It’s All About Perspective

I turn in 30 in about 14 hours from now.  I’ve spent a lot (and I mean A LOT) of time thinking about what this means, all of the things that I thought I would have done, seen, and accomplished before I turned 30.

And then I got up this morning, and thought “Girl, seriously, you’re looking at this all wrong.”  So today, instead of listing all the things I’ve yet to do, here’s all the wonderful things that I’ve accomplished.

30 Things to Be Proud Of

  • I’m a homeowner – all by myself!  Never thought that would happen.
  • I earned a graduate degree – and MBA.  Never thought I’d have those letters after my name, that’s for sure.
  • I no longer HATE driving.  In fact, sometimes, I think I actually kind like it.
  • I became a concert junkie!  I still remember when I thought, wait a minute, I’m making money and this is what I want to do with it.
  • I went to Far Fair in Nashville – saw the humid, the crazy, and the crazed and slept 18 hours in 5 days.
  • I traveled to Spain and got that stamp in my passport – tapas totally rock.
  • I lived alone – and hated it – then lived alone and didn’t so much.
  • I won $15,000 because I was just so good at telling the story of my patheticness – patheticness for the win!
  • I discovered what I wanted to do with my life, early enough that I might be able to make all my dreams come true. J
  • I had a literary agent rip me to shreds and years later had another one tell me I can write. J
  • I’ve made friends and lost friends – and thankfully made more than I’ve lost.
  • I wrote a book that’s awesome but no one’s ever going to read.
  • I wrote a book that’s even more awesome and hopefully thousands of people will read.
  • I ran a 5K – I didn’t even know I wanted to do that (the word ‘run’ is used very liberally here).
  • I sang karaoke in a bar.
  • I did NOT beat up my brother in the womb when he was getting on my nerves – and no matter what he tells you, he IS the evil twin.
  • I got lost in the worlds of others – tv, movies, books – and learned to never apologize for it.
  • I figured out Bruce Willis was dead at the end of the Sixth Sense WAY before anyone else did (and yes, I still brag about that).
  • I got a job right out of college and made it into a job I’d want.
  • I fell down – literally, I’m the clumsiest person you’ll know – but I never let it stop me from getting right back up.
  • I discovered that I could live without cheese – but life wasn’t worth it – and I could live without gluten – and life still is.
  • I once flipped my brother over my shoulder in a fight – don’t know how I did it, was never able to do it again, but it was epic.
  • I got my sister to make me delicious gluten-free bagels – though I am eternally still waiting on that cheese soufflé.
  • I taught my nephew to say my name in the cutest little baby voice and I to smile every time Aunt Val walks into a room.
  • I started liking my family as people and people as my family.
  • I painted my bedroom bright yellow so I’ll always have something to smile about.
  • I shot a gun – and felt appropriately bad ass doing it even if it did injure me and I couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn.
  • I discovered that an attitude is the biggest factor in what side of the bed you wake up on.
  • I learned that the most important part of making lists is knowing when to stop measuring yourself against them.
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Learning From the Past

Last night we pulled out the VCR, popped in a few VHS tapes and dabbled in the pool of old home movies.  We saw my sister get her first piece of candy, my grandmother sing in front of an unappreciative audience (her 4 year old grandchildren), tons of presents opened, a Christmas tree trimmed, and interviews with a pair of twins twenty years ago when we turned ten. In between the talent show, homemade stop motion troll movie, and the summer school graduation where the kids wore white trash bags as gowns, something dawned on me.

As a kid, I used to be fearless.  In fact until I hit high school and puberty I really didn’t have any self-esteem issues, body image problems, or doubts.  Doubts are made for when life crashes into you and pins you to the floor, when you second guess everything about yourself, when the sum of what you see doesn’t add up to what you feel.  But as a kid I did things I can’t even imagine doing now – standing up for a girl with no friends and facing ridicule from everyone else, defying the mean girl with the violent streak because I wasn’t going to let her push me around, performing in front of a crowd because I wanted to.  I remember clearly the moment the illusion shattered – when I realized damn, I sucked at that, why did my parents let me up there – but that girl before she realized it was an illusion, she rocked.

It was embarrassing to say the least – watching yourself 15, 20 years ago always is – but it was also enlightening.  People say they want to be kids again and I always thought it was because of the lack of bills and responsibility and stress.  But that’s not the whole story.  Because the childhood you was daring and adventurous, wild and creative before any of those words became euphemisms for business strategies and core competencies.  The ten year old me saw most of the world as black and white, but the results of that were breathtaking.

I don’t see much of that girl in me anymore and that’s a shame.  As I sit here and think about what I want the next decade of my life to be, I know that if I let that girl come out and play more, be as exuberant and fearlessly herself as a 12 year old who didn’t know any better was, then I would be a happier person.  My life would be better for it.  Can I tap dance and play the flute and sing any better now than I did then?  Highly unlikely.  But she didn’t know the word ‘can’t’  – and neither should I.

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The Art of Being Zen

I don’t know.  If you’re here because you think I have the answer to being Zen (Zeneful?  Zensome?  Zenolicious?) then you have taken a wrong turn on the internet expressway.  Truth is, I know nothing.

That’s right, nothing.  I couldn’t find calm and peaceful if it rammed me with a semi-truck.  The emotional mess of a writer has always been something that I laugh at – what a tired cliché – but I still can’t shake it.  Even though I detest Hemingway sometimes searching for the bottom of a bottle seems like a promising choice.

Because, who knows why, but I just can’t seem to get out of my own way.  Contrary to popular belief, I KNOW that I’m my own worst enemy, that the only thing stopping me is me, that an attitude adjustment and priority straightening is so overdo.  But I can’t help it – can’t help myself – at all.

I struggle to be authentic, whatever the hell that means, and it hurts.  Because my truth isn’t the same as yours.  And my truth is in battle with yours.  And my truth always seems to be stepped on and repeated as fiction.  Because it’s harsh and messy and rough.  And I’m afraid of it, of writing it down and going there, because you’ll point out all those things I already know but don’t need said out loud – because I already know them, know even worse things, even more judgment.

Anne Lamott has said “You own everything that happened to you.  Tell your stories.  If people wanted you to write warmly about them they should’ve behaved better.”  If so then why do I feel like everything I know is on layaway, a desire just out of my reach, mine if I could only work harder, always struggling to be bought and sold.

I have no answers for being Zen.  Or for being mindful or calm or satisfied even.  I have no answers to any question at all.  If you asked me one I’d be forced to tell you a story.  And I have no idea on when it would end.

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Task Pile-Up on the Productivity Expressway

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This morning I woke up, opened my eyes, and a thought occurred to me – I SUCK at multi-tasking.

You wouldn’t think this would be such an epiphany but it was.  Because I spend my days trying to do many things at once and when I don’t fail miserably I think “Hey, yeah, I got this multi-tasking thing down.  Productivity Superstar!”   But that’s not the case at all.

So there I was this morning, thinking about last night – how I should have started my thesis but didn’t – and looking at my alarm clock – and how I said I was going to get up to go to the gym and didn’t – and deciding whether I should snooze my alarm even though I was awake – I did – that it really sunk in.  I’ve always known I was a commit everything, all or nothing kind of person, I just didn’t realize it extended to the mundane task of tasks.

On Saturday I finished writing my novel (yeah, go me!) and I was hoping this would pave the way for me to focus on my final project for grad school (which I now only have about 6 weeks to complete – eek!)  On some level I knew that I couldn’t hold room in my head for both of them.  But then I got another idea for a book and the project gets pushed farther and farther away every time I think of them.  Curses!

But this happens around my house too – yes I need to clean but I don’t have enough time to do the whole thing so why even start.  Yes I should pay those bills but I haven’t organized the office yet so I don’t know where my mail is supposed to go so why bother.  What, my car needs to be washed – don’t even get me STARTED on how much my care needs to be washed – but the car wash I have the gift certificate for is in another city and I should really be taking the time to clean my house . . .    See, the excuses and being pulled 20 different ways is endless.

How did I THINK I was good at multi-tasking for so long?  Simple – I’m organized.  Not like OCD, I can tell you how many paper clips are in the cup organized but your basic bland organized.  Except with pretty colored pens and bright file folders – I like to color code.  And I make lists – lots of lists – that help remind me what I have to do.  When I don’t have the lists I rely on my memory which is not a good way to remember EVERYTHING so I list.  I list and I feel better.  And then I stare at the list and get overwhelmed.  There seems to be a pattern here.

But now that I’ve recognized it, let’s see if I can beat it.  Today at work I will make a list of everything I want to get done and when I’m working on something, I’m working on it.  No changes mid-shift, no stopping to get three other things done, just concentrate on the task at hand and then move on.  Hopefully it works because, seriously, my car really is dirty, my house needs to be cleaned and that Thesis of 120 hours of work?  It ain’t gonna research itself. 

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Creativity Kills

Creativity is awesome, stellar, tubular, rad (really dating myself with this list, huh?), magnificent, great, and wonderful.  It’s also a huge pain in the ass.

Don’t get me wrong – sometimes I think about what life would be like if I didn’t have it sitting in my Mary Poppins bag of tricks (other items in that bag: chapstick) and it’s not a pretty thought.  My life has stories to tell and they’d be infinitely more boring if I didn’t have it.  I’d be that droning uncle at family reunions and none of us want that, really.

But right now, part of me really wants to strangle creativity’s neck.  Not because it isn’t nice and pretty and helpful – nope, it’s all those things.  But because it just won’t leave me alone!  I’ve fallen into a creativity bubble – forgetting to eat dinner, only getting four hours of sleep, wanting to spend every moment reading and rereading and vacillating between “I just have” or “I have just.”  Truthfully it isn’t such a bad place to be . . .

. . . except for the fact that I really have some other things I have to do.  I have a job – getting four hours of sleep doesn’t really help me stay awake at it.  I’m supposed to be researching and writing my thesis paper – sadly the romantic entanglements of fictional royalty does not have much bearing on my graduating.  I have a house that’s still packed in boxes – being creative won’t help me find the missing Tupperware or my cheese graters.

But I’m also way too selfish to walk away from it now.  I spent almost two years training myself to be creative when I sit in a restaurant with my notebook in hand – don’t I owe this to her, Lady Creativity, to let her come over when she wants to?  When I stopped having time for restaurants she stopped coming round and that about broke my heart.  Now she wants to catch up on lost time and what kind of friend would I be to say no?  A rude one, that’s for sure – and who wants to be rude nowadays (politicians and political pundits are taking care of that for the rest of us)?

So I’m both happy and sad that creativity came a knockin’.  I’m tired and cranky, rejuvenated and in need of buckets of caffeine, overwhelmed and startlingly at peace about it.  Heck, but what else is new – I’m a writer.

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Voices In My Head

Everyone needs people in their life – mine just happen to be fictional.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of “real” people in my life too (well, not ‘a lot’ but that’s a subject for another day).  I do have coworkers that I see daily.  I can’t go a week without talking to my BFF (that’s Best Friend Forever people, see I’m hip on the young lingo) or looking at a picture of my adorable nephew.  There are plenty of “real” people around, the variety that have driver’s licenses and house payments and spend too much time staring at that cell phone when they get text messages.

But there’s a lot of made-up people hanging out as well.  It has to come with the territory – writing a novel – that people just start yelling at you, clamoring to be heard and ready to spill all their secrets, until you just give in and listen (I don’t have children but I imagine it’s similar, everyone wanting all of your attention).  And sometimes, when you need it, they’ll listen to you as well.

The blank page is both terrifying and cathartic it has been said.  Sometimes the words are too.  Need a good cry?  Write that emotionally wrenching death you’ve been putting off.  Angry?  There was that character that deserved telling off, somewhere, I’m sure of it.  Wistful?  There are many more ‘might have beens’ than even I could write down.  A story, like a life, can be anything you want it to be.

But the fictional people are more than that – they’re not puppets that you trot out like Very Special Episodes of GLEE to badger the reader over the head with.  In fact, if you’re doing it right, no one should know that Sophie told off Amber because you were in a bad mood or that throwaway line made it in because something similar just happened twenty minutes ago.  Characters are people too.  And sometimes they can give good advice, or help you find the way, even when you didn’t think you needed it.

What most people don’t realize is that characters that stick with you, they write themselves.  People are surprised when I say that I’m excited to figure out what will happen next.  “You don’t know?!” they ask.  “But you’re the writer?!?!”  Yes, I’m the writer.  But I let Sophie and Amber tell me what they want to do.  Sometimes they need a little prodding and sometimes they take me on exciting adventures.  Sometimes characters that were meant to be seen and not heard won’t stay silent and, just like in life, change things in ways you couldn’t even imagine.  And sometimes characters need to be cut because they refuse to hold up their end of the bargain.

And that’s why I like hanging around with the fictional people.  I can be whoever I want to be when I’m staring at the blank page.  I can do things I’m afraid of and I can work through problems I don’t want to give voice to and I can go to fabulous parties without ever changing into heels.   And if it doesn’t sound right – if the decision we made was wrong or I gave them what they wanted but not what they needed or deserved, I can just come back again tomorrow and try it again.  Life seldom gives you second chances but I’m full of thirds and fourths and fifths.

Sometimes I’m curious about how other people live.  So when you close your eyes scenes don’t suddenly start up like movies that you’ve put on pause?  And snippets of dialogue, they don’t run on repeat when you’re driving your car until they’re just so?  So when you say you’re ‘doing nothing’ you actually mean it and aren’t obsessing on how you convince Sophie that Brett, not Marco, is the man of her dreams.  Really . . . . huh.

My life may be solitary but it’s never lonely.  Can’t be when everything I imagine can come true, if only for the moment it takes to scrawl the words across the page.  And my imagination?  Not something to be trifled with . . .

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The Edge of Denial

I find myself operating in that weird, teenage place of hope and denial recently.

So last month was a month of chances for me as a writer.  I did one of the most nerve-wracking things I could believe – I gave my book, randomly, to someone I knew to read.  Doesn’t sound too revolutionary, I know, but the only people who had read my stuff so far were hand-picked to love it – and me!  Not that I bemoan their truthfulness or opinions but, well, they weren’t about to crush any of my dreams, no matter how much they needed to be stepped on.

Lo and behold, the impossible happened – she loved it.  She loved everything about it!  And my heart grew two sizes (not that I’m a Grinch, I just have a really big heart now, you know, cause who likes economy sized).  So then I did something even more impressive – I participated in a charity auction for a 20 page critique from an agent I liked.  And, after spending WAY too much money – for a very worthy cause though, Water for Crits, look it up – I sent my first three chapters spiriting through the ether.

How, you may be asking, is this anything like high school.  Stop being impatient, I’m getting to that . . .

So I sent the words away and was told that I would hear something within the next 45 days.  It’s been about 30 and I’m starting to think about it too often, every time my phone shows the email icon in the corner, wondering if it’s from her and if it’s anything that I want to hear.

When I was a teenager I knew I wanted to be a writer.  I didn’t have the courage to admit it and I didn’t have the dedication to pursue it, but I still knew it.  Have probably always known it.  And I remember being a senior in high school and one of our projects for English was to write a college admissions essay.  I spent an endless number of nights figuring out what I wanted to say and when I turned in that essay I was as confident as I could be in it.  Throughout the week our teacher would read bits and pieces of essays that were good but it was never mine.  I started to doubt myself, to think that I had been wrong, maybe I hadn’t succeeded.  Until Friday when we came into the class and the teacher sat down and read my essay in entirety.

And that’s what I’m hoping for now – that the best is last.  And then the denial hits – when I realize that I didn’t send in my chapters to be critiqued, I sent them in to be validated.  I LOVE my novel, I love 100% absolutely everything about it.  I can take advice and suggestions and criticism – what I can’t take is if I find out that everything I did is just unintentionally wrong.

I’ve been told that after the first two chapters of my book, you’re hooked.  And I sent in three.  I’m holding onto some possibly childish, probably foolish, hope that the sky will open up and the heavens will sing and it will all work out beautifully.

But life has a tendency to get messy . . . .

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Entering Frustration Station!

Now entering Frustration Station!  Next stop Angryville, Lividopoly, and Waste of Time Square!

This is me tonight – frustrated beyond belief.  See, I’m in grad school.  And not just your regular old hard and taxing grad school.  Nope, I’m in an Executive MBA program.  It sounds exclusive and fancy but what it really means is accelerated like the bullet train I rode in Spain (dude, actually in the rain too!) for people working full time so it meets every Friday and Saturday.  For 16 months.  That’s right, I’ve had no weekends for exactly a year (it will be 365 days since out cohort began on Sunday – go us).

And we’re almost over – only one and a half classes left and a final project and we’re done, diplomas in hand.  We’ve gone through the ringer, been left out to dry, stressed and worked more than humanly possible.  We’re ready to put this crazy experiment behind us.

My class this weekend?  Yeah, it’s not going so well.  Now don’t get me wrong, I know with a month a class, not all of them can be aces.  The teacher in Accounting was a joke and that was mildly annoying but, really, I fear accounting anyway.  I was interested in the Strategy class on a purely academic level but the only thing I can remember there is the word “positioning” – I might even know what it means even though I got a B+ because he didn’t like our discussion about e-books.  That was kind of a letdown.

But my main reason for doing the eMBA program was to learn how to market me the writer, to learn how to sell myself and my product, to discover the “brand” of me.  What better class to do that in than Product and Brand Management?  So when this class turned out to be a joke – teacher going off on tangents, spending 45 minutes of a 4 hour class learning our names, having us watch a movie and YouTube videos for over an HOUR today that had nothing really relevant to teach us – I got angry.  And I’ve stayed angry.

My time is more valuable than filler.  I don’t want to watch videos all day unless we’re going to apply what’s in them to Learning.  Believe me, I can find much better things to do with my time than sit in a conference room all day trying not to watch the clock move by if you’re not going to TEACH ME anything.

And what’s worse is that I’m not able to learn from any of my classmates either.  The professor interrupted a student when he was saying something I wanted to hear – talked right over him rather rudely I think.  I’ve asked two questions during class and she couldn’t answer either of them.  If you’re assigning us busy work with confusing directions and I ask you to give an example, you should be able to Brand Mantra me in your sleep.  The fact that you teach this everyday and can’t worries me.

I know what areas I need help in – I can’t sell food to someone who’s staving.  But I’m quick and I’m smart and, most importantly, I’m passionate about wanting to learn and excel in this subject.  You have me Waiting and Wishing to learn something – Teach ME!  Give me the tools to manage a product and a brand.  That’s where I want to go and what I want to do.  Explain it to me in a way I can grasp and I’ll run with it.

But there won’t be any running in this class – no soaring or flying or leaps of understanding.  No, in this class there will be jingles and jpegs and, if we’re lucky, random YouTube videos that don’t accidentally stumble across inappropriate things.  And, if we’re really Really lucky, there won’t be any snoring or sleeping either.  The inappropriate laughter – that’s not going away, we need to find some way to pass the time.  So Inappropriate laughter it is – and blitzed students if my suggestion of a drinking game every time she gets off topic sticks.  Of course then we would be snoring by lunch time.

Posted in Education, Writing | 1 Comment

Mortgage Bound!

My New Budget DrainSo it’s official – I’m a homeowner!!!

Okay, it isn’t quite official.  But I officially have all of the worry, angst, fear, excitement, and nervous energy so I’m counting it.

And as I sit and listen to people talk about my new house, it dawns on me that I have no idea what I’m doing.  Conversations about paint colors, fridges, and doorknobs – seriously, half hour conversations about doorknobs! – made me realize that I’m not sure I’m the homeowner type.  I care very little about where the silverware goes and I never change the pictures on the wall and mowing the lawn has literally never been a thought that has crossed my mind.  I see a spider and go ‘eh’ as long as it doesn’t get in my way, I have never even considered vacuuming stairs and I once thought it’d be easier to just eat off paper plates than do the dishes for a week.  Yes, ain’t I a homeowner.

Except soon I will be.  And I’m afraid that my house will look like a crayon box threw up because I LOVE color and that all of my furniture won’t match but not in the eclectic way but the ‘garage sale threw up’ way and what color do you even paint a living room so it doesn’t clash with your purple couch?  I’m afraid I’ll leave the gas stove on and I’ll blow everything up.  I’m afraid I didn’t budget correctly and I really can’t afford it.  I’m afraid of something breaking and being unable to call the maintenance guys – what do you mean now I’M the maintenance guys?!

But I’m excited about cooking in my kitchen – making a horribly big mess as I finally try out the complicated gluten free recipes in my cookbooks and on pintrest (today I found a recipe for periogis – Yumm!!).  And having a nice, quiet room where I can go write and attempt to be brilliant, painted any other color than stark, depressing white.  And a backyard that I can go sit in on the very rare occasions that I decide to soak up the fresh air.  And my huge walk-in closet – I like that too!  And being stable and having a HOME – I might have to worry about how I’m going to afford it and how I’m going to fix it but I won’t have to worry about where I’m going to live.  I’ve found it.

If only I could find a butler/maid/chauffeur who works for free, my life would be perfect. 😉

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If You’re Happy and You Know It . . .

It dawned on me this morning as I was getting ready to go to school, way too early for people to be awake on Saturdays with gorgeous weather unless you’re on your way to the beach, still tired since I slept on a couch (though one of the most comfortable couches ever) and deficent in soda so my caffeine levels were at an all time low, that I am happy.

Not exactly what you were thinking I was going to say after that paragraph of complaining, was it? Well, it was kind of a surprise for me too. Lent started this week, good ‘ole Lent. Usually I give up something, something important, something hard. Why try and give up liverwurst if you don’t ever eat it? That’s not really the point of learning about sacrifice, is it?

Previous years have seen me giving up cheese (by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done since I believe everything tastes better with cheese – and I tried to do it twice), fast food (when I was in high school and went away on a school trip for a week), soda (when I was in college and cheap fountain drinks followed me everywhere), and sweets (come on, does this one even need an explanation?). This year I decided to give up fast food (which I’m broadly defining as restaurants with a drive-thru or where you have to get your own fountain drinks), gluten (because I should be staying away from that anyway), and Soda (this one might just kill me – I was up to four Diet Coke cans a day, don’t ask how many fountain drinks I’d consume at resturants).

Sometimes it’s hard for me to commit to change but the greater purpose of Lent usually helps me stick to it (except for the second year of cheese, that was just a bitchy, ill-conceived mistake). The real purpose of Lent though is not to focus on what you’re giving up – it’s not all about the soda. It’s supposed to be teaching sacrifice. This year is seems to be teaching me something else – satisfaction.

I spend a lot of time focusing on what’s missing – because it’s easy, because it’s obvious, because it’s more concise for a tweet or facebook status. But that’s the wrong way of looking at things (so said the girl from True Grit last night – the disturbingly grittiness of that movie being a totally different discussion). And, cowboy wisdom, she’s right. I may not have soda, but what I have is a whole lot better.

I have people who love me and care about me. My sister-in-law saying she’ll cook and freeze me food to make sure that I’m eating right. My best friend giving me leftovers she thinks I might like and going out of her way when she cooked to make sure it’s all gluten free. My friend throwing a party who let’s me know she tried to find gluten free crackers but since she couldn’t she has a Spoon Strategy in place so that I won’t get sick. My mother who cooks for me every weekend, sometimes making the same things over and over again because it’s all I can eat. Love.

I have a job that I’m good at, that I like, that gives me opportunities to do many different things and challenge my skills. I have stability, a roof over my head and the means to pay for it, a car to get me to work, a network of people that I can call on to be my cheerleader, my coach, my bodyguard, and my tough-love trainer that tells me what I need to hear even when I don’t want to hear it. I have family and friends and passion and a thirst for learning and an irreverent sense of humor and a desire for a sarcasm font and characters in my head that say interesting things and the ability to quote episodes of How I Met Your Mother verbatim and this very long run on sentence. I have a lot.

Big changes are coming down the pipe for me. And sometimes I hate change – I react like one of those stupid blond sorority girls in horror movies, blindly going in one direction and then screaming in fear. And then running away. But I’m plucky – I always find my way from vapid sorority girl to plucky heroine. I go back, I don’t go by myself down the dark creepy stairway into the basement, and I take that weapon left lying on the ground and beat the living crap out of the villan. Okay, maybe that metaphor went a little off the rails but you get the drift.

And for the first time in a long time, I’m excited about the future. Well, not the Zombie Apocalypse my friend is predicting (though if I started to go to the gym again, I might be able to outrun their dinner for awhile) but for everything else. For finishing grad school and getting my weekends back (doing an eMBA program has taken every weekend of the last ten months and I’m ready to reclaim them). For moving forward on publishing my book and writing new ones. For searching out opportunities wherever they may be and taking advantage of them. For starting my grown-up, mature, full of infinite possibilities life.

So bring on the highs, the lows, the roller-coaster, the ups, the downs, and even the zombies. This girl’s ready for it.

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