I am not living. I am existing. And it’s not enough.

Living is feeling, feeling everything and feeling deeply. Living is having the breath stolen from your lips by the beauty of a sentence, by the intensity of a color, by the sonority and harmony of a chord. Living is not thinking, just doing, just feeling, just going with it and having a fantastic time. Living is putting your soul into everything, experiencing as much as possible, engaging deeply with the people and things around you. In this sense, I have not been living.

I go day to day just checking things off, simply wanting to get it done. And when I tell people this isn’t enough, they tell me I have to do it in order to get to the living part. Like living is only an adult thing that happens after you get an expensive degree and a career to pay the bills and maybe a life partner and start a family. Never mind the people my age and younger even who lived more deeply in their thirty or forty years than some people will in eighty. Never mind the great works of art, the masterful novels and poems, the entire social movements created by young people who wanted to really live, not just exist.

Maybe my discontent is a mortality thing. It’s hard to believe that there will always be a tomorrow like everyone tells me when breaking news constantly says otherwise. It’s hard to wait when everything keeps changing, often for the worse, and making my dreams harder and harder to believe in. It’s hard to know that getting older means more options and perhaps more stability, but in that less flexibility and more chance of waiting for the right moment turning into never getting there.

Maybe I’m scared to just live because everything I’ve ever heard and learned from society has conditioned me to believe in the checklist, the rules, the system, even though everything I’ve enjoyed reading, that’s really spoken to my thoughts and my emotions, has gone completely against all of it. It’s hard to throw off existence for living, and maybe I’m just not strong enough.

I’ve been told by some very important people to think outside the box, follow my dreams, live for myself and no one else because we can never make everyone happy. But I can’t figure out how to do that. I don’t want to fail, though I know failure is the only way to get better. I’m not sure if I can pick myself back up. I’ve never had the chance to try. I’ve also been told by other important people that the first people were wrong. I’m conflicted.

Life the way I imagined it has not happened. I understand plans change, that we can’t predict the future or anything. But things have gone the way someone else wanted them to, and I am uncomfortable, unhappy, and unsure. I am still the visceral, creative, adventurous, curious, confident person I’ve always been, but that part of me is hiding because it doesn’t fit with the world I’m stuck in right now. I need a change, because I’m failing in a not so constructive way, and I know I won’t be able to come back if I hit the bottom.

Yellow Jacket For Life, Buckeye Forever

Today is the College Football National Championship game, with the Oregon Ducks going up against my beloved Ohio State Buckeyes. While it isn’t THE Big Game for Buckeye Nation, it is a really big game, and I really can’t wait to watch it. I’m just hoping my professor at Baldwin Wallace University lets us out early this first night of class so I can see the whole thing.

But with the first day of classes, the National Championship, and the Buckeyes competing in the National Championship, it brings up a lot of emotions for me. I sit here in the library, a senior at Baldwin Wallace University, wishing I’d followed my upbringing to Columbus. I was born a Buckeye, and will forever be one in my heart, but alas, I am actually a Yellow Jacket.

Baldwin Wallace isn’t a bad school at all. I’ve enjoyed my time in Berea and met a lot of great people and learned from some fantastic professors. But college hasn’t been what I expected, or what I planned for, and I feel like I’ve let myself and so many others down. I was prepared for a huge campus, a stadium packed on Saturdays, the game broadcast on national television, being in one of the most famous marching bands in the world, and being able to find my school colors and name plastered almost anywhere. I was ready to be a few hours away from home, exploring a very new city, attending classes with a few hundred people while mingling with thousands more outside class, and trying new things or continuing my former hobbies. What I actual got was a lot more small scale.

I’ve had people tell me I wouldn’t be happy at OSU. They think it’s too big for me. But I feel like BWU is too small. And it’s too close to home. I love my family and friends dearly, but college was supposed to be a time to break away from all of that, to get out and explore the world and learn more about myself. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished that at all. I’ve learned some pretty cool things and taken some great classes, but I still feel like the same old me– actually, more like I’ve regressed. I feel shy and unsure of myself, and as many of my teachers from grade school can tell you, that wasn’t me at all. I gave up on marching band– and music in general. I haven’t been on stage since senior year at Bedford High. And I haven’t been as dedicated to my school work or my other ambitions as I would like to be. I’ve mostly just been working to pay for school and make it through. They say college is what you make it. I guess I made it something else to check off the list. My heart just wasn’t in it. And that bothers me.

Tonight I’m going to watch as much of the football game as possible– I didn’t watch any of BW’s this season or last. I’m going to shout at the people on TV that the refs made an awful call and that I want to see The Best Damn Band in the Land instead of a bunch of washed up players over-analyzing the plays we all watched and analyzed. I’m going to wish I could be in that stadium to feel the excitement and the tension shift with every play. And I’m going to celebrate or mourn– but hopefully the former– as if I were going to be a real Buckeye with a degree from The Ohio State University come graduation. Script Ohio

It Doesn’t Have To Be This Way

I’m in the midst of my second to last finals week of college. Unfortunately, my papers and tests are the farthest thing from my mind. As I foolishly check Facebook, or turn on the news, or read the newspaper, or even listen to the radio, I can’t help but think what I’m doing is esoteric and pointless. There seem to be so many better things I could be doing with my time that make me feel far less empty than working for a piece of paper that isn’t guaranteed to be a means to security and happiness.

Like everyone else, I’ve been hearing tale after tale of violence and injustice against various marginalized groups. I’ve been bludgeoned with tales of sickness and rape and homelessness and poverty for longer than I care to think about. They make my heart hurt and my head angry. But the reactions people have to all these things hurt and anger me more than the fact that these things happen. The reactions are ignorant, pessimistic, destructive, close-minded, negative, and heavily biased.

Racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, religious discrimination, gender and sexual orientation discrimination, discrimination based on socioeconomic status, sickness, homelessness, and everything else we come into contact with on a daily basis certainly aren’t new. They’ve been around for at least the whole of human history– most likely even since human prehistory. I don’t find it surprising that these things still exist. But I do find it infuriating.

I suppose you could call me a romantic, or an optimist, or an idealist. I want the world to be the inclusive, beautiful, caring place I know it could be. And there are plenty of people right there with me. What keeps this idyllic, semi-utopian vision from happening isn’t all the crappy stuff. It’s the number of people who think that the world is defined by the crappy stuff. The people who simply accept the dark parts of life as the whole of reality are really the barrier to fixing the world. Those negative reactions block constructive discussion, which does nothing to break the infinite loop of more crappy things happening. It keeps my fairy tale just fairy tale instead of making it a reachable reality.

I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t have to be this way. The world will never be perfect– I’m not so naive to believe that can happen. But the world can be better. We can make more good things happen, and we can lessen the bad things that happen. I’m not a saint by any stretch of the imagination. I have some of the same gut reactions that even the most cynical, jaded, biased a**hole does when I watch the news. But I try to move beyond my (often learned) negative emotional responses to get to the more balanced intellectual and useful response, which isn’t, “They deserved it, f*** them, that’s just the way it is, get over it,” or any variation of it, but instead is, “That’s awful, what can I do to help, what do we need to do to address this issue and fix it once and for all?”

Maybe we could stop focusing on and even promoting everything that’s really shitty in the world and start thinking and talking about ways to make it better.

Times Like These

It’s one of those nights when emotion runs high. I read words, hear music, see images, and a string is pulled inside me. Hairs stand on end. Tears fall to attention in my eyes. Breath leaps from my lips. Everything fills me with awe and wonder, and suddenly I find so much beauty in a world that not so long ago was so ugly I couldn’t stand to look.

It’s nights like these when I’ll lie awake, conversing with the dark, asking questions of the stars twinkling beyond the ceiling above my bed. How do they do it? I’ll wonder. How do their minds find these paths that lead them to such treasures? Then the mirror at the foot of my bed joins the conversation, and in the dark, the me staring back is not as pretty as in daylight. You’re not that good. You don’t try hard enough. You’ll never be on that level. It makes me wonder if the mirror isn’t right. Do I have enough skill? Is my vocabulary sufficient? Are my heart and my soul either tortured or beautiful enough to create something that sends a chill and a prickle through the system? Am I even a writer?

It’s days like these I wish I wanted to be something different.writing-utensils.jpg

Straddling the fence between confident and bossy is really tough as a young woman. Where does confidence come from? Why is confident good but bossy bad? Guys can be called cocky, but that has nowhere near the detrimental effect that bossy has on girls. We live in a time when women are told to be confident and independent, when many guys want girls who are confident, so why is there a limit to how confident we can be?

I have been called cocky, arrogant, stuck-up, a know-it-all, and so many other descriptors with more negative connotations than positive ones. And usually when these adjectives are thrown my way, I’m feeling really good about myself. I feel like I know what I’m doing, like things are going well, and that I’m doing and giving my best. And when I hear these things, I tend to crash and burn, because that self-esteem I had built up deflates. Suddenly, I wonder what I’m doing, if I’m good enough, why I was put into positions and given responsibilities people thought I couldn’t handle– or why I put myself there because suddenly, I know I can’t handle it, and I should have seen it in the first place.

The twisted part is that once I’m paralyzed, unable to do anything because I don’t know if I’m capable, people suddenly start asking what happened to the confident young woman they used to know. Often times, it’s some of the same people who told me I was too confident. What’s a girl supposed to do?

I’ve read, seen, and heard many theories and practices to build confidence. Fake it till you make it; power poses; exercise; replacing the old with the new as in wardrobe, workspace, or even people. I’ve tried many of them. I have two go-to techniques. First, I dress to kill. There’s something about dressing to the nines that makes you feel like a bad-ass who could take on the world. Even just throwing on a little make-up and a nicer-than-normal outfit in the morning makes me feel great about myself. The second is as egotistical and shallow as it comes, but it works for me. I pick a song about a desirable girl and imagine that song is about me. Usually it’s upbeat and easy to strut to. Think “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, “Downtown Girl” by Hot Chelle Rae, “Hot Child in the City” by Nick Gilder, and so on. Sorry, ladies and gents, One Direction and Bruno Mars are singing about me. See? As shallow and egotistical as it gets, but it works. Until someone tells me I’m overly confident. That I’m not as good as I think I am. I’m not as sexy, as smart, as talented, as knowledgable, as suited for a role as I think I am. And it usually isn’t framed as constructive criticism when a comment bursts my bubble. It’s straight up derrogative.

Think about a time when someone called you out on a mistake, poor behavior, bad judgement, or really anything. It might have had an impact on you when they called you a dumbass or incompitent or ugly or add negative descriptor here. But unless it was a common plan of action with a really close friend, you probably didn’t respond too well. Either you got defensive and or you just shut down. Defensive can lead to change, but often times it just mean stubbornly pursuing the same course of action to spite the offender. Shutting down isn’t pretty ever. Do you really want to inflict that feeling, that situation, on another human being?

There are ways to tell someone they’re overstepping their bounds if that actually is the case. There’s no reason to fling profanities like bossy at anyone. Because seriously, who wants to be called a sexist pig in return?

Not a Huge Fan of Censorship, But Banning Bossy Couldn’t Hurt

Scenes from a Student Union

The beginning of a new semester. The Student Union, a hub of life on campus, is even more lively than usual. Chatter fills the air, old friends catching up and politely discussing winter break happenings and new schedules and changes in plans for the course of school and life. The line for coffee and snacks is long, since everyone has holiday cash or money on their meal cards for a bit of a treat. The line in the bookstore snakes around bookshelves and other students still purusing. The ambiance is that of excitement and determination, the buzz of starting a new project with which one has yet to grow bored.

This scene is much more hopeful than the last week of a semester. That week, the union is a ghost town. The number of people sitting in the large gathering area is countable on one hand. Silence is more common than sound, and anyone who breaks it receives deadly stares from the few students with book or keyboard in hand, scrambling to finish studying or writing a paper. It’s a dismal and almost oppressive atmosphere, anxious and sleep-deprived young adults waiting for the pressure to be released.

I like the first week much better.

A Break at Last

Today is the kind of day I’ve been waiting for since about mid-November. School had already grown more exhausting than exhilarating, and final exams, papers, and projects were far from my idea of a worthwhile use for my time. But now, the semester is done, I’m happy with the results, and I have ahead of me a much needed month of recharging for the next round of rigorous study.

Today, I’m sitting in a coffee shop, spending time with a novel that I won’t have to analyze in an academic paper. I’m enjoying the people watching, the cozy atmosphere, the many others with their laptops and their tablets and their books and papers. No lectures, no real demands on my time, just some time to take a break from the bustle of life and focus on something of my own creation and intent.

I’m about two-thirds of the way done with The World According to Garp by John Irving, and I’m really enjoying it. The prose may not be the most beautiful, but the story, the details, and the realness of the characters makes it a great read, in my opinion. I’m glad coffee shops are pretty bookworm-friendly places, because in many other settings, I’d look absolutely insane the way I’m reacting to the book. For those of you who haven’t read it– or seen the movie, which I hope is very much like the book– it’s the story of a man named T.S. Garp, a writer who never becomes as famous as his mother, a nurse who happened to write a best-selling memoir, A Sexual Suspect. This title sets the theme for the entire novel, in which sex and sexuality seem to be explored by every adult character by way of comical absurdness with a blush of embarrassing realism. For those of you who are familiar with it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

I’m also working on a couple of short stories I wrote for the fiction workshop I took this now-past semester. I’m debating whether or not I’m ready to post them on here just yet– they still need some work. But I will tell you a bit about them. The first is the longer of the two, and probably the one I’d like to take farthest. Two people who went to high school together meet eight years after graduation. He was the cool guy, she was the smart girl, and they crossed paths as the leads in a high school musical. Now, he’s running a struggling music shop, and she’s a successful freelance writer working on her first novel. I originally wanted them to be almost complete strangers because they didn’t really hang around the same groups in high school, but that might change to make their reunion a little more dramatic– a confrontation of a rocky past, and maybe an attempt at a relationship they might have had in school, but they’ve changed so much since then. The second story is that of a recent college grad, looking for one last adventure before starting real life. A girl from the suburbs of Cleveland, she seeks a change of scenery in the mountains and forests of Colorado. Of course, she has to reconcile what she finds there with what she leaves behind– in the form of relationships, expectations, and reality. She gets an adventure, I’m sure. I just don’t know at what cost yet. For those who know me, these are pretty blatantly autobiographical at the moment, but I hope to find a different story along the way. I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this as well.

Beyond this, I’d really like to work on the professional side of things. I’m a little more set on writing for a career, so that’s going to be my main focus for break, when I don’t have classes to worry about as well as my job and the whole career plan. If anyone has any advice they’d like to share on this, I’m glad to hear it. The more input I can get, the better.

Alright, I think that’s all for now. The coffee’s gone, I’m starting to catch a chill from the opening and closing of the door to the wintry world outside, and while the atmosphere is cozy, this particular chair is not. So, off we go, back to participating in the life I’ve been observing through the coffee shop window.