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Archive for the ‘Insecurity’ Category

It’s safe to say I haven’t kept up with the Pretending blog series very well.  The idea started after I had some conversations with some pretty kick ass women who were doubting their kick-assery.  Unacceptable.  I made the commitment to be brave and face off against some insecurities to help them see how amazing they truly are.  To be frank, I’ve really let them down in his effort.  Not only because I haven’t been writing about it, but more because I haven’t been living it.  So here I am, ready to be as vulnerable as I can imagine, and hope you will be kind.

We all have some crazy.  We’re human.  Made up of character rich flaws with unique coping mechanisms.  My demons always rise from self-doubt and worrying about ruining things I love.  The anxiety from it can engulf all my thoughts for days on end by over analyzing meaningless details.  Did that sideways look mean I said something stupid?   Did I come off looking too needy by sending a follow-up text when they didn’t text back in the first place?  Oh my God, what are they going to think after watching that five minute drunken snap story?   In a rational mind, I can see these aren’t that big of a deal in the scheme of life.  However, when I’m spiraling, my “crazies” hijack all rationality and tell me I have ruined something important.

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Towards the end of last year I struggled with finding a mental balance.  I fluctuated from experiencing fantastic highs on the good days to self-loathing lows when I made a simple mistake.  I punished myself for days by replaying what I saw as poor choices.  Each time asking myself how I could’ve been so stupid. Finally I got to a place where I didn’t want to hate on myself anymore.  I needed some help with perspective to bring my psyche back to an even kilter.

I talk to people every day about how it takes great strength and courage to admit when you need help.  I encourage them to seek assistance with others, even professionals, if they find their support systems aren’t providing relief.  I go on and on about how there’s nothing wrong with going to therapy; it’s just a sounding board to give you an unbiased  opinion.  But there I was, worried about letting anyone know I decided to go.

It wasn’t my first time.  I received great advice years ago and saw results in enhancing important relationships.  So why was it such a big deal now?  Maybe I worried people would think I should be lucky to have such trivial problems. Or  worse, maybe others will blow it out of proportion, which happens after your immediate family member commits suicide.  Even now I struggle to write the words with some fear there will be a perception assigned.

When I went, I confirmed one thing I already knew — I’m an “all or nothing” kind of person.  I want things to mean one thing or another.  Defined.  Judgmental. It’s a very difficult expectation to hold yourself.  What I learned was two things could be true at the same time.  I could be a good person and make a bad decision.  I learned the importance in trusting what people say and not always look for the “what did they really mean.”  Lastly, I got a most helpful “check the facts” sheet.  At those times when I start to awfulize a situation, I have to pull out a questionnaire and write down the answers.  A reality check, if you will.  What are other possible conclusions?  And what’s the absolute worst case scenario?  The process helps see the situation for the importance it should given instead of what my mind wants to blow it into.

The few sessions proved helpful to gain some tools I’d been lacking.  Because she was also an artist, the conversations included subjects around the creative process.  We discussed the benefits of meditation, finding the “wise mind,” and validating my own art.

So why would I share all this information about my mental health?  Something so personal and a topic most people are uncomfortable talking about?  Bringing this subject out into the light is the only way to change the stigmas.  Showing it’s okay to admit we have doubts.  Vulnerabilities.  Insecurities.  Flaws.  Crazies.  I do this to encourage you to share your struggles, appreciate these challenges in each other, and refuse to be embarrassed of what you battle.  Because even if we don’t believe it in the moment, if we want to change how people view mental illness, we need to pretend not to be ashamed of who we truly are.

 

 

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Last week I packed up my car and headed for the border.  I wasn’t running away to Mexican beaches and margaritas as one may expect during this rainy season.  Instead, I headed north.  Many people asked why I would take time off from work, leave my family, and drive solo to cold Canada at the beginning of February.  The answer is simple:  Dreamers.

Actually, it wasn’t that simple.  I bought the tickets three months ago while still coming down from my Dreamers’ Portland concert high in October.  One night in early November while I enjoyed Lemon-Drop-Saturday, Dreamers posted on Facebook they were going to open up for the Arkells in Canada.  I died.  It was kismit.  Only the year before, my Internet Stranger Best Friend of five years who lives in Canada, Tragic Spinster, recommended the Arkells for my radio show.  I messaged her immediately: “Your band and my band are getting together to make music babies.  We should meet for the first time.”  She said it might work.  So, I bought it, exactly ten minutes and three “do you think I shoulds?” to Hubs later.  The whole non-refundable trip.  Even before checking if I could get the time off of work.

I convinced myself Dreamers would announce more dates and drop into the US.  This would be the perfect time to fulfill my book research dream to follow a band on the road for a couple weeks to document the grind.  My original plan was to follow The Airborne Toxic Event along the east coast, but with their current hiatus and Hubs’ 2016 budget lecture, my plans needed alteration.  Instead, Dreamers along the west coast sounded like a better option.  Especially because the seven years of TATE love might be hard to separate myself from to allow for objective concert watching.  I begged for the time off, made a goal to complete 60K words on the manuscript draft before January 31, 2016, and prepped for my two week adventure.

Three big flaws in my plan — 1) Real life happened to Trag and she was out.  2) Dreamers didn’t add more dates immediately following Canada.  They picked up touring mid-February in Texas.  (Too far for me to drive.)  The two nights I already committed were going to be it.  3) Over the next three months, my Dreamers-love only grew stronger with new music dropping, my introduction into their Snap Chat world, and their unbelievable charm on social media by responding to my tom-foolery without blocking me.  My trip started to become more about seeing the band than research.  And that’s when things got complicated for me.

I’ll let you in on a secret in the fan world.  One that most refuse to talk about.  (I’ve re-written this blog a million times because even I struggle being this transparent about my feelings.  Don’t say I never give for you.)  It can be a weird place once you’ve had a “special snowflake” moment with a band.  You know, those feelz where your clear fan lines blurred when they made you feel more like a person than a commodity.  Through my Airborne travels, I’ve chatted with Mikel several times.  He’s nice enough.  I like him.  And I walked away knowing he never remembered one moment of it (unless you count cringing – have you ever read my Mikel experiences here, here, or here.)  When other TATE fans spoke about how they thought they were more than fans, my cynical response usually included it’s part of his job to be nice.  I chalked it up no one wanting to admit the lopsidedness in the fan/band relationship.  No one likes the rejection or feeling like they’re “just a fan.” (Written by These Stunning Ruins.)

As the Canada date drew closer, my anxiety increased.  Why did I worry about if Dreamers cared if I was there or not?  Who cares if they couldn’t pick me out of a line up?  Where the fuck was my cynicism when I needed it?  I’m an adult, for crissakes.  So, I kept my Canadian pilgrimage on the down low.  I told myself this was supposed to be about my writing work; more observing a concert versus attending one.  How could I be noting details if I spent all my time worrying if Dreamers would remember me enough to say hi?  I reminded myself they have a job to do by meeting new Vancouver people to grow a fan base.  No time for the Oregonian they already have in their back pocket.  All reasonable thoughts, but were these the real reason why I didn’t mention my tickets?  If I really wanted to be painfully honest with myself (and oh God, this is painful), didn’t it come down to the fact I was scared?

“Scared of what?” a non-fan might ask?  The last time I saw Dreamers live, the whole night was something crazy magical fun for me; a drug I crave to get me “higher and higher and higher.” (Shameless plug for their new song Drugs on the recently released EP “You Are Here.”) If I spent the months posting about traveling the 600 miles each way, I feared I would become an obligation.  Like they would have to pity me with nice because I tweet them to death and inundate them with baked goods.  Ugh, the last thing I would ever want.  Hiding seemed like a much better idea to avoid awkward or disappointment.

My plan was solid — drop off cookies (of course, there’s cookies, do you even know me by now?), get lost in the sold out crowd, send no Snaps, and post awesome pictures on Twitter later when driving away.  I asked a security guy to deliver the cookies.  “I don’t know if I can.  That’s not my job,” he said before disappearing behind the venue’s doors without the cookies.  Panic raced through me as I imagined having Dreamers come out to see who was trying to poison them with bakery treats.  This would send my concert Tourettes into hyper-drive where I’d spew disjointed thoughts to over-explain why I was trying to give them confections minus the hype.  Luckily, Security Guy came back, said it was all good, and took the package.

Even better was thirty minutes later when I saw tweets from Dreamers loving the cookies and wondering how they got there.  My heart swelled with their appreciation.  It’s one of the things I find so endearing about them.  They got the something special and I was home free to live in anonymity.  Seriously…look at these cute tweets?

nelson boob

As usual when I concert alone, I buddied up with other fans in the venue.  During our breaks in conversation, I scribbled notes about the venue’s atmosphere, how the bodies lined up against the weak gate barrier, and the pre-show buzz humming in the air.  I asked my Canadian Couple friends to save my seat as I ventured to the merchandise table to grab my concert t-shirt before the show started.  I tried to buy it on my way in, but the Arkells’ merch guy said he didn’t sell Dreamers’ stuff and I’d have to wait for their guy to come back.  When I returned, Sober (real name Plotkin) manned it just like he did in Portland.  He’d already walked past me once that night so I wasn’t worried about him recognizing me.

I wasn’t even to the table’s edge when he said, “You brought the cookies.” (Or something like that — drinking disclaimer.)  I was stunned in his recognition.  Sober told the other guy about the cookies I included for him.  He even appreciated the font choice. <Swoon>  He continued on about the set I sent previously based on crossword puzzles.  His genuine excitement in the cookie description is really where I could’ve kissed him.  It’s the whole reason why I love making cookies for people.  I tried to play it cool as I bought the shirt, where inside I geeked out.  I headed back to my table trying to convince myself nothing had changed from five minutes before.

But in that simple interaction, things had changed.  The vodka drip I’d been on all night didn’t hurt either.  I considered we’re both important parts to the fan/band equation regardless if it matters more to me than them.  It didn’t mean my presence wasn’t welcomed.  They appreciated the cookies.  Maybe it even made a “special snowflake” moment for them.  Hell, I only make them for a select few.

With my presence known, I watched Dreamers play from front row, sent Snaps like a fiend, and tweeted drink offers to them.  I did these things because it’s totally who I am.  To the core.   I stopped worrying about what I couldn’t control.  Instead I focused on what I love about concerts — the band’s energy, the music’s power, and the other fans’ excitement.  Canadian couple and I talked about how long they had been Arkell fans and I explained my reason for traveling so far for Dreamers — because they are nice.  They bought me vodka sodas and I bought them beers.  It was clearer than ever I only hurt myself by being scared.  If rejection stopped me from taking chances I would’ve missed out on meeting Canadian Couple when I asked to share a table.  I tell people on a daily basis that fear leads to bad decisions.  And there I was ready to make the worst one.

Sober fucked up my perfect plan in the most amazing way.  Dreamers did find me and made me feel appreciated for being there.  I snapped Nelson as he Snapchatted, watched Nick dance and talk with fans, and I wrote more notes for my manuscript.  There weren’t in depth conversations because the concert blared too loud.  Nor karaoke all night the way Portland had graced.  In fact, both nights ended abruptly when security kicked me out shortly after the show ended.  (I say shortly being a terrible judge of time when drinking.  Security guard on night #2 was quite mean about it, too.)  But what didn’t happen isn’t what defined my trip when I think back about the experience.

What did happen was Dreamers proved to me once again why I adore them so much.   They were gracious with their time (with me and other fans), continued to be pretty entertaining off stage, and rocked great shows both nights.  I would’ve kicked myself if I missed out on that opportunity.  The chance to interact with them as people.  Because that’s something special you don’t get with most bands.  It reminded me, even if you are “just a fan” in the Dreamers’ world, it’s a pretty damn cool place to be.

 

 

 

 

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The last couple blogs probably give you a pretty good feel for how the night played out.  The band and their friends were very gracious to let me join in on a great time.  Towards the end of the night when I knew I had to leave, I was so sad. Good nights like that are enchanting.  Those moments where things work out better than you could’ve imagined.  Like Cinderella at midnight and knowing the fairy tale isn’t going to chase you down in the morning.  I didn’t want the magic to disappear.  This might be the mentality that has earned me the rep “the girl who never can let a good time die.”  Hell, why would I want to?  You have read about how awesome the guys in Dreamers are, right?  Would you want to leave voluntarily?

Nelson signing my set list. Seriously, this could be the Teen Beat cover. For those of you unfamiliar, young girls would tear out the pages and post them on their walls.  I have no idea what they do nowadays with the digital.  Do they even still have Teen Beat? It doesn't matter, this is Teen Beat material for sure!

Nelson signing my set list. Seriously, this could be the Teen Beat cover. For those of you unfamiliar with Teen Beat, young girls would tear out the pages and tape them on their walls.  I have no idea what they do nowadays with the digital versions.  Do they even still have Teen Beat? It doesn’t matter, this is Teen Beat material all day long.

At 3:00 a.m., I took Uber back to my hotel, crashed across the bed, and slept hard for four hours.  I woke up with a large bruise coloring my left arm and every nail broken on my left hand.  Now, that’s a party, right?  I scrolled through all the moments frozen on my phone to recapture every amazing memory.  (See, I do have a reason for the million pictures.)  I flicked through the pages with a smile, a little laughing, and then some major cringing.

The morning after is a funny thing.  Maybe it’s the sun’s brightness, the dizzying headache, or that video where you look like you scared the hell out of Nelson (bassist) by shoving your phone in his face.  (He looks so lovely, why must I scare him?)  Whatever the cause, a smoldering insecurity starts to taint how you remember only a few hours before.  I’ve written before about how insecurity sometimes seeps into my thought process and can distort beautiful things into something ugly.  I begin to over-analyze, process to minutia, and self-critique to an unbearable degree.  Usually it’s around something I’ve created — blogs, novels, baking, etc.  I tell myself it’s for the good in personal growth.  Assess the opportunity areas to make the next version stronger and more polished.  It’s being self-aware, isn’t it?

Dissecting each moment I could remember under the “did I embarrass myself” microscope, I packed my suitcase and started the drive home.  Five hours of beating myself up for not drinking less, being more reserved, quieter, maybe even more polite.  Pretty much nothing like me.  (Except for the polite part. I like to be polite.)  What if I came off like a total crazy person?  What if Dreamers will never come back to Oregon?  Or if they do, would they walk quickly the other way if they saw me at show?  Maybe even pick up the pace to a serious run?  All irrational thoughts, a normal person would say.  I’m one fan, in one town, on one stop, on one tour.  A blurred face in a line of people before and after.  Let’s bring it back to reality, shall we?

Could I look more excited?

Could I look more excited? This picture kinda shows that I do look pretty crazy.  Thank God he’s not looking.

When I get home I’m fighting through post-concert depression.  (The usual feelz for about a week after good concert juju. You know, the haze where you play the band on repeat, gush about them to every listening ear in a three mile radius, and wish you could do it all again.)  I can already tell this one will take longer.  Their sincerity, niceness, and funny charm is like crack.  Now I want to submerge myself in everything Dreamers, which only makes the criticism louder.  Since birth it’s constantly pounded in your head — you only get one chance to make a first impression.  What if I fucked up my one chance?

Bestie regularly asks me in situations like these, “Why do you care what a stranger thinks?”  My answer comes with the same shrug, “I don’t know.  Because I fucking do.”  This time I did have an answer.  You know why?  It didn’t feel like strangers.  They were nice.  Real.  Honest.  Friendly.  No plastic smiles.  No pleasantries while looking over your shoulder for something better.  They were in the moment, talking, listening, enjoying.  These are rare things with when meeting people.  They’re the people you usually wish you could know longer than one night.  (The juju is strong with this band…you’ve been warned.  If you don’t believe me, ask Courtney   on Twitter.)  

In trying to breathe sanity into my head again, I upload some of the best photos for friends because they understand me.  They know me.  Even if I was stupid, or embarrassed myself, they’ll still love me, right?  (Well, as much as Facebook friends do.)  A message pops up within minutes from an old high school friend.  “Are you in their van?”  I explain they gave me a ride to karaoke and highlight the detail about falling out of it.  He writes, “This only happens to you.”  His statement hits me like a life-preserver.  What the fuck was I thinking?  I just had the best night ever and I hated myself for not doing it better?

I remind myself I did what most people wouldn’t have imagined doing.  There were lots of times I could’ve chickened out or told myself I wasn’t interesting enough to hang out with Dreamers.  But I really wanted to because they were fun as hell.  So I did.  Every day I tell people they can be anything.  Do anything they want.  I share my desire to be an author and the extremely difficult road toward traditional publishing.  I remind them not to put one dream on hold while following another. I’m building a bakery biz and doing a weekly radio show because I wanted to bring decent music to my little town.  All this while working my “real job” to support my expensive concert habit.  Is it hard?  Yep.  Uncomfortable to sacrifice other things I love?  Shit yeah.  Worth every minute to leave no fantasy left behind?  Not a doubt in my mind.

That’s the thing.  If I were better about keeping insecurity at bay, when I wake up from nights like this, I would say “Hell yeah, last night was fun.  Wouldn’t change a thing.”  I may even follow it up with, “and if they didn’t like me, that’s their problem.” Okay now, who are we kidding, I never say this.  Certainly not to this band.  Have you been paying attention at all about how much I <heart> them?

The funniest part is Dreamers never made me feel like this.  As I’ve gushed about how awesome they were in these past blogs, they were welcoming, friendly, and still continue to answer tweets with lightening speed.  As part of my Dreamers research, I visited their site and read their manifesto.  Do I think it’s just happenstance they write “we believe nothing is impossible” when I’m questioning if I brought anything interesting to the night?  I know there are no coincidences, only twists in a story line.

So, are you drowning or swimming?  It doesn’t have to be about a night out with a band.  It could be anything you want.  Whatever makes you happy.  Are you telling yourself you’re worth it?  Or beating yourself down with you are never good enough?  I watch people do it every day.  The insecurity pulls them to the bottom without even the slightest fight.  They live the same life everyday and hate everyone for it.

I don’t want to be one of those people.  I want to be the one who lets herself have a killer time, experience everything, and believe I can keep up with even the most interesting people.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy.  It’s a crazy fight to push through doubt.  I battle with it all the time.  In one night, Dreamers reminded me again if I want to try new things, live to the fullest, and do the impossible, I’m going to have to dive in completely.  No matter what the risk the next morning.

This is just because I wanted to put another picture in of us together.

This is just because I wanted to put another picture in of us together.

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Creative Demons

Bestie calls me paranoid.  She regularly laughs at the fact I can take a simple statement and build it into a giant conspiracy in less than fifteen seconds.  These aren’t like Doomsday Prepper or apocalyptic worries.  Oh no, they are the mundane, side quips people make without thinking.  They act like it meant nothing.  However, I heard the inflection.  I saw the eyes dip to the side and how he was unable to hold meaningful eye contact.  And why did he bring that subject up now?  On this day?  The speaker may have used the words “Have a nice day” but what he really meant was “I’m about to ruin your world.”

You said what? I’m about to go loco.

For a long time I’ve called this “my crazies.”  Lots of thoughts fall into this category.  You’ve probably read some things on this little ole blog and wondered how the hell I got to point B when point A was nowhere near it.  I’ve grown to accept my idiosyncrasies and try to calm them when they make their way into my head.  I try to rationalize, it probably meant nothing or I’m blowing it out of proportion.  I comfort myself with knowing in time my mind will lose interest and slowly forget.

Why do I even do it all?  Why torture myself with replaying conversations fifty times in my head?  Each time trying to pick up another detail I may have missed in the first go-around.  If I know it’s harmful to my psyche, so why can’t I leave it at the door?  Say I won’t allow doubt, insecurity, worthlessness make its way into my stable home?  Because my mind doesn’t work like that.

I read an article after Robin Williams died, trying to cope with my own suicide experience.  Hell, I read tons from other comedians explaining why deep depression is common among the funniest people.  While they each made me feel a little better with Mr. Williams being at peace and a little sad we’d lost someone funny, it wasn’t until I came across one article where I learned more about me.  (Of course I can’t find it again.)  Not that I’m comedic genius or anything, however the theme in the article could be easily linked to creativity in general.

You make Red Hulk angry.

The article talked about how the same mind which can take nothing and create something beautiful can also create something ugly.  It explained while the comedian may look like he or she is playing off the cuff, they’ve really spent pain-staking hours fine-tuning.  Telling themselves over and over again it needs a little more or isn’t good enough in an attempt to make it the best.  This isn’t far off from the writer’s experience.  Recently, I re-wrote a one page dialogue between two characters drinking coffee for four hours.  In writing, a slight smirk needs to mean so much more if I want anyone to read on.  Is the person smitten? Or plotting something devious?   Writers have to ask “why that word?” and “what does it really mean?” for every single word sixty-thousand times when working on a book.   The possibilities are infinite about what someone or something really intended with what they said or did.  So why would I think I could turn all that questioning off in real life?

Does this make for normal relationships?  Uh, no.  Sometimes I hold people accountable for actions they never took.  I’ve given them credit for being devious when really they did mean a compliment.  I add drama to torture myself when the speaker probably went on their merry way without ever thinking about the interaction again.  Hubs regularly reminds me “what I said was…” to recount his version word for word to counter the story I’ve made up in my head.

Would I give up creativity to stop these crazies?  Hell no.  Because they bring a lot to my life.  Sometimes I like the stories I create.  Sometimes they leave me a crumpled, sobbing mess on the floor.  I’m not sure what action will produce something inspiring.  And which one will start a mountain out of a molehill.  What I do know is with every gift comes a price.  And with every word comes a story.

 

 

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Harvest a Feeling

September brings warm air on the verge of chill, changing leaves from vivacious green to a golden yellow, and kids joyfully frolicking back to school. Okay, maybe not so much the last one, but the rest is true.  This month with its fall season promise invokes a strange spirit in me.  Martha Stewart pictorials touting the beauty in home decor urge me to purchase every accessory in browns, reds, and golds.  My domesticated self imagines apple pie smells filling my kitchen while every table is topped with a perfect cornucopia.

Now back to reality.  I have no home decor style.  Any creativity I may have in the kitchen or in writing has sucked away any skill that should’ve been doled out to matching curtain patterns to paint color.  My stunted design skill leaves my house in basic colors of browns, tans, and the new gray accent wall I painted this spring.  If you think I’m kidding, all my furniture is purchased from Costco.  The decor is sparse and the art on the wall is more sentimental than fashionable.  Usually I accept my ineptitude in this area and appreciate the ordinary of my home.  But that fall spirit whispers something in my ear to bring something more alive in my drab design world.

Decorating the house should run in my blood.  My mother changed the accents throughout the house to reflect the holiday like clockwork.  Even now, she has numerous plastic bins stacked in her garage in preparation for the season to turn.  When I lived in an apartment in Southern California, there was no need to change because the season never changed.  The only indicator winter had arrived was the occasional need for a sweatshirt.  Moving to Oregon brought four distinct seasons.  It also brought my domestication with being a wife, owning a home, and having children.  Unknown to me at the time, the move also required I figure out how to decorate my home blending the subtle hints of “welcome” without becoming a garish holiday bizarre craft fair.

In one of my first years as a home owner, I visited my best friend from high school.  She is a domestic goddess.  Each room was creatively and painstakingly decorated with from the large centerpiece to the littlest of touches.  The moment I walked in the door, my heart melted with the warmth brewing from the antique bowls holding dark brown pinecones and the ceramic pumpkins on every mantle.  I loved it.  I wanted it.  I needed it to feel complete as a person.

My girlfriend sent me home with the instructions to purchase ceramic pumpkins.  She listed out tips about how to cozy up my drab abode with natural elements like pinecones and fruit baskets.  I oozed confidence that my home would share the same awesomeness as her fantastical fall wonderland.  Four ceramic pumpkins purchased.  Check!  (One broken on the way home.)  A wood sign stating “Harvest”. Check!  Even colorful beaded garland.  Double check!  I blasted into the decor atmosphere and created this on my credenza.

harvest

Now I must admit this picture isn’t from five years ago when I first put up this display.  It’s from four days ago.  And it looks exactly now as it did when the original was created.  There’s no need for any other shots because there isn’t one other decoration.  This is the only piece I have and I pull it out every September 1st.

What I discovered over the years was I’m not a domestic goddess, I’m not Martha Stewart and I’m not my mom.  I am the person who bakes her favorite band into cookies, works towards traditional publication, and appreciates the fact this is the only holiday decor I can figure out.

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I Was Fearless

When I drove home in the glow of what a great time I had at the Willamette Writers Conference, I realized it all came from being fearless the first night.  I thought about how when I was younger fear wasn’t something considered when making decisions.  One of the lectures taught nostalgia as a plot device being the biggest draw for people in their thirties.  (I’ll let you believe now that I barely made it into the thirty tier since I’m obviously 29.)  I guess it’s true because I spent the next hour cycling through stories of my younger self storming headstrong into ridiculous situations.  I loved them.  And then I wondered when it had changed.

My freshman year of college represented my most fearless year.  My parents insisted I travel out of my small hometown to go to college.  This also meant leaving all my comforts, friends, and securities, too.  The first few weeks I holed up in my room and played on Prodigy because the internet wasn’t “a thing” yet.  (You’re probably recalculating my age assessment from before.)  One day I took a stand and reached out to my suite-mate.  I cast fear aside and put myself out there in hopes of better things.  She welcomed me into the group and I finally did more than listen to Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine for the millionth time.

Some of my best accomplishments came because of that first step to ditch fear.  I took a job as a concert security guard who had to travel to locations around southern California.  It never even occurred to me how unrealistic that was since I was a freshman without a car.  My resourceful self recruited dorm-mates to take on the same job and the carpool began.  Not seeing the boundaries allowed me to work one of my favorite jobs.  The lack of worry brought other adventures, such as an interview to intern with Capital Records (didn’t get it, but did get a tour of the building), inviting one of my favorite bands at the time to come stay in the dorms (no go, but did get a handwritten note back), endless photos of wild nights (they don’t see the light of day), and even the most gutsy move to fall in love (with my now husband).  That was one of my best years.

It doesn’t mean everything was gravy.  My grades weren’t the best, I watched a convenience store robbery go down, I enjoyed under-age extra curricular activities more than I should and I lost dear friendships.  But that was from being eighteen and thinking I knew everything.  Not the shallow defeat of fear telling me it wasn’t possible.

This weekend reinforced great things happen when your fear is in check.  The first night a choice presented itself.  A stranger made some innocent conversation.  My fear tried to seduce me to blow her off and go back to looking busy on my phone.  It took actual strength to stuff the phone back in my pocket and engage in normal interaction.  Once we started, my nerves calmed.  The real me entered the party.  Then another writer searched for a chair and I invited him over.  Three hours later, the three of us enjoyed several drinks and a helluva good time.  It set us up for having a wonderful time for the entire weekend, meeting many more people, and not melting down into a non-verbal mess when an agent sat down for a gin and tonic.

The whole thing reminded me how crippling fear can be; doubting if the novel is good enough to submit, despair in knowing thousands of hours of work doesn’t guarantee anything more than what I have, and self-loathing for not being better.  It will paralyze me on this road I’ve loved for the past four years; the time in my life where I feel like I’ve finally started doing what I was meant all along.

Life shouldn’t be calling up memories from twenty years ago to remember what it feels like to be fearless.  It should be living the fullest today like there is no tomorrow.

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In the past couple years, my baking world has taken off.  I’ve done the critter cupcakes, worked into mini cookie pops, and recently tackled real life cakes.  With each of these milestones in my culinary life, many things were purchased.  Each time, Hubs reviews the plastic bag filled with seemingly random things and eyeballs the long receipt with a raised eyebrow.  I explain with heart-felt passion all the things are needed to make my dessert “perfect.”  Because what I have learned in my baking and writing (because you knew it was looping around to that) is the right tools make all the difference.

This point was never more evident than when I wanted to upgrade to a bigger cake splitter.  Have you ever heard of such a thing?  And for most of you, how many dirty jokes have you already made?  Mine: Is that anything related to a pie splitter?  Out of the gutter and back to topic, the cake splitter has the task of cutting your cake into nice, even layers for frosting.  I’ve had the same cake cutter since I took a Wilton’s beginning cake decorating class about thirteen years ago.   It’s the simple form of basically a wire and a handle.  It has little notches in the side to make sure the wire is the same height on both sides.  You shimmy it through your cake and voila–nice even cut.

Choose your weapon

The downside to this cutter is while I have grown as a baker, my cake sizes have grown as well.  This simple cutter only works on the traditional home baking of 6-10 inch cakes.  With my dreams of tackling something bigger, this one wasn’t going to cut it.  (Oh yeah, I did it.)  I went back to Wilton and saw a more expensive cutter that bends in half for easy storage.  It looked like a dream and met my needs of limited space too.  There wasn’t any way we could go wrong.  That was until I bought the damn thing.  The very first time I had that cutter extended to meet the density of a red velvet cake, it crumbled under the pressure.  More truthfully, it bent.  It couldn’t stand up the pressure of a scratch cake versus the spongy box kind it probably most usually meets.  While I massaged it into the baked good to give a real try, it did the one thing it shouldn’t.  It made a completely uneven level.

After pacing back and forth with expletives streaming out of my mouth because this was no ordinary cake for fun but one to be auctioned for charity, I went to what experienced bakers use.  The old serrated knife.  I have feared the knife for years with it’s freeness to make any cut you like.  What if I couldn’t keep it straight?  What if it was worse than the bendy one?  What if I wasn’t good enough to do it?  I had to suck up my insecurity and take the blade to cake.  And you know what?  It was a darn nice cut.  The knife handled the density quite easily and kept an even layer with my steady hand the whole way through.

When the cake was frosted and delivered to the auction, I gushed when someone said “That looks so professional.”  I knew the inside would match as well with consistent levels for each of the four layers.  I’ve had the right tool all along sitting in my butcher block waiting for me to be ready.  It’s the practice, mess-ups, feedback and experience which have brought me to the place where I’m ready to yield the knife without any guides.  In writing, I’m still working towards that place.  I’ve added so much in the last year, I’m excited for the day I can feel confident to go with my gut and believe in my training.  It’s going to take time and a lot of hard work, but I know it’s there.  Somewhere inside of me, there is a butcher block waiting for me to realize I have the right tool when ready.

In case you wanted to check it out for yourself

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