A Letter to Myself (To My College Self)

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Impromptu college photo shoots were the best.

Dear college me,

Remember high school freshman orientation when your principal said, “These are the best four years of your life”? He was clearly wrong. The best four years of your life are your college years.

I speak from a place far, far away—I come from the future. Great Scott!

part high quality future great back

Go figure, I just had to throw in a Back to the Future reference.). But since future me has been in the “real world” for a few years now, I can say from experience that so far, the college years were some of the best years of my life.

Sure, I know right now you’re probably reading this while procrastinating on a paper you should be writing for Honors, or Spanish, or Creative Nonfiction…or maybe all three. Right now you’re probably panicking about how busy you are, how there never seems like there’s enough time in the day to get all these papers done. You wish that the coffee shop on campus was open 24 hours (and just an FYI: you will miss those delicious coffees more than you can even imagine).

I’m probably being a bad influence right now, but keep procrastinating for a little longer and let me school you with some knowledge. Just kidding. But I do want to fill you in on what I wish I would have known during college:

1. It’s okay to stress out. What you’re doing right now? It’s normal. You’re a college student. You are an Honors student. You’re double-majoring. You’re writing for the college newspaper. You have a lot on your mind, and that’s perfectly okay. Taking steps to reduce stress, as long as it’s healthy, is always a good idea. It’ll be a few years before you heed my advice, but let me just tell you now: Yoga does wonders. Honestly. You’ll thank me later.

2. Enjoy the adventures. Throughout your college years, you will have opportunities to travel to new places around the country, and for the first time, you’ll finally set foot outside the United States, traveling to Greece.

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Ending college with a bang at the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

Trust me: Right now, that will be the opportunity of a lifetime, and it will forever be one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen. Take it all in, take tons of photos, breathe, close your eyes, and appreciate the beauty of the world around you. You’ll remember these moments for years to come.

3. Life post-college is just as confusing/stressful/complicated/weird as college life is. No, even in your mid-20s, you still won’t have life “figured out.” Will we ever have it figured out? Who knows. But what I do know is that life will take you to places you never thought you’d end up (like New Jersey and New York City).

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Sunset at the most beautiful beach in Ocean City, New Jersey.

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Walking along the Brooklyn Bridge to catch the New York City Marathon.

Your life will probably always be unpredictable, but isn’t that what makes life thrilling?

4. As a millennial, you and millions of other college grads around the country will deal with paying back student loans. 20-somethings everywhere are in the same boat as you are, so you don’t need to feel alone. Even though the idea of student debt is daunting, places like Earnest exist to help students refinance your loans. They also help students understand finances better, which is obviously important for all of us. Adulting outside of college is tricky, but finding the right resources to help you will only help you out in the long run, so no worries.

5. There is no timeline for chasing after your dreams. You may compare yourself to others around you, and in case you were wondering, you’ll compare yourself even more once you’re out of college, unfortunately. Social media plays into it because we only post what we want others to see. You’ll see people living lives that you’re slightly jealous of. You’ll wonder what you’re doing wrong. The answer: Nothing. You’re walking along the path that’s right for you. You’re taking steps towards where you want to be physically, mentally, and emotionally. Just know that comparing yourself to others is natural, but the path you are on is uniquely yours.

6. You are capable. I know you, and I know that voice of insecurity. Even if you don’t believe me right now, just know that you are capable of success, in whichever way that may be. You are capable of finding peace. You are capable of finding day-to-day happiness. You are capable of finding security—security in your identity, in your present life, in your future. Just know that right now where I am in life, I am on that journey towards achieving all of those things. Yes, there will be dark times that you may feel you won’t emotionally survive. But somehow, you will. The journey only continues, and you will walk on.

7. It’s okay to love yourself. Your college years will be the most inspiring years of your life (at least they have been so far), so please take advantage of these years. Relish in those moments of confidence, inspiration, and self love. Loving yourself isn’t vain—loving yourself is crucial to living with yourself. After some rocky years post-college, I know that. I live that. So I just want you to love yourself and be proud of it.

I’m sure right now it’s nearly midnight, so you should probably get back to the papers you’re procrastinating on. I know you might be a little bundle of nerves, but honestly, I think that’s just a part of the college experience. To be honest, I’m slightly jealous of you. Life outside of college is another world entirely, and even though I don’t miss the stress of college, I miss the atmosphere. So breathe it in, write in one of those fancy journals until your hand cramps up, drink too much coffee, and always say yes to movie nights with your friends down the hall. You’ll never, ever regret it. Just know that I love you. I always have, and I always will.

Love,

Future Me

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All we can do sometimes is laugh our way through life.

I am a woman, and today I am scared

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As I reflect on this historic and shocking election result, I look at this photo and remember more peaceful times in my life. Even though I’m still afraid, this photo is comforting. 

This blog post is a complete stream of consciousness. Today, like millions of people all over the world, I woke up from what I hoped was a nightmare. But it’s our reality now: Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States, and in nearly a landslide at that.

I woke to dark clouds and rain in New Jersey. It fits with my emotions today. Today, I have reflected. I have cried. I have searched within myself for my thoughts on this election and the results. I have numerous emotions today. Among them are devastation, fury, and disbelief. But the one I am having the most difficulty with is fear. And that is the purpose of this blog post.

I am afraid for, to put it broadly, the world. Yes, I’m terrified for the environment. For Muslim-American families having conversations about not wearing a hijab in public because they are afraid for their safety. I’m terrified for African-Americans who not only are disproportionately targeted by the police, but may deal with nationwide disastrous and racist “stop-and-frisk” policies under a Trump presidency. I’m terrified for the LGBTQ community because our Vice President, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, signed the “religious freedom” bill in his state, which allowed for businesses to discriminate against groups they don’t like, specifically anyone identifying as LGBTQ. And even though I am heartbroken beyond explanation for all of these groups, most of all, for personal reasons, I am terrified most of all for women. And I am now terrified as a woman for the first time in my life.

I am terrified for many reasons. Yes, it’s partly because Donald Trump said he would punish women for having abortions. Yes, it’s because he has threatened to appoint pro-life Supreme Court justices who would not only be pro-life, but who would overturn Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to choose to have an abortion. And yes, I’m also horrified that Vice President Mike Pence has pushed for legislation that would force women to pay for funerals of not only aborted fetuses, but for miscarriages. But even though these are reasons to be scared as a woman, it’s beyond this. I’m terrified because of the words Donald Trump has said, and memories throughout my life he has brought to the surface. For the first time, I am reflecting on several memories I have never dwelled on before.

Donald Trump, our elected President, has been accused of sexual assault by more than a dozen individuals. The numerous allegations range from unwanted kisses and touching to rape of not only women, but of girls, minors. The now infamous Access Hollywood tape is a moment in time. Donald Trump said that not only does he grab women “by the pussy,” but he also said, “I don’t even wait.” What doesn’t he wait for? Consent. Donald Trump said, on tape, that he sexually assaults women. The women who came forward after the tape’s release verified his own admission.

As if there couldn’t be more damning evidence of Trump’s treatment of women, he has been documented verbally demeaning women. In my opinion, the most egregious example is his treatment of Miss Universe pageant winner Alicia Machado. Trump publically shamed her for her appearance, calling her “Miss Piggy,” “an eating machine,” and brought press to film her exercising after he put her on a weight loss plan. Machado suffered from anorexia and bulimia for five years due to this harassment.

With each story released of Trump’s treatment of women, I started to look within. Of course I was disgusted and angry. But for some reason, Trump’s blatant sexism made me think back to memories I’d almost forgotten. I want to express that I am not, in any way, equating my experiences to any of these women, or to anyone else’s personal story. But I have read other women’s stories, and I remembered events I’d almost forgotten occurred throughout my life.

I remember in fourth grade, when a boy in my class was standing behind me and stroked my hair. I turned around, obviously a bit creeped out. He just smiled at me.

I remember in eighth grade being called “ugly” by a boy I had a crush on.

I remember freshman year of college receiving Facebook messages from multiple strangers telling me they had seen me around campus and wanted to hang out with me because I was cute.

In the spring of my freshman year, I had a date to watch a movie with a guy in his fraternity’s apartment. I asked a mutual friend, who was in that fraternity, where the apartment building was. My date found out I had done this and shamed me for asking someone else where the building was. He hinted that he didn’t want me to tell people where I would be that night. He told me that if people knew where I was going, they would start rumors about me and would spread lies about what I was doing. Nothing happened when I watched the movie with him. But after that, he messaged me on Facebook with unwanted and pushy sexual advances. I never hung out with him again.

On Halloween weekend my first year out of college, I went to a bar with a friend. Two guys approached us, and we all started talking for a while. One of the guys seemed interested in me and was friendly. I went to use the bathroom, and immediately after I returned, when I wasn’t looking at him, he grabbed my butt completely out of nowhere. I had met him less than an hour ago. I looked over at him and he smiled at me.

Later that same year, I went out dancing with a group of friends. A male acquaintance was dancing with me, and he started trying to feel me up and move his hands between my legs. I stopped him and he became more pushy. He told me that he knew I “wanted it,” and said that I needed to have sex with him. I kept telling him he was mistaken and that I wouldn’t. The last thing he said before I grabbed my close friend and ran off was, “At least let’s go out to my car and I can lick your pussy.”

About a year later, I was in a relationship. My boyfriend wasn’t in town, and I went out with a female friend. A man came up and sat down next to me at the bar. At first he was harmless. But not much later, he told me I should come home with him. I said, “I have a boyfriend.” He asked, “Well where is your boyfriend?” I told him he was out of town and he immediately responded, “He doesn’t have to know.” I refused his request, but that didn’t stop him. He then asked for a kiss. I refused, but that apparently wasn’t good enough. He turned it into a game. He said he would pay me to kiss him. I kept refusing, but he didn’t stop. He jumped off his bar stool and ran to find his friends to ask for money. He came back, and offered me five dollars, ten dollars, fifty dollars, and continued to raise the amount of money he’d give me to kiss him. No matter how many times I said no, he didn’t stop. His friends were nearby and amused by the situation, but didn’t do much to intervene. His friends apologized after he finally gave up, saying that he was just very drunk.

About two years ago, on yet another Halloween night, I was out watching a band with a friend. Out of nowhere, an elderly man (I would venture to say he was at least 70 years old) came up behind me, wrapped his arms around me, put his face and body against mine and said, “You are so gorgeous.” I wriggled out of his grasp and ran off with my friend.

My most recent memory is from only about two weeks ago, and it still rattles me. My mom, two sisters, and I traveled into the New York Penn Station on the train. When we arrived, it was insanely crowded, and I felt someone bash into me from behind, and it felt deliberate. While discussing where we needed to go, the man who bashed into me came up from behind me and said, “Where are you trying to go?” Taken aback (he was visibly drunk and/or high), I gave him a look (I have an expressive face, and this time it got me in trouble), turned away, and kept walking. Apparently this set him off. He went on to follow my family and me, circling around yelling at me. “Ugly bitch. Fucking ugly bitch. You fucking ugly bitch. You ugly bitch. Ugly bitch.” He spit every word at me slowly and with hateful venom I’ve never experienced before from a stranger.  I tried to ignore him as my family and I kept walking. He followed us up a flight of stairs, inches away from my face saying, “Ugly bitch, you ugly bitch.” I felt and saw him out of the corner of my eye as he made a swipe at my ponytail. When we reached the top of the stairs and kept walking he circled over to my mom, saying, “You raised this coward?” The last thing he said to me before my family and I found our exit out of the train station and raced away was “Faggot.” After we were away from him one of my sisters said he had been trying to trip me while I was walking up the flight of stairs.

Why am I telling any of these stories? Why am I remembering them now? It’s because our newly elected President of the United States reminds me of these men. None of these men waited for consent, and Donald Trump has admitted that he doesn’t, either. Throughout his entire life as a celebrity, he has spewed hatred towards women. He and his supporters have called his admissions of sexually assaulting women “locker room talk,” which means that, according to them, not only are his words acceptable in private conversations, but they believe these are words you’ll hear ordinary men all over the country saying. After the election results and reflecting on my own experiences, I have to just hope this isn’t true.

I could discuss why I think Hillary Clinton lost and who I blame, but that’s for another post. Today I am reflecting on my fear. My fear of being a woman in this country. Donald Trump has set an example that not only can you get away with sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, without consequences, but you can become President of the United States despite the country being fully aware of it. And win in a landslide. Last night, we elected a President who has most likely sexually assaulted multiple women, and may have raped both women and girls. We have elected someone who does not respect half of this country based solely on their gender. Not only does he not respect them, but he has violated them, and these human beings have been psychologically damaged because of his actions. Donald Trump’s supporters have vocalized their dismissal of these allegations, and some have said that even if the allegations are true, that doesn’t change their minds about Trump. Not only is our newly elected leader a possible rapist, but millions of his supporters don’t seem to care. And that terrifies me. What also terrifies me? At least one of the men in this story is a Trump supporter, and one has since had a child.

I don’t have any solutions right now. I don’t know what to do to stop this country from moving forward.  I’m just as lost as the rest of you. All I know is that I am a woman, and for the first time in my recollection, I am afraid to be a woman. I am afraid for our country. I am afraid for our world. But right now, today, I am afraid for our women.

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Our country is in a dark place. All I can do today is look at photos of more hopeful times, when I was at peace.

 

A Lazy Girl’s Guide to Blogging

Whoops, I was taking selfies instead of blogging.

Whoops, I was taking selfies instead of blogging.

In my first three years of blogging, I have gone through epic blogging lulls of laziness. I have abandoned my poor blog for far too long, too many times. Sometimes I’m busy. Sometimes I’m brainstorming. Sometimes I’m just lazy. Let’s be real.

As a lazy girl (who has come up with plenty of excuses), I would like to present a guide to blogging for all the lazy girls out there:

1. Brainstorm tons of ideas, but don’t write them down. It’s like a game. The “Will I remember that brilliant idea in half an hour?” game. Guess what? You will lose basically 99.999% of the time. But it’s fun to test your memory skills.

Aw man, I forgot all my brilliant blog ideas! Oh well. Let's take another selfie.

Aw man, I forgot all my brilliant blog ideas! Oh well. Let’s take another selfie.

2. Watch YouTube videos for inspiration. Too many videos. Wait, it’s midnight? Aw man, I should go to bed. I’ll blog tomorrow.

Source: viralcrawler.com

Source: viralcrawler.com

By the way, here are some of my favorite blog channels to watch instead of blogging:

The Young Turks

Secular Talk

Jenna Marbles (classic, of course)

3. Why not tweet at one of your favorite YouTubers? Spent too much time crafting a witty tweet. Become too happy when said YouTuber favorites said tweet, and follows you on Twitter.

Can I just say I was pretty stoked when this happened?

Can I just say I was pretty stoked when this happened?

4. Thinking about writing a blog post? Why not take a walk instead? It will not only help with brainstorming, but you will also forget all your ideas along your walk, and you’ll forget your plans to blog anyway.

No makeup? No problem!

No makeup? No problem!

5. Make yourself busy. Friends, work, school, and other activities are obviously time-consuming. Blogging is just something else to do. Don’t worry, you’ll get back to it. Eventually.

Source: pinterest.com Basically my logic.

Source: pinterest.com
Basically my logic.

6. Spread the word that you’re making a comeback. Tweet it, Instagram it, Facebook it, tell your friends.

Source: youtube.com

Source: youtube.com

7. Now you have to stick to your word. No more procrastinating.

Source: elitefitnessmentoring.com

Source: elitefitnessmentoring.com

8. Drink coffee. Lots of coffee. Don’t like coffee? Yes you do. No, you do. You like coffee.

Source: dreamatico.com Coffee makes my life just a little brighter.

Source: dreamatico.com
Coffee makes my life just a little brighter.

9. Write like you’ve never written before. You’ve got this. When in doubt, include more pictures. People like pictures.

Source: blogs.montclair.edu

Source: blogs.montclair.edu

10. Refer back to this list the next time you’re going through the cycle of laziness. You’re not alone. Trust me.

In the meantime, hit up a baseball game or two.

In the meantime, hit up a baseball game or two.

Ants (a nonfiction memoir)

I wrote this nonfiction piece during my junior year of college. It seemed like the perfect essay to post in memory of my grandfather, Robert Awes, who passed away on Tuesday, April 14th, 2015. I will always cherish my memories of him, and our time feeding the ants.

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Source: thisisreylo.com

Source: thisisreylo.com

It’s early October, sunny, and a perfect day for a walk. Grandma and Grandpa Awes have traveled the five hours from their house in Chicago to visit my family and me in Wausau. I’ve just watched “Pinocchio,” my current obsession, and I sit on the edge of the flowered couch waiting for Grandpa to end the conversation with my mom so that he and I can walk to the nearby cemetery, a tradition my grandfather started a couple years previously. I remove my white hat with a blue bow from my head (which I call my “Pinocchio hat” because it resembles the puppet’s hat perfectly) and hold it in my tiny hands, trying to wait patiently, but I know that when it comes to Mom and Grandpa, I could be waiting a while.

Swinging my legs while slouched on the couch, Grandpa and Mom’s conversation sounds distant, but they’re standing two feet in front of me. Grandpa wears what seems to me to be the only outfit he owns: black pants, a long-sleeved black shirt, and a black hat. He has even sported this outfit when we venture to the beach in Chicago on summer vacation. My mom always laughs before reminding me that Grandpa is adamant about protecting himself from the sun, and in later years I will come to wonder why he chooses to wear black, a color that absorbs the sunlight more than any other. It could have something to do with the fact that he’s been a pastor for so many years that he’s grown accustomed to wearing the color. I pull my hat over my head once more, and bring my attention to Mom and Grandpa’s conversation.

“And how much sleep do you get regularly a night during the week?” my grandpa asks my mom, and she sighs before answering. “I don’t know, Dad. The normal amount, I guess. I’m not tired, you don’t have to worry.” Evidently Grandpa has been badgering my mom, drilling her with questions about her sleeping and eating habits. At five years old, Grandpa does not yet interview me like this, but in time he will make sure to check that I am maintaining my health when he calls or visits.

Grandma ambles into the room and sits next to me, gives me a small smile, and looks from me to Grandpa and Mom.

“Bob, cut it out; Mary’s fine. Why don’t you and Becky go for a walk to the cemetery to feed the ants?” Grandma says.

Grandpa glances momentarily at Grandma, looking a bit irritated, but then looks at me and asks if I want to go feed the ants, his tone changing to something more enthusiastic, much better than the nagging tone he uses when he talks to my mom.

I nod my head vigorously and jump off the couch.

“Let’s go get a couple pieces of bread; I’m sure the ants are hungry,” Grandpa says to me, and we walk together to the kitchen and Grandpa helps me take the twisty tie off the loaf of bread, and we take the two pieces from the two ends of the loaf: the pieces that nobody eats.

Grandpa reminds me to use the bathroom before leaving, and then I run to the front door and grab my bright pink fall jacket. I call goodbye to my mom and Grandma (my dad’s still at work and my brother and sister are busy playing in the backyard), and we leave the house, walking down the three front steps and taking a right. I look up at the blue and cloudless skies, feel the wind whipping through my hair, and crunch some of the newly fallen orange leaves. I reach up and take Grandpa’s hand, and I skip a little.

“I hope we see lots of ants,” I say excitedly.

“There will be plenty of ants; they should be hungry right around now, so they’ll be happy to see us,” Grandpa reassures.

Still holding Grandpa’s hand, I swing my arm and his, skipping once more in an attempt to quicken our journey to the cemetery. Grandpa takes small, quick steps, but in his old age each step is an effort, while I am able to skip several steps, feeling completely unexhausted. When I feel that Grandpa is too far behind, my hand almost slipping from his, I halt in my tracks, glance back, and wait for him to catch up.

“You’re going to have to slow down a bit; I’m an old Grandpa,” he jokes, chuckling. From then on I keep to his slightly slower pace.

Grandpa and I reach the entrance to the cemetery and stroll through the open gates. Leaves litter the dirt path and our footsteps frighten nearby creatures; they scurry up the trees. We walk deeper into the cemetery and search for the concrete bench located just feet behind an immense oak tree, where we know thousands of ants roam during the summer and warmer days in early autumn.

Suddenly a chipmunk runs across our path, and I jump in surprise. The chipmunk (I decide that it’s a male) stops and looks back, black eyes frozen on my grandpa and I. Letting go of Grandpa’s hand, I slowly creep forward, hand outstretched towards the creature, but he darts away, up a tree.

“We should leave food for him, Grandpa,” I say, and Grandpa tears a piece of bread and hands it to me to place at the bottom of the tree for the chipmunk to eat when he was hungry and willing to venture back to the ground.

Grandpa and I decide to name the chipmunk Chipper, a name easy enough for a five-year-old to remember, and we plan to feed him whenever we see him during our walks through the cemetery. We continue strolling along the path and finally find the bench. Grandpa and I sit next to each other and stare down at the ground; I lean forward to watch more closely for the ants. At first only two or three ants scurry through the dirt, but once Grandpa and I begin to throw bread crumbs onto the ground, ten, twenty, a hundred ants emerge from nearby anthills, and some seem to appear out of nowhere, thrilled at the sight of food.

The ants’ behavior enthralls me: they scuttle past each other, and when one ant attempts to carry a piece of bread twenty times its size, other ants come to its assistance and in groups they carry off the bread, forming a line. The ants resemble an army, large in numbers and working as a team to achieve a common goal. As we toss more pieces of bread onto the ground, the ants come back for them, and I see that the ants have a leader. The leader ant marches in the front of the line, reaching one of the bread pieces first, and takes it himself, refusing help from the other ants who come forward to assist. The ants appear tireless, carrying bread crumbs off and coming back for more.

“It’s a good thing we came here today while it’s still warm. The ants aren’t going to be around later on because it’ll be too cold for them,” Grandpa says. I imagine a below-zero December day, and while I’m making snow angels with my best friend Maggie in our winter attire, the ants are in their anthills underground, keeping warm and feasting on bread crumbs they’ve saved for hibernation. I cannot imagine how boring it would be sitting underground, trapped for months at a time with nothing to do.

“Do ants get bored being underground during the winter?” I ask Grandpa.

He laughs and says that he doesn’t know, because he’s never hibernated during the winter months.

“Maybe it wouldn’t be so boring for them because they’re not alone,” I decide, and Grandpa agrees.

After we run out of bread, Grandpa and I say goodbye to the ants and leave the bench. Not yet ready to go home, I suggest trying to find Chipper once more. I sprint to the tree where I had left the piece of bread for him, Grandpa ambling behind me. The bread is still there.

“He’s not hungry yet,” I say. Grandpa assures me that Chipper will eat the bread once we leave, and we continue walking on the dirt path. I glance left to right as if watching a tennis match, searching desperately for any sign of Chipper, or for any animal for that matter. At the sound of rustling leaves to my right, I turn my head to find a chipmunk sitting near a grave.

“It’s Chipper!” I shriek, but instantly regret screaming so loudly. The chipmunk jumps a foot in the air and scampers away into a mass of trees. Feeling disappointed, I trudge a few paces back to where Grandpa is standing, and I take his hand once more before continuing in our walk.

“Chipper’s just shy,” Grandpa says, and after pondering the statement, it’s understandable. I know that I wouldn’t take food from someone I’d never met, and I surely wouldn’t talk to a stranger walking down the street, unless the person was friendly, of course. Chipper must not have taken me to be a friendly human being at all, screaming so suddenly the way that I did.

Grandpa and I walk hand in hand along path while black, grey, and red squirrels climb up and down the trees, the robins chirp, and the sun begins to fall lower in the sky. Sunlight peeks through the trees, but the cemetery grows slightly darker as time passes. Grandpa suggests that we walk home, and I follow his lead as he gently pulls me along in the direction of the gates from which we entered.

Walking along the sidewalk, the atmosphere has changed in the hour and a half that has passed since Grandpa and I were walking here. We left the house at past 4:00, (thanks to Grandpa and Mom’s ability to talk way more than necessary), while the street had been empty, and there was a palpable humidity in the air. Now, walking while the sun begins to set, cars whiz by, drivers on their way home from work, and the air is no longer humid. It’s still comfortable, but the temperature is gradually dropping. I grasp Grandpa’s hand more tightly, feeling slightly nervous at the sudden rush of cars, and I notice the almost leathery feel of Grandpa’s skinny hand compared to the smoothness of my own. At this moment I think to myself that I don’t ever want to grow old.

Grandpa and I walk up the porch steps and into the house, which is louder than the noise of the cars outside, and I call “We’re home!” to anyone who will listen. My siblings Katie and Luke are watching Luke’s favorite movie, “Michael’s Jordan’s Playground,” while attempting to shoot hoops, using a miniature plastic basketball hoop in the living room. I can hear Mom, Dad, and Grandma talking in the kitchen while my mom cooks dinner, and my mom and Grandma emerge to greet us. The four of us sit at the dining room table and I tell Grandma and Mom of the adventure Grandpa and I had at the cemetery. I talk excitedly about how many ants we fed, and then Grandpa says, “And we saw a chipmunk today, didn’t we, Becky? And we named him Chipper.”

While I continue to babble about Chipper the chipmunk, Grandma leans towards my mom and says into her ear, “Grandpa really does love going on those walks to the cemetery,” and she gives my mom a smile.

Once Grandpa and I finish our story, Mom returns to the kitchen to finish making dinner and Grandpa and I wash our hands at the kitchen sink. Mom calls to the rest of the house that dinner is ready, and Grandpa, Dad, Katie, Luke, and I join Grandma at the table. We all take our sits and I sit next to Grandpa, and since he is a pastor, he leads us in a prayer, which begins with the line, “Be present at our table, Lord,” and at the time it is the only line I know. I sing it loudly with the adults, but abruptly stop and watch them sing the rest of the song, eyeing my siblings and giggling a little at the slight awkwardness of sitting silently while our parents and grandparents sing.

While eating dinner, Grandpa and I retell our story to Katie and Luke.

“Grandpa, I want to see Chipper!” Luke shouts, and Katie nods her head in agreement, her brown eyes sparkling with excitement at the idea of seeing a chipmunk. Besides that, however, feeding the ants is an activity that Grandpa and I do together, and Katie and Luke wouldn’t find it as entertaining as running along the path looking for animals. Perhaps they are too young to appreciate nature on a scale as small as the size of an ant.

The next day, before Grandpa and Grandma drive back to Chicago, Grandpa takes Katie, Luke, and I to the cemetery. Grandpa and I make sure to take a couple pieces of bread to feed the ants, but during the walk, all Katie and Luke talk about is Chipper. Luke asks where he lives and when I say that I’m not sure exactly, he decides that we’ll just have to search the whole cemetery until we find him (not realizing that Chipper could not possibly be the only chipmunk residing in the cemetery).

Grandpa, Luke, Katie, and I enter through the open cemetery gates and Luke and Katie run ahead to find Chipper. Grandpa calls them back, and we all walk to the concrete bench where Grandpa and I ritually feed the ants. Katie and Luke stand while Grandpa and I sit side by side, dropping bread crumbs on the ground. Within minutes, ants emerge from their anthills and march toward the pieces of bread, taking them away to store for later. I lean forward as I always do, once again fascinated by the way the ants move as a unit, but it is evident that Katie and Luke are not amused. Luke stares up at the trees, calling, “Here, Chipper, come here,” while Katie walks around the circumference of a tree, humming.

After Grandpa and I throw the rest of the bread crumbs on the ground, he says that we should go look for Chipper. We rise from the bench and walk away from the ants still retrieving the bread crumbs, and I look over my shoulder at them as Grandpa, Katie, Luke and I walk back onto the path. I long to go back and observe them, but the thought that reassures me is that when Grandpa and Grandma visit again in the spring and summer, Grandpa and I will be able to feed the ants again.

Someday (Letter Three)

Someday, this will be a memory. Someday you'll be okay.

Someday, this will be just a memory. Someday, you’ll be okay.

This is my third letter to myself. I know, I write letters to myself a lot. But writing in itself is cathartic, and this letter-writing technique has proven to be just what I needed.

Letter One

Letter Two

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Dear Me,

Maybe one day I’ll stop writing you letters.  Right now, I haven’t yet said enough. It’s crucial to communicate with you.

Today is one of those beautiful “good” days. Your thoughts are clear, and you feel in control.

I cannot, however, explain why your negative thoughts surrounded you a couple of days ago. They swarmed like bees, stinging you again and again. They made their way into your mouth, down your throat, and suffocated you. You collapsed, succumbing to these thoughts instead of controlling them. That day, your negativity controlled you.

At this point in time, I still cannot pinpoint what causes these turbulent meltdowns. Thankfully, they are rare. The clear days seem to outweigh the ones clouded with questions, judgments, and labels.

That most recent dark day was darker than usual. The negative thoughts surrounded and stung so quickly, it made more sense to stay still, hoping they’d just move on. Swatting them away would only make them more aggressive. But on this particular day, they were relentless. You had no defense to guard yourself from the attack.

No matter how painful those thoughts stung, and no matter how unexpected it was, one thing is certain:

You made it. You made it to a day in which you feel in control. Do you know what that means?

It means that someday, you’ll be in control. Someday, your realistic thoughts will outweigh the negatives. Someday, these thoughts that drive you to a meltdown will no longer matter. They won’t sting. They will roll away to the back of your mind, and slowly fade.

For now, you are stronger than I ever thought you would be. You have been fighting against those negative thoughts with all of your being. Instead of surrendering to the questions, obsessions, the insecurities, you are challenging them all. This is a strength you didn’t possess four years ago.

This strength takes work. Every day. You work every day to treat yourself with respect. To be realistic. You know that the dark days don’t happen often anymore, but they aren’t over for good.

That’s okay. I mean it.

Acceptance is the most difficult part of moving on. I don’t mean acceptance of the situation. That may never happen. It’s my belief that while you can acknowledge what happened to your relationship (an arson set fire to it), you may never “accept” it. Maybe you will. That remains to be seen.

What I mean by acceptance is your acceptance of your mistakes and emotions. I want you to accept your occasional meltdowns. The bad days. The missteps. They happen. I want you to accept that just like perfection doesn’t exist anywhere in the world, you aren’t perfect, either. Expecting perfection from yourself is setting yourself up for disappointment.

I also ask that you strive to be patient. You are coping in a healthy way this time around, but please don’t beat yourself up on the dark days. Accept them as a part of the process, and know that these days will become significantly fewer in time.

Trust me, it’s okay.

I want you to accept yourself because someday, you will be okay.

Someday, none of those negative thoughts will even be thoughts anymore.

Someday, you won’t have meltdowns over this. They will be memories that shaped you.

Someday, you will be apathetic about this time period of your life. You will no longer hate him, or her, or yourself. You will understand that this was just a part of your life, but you won’t be angry forever about this.

Someday, you won’t blame yourself. For now, please, even on your darkest days, STOP.

No matter how confused you are, no matter what dark corners of your mind those negative thoughts drive you to, just know that it never was your fault. You couldn’t have done anything to prevent it, you aren’t the one who caused him to hurt you, and you did not deserve it. Please, no more “Why me” or “What’s wrong with me” or “What did I do.”

“Why me?” It could have happened to anyone. Honestly, it’s just a shitty reality in life.

“What’s wrong with me?” Nothing. At least, speaking in the terms of this situation, nothing. Do you have flaws? Yes. Does everyone have flaws? Yes. Did your flaws drive him to sleep with someone else behind your back? No. Hell-to-the-no.

“What did I do?” Nothing. In terms of what I know you mean, you did nothing to deserve someone to lie to you and betray the relationship you thought you had.

Every thought you have should help you, not hurt you. Obsessing hurts, anger hurts, insecurity hurts, negative self-talk hurts. While I know that it feels impossible on the dark days, but you have to just stamp out these behaviors. There’s no other way around it. I will not allow you to accept these behaviors, because they cause you pain.

Ask yourself, “Is this helping or hurting me?” If it’s an obsession, angry or negative thought, or an insecurity, it will automatically be hurting you. In these times, it’s crucial to pull away and distract your mind.

Just know that I love you, I’m proud of you, and you are amazing for your strength right now. You have progressed so much, and you are coping with this better than I ever could have imagined.

You’ll be okay someday.

Love,

Me

Too much information: Is blogging our lives “over-sharing”?

Source: huffingtonpost.com

Source: huffingtonpost.com

My blog started off, in its earliest stages, as a place to post my poetry. As it continued to evolve, I tried new techniques. I wrote about current events, music, and movies. However, I left most of my true emotions out. My blog was positive, void of my personal feelings, thoughts, and experiences. I wrote what I thought people wanted to read.

Somewhere along the way, my blog became a safe place. A place for me to vent, to be honest, and to receive feedback from people who not only understood where I was coming from, but appreciated and related to what I wrote.

I felt less alone, and proud of my writing. Proud of my honesty. Proud that my blog was more bold than when I published that first post. My posts are real because I’m going through what I blog about currently. When I feel something, I blog it. I write it in the way I want. My blog has now become more personal than it’s ever been.

But is that bad? Are there topics that should be “off-limits”? Where do we draw the line?

Is my blog full of sunshine, rainbows, and roses? Not all the time. Is that bad? I don’t think so.

Am I satisfied with my writing when I publish my blog posts? Absolutely. I wouldn’t post them if I wasn’t.

I have read other bloggers who’ve written posts about past relationships, and I commend them for being honest and venting their true feelings. It’s my belief that writing is therapy. WordPress is a community, and I have gained so much happiness from voicing my thoughts to the blogging community and receiving support in return.

Is there such a thing as over-sharing? Probably. To me, I believe that over-sharing is when someone divulges too much information in an unnecessary way. But for me, if the information is shared in more artistic or creative ways, it’s not necessarily over-sharing.

I believe that blogging is a place to write about personal matters creatively. We can tell our stories, sharing as many details as we want, and gain feedback from others.

I’ve read beautifully-written blog posts, and many of them stand out in my mind because they were honest. Personal. These bloggers told their stories without holding back. Without fear. They were not ashamed of what they went through, and it made the writing that much easier to relate to.

Is that over-sharing? In my opinion, no.

Blogging has become one of my forms of therapy. I have gotten positive feedback from my more personal posts, and it gave me the confidence to be honest. To write about things on my mind. To express problems in our society. To write about topics that aren’t sunshine, rainbows, and roses. Breakups, for example.

Should these topics be off-limits? Should I feel free to write about breakups, counseling, politics, and feminism? Or are these topics “too much information”?

I believe that as writers, we should be free to express ourselves in a way that’s comfortable for us. If I feel comfortable sharing details of a breakup and actively want to blog about it, I should feel free to do so.

For me, sharing some details of my experiences has helped me to cope with those situations. If I felt that I was “over-sharing,” I wouldn’t have published those posts. Why should I be ashamed with what happened to me? I don’t think I should be. I’m writing posts because I feel inspired to write. That’s it. As a writer, it’s as simple as that. I don’t believe in stifling my creativity, censoring it, or “toning it down.” That defeats the purpose of blogging; at least for me, it would.

I believe that every blogger is different. We all have our comfort zones, our go-to blogging topics, our life stories. If we censored our writing, sticking to limited, approved topics that are “safe” from judgement, wouldn’t have stifle our growth as writers? Where is the fun in only writing within the confines of what’s safe, and probably boring?

WordPress is a diverse world. There are bloggers for just about every topic. If we all censored ourselves, we wouldn’t have the diversity that we do. As long as we’re comfortable with what we’re blogging, that’s what matters. I don’t write for other people, and I never have. I write for myself first, and if others read it, then that gives me more feedback and inspiration for blog posts I write in the future.

But I’m the only person I’m writing for.

Source: nikki-blevins.blogspot.com

Source: nikki-blevins.blogspot.com

Tell me what you’re running from

Source: momentumrunningco.com

Source: momentumrunningco.com

When I wrote this post called The deer and the hunter, I had a completely different idea in mind at first. I started off writing about running. Somehow it ran in a different direction (see what I did there?). Here is where my idea started.

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Sometimes when I’m running, I feel like I’m in a chase scene out of a movie. I’m escaping something behind me, and I’m too anxious to look over my shoulder.

Lately, Ellie Goulding, Florence Welch, and my new favorite artist, Charlotte OC, have all asked me what I’m running from.

I finally realized that I haven’t stopped running. I’m not safe yet. Danger still lurks behind. I’m racing as far as I can.

But what am (or who) am I running from?

First, the whats:

I’m running, first and foremost, from my anxiety. For months, I was a mess. Day to day was a battle. I was a prisoner of war and I’ve escaped.

I’m running from my new-found insecurities that stemmed from a boyfriend wanting someone else.

I’m running from my questions. The “what have I dones” and “who is she” and “why did this happen to me” and “how could you.”

I’m running from my body. Sometimes I want to run right out of my flesh and find a body I’m satisfied with. How many miles would that take?

I’m running from my devils. The thought disorders that gnaw at my brain. Thoughts that aren’t based on reality, but in my times of weakness, they become my reality.

Now, the whos:

I’m running from him. Not the him I met three years ago. Not the him who told me what I craved at the time. Not the him that I loved (even though I hate admitting it now).

I’m running from the him who looked me in the eyes and lied. The him who falsely proclaimed his love for selfish gain. The him who already found someone else. The him who became another mistake. Another regret. Another battle. Another “you’ll find someone better” or “we didn’t like him anyway” or “it’s karma that she gave him chlamydia.” Despite the truth in all those statements, it hasn’t stopped me from running.

I’m running from her. A girl I do not know, never will know, yet dangerously obsessed over before I ran further. A girl who may or may not have known who I was. A girl who I judged and labeled. A girl who he wanted more than me. A girl who he wanted despite the disease she infected him with. It was clear that she had something he couldn’t escape, because he didn’t let his STD stop him from running to her when he needed a fix.

Most of all, I’m running from myself. I’m running from the realization that none of it matters. I’m running to shield myself from the question, “But why do these thoughts upset me?” I’m running because I’m not okay yet, and I’m impatient. I’m counting down to the day that I think of me, and no one else. I’m running to pretend I’m not wounded anymore. The bandages are still wrapped around my arms, but I haven’t taken them off yet. I don’t know if the bleeding’s stopped.

Once I do remove those bandages, once the bleeding has stopped, the scars will be there. I’ll carry them with me for the rest of my life, like everything else that has shaped who I currently am as I run on the concrete. I don’t think much of the scars I’ve accumulated over the course of my 25 years. They’re a part of me. I can do nothing to erase them. I’m not airbrushed or tanned, and I don’t cover them up anymore. I’m learning that it’s okay I’m not perfect, and that I never have been.

These new wounds will be the same someday. They’ll be obvious when the scars are healing. Everyone will be able to see them. Yet I don’t want to cover them up. I don’t want to hide anymore. I know that there are other girls who’ve been through this, and it’s an insult to myself to pretend I haven’t been wounded. It’s a disservice to myself to strive for perfection because it doesn’t exist.

The wounds will join the rest of my scars as memories that have proven I’m not weak. If I were weak, I would have hidden. I wouldn’t have accumulated more scars because I would have been too weak to put myself in the battlegrounds again. But I ran back in every time. The hope meekly overcame the doubts, the aching wounds, the tears, the black hole of negativity.

I have learned recently that I have control. I’m not weak. I can control the “what have I dones” and the “why did this happen” and the “I’m not good enough.” None of those thoughts have any realistic basis, and I’m gaining control of it now. For the first time in my life, I’m in control.

For now, I’m still running. But I’m in control of how long. I can stop when I want to. I will remove the bandages when I feel that the wounds have scarred and it’s safe. I’m safe running by myself.

The deer and the hunter 

Sometimes while I’m running, I have to look over my shoulder. That paranoia crawls up my body. It’s like a leech. Buried in my skin. So quick I don’t notice.

Deer

Source: commons.wikimedia.org

I’m a deer. Weak, frail, timid. I’m running for my survival.

I had been alone and cautious because a hunter had shot me with a bow and arrow. It pierced me in the chest, just inches from my heart. Somehow, I escaped.

I stumbled into the forest, determined to be alone. The wound had greatly weakened me. I was bleeding all over the forest because the arrow was still lodged in my chest.

A buck came out from behind a tree. He assisted in removing the arrow. He said, “I would never hurt you. You’re too weak and small, my dear.” He told me he would protect me from the dangers in the woods.

I was skeptical at first. With all the dark creatures lurking in the forest, is it wise to trust a strange buck?

The sun was falling steadily. I had to make a decision soon. My survival depended on it. I could continue my journey alone, awake all night and on the alert, or I could travel with this buck.

I went against my better judgement and followed his lead. We traveled into the depths of the woods, and I could see nothing.

For two years, I was blind. We traveled through the woods, and usually at night. This buck was nocturnal, always telling me, “Just trust me. I won’t stray you in the wrong direction, my dear.” So I followed.

I have poor eyesight. When alone, I travel during the daylight hours. I stop at the edge of the woods, but don’t venture into the clearing. The open space is risky. I prefer the safety of the trees.

As a frail, weak female, it was perhaps wise to travel with the young buck. For the two years of our time in the trees together, I found it peculiar that we only began our ventures when the sun fell. I spoke up at times. Meekly, but I still voiced my concerns. His answers always left lingering questions that I kept in my head. Sometimes the questions traveled to my tongue, but I swallowed them.

During the day, the buck and I were lazy together. At first it felt comfortable. While alone I had to always be on the alert, but with him, I relaxed. I got too comfortable.

Over the course of our time living in the woods together, his actions gave me more questions that swam in my head. After two years, I was a nervous wreck. Not only was I weak and frail, but he was convinced I was dumb and incapable of living without fear. I questioned his every move, and rightly so.

The buck was concealing his true identity. The questions were building because my instincts told me to get out. But his charm trapped me to his side. I was enslaved, weighed down by the hopes that I was worthy of him.

Leading up to the horrific event, I should have known. The buck has assisted in helping me when I’d been bleeding all over the summer leaves. He caught me when I was vulnerable, almost begging for someone to take me. To at least pretend he cared. This buck was the best pretender. However, I swatted the questions away like flies.

After two years, the buck and I were in shambles. I was too weak and frail to keep up with him during our nightly journeys through the woods. My eyesight worsened, and it made me nervous. We were on the lookout for hunters in their orange attire, but I could only see a few feet ahead of me.

The buck, once charming, now was frustrated. I weighed him down and I knew it. I was a risk to travel with, day or night.

We both knew we could not go on. We were dead together, before the hunters had even shot us. The buck and I decided that we would part at the edge of the woods, and I would venture into the field for the first time in two years.

He led the way, like he always had. I was too blind in the trees to realize this would be the sign before the attack.

The buck I had been chained to for two years was secretly disguised as a hunter. He raised his gun and pointed it between my eyes.

“I’m sorry, dear,” he said. “I love you.”

He looked me in the eyes. His blue eyes. They looked different now. His eyes used to be so clear. Now I saw only a stranger in front of me. Had I really been that blind? Why hadn’t I run when I had the chance, before the night draped over the both of us?

As the hunter stood poised with his shotgun, I knew there was nothing I could say that would convince him to lower the gun and let me go. For two years, he’d been after my flesh. He led me right into his trap.

He shot his bullet straight through my head. My brains spilled all over the melted snow and mud as I ran out. I’ve been running ever since, leaving a dark red trail.

I ran out of the woods, my skinny legs shaking. My head is spinning from the blood loss. How am I alive?

I’m still looking over my shoulder as I run. My eyesight is slowly returning. I don’t sleep at night. But the paranoia is still buried in my skin. I cannot stop running for anyone. One more arrow, one more bullet, one wrong move, and I could be a lifeless carcass buried deep in the woods or eaten by a family of hunters.

I’m safer alone.