Tag: growing up

My first AWP at 12,000 writers deep

I can’t believe I’m here.

During my years of undergrad and graduate school, AWP—Association of Writers & Writing Programs—was the definition of cool, was the thing the cool students did. Yes, even in grad and undergrad there is cool. It’s not a concept reserved solely for the untouchables at the middle-school lunch table or the hunky highschool football team. On the other hand, the very lack of cool is a disease, uncool. It follows you. It’s on you. You wear it like a bad style. In adulthood, cool exists with a different name: elitist, bougie, yuppie, pretentious, hipster, etc.

You think I’m being dramatic, don’t you? Sensitive? Maybe. But it’s there and it’s been instilled in me, drawn-out and awkward as the “growing out” phase of a bad haircut. Cool is now ironic. It’s not for those of us that grew up in an age where sweaters, cat shirts, stretchy pants, thunder thighs and glasses were considered severely uncool. I was never cool, and so I can never be.

“I just never want to be the type to take myself too seriously, you know? I hate that,” I explained to Laura during one of my anti-academic rants.

“You just don’t like pretentiousness,” she clarified.

“Yeah, I guess. I just don’t want to be that movie. The one you hear all the hype about, and then you go to see it, and it sucks.”

Who knows? Maybe the movie wouldn’t suck so bad if expectations weren’t so high. All that hype.

I’ll admit that most of my adulthood accomplishments and sense of self has come from a heavy dose of “fake it ’til you make it”—a (clichéd) mantra I learned early. I mean, let’s face it: self-deprecation is embarrassing and uncomfortable for everyone. We can’t all be Alanis with her $10 words. We can’t all turn our insecurities and hyperawareness into some moody and attractive Canadian twenty-something with a record deal.

Ok, so this appears to have nothing to do with AWP at all… but I swear it does!

Just as I learned in school early on (again and again), doing something cool doesn’t necessarily make one cool. Sure, I wore men’s JNCO Jeans and Airwalks and memorized all the words to Puff Daddy’s album, No Way Out. (Clearly the definition of cool. Ha!) But even this didn’t affect my position on the highschool popularity chart. Likewise, attending AWP didn’t suddenly transform me into some poised, self-assured and impervious academic writer. Instead, it made me feel small and unimportant and squash-able: a feeling I wasn’t ready for, to be honest. But maybe that is the lesson too, a reminder of the lesson.

You can’t just put on the JNCO Jeans. You have to be the kind of person that wears the JNCO Jeans, you know?

Being uncool and remaining uncool kept me at a distance back then. I was overweight, reactive and super insecure. I might as well have worn a sign on my head. And if I am truly the alien that I say I am and I never fit into any community, I don’t have to live up to the expectations and definitions of success defined by that community, right? So maybe I’m just afraid of not achieving those successes. What if I am not more than this? (How many years of trying does it take? Have I even tried? …this could easily turn into the Question Game.)

That is what AWP was for me. Reflective. Figuring out my place. It was a trip away with sun. It was a chance to learn more about writing, about people and life. I got to see and experience so many things and people in just a few days, and yes, this was all very overwhelming at times (see: ugly-crying alone in my hotel room like a lost pup), but it felt worth it and necessary. And while it was hard to connect to anything too much, it was still a time of connections. These moments made an impact, even if they were brief. So thank you for them.

At the end of the day, it’s not really about cool, is it? I’m sure cool would help. I will always be an alien, though—whether I came to it by fear or innately—but I cannot navigate my life or my writing career on those feelings of inadequacy. Maybe that has worked in other aspects of my life, like kicking my ass at the gym, but I cannot allow the shame of Not Enough to stifle me. I don’t think I’ll ever get rid of her—the chubby four-eyed, freckled-faced president of Poetry Club— but maybe that’s ok. I

If I could wrap up that “freedom to be” like a gift, I’d give it to us all.


You have to love you


Moon Blur

So many are hurting right now. What’s up, planets?

This I’m realizing more and more: being aware comes with a bit of sadness. Ok, more than a bit. Sometimes noticing the bs and narrowing down motives and intentions and behaviors can feel like a whole ocean of sadness that you have to (somehow) stay on top of, ride the waves. Besides sadness, analyzing yourself and the people around you can really take the magic out of shit. I keep picturing the Wizard behind the curtain in his shiny glistening green castle.

This year I’ve come across more personality-disordered individuals than I even realized existed. I mean, this isn’t to sound better-than or unempathetic (because typically those folks are the way they are for one reason or another.) But that’s just it—too much empathy and you’re letting in unhealthy, self-serving “victims” who are great at taking you on their drama-coasters. Worse still is that some of us are prey, easy because we are sad, insecure, unfulfilled, self-deprecating, etc. Not being well—in whatever way you want to put it—makes us targets. And at this age, after 20 or more years of unhealthy thoughts and behaviors? It feels damning and unchangeable. It’s hard to break habits and even to tell them apart from personality traits and whatever hole it is you got yourself stuck in.

Up to this point, if you identify with such a sitch, you might also be the caretaker, the dominant, the “control freak,” the anxious worrier—responsible, ever-guilty, shameful and a member of the royal court of Never-Enoughs. Maybe you grew up having to emotionally care for parental figures, siblings, etc. (this along with your young self.) So then what? You end up stubbornly independent and responsible, likely hyper-critical of yourself and possibly others. But under there, in a place you don’t want to admit exists, is a deeply buried need to be “taken care of”—the way no one ever really did for you. It’s ok. That doesn’t make you weak or wrong. Of course, you’ll never want to admit to it (see: stubbornly independent) and so you’ll repress it and it’ll come out in unhealthy ways attracting all sorts of characters (narcissists, borderline folks, basically those that can see what you need but also your vulnerabilities). Ugh.

These peeps (in particular I’m seeing, borderline folks) will see your dark because they, too, are a bit broken. Whether they are malicious or unaware, this crew will suck you dry. They are vultures. They might not make sense to you. They blame you. They surprise you. They have a different reality in which THEY ARE ALWAYS THE VICTIM. That’s a huge red flag in my experience. But you know, these people will make you feel good, so the drama is worth it. And maybe they are right; maybe it IS your fault (that’s when your insecurity feeds into the game).

I’ve been noticing this trend, though, and watching good people, people I care about, become involved/consumed by these individuals and it’s a world of hurt they don’t deserve.

I’ve kept myself mostly at a distance here for the sake of sharing somewhat objective knowledge with you all. (And hey, I think I needed to get this out of me.) But this distance doesn’t mean I have been without my own experiences. I still fumble with toxic thoughts and relationships and behaviors; I still let insecurity in. The difference is now I see it—both inside myself and around me (what it can do.)

Not to be one of those “brightsiders,” but this lesson is invaluable and a necessary catalyst to venture off of your unhealthy, insecure, sabotage-y  path (and yes, you can still be humble). YOU make you better now. This sounds boring, huh? Like too grownup and not so “fun.” If so, you might not have experienced bottom yet. You have to want out, you know?

Really, at the end of the day, the problem isn’t them. It’s you. They more than likely gave you all the little clues you needed to uncover their intentions, but you weren’t paying attention. You didn’t want to. The bad felt good and you lived there; it’s a twist cone you’ve indulged in all of your life. But now it’s time to work on you, not them. Good people will come. I swear. Fill up your cracks so no one gets in there and shakes up your foundation. If you are solid, those people won’t even bother. If you are solid, you will attract other solids (or at least, those will be the only ones to stick).

Today I felt it, the longing for the caretaker, the neediness I’ve learned to acknowledge and move through. Once in a while it comes—in the form of an invitation to some pity party I don’t want to attend. Why me. I don’t have. I never got. Why can I. Boom. I refuse to indulge for too long, even that comfortable hurt.

I’m writing this because everyone deserves to be ok, to be loved, to let healthy in. Not because I’m judging or pointing fingers. Shit, I still have to remind myself of this. I just came out the other side (mostly) not too long ago and hope to stay here, better. But days are still struggles and the ocean still has the ability to throw me off track.

All I’m saying is protect your heart. Even if it means you must love it to do so. Love yourself? It might sound yucky and cheesy but I won’t tell. (:




30, basically



There’s always something terribly sad to think about. Terribly terrible. And sometimes when you haven’t tricked your brain quite right, it skips to that terribly sad thing without your allowing it.

And the longer you live, the more terribly sad things you acquire. So you have to learn how to trick your brain better. But then you might become “jaded” or “hard” or “avoidant,” and maybe then even the good things have a way of not being the brightest.

It’s a fine line between feeling and hard, carrying and letting go. And I call that line 30.

I posted this at about 3 a.m. on Facebook the other day. There’s something about that social medium, being hit with the lives of so many at once, that prompts me to think more wholly, more big picture stuff. On days where I feel inspired by the people around me, I create anthems. Mostly in my head. Just small truths that I can hold onto, that can connect me to others. I’m always relating and empathizing and hoping people get it.
But maybe it’s just loneliness? And not the OMGIMSINGLEANDNEEDSAVED loneliness, but the kind that’s always just there like another skin. Maybe I’m still that 6th grader still writing in her journal about how she just doesn’t fit, how other girls are pretty and popular and have nice hair and cool clothes and I’m too scared to be anything but a clown.

I don’t know that much has changed. But everything.

Livejournal or bust


Oh, I remember those days.

I used to spew my guts on Livejournal.com like some sort of uncensored, four-eyed mutant with a lead role and more feelings than dollars in my weekly Giant Eagle paycheck. Writing often, I would weave my emo thoughts and rants with bolded song lyrics. I would choose 100×100-pixeled avatar images of faceless girls in sad corners or dead-flower GIFs with flashing text reading shit like “it doesn’t even matter anymore.”

But that’s just it, it did matter. Everything mattered. Probably too much mattering.

Today as I ventured back into that world of “Everybody Hurts” and ambiguous crush speak, I stumbled upon a quote that struck me:

“The more profound you are, the more meaning you need.”

It doesn’t feel too long ago that everything hurt. I was an open wound walking, or so the cliche goes. I walked around like that for years in corduroys and striped sweaters, a heart dangling from my seams like a loose thread.

But the years wore me down, maybe. Here and there, we lose people to lack of humility or pride, to distance, to miscommunication, to disinterest, to one-ups and to one-downs. Each time a gut blow. (It’s tremendous, honestly, how much friends mean to me. Without much of a traditional blood-related crew, my friends have always been my family.) And then came a divorce-like split after so many years.That loss was more than familiar or romantic or plutonic, but all of it. Necessary and healthy, maybe. But not without pain. Still, even then, I went forward with my guts between my teeth, handing them out like hard candy.

And then my favorite person in the whole world died.

So that was it,  I guess. The last time I really remember feeling like that, a live wire under my skin. And I say, if this is growing up, it blows.

I told A the other day (after dealing myself a nearly-all-reversed spread of cards): “I guess I had to shut something off recently… to deal with the stress of small and big things. And maybe I just haven’t turned it back on. That’s where I am.”

I’ve never seen a spread that blocked and I’ve been reading cards since high school.

But it’s been more than just recently (more than this jet stream of bad luck I’m refusing to whine about any more on my blog). I’m stuck now wondering, years later, after her death, will I ever learn how to turn it back on? Don’t get me wrong, I feel a flicker on occasion. I’m absolutely ok, and you know, sometimes my heart gets full and round and I can hear the blood pulsing in my ears. But is that it? I just want to know.

Is strength, is growing up, really just dulling the nerves and dumbing down our hearts… is the only thing that really changes the things that change us?

I don’t buy it. I can’t won’t.


Moleskine musing


I’ve slept on floors, on pull-out sofa beds, on ash-sprinkled backseats, my body tucked in on itself, conserving space and dreaming. I grew up and into shapes, edging  corners and rounding curves—an eye on my imposition: how much of me could fill the room, how much of me could remain invisible.

Now, the world makes me, turns me over in its sweaty palm like an imperfect marble, weak planet, dwarf star. I’m dense, punctured, changed without my permission. Alien. It’s true: what we endure creates who we are. Even then, experience has only made me feel lonelier. Is that the emo kid speaking? On a Weebl toon the other day called “Late Night Shopping 2,” I caught a tiny detail in the cartoon, a box with some scribble on it. I had to rewind to see:

“Emo Cakes: The cakes that eat themselves.”

That sounds about right. Hah. Is that what I’m doing?

Anyhow, where once was the vastness of blue-blanket sky, the hope of impossible highway miles, the canvas of unpaved lots, the wings of folded and refolded maps in my car’s door pocket… I have come to this, book-ended.

Everything keeps getting smaller but what’s in me.

What’s with that?




Dreams of Broadway, Salad Bugs & Yes, We’re Special

Ever since I was little, I dreamt big. Not just any big, I mean, playing-dodgeball-on-the-moon-big… or jumping-out-of-an-airplane-with-my-name-painted-on-it-and-landing-in-a-football-field-of-chocolate-marshmallows big. I couldn’t help it. Still can’t. And I’ve tried to dissect the whys. It’s not that I had some abnormally sugar-coated childhood. I had a worn, purple, oversized coat from Goodwill. My knees and arms were consistently covered in yellowing bruises from careless tree climbing incidents and rollerblade mishaps. In the spirit of the holidays and my fear of heights, I was forced to awkwardly balance atop cement railings and plastic chairs on my father’s porch, taping strand after strand of Christmas lights and cling-on Santa faces. It was freezing, my pink fingers exposed and numbing. (Try to successfully use heavy duty packing tape with mittens.) But these were minor life experiences we all had, I’m sure.
From an early age, my goofy charm may have won over a few grown ups, but never my peers. Collectively, none of these people ever made life seem unrealistic. I had a first grade teacher who threatened bad behavior with orange lipstick kisses to the forehead; though, she never actually kissed anyone that I knew of. Instead, she sent me to the principal’s office over 20 times that year. And my fourth grade teacher made me cry a lot. She had loud clicky shoes and black eyes that stung like hornets. Once she screamed and embarrassed me in front of the class—all on account of my horrible cursive that didn’t live up to her strict slanting standards. If from these instances I hadn’t yet lacked faith in the people around me, in fifth grade, I opened my boxed salad and dug in to find that I was munching on tiny bugs that looked like the small, bulbous ends of broccoli. And the lunch people, who had to order me another meal, made me sit alone in the lunchroom at one of those picnic-table-style jobs and wait for a PB & J to arrive from the high school. I sat there like a lonely heifer-in-training, crying into her empty trough. Believe me, I was willing to go without lunch, but they wouldn’t let me go back to class. Imagine that as an explanation as to why you missed your Science quiz. The kids really enjoyed that one, too.
I experienced more than my share of life at an early age. These examples are just the beginning. No need to get any deeper. But as you can see, at no time did anyone lead me to believe I was destined for greatness. I had a quirky rebelliousness, a horrible collection of colored stirrup pants, and a limited treasury of common sense that disguised any intelligence I may have owned. I knew how to draw cartoon people and mimic others’ handwriting. Not only was I last on the list for any type of fame or recognition, my sweet vulnerable center (much like a Gushers fruit snack) made me a rosy, round target for my peers. Slap on an easy-to-rhyme, silly-sounding last name, a gimpy foot, and freckles, and there I was—in all my plump glory. The only moment of celebrated distinction came in third grade when I was asked to announce the buses as they came in at the end of the day. It was truly an honor! And since I was always in the principal’s office anyway, it was more than convenient. But then, about halfway through the year, some sly girl with a bowl cut traded me the privilege for a collection of pretty colored rocks. To this day, I regret it, but that’s another story. Even after all this (the fat jokes and the long lectures about “personal responsibility” in the principal’s office), I had hopes of being great. I still do, though I’m not so clouded by childish optimism. Or am I?
The saddest of all the dreams—living in New York City and performing on Broadway. To this day, the thought of it makes me want to cry or laugh… laugh and cry and vomit all over my men’s flannel from Target. At some point in my curious childhood, I acquired a thick booklet for some prestigious New York college. I took it places with me, glancing through it with a furrowed brow. I slicked down its glossy pages carefully, trying to keep it just as pristine as I had imagined New York to be. Even at 11, I was somewhat proactive at planning my future. I had circled my major about 1900 times with the tips of my fingers: Theater Arts. I blame it on wanting to be loved, loved from everyone and all the time. It wasn’t that my parents didn’t love me, or my friends, or my brother and sister cats, but even their support (and snuggly purrs) weren’t enough. It was more than being loved. I wanted to be needed and there was no where in my tiny world that gave me that.
For this need of neediness, I was good at finding sad people, people who were down on their lives and just wanted a friend (even if it was just the chubby, awkward neighbor girl). Sure, their adult troubles were sometimes over my head, but I listened anyway. I tried to understand. I held their hands and ran to get them tissues. It made me feel alive to be there for them, to be better than that girl everyone knew at school. It was my secret. But the best thing I could do, the only thing I was really good at (in my kid way) was making them laugh. Not only did it make them forget the stupid stuff they had to deal with, but it made me forget all the stupid stuff I faced: the horrible names the boys called me in the halls, the way that thrift store purple coat with the toggle buttons made me smell like someone else, the way my body never moved the way the other girls’ did. I meant something in my own world. And that was all that mattered then.
Maybe we grow up, we stop needing the things we used to need to fill us up. I remember telling my mom that I didn’t understand why everyone didn’t want to be famous. The idea of a life otherwise seemed… well, boring. I didn’t want to live that, a life that meant only as much as those few you could touch in your small radius. I wanted to touch everyone! While that notion still creeps up on me from time to time (Tasha not understanding my strange disinterest in plays and musicals), I know that life is about more than touching everyone… it’s about touching those few in a way that really counts. The larger your radius gets, the more superficial the meaning. See?
It doesn’t mean I will stop dreaming or ever give up that secret need (now, not-so-secret). On no day will I ever wake up and not want it; though, now I realize it’s more likely that I hit the Powerball three times in a week or invent a way to inject coffee directly into my veins. (Both of these are welcomed happenings.) That’s the funny thing about humans… we all want to be special. We believe we are. We all want to be recognized for greatness, somehow. And as depressing as it might sound, only some of us can be on such a large scale. Luck, talent, whatever it is that gets them there. The others, we do our thing. A good day is a compliment from a stranger, sharing a cup of coffee with an old friend, or—capturing a picture of your coworkers pigging out at lunch, Photoshopping them to wear tiny hats, and then taping it on the wall in your office for all to see. The little stuff.
I’m writing this now, sitting alone in the Greensburg Starbucks on a Sunday night thinking about the next step, what it will be to fill me up. There are so many things that I want to be, want to accomplish. Sometimes I don’t know where to start. But when it all gets too much, I think about what it took to get here and I know I’ll be all right. I mean, I made it this far. I still suck at cursive and fear ladders. But I’m touching… even if it’s just the amazing people of my little dot on the map. I appreciate them, more than I ever could from any other angle.