March. A lot of good things. The biggest news: I got a promotion at work. When I started out as a seasonal associate, I never would have guessed I'd be in a manager role six months later. Retail work is hard. It's exhausting. But it's also kind of the best. Last September when I interviewed for my job, I had no idea that I would fall in love with my work the way I did -- or that I'd become close friends with the wonderful girls I work with. But I did.

With my work, I've managed to find a level of control over my stress and anxiety. The financial stability helps, but also knowing that I'm capable of doing all that I've done has instilled a level in confidence in myself I haven't had before. I've grown a lot since I let my anxiety run my life, and I'm not done growing. Like I said before, anxiety is a constant battle, but I'm still fighting. I'm surrounding myself with good people, and I'm letting that intention work its way through the rest of my life.

Summer is coming closer, and with it, I want to focus on being happy and letting go of any negativity that managed to hold onto me for so long. My sister is home for the summer and she's been filling our apartment with green things. (See above.) And they're growing! (See above.) Next step is to find great food to eat, to feel better and healthier and more energetic. And water! Drinking more water -- that'll always be on my list. I'm also pulling out my camera more (read: camera, not phone) to take pictures. I always forget to do that, and I really want to have more pictures of my friends and my favorite moments so I can relive it all.

This summer will be the best, busiest, and craziest one yet. Bring it on.

Simplifying in a state of flux

It's funny. As a kid when I imagined what 23 would be like, it looked nothing like this. The picture I had in mind was a highly romanticized version of adulthood where bills were easily paid, meals were prepared skillfully, and I had life figured out. Everything, I assumed, would have settled down by the time I was in my mid-early-twenties. How hilarious and naïve is that?

I haven't fully settled into my life yet, and who knows how long it will be before I do. I'm still fidgety and trying to suss out some things now. Figuring out where I fit in the world, and how I can/want to/and do interact with it all is harder than I would have guessed. And that's not even taking into consideration the mechanics of actually being an "adult." Things like work, rent, groceries... Eight-year-old Erica never thought about those practicalities. But I am thinking about them now. I have to.

There's a lot of things that are out of my control in my life, and very few things within my realm of influence. This week, I had a sort of epiphany about the extra noise I have surrounding me, and I'm on a new mission to silence it. I'm already going through my things and asking myself what I truly use, or what has real value to me, and figuring out what else can be repurposed or donated. I want less things in my way. I want to declutter my personal life in the same way. It's time to simplify everything. Out with the excess, in with things of significance. Less mess, less stress, more work and more reward.

Right now, everything in my life is about to change. I'm not entirely sure how it's going to change, and I can never be sure that it's going to be a change for the better, but I can feel the precipice before me. One push this way, everything falls into place. One push that way... Well, you see where I'm going with this. But I have a good feeling. I think this time, things are going to fall into place. Something great is just around the corner.

Sitting here this morning, looking at the different, clearly defined paths I can follow next, I'm tempted to hesitate before I make any decisions. I have a bad habit of overanalyzing things, and it's hard to turn that part off. But I managed it and already, I've set things in motion. Things are happening. I've taken that leap before fear got the better of me.

Making a choice when it's something that intimidates you is, well, intimidating. But the fear of failing is nothing compared to the fear of doing nothing. Change has already started to snowball. Now, all I can do is sit back and hope that that boulder rolling down the hill is headed in the right direction and I don't regret the choices later, ending up in some Sisyphus situation where I'll forever be trying to push the rock back up the mountain.

Typically, I'm not good with having faith that everything will work out. I don't do well on blind trust -- I do better with hard evidence, some proof that ABC will lead to XYZ. But life isn't always clean (in fact, it's often the opposite). Life doesn't always give you a single path to follow, it gives you options, and it's up to you to pick a direction and go. I'm not going to wait around forever waiting for proof or a sign of what I should do. Passivity makes me anxious, so even though all this change in my life has me a little nervous, at least I'm doing something about it. I'm moving forward.

I'm making choices. I'm simplifying as I go. I'm hoping for the best, and maybe all that positivity will bounce back to me one day.

It's good to be scared

I'm a naturally anxious person. You may or may not know this about me depending on how many social media sites you follow me on. If you follow me on twitter, you've no doubt seen late night tweets about insomnia and panic attacks. Anxiety is a terrible thing to live with; it can exhaust you to no end. Like stress, too much of it can really shut you down, but there is a level of anxiety that is actually good for you. In fact, some anxiety can be helpful.

As a writer, I can work through my anxiety in different ways. Sometimes running away to my fictional worlds help me escape the realities of my own. Living inside a character's head can be easier than living in my own at times. It's nice to explore the "what if's" of somebody else's life with no consequences to my own. And of course, I love writing. The simple act of sitting down and typing out a scene or a chapter is in itself relaxing.

It's not until after I'm done writing that I get scared again. I'm suddenly on the outside of the work, looking in. I am seeing the mistakes, the sloppiness, everything that needs to be changed. What I thought (in the moment) was something original and exciting reads as drivel. And DEAR GOD why did I think this was a good book to write? The editor in me is brutal, and nothing is ever good enough. That's what most writers will tell you: they are their own worst critic. I'm definitely my worst critic, and my inner dialogue can get pretty biting.

Where does this harsh self-criticism come from? Simple answer: fear.

Why did something I once love change into something I now view as trash? Has my opinion of it really changed so drastically? No... Not really, anyway. I still will always love my characters and the stories I write, no matter how down I get on myself. There really is a reason I decided to write this book or this scene. I loved it; that's why it materialized from just an idea!

What happens (to me, at least) is fear. When I write, I write in isolation. I don't letter that inner voice or my editor-brain click on. I let the scene flow and don't look back. Sometimes I'll write in the dark or in the middle of the night because it's easier to be honest when you're too tired to think straight. There's no judgment, not pressure, just... story. That's a great place to be. If I can stay in this frame of mind long enough, I can have a very productive editing session. Revisions, when you're still in the honeymoon phase of your idea, aren't about tearing apart your manuscript -- though you might be; it's about polishing the gems you've already laid. It's about taking something good and making it great, or taking something awesome and making it... awesome...er.

But step out of this headspace and WHAM. You're smacked with not only your inner critic, but also those outside critics. It's a fear of being judged: by readers, by other writers, hell, maybe even your family or friends. What if they don't like your story? What if they think it's weird or stupid? What if... what if... And it all spirals down from there. It gets worse when you have access to negative reviews of your writing. Remember that 1-star GoodReads rating you got the other month? Of course you do! That review has been replaying in your head every day since you've read it! Or how about that article you read that discredited the YA genre as a whole (which can not only boil my blood but really let the air out of my balloon when I'm in a good-writing-mood)? And let's not even mention the hundreds of nay-sayers about making writing a career and not just a hobby.

Yeah, there's a lot to be afraid about when you choose to put yourself out there as an author. You invest so much time -- blood, sweat, tears, and red pens -- into writing the best book you can and then you just have to send it out into the world without a safety net. You throw it into the great (and amazing) abyss that is the world of publishing and cross your fingers that it's well received. (Of course there are other things you need to do to make sure people actually catch your book when you throw it, and buy a copy! But that's a different post.) There will be people who like it. There will even be those who LOVE it! But be prepared for those who don't. Because if you've written something worth reading, you will evoke some kind of emotion out of people -- positive or negative, in this respect it's all actually a good thing. And I don't think I've ever read a book that didn't have a negative review... Books with only amazing ratings are like unicorns; mystical and probably a bit dangerous.

Fear and writing... I think the two go together. Especially if you are writing about something that means something to you. And you should be! But how do we deal with fear? Should we try to eliminate it from our process? No. Absolutely not. Being scared is good. I know. It's hard to hear that, and in the moment of fear it's impossible to believe. So I'll say it again: Being scared is GOOD. It's great! It means this book means something to you! It means you have invested some part of yourself into this book. It means you care. What's important is to accept the fear and move past it.

Don't let fear stop you in your tracks. Instead let it nip at your heels as you press forward. Let the fear bring passion to your writing; let your fear motivate you to always try better than the last time, to keep pushing yourself to write the best you can. Allow the fear to inspire you. Don't compare yourself to other writers (trust me -- that's a bottomless pit of doom and despair). Don't dote on those negative reviews, and every now and then, tell your internal editor to put a sock in it. If you're having a hard time shaking off the anxiety about writing that next scene, revisit your early notes of your manuscript. Remember what made you start writing and what you love about this story. And then write. WRITE LIKE THE WIND, no matter how scared you get. Because being scared is good.

This post has been revived from the archives.

Wandering downtown

Annapolis, MD, USA

Life leaves scars

Sometimes the world is full of so much darkness that it's hard to find any light. The walls crush in on you and a feeling of helplessness carves itself into your bones. Everything is bleak and, worse than sad, you've become melancholy and numb to the world around you. What do we do in times like this?

Be the light. Be the lift of hope. Be the smile in a crowd. Fight against the indifference. Don't let fear win, let love.

Tell those that are important to you just how important they are. They may not be here tomorrow for you to let them know, so do so now before you miss your chance. Embarrassment has nothing on regret; one dissipates, the other only grows.

Be kind to every person you meet. Smile at strangers. There are shadows in all of us, and we should work on acknowledging them and scattering away the darkness. Small moments of decency can mean everything -- what is a single drop in your bucket could be the first rain a person parched for kindness has seen in years. It's never hard to be nice.

In a world where we are threatened to be hurt at every corner, it's easy to want to let yourself fade out. The news is full of stories about vitriol and violence, and we're getting used to it. We tune it out as white-noise. It's easier to not care at all than care too much, right? Shouldn't you prefer a gray world to one where the colors -- both beautiful and horrible -- are so vivid that it's nearly painful to look at?

Here's what I think: the world is supposed to leave its mark, even if it's a scar. If, at the end of our lives, our skin is smooth and unmarked, how can we speak about all we've survived?

Today's a dark day in the world, and my thoughts are with those in Belgium and Turkey (as well as with anyone in the world whose life has been shattered by violence). But the hate we see is outmatched by the love and compassion of the response. There are heroes in every one of us, little pieces of light in all of humanity. Don't let the darkness win. Don't let evil isolate. Reach out and do something, however small. The effect will be bigger than you expect. A ripple only widens.

You just do

I am particularly practiced at pushing aside stress. Well, it's less pushing it aside than it is shoving it in a box with all the other stress and anxiety I have, taping up that box, and compressing it into as small a thing as possible. Damn, is it dense, with how packed that little box is. All that stress sits right between my ribs. I call it The Void.

For the most part, I can ignore The Void until a more appropriate time. Meaning that, in the moment, that terrible thing will be put away until I have time to unpack it and deal with it. Put it in the box, figure out how to handle it later when I have the time, or a clearer head, or am not in public, whatever. The problem is, when I finally get around to opening The Void, it's sort of a Pandora's box situation. I am not able to take out only one thing to analyze at a time. Everything sort of...spills out. And when that box is overpacked, I usually don't have a say in when it's open because it will just explode. What a mess that is.

This week was a lot, for a lot of reasons, but chiefly among them are the increased hours at work, a busier personal life, and missing my family. The perfect storm for The Void to grow large enough for me to lose that control I practice so hard to maintain. And guess what happened? The box opened. Exploded. It made a mess, and not at an optimal time.

Thursday at work, I had a panic attack. It was of the lowkey, quiet variety where customers (or coworkers) wouldn't notice, but it was a bad one. Really bad. The thing is, I've been lucky. I haven't had many panic attacks at work (four, maybe?). Mostly, my bad days at work are ones where my anxiety is on constant high alert. My base line of anxiety and stress is MEGA HIGH but an inch below panic, so I tolerate it. I deal. The last panic attack I had was way back during the holiday season, where the store I work at was so busy, crowded, and hot that I couldn't calm myself down. I think I finally was able to work my way out of a panic back in December when it happened because I was sent to work in a cold part of the store in the back where I freaked out for a little and then it was over. Thank god.

So what happened Thursday? What triggered this panic attack after working for so long without the interruption? The Void. I was tired. The store was busy. I was mildly overheated. Add all this together, and I got flustered and suddenly it felt like there was something wrapped tight around my neck and I couldn't breath and HELLO PANIC ATTACK it's been a while! To make matters worse, this all began an hour into my shift. It was still going to be a while before my shift ended and I went home, and even if things got worse I couldn't leave. (You see, I have this thing where my anxiety becomes even more unbearable if I feel that I'm inconveniencing others. Leaving the store short staffed -- especially when I was to help close that night, and we were busy -- would be the epitome of inconveniencing. So that option was out.)

Thursday was awful. Yet here I am, alive. I'm okay. I didn't leave the store and run home when my panic attack begun; I knew that that would only make things worse, if it were even an option for me at that point. I knew that if I let panic stake its claim at my work, I would never be able to go back in without having major spikes of anxiety and panic. And what if I had another panic attack at work? Would I leave again? If that happened, the cycle would never end. I had to stay, I had to survive. I had to deal with it head on. And I did. I stuck it out so that by the time I left work that night, I was calmer. I had something other than panic to associate with my shift for the day.

I get a lot of people asking me things like: How do you cope with/manage your anxiety? The answer, as shitty as it is, is that you just do. You take it one minute at a time. Sometimes ten seconds, if that's all you can manage. Grit your teeth and stay where you are, no matter how loud the urge to run is screaming in your head. If you run, you let your anxiety win, and slowly your world will shrink smaller and smaller until nowhere feels safe. Don't let that happen. It's miserable, trust me.

My panic disorder will never go away. It's something I've found hard to reconcile with, but this is something that will always be with me. It is mine, and I have to own that. There will be times when it is hardly noticeable; there will be times when it's all I can see. But I won't let it dictate my life, like it used to. I'm so tired from running all the time that I'm ready to stand there and fight. Because that's what a panic attack is: fight or flight. You survive it but surviving it. You just do. Make the decision to not give up and see how strong you really are. I bet you'll impress even yourself.

Diversity matters and you should be writing about it

I am a middle class, white female. I have a privilege that I was born into just because of circumstances and it is my responsibility to keep that in mind in everything I create. Just because privilege isn't intentionally sought doesn't mean I don't receive it because of who I am and what I look like. And how stupid is that?

I'm a strong proponent of diversity, especially when it comes to all things fiction: books, television, films. Why not have a more diverse cast of characters? Aren't we tired of seeing the same paper person over and over again? Give me characters of color, characters with complex gender identities, characters of mixed sexual orientations, characters with disabilities, characters with mental illnesses. Give me more real people!

Diversity and representation in young adult is pretty pathetic; it's getting better, but there's still loads of room to grow. And I hold myself and some of my early work under this microscope of scrutiny, as well. All too often, I find myself automatically making my characters straight white women because, well, I know how to write that easily. What a lazy excuse! If I can write about demons and angels and ghosts, I can damn well include characters that aren't "like me." Aren't I doing that already? (God I hope so, otherwise I'm probably a psychopathic killer who loves torturing people and summoning demons.)

I'm more conscious of the characters I craft now, and am proud of the diversity I have in my stories. The Ignite series alone has a cast of characters that is as diverse in appearance as it is in morality. Kala's a one-winged, black, lesbian angel with the mouth of a sailor and a heart of pure gold. Gus is a shy, bisexual book worm in Hell. Zo is an Asian angel with more allegiance to man than to Heaven.

In The Empath, my main character (Odessa) is described as black. Originally, I wrote her as a pale girl with red hair and freckles. Why? Just a knee-jerk reaction. But changing her race didn't make a lick of difference to the story I was telling; in fact, it aided in the story, as Odessa faced prejudices as a psychic. Adding in the factor of race in the late 1800s made that sense of "not belonging" and mistrust stronger. It added another layer of tension.

I want to be sure my characters are diverse and representational of the real world--even if they exist in a fictional one. And I want them to be in roles where they are not defined by their skin color/sexual orientation/disability. I want that to just be a trait of theirs, just an underscore of their voice. There's a quote from Orphan Black (which you should be watching, if you aren't already) Cosima says that really nails this idea: "My sexuality's not the most interesting thing about me."

In my works in progress, I've written characters with crippling anxiety; I have a gender-bent Robin Hood story where Robin still falls in love with Maid Marian. In my sci-fi, multiple cultures and races are represented, along with a spectrum of sexualities and genders. In Lyra, my story Patchwork Press anthology, my main characters (Orpheus and Eury) are an interracial same sex couple with a wide division in their castes. Why write characters like this? Why not.

I have an issue with authors who are over ambiguous with diversity in text and only reveal in after-interviews/blog posts "Well, that character was gay" or "Actually, that character was Muslim, though it was never mentioned or even alluded to once." I'll do all I can to make it clear just who my characters are, and I can guarantee that they'll be more complex than just an aspect of diversity. Diversity doesn't overshadow a character; it makes them stronger and more realistic. And don't we want characters that feel more realistic??? I know I do!

I'm still learning and growing, in both my writing and my life. Writing diverse characters can sometimes feel like I'm writing with my left hand, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't try. My handwriting may still look sloppy to some people, but I will always work my hardest to focus on the soul of their character while also acknowledging their diverse traits. And don't let the fear of not knowing how to write diverse characters stop you. Do some research, and write. Write it again. The more you practice, the better you'll be, and eventually, you'll be ambidextrous.

Don't be a lazy author that excuses the lack of diversity in your books. Find a way to fix that problem, because diversity and representation matters, and you should be writing it.

This post is from the archives, originally posted February 2015.

Art and literature

In college, I changed majors a half dozen times. There's no exaggeration there. I couldn't seem to settle myself into one specific course of study because I wanted to study it all. And all of it, many would argue, were degrees that would lead nowhere.

I fell in love with the humanities. My mythology class was so interesting I became obsessed with the texts we were assigned -- so much so that I decided to read and research more on my own, outside of the context of the class. My philosophy classes were gripping, and I discovered how much I enjoyed engaging in intellectual (and passionate) debates over morality. Of course there were a number of literature and publishing classes that lifted me up into the clouds and ultimately convinced me to take the leap and major in creative writing and English. But one of the classes that sticks in my mind even to this day was my art history class.

Art was always something I appreciated, but from afar. I cannot paint, I cannot sculpt. Hell, I can't even sketch well. (Though I can draw a pretty wicked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Not exactly museum worthy work though, is it?) Because I'm so atrocious at art, I'd only taken a few necessary art classes during elementary and middle school. They were tolerable, but never took hold in me because, like I said, I sucked. I sucked hard.

This art history class, though. This one hit the mark -- I didn't have to draw, I only had to look. Sitting on the bottom shelf of my bookcase is the Big Art Book, and I take it out at least once a month to stare at some of my favorite pieces. Like I did during the class, I study the techniques and colors, the styles and the artists. I read as little or as much into the art as I want; create my own story or read about the artists' intentions. God, I love it. And I love art. But that's not what I do: I write.

Which leads me to the literature bit of this post. One of my lowkey favorite authors of late is Donna Tartt. The first novel I read of hers was The Secret History and I have never sat so in awe of a work of fiction as I did when I finished that book. She had such an artistic way with her words -- something that stretched beyond poetry. Her language wasn't necessarily overly flowery or complicated, it was the ideas that brought the fascination; the crafting of her characters, of the world they occupied, was stunning to say the least. It took little convincing for me to want to pick up another one of her novels, and so I did.

I just started reading The Goldfinch this morning. It arrived in the mail yesterday and I was surprised at how big the book is. It's easily twice the length of The Secret History. I hardly read the synopsis when I bought it off Amazon, but this morning, when I woke up early so I could start this beast (yes, I get it, I'm super lame but whatever), I scanned the back cover.

Here's what I know about the book: It follows Theo after he loses his mother in an accident. (That accident is an explosion at a museum. I just finished that bit this morning. Wow, was it well written.) He's taken in by a rich family because he is fatherless (presumably because his father left, I'm gathering). Dealing with his grief over the loss of his mother, he becomes obsessed with a small painting of, you guessed it, a goldfinch. Somehow, this leads to him discovering the underworld of art and shit gets real.

Already, I'm hooked. Anything with "the underworld of art" in the summary, and I'm in. I can't wait to read a book that contains the cross section of all that I love: art, mystery, and incredible writing.

One thing I will say about Donna Tartt is that her novels are not only interesting, and her writing is not only crisp and exact, but her work is inspiring. After The Secret History, I was compelled to sit down and write something that could be even half as masterful. Of course, I could never replicate her style, even if I tried. It's a style I enjoy reading, but not a style that comes naturally to me in my own work. And that's okay. Art isn't supposed to be the same, and the voice of an author should be as unique as the brushstrokes of a painter. I'm turning that envy in to drive and determination, and someday, I hope it will all click into place.

Look at yourself, not that dude over there

Comparison kills creativity. And courage. And confidence. And probably a lot of other things, but let's end it there because I like the alliteration and grouping of three. Anyway, what I'm getting at is that when you stop focusing on what you're doing and begin to look around at what everyone else is doing, shit goes south fast.

Like, remember in school, when you took a test and felt like it was going really well until you looked up and around at the desks near you and realized that they were a page ahead of you? Or even worse...people were already turning in their work and how is that possible we just started this test and it's only been like ten minutes tops?!!??!? You know the feeling. I'd argue everyone knows it. Because, for some reason, we all decide to look up and check on how those around us are doing. Curiosity killed the cat (creativity/courage/confidence) and all that.

I'm 23 now. I don't think it's ever been harder to stop comparing myself with my peers. Social media -- I'm looking at you Facebook -- makes it even more unbearable. In my mid-early-twenties (roll with it, that's what I'm calling 23 now), I still have a million insecurities about the choices I'm making with my life. What do I want to do as my career, or what can I realistically do? Should I follow my head or my heart? Pursue passion or secure safety? Am I doing this "adult" thing right or royally messing it up?

Meanwhile, as I'm asking myself all of these major life questions, my social media feed is littered with people sharing pictures of their fiancés. Status updates about the amazing jobs they work, or spectacular trips they fly off to, are distracting me. In all honesty, they make me more than a little envious. Not that I want to be engaged or married now; not that I'm sure I want to be locked in to some career path that would be difficult to get off of, if I were to change my mind; not that I'm not proud of how far I've come just because other people appear to have gone further.

The thing is, I like my life being up in the air right now. I mean, I don't love it, but the freedom of being able to change everything about my life on a whim does give me a certain sense of freedom. I can decide tomorrow to pick up and move across the country and very little in my life would be upset. How many people can say that? How many people would love to be able to do just that? Leaving my options open while I figure it all out gives me comfort. There's nothing I hate more than feeling trapped, or believing I've made some monumental mistake because I've chosen the wrong person/career/place to spend my life tied to.

I still have time. There's always time.

What's important (and I've said this in a previous post but I think it deserves restating) is to focus on what I'm doing, what I want, and where I'm going -- not the perceived success of those people I know through social media. I'd rather focus on how far I've come than how far I've left to go. Peeking over my shoulder at those around me and thinking that I haven't done enough simply because other people appear to be doing better or more is bonkers. I'm doing fine. Look at all I've done!

Besides, we all know Facebook only shows a small slice of someone's life, and often it's the prettiest picture possible. Not many are willing to share the low points of their lives. That awful day at work, the stress that comes with their "glamorous" career, or the nit-picky annoying arguments they have with their longtime boyfriend or girlfriend won't surface on social media. No one's life is as perfect as they depict it online. It's airbrushed and only fractionally real.

We all need to stop looking at that dude over there and focus on what's in front of us. It doesn't matter what they're doing; it matters what you are doing. While it may seem like others are doing better than you, they're not. They're doing different than you. Don't ever mistake the two. You are doing great and you will be fine.

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