Heroes, Misfits, and Rebels

The Rebel Girls concert went so, so well, and people were in tears at times as we talked about the women and girls who have changed and are changing the world. From Harriet Tubman to Malala, from Abigail Adams to Greta Thunberg, we sang and spoke about women’s courage, women’s choices, women’s actions, and the changes that came from them. Me, too, thinking not only of the figures of history that paved the way for me, but the people in my own life who changed my own little world.

As Ann Reed says in her song “Heroes:”

“One life can tell the tale,
That if you make the effort, you cannot fail.
By your life you tell me it can be done,
By your life’s the courage to carry on.
Heroes appear like a friend
To clear a path or light a flame.
As time goes, you find you depend
On your heroes to show you the way.”

It’s also true that we are what we pretend to be. Want to have more courage, or charisma, or to live boldly? It doesn’t happen because you wish for it — it happens because you pretend for it, and eventually it becomes truth. By the same method, the people we see as our heroes become our blueprint for ourselves. The people we revere, we respect, we cling to, they are the mold we set for ourselves.

All of my heroes are rebels.

As part of a getting-to-know-you exercise with my Operations team, one of the questions I’ve added to our list is “What fictional character(s) best represents you?”

For myself, I have to choose 4. It *just so happens* they align nicely to the elements.

Air = Leonardo of the TMNT. This is where my leadership happens, grounded in the ability to just keep going, to lift the burdens of others, to be first one in and last out, to bleed for the protection of those I call my own. This is the peace of mind I seek, the insight, the stillness of meditation and the reverence for honor. But it’s also the unexpectedness of me being silly after I’ve been staid and solid too long. It’s the ability to see through a situation and find a path home.

Fire = Li Syaoran from Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicles. This is the burning intensity of my ability to dedicate myself to a course of action and follow it to the end, NO MATTER WHAT. This is my loyalty, my devotion, my love. It’s also my courage, burning with the power of a lightning strike, to fight and fight and fight and never let the darkness of doubt win. It’s my ability to accept failure and stand back up and try again. It’s also my ability to take the hardest road, knowing it will hurt, but being willing to defer my own ease for the sake of what lies at the end of the path.

Water = Lacus Clyne from Gundam SEED (Destiny). In utter contrast to the previous, this is where I am soft and warm. This is love and emotion and gentleness and patience. This is the wisdom to know when to listen. But it’s also a steely strength of its own — not to fight, but to endure and resist. To sing the song of peace against the storm. To hold up others in their own battles, providing a safe refuge for them between the fires. To heal what is broken.

Earth = Carol Danvers/Captain Marvel from the MCU. Stubbornness. Not the burning refusal to be defeated as Syaoran, but the part that chuckles at failure and says, “huh, that was cute” and tries again. The ability to grow from something damaged, something incomplete, and embrace what lies within. The confidence to be grounded, steady, with an even temperment in the face of stress and a joke in the face of danger. This is also probably where my own independence streak lives, not doing the work or facing the troubles for someone else or for any high ideal, but because I am Defiance and hear me roar.

They are all rebels and troublemakers, every one of them. Leo, who lives under the honor of his family still lives his own life by his choice, in spite of the human society and enemies that hunt him. Syaoran…well, to avoid spoilers, let’s just say the dude is willing to challenge everything, even the makeup of spacetime itself, if he has to — and he cannot and will not apologize for doing what he must for the person he loves. Lacus is literally a rebel, joining a faction that takes no sides but the side of humanity and peace in the midst of a war and inciting people to follow her. Carol finds that she is on the wrong side of a war and leaps to at the chance to finally free herself from her constraints and claim a new place for herself.

They aren’t my heroes, per se, because my actual heroes are all real flesh-and-blood people who inspire me to live in this world with its rules and find ways to break them. But they are rebels who get to the heart of who I want to be. The rebel I want to be.

I came upon this quote while reading a fanfic sometime in the last couple of weeks, and I emailed it to myself so I would remember to post it at some point:

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
― Rob Siltanen

Now, I know that this is a quote that came out of a marketing meeting and was used to sell Apple products. I know that. But it doesn’t make the point less relevant just because it was invented purely to sell computery things trading on the reputation of a CEO.

Truth is truth wherever you find it, from a fortune cookie to a line scrawled on the sidewalk.

And the truth is? I’m a misfit and a rebel. I have been since I was 3 years old. My earliest memory is from when I was about 4, and I crept away from the backyard into the woods, because I wasn’t supposed to go there, but it was alive and interesting and I wanted to see what the world looked like on the other side of the hill. I can remember being 6 and getting in trouble in kindergarten for not wanting to play house or dolls — I wanted to build a fort under a table and pretend to be a family of dogs taking shelter from the storm.

I’ve never been what anyone wanted of me, and I’ve never done things the way others did. And I’ve never been sorry about it, either.

I’m not sure I’ll ever get the chance to change the world per this quote above, and I’m certainly no genius. I’m not even a hero, and my name won’t ever be sung alongside the names in Ann Reed’s song.

But I’m okay with that.

Sometimes, being a rebel means living quietly in a manner which is solely yours, no one else’s. The world is full of quiet rebels, donating money to causes, marching in protests, playing the game of capitalism, and yet their spirits fight every day from their homes and cars and dreams. To be a rebel doesn’t mean one must be famous to make a difference. And any difference, no matter how small, counts towards the greater whole.

Maybe I’m not the rebel who will push the human race forward. But you better believe I’ll be right beside her starting to walk and backing her up.

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Rebel Girls are Never One Thing

This week is concert week for the TCWC. Which also means I have limited spoons this week and I need to conserve them. So I’m giving myself permission to write a short blog.

This concert’s theme is “Rebel Girls” and all the songs are about powerful women through history and today, from Abigail Adams advocating for women to have the right to vote in the Articles of Confederation to Malala and Greta Thunberg. Encore’s doing “Warrior” about finding the courage to step up and speak, and Elizabeth Alexander’s “What’s Keeping You From Singing?” which is about women helping each other find joy.

Another of the songs is “Never One Thing” by May Erlewine. The choir sings it with a lot of spirit. A lot of the women in the choir have been rebels themselves, and I love seeing them rejoice in owning that power. And I love sharing that feeling of “I will not be pinned down or pigeon-holed” because I am right there with them. There will be a lot of grinning and rocking out on this one.

And, of course, my favorite is the song inspired by the Charlotte Tall Mountain poem I posted not long ago. There isn’t a good video for it, unfortunately. That’s the one that’s going to dig into my heart and set me free.

Plus, we get to sing a version of Ann Reed’s “Heroes” which is just…if you don’t know it, go hear it. Truly. And feel that litany of names and know that every one of them helped build the world brighter for all of us.

Really, this whole concert is about women’s courage, and about Defiance. It is about changing the world, laughing, never backing down. It is about refusing to be defined by expectations and doing the thing that needs doing.

It’s going to be a good one, especially if I can keep from tearing up every other song. Either way, I’m going to be in my element.

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Bullying and bad dreams — and better days

Last night was apparently the night for bad dreams — I had them, and so did Sarah. Both of us have the unique skill/gift of remembering our dreams virtually every morning, so when the dreams are vivid, or upsetting, they tend to stick with us.

Mine were all about my personal bullies.

In eighth grade, I transferred schools and became the only new person in a class of 48. Yup, 48. That was hard enough, entering a group that was so small, that had been together since 5th, knowing nobody and being a true outsider. But I did my best to make friends, or at least get along with people, and before midway through the year I had found myself three or four friends. We would do long phone calls and hang out during free periods and they even came to my house once. It was fun, and it filled a hole in my life where I had lost most of my pre-existing friends when I made the transfer.

Now, I will be honest, I was a weird kid. Hell, I’m working my way towards 40 and I’m STILL a weird kid. I never could keep to topics that were “normal,” preferring to chatter about the most recent story I’d dreamed up, or what I’d read about Bigfoot being real, or experiments into ESP. The first non-fiction book I ever took out of the elementary school library was a book about unknown phenomena from aliens to Nessie, and my interests continued in those veins for years. Still do, to be honest.

I wish I remembered what happened. Things got odd between these new friends and I sometime in the spring, but I don’t recall the specifics. What I do recall is one awkward bus ride and one of them asking me something and not liking my answer. And by the time they got off the bus, we were no longer friends.

It was a sad and lonely time for me. Now I was stuck the rest of the school year with no peers at all I could talk to, no one to do homework with, no one who would sit by me. The rest of my classmates were fine, but they all saw me as an outsider. So they’d chat with me politely, but nobody ever invited me to hang out or actually attempted to include me in conversation. I was on the outside of every group but one, and then all at once I was on the outside of every group.

But I got through the year and hoped high school would be better. After all, in high school the class side would double. New people would come in and I would no longer be the only outsider. And, for a while, it was okay. I made a few friends through both sports and classes. The groups shifted and the dynamics of the 84 people in my grade loosened up a little. Plus, on a much larger campus, there was room for me to hang out in secluded spots so I was no longer forever stuck surrounded by people who would not engage me.

That peace didn’t last, however. Because two things happened:

First, the friends I made gravitated to the friends I had lost for the exact same reason I had befriended them in the first place. We were all nerds of one kind or another. We were all the socially awkward outcasts with in-jokes and interest in stuff off the beaten track. We were all a little too smart and a little too strange.

So my friends that I had made began alternating who would hang with whom, me or those I had lost. They would apologize to me. “Sorry, I said I’d eat lunch with them today. You don’t mind, right?” and go spend their time with those who had cast me out. And it hurt. But I couldn’t begrudge them. After all, they were good people, funny and clever, and I would have liked to be there myself. So I would shrug and try not to let the hurt get to me.

But the second thing was worse. Because one of those former friends decided to become my nightmare.

Of the former friends, one decided to take it to a new level. No one really ever knew why. Or, if they knew, no one told me. But it became another common refrain: “Geez. He really hates you. I mean, he HATES you. It’s really bad.”

He wouldn’t speak to me — ever. Even if we were in class groups together, which happened, or were doing something with an after school activity and happened to cross paths. He would not acknowledge my existence with anything other than a lethal glare. That, by itself, was difficult for me.

Then the drawings started.

I was not, ever, an attractive teenager. I had braces, bad skin, and hair that could kindly be called “frizzy.” (I still have 2 of the three some days.) Accordingly, I had almost zero self-esteem. They all knew that.

The bully would draw pictures of me, with sort of creepy frequency. I figured it was a way to blow off steam at the most readily-available target. The pictures were deeply and profoundly unflattering, both recognizable as me and monstrous in their execution. Torn from pages in notebooks, or taking up full half-sheets, the pen drawings exaggerated everything I hated about myself in loving detail.

And I saw them. I was meant to see them.

Sometimes they would appear on my desk in a class. Sometimes my new friends would hand them to me apologetically. Sometimes one would be waiting in the quiet spots I tended to frequent away from the bulk of my classmates. Once I even found one in my coat pocket.

Now, I don’t know to this day if the person who drew them was also the person delivering them, or if there were multiple hands in this torment. I’ll never know. But I know that someone was cruel enough to draw them, constantly, and someone was cruel enough to ensure I was aware of them. And, at least sometimes, they were delivered by people I did like and trust.

There was never any physical abuse in any of this. But there didn’t need to be.

For the entirety of high school, it continued. The silence, the pictures, and the split custody of my friends. I got into the habit of simply not eating lunch on days when my friends would sit at the table with the bullies. I would do homework, or read in the library, or work on music in the choral room. Anything to avoid being by myself in a lunchroom where every single person knew my name and knew why I had nobody. I never told anybody what was going on, and I never asked for it to stop. I never said a bad word about the bullies — not out of fear, but out of respect. Because as cruel as they were behaving towards me, I still thought them good and decent and deserving people.

As an adult, looking back, I feel so, so sad for the person I was, and how little I thought I deserved.

My friends should have been better, and I should have demanded such. Choosing to spend their time with people who made my life miserable because they were funny should not have been acceptable. Not if they were really friends. There is nothing okay about sitting and making jokes with someone who shows cruelty to others. But I was too lost and immature to ask for better, and I assume those who were my friends were too immature and caught up in their own lives to realize their role in perpetuating the cruelty against me.

By the end of senior year, however, I already knew those friendships were too weak to stand. Of the three people I had counted friends in high school, only one truly seemed to care about me. And she had made it very, very clear to me that she was not intending to carry anything from high school to college with her, including relationships. I’ve always been affectionate — that’s my nature. I think it did not work with her own. And that was fine. She was very clear about her expectations, and that was kinder, perhaps, than pretending to be closer than we were.

I left for college and have never, ever looked back. Nor will I. There will be no high school reunion for me, because there was no “union” in the first place. The school itself got me into the college that helped me redefine myself and create the life I now lead. That is its value and I am grateful for it. But there is nothing for me there with those people who knew my name and never gave me the time of day at best. And there is nothing worth revisiting with those who sought to bring me pain and isolation for years.

After the nightmares of last night, I did a bit of Google searching and found the three main people who started as friends and became points of sorrow thereafter. Anyone is surprisingly easy to track down if you know their full name and general location, after all.

The true bully, the one who drew pictures, has become semi-famous in his field. When I came upon a picture, my heart went into my throat and I was momentarily 16 years old again and just as hurt and lost. Even now, a thousand miles away and surrounded by loving people, he can still hurt me in remembrance.

I thought, for a moment, about contacting him through his website. Demanding to know if he remembered what he had done to me, how he had spent almost four and a half years making my life miserable. Finding out if he recognized the pain he had caused, deliberately, intentionally, constantly. Asking if he would admit that his treatment of me trickled down to everyone else I might ever have befriended and left me adrift. Seeking any kind of apology or acknowledgement.

But just as quickly, I discarded the idea.

Nothing good can come of it. Either he doesn’t care, still, and feels he was in the right at the time (or that his actions, while unkind, were not “bad enough” to warrant my seeking him out 20 years later), or he has done his own soul-searching and come to his own conclusions about his behavior, and he has to live with that guilt, too. Slamming back into his life would open up those floodgates for us both. And, the truth is, that an apology might feel good, but it isn’t going to make anything change. It won’t rewrite the history of those years. It won’t give me the chance at relationships with those already spread to the world. If he doesn’t care, then I am the only one who stands to get hurt all over again. If he does, then I don’t owe him my forgiveness or chance to make amends.

Life isn’t like the movies where the estranged people find one another after a long separation and cry and all is well ever after. One who was hurt does not owe their pain-maker a chance at redemption or a cinematic reconciliation. If it helps the one hurt, then of course it is a good thing — but if it does not, if it does not serve the person already in pain, then it is not worth the doing. Because it is the need of the one who was hurt that comes first.

And I have nothing I want to hear from that bully, so I have nothing to say.

Bullying doesn’t have to be physical, punching in the bathroom and worse in the locker room, to do lasting damage. It doesn’t have to be screamed insults or whispered comments to scar. Bullying takes many forms, as many as there are ways to hurt, and each and every one of those is valid. I was never hit by a classmate, never teased before my grade, but I was a victim of bullying nonetheless. Me and millions of others. And the shadows of that experience colored the first few years of my college life, until the roots I put down in Minnesota became strong enough to beat back the weeds of high school.

Last night, my dreams decided to remind me about all that I endured, and the harm it caused to me. But today, in the fading sunlight, I choose instead to think about how far I’ve come.

I was bullied and alone. But I am not anymore.

I’ve become strong enough to stand up for myself, to demand appropriate and respectful treatment, to defend others when a comment is aimed to hurt, even unintentionally.

I’ve found for myself people who are supportive and kind, people who would not sit idly by while someone spoke of me in a hurtful manner, people who would not choose to sit at a table with one determined to torment me.

I’ve learned that, while it may be a human response to lash out at others in your own selfishness when you are hurting, too, that I don’t have to take it from anyone. I’ve gained the confidence to be able to say, “I get that you’re not okay, but what you’re doing is not okay, also. Now do better.”

I’m happy in this life that I’ve built for myself. I have now far more than I ever dreamed I could find in those dark high school days.

And every one of you who reads this blog is a part of that.

My high school bullies are behind me. Thank you for helping me build the road ahead.

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Back from hiatus, I think

I’m sorry about the long silence. In the last month, there’s just been a lot going on. It’s not about me specifically, but it’s all personal, family-related stuff, so I don’t feel comfortable making it public. But, suffice it to say, many hospitalizations, scary calls/texts, and a great deal of pre-grief soul-searching has been underway. Not a fabulous month, all things considered.

I’m okay, though, because I have the greatest support network in the world.

What’s been odd is that this month has also been one of my most productive in 2019. I’ve written more, edited more, been more inspired, than I have all year. I think, at some point, I hit maximum crisis level. There’s a limit as to how much anxiety and fear and grief and loss and terror a person can feel at one time while remaining able to hold a job every day and do grocery shopping and not fall into unhealthy habits. And I can honestly say I’ve been pretty damn healthy this whole time. I’ve had to be. I’ve let myself cry when I needed to, and given myself permission to forget about it all and watch cartoons when needed. I’ve worked out many if not most days, listened to music, and come up with new story ideas.

I think I saturated my brain so hard, only work and creativity could exist alongside the rest of it.

Still. It’s reminded me how strong people are. People all over the world feel that and far, far worse every day of their lives, and still sing songs, write stories, pen tiny poems that scream their hearts. People can do amazing things to survive, to keep themselves going, to find a spot of joy and a bit of self in the morass that life sometimes gives us. People survive by finding wings and taking flight, even if they cannot move their bodies or escape from cement walls and bars or find even one moment of safety and peace in the day. People are resilient.

And I’m trying my best to be resilient, too.

I don’t always feel okay. There’s a lot still that rips at me, and I think I’m becoming increasingly afraid of getting texts from certain people. But I know the difference between being okay and knowing I’m going to be okay — and I’m going to be okay. Even if everything goes as south as it can go, if it all falls apart, I’ll grieve. I’ll cry and know a deep and terrible loss. I’ll never be the same. But I will be okay. I will be surrounded by those who love me, and they will hold me up when my own resilience gives out. And if the stories and writing haven’t left me now, then they’re never going to. I am a writer in good times and bad. I have it easier when life is easier, but I have it regardless, too.

So I’m going to try to get myself back into this posting habit. I may not always have much I can say, because sometimes the words can’t get through the muck of the rest of it. But I’m going to try. Because I’m still here. I’m still writing. I still have myself, and my courage, and when everything else is gone, I have those who love me.

I hope — I truly hope — that anyone who ever stumbles across my bit of the internet can say the same. And if you’re one of mine, then you should already know that you do.

I leave you with this. I’ve been watching a lot of auditions on YouTube lately (X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, America’s Got Talent, Idol, etc.) because either they are wonderful and soul-affirming, or they’re complete train wrecks and cringey-funny. And different days, I’ve needed different answers. But today was a soul-affirming clip.

It wasn’t what I expected, and it made me feel things I didn’t expect, either. But, then, life is rarely what I expect. And even when it is tragic, it is also still so beautiful.

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Welcome to 2019

I’ve said before I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. It’s nice to point at a specific date and say “that is when I’m going to change,” but it’s far more important to be able to do it without any particular event or milestone to signify it. A change made for oneself is more genuine when it isn’t made on the timetable of the Gregorian Calendar.

But I can set goals for myself. In no particular order, here they are:

1.) Continue (or get back to) writing.

I didn’t really stop writing last year, but I sure as hell slowed down. Now I’m at 2 years in a row of about half the productivity I would like from myself. This is a little weird given that I have enough stuff to post every other day for pretty much the duration of 2019, but it’s all short. I already have a 3-novel idea for fic sorted in my head that I’ll start putting together as soon as I have fewer other, more immediate chores to accomplish (like dishes and laundry). However, once I churn through those, we’ll have to see how things are going. Depending on #2, my additional goal might be to write the next book for querying. As always, I want to make sure I have enough weeks of content for 2020, but there’s an additional pressure to get stuff written — if all works out as I dearly hope, I might find myself with less time and capacity for fic writing in the future.

This was a conversation with my copy-editor; she made the point that actually publishing a work is going to take away from other writing time as it is, and publishing means being ready to write the next in the series or the next series, which leaves even less space for fic. She asked me what I would want to make sure I got written if I was someday soon not to have 47 weeks of fic to post. It helped me immediately prioritize my writing. I do want to get this new 3-novel thing done, but then I need to go back to my roots and make sure I’ve put enough into my stories and my ongoing series to know that I could walk away for a time and not feel that I’ve left my fandoms hanging.

(Which really means the next entry or even 2 in Fate Is A Gift.)

Beyond that? I’m hoping this is the year I get back to 300,000 of finished writing (not started and incomplete stories). Even if they’re oneshots, even if they’re short, even if they come in fits and starts, I want to get that production back. I miss it.

2.) Continue querying.

It would be NEAT if I could make this goal “get published” but we’re trying for realistic expectations here. The thing about publishing, besides that it is a business and that cannot be underestimated, is that it is a sphere in which I as an author have very little control. I can write the story. I can edit the story. I can query the story.

That’s where my control pretty much ends.

I can’t make agents want to represent me. Even the best query in the world won’t mean that my novel is the one an agent is looking for. Even a kickass query letter that gets me requests for full manuscripts won’t guarantee that the agent doing the reading becomes an agent wanting to sign me. That’s just reality.

And then for publishing, it’s that all over again. Even having an agent doesn’t guarantee that the book will get picked up by a publishing house. It doesn’t ensure it’ll make it into the world. And it absolutely, positively doesn’t mean that it’ll get read or earn much in the way of actual money. Other than being a good person who is honest and kind to work with, and taking feedback as politely and thoughtfully as possible, there is literally nothing I can do with this process.

So I can’t set a goal of “get published” or even “get an agent.” I can only set a goal of querying my 50 agents as I told myself I would for the current novel. If none of those pan out, then I write the next one and query it. Getting to those 50 might be tough, not because there aren’t 50 agents who are amazing and who I would love to work beside, but because that means bracing for 50 rejections. It’s a lot some days. But 50 is the magic number I gave myself, and come hell or high water, I’m going to try.

3.) Improve upon the exercise plan.

Last year, the transition to working from home also meant a transition to being able to work out during the day. I got away from it in the couple of months with the chaos of the holiday season and the Illness of Fuckery, but I want to get back to it. Events in my personal life in 2018 drove home how fragile we all are as people. The slightest thing can stack up and leave you dead on the floor before you even realize. Exercise doesn’t prevent cancer; it doesn’t promise a long, healthy life. But it does help.

Any time I faltered last year and hit the “do I REALLY wanna go work out today?” stopping point, I reminded myself that exercise isn’t just what helps me be healthier now. It is also an investment for the future. And if working hard on my exercise plan today means I have a better shot of making it to my 100th year healthy and of sound mind, that I have a chance of spending all those years with the people I love, then I am going to give it all I’ve got. I really, really want to be here for the long haul. And that takes work.

4.) Be a better CoHead to CVG Operations than last year.

I got thrown into CoHeadship last year due to circumstances somewhat behind my control. For the most part, I think I did okay. But there is always room for improvement, and with all the exciting changes to CONvergence for 2019, there’s also a whole extra bundle of work to be done. I’m not asking myself to be perfect. I’m not expecting myself to make zero mistakes. But I am setting the goal for myself that I will feel more comfortable as a CoHead this year by putting in more and better work ahead of time. I am setting a goal of managing my time and my resources (especially mental/emotional) better at Con. I am setting a goal of taking on a little more weight now that there is more to be passed around, and fewer shoulders to bear it. Last year was the year of chaos. This year, I am hoping, is the year I get into a rhythm which I can sustain for a few more.

5.) Sort out the housing situation.

This one’s a little unexpected. So, we’ve been thinking a lot about selling our house and buying a condo in downtown instead. Much of the discussion has been around the logistics — how much space would we give up? what’s it like living in a dense, urban setting? how do we get all our stuff and crap out of the house? — but the origin point of the idea has to do with various limitations. I have an absolutely fatal allergy to wasp stings. The next time I get stung could very well kill me. Which means I can’t go outside for the entirety of spring, summer, and fall. I can’t mow the lawn, can’t weed the garden, can’t even hang out in my own backyard in a lawn chair. So, not only are we paying for property I literally cannot use, but it also means that the work of that property falls almost entirely to Sarah, and that is profoundly unfair.

There are other pieces, too. My job situation is currently stable, but should that ever change there aren’t a lot of options in our neighborhood. There’s a good chance I’d end up having to commute to the city, and even a bus ride means 50 minutes or more out of my day each way. That’s a lot of time to take away from Sarah, from writing, from CVG, etc. A lot of the reason I’ve never really considered leaving my current job is BECAUSE I don’t want to have to deal with that commute. But living downtown would mean I could swap jobs if I so desired and I could simply walk to work. (Though the preference is still working from home because it ROCKS.)

There are concerns, too. We currently live a bit over a mile from some of our dearest friends and we see them a lot — that would change. We currently have everything from a dentist and a vet to a favorite tea shop and Indian restaurant in our area — we’d have to find new. We don’t know how we would feel about collective living spaces if, for example, the walls or floor/ceiling were thin and it had an impact on when (and how loudly) we could watch our movies. And we are utterly, almost fanatically picky about space. If it isn’t absolutely perfect, we won’t be happy in it. It took us the better part of a year to find our current house. And I think living here has made us even more picky.

Which, in its own way, is a good thing. It means we can walk into a space and know instantly how we feel about it. And while there are some things we can compromise, there are many more that we won’t.

So my hope would be to make a decision this year. Either we find a condo and buy it and move into it, or we scrap the idea for a couple of years and focus on making improvements in this house instead. Honestly, I want the condo more than I want to stay here, partially because I do feel so trapped with nowhere to go (whereas Minneapolis has a SKYWAY), but I also think that taking away the worries would help me a lot. How many nights have I had to run and peek in the basement worrying about flooding? How many winter storms did we anxiously watch, knowing we’d have to shovel the driveway? How many nights did I hear weird sounds in the neighborhood and brace for a home invasion? A condo would have its own problems, but it might do wonders for my baseline, nagging sense of worry.

But we’ll have to see.

So that’s my 2019. Write, query, exercise, CoHead, and condo. No matter how it all turns out, it’s going to be a roller-coaster of a year — and that’s just speaking about my life, not the wider world and its myriad doings. And we’re already on the first hill.

Therefore, to close, I’ll borrow this line from the movie “Parenthood” — because it’s never been more appropriate for me, I think:

You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.

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Great Moments

Next week will be the last post until January, FYI. Lots to do in the meantime!

Last night I caught the last part of the 2004 movie Miracle on TV. It’s my all-time favorite sports movie, but it’s also probably in my top 10 movies ever. I cannot get through it without getting a little teary. Really.

If nothing else gets me, and there’s plenty that can, the “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” game-call always does it. The rawness of that emotion…well, there’s a good reason they used the original call from the live broadcast rather than getting Al Michaels to redo that line.

The Miracle on Ice was a hockey game, fundamentally, but it was such a moment in world history, too. And it was the proof that hard work and trust can take you farther than anyone will ever expect if you never, never give up. The entire world was against them, but those twenty young men chose to believe in what Herb Brooks told them — that they could stand against everyone and win. And Herb Brooks believed because he saw more than talent or greatness in those boys. He saw trust. He saw dedication. And he saw courage.

Herb Brooks changed the way the USA looked at hockey, and the way it is played to this day in this country. He did it by looking deeply into the game and its players, and finding more than others had seen. He saw that you can’t win games by putting 20 “best” players on the ice; you have to win by putting the right 20 players on the ice. Not 20 players who play perfect games individually, but 20 players who play one perfect game together.

He expressed himself in a very unique way sometimes, and his Brooksisms were legendary among the kids he coached. For years, I used to have some of them written on a note at my desk. The note got lost in an office move, but rewatching the movie brought them back. They’re not always kind, but they are always invigorating.

“You don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.”

“You can’t be common, the common man goes nowhere; you have to be uncommon.”

“Boys, I’m asking you to go to the well again.”

“The important thing is that those twenty boys know in twenty years, they didn’t leave anything on the table. They played their hearts out. That’s the important thing.”
(This last was from the movie, not an actual Brooksism.)

As I’m looking ahead to 2019, there are a lot of unknowns. I don’t know what the world will look like in a year. I don’t know if I will be able to get an agent and publish a book, or if I’ll put it in a drawer and try again with something else. I don’t know what other seismic events will shake my emotional landscape.

What I do know is that I can’t possibly avoid being surprised, and that it’s as likely to be a good surprise as it is to be a bad one.

For myself, sometimes I’ve found that when it is difficult to look forward, it is easier to imagine looking back. The future holds anxiety and who-knows-what. But if I imagine looking back at 2019 in 2039, then I can figure out what it is I’ll want to see. I can’t know about the events, but I can know that I will want to be able to say that I gave my best, that I didn’t back down when it mattered, that I never gave up. I can know that, whatever comes, I want to be able to stand up and say that I didn’t leave anything on the table.

I look back at 2017 and 2018 and I see the fruits of despair and worry and dread. I see the stresses, the cracks. I see the times I gave myself a break and forgave myself for needing time and space and whatever else it took to stay mentally and emotionally healthy. And those are all okay.

But I want to do better in 2019.

I want to be able to look back at 2019 and know that I went to the well again and drew water from the bottom of the world. I want to look back at 2019 and know that I didn’t let myself fall into the messy habits of 2017 and 2018 — that I pulled myself back up to my better habits, my stronger work ethic. I want to look back at 2019 and know that I accomplished something. Whether that is a published book or 300,000 words of writing, right now, I dunno. But one of the two, at the least.

If not both.

What’s the point in aiming low, after all?

In the famous speech Herb Brooks made to his team before the 1980 medal round against the USSR, he says this (I highly recommend watching it because Kurt Russell knocks it out of the park):

Great moments are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight.

One game. If we played ’em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game, not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them and we shut them down because we can! Tonight, we are the greatest hockey team in the world.

You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight.

This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw ’em. This is your time! Now go out there and take it!

I don’t know if 2019 is my one game. I don’t know if it’s my do-or-die. But I don’t know that it isn’t, either. I don’t know that 2019 isn’t the year that everything hangs in the balance.

All I can do is act like it is.

All I can do is know, when 2019 is closing, that I didn’t leave anything on the table. That I went to the well again and again and it never ran dry. That I fought to be uncommon, even when the world made me feel too small to stand.

2019 may not be my time.

But it might be.

Do you believe in miracles?

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Who Am I? (Part 8: The Inadvertent Pillar)

I’ve talked these last few weeks about the choices I’ve made or the aspects of myself I rely upon in order to find my way. Some of them were hard-fought, learned over time and through experience. Others came to me naturally as a part of myself that merely needed to be recognized and embraced.

But then there are two things that I don’t think come from me at all. They just are.

Joy and Love.

I’m rarely bored for long, and a lot of that is my ability to find humor pretty much anywhere. Sarah and I have long joked that all we need is one another and some snark and we’re good to go. Hours in an airport with a dead phone? Whatever. We’ll make do. Car trips of 14 hours at a time? We have music, too, but we can still fill up the time laughing (and live-tweeting on the part of the non-driver).

I am easily amused, but I am also deeply amused. I don’t fight the tug of childish laughter or silliness. That doesn’t mean I get really into fart jokes — even as a child I couldn’t care less. But my sense of humor has not necessarily matured; it has just expanded. So I can laugh myself to tears at a good story or a movie or a series of terrible and excellent song parodies or the continuing adventures of scandalizing people in the grocery store by having way too much fun. I kinda figure if I’m not having fun, I should make my own fun. And I regularly do.

But joy isn’t just about not being bored, or finding things funny. It’s about looking out at a perfect, orange and pink and yellow Minnesota sunset and feeling ALIVE. It’s about watching my friends open gifts from one another and feeling profound gratitude. It’s about being able to set a table for 11 people so that we all have a home on Thanksgiving.

Joy isn’t just happiness. It isn’t just laughter. It’s relishing all the goodness of being alive.

And I don’t think I can take credit for it, because it has always been mine. The only work I had to do to live a joy-filled life was not to stifle what was already present.

Now, this is something that falters badly when I hit a downswing. It’s really, really hard to feel the wonder of life when some part of your brain kinda wants you to throw in the towel. It’s the first thing to fade when depression sets in, and the last to return. And it’s not something I can “fix” when I’m depressed, either. I can behave with Honor or Kindness no matter what I’m feeling, and Defiance is a regular way of keeping the downswing at bay. But joy comes and goes, and I have as little say over it when I’m at the bottom of the world as I do when I’m at the top.

But it defines me regardless.

I’ve been teased for my enthusiasm, always kindly, but rather frequently. It seems to shock or surprise people that I can be so ardent in my feelings. That I can say I think something is “amazing” or “awesome” as often as I do and mean it every bit as much. That’s not me watering down the language. It’s that I AM still amazed, and I AM still in awe. And I think that enthusiasm is because of my capacity for joy.

How can a person look at the universe and not feel wonder without joy? How can a person laugh delightedly with their favorite companion without joy? How can a person feel their heart stutter in wordless admiration without joy?

But I didn’t do anything for this. It just happened to me. I guess it’s another point of privilege, one that I didn’t earn, and can only appreciate and share.

Thinking about it a different way, if emotions are on a scale, and your capacity to feel is set, then I guess there should be less surprise that I can feel such profound, overwhelming joy or awe or amazement or gratitude. Because I have also felt equal measures of pain and grief and self-hate and despair. Some people’s ups and downs are more even, like a kids’ roller coaster. Mine is the biggest, meanest, fasted, wildest of rides.

And as much joy as I have, I have even more love.

I’ve never been able to not love people. I’m scarcely capable of hatred; I scarcely comprehend it. I love people who are my whole life, and people who walk beside me in life, and people I lost long ago, and people who have not yet come to be, and people who hate my guts, and people I would probably be more healthy if I could let go. I love strangers and friends alike.

When I am at CONvergence and I look out over the convention at the 7,000 people clustered together in their cosplay or their fun t-shirts or whatever makes them the happiest, I can’t tell you how my heart swells. Not only because I feel humbled to be a part of this community, and welcomed in it, and grateful to have found it. But also because these are MY people. And I care about them in a way I find difficult to put into words. It’s the same way I feel at Pride when I look around and know that the LGBTQA community are my people. The same way I feel that the TCWC are my people.

I don’t love all people the same — that, probably, isn’t possible. But there are kinds of love. And even when it is no one more close to me than a cashier at the gas station or someone walking a dog down my street, I am fully aware that my recognition of their humanity, the light and soul within them that is like my own, is love.

It’s not something I had to teach myself. For good or ill, and sometimes it was REALLY QUITE A LOT of ill, I’ve always loved easily. My heart just reaches out and feels for others. Even if I’d rather it didn’t, even if I’m tired of the brush-off or blow-back or denial. But you can’t change what you feel, and I wouldn’t even if I could. Because it is marvelous to love people.

Even when they don’t love you back. Even then, it is worthy.

But it’s no great accomplishment of mine. No virtue I have honed.

And don’t confuse my ability to love people in theory or in practice with an ability or willingness to trust. I certainly don’t trust readily or easily. The fact that I feel as much as I do has absolutely NO RELATION to how willing I am to show those feelings to others, or allow others to steer me through them. I can feel the love of humanity for the person in line beside me at the store, but I won’t invite them into my thoughts or my feelings. I won’t show them my weak spots or my fears. I won’t tell them when I am hurting or how badly.

But I don’t have to trust them to feel love.

Trust, like Kindness, is a choice. Love and joy are seeds that grew inside me, planted by who knows what.

I still don’t necessarily count love or joy among my pillars, though. How one defines oneself comes not from how one was born or the gifts one received — it comes from the choices and actions one makes. Lack of action is a choice, too. If a person has all the money in the world and never shares it, shows no charity, then that defines them. If a person has the ability to endure something difficult but opts not to bother, then that is their choice and that is who they are. It doesn’t matter how good the intentions are, or what advantage a person got at the start of the game — it matters what they do with the cards they do have.

I was dealt cards of privilege in my skin color, in my economic bracket, and in my education. I was also dealt cards of privilege in my strong sense of self and my capacity for love, joy, and also introspection. That’s not what makes me who I am. That’s just my opening hand.

I have tried to take those cards and turn them into a better person. I have tried to find the truth within myself for what I think matters, for the person I want to be in the world I want to help create. I have tried to build up a platform upon which I can stand through the storm. To create pillars that form a steady support so that when all else crashes down, my ideals can remain firm. I have tried to balance my life around my deliberate priorities, not the accidental ones that happen when I forget to pay attention.

And I still screw up. Everybody does.

My screw-ups are no bigger and no worse than anyone else’s. Even when they feel like they are. I might be mortified to admit to my long ream of mistakes and errors and shames, but they’re really no worse than anyone else’s. And, if nothing else, I can say that I don’t make the same horrible mistake twice. And that is worth a lot. Would it be better not to have made the mistake at all? Maybe. But there’s value in making it and learning better, too.

Doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt, obviously.

But if I let myself be defined by hurt, then I wouldn’t even be REMOTELY the same person.

This week is Thanksgiving, and I’ll be hosting a meal for others as usual. I’ve written before about what Thanksgiving means to me, the family and community of it, the deep gratitude I feel for all that I have been given and all that I have been able to give. So it works out that this is the week I finish thinking through my pillars, my guiding framework that helps me be who I want to be.

I am so grateful that I was blessed with a deep capacity for love and joy. I am so grateful that I have a Defiant streak that never quite seems to dim. I am so grateful that I have been able to Endure, that I have been able to find Courage in myself. I am so grateful that I have learned Kindness and Loyalty and can share them with those I love. And I’m grateful for the Honor to uphold these ideals, to stand up with this as my base.

Whatever else happens, whatever rocks my world next, good or bad, I’m grateful to have come so far, to have learned so much, and to still be learning. Whether I get my heart broken 100 times or some of my hopes make it to fruition, I have been better for the journey and I am better still for the journey to come.

I didn’t get this far in a vacuum — I got here only because of the many, many hands that held me up and guided me along and offered me support along the way. The only way I can ever repay them, any of them, is to make their gift of help and love for me into my gift of help and love for others. I can’t and won’t be anything but what I am.

And that is enough for me.

“If I have been of service, if I have glimpsed more of the nature and essence of ultimate good, if I am inspired to reach wider horizons of thought and action, if I am at peace with myself, it has been a successful day.”
–Alex Noble

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Who Am I? (Part 7: Defiance)

There are some things I’ve had to teach myself, some things I’ve had to learn — and then there are the things that have been a part of me from my very first breath. It takes time to comprehend Honor, or to build up Courage. It takes experience to practice Kindness or Loyalty.

But Defiance has defined me longer than anything else.

It was a friend in college who put words around that aspect of my personality. She gave me a CD mix waaaaaay back almost 15 years ago. And she called it “Willful Defiance of the Box.” When I asked her about it, she told me that’s how she sees what I do. It’s not just defying the box. It’s willful. It’s looking at that box and not just saying “no;” it’s saying “HELL NO.”

One of the formative books from my childhood is called Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I was first introduced to the story when I was 10 years old, and it explained something I had always understood for myself — I learn nothing by doing what others do. I only learn, I only live, by doing things my way, in my own time, even if and when I do them alone. No one learns to fly by huddling on the ground with the flock.

You have to trust your wings, alone, strike out into the sky, prepare to fall, and dare yourself to soar.

You have to believe in “Defying Gravity,” Wicked-style:

So if you care to find me
Look to the western sky!
As someone told me lately:
“Everyone deserves the chance to fly!”
And if I’m flying solo
At least I’m flying free
To those who ground me
Take a message back from me:
Tell them how I’m defying gravity!

Defiance doesn’t mean I break rules; I’m not an anarchist. I respect the institutions of governance and follow laws because that’s part of the social contract that holds a nation together. But there are laws, and then there are the rules of society.

And the latter? Yeah, I break those.

I don’t wear makeup or high heels even though I’m a ciswoman. But I’m not butch or femme, either, even though I’m in a lesbian marriage. I challenge people in discussions rather than quietly keeping the peace when that challenge needs to be levied (yeah, I’m that person who points out when someone is being casually disrespectful or bigoted. Fucking deal with it, folks.). I talk openly about things like depression and mental health, even though apparently that’s still stigmatized? Not around me. I like cartoons even though I’m a grown woman. I write fanfic. I dance in my living room in my PJs. I run errands in sweatpants.

There are these ideas that a grown person does certain things and does not do certain things. And if there’s no good reason to abide by those ideas, well, feel the WOOOOOSH of me throwing them out the window.

Because I am myself. I won’t be less than that.

And anything asking me to step back and deny myself the truth of being myself, fully, joyfully, unapologetically, can go fuck itself with a rusty spork.

That “anything” can come from inside me, too.

When depression speaks up and tries to break me down, sometimes the only thing that shouts louder is my Defiance. When everything, everything, everything else gives way, sometimes the step back from the edge is nothing but pure obstinance on my part. If I let myself believe I can’t do something, that usually becomes the point at which I do it the hell anyway.

Defiance demands an exceptionally high level of self-accountability. Defiance isn’t just refusing to budge for no good reason — it demands the BEST reason. I don’t take random dares just to prove myself. That’s not what Defiance is about.

“Go play chicken with a train! I bet you won’t!”

Yeah, you’re right. I won’t. Even if you dare me. Even if you impugn my Honor or my sense of pride. I’m not an IDIOT. This isn’t me emulating Marty McFly and his pathological inability to stand down from a challenge per BTTF3.

Defiance means I know EXACTLY what I’m doing, and I’ve chosen it as the best, the ONLY course of action which is true to myself. I’ll steal another line from “Defying Gravity:”

(Glinda)
You can still be with the wizard
What you’ve worked and waited for
You can have all you ever wanted

(Elphaba)
I know
But I don’t want it
No
I can’t want it anymore
Something has changed within me
Something is not the same
I’m through with playing by the rules
Of someone else’s game

Defiance means knowing that some things are better than others. And it’s easy to say “freedom is better than slavery” but what if “freedom” means social isolation due to being different, setting oneself deliberately apart, and “slavery” means the easier path of going along with the others? Defiance is the spark of eager fire that screams from inside my soul.

BE DIFFERENT. BE FIERCE. IT WILL BE WORTH IT.

And you know what? It is.

It’s the “two roads diverged in a wood” thing. But that scenario is misleading, because there is no one watching the traveler, no one whose opinion can weigh in on the outcome of which road gets chosen. I know for certain that I have not gotten at least one job because I showed up to the interview without makeup. I wore a suit, I was capable, I spoke well, but I didn’t fit the expectation of my gender — and that’s not what they wanted.

It’s really true that when people don’t want you the way you are, you probably don’t want them, either.

The best relationships I have are those when I can be the absolute most myself. When I can be whatever I am, unfiltered, unguarded. Defiance is bringing that truth out from the safety of my closest people and wearing it like a badge of pride.

I spent most of high school alone. I was never popular. I was bullied. I had few friends. I could go a whole week with minimal interaction with my peers that was at all positive. And did the silence and the unkindness claw at me? Yes, it did. But I chose to sacrifice all that for the gain of not having to sacrifice myself. And I’ve never regretted it.

Defiance isn’t just choosing to be an outcast. It’s finding glee in being outcast, because that is the truest affirmation of self.

It’s finding wholeness in the refusal to step back. It’s understanding that victory may hurt more than surrender, but surrender is untenable. Surrender is not death — it is UNMAKING.

And I won’t be unmade. By anything.

I never met an expectation I didn’t enjoy breaking. People look at me and expect me to be soft; I turn around and show them my badass side. People think I’m quiet because I don’t choose to gather with the others; I lift my head up and laugh knowing that I’m having more fun with my own company than I could ever have with them. I’m weird and wild, unconventional and proud of it. I don’t fit in lunchroom discussions of fashion and pop culture and trash TV. I don’t fit, and I love myself better for not trying to fit.

I don’t actually know if this happens to other people. I only know me.

Do you ever look up at a moon, or stars, or a glorious sunset, or a violent storm, and feel yourself burst? Feel like what is held inside your chest making your heart pump faster and faster cannot possibly fit inside your body? That within you lives a soul that doesn’t shout or sing — it SCREAMS. It BELLOWS. And the world roars back like a salute. WE SEE YOU. YOU ARE ALIVE.

Not a song, but poetry this time:

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.
–Walt Whitman

Defiance is honoring the star that was born inside my heart, the fire that never goes out. Defiance is looking at a black and white world and refusing to give up on dreams of the rainbow. Defiance is spreading wings and taking to the air, even when I fly alone. Defiance is being myself because anything less is not worth the cost.

Because I would rather be myself, just the way I am, and be alone in that, then stand in a crowd. The crowd offers safety, a place to rest, acceptance, and ease.

But why do things the easy way, the safe way, the restful way, when I can do them by myself, for myself, in my own way?

Of all the decisions I’ve made, and the things I’ve done that weren’t really decisions, to be Defiant was never really a choice at all. It was a necessity. It was breathing.

Because if I can’t be myself, then who the hell am I? And what the fuck is the point of it all?

If I gave up on me, I wouldn’t BE me. I would die off, and some doppelganger would take my place with my skin and my hands and my scars, but none of my spark. We are all, every single one of us, an endangered species. There is only one of any of us in the world.

I’m not going to let the world hunt me to extinction for its convenience. I’m not going to let society silence the song inside me. I’m not going to let my inner fire be quenched. Not by well-meaning friends, and not by antagonistic opponents. Not by those I love, and not by the voices inside me.

I Defy the boxes. I Defy the rules. I Defy the darkness inside me and I burn with light against it. I Defy the assumptions of others and I Defy my own assumptions. I Defy, because I am alive.

And I am stronger for my Defiance. I am proud. I am free. I have no regrets.

So I’ll get a dozen more rejections on the novel. I’ll lose friends, or pass by opportunities. I’ll get weird looks in the grocery store. I’ll make mistakes and hate myself for them.

But I will stand up again.

I will lift up my head and I will grin at the moon.

I will REFUSE TO BACK DOWN.

It doesn’t matter how much it hurts. It doesn’t matter if I stand alone. It doesn’t matter if it tears me to nothing. It doesn’t matter what I lose.

I would rather keep what I have and gain more. Because it will be TRUE. It will be MINE.

And if I succeed at LITERALLY NOTHING in this world, then I will succeed at BEING MYSELF.

No matter what anyone has to say about it. No matter what it costs me.

I stand in Defiance.

Hear my YAWP and tremble.

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Who Am I? (Part 6: Endurance)

The timing for this particular entry is weird as hell. Not only is this the day before the election, but it’s also a day with 2 separate family medical issues which have made any amount of focus today difficult at the least. And yet…Endurance. Sometimes the world’s just like that.

I have also received my very first rejection for the novel currently being queried. And yet, after receiving that rejection, I had some feelings and then I sent out 6 more queries.

Endurance isn’t one of the values that get listed when people make their lists. Ask someone what the most important qualities in a person are and they’ll tell you things like loyalty or honesty or courage. You might get perseverance, if someone is really thinking about it. But Endurance? To me, it’s one of the most important, and yet it’s easy to miss.

Courage is choosing to act in spite of fear or pain, because to act is worth the consequences even when they’re scary.

Endurance is taking one more step, no matter what.

So it doesn’t matter how much Courage you have, if you fold after the first consequences sink in. You can gather your Courage and march into the fire because it’s the right thing to do, but if you haven’t got the ability to Endure, your Courage may not carry you to the end. Courage is a choice to act in spite of consequences. Endurance is acting in spite of consequences even when Courage is gone.

It’s also known as Stubbornness.

Courage is what lets me look at a climbing wall which scares me and start going up it. But at some point, getting to the top stops being about Courage. It stops being an act of bravery (or Defiance) and becomes only a grind, a step-by-step refusal to back down. Because I’m here, dammit, and I’m not giving up until I’ve succeeded.

Sometimes, for me, Endurance takes the form of just doing one more. One more minute of exercise. One more attempt to be heard. One more day before the depression lets up. One more try to get the song right. One more chance taken. One more step before turning back. One more breath that burns.

When Sarah has trouble with executive decisions, we’ve found that it can be because she can’t compartmentalize or break stuff down. She can’t turn “clean the house” into “first do X, then do Y, then do Z.” She needs the pieces to be smaller so she can absorb them. But the same is true for coping with depression, or anxiety, or pain. It can be difficult to say “I will break this habit forever and ever starting right now.” It can be easier to say, “I only have to break it this time.”

There’s another quote for this one by Albert Einstein:

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

I demand the best of myself. I demand of myself that, if I choose a course of action, that I will follow it come hell or high water or fog or fire. It’s the Honor of a promise I have made to myself. But with that comes the slog of getting from the point of making the promise to seeing it through. And that slog can be long.

When writing is difficult, I might only be able to force 200 words out of me, instead of the 2,000 which used to be my norm. But just because it is difficult, just because it feels like lifting cement trucks with my pinkie, that doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it. That doesn’t mean I’m going to stop. It just means I have to work harder, or longer.

Kindness lets me forgive myself when I need to; Endurance means I push to the goddamn edge before I do.

I think that’s one of the things that has helped me become competent as a leader, or as a troubleshooter. Because people know when I take stuff on, it gets done. Even if it’s late, even if it costs me blood and sweat and tears, they know my word is good and I’ll push through somehow. Endurance means I can take on my burden and that of someone else, because I’m not about to set it down once I’ve begun.

Endurance also means being able to stand pain when it comes.

When I was in college, I came down with something called costochondritis. What it means, basically, is that sometimes the lining inside my ribcage will get swollen or otherwise irritated, and it will crack against my ribs. When it happens now and strikes out of nowhere but I know what it is, it feels a bit like taking a cement ice pick to the pectoral.

In college, when I was 20 years old and had no idea what was going on or how to manage it, it was TERRIFYING.

It came on strong, and it ended with me in the ER several times until the doctors finally identified why I had this extreme chest pain that had me rolling and crying in agony at random intervals. (It also ended with me on doses of codeine and ibuprofen that would make most pharmacists balk until we got it under control.) The pain would strike and I would be lost in helpless waves of screaming electricity pretending to be nerve responses. I remember a lot of crying and whimpering. It was the worst physical pain, bar none, I had ever experienced, and the worst since.

I taught myself to breathe without moving my ribcage, and I taught myself to Endure.

The episodes could last for seconds or minutes. And I found that I couldn’t stand it, couldn’t face the idea of that pain for minutes at a time, prone to happen any time I was under stress (or fighting a chest cold) for the rest of my life. But I could face it for one breath the next time it came. And after I took that breath, I could take one more.

Similarly, when I hit a downswing and my depression is trying to ruin all that I am and replace it with things I never want to be, I might not be able to fathom handling that roiling awfulness for days or weeks without end. I might look ahead and despair. But I can get through this next hour. I can get through today. I can get through the next thing on my list. And when that is passed, then I can tackle the one that comes after.

And I truly value that in myself.

The world is full of things I can’t control just like I can’t control when my brain will start playing dirty or my chest wall will decide to crackle. What I can control is what I choose to do when those things happen.

And I choose to Endure. I choose to take one more step, no matter what it costs me. Even when Courage has failed, when Honor would be satisfied, when Kindness would forgive a lapse. When all else is exhausted, Endurance remains. Endurance is my ability to hold on past any reasonable point, and sticking it out to the end.

Compared to Endurance, Courage is easy. Courage is making the right decision and being willing to accept consequences. But Endurance is actually experiencing those consequences, drowning in them, being burned in their flames, and STILL MAKING THE DAMN DECISION.

I think I conflate Endurance with perseverance in the way I think about them. Because perseverance is “steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success” and Endurance is “the fact or power of enduring an unpleasant or difficult process or situation without giving way.” Perseverance is about succeeding on matter the difficulty. Endurance doesn’t assume success — it just refuses failure.

Because sometimes the very best you can do is refuse to fail.

When I was a kid at summer camp, there were several high-ropes courses, and one year I got stuck on one. It was a telephone pole that you had to climb, and at the top you had to get so you could stand on top of it. Then you’d jump to a trapeze and come down. And I had no issue climbing the pole, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the transition to get on top of it without pitching off sideways. I was probably up there for 20 minutes, too afraid to shove myself upwards and fall, too stubborn to give up and come down. For 20 minutes, the best I could hope for was a draw — I hadn’t failed, but I hadn’t succeeded.

Eventually I got sick of just holding on at a standstill and I found enough Courage to push myself upwards. But that was as much because the activity was coming to an end and we had to go do other things as anything else — never confuse desperation for Courage because they are very different even if they turn out looking similarly — and I couldn’t actually remain stalemated against the stupid telephone pole forever.

But there are plenty of places where you might not be able to engineer a victory and yet can stave off defeat.

I may never get rid of the chest pain thing, or the depression. I may have to live my whole life knowing that either one could pop up at any point and decide to make today all about them.

But I can fight them every single time they come around, and at the end, it’ll be me that emerges. Not because I’m brave enough to fight back, but because I’m stubborn enough never to give in.

I might even be in too much pain to be brave, physically or emotionally, but I can still imitate the nearest piece of granite and refuse to budge or chip or wear away.

And so when I get my next rejection on the novel, I’m still going to send another query out anyway. I’m still going to get hurt, and I’m still going to be upset probably, and I’m still not going to be eager to repeat the experience. But I’ve got the Courage for that moment of hitting send on an email, and Endurance to hold me steady whatever comes of it.

I don’t think that I have more fortitude than others; that’s not what all this means. But I’m proud of my ability to Endure. I’m proud of the fact that I can lose and lose and lose again and still try to stand up one more time for one more blow. And by adding Endurance to my pillars, by calling it out as one of my central tenants, then that keeps me accountable. I have the ability to Endure — it is on me to practice it. Otherwise, what is the point of the strength I was blessed with?

Besides, it’s nice to have a fallback.

If Honor isn’t enough to get me doing the right thing at the right time, then Courage will help me do it. If Courage fails and all that’s left is unpleasantness (or worse), then Endurance will carry me forward on the path that was worth getting so far in the first place.

And if Endurance fails?

Well.

Then Defiance will spark Courage anew, and we’ll start over.

Because in the very, very end, anything that wants me beaten down that badly absolutely deserves to be disappointed.

So, next week — Defiance.

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Who Am I? (Part 5: Kindness)

There was a time I didn’t trust kindness, not from anyone and not even from myself. For a cynical, damaged period in my life, I couldn’t see human decency and compassion without an agenda. Acts of kindness could be easily traced to desires or hidden requests or power-plays. Why should someone go out of their way for me, unless they wanted something from me? Unless it was to prove their own moral superiority — there was a lot of that, too.

It’s a dark, awful world when you look around and believe that the only lights are those lit to burn you.

I included myself in that mistrust because I didn’t trust myself at all in any way then. I couldn’t hold a door for someone without wondering if I was doing it so that they would think well of me. I couldn’t extend courtesy without chiding myself for being manipulative. That’s one of the problems of being deeply introspective, at least for me — I have a gift in doubting myself or looking for the underbelly to my own actions and choices. Usually I want to find out what I’m doing for wrong reasons so I can root it out, but it’s not a confidence-booster to question your every move and constantly think the worst of yourself.

I still have trouble practicing Kindness to myself sometimes.

But I believe in it again.

I was a Girl Scout as a kid, and while I only retain a tiny, tiny bit of anything I learned from my troop, the one thing I did hold onto and internalize to a very deep level was one particular bit that was brought up in meetings maybe once or twice:

Leave the world better than you find it.

It’s not part of the Girl Scout Oath, or even the Law (which only says “make the world a better place”). It’s just one of those throwaway lines that stuck with me. “Make the world a better place” didn’t resonate with me the way it did to improve upon what is already there. It instilled in me a soul-deep desire to improve everything, every place my feet come to rest, every situation in which I take a breath.

Sometimes that means volunteering, as I do at CONvergence or with the TCWC, lending what abilities and time and energy I have to contribute to a greater whole. Sometimes it means picking up some stray garbage, or changing a roll of toilet paper, or handing a bag into Lost and Found. Sometimes it means donating money, or time, to causes which are trying to safeguard the environment, or civil liberties, or libraries, or education. There’s a lot of places I traverse even in one day at home, and I try to help them all along whenever I can.

But it also applies to people.

I believe in courtesy, always. In saying “please” and “thank you” and “have a nice day” — and genuinely meaning them as much with a cashier behind the counter as I do the people I love. In taking notice, holding doors, making way for others. In smiling at people, and meaning it, as if that one smile is everything that matters in the whole world.

It’s been said that you should live as though every day were your last. Whether or not that’s true, I made a decision long ago to treat others as though every day were THEIR last.

Imagine you go to the post office. You don’t know any of the people in line or behind the counter. You don’t know which one has a spouse with a terminal illness, or is dealing with bankruptcy, or has just lost their job, or has a child being bullied. You don’t know which one will get into their car tonight and never make it home. You don’t know which one will fall asleep and never wake up again. But imagine for a moment that any one of those things could happen or be happening to those people in line and behind the counter.

What would it change in how you interact with them?

That’s what I mean by Kindness.

Real Kindness, to me, isn’t about me at all. It’s about making certain that I treat others with as much gentleness, dignity, friendliness, and compassion as I can muster. It’s a recognition that I have no idea what their life looks like from behind their eyes, and it is therefore my chosen obligation to add only something good to whatever they are carrying. If they are going through hell, I will not be another blade to cut them down. If they are dealing with impatient customers, a broken relationship, depression, illness, whatever it is — if there is nothing I can do but be one smile and one moment of human recognition and compassion, then that is what I’m going to do.

I call myself an outgoing introvert, which is a fair description. It’s not natural to me to want to be in the center of attention, to want to constantly interact with people. But I can strike up a conversation if I want to, and I know how to speak to others in public with ease. It costs me, sometimes, but I know how to do it. And when I’m in a good place and my own heart isn’t fighting me, then I make every effort I can to be the best smile a stranger gets all day. To be the friendliest customer, the most respectful person in the line.

Kindness isn’t just holding doors and donating to causes and buying the dinner in the car behind you in the drive-thru. It’s using every tool of language, spoken and unspoken, to tell someone that they are welcome. That they are wanted. That they are appreciated.

Instead of just saying “Thanks,” it’s saying, “the humanity in me recognizes, acknowledges, and celebrates the humanity in you.”

There is no one who doesn’t deserve Kindness in this world. And there’s not nearly enough of it.

(Being very honest, there are some people in the world I would and do have a very hard time treating Kindly. The people who protest funerals, for example, or certain people connected to politics, or a host of others. There are people I believe would be thoroughly improved by being dropped off on an ice floe and left to watch it melt. There are people I hate, and hatred does not come easily to me. With them? Honor demands I do the best I can to live up to Kindness. Courage demands I give it a shot, because it is difficult. Kindness forgives me when I fail. Defiance absolves me of guilt because fuck those people anyway.)

Random acts of Kindness have always appealed to me, particularly when anonymous. Because that’s the real point of being Kind, isn’t it? To give something, and to get nothing in return but the knowledge of the difference it made to someone else. I’ve gotten involved in a lot of those over the years. I’ve written cards for people at summer camp to tell them that they were amazing when they felt they didn’t fit in. I’ve helped coordinate large-scale gifts to classmates or friends from choir. But usually I get found out. And then I get weird because I don’t necessarily want to be thanked for the act. I didn’t do it to be thanked, or called out, or recognized. And while it’s appreciated — deeply — it still feels like cheating.

Because Kindness isn’t about the return. It’s about the gift.

That gift can be a heartfelt smile and “thank you” or letting someone go ahead of me in line. It can be quietly standing beside someone and letting them know that I’ve got their back if things get weird (sometimes both; I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve insisted “they were here first” when they were, but for whatever reason they got overlooked, and I hate that it’s sometimes about age, or race, or gender presentation; so I do what I can). The gift can be saying “it’s fine, take your time” when someone is flustered and stressed and clearly needs a moment to compose themself.

And those things? I just don’t believe that those things should be remarkable. They should be standard. They should be the default. Kindness, making room for another, acknowledging the needs of someone else, showing appreciation for a task even if someone is getting paid for it — these should be what the world is founded on.

It’s not, but it is when you ride with me.

There have been times in my life when I think I was saved by Kindness. I have vivid memories of them — like the boy in high school who saw me crying and sat down, even though he was popular and I was despised, even though he was older than me and busier and had a million better things to do, and told me that he thought I was a good person. Like the first person to come up to me when I sang a solo in the TCWC and told me she thought my voice was beautiful. Like friends who picked up food for us when money was tight. Like the Clan who came to gather around when my depression was beating at the gates and every breath tasted like harm.

I don’t have memories of all the littler ones — the people who made way for me in a store when I wasn’t in a good place, or the people who gave me that one smile in an awful day — but those saved me all the same. When we moved into our house, someone on our street bought us a bunch of flowers and gave them to us to welcome us. When Sarah was in a car accident years ago, someone helped her get home. These smaller Kindnesses didn’t shift the bedrock of my world, or stave off the worst, but they improved something that wouldn’t have been improved on its own.

For all the harshness and awfulness in the world, I have been shown some very genuine, very life-affirming Kindness along the way. And now I demand of myself that I show that same Kindness everywhere, to everyone. Because I’ll never know what a person is suffering, but I can sure as hell not add to it. I’ll never know when a person is at the end of their rope, but I can sure as hell hold them up for a moment.

They don’t tell you when you’re a kid watching cartoons that there are no heroes who can save the world with one big final boss fight. They don’t tell you that the real enemies — apathy, bigotry, prejudice — won’t fall when the bad guy goes down. They don’t tell you, but you figure it out far too soon, I think.

The only way to save the world is to save it a little bit, every single day, for every person or place or thing that provides an opportunity.

Kindness means picking up some trash, or putting some chairs to rights, or helping unload a stranger’s car. Kindness means smiling and meaning it, being friendly and patient, and easing the way for someone else even if it’s their job to ease the way for you. Kindness means picking up groceries for someone if you can afford it, or covering a meal, or accidentally buying an extra sweater and giving it away. Kindness means LISTENING to people, and finding out what they really need.

Because you can’t give someone a gift that is a burden and call that Kindness.

Kindness is adding to the world and creating space for others, not drawing lines and defining that space for them. Kindness would not be me, in my white skin, speaking for a person of color. Or me as a ciswoman speaking on behalf of transwomen. Kindness would be stepping aside and supporting the voice of someone other than myself to speak.

We need a metric fuckton more of that to save the world these days.

Kindness means meeting people where they are at, and giving them space, lifting the load, making it just a little easier for them to breathe. Even if it’s a blink-and-you-miss it nod of a head in passing, or getting out of line as fast as possible to ease the strain, or stepping back and not adding to the confusion. Kindness means putting in the effort so others need less of their own.

The world is, for the most part, a closed system. Other than some space debris and such, everything that is, is here. We’re not going to suddenly acquire more water, more natural resources, more land (unless and until we start colonizing/mining in space). What one takes, another doesn’t get. What one breaks someone else has to fix. And the work of living, of being human, is as heavy on one of us as it is on all of us.

Kindness is giving a little bit more of my share, so someone else can give a little less.

It can be exhausting. It can be draining. It can be frustrating. It can be overwhelming.

But it is never, never, never not worth doing whenever I can.

Leave the world better than you find it. Celebrate and uplift the world with whatever light you carry. Even by just one molecule. Even for one moment.

It makes all the difference. Sometimes I think it makes the only difference.

Next week — Endurance.

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