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.

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