Month: October 2014

Get Angry

“All passion is founded on pain, grown through risk, and marked by the decisions we make in the face of tragedy. Tragedy introduces us to ourselves, to our deepest passions, to what it is that receives either our yes or our no.”

-Dan Allender, To Be Told

So I currently have a friend studying for her MA in counseling at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. And since we love discussing everything from Lost theories to philosophical and biblical debates, I’m pretty much getting a free, second-hand education every time we talk on the phone. It’s really quite wonderful. One of my friend’s teachers is the (rather profound) Dan Allender—a renowned Christian therapist and author of The Wounded Heart. Allender’s focus is on sexual abuse and trauma recovery. I’ve watched several of his interviews and keynotes, at the prompting of my friend, and I’ve certainly not been disappointed. Start here and here if you’re interested. What this man has to say is not only thought-provoking, but comforting.

Recently, my friend and I have discussed the question of anger, and its purpose in our lives. I, like many people, have struggled with anger—seeing it as a negative emotion to be squashed as soon as possible. Anger is something toxic and dangerous, an emotion we should avoid. We do exercises to quell it, count to ten, practice yoga, breathe and breathe and breathe. But what if there is more to anger? What if there is a guide, a map, within the fury? What if your anger is telling you something?

Do an experiment with me. Think about the world we live in. Think about your daily commute, the news you watch, the places you’ve been, the heartache you’ve witnessed and experienced. What upsets you? What makes you stand up, a scream building in your gut, a rage so intense it feels like being stranded in a storm?

For some it could be pretty literal. After doing this experiment, I found my rage building over issues like transphobia, racism, and sexism. I start screaming about privilege, about the pain others experience, of not being able to know the heart of someone else’s struggles. I get riled up about injustice.

You, for example, might find something less literal. Does it infuriate you when someone is dishonest? When people take advantage of you or others? When people manipulate? Does it break your heart to see cancer, rape, violence, the devastation of drugs?

“For each of us, there is a problem in this world that is meant to first bring us to tears and intensify our anger and then bring joy to our soul when it is even temporarily subdued.”

What makes you angry? What is calling you, from deep within, to right the wrongs? What is your narrative? What pain and heartache have brought you to this moment, this person, this self? Use your anger, let it guide you to your passion, your suffering. Let yourself be led by your rage.

You won’t be disappointed.

“Our deepest dreams are always about righting wrong and growing good. It’s that simple. What wrong are you meant to stop? What good are you uniquely designed to grow? We are not meant to be happy when we reach a personal goal unless that dream is attached to the greater good of others.”

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What Is “Self?”

Before sitting down the write this post, I questioned my authority on finding self, and if I have the right, as an unemployed, confused 25-year-old to shed light on something so profound and deep as self. Before we go any further I should confess something—I’m not sure I’ve actually found myself yet.381920_10150404579831314_644870192_n

I come from a long line of selves built in chaos, in quicksand. My family is no stranger to tragedy—my mother suffered through two funerals (her sister’s and her father’s) during her pregnancy with me—we take emotional blows like seasoned boxers. We roll back our shoulders, and stand up for more hits. My own parents are both deceased…

I had the great pleasure of guest blogging for Moving Peaces‘ series on Finding Self. The post, about finding self in the midst of tragedy and chaos, went up on Saturday, and you can read the rest here.

Be Brave

Shanna Murray, 2012

One of the terrifying things about life is the rhythm. How it seems to fall into moments of stasis, of paralysis.

For me the stasis has never really meant contentedness, or calm. It’s felt like dreaming of running, and knowing your legs won’t move. Of waking up flailing, only to realize no progress has been made. It is a paralysis built on fear of complacency, of settling. It is a fear built on not making something of my life.

For a long time I built my life on cause and effect. Tragedy and heartbreak were stepping stones, path marks on the trail to a person exponentially better than I was, am. When my father died, I built a world of purpose, of consequence, of destiny. My thirteen-year-old self argued, to make sense of the chaos, that this all happened for a reason. I struggled through this disaster because something better was coming. And the scales had to be set right again. I had to lose in order to gain.

Ten years later, I wrote in my mother’s eulogy,

I am not one who thinks that everything happens for a reason. I simply cannot… It is my belief, however, that we make the reason. We give meaning to disaster, we create ourselves in hardships, we decide what comes from death.

I have spent the last three years of my life attempting to make sense of tragedy. Of creating something out of chaos, of turning pain into something beautiful. I am a writer, I argue, because of my hardships. I cannot let disaster and heartache be meaningless, I have to prescribe it meaning. I cannot put it away, let the dust pile on it, let it be forgotten. I must make something of it. I must do it justice, put the cause and effect into the narrative, fill in the backstory of my main character, grow her into something you deem real.

I am still in stasis. I am terrified of standing on the cavern of the world and looking down to my dirty feet and seeing the nothingness below them. I worry that I will never tear through the cellophane emotions, never find the effect in the rhythm, never feel the release of the constant inhale. I wonder if the prescribed meaning is too literal, too neatly packaged. I look again at the accidental structures built after the collapses and wonder if they are just as detrimental, just as false.

I pray for the exhale. I pray for the day when paralysis breaks, like ice melting, and I shake off the past selves like spring shakes off winter. I pray for the release, the meaning, the clarity.

Until then, I continue through the chaos. And I am brave.

In Defense of the Dance Party

Some days just suck. It’s unavoidable. You miss your alarm, you’re out of milk, your car gets parked in, you spill coffee all down your front, you leave work at the worst of rush hour. Somedays the suck just stacks, threatening to drown you in the misery of the day that you can’t seem to escape.

In case you’re wondering, my day sucked. I got turned down for yet another job I interviewed for, got blisters on my feet from walking in flip flops, woke up later than I wanted to. I’m sitting down to write this blog post at ten o’clock at night, and all I’ve done today is make apple crisp. I don’t know if we can call this day a success in the big book.

I’d rather not wallow in the misery today. I’ve done that, and while it’s all well-and-good, I’ve finally put a veto on listening to Keaton Henson and staring at the ceiling. To combat the blues, I’ve decided to make a fool of myself. And have my own personal dance party.

1. Left Hand Free – Alt-J

2. The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson

3. Shuffle – Bombay Bicycle Club

4. Everyone Knows Everyone – The Helio Sequence

5. Holding Out for a Hero – Bonnie Tyler

6. Cold War – Janelle Monáe

7. I’ll Be Alright – Passion Pit

8. Happy with Me – HOLYCHILD

9. Golden Years – David Bowie

10. How You Like Me Now – The Heavy

11. 100$ Bill – Jay-Z

12. Maneater – Nelly Furtado

13. Right Here, Right Now – Fatboy Slim

14. The Queen and I – Gym Class Heroes

15. Jungle – X Ambassadors, Jamie N Commons

16. Easy (Switch Screens) – Son Lux ft. Lorde

17. Le Disko – Shiny Toy Guns

As always, this playlist is available on Youtube and Spotify.

What are your dance-it-out jams? Talk to me in the comments!

And, just for good measure, let’s bring back this piece of “art.” The Rhys and Miles Virtual Dance Party:

I’m Taking It

A few weeks ago I complained about titles, and tried to decide if I could call myself a runner. Shortly after posting the article, my cousin sent me this:

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I think that quite succinctly put my fear to rest. So I’m taking it. I’m going to call myself a runner.

Last week I ran all five weekdays (I know, right?!), totaling close to 14 miles for the week. With the help of Zombie’s, Run! and the strange motivation of actually enjoying running (I hear you, I also have NO IDEA WHO I AM RIGHT NOW), I wanted to run every day. I wanted to test myself, find my limits and use running as an escape. I have always wanted to be the person who goes for a run because they need to clear their head (a romantic notion), and while I’m nowhere close to drowning out the chorus of “we are your lungs, and you are trying to kill us,” I’m close to something resembling calm when I’m on a run. I’ve fleshed out plot lines for my book, dealt with stress of job hunting, and acted out verses of a few Britney Spears hits. I’m getting to a point where putting on my running shoes, stretching, jumping down the stairs and letting my feet hit the pavement is freeing. I love the feeling of running past people, I smile at strangers, I do a few extra dance moves for kicks. I want to cheer on fellow runners as though we’re all in our first marathon. I love feeling ready to quit and thinking “just to that tree, now that rock, now that mailbox, now that trash can, now the end of the block.”

I am ready to call myself a runner. I don’t have the proper shoes, my $13 sports bras are from Target, and I don’t know the first thing about compression socks. I haven’t finished a race, I’m by no means seasoned, and my form is far from perfect. But I’m taking the title.

I am a runner.

Embarrassing Episodes: Hello Stranger

Since quitting my job I tend to spend a lot of time inside. I don’t interact with people very often, so the threat level of embarrassing myself remains pretty low. If I do embarrass myself, it is most likely in front of my cats, who just sort of tilt their heads, and go back to cleaning themselves.

But when I go out into the real world anything can happen.

On Friday I found myself at the St. Paul Art Crawl, a giant community-oriented art show. My friend and I focused on the Schmidt Artist Lofts, nestled into the old Schmidt Brewing Company building. Artists participating in the show open their apartment doors, put out snacks, wine, and other drinks (“I can make a screwdriver, if anyone wants one,” one artist offered when I wandered into her loft), and make awkward small talk about their pieces. Despite the initial strangeness of it, it actually is pretty fun, if cramped.

Isn't it amazing?

There I met many wonderful artists, shared a glass of wine with a man with phenomenal eye contact, and visited with my writing friend. All-in-all, the night was great and confidence boosting (thanks eye contact dude).

My friend and I decided to continue the evening (which ended around 10) by grabbing drinks close to her apartment. In the chilly fall weather we walked across the bridge and wandered into the bar. As soon as we entered, I saw someone I knew. We’ve only met each other a handful of times, but we’ve hung out occasionally. I noticed him in passing, too distracted/embarrassed/self-conscious to say anything. I don’t usually say hi to people I only know casually, too worried that they’ve forgotten me, found me ridiculous, or are too distracted to pay attention. When I sat down I whispered the news to my friend.

“Do you remember Natalie’s friend, Jonathan?” she nodded slowly after I elaborated. “That’s him, down at the end.”

“You should say hi.”

“I will,” I decided. “When we leave.”

I texted Natalie, who agreed that I should say hi. In all caps.

I enjoyed fried jalapeno cheese curds and a black IPA with perhaps too high of an alcohol content, on perhaps too empty of a stomach. I kept looking at my friend Jonathan, distantly hoping that he would wave so I would feel less awkward.

He didn’t.

When it came time to leave, I’d made my decision. Natalie is a touchy-feely person (please note: I am not), and she often grabs people on the shoulder to say hello to them. I thought this would be a great way to get Jonathan’s attention as we left the bar.

With his back to me, I grabbed his shoulder, intent on a bit of small talk, or a quick hello.

Jonathan turned around. Only, it wasn’t Jonathan.

“Heyyyyyy,” we all sort of shouted at each other. Me, terrified that I had just grabbed a random stranger in a mostly empty bar, him confused by why an awkward woman was holding his shoulder still. Thankfully, my legs kept moving, carrying me away from the face of the man I didn’t know. I made it to the atrium of the bar before I bent over in hysterical laughter.

“Want to here a secret?”

“What?” asked my friend.

“That wasn’t Jonathan.”

The hysteria lasted for the rest of the evening, but a wonderful lesson remained. I am mostly terrified of this mistake, of saying hi to someone I don’t know, of waving at the person waving at the person behind me, of answering a question not directed at me. And I accidentally did it. I grabbed a random stranger in a bar, and I couldn’t be happier for the ludicrous story that came out of it. And hopefully the same goes for not-Jonathan too.

“Life Isn’t Just a Sequence of Waiting for Things to Be Done”

I could probably watch Ze Frank videos for every hour of the rest of my life.

For those who don’t know, Ze Frank is considered the father of vlogging (video blogging), beginning his own show (aptly named The Show) back in 2006, before the rise of YouTube. Ze Frank is responsible for many popular internet sensations, among them Young Me, Now Me (wherein people recreate their childhood photos), and Sad Cat Diary. But the joy of Ze’s internet presence is more than just his silliness—it is his sheer honesty and vulnerability.

Into the depths of Ze’s catalogue one can find mountains of encouragement and love. Take, for example, The Chill Out song—a response to one of his viewer’s stressed and overwhelmed emails. Ze has also done several TED talks, expressing his acute awareness of his connection to humanity and the pain we all feel in living our complicated, separate lives. Ze’s ZeFrankenFriends channel is an outlet for confusion and questions, filled with honest and open videos that begin a discussion, and admit faults many of us attempt to ignore. Ze’s charming personality makes his vulnerability that much more poignant. He is an artist who is not afraid to showcase as much of himself as he can.

One of my favorite videos from Ze is his “Invocation for Beginnings,” which launched the beginning of Ze’s second show (A Show). I won’t be able to do this brilliant speech any justice by paraphrasing it, so I won’t. But I will say this: if you are struggling, if you are feeling static and motionless, unable to decide or do or fight past yourself, watch this video. “An Invocation for Beginnings” is the push you need to shake you from the stasis.

(A quick warning, Ze doesn’t shy away from swearing. So if you’re at work, put in some headphones.)

Thursday Three: Outlooks

These last few weeks have been filled with lots of high and lows. I’ve had interviews and rejections, leads and false starts. It’s not easy realizing you’re pretty unqualified for most jobs, especially when you know you could pull them off. It’s been a tough sprint, but I’m trying to remain optimistic.

1. Homemade brunch with friends is wonderful. Yesterday I had the pleasure of entertaining my old college roommate, Erica, for brunch. We made chocolate chip pancakes and scrambled eggs, mimosas, and coffee, and tea from Ricky’s gaiwan. And we talked. I love spending time with Ricky, because we’ve grown into socially aware individuals on pretty separate paths. But when we sit down to chat we fill the silence with stories and shared passions. We discuss the nuances of growing in our communities and our families. It is always a blessing to be in her company.

2. Rejections come in bundles. Today I got turned down for a job that I interviewed for (that makes four rejections this week alone). But I also had a freelance blog post accepted, and was invited to interview for another job I applied to ages ago. I’ve thought a lot about perspective today, and wondered if the negative at all clouds the positive. After a 3.7 mile run today, I’m going to say that the perspective is in my control. Failures don’t negate achievements. (Now ask me again when my rent check is due…)

3. Having something to look forward too will save you. Lots of things are coming up this season, and most of them come faster than you expect (I’m looking at you, Christmas). With the impending terror of the holidays, it is good to have something else to look forward to. For me, it’s NaNoWriMo. I’ve decided to have a launch party, celebrate the craziness of the month. I’ve also got lots of plans with friends in the next month, and I’m hoping these things will help me stay balanced. That, and the kitten snuggles I get to have every day I spend at home. That’s lovely too.

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I Accidentally Ran a 5K

Run!

Run!

Well over a year ago, I downloaded Zombies, Run! a running app that is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. But thankfully this beast is more than just an app attempting to cash in on the current fads—it is actually a fun running app.

Zombies, Run! is primarily a story, where you are the main character, attempting to survive in a zombie apocalypse. The story is divided into missions, each a 1/2 hour or an hour long, depending on your preference. In these missions you collect items, explore abandoned buildings, search for medical research. The story begins with you crash landing in a helicopter headed for Abel Township, one of the last remaining zombie-free havens. After you survive the crash you must make your way to the township, conveniently about three miles away. Oh, and of course you have to run because your crash has attracted the attention of zombies. Who are closing in. Quickly.

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The great thing about Zombies, Run! is that it takes your mind off running, and gives you something to think about. Sure, you’re thinking about imaginary zombies (and the rude doctor who says she’ll leave you outside with those flesh-eating zombies if you don’t get the medical records she needs so badly), but at least you’re not thinking about how your legs hurt and your lungs will explode soon if you have to run any further. The plot weaves through your music, keeping your attention just long enough to distract you, and the sporadic picking up of imaginary items (“you picked up a pair of underwear and three cans of food” the robot voice says) always feels like some strange success. The game works for the very reason most people hate running—it combats the mental angle for you.

On Tuesday I decided to try out this app I downloaded forever ago, and I was more than pleasantly surprised. After a successful Monday run, I figured I would just have fun with Zombies, Run and run/walk for the plot line. Thanks to the great pacing and entertaining story, I actually ran further than I’ve ever run—3.4 miles. I completed the mission, and then just kept running. Zombies be damned.

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My favorite aspect of the app, which I’m excited and terrified to try out, is the Zombie Chase option. If you turn it on, the app will randomly decide that you are being chased by zombies. If you don’t increase your speed by 20% for one minute, the zombies will get closer, and you will be forced to abandon items to distract them.

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I am so excited I downloaded this app. At a cheap $3.99, it’s well worth the investment. Today for Couch to 5K I ran 2.45 miles at a surprising 10:13 pace. This, I’d like to credit to the zombie chase I experienced on Tuesday. If not for the plot, I would have never been able to prove to myself that I could run a 5K, so today’s run was a breeze. Zombies, Run! is a wonderful proof of one’s abilities, and I highly recommend the challenge.

Zombies, Run! is available for iPhone, Android and Windows platforms.

You Should Write That Novel – NaNoWriMo

Who's with me?

Who’s with me?

I don’t quite remember how I first stumbled upon the magic of National Novel Writing Month. I was in high school, so I am apt to assume it was my wonderful cousin, Jodie, who let me in on the secret. Whoever opened the door, they welcomed me into a world of excitement and achievement.

For those of you won’t don’t know, NaNoWriMo (pronounced nah-no-rye-mo) is a novel writing competition that takes place during the month of November. You compete with yourself, the terrible parts of yourself that scream “this is utter crap” and “you’re not really a writer,” for one month, 30 days, to win the ultimate prize—a finished 50,000 word manuscript of your novel. It is for those of us who daydream about having written that one book we’ve thought we should always write, if only we had the time. It is the memoir you haven’t started, the Harry Potter fanfiction you dream about, the dystopian young adult novel to compete with The Hunger Games. You know your book. You just haven’t written it yet.

Well I’m here to tell you, it’s time to stop procrastinating it. That book isn’t going to write itself.

It is time to start plot mapping, character developing. Buy yourself a legal pad, a binder, a moleskine, a stack of printer paper. It’s time to start fleshing out backstories, building your world. Go out for a walk, notepad tucked under your arm and pen in your pocket, and just let your imagination run wild. Build people you hate and love, people you see every day, people you’d make out with if only they were real. This is your novel, this is your proof that you are a novelist. This isn’t for the world yet, this is for you. This is a giant “HELL YES” to the question “am I, can I be a writer?”

It is a ridiculous month, filled with days of clarity, and days of utter disappointment. You start off running, 1667 words every day. The plot pours from you, the characters are fresh and snappy and witty. Within three days you’ve got three chapters. Three more chapters than you’ve ever had. You’ve got stumbling plots, action and adventure. You’ve got people you love to come back to. It’s wonderful and brilliant and the road stretches out smooth and welcoming.

It will likely feel like a disaster somewhere in the middle. You’ll spend a week or two of November holed up, staring at a document you couldn’t imagine to be worse. You’ll have ice cream at 2AM, scraping sentences together to get to that 1667-word-a-day goal. You will feel like a failure.

If this worries you, I have some words of encouragement. Here’s the secret to being a writer. We all feel this. In every book, no matter how many we’ve published, there is always a moment of crippling self-doubt. Of wanting to move the entire document into the trash. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from a Neil Gaiman NaNoWriMo pep talk:

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I didn’t even get to feel unique in my despair.

So I put down the phone and drove down to the coffee house in which I was writing the book, filled my pen and carried on writing.

One word after another.

That’s the only way that novels get written and, short of elves coming in the night and turning your jumbled notes into Chapter Nine, it’s the only way to do it.

So keep on keeping on. Write another word and then another.

You can do this. This is your year. This is the year that you write that stupid novel, that brilliant beast that keeps you up at night. If you were looking for a sign, consider this it. You should write your book. I promise, it will be messy and ridiculous and awful at times. But within that madness will be sentences that you can’t believe you wrote, characters that feel so real they haunt you. There is something amazing about looking at your draft, of seeing the words you wrote, finally real. When you cross that finish line, few things feel sweeter. You wrote a novel—a NOVEL.

So go create an account. Find your friends (I’ll be your first!), explore the forums and find your genres. Go buy yourself all of your favorite snacks, and copious amounts of coffee and tea. Start putting together your noveling playlist. Maybe even invest in a mug to show your commitment. We’ve got just over four weeks, 25 more days to prepare. Don’t procrastinate this. You’ve got this. We’ll all be rooting for you. It’s time to write that book.

Need a noveling buddy? Connect with me in the comments, and we’ll cheer each other on!

I’ll see you at the start line.