The Sound of Silence

“The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crises.” -from Dan Brown’s Inferno, derived from Dante Alighieri

Well, shit. I had promised myself I would write the post I have been composing in my head for months after I finished the last novel I downloaded from the library. Instead, I downloaded two more and started right in…who knew Inferno would begin with an open-handed smack to the face? Message received.

For the most part, I have remained silent on “the big stuff” that has been going on since the election via social media, except for posting the occasional on-point meme, retweet, or call to action. It has been too much. I have been completely overwhelmed by all of the things I have wanted to say and do that I have essentially paralyzed myself. I know I am not alone in this, but it does not lessen the frustration or the sense of helplessness.

Recently, a friend who I had not seen in a while asked me how I was over a drink, I replied, “Do you mean besides the fact that it feels like we are all in a ridiculous nightmare from which you never wake up and this country is a shit show? I’m great.” Dramatic? Maybe, but I have trouble sleeping at night because I am thinking about how nothing I did that day furthered a cause and God, there are so many rights, people, and organizations being targeted and attacked. How do we fight them all? Good show, you White House buffoons (and hot damn, isn’t it the whitest of houses?), good show. Attack it all. Divide and conquer.

I have remained silent because our world is already so flooded with voices–and in a way, it is wonderful, this outpouring of emotion, but at this point, I don’t want to debate or try to relate to those who feel differently than I do, or even commiserate with the many who feel similarly. So I have kept that voice inside and only let it out during runs, in conversations with my husband,  and in counseling sessions. But the subconscious is powerful, and for the first time in my life, I am having dreams directly related to today’s political environment.

And here is my privilege showing. I am white, middle class, and was born in Ohio to parents whose great-great-great grandparents were born in America, which I guess makes me not an immigrant by this administration’s “standards.” I do not wake up and wonder if my family will be safe. But I worry for those who do. We are a nation of immigrants. Deny that and deny our history. Our foundation. Our growth. Our future.

My therapist said the world needs my voice, and I guess I needed someone else’s permission to write through the anger, guilt, and privilege. So I am posting this because to remain silent is to retain some appearance of neutrality and I am anything but neutral on what is happening here…and also because I need to hold myself accountable. Even if what I say is nothing new, I’d like to think of it as one more voice joining in the collective and powerful “Om” of this is not okay.

As a human, I am deeply concerned that there are people who STILL have not accepted that there are basic rights that belong to every single person. As a woman, I am furious that someone, anyone else thinks they have the authority to dictate what I do with my body. I am disgusted that this president’s vocabulary, in addition to being embarrassingly limited, includes words like pussy and bimbo. As an American, I am ashamed by association. I didn’t vote for this man, but a shocking number of citizens did. An even more alarming number did not vote at all.

Maybe America has never been quite the protective big brother I like to imagine, walking his little sister to the bus stop and peacefully intervening on behalf of his weaker classmates. But now it seems that big brother is just another fat bully with one unbelievably malignant narcissist of a stepfather, who is wreaking havoc one asinine tweet and executive order at a time, whose rhetoric has resonated with what I can only call the Dark Side of America, awakening in the ignorant some backwards sense of entitlement to being “American.” Yesterday, a friend of mine shared that he feels like an outsider in his own country after three white men tossed multiple ethnic slurs in his direction when he returned from a run. This makes my physically ill. These are the things that make me feel the most helpless, the most discouraged.

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Calming Influence by  Brian Andreas. Buy it here.

I am by no means a model citizen. This election was a wake-up call for me. I have been relatively moderate and passive in my political life. No more. I am working on accepting that I cannot be actively involved in every single issue that has already arisen and that will continue to pop up over the next four years. There are too many. I am going to go Panera on this and Pick Two. I will pick two fights that will be mine. I hope you’ll pick two that are yours.

Struggling with where to begin?

The Indivisble Guide, written by former Congressional staffers, lists the below five great steps on their website, which I encourage you to visit and share:

  1. Find your three MoCs (Members of Congress), their official websites, and their office contact info at www.callmycongress.com.
    • If you’re in my situation and have representatives who are fighting the good fight, let them know! Thank them for their commitment to you and the issues important to you.
  2. Sign up on your MoCs’ websites to receive regular email updates, invites to local events, and propaganda to understand what they’re saying. Every MoC has an e-newsletter.
  3. Find out where your MoCs stand on the issues of the day — appointment of white supremacists, tax cuts for the rich, etc. Review their voting history at VoteSmart.org. Research their biggest campaign contributors at OpenSecrets.org.
    • My Note: VoteSmart.org is an awesome place not only to follow your MoCs’ voting history, but also to get overviews on issues, including key votes, public statements, interest group ratings, and ballot measures.
  4. Set up a Google News Alert (http://www.google.com/alerts) — for example for “Rep. Bob Smith” — to receive an email whenever your MoCs are in the news.
  5. Research on Google News (https://news.google.com/news) what local reporters have written about your MoCs. Find and follow those reporters on Twitter, and build relationships. Before you attend or plan an event, reach out and explain why your group is protesting, and provide them with background materials and a quote. Journalists on deadline — even those who might not agree with you — appreciate when you provide easy material for a story.

Put your $$$ where your mouth/heart is: Donate to organizations that are protecting  or fighting for what is important to you.

Finally, seek to find balance. In order to stay sane and be a productive advocate/activist/human being, I have realized it is necessary to take some time away from the news, and organizing, and problem solving. It is okay to look at your favorite puppy’s Instagram account or binge watch The People v. O.J. Simpson (talk about another unbelievable “victory”). Take deep breaths. Sign up for the Headspace 10-day free trial. Practice random acts of kindness. PERSIST.

“We can learn to see each other and see ourselves in each other and recognize that human beings are more alike than we are unalike.”- Maya Angelou

 

An Autumn Unniversary & Runniversary

Fall arrived overnight. We had some moderate winds, and the next day, half the leaves of the decidious trees dried up and fell in delightfully crunchy piles along the sidewalks. Too soon! Yesterday, I had my first PSL. They may be basic, but those cinnamony-sweet, artificially-flavored treats never fail to slap me in the face with nostalgia on the first sip–Football! Leaves! Cross Country! Crisp, sunny Sunday long runs with the team! This week, two semi-momentous occasions arrived with the changing weather: My Unniversary from coaching at Oswego and my Runniverary with the Seattle Running Club.

An Unniversary

Today was Oswego’s first cross country meet, which means it has been a full year since I have not been their coach. There are many things I do not miss about coaching, the department, and Oswego itself, but this season brings out all my best memories of my time there: Fallbrook workouts, lagoon loops and avoiding ever-present goose poop during circuits, hurdle drills as the sun sets, taking a hot shower and then sitting on the couch with Elise for the rest of the day after a cold, wet long run, trivia nights and school nights, being introduced to harvest ales by Papay, post-meet meals at Wegman’s (still unbeatable), Lake Ontario and the lighthouse visible from our bay window, team whiparounds, watching an athlete come out of the woods in first at a meet with 400 meters to go, the list goes on…

Thank you to everyone who made those four years so special. Happy Unniversary, Oz!

A Runniversary

One year ago from this past Wednesday, Thorin and I attended the first cross country workout held by the Seattle Running Club. We warmed up together and then stood somewhat nervously in a circle of thirty to forty people, mentally preparing introductions that needed to be succint, informative, and witty all at the same time!

“I’m Steph. I moved here two months ago from Pennsylvania and New York, where I used to coach cross country and track and now I am looking for a new running family.”

“I’m Thorin. Steph is my girlriend…” General laughter as I gave Thorin the stink-eye. Really, guy? Great, now everyone will think we are an amorphous blob with no distinct personalities. I tried to commit everyone’s name to memory and then struck out to make a good impression and see what this club was all about.

One of the members was wearing a Williams XC shirt, so I started a conversation with her about the coaches I knew at her school. We hooked up with a group of other ladies and started banging  out some moderately quick 400s on a grass loop. During our 90 seconds of rest (No more, no less, Trish!), we talked about our alma maters, our hometowns, our families, and it was that easy. We found a place we belonged. The four ladies I ran that first workout with are four of the closest friends I have made since moving to Seattle. We run, eat, drink, go to concerts (Alison of Williams XC tee fame has introduced me two bands I now adore), festivals, craft fairs, comfort each other in grief, congratulate each other on milestones achieved, and embrace physical pain together.

Every Wednesday, we run with people who also love running, who understand when you want to talk and when you don’t, who know that needing to take a poo can completely ruin your workout, who have major training/racing goals, but who also work full-time jobs and/or have children and/or work night shifts at the hospital, but still show up to run with you on Sunday morning. Some have been running forever, some just started a few years ago. It is truly impressive.

Last year, this club and its wonderful members helped me through a difficult transition. On the Wednesdays we worked out together, the Saturdays we raced together, and the Sundays we ran long together, I was distracted from my homesickness and my sadness. It becomes more to difficult make friends as a working adult. You have to make an effort to meet people outside of work. Without SRC, Thorin and I would have struggled to connect to this city that is now our home.

Hey, SRC. Thank you and Happy Runniversary!

What unniversaries or runniversaries are you celebrating this month? Let me know!

An Infallible Cure for the Ugly Day

Hair = blah. Face = blah. Clothes = meh. Purpose in life = ? I have had more than a few ugly days this past month. I can deal with the superficial kind. Hair not cooperating? Put a flashy headband in that mess. Apply some mascara to distract from what the hair is doing. Wear the dress in the back of the closet.

It is the internal ugly day I have a harder time disguising.

Sometimes I wake up, heart pounding, anxious for what seems like no reason at all. Then it floods in: What are you doing with your life? If you stay in this job much longer, you’ll be totally unmarketable. What impact have you made recently? What if you think writing is the thing you are supposed to do, but you actually suck at it? I try to silence these thoughts, or if I’m feeling ambitious, reason with them and reframe them in a positive light. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Earlier  this week, our custodian (with whom I swap book recommendations) asked me why I am always happy. I looked around to see who he might be talking to, but I was the only one in the hallway. He told me I am always smiling and that since I started last year, our floor seems to be in a much better mood. Well, imagine that. I thanked him, but assured him I am, by no means, always happy. He said I must be a good actor.

Huh, looks like I am doing a better job than I thought. Usually nobody has to guess how I feel. My facial expressions have gotten me into trouble numerous times. I suppose I have been practicing a bit of Fake It ‘Til You Make It. I smile when I walk in the building. I laugh. (It also helps that I have fantastic coworkers.) I don’t believe happiness is a choice. That is one ton of shit made up by some fool who has had no firsthand experience with mental health issues. I do, however, believe there are actions you can take that directly impact the way you feel about yourself, no matter how small the gesture.

When I feel ugly -inside or out- there is only  thing that truly helps. A homemade brown sugar scrub. Or…kidding. Although I do love a natural exfoliant!

The only Ugly Day “cure” I have found is to try making other people feel better about themselves. I realize this is not a revolutionary concept. The brain is so very powerful and when your brain fails you, it is easy to lose yourself in internal wallowing. Our custodian sharing that he felt I made other people happier, made me feel great and completely distracted me from the fact that, a few minutes earlier, I had been indulging is self-defeating nonsense.

So in the spirit of paying it forward, I want to throw love at a few people who deserve more than a little.

  • The Imposters– In the vein of Liz Gilbert’s Magic Lessons, the four women behind The Imposters Podcast (Mal, Becca, Sue, and Amma) have started a conversation about the lives we lead, the lives we have lead, and the lives we want to lead. Often focused on creativity, the bullshit excuses we give ourselves to delay creating, and how we can move forward and take risks, the Imposters, along with episodes of This American Life, are now my go-to bus companions. Lots of fucks given, ladies. Thanks for sharing!
  • Mike- In the year since my brother moved to LA to pursue his dream of screenwriting, he has applied for dozens of jobs, gotten and quit two terrible full-time positions, covered close to a hundred scripts, and tutored students preparing for the SAT and ACT. Despite living paycheck to paycheck most months, he kept writing, networking, and rewriting. His sticktoitiveness is inspiring and has paid off–he has a manager, just met with some legit bigwigs, and will start a job as a writing coach at  USC in a few weeks. I admire you, little bro.
  • My guy, my parents, and my friends- I realize I am insanely fortunate to have the support that I have. I do not take it for granted.
  • To you,  Interweb friend, for reading my words.
  • And finally, to Diddses (read: dachshunds) and Pouches (Corgis) everywhere for always brightening my days.
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Sydney & Astrid- PC: corgicamera.tumblr.com

 

Ski to Sea Recap: The Misery of the Downhill Run & Why I’ll Be Back Next Year

We need a runner for our women’s Ski to Sea team that has won its division for the last 16 years. Do you have anyone who is interested?–This was the gist of an email my friend and SRC Brooks team manager forwarded from Boundary Bay Brewery GM, Janet, in April.

My  thought process: A race in Bellingham? A winning team? Yes, please. Oh wait…I should maybe check this out first. So I Googled the running leg and got this cute graphic:ski-to-sea-running

Looks pretty simple to me! And look how happy that running guy is…good form! Then I read the leg description, which basically asks these questions: Would you like to run 8.13 miles down Mt. Baker as fast as you can? You’ll be losing a total of 2200 feet of elevation, but the course will flatten out in the last 800 meters and then there will be slow incline to the finish so you’ll feel like you’re in a nightmare, trying to escape quicksand and you can’t move. Are you in?

I did a little research on past times and my reaction was something to the extent of Holy-Shit-There-Is-No-Way-I-Can-Run-8-Consecutive-Sub-5-Minute-Miles, which is what Boundary Bay’s downhill runner did in 2014. But it sounded fun, and I thought I could surprise myself. So, I talked to Janet on the phone, loved her clear enthusiasm for the team, and we both said “yes.”

Being relatively new to the area (I know I can’t use this excuse much longer…), I was pretty unfamiliar with the race’s history. Here’s the Spark Notes version: Ski to Sea is an eight-person, seven-leg multisport relay that officially began in 1973 and has a number of divisions, including Competitive, Recreational, Whatcom County, Family, Veteran, and Carbon Free Mixed, Open, and Womens options. The event is embraced by the Bellingham community and is run by Whatcom Events, a local non-profit volunteer organization.

LEG 1: The race started with a rainy 4-mile XC ski leg on Mt. Baker in “Slushee-like” conditions:

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Our XC skier was Ember, a Canadian beaut and my roomie at Ed & Janet’s house. She was the Top Gun Female and 16th out of 318 competitors. She handed off to the Downhill Ski leg more than a minute ahead of Kulshan Cycles, the team that competes in the Whatcom County Women’s division, but finished ahead of Boundary Bay’s team last year in overall time.

LEG 2: The Downhill Ski/Snowboard leg is a misnomer. It’s actually a 20-ish minute uphill run in ski gear and 2+ minutes downhill to the hand-off. The map doesn’t do the course justice, but the below picture shows our awesome Team Captain, Sabrina, and her commitment to the Win:

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Sabrina handed off to me in ninth place overall, as the first women’s team and with a 2:40 lead over Kulshan.

LEG 3: The Downhill Run is aptly named. It is 7.5 miles of paved switchbacks of varying grades, and in the last mile flattens out and cruelly creeps up the last 400-600 meters. I felt great through 4 miles, cruising at 5:05-5:10 pace, and had passed two guys ahead of me. At 5 miles, I started feeling…less than great. At 6 miles, Kulshan’s wicked-fast Courtney Olsen of Bellingham Distance Project, caught me and proceeded to crush me the last two miles. I tried to keep my eyes on her back, but she was so smooth and strong that I quickly lost sight of her. My body started fighting gravity, which is totally counter-intuitive, and everything got choppier. I lost my breathing rhythm, my shoulders crept up to my ears, and my focus wavered. I owe a big thanks to a few gents who caught me in the last mile and encouraged me on to the end.

I handed off to Anne Marije in 44:30, much slower than my goal of 42:00 or faster, and immediately tottered to the awesome massage tables at the finish of the leg, feeling like an ass for giving up the lead that Ember and Sabrina created.

LEG 4: A 40+ mile “Time Trial” from Mt. Baker to Everson through rolling farmlands. Anne Marije made up my difference and caught up to Kulshan’s Lisa Grace and then found herself out on the road flying solo for the majority of the race. Boundary Bay handed off almost simultaneously with Kulshan at the exchange zone. There are so many variables in this portion of the race. What if you flat? What if you have no one to work with? Despite being on her own, Anne Marije took home Top Gun Female and some sore lady bits.

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Photo Credit: Evan Abell, Bellingham Herald

LEG 5: A 1.5-mile portage (Yes, running with your canoe!) and 17-miles down the Nooksack river in a two-person canoe. Deb and Kari absolutely dominated the portage and knew they would be pressing the whole 2+ hours, with Kulshan right on their (what do you call the back of a canoe??) stern? Their stellar paddling propelled us a minute ahead of Kulshan at the exchange with Leg 6. Oh, and that makes for a third Top Gun!

LEG 6: An 18-ish mile Cyclocross course that includes urban riding, single-track, double-track, mud, wooden bridges, grass, and beach. Our pro, Courtenay, was super clutch. Despite flatting and blowing sand, she dominated the course, finishing Top Gun and 22nd overall. Courtenay handed off to Tracy about 1:40 ahead of Kulshan’s Heather Nelson, who was Top Gun Female Sea Kayaker the past two years.

LEG 7: A 5-mile Sea Kayak course from Squalicum Harbor to Marine Park. Kayakers then race from the beach to the finish line and ring the bell. Tracy destroyed her race, finishing as Top Gun and 11th overall. We watched nervously, because we knew it would be close, but as the competitors came into view, Tracy’s husband assured us she was now chasing down men and had the W in the bag.

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FINISH LINE: It was absolutely awesome to rush Tracy at the bell. Sabrina had Janet on the phone to hear the victory from states away. Team hug! For the first time in team history, we finished under seven hours AND in the top ten overall.

THE AFTERMATH: I could not walk normally for two full days after the race. Literally. I had to hoist myself off chairs and onto the toilet and I tottered around how I imagine an 80-year-old pregnant lady would walk if that were a real thing. I barely made it through the traditional post-race Sunday run up to Fragrance Lake…I walked/ran and “Ouch-ouch-ouch-ouch” on each impact set my very slow pace. So why would I put my body through that hell again?

“I picture you flying down that mountain road! Enjoy! Embrace! Devour it with every stride! Thank you for racing for us! Go Steph!! -Text from Janet the morning of the race.

The moment I walked into the Brewery, I knew I had been lucky to fall into something so special. Janet just radiates with positive energy and has, over the past two decades, created a team that racers return to year after year. She and Ed opened their home to us, fed us insanely delicious meals, poured us their award-winning beer, and treated us to the ultimate Ski to Sea experience. I can’t thank them enough.

I have never before met such strong, fast, and fiercely competitive women, most of whom have never met each other, so dedicated to one goal. It was refreshing to talk to ladies who love their sports and respect other talented and hardworking women. The majority of my Ski to Sea teammates contend on the national and world stage while working full-time, momming, volunteering, and creating. They inspire me!

If they’ll have me, I’ll be back and ready to run at least two minutes faster.

Say yes to more. Say yes to things that scare you: I finally signed up for a poetry class despite being completely out of the habit of writing, and I’ve written more in the past month than I had in the previous eight years. Say yes to something new and challenging: Ski to Sea gave me this odd/terrible/wonderful racing experience and a chance to meet the kind of people who bring laughter and light wherever they go.

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Commencement

Earlier this week, Ace and I tossed around a Frisbee on the lawn at the end of his final day with the unit. In a few more weeks, he’ll be getting out of the Marine Corps and I won’t have the good fortune to hear about the daily scientific process that results in his morning cup of coffee. Because he is not retiring, there is no fancy ceremony with saluting, flag twirling, bell ringing, or flame throwing. Before he left, I sent him off with the Grimm family celebratory tradition of singing a song (the name of which none of us know) while the celebrated runs around the room in circles, fist-pumping, until the triumphant end note, after which you collapse on the floor, exhausted by your own excellence..

His departure got me thinking about goodbyes. We like celebrating endings, usually because they include cake…and draaaanks. And because we struggle with sadness  and deal with it by pointing out that one particular end has ushered in a new beginning. “What are your plans when you get out?” vs. “How do you feel about leaving?” We celebrate the conclusion of four years of giving it “the ol’ college try” with Commencement–the ceremony to which one wears a bedazzled square nogpiece and a swishy tassle, which Mom will pin in a tasteful shadow box next to Joey’s graduation photo.

According to Harvard, the term Commencement is a nod to the medieval European Inceptio, from the Latin meaning “beginning,” a ceremony held by faculty to acknowledge new teachers as Masters and to confer the right to teach. Hundreds of years later, we have appropriated it for the ceremony during which a fancy binder is awarded to someone who may or may not actually graduate. Hence, the blank paper inside said fancy binder. The Interwebs is quick to point out that graduation is an official process involving fulfilling academic obligations, applying to graduate, etc. etc.

Point is, nobody calls it Conclusion. Because that would suck, right? Hey, do you have any extra tickets for the Conclusion ceremony? It sounds like the next Hunger Games. By deeming it Commencement, we open all the windows and shout, “Look out, world! We are ready to start doing big things!” Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great way to boot kids out into the workforce, but the cynical realist in me wants a speaker to get up there and spit some truth: “Look, you just had the four easiest years of your life. That’s over now, so get prepared for some serious shit to hit the fan. You probably don’t have a job or any clue what you actually want to do. All your best friends will move to five different states and you better get married if you want to see them again. And oh yeah, have fun paying that student loan debt off for the next bazillion years.” What it lacks in optimism and inspiration, it makes up for in candor.

Today, my first recruiting class graduated from Oswego State. In a way, my beginning is ending…is beginning again. I am so proud of them. They will go on to be teachers, graduate students, business professionals, techies. I wish I could have been there to send them off, but I have already said my goodbyes. When I told my kids I was leaving last May, I immediately went back to my house and cried on my roommate. Not near her, not to her, but on her. I felt an immediate loss-the kind that causes your chest to be both unbelievable heavy and empty, simultaneously.

I was mad at myself. You should be celebrating, I said. Seattle will offer you so many possibilities, not the least of which is finally getting to be with Thorin. But I couldn’t help feeling like I was giving up a part of me that makes me…me. I was sad and mad about being sad. I took those emotions and shoved them into the moving truck I packed up a few weeks later and didn’t acknowledge them again until late September.

I had been in Seattle only three months and was severely depressed. In one of our phone conversations, my friend Debbie said to me, “You have to be patient with yourself. You are grieving for all of the things you lost.” That stuck with me. She was right. I was grieving. I had attended a Commencement of my own and frolicked off with a good-ish attitude and bright hopes. What I needed, though, was a Conclusion. I needed to let myself be sad. I needed to mourn the four years I invested in that program, the kids I recruited and would never get to coach, the alums-now-friends I wouldn’t see at our home meet, the Sunday long runs with the girls, the lake, Elise, karaoke nights at JJ’s, Fallbrook, stepping out of the house during a white-out and yelling “I hate Oswego!”, the sunsets, being within driving distance from home, the me I was there.

It has been a year now, and I still miss coaching and I miss my team, even though I know they are in good hands with Sarah. I follow their results. I text them when something reminds me of them. I have tried to fill the void with Club XC and volunteering at track meets, but it is not quite the same, and it will never be the same. Ace’s replacement will come soon, and he might be awesome, but he’s not Ace. Within the next five months, two more of the officers I respect and consider friends will leave/retire. And you know what? That blows and it’s okay that I’m not putting it into perspective right now, because I’m sad.

Commencement is great. Three cheers to both the meaning and the celebration of what is to come, but damn it! Sometimes you need a Conclusion ceremony with lots of booze and crying. It just means you care.

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Hidden Ocean- Brian Andreas

Most Likely Not to Change

After reading a friend’s blog, I logged on to subscribe, and that’s when I saw My Site for the first time in…a long time. There sat one lonely draft, this one, and beside the little clock icon: last-modified (9 MONTHS AGO). What the what? Come on, Steph.

I can’t stall anymore. I have to stop being afraid of beginning. I start a poetry class in May and a screenwriting class in June and I have written nothing more than a few postcards and one poem in the last nine months. So, I am going to silence, or at least restrain, the manic, clawing beastie that currently is yelling, “Don’t do it! Don’t publish it! Don’t post it on Facebook! Definitely not on Twitter! People will hate it, or worse, no one will read it. It’s garbage. It’s about too many things AND nothing at the same time. It follows none of the rules of a first post! You are a fool! It was crap nine months ago and it is still crap. It burnss us!” My beastie sounds a lot like Gollum.

So here it is: I decided to start a blog nine months ago. I even wrote a post. Then, I read it and reread it and reread it and almost deleted it and reread it and hated it and and and and… Continue reading