Transitioning from using Blogger to using WordPress was a difficult decision because it meant leaving the blog I’d had for almost two years and starting from scratch. I contemplated bringing over all of the posts from my first blog, but decided it would probably be better to publish a “best of” compilation to highlight 23 of my favorite parts from the first two years of my writing journey. Here’s to celebrating what’s past, and moving on to what’s to come!

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EYELASHES – 4/28/14
Whenever I get a Victoria’s Secret coupon in the mail, I tend to get the urge to wear nothing but sweatpants and eat a pint of (lactose-free) chocolate ice cream. Bikini season typically sends me into panic mode, because I know no matter how hard I work out or how much I restrict my diet (if I believed in that kind of thing/if I didn’t love food so much), I will never look like them. Those women don’t even look like the pictures that I see, and even though I logically am aware of that, emotionally it’s another story.

My body image struggle is not unique; everyone has times when they stand in front of the mirror and don’t like what they see. Those days are the days where nothing looks right, and you want to look away but you just can’t help sneaking another glance at what’s making you uncomfortable. For me, that sneak peek is at my stomach poking out more than normal and making me feel like a balloon. For me, those kind of days mean a sweatshirt and leggings.

I have been told that I’m “not allowed” to feel insecure about the way I look because I’m small, and I get it. Our culture is one constantly whispering (and talking, and screaming) fat-shaming. Skinny-shaming is a thing, but only because when someone is attacked because of how s/he looks, s/he naturally will want to fight back. The problem is that we shouldn’t be shaming anyone– big, small, or in between– because it’s not anyone else’s place to tell you what your body should or should not look like. It’s not someone else’s place to tell you what to eat, how often to work out, or what to wear. The only person who has the authority to tell you any of those things is yourself, and sometimes we forget that we have a voice amid the chatter of the media around us.

From my freshman year of college, I started taking better care of myself. I stopped doing things like eating fast food every day for lunch or ODing on king size chocolate bars. I changed little things about what I was eating and how active I was, and those small changes added up to something bigger: I felt a heck of a lot better than I did when I was running on french fries and sugar. I wasn’t focused on how I looked at all, because in the past my spurts of attempting some kind of exercise regimen were short-lived and (not) surprisingly yielded few results. I’ve never been one to be into fad diets or anything that identifies as a diet, but when I started taking care of my body, it liked me a lot better.

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot of “have you lost weight?”s and “you look so skinny”s. To be honest, I’m not sure how I feel about them. Yeah, I’ve lost some weight… that’s what happens when I only give my body the energy it needs, and when that energy comes from a better meal. Losing weight wasn’t my motivation. My motivation was to be kind to myself, and those comments meant to be compliments have the tendency to make me think, “wow, did I look that bad before?” No, I didn’t, but in a society trained to applaud weight loss and thinness, it’s pretty natural that those would be the byproducts that got noticed.

I heard a song once that had the line “I’ve got a perfect body, but sometimes I forget. I’ve got a perfect body ’cause my eyelashes catch my sweat.” I laughed at first, but then I realized what the singer was talking about: her body is perfect because it does exactly what it’s supposed to do. It takes care of itself. My body probably doesn’t particularly care if its stomach is flat or not, if it has a “thigh gap,” or what color its hair is. As long as I take care of my body, it will take care of me, and that’s a lesson that I learned once I started being kinder to it. Besides, societal perception of beauty is fluid, and it’s completely possible that a few years from now there will be some new standard we are told to work toward. Instead of punishing my body for not fitting into the slim confines of one definition of beauty, I’ve been trying to remember that there’s more than one entry in the dictionary, and I have complete authority to write my own.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t days where I want to hide from every mirror, and that doesn’t mean I’m going to magically be impervious to the airbrushed, picture-perfect images surrounding me. What it does mean is that eventually I’ll remind myself that they’re just that– images. Not people. Images to make me want to buy a pretty bra or a cute new bathing suit (as if I need another). It means I’ll keep taking care of my body, even if I don’t think I meet the standard of beauty, because a “standard” is not beautiful. Smiles and hugs and eyelashes are beautiful. People are beautiful, and everyone’s body is perfect. Getting a bikini body doesn’t have to mean restricting calories (or carbs, or fats, or proteins, or whatever you think you should restrict), it means putting a bikini on your body and having fun at the beach. Having a perfect body means it’s okay to feel imperfect, as long as you remember your eyelashes and remember that every flaw you think you see makes you perfectly yourself.

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GROWING PAINS – 4/21/14
If someone had told me in August about all of the changes I would go through between then and April, I probably would have laughed and said “yeah, right.” I have grown a lot through my second year of college, and now I can’t believe the semester is already almost over. A week from Wednesday will mark the halfway part of this chapter of my life, and in just over two weeks’ time I’ll be on my way across the ocean to augment my horizon further.

As that horizon gets bigger, my vision forward becomes sharper and broader too, showing me even more opportunities and experiences to reach for. More opportunities are exciting, but they can also be intimidating when you try to decide which to reach for and which to let be. Sometimes, the stress of that choice can lead to reaching for nothing at all or to reaching for too much at once. Finding that happy medium is something I’m constantly working toward, because there’s so much I want to do but sometimes seemingly too little time to do it.

This has been an extremely busy semester, between demanding classes, working almost double than I was in the fall, and a weird schedule that fills up almost every day to the max. I haven’t had a lot of time to focus my energy on things past my immediate schedule, putting me in a rut that has made me cranky, stressed, and distanced from myself and those close to me. Realizing half of my college time is already completed, I’ve begun to ask questions about what I want to do, how I’m going to do it, and when. Sometimes, the answers haven’t been very clear, which has left me wondering about the shadow on my horizon that is my future. Being halfway through college means there’s only one more half before another chapter of my life begins, and it seems that now is the time to start laying groundwork on the plot to make sure it’s a good one.

Sometimes I forget that while I’m transitioning into adulthood and brainstorming about that next chapter, I’m still only 20 and it’s okay to take time to enjoy being a young woman at college. Every moment does not have to be pushing me further along into the future– some moments can be there simply to be enjoyed. It’s easy to forget to make room for that enjoyment in an environment where it seems like every moment needs to be a productive one: getting caught up, staying on pace, or getting ahead. The constant push to move forward and get to that next chapter is daunting and overwhelming, making me forget to write the chapter I’m in while I’m so busy trying to get to the next.

Sometimes I feel like I’m still wearing the same clothes as I was in August, and even though they’re too small I just haven’t had time to go shopping for new ones. This year has been one full of growing pains, but no one said growing up was easy. Walking the line between “girl” and “young woman” is a precarious position, making it seem as if one wrong step will send you tumbling down into oblivion. The missteps in my past have been important parts of getting me to where I am, however, because they don’t send you into nothingness– the just send you into a new unknown to conquer. You can’t conquer those unknowns if you’re thinking too far ahead, because the only way to solve the problem at hand is to be paying attention to it. Slowing down (and remembering why I have an elephant tattooed on my ankle) means leaving that chapter be because it will be written once I finish the one I’m on.

As of now, my story is still a rough draft. I might be halfway through the college chapter, but that means there’s still half of it left to write, and the only thing looking ahead will do is distract from making the current chapter the best it can be. A broad horizon can be intimidating when you look forward and see a plethora of options and have absolutely no idea how to choose, but you will make a choice exactly when you’re supposed to to get exactly where you’re supposed to be. If you make a mistake, you might lose your balance, but that just means you’ll fall into a new pathway and get where you need to be from there. All roads lead forward if you let them, and even though it can feel like it, growing up isn’t the end of the world…. it’s just a free pass to buy new clothes as you grow out of the old. Keep working on your chapter and don’t get too worried about what comes next, and your story will be a bestseller.

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DISCOMFORT ZONE – 4/14/14
Last week, I finally finished a one act for my playwriting class. After breathing a few deep sighs of relief, the next thing I wanted to do was take a long nap. For me, finishing a big writing project is kind of like finishing running a marathon– it’s exhausting, but it leaves you with that satisfied soreness in your muscles. Knowing the due date was still a couple weeks off, I promised myself that I wouldn’t look at it again for at least another week, giving me some time away from the project I’d worked on for almost two months. I laid in bed that night with my satisfied mental muscle-burn…

…and I could not get the damn thing out of my mind.

I cannot remember the last time my mind has been so teeming with ideas pertaining to one piece. The satisfaction of completion was nothing compared to the incandescent feeling of being so connected to my writing. I had poured so much of myself into that play that it had become a part of me. I had volunteered to reveal more and more vulnerability with each scene, something I have never been particularly comfortable with… but I guess that’s why they call it stepping out of your comfort zone. Even more importantly, I didn’t experience the same kind of stage fright I had felt throughout the semester, feeling insecure about myself and my work. I was definitely out of my comfort zone while writing, but the questions I found myself asking inspired me rather than disheartening me.

Questioning yourself is part of the process of writing (or doing anything you’re passionate about), albeit an uncomfortable one. Being unsure about yourself provokes a reaction to turn inward and shield yourself from outside judgment, but writing is a passion that shares parts of you with someone else, making that turning inward essentially impossible. Most of the time our passions are like that, providing us the greatest satisfaction when we share that joy and work with others. Investing yourself in something and willingly offering it up for critique and reception by an audience is scary, and a step that can be hard to take as you’re find your legs doing what you want to do. Fear of that discomfort is a pretty common trigger of writer’s block in me, because who wants to be uncomfortable? My problem was that focusing on comfort wasn’t helping me grow; I kept the same set of skills and wasn’t pushing myself to be better than I was.

This play kicked my butt. I was juggling way more characters than I ever have, and I was working with a lot darker subject matter than I’m used to. It doesn’t have a happy ending, and the structure is a huge departure from what I’m comfortable with. The whole time I was writing it, I questioned myself and felt vulnerable and was uncomfortable. It was through that discomfort, vulnerability, and questioning that I found comfort in trying my best, strength in giving my all, and reassurance in my abilities. Through every frustrated road block in a scene, I felt myself fit a little better into the big writer’s shoes I hope to one day fill.

To finish a marathon (or a play, or [insert big achievement here]), there will probably be discomfort. Your legs will get tired, you’ll be thirsty, and at some point you’ll probably wonder why the hell you wanted to run a marathon in the first place. Once you cross the finish line, though, the discomfort becomes worth it. Sure, your muscles are probably sore, but they’re sore because you worked hard and pushed yourself to achieve in spite of the adversity you faced. For some, that achievement is finishing a longer marathon than the one before. For me it was finishing the longest piece of writing I’ve completed since the 9th grade, and still finding ways to be inspired by it and to improve. Fill in the blank as necessary, and we find that everyone has their own marathon to get through, and we achieve by stepping into the discomfort zone and trusting ourselves to get through it. I am no longer afraid to question myself, because the answers are worth the workout.

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THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM – 3/31/14
My dad keeps a picture of an elephant in his office as a reminder to take things one step at a time. The logic is that you can’t eat an entire elephant whole, but if you break it into small pieces, it becomes a lot easier to do. Just like that, the elephant is eaten. It’s a strange metaphor, but it keeps him focused on all the little parts to getting the big things done. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when looking at the big picture, but remembering that a bunch of little steps get you from point A to point B just as much as one giant leap does helps keep things in perspective.

When I wrote out my April calendar, I was faced with a color-coded wall of obligations and assignments… and finals. What? When did THAT happen? I was looking at the elephant, not at the pieces to get me to where I wanted to be. There are a lot of stopping points from here to the end of the month like Italian exams, philosophy group work, Renaissance readings, and an as-of-now halfway done one act play. They’re exactly that: stops. Putting them all together on one calendar, though, I went into “big picture” mode and forgot that in between my start and my end are 26 letters of the alphabet.

This year has been one of tremendous growth for me– I turned 20, met an awesome boy (who I now get to call my “boyfriend,” no spaces), survived multivariable calculus, and got accepted to study abroad this summer in Florence (to name a few). With that growth, I’ve come to realize that before too long, I’m going to be an upperclassman in college… just like that, half of this chapter of my life is already written. Inching closer to that end starts to open doors to the new beginnings I will have in a not-so-far-away future… but those beginnings are just that. In the future, not in the now. Big-Picture Katlyn might be trying to swallow her elephant whole, but Put-It-In-Perspective Katlyn is always there to remind her that dinner isn’t over yet.

We all have those scary moments when we stare at our elephant in the room and wonder how the heck we’re going to get rid of it. It feels as if we have to have every single part of our life figured out and meshed together, even when we’re not totally sure we have all of those pieces yet. We forget to slow down, take a breath, and remember that all it takes is starting with a tusk to get the ball rolling. You don’t have to eat the whole elephant in one bite, because it’s the bites in between start and finish that are often the most important ones. Enjoy the meal from start to finish, and take a minute to slow down and enjoy life too.

When I walk to class, I’m often so focused on getting to my destination that I forget to notice the sun, and sky, and trees along my path. I don’t think too much about the steps I’m taking, unless I’m afraid they aren’t getting me there fast enough. I’m moving from point A to point B, which is fine… but there’s always going to be a new point C to reach after I get to point B. Life is a series of little journeys to new destinations, and if you don’t pay attention to the path along the way you aren’t going to remember much, and you’ll be stuck wondering how the heck you got to where you are. So take a minute to feel the sun on your face (since there finally is some). Walk barefoot through the grass, and pause and enjoy the walk instead of just focusing on getting to the classroom. Class will still be there, even if you’re a couple minutes less-early than normal. Don’t look at the elephant in your room and think it will be there forever. Start with a small piece, and take your time.

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ON AUTHORSHIP – 3/24/14
This year has been one of tremendous growth for myself as a writer. I’ve taken my first classes specifically about writing, which has taught me a lot about my chosen craft… it’s also led to some intense bouts of writer’s block, peppered with thoughts like, “what the hell am I supposed to write??” and “how the hell do I write it??” Being a writer you have to have at least a little bit of an ego, because every time you produce something new you’re basically saying, “hey, I’m saying something and you should pay attention!” Choosing how to say something is just as important as what to say, and sometimes I can have something to say but have absolutely no idea how to articulate it.

As a writer, I get a little bit of performance anxiety every time I start to work on something new, especially as I’m exposed to talent different or more developed than my own. That “pay attention when I’m talking” writer’s ego can get lost in the noise of “ugh, what if no one actually gives a shit?” To keep that momentum, you have to work with the logic that you give a shit, so there’s got to be at least one other person out there who will too. I’ve never been much of a numbers person when it comes to people my writing touches, because as far as I’m concerned that’s not what writing is about.

Despite my lack of concern with gaining worldwide recognition overnight, I still crave the acceptance of my peers when I offer something up. I’m in the process of finding my own voice and learning to trust it, which can make criticism hit some particular tender spots and send me retreating back into my shell. When I get writer’s block, I tend to get it bad– the kind of writer’s block that leaves me uncommitted to projects and silent on my blog for almost a month in a half. I get to a place where I doubt that there’s anything worth being said coming out of my mouth.

My playwriting class has been challenging for me. Learning to work within a new medium has thrown me out of my comfort zone– a zone I haven’t left in a very long time. Forgetting the paramount truth of being a writer– that you have to believe in yourself– has given me a difficult time. No one else can have an ego for you, and no amount of building up is going to help at all unless you build yourself up. Being scared to be uncomfortable was writing a story that I didn’t care to finish, so I figured it was time to try something different.

It was around the time I left that not-so-fantastic comfort zone that I realized something else that was very important– I was treating writing like a hobby. That’s all fine and good, but if I wanted to build my writing into a career, sporadic blogging and fear of pushing the envelope wouldn’t get me anywhere. I could sit through as many classes as I wanted, but if I didn’t take the time to apply those lessons and learn from them, I wasn’t going to move forward. I realized that if I had time for Netflix and Facebook, I had time to nurture my relationship with writing– something I owed to myself for neglecting such an important part of my identity.

Since then, I’ve stepped farther out of my comfort zone and into some of the writing I have been proudest of this semester. I’ve established a routine and look forward to the day that I get to post something new, because my starving soul is only satisfied when I take the time to put words down on paper or on-screen. As I’ve said before (and will inevitably say again), a writer is someone who writes. Not someone who only writes once and a while, not someone who just puts words down for a grade; someone who writes. A doctor can’t only see patients when they “feel like it,” so I can’t just write when I “feel like it.” I am a writer every day, and whether that means learning something new, reading something new, or writing something new, it’s a commitment I’ve signed up for and am ready to fully realize.

Being a writer makes me an author– giving me the authority to keep putting words down and saying “hey, I’m saying something and you should listen.” Every word, no matter how many drafts it has to go through, is just as important as any other. Listening to my voice and taking the time to be the writer I know I can be is just as important as doing homework or eating right. Writing keeps me in touch with myself and keeps my soul healthy and breathing, and even though it might not come with due dates and grades, writing is just as important to my education as the classes on my schedule. It’s easy to forget to schedule ourselves into our busy lives, but taking the time to do just that– even if it’s just committing to a weekly blog post or reading a chapter a night for fun– can be the difference between believing in your voice and not having one at all. I’m still learning what I need to be a great author, but I know enough to be the author of my own life.

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MAJOR DILEMMA – 3/17/13
When I was in middle school, I thought I was going to be a chemical engineer. I was one of those nerds who really liked school (who am I kidding, I’m still one of those nerds), and people would say “you’re so smart, you need to go into a field under-utilized by women, like engineering!” and when you’re thirteen, your first thought is “that’s so right, engineering it is!” I liked science and I liked math, so it seemed like a no-brainer. Whenever I was asked what I wanted to be and I responded with engineering, I got that approving nod as if to say “that’s good, you’re doing something worthwhile.”

My sophomore year of high school, I had a really fantastic English teacher, and his class rekindled my passion for writing and literature. I had always loved to read (remember, this is coming from a to-this-day nerd), and I had been writing stories and poems for as long as I could remember. Boxes were full of them at home, and though most of the ones from my younger days focused more on the fashion than the actual plot, it was always something that I’d had in my life. Literature just never seemed like a viable option– it was what I loved, but it seemed as if the only endpoints were “starving writer” or teacher.

One of my favorite authors (and one of my best friends’ aunt) has a book in which one chapter talks about finding your vocation– where your greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need. Through that English class and beyond, I felt myself pulled more and more back toward the books I had loved from a time before I understood what they were saying. It was as if I had finally found what fit in that empty space in me, and it wasn’t engineer-shaped… it was English-major-shaped. That sophomore English class reminded me what it was like to feel true passion from the inside out about what I was doing.

It was a terrifying moment when I realized I might never get that approving nod anymore. I was no longer part of the “under-utilized by women” group; in most peoples’ eyes, I was no longer in the “practical” group either. When someone hears you’re majoring in English, those two options– starving writer and teacher — are often the only ones that come to mind. I get a lot of “oh… well, what are you going to do with that?” and “oh… but you’re so smart!” and “well that’s so much easier than a STEM degree.” Yes, STEM disciplines are extremely challenging, but so are those in the arts– just in a different way.

Fall semester, I had added a math minor to my transcript and was taking multivariable calculus. Adding those two words– “math minor” –seemed to boost my credibility considerably. Suddenly, people were saying “oh, wow, that’s so practical!” and “that really balances how your degree is so limited.” I still needed the validation that I was worthy of praise and not “throwing away my life” as many assume by majoring in something affiliated with my creativity. I understood the material of the class fine, but I found it hard to commit myself in the same way I could to the classes I was taking for my major. As a result, my grade in that class was not an accurate representation of my academic ability, and it was clear to me why: math is not my vocation. Needless to say, I traded in my math minor for one that still challenged a different part of my mind but complimented my passions better: philosophy.

Whether you are an engineering major, an English major, a business major, or a communications major, prejudices exist and chances are there will be some jerk who makes you question yourself based on how you’re translating your talents into a degree. After all, that’s what a major comes down to be in the end: a pathway to translate your talents into a way to contribute to the global community. All majors are important, and major shaming straight up sucks. It’s no fun to be told you’re taking an “easier” degree (or worse, not taking a “real” degree), because I’m not. I’m utilizing my passions and talents (both academic and otherwise) in a way that is simply different than my friends who study astrophysics or engineering. Many engineers I know would be just as lost in my Renaissance literature class as I would be in Engineering 101. My intelligence is not compromised by studying Shakespeare instead of Salk, it’s just used in a different way. I sometimes encounter the misconception that I have chosen the “easy way out” because my schedule isn’t packed up with “hard disciplines” like math and science, but literature is not easy if you take the time to engage with it and to learn from it.

I am not innocent when it comes to carrying prejudice or bias based on someone’s major. When I get attacked for what I have chosen to do, it’s easy to lash back by saying at least I’m doing what I love. It’s easy to make a generalization about an entire field by meeting one science major who acts like he or she is the best thing since sliced bread, or an engineer who doesn’t seem to have a passionate bone in his or her body. It’s easy to forget that for every jerk who makes judgments about me based on my major, I know about twenty people who are there to support me, even if our majors are different. Sure, most of my STEM friends probably don’t get “well, I hope you’re ready to spend some time in the unemployment line!” but that’s just an occupational hazard, and every major has their own.

Majors can get super clique-y. When you meet people who share your vocation, it gives you an automatic community of support to turn to because they “get it” and are experiencing the same prejudices that you are. We can forget to become part of the larger community of “college students” with every major, and it can make it difficult to relate to people whose struggles are different from our own. We live in a world of constant pressure: there are pressures to fit in, pressures to not fit in, and pressures to have your whole life figured out. Well, I’m 20 years old and I definitely don’t have it all figured out… in fact, I don’t know a single person who does! My journey has lead me down a pathway paved with ink and book spines. Some of my best friends have been led down paths paved with equations, or business jargon, or computer code.

When you play the “whose major is most fulfilling/most practical/most whatever” game, of course you want to win, so it can be easy to make generalizations about a field that is not your own– especially if you’re seasoned in criticism about your own field. Instead of undermining one another to try and validate our choices, we should celebrate our paths and how they’re different from one another. I am just as proud of my STEM friends as I am of my artsy friends, and just because someone’s path is different than mine does not make either of us more or less. I love being the writer friend who is a paper editing wizard and freelance blogger because that’s what makes me, me.

Passions come in every color, and every path can lead to success. Since becoming a college student, I have learned that English gives me a lot more options than starving artist and teacher. Giving tours over the summer, a particularly tactless mother asked me, “Oh, English. So you’re going to spend a lot of time in the unemployment line?” After the initial slap-to-the-face had worn off, I was able to respond with, “Well, actually, English is a deceptively versatile degree. Teaching isn’t out of the realm of possibility, and neither is writing, but I have a lot of other options at my disposal. My degree teaches me how to think critically, analyze situations, gather evidence, and compile them cohesively to communicate and construct arguments. All of those things are extremely attractive in today’s job market, so English leaves a lot of doors open. Honestly, the hardest part for me is figuring out which of those doors to go through first.”

The shock on her face was probably more satisfying than my old engineer approval nod.

Major shaming is a two-way road to nowhere– everyone’s done it at least once, whether flippant, defensive, or simply to undercut someone for having a different way forward then someone else’s. Instead of trying to “win” or have the “best” major, we should celebrate one another and remind each other that support is out there. It should never be okay to judge someone just because their pathway is different from our own– our greatest passions just have different ways of meeting with the world’s greatest need. My vocation is writing; that’s how I connect with the world. Writing and analyzing literature gives me a chance to see into the depths of humanity to be able to connect with my past as well as the people around me. Whether that path leads me to becoming one of those next writers to help a generation think or if it leads me to a classroom, that is the need I will satisfy in the world. The marks I leave on the world will be keystrokes, what will yours be?

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CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT – 3/10/14
One of the hardest things about being a writer is writing people, because you’re trying to create an entire three-dimensional human being on a two-dimensional piece of paper. Sculpting a believable character means rounding as many edges of that character as possible to make someone that your audience can believe is real. It’s easy to roll your characters through the printing press on the first try, but unfortunately the only time a flat person worked for me in real life was when I carried around a picture of my best friend while she was in China. We flatten characters by only focusing on pieces of them, envisioning ideals rather than the paper mâche masterpieces that are real people.

When you map out a story, you get a picture of how the characters fit into the puzzle and how their pieces work together: the protagonist is the protagonist, the villain is the villain, and so on. Putting those pieces into different situations to create a story tends to create huge blind spots to all of the other qualities those characters possess. Some characteristics can put a little bit of villain into the protagonist, and a little bit of protagonist into the villain. Just like Yin and Yang, black and white are not completely separated, even if it’s easier to write that way. It’s hard to write flaws into a protagonist that you want your audience to love or to write glimmers of good into a villain you want them to hate.

Even though flat characters can get the story done, writing is more than a story. Being a writer, I have taken on the challenge of creating human beings and making a reality for them to exist in. Writing can reveal things in the reality beyond the pages of a book, but it can’t do that if the princess is pure white and the evil wizard is all black. In reality, the lines are not so clear; the villain does not always wear a black cape and the prince is not always handsome and on a white horse. Prince Charming might come with glasses, grass stains on his knees, and a habit of chewing his fingernails, but that’s what makes him human and worth writing about. His heart of gold is a great start, but it’s the little things that aren’t so golden that make him a person as well as a character.

After taking a second look at my first piece for my playwriting class, I see little glimmers of what I’m talking about. There are some layers within my characters, but they’re more like pancakes: not quite paper, but not quite rounded out somebodies. In that piece, I was writing for reaction and not for the reality of the story. I didn’t take the time to get to know my characters as people… what they carry in their pockets, what little bad habits they have, if they like their family, where they go when they’re having a bad day. I did not do them justice and allowed them to fall into stereotypical roles instead of letting them be human beings. There were few shades of gray in that piece, making them hard to blend together into one cohesive (and believable) reality.

Playwriting especially has to do with the interactions of human beings: how they interact, why they interact, and how those interactions change with time and situation. I’m still young in writer years and still figuring out all those little things that separate good writing from great. Part of that process is seeing characters not just as characters, but as people. Just because a character has a smoking habit doesn’t mean you won’t root for his or her triumph, and just because a villain has a complicated backstory doesn’t mean you’ll like him or her better than the protagonist. Those little things just mean they’re people, and people want to read about people… not stereotypes. When a character becomes a real person with a voice, it shows that ordinary people are just as capable of the extraordinary; they don’t have to fill in expectations or archetypal descriptions to have a story of their own. So dip your paintbrush into the black and the white and don’t rinse between brush strokes, because sometimes it’s the smudges that create the masterpiece in the end.

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SUPERMAN – 3/3/14
In my Facebook feed this morning, there were some pictures floating around of gowns from Sunday night’s Oscars red carpet. Scrolling through some of the comments, I noticed one that said something to the effect of “well it would be nice if they’d wear cheaper dresses and donate the rest of the money to something meaningful, like disaster relief efforts or cancer research.” Someone quickly defended the picture, responding with “Well most of those celebrities DO donate to different philanthropies. There’s so much bad in the world that if people can have one day and look at the pretty dresses, that should be okay.” Of course, being the internet, it did not take long for chaos to ensue. Likes, retorts, and complete mayhem flew out from one picture of a celebrity in a sparkly dress.

Hey guys, I was just here for the rhinestones.

I totally understand the spirit of that first comment– there is a lot of bad stuff in the world, and it can seem completely ridiculous to ooh and aah over women in expensive dresses when just a few channels away there’s some news report or documentary about poverty just a few continents (or even a few cities) over. A lot of us want to be able to do our part and make those things that aren’t so great just a little bit better, but the magnitude (and number) of some issues can paralyze even the most fervent do-gooder at the starting line. I understand the second comment, too, though: if we only focus on all of that bad, life quickly becomes a helpless and sad experience.

Most of us jump to the “big issues” like world hunger, global pandemics, cancer when we think of what needs work… things that make it easy to say “I’m one person. I can’t make a difference.” What if I told you one person can make a difference? While it’s true that it takes a lot more than one person to eradicate hunger or find the cure for cancer, that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. One person has the power to start something, and the problem is that every other person is thinking the exact same thing– “one person won’t change anything.” What’s more, it doesn’t even have to be one of those “big” things to change the face of Earth– maybe it’s just something to change the face of your block.

My RA from freshman year posted a status a while back for the first five people to post a self-compliment– something kind about themselves. In return, at some point she would do something specific just for that person. Keep in mind, the condition was not “solve this major problem of humanity.” It wasn’t even “compliment someone else.” It was “be kind to you, and I will repay you for it.” It felt weird and even indulgent to comment on that status, and even then my compliment was pretty lame: “I’m a pretty good writer.” I added the “pretty” to assure that I wasn’t trying to say I thought I was flat-out “good.” Being kind to yourself (reserved or full-force) is oftentimes more difficult than being kind to a stranger, because it can feel selfish or narcissistic, especially with all that bad sitting guiltily on our consciences. My RA’s status was a gentle reminder that it’s okay to be kind to yourself and what’s more, you should be kind to yourself. It is not selfish and it is not narcissistic to take a step back and remind yourself what you’re doing right when it’s often much easier to see what’s being done wrong.

So how does this relate to all that other bad stuff? Well, if you aren’t being kind to yourself, it’s hard to put something positive back out into the world. If you are comfortable with the person you are (dare I say, if you love the person you are), it just gives you more love to share. If you focus on being someone who can, will, and has, you become someone who can, will, and has. You are not a powerless blip in the grand, chaotic scheme of humanity, you are a distinct someone with the power to leave goodness behind and ahead of you. Sure, those big and bad things we hear about and wish we could change won’t fix themselves overnight– they won’t fix themselves at all without help. That doesn’t mean to give up; it doesn’t even mean you can’t enjoy the dresses at the Oscars. Kindness does not have a minimum amount to make an impact– kindness is kindness, and the more little kindnesses we put into the world, the more big kindnesses will come.

Your positive impact does not have to start out as a crater. It can start off as a whisper to yourself, and then grow louder to a conversation. It can be helping someone unload their groceries, holding the door open, or challenging someone else to remember to be gentle with themselves. We weren’t put here to be the kind of superheroes that fly around in capes and make everything okay with magic powers and superhuman strength. Being a superhero can be as easy as letting the barista keep the change when you get your Starbucks before class. It’s okay to not have all the answers, and it’s okay to take a break and just enjoy life, even though there are things that could be better. Pretty dresses can still be pretty, without having to feel guilty because there’s someone out there who doesn’t care whether Angelina Jolie was hot or not on the red carpet. Indulging in small comforts doesn’t make your positive impact any less powerful, as long as you remember any positive impact is powerful– even if that impact is smiling to someone in class. When you look at those big problems and start to think “I’m just one person, what can I do?” take one step forward, because one step will get you there.

***

STAGE FRIGHT – 2/18/13
My playwriting class straight up terrifies me. Every week when I walk into that room, it feels as though I’m bombarded with talent that is infinitely greater than my own– more refined, more lyrical, more moving… you name it. It didn’t get better when I received my first portfolio grade; it wasn’t bad, just “eh”… like a big “nice try” sticker on a piece of my soul. It wasn’t exactly an inspiring moment to feel as if my talent had been assigned a numerical value, since I’m not really sure how that scale works.

Being a writer can feel scary sometimes. I consistently make myself vulnerable to others’ judgments, and if I fall short of their expectations (or my own), it can feel devastating. As a writer, pieces of myself go into everything I do, so offering up my work is like giving someone part of me and saying, “please be nice, I hope you like it.” Problem is, the world isn’t always nice, and not everyone is going to like that piece of me. That’s okay because it’s part of the experience, but it can sometimes feel like a slap in the face when someone raises an eyebrow to a piece of writing.

Every person has their own pathway to self-expression, mine happens to be in the form of a pen or strikes on a keyboard. For some, it’s painting; for others, it might be crafting a really beautiful piece of computer code. Some people might find that pathway through math equations or physics experiments. My point is that even if you aren’t a writer, you still experience that vulnerability and “nakedness” that comes from communicating your deepest self through some medium. It’s daunting to be so honest, especially as you offer it up to reception, perception, and judgment from other human beings.

Reception from our peers is an inevitable part of the human experience, but that isn’t the most important part of self-expression. Writing is something that I do for myself before I do it for an audience, because writing is the way that I hear myself through the noise of my every day life (like the car alarm outside my house right now.) When I get out of a routine with my writing, I get off balance. I lose touch with myself and with the world around me because my soul is not communicating, and I have definitely been in a slump for a while (as my nearly two-month “sabbatical” from blogging shows). My soul hasn’t known what or how to communicate, which has led to a prolonged silence that has made me doubt if I have anything worth saying at all. It has made me doubt myself as a writer. I have become more concerned with writing what I think will be received well, and in doing so I haven’t felt a commitment or connection to what I’ve been writing.

I am a writer because that is how my soul communicates, not because it’s the easiest pathway or most practical pathway… not because I want to say what I think the world wants to hear. I write to say what needs to be said, and if some other soul thinks “hey, me too” in the process, I have done my job. Writing is the way that I connect to myself and to others, not the way I pander to an audience or gather the most pageviews possible. I write because without that expression, I feel hungry and the only way to find satiety is by crafting sentences in a notebook or on a page.

We all go through slumps where we feel our soul “forgets” how to communicate– for me, that’s called “writer’s block.” In reality, my writer’s block isn’t my soul forgetting how to speak, it’s myself forgetting how to listen. That writer’s block is me getting stage fright and feeling the pressure to be “good enough” for those around me, but that’s not what my writing should be about. You can’t judge how well a voice speaks, and you can’t judge how well a soul speaks either. You can only look at how well you listen, and if you’re listening hard enough you’re doing your job. Everyone has those “stage fright” moments when it comes to sharing their passion with the world, but as long as we open our ears (and keep writing sentences), that nervousness shouldn’t keep us from taking center stage.

A writer is someone who writes. I’m a writer, therefore, I write. I write, therefore I am enough.

***

LESSONS LEARNED (WELCOME 2014) – 12/27/13
I can’t believe 2013 is almost to an end… it feels like just yesterday I was sharing my thoughts about the end of 2012! When I look at how I’ve changed in the past twelve months, I’m looking back as a very different Katlyn than the one who was writing a year ago. New experiences and new people have given me a fresh perspective on my life that I wouldn’t have had a chance to see otherwise. Keeping with the theme of my last new year post, instead of making a list of resolutions, I’ll reflect on what 2013 taught me, and the lessons I hope to carry into 2014.

In 2013, I finished my first year of college. It seems like so long ago that I packed up my dorm room and said goodbye to the family I’d found on my floor. Closing that dorm room door for the last time and heading down the elevator, I realized I would never live in the same community again. I had found a family in the girls that I’d shared that first year with. We might never sit in the same hallway just talking again, but they were girls I knew I’d always keep in my life and close to my heart. Sophomore year scattered us each into new communities. Some were in apartments, some on campus, and me at home, but we still found time to grab frozen yogurt and spend time together. The lessons I learned from that new family were some of 2013’s most important.

There’s always room for the people you love. It definitely wasn’t as convenient to spend time together since we weren’t on the same floor, but there was always time, even if it was a half hour snack run.
Family isn’t just mom and dad. In that first year of college, I saw my family expand and fill with people who felt like sisters after only a few months. They were girls I might never have hung out with in high school, but soon became people I couldn’t live without.

I spent my summer giving tours of campus. It was probably the most fun I’d had over a summer even though I was working almost full time. Besides gaining some super defined leg muscles (and a super awkward shorts/polo/tennis shoe tan line), the opportunity to show high school seniors my campus and get them excited about college always left me with a warm fuzzy feeling at the end of the day. It was a chance to show new faces my home, and I realized that I could see doing that for the rest of my life: getting people excited to continue school.

Giving tours gave me a new perspective into my experience as a college freshman, which was something I couldn’t wait to share with students making decisions I was making not too long ago. Walking students through campus was like walking them through my home, showing them the family I’d found and asking if it might be their family too. Getting excited about my college was as effortless as breathing, and being a part of that process for so many students was the most rewarding experience I could have asked for. I got to share that college can be more than just another school; it can be a place where you find a new home, a new family, and even yourself. I learned a lot about my campus, and while it’s fun to point out buildings to my friends and share little-known facts, the most important things I learned giving tours weren’t names and dates.

Be passionate. My passion for my job and my school made a huge difference in the kind of tour I gave. At the very least, families would tell me they could tell I really loved what I did and where I was. I was a real student with a real love for my school, and sharing that passion with others showed them how easily that passion could become their own.
Take advantage of your opportunities. Had I not taken my supervisor up on the opportunity to give tours, I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience the summer like I did. Giving tours allowed me to translate my passion into something others could share and experience. That opportunity showed me something more that I could do to put some Katlyn into the world.
Coworkers can be friends too. The other tour guides I got a chance to work with were awesome. Coming to work every day knowing there were people to laugh with and have fun with made for an environment that didn’t feel like work, even when it was ninety degrees and we were sweating our butts off.
Be proud of who you are. I have a lot of energy. I smile a lot, I laugh a lot, and I get super excited about pretty much anything I do. That’s me, and by putting me into my tours and being proud of that energy, I was able to show the people not just a tour guide, but a real student with genuine school spirit.

Fall semester brought a lot of new opportunities my way. I became more comfortable in my own skin, and was surrounded by plenty of new faces to keep things interesting. Right in the middle of the new freedom I enjoyed, an old face popped back into my life with new promises. I was cautiously excited, but as things fell into the same pattern, it seemed that past faces had passed for a reason. More importantly, there was one new face that I was poised to lose if I didn’t break that old pattern. That wasn’t a risk I was willing to take, and neither was that face. He seized his opportunity while it was still hot, and chased after me when faced with the thought that it might not be there soon.

Choosing that new face was one of the most important decisions I made in 2013. It was difficult, finally deciding to place the past in the past to stay, because that meant realizing that familiar isn’t always the right option. More importantly, it meant saying goodbye to what I’d been hoping for for years. It was like standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down at the ocean deciding whether to jump into the water or walk back inland. Behind me was safe and familiar, but in front of me was a new adventure… and a whole lot of unknown. It took an important new face to make me realize that unknown doesn’t always have to be scary, and sometimes it can be worth it. Unknown can be someone who tells you he can’t miss his chance to be with you, someone who takes you painting even though he hasn’t in four years… someone who tells you you’re beautiful even when you’ve just woken up, and someone who is so proud to be with you that he shares you with the important people in his life. My unknown showed me that the right person can teach you some important lessons that you wouldn’t learn if you’re looking back.

Be with the person who is with you. When the right person is in your life, you don’t have to work to be with them. You’re with them and they’re with you, which is something I hadn’t experienced until the new face came into my life. He showed me that it doesn’t have to hurt to be with someone.
Anyone can be Perfect Guy, but not anyone can be perfect for you. A few blog posts ago I talked about “Perfect Guy.” Anyone can be him because Perfect Guy is an illusion. The guy who’s perfect for you is the guy that doesn’t need an illusion to fit into your life.
It’s okay to be vulnerable. I don’t like being vulnerable. It’s scary, and a lot of the time when I’ve let my guard down I’ve ended up getting hurt. Sometimes you just have to take the risk to realize trusting someone doesn’t have to be a risk at all.
Be silly. Fun is never out of style, and finding someone who will laugh with you is one of the best things you can experience. Never stop being a kid, and be someone who’s still a kid too.
Be yourself. With the right person, you don’t have to change a single thing about who you are. The only thing that changes is that you’re sharing yourself with another person. Keep the bunny slippers, the obsession with books, the snorting with particularly raucous laughter. Find the person who celebrates your weirdness and offers up their own.
Let go. Sometimes the past is the past because it doesn’t fit into your present anymore, and that’s okay. Clean out the boxes to make room for what does fit.

This Christmas, my family like so many others was left without power for five days. Couch-hopping our way through the final days of the advent wasn’t the way my family had planned to get into the Christmas spirit, and walking into a dark house on Christmas day seeing my breath in the family room didn’t feel festive at all. We napped in the car to feel a little bit of warmth, and hoped that each day would be the day that our porch light would snap back on. It was stressful, exhausting, defeating, and seemingly never-ending, but it was one of the best Christmases my family has had in a really long time.

Because we didn’t have a house full of creature comforts to return to, we didn’t rush through our visits to our families. We spent time relaxed on the couch and enjoying conversation and company with my mom’s parents, getting to our next stop when we got there instead of fitting it into a jam-packed schedule. We had a stick-to-your-bones family dinner with my dad’s mom and brothers, and I actually enjoyed getting teased as we talked about my boyfriend and my classes. We might have returned to evacuate essentials out of a dark house and into another borrowed one, but we had family and the kind of Christmas spirit that doesn’t come from presents under the tree. When we finally did open presents around eight at night, we weren’t in our house but we were home, clapping and smiling like children with each tear of wrapping paper. We didn’t have our house, but on Christmas we didn’t need it because we had each other.

Losing power also opened up a flow of positive energy toward our family. Neighbors and friends offered up their warm homes and brought us warm food to help us feel a little more comfortable until things got back to normal. We faced an outpouring of people who wanted to take care of us and make things easier, and while home might have changed each evening, that kindness warmed more than our cold hands. Even though it’s beyond wonderful to have our house be our home again, that experience taught us a lot of important lessons.

Slow down. Not everything needs to be packed into a schedule. Take time to enjoy family and friends.
Accept help. We’ve never been good about allowing people to take care of us because we like to be the ones providing the care. This situation taught us that people want to help and it’s okay to let them.
You get back what you put into the world. It might take a while, but positive energy always comes back. Sometimes it takes a bad situation to realize that yes, good that goes around really does come back around.
Home is where family is. It’s easy to forget the most important things in life. We might not have had our house for a week, but we were always together so we always had home.

With 2014 five days away, I look back and realize that 2013 was a year defined by family. 2013 Taught me about how family can be anyone and anywhere. It can be dorm-mates, coworkers, new romances, and of course mom and dad. Home isn’t just your house, it’s wherever your family is. 2013 taught me a lot about myself and about not being afraid to trust or have faith. It taught me to let go. I learned a lot of important things to bring into 2014 and make it an even better year than 2013, and I can’t wait to see what I’ll learn next year.

***

BAD – 12/4/13
Whenever finals week approaches, I have a tendency to experience a sudden onslaught of extreme stress. Last Friday, I had surgery and even though it was minor I still have to try and slow down so I can recover. The fact that I haven’t been able to do that has driven me insane. I’m on strong pain meds that make me feel icky and mentally fuzzy, I haven’t had a good night of sleep in I don’t know how long, I only started having noticeable pain when it came time to return to classes, I have a creative portfolio to finish, an Italian final, and a calc exam that I don’t feel at all prepared for. AND finals are next week. I am stressed and cranky and all I want to do is take a nap.

Show of hands, who can relate?

When I get stressed out, I have a terrible habit of bottling it up and mentally begging someone to ask me if I’m okay. I don’t like to just come right out and say “hey, I’m super stressed and I need to vent for a second.” It makes me feel selfish and annoying because I’m definitely not the only one who’s tired and stressed out, so it doesn’t seem fair to superimpose that on someone else’s issues. I just let it build until I reach a point when I just can’t take it anymore and I explode. The way I best handle my stress is by talking it out so I can see exactly what I’m dealing with, but I’m not good at communicating that to the people who want to help. I internalize, so they internalize their aid. How can someone know how to help me if I’m not willing to show them how?

Everyone handles their “bad” differently, and we all have it. Most of us like to play the “my bad is bigger than your bad” game from time to time– you know, “well, they have this and this that’s bad, but I have this and this and THIS that’s bad.” I’m guilty of it too, though most of the time I do it silently so player two doesn’t even know they’re in the game. The prize is getting to be more annoyed, more tired, or more stressed out, which can be somewhat gratifying in a weird way. It can make you feel like you’re the one who should get to complain and be frustrated with life, and that since your bad is the biggest no one else gets to.

No one’s bad is bigger than anyone else’s, because bad is bad. End of story. Today, my bad is feeling like there’s more to do than time to do it. Bad might be not getting a full night of sleep and not having time to take a nap. Bad might be losing a job, having a bad hair day, having bad coworkers or a bad boss. Bad might be a broken nail or a parking ticket. There is no scale that measures the level of badness something has against the badness of something else, and even if there was, who really wants to win that game? “HA, my bad’s badness level is 82 and yours is 40!” Who is really proud of having more bad? The game has no real winner, so instead of trying to measure our badness against one another, we should just say “man, I have bad, and you have bad too. But that’s okay because it will be okay.”

Stress eventually passes, and bad does too. Instead of bottling up our bad or trying to “beat” someone else’s, we should share that bad so we remember we aren’t alone. We all have it, and I know at least I try to carry it alone to prove that I can. It doesn’t matter how you overcome your bad, all that matters is you will overcome it. When someone tells you they’re tired, or they have an exam next period, or their hair just didn’t do what they wanted it to, or they fought with their mom or their boyfriend or their best friend, don’t think, “well this is what I have.” Listen. Empathize. Be a human being. Then, without pulling out the measuring tape, just say, “it’s going to be okay.” Mean it.

Bad is a part of everyone’s life, but so is good. The only measurement that matters is how much bigger our good is than our bad. No one else’s good, no one else’s bad. Just our own. Today, my good is a 4.0 on a paper I worked really hard on. Today, my good is waking up in the morning, having a family that loves me, having great friends, and having a boyfriend who I really, really like. My good is Christmas carols, Christmas lights, good music, raspberries, and chocolate. Today, my good is bigger than my bad. Tomorrow, it will be too.

***

ON DAUGHTERHOOD – 11/18/13
I never had a “rebellious teenager” phase. Sure, there was a fuzzy period in middle school and early high school where I felt like “no one got it” and like things would be awkward “forever,” but it didn’t take long to figure out that “no one” and “forever” are pretty big words. I was blessed with a close family with an “open-door” policy, where nothing was off-limits and someone was always there to listen if I needed to talk. My parents never acted like there weren’t bad things in the world, they just made sure that I knew how to be smart about my decisions. It’s something I’m thankful for every day of my life, because I think I’ve turned into a pretty alright person, most of which I tribute to their guidance.

I hope I never forget to appreciate every bike-riding lesson, every patched-up knee, every classroom holiday party, and every Halloween costume. My parents were always involved in my life, but they found that magical balance between having a presence and being overbearing. They let me become who I was becoming, but were there with a helping hand to nudge me in the right direction if I ever looked up in confusion. I didn’t need to push against them once I got into those magical pubescent years of “finding myself” and “becoming a woman,” because they were a source of love to turn to amid a sea of angst and hormones.

My mom was my first best friend. I have never been afraid to turn to her when things have gotten hard, which is something to which I attribute my still-miraculously-intact sanity. “Mom” sometimes means “therapist” (sans notebook and office), and whether it was stress over classes, mean girl drama, boy trouble, or an existential crisis, she always has advice because she’s been there. She was that cranky little girl, the hormonal teenager, and then almost-adult struggling to figure things out. When you’re young, it’s hard to imagine that maybe mom knows what she’s talking about, but chances are she probably does. Sometimes I roll my eyes and scoff at her “fortune cookie” moments, but I always find myself looking back and thinking “yeah, mom was right.” I’ve always been a daddy’s girl, but a lot of the time, a girl just needs her mom. She might not always know exactly what to say to an emotional nineteen year old, but she knows sometimes all you need is chocolate and a good chick flick to feel okay again… and maybe some retail therapy, too.

She’s the person I can trust to always have a pep talk at the ready when I’m having a bad day. Maybe being a high school cheerleader gave her the edge…or maybe “cheerleader” is just part of the job description. She’s probably written the book on family pride, considering I meet more people than I know what to do with who know all about how I’m going be a famous writer (who’s doing alright in multivariable calc, who’s such a good person, who 4.0’d her last paper, who’s probably going to end world hunger…..). Even blinking can become a monumental achievement in the eyes of a proud mama bird, and sometimes those little everyday celebrations are exactly the right medicine when your confidence reserve is totally depleted.

My mom can turn pretty much any situation around into something good, and sometimes the situation just calls for an hour long YouTube sing along after a tough week. Some people don’t understand when I say that my idea of a fun Friday night can just be hanging out with mom. She’s a party waiting to happen, as anyone who’s met her will tell you… all it takes is some boy band music from the iPod (and maybe a beer or two), and we’re laughing till we cry and singing as loud as we can. She’s always there to make a solo a duet, and she’s always ready to amp up her “favorite thing,” Patio Friday.

There are some things a girl can only share with her mom, and I’m lucky to have the kind of mom that I can’t wait to share them with. She’s the first person I call after a really great date or after a calc test that magically turned out okay, and I’m so glad I have gotten the opportunity to share my life with someone who’s always excited to be there. Whether it’s shopping for a prom dress, gushing about the cute guy in English class, or just getting a hug to make a bad day not so bad, “Mom” is synonymous with “best girlfriend,” “shopping consultant,” “chauffeur,” “therapist,” “cheerleader,” “top chef,” and so much more… but most of all, “hero.” We’re not always good at reminding the people we love how much we really do love them, especially when our own lives get so filled up with excitement and problems. No matter what, I can always count on her to be my knight in shining armor, and all I can hope is that one day I get to be a mom half as good as her.

***

THE STRENGTH IN VULNERABILITY – 10/13/14
Choosing to embrace your vulnerability takes a lot of strength. Most of my vulnerability lies in the emotions I’ve learned to protect myself against, because donning an armored uniform keeps everything sharp and harmful out and at a safe distance. Take off that armor, and suddenly I’m a lot smaller, a lot softer, and a lot easier to attack. Becoming vulnerable can feel like attaching a sign to your neck that says “I have no defense. Come and get me.”

Why the hell would anyone ever do that?

Emotions are terrifying. They’re unpredictable, confusing, passionate… impractical. They break our hearts, jumble our minds, and pick at scars, but they also mend hearts, clear our thoughts, and stitch up even the deepest wounds. We can’t access the beauty our feelings can show without opening up to the possibility of the opposite, and that’s an unknown that can feel impossible to face. Open up and you might get hurt, and that might be horrible… but you might not get hurt, and it might be wonderful.

It’s extremely easy to keep the different sections of my life kept in boxes, where they can’t run together and can’t mess everything up. Organized. Practical. Safe. There’s always an excuse to retreat back into the basement with your label-maker to organize a little further when another variable gets tossed in, but life is a variable. Life is messy and unpredictable, but somehow wonderful and meaningful and worth it. Things get tough and challenge us to stand up and say “I’m not budging” even when it’s one hundred times easier to run the other direction. Even if we retreat until there are miles between us and whatever we’re running from, we generally always find our way back.

As much as it’s easy to keep everything neat and separated, a beautiful curveball can land right in your lap and knock the boxes off to the side. Not knowing everything that’s going to happen is part of the beauty of being alive, and as much as it can be unnerving to turn around a corner, it’s always better than turning back around.

I’ve been wearing my chain mail so long, I’ve started to forget what it’s like to feel vulnerable… and scared. Standing at a battlefront facing things I’ve avoided feeling is like waving a huge white flag. Anticipating the first move is almost as frightening as the possibility of impact… I’m afraid of the fear of what could happen next. It’s hard to admit that you’re afraid, because you can feel weak… who wants a war general who’s afraid of the opponent?

Well, who wants a war general who isn’t?

Being afraid just means that you’re human, which is something that’s really difficult to accept. Feeling fear is just as natural as feeling love or feeling anger… there’s those feelings again. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt so many things all at once, in fact I forgot it was entirely possible! There’s no “supposed to” or “expected of” when it comes to what you feel, and it’s up to us to be true to ourselves to get what we want out of our life and our feelings.

The chances we take might not work out how we want… but then again, they might. You have the choice to look back one day and be happy you turned the corner, or still be wondering what’s around the bend… to be proud you chased her, or wonder what might have been if you had. As scary as being vulnerable is, you can be guaranteed that I’ll look back without any speculations, because the only thing scarier than making yourself vulnerable is wondering what might have been if you had.

***

PUZZLED (BREAKING DOWN PERFECT GUY) – 9/25/13
Most people I know have an idea of who the “right” kind of person for them is… they have a “type” or maybe a list of things they’re looking for. I’m guilty of it too… my “perfect guy” is about 6 feet tall, probably brown haired, preferably blue-eyed, maybe a little bit athletic? He’s smart but funny and sweet… definitely passionate about whatever he’s doing. As I’m sure I’ve said before, I’m an extremely romantic person, so Perfect Guy has taken pieces from movies and books and everything in between. He probably doesn’t even really exist at all, but you can’t help but imagine.

There have been a few times that someone’s had all the right “paper” credentials, but even with everything on that list it still didn’t work. I’ve occasionally wondered what’s “wrong” with me that I didn’t jump at the chance once I found someone with an almost-Perfect Guy resume, an occurrence I’ve only started to understand; there’s nothing wrong with me at all. Sometimes, we can get everything we think we want, and find it’s not what we want at all. Nothing has to be wrong with anyone involved, it’s just the wrong combination. I think even if I ever really met Perfect Guy, I’d have absolutely no idea what to do with him.

Despite being the romantic that I am, I’m pretty happy that I’m single right now. Even though it would be nice to be able to snuggle up and watch a movie or go on a date every now and then, it’s been nice to give myself my full and undivided attention. Each almost-there has taught me something (even if it was less than ideal at the time). It’s been nice to give myself time to figure out who exactly “me” is… after all, I’m 19, so I have plenty of time to worry about bringing someone else into the picture. Because none of those almost-Perfect Guys stuck around for too long, I’ve been able to focus on a relationship with myself, which is something that it’s been easy to take for granted (or ignore completely). I’ve found that I really like the person I’ve become, and it’s been nice to get to know her more. Still, it’s easy to slip into those starved Perfect Guy fantasies just to imagine what those not-so-single-somedays will be like.

The thing with Perfect Guy is that he’s a compilation of every perfect hero in every story I’ve ever experienced… but he exists in a static state. In the vacuum of my mind, each of his pieces fit together just right to create someone who was made for Vacuum Katlyn… but I don’t exist in that vacuum and neither does anyone else. The difference is that we aren’t just compilations of the best parts of ourselves, we’re puzzles made up of pieces from every angle; we’ve got the good just as much as we have the not-so-good, and we aren’t perfectly laser cut like those characters in storybooks and movies. Perfect Guy is perfect, but perfect only works in your imagination. Truth be told, what’s stopped a lot of those almost-theres is that they were too perfect… calculated and seemingly scripted.

I’m definitely not perfect… at all– I’ve got a lot of pieces in my puzzles that probably got chewed up by the dog at some point. When I look back, though, those are the pieces that I’m the most proud of, because they show where I’ve been and how far I’ve come… they’re the pieces that have the most of me in them. It’s easy to smile when everything fits together right away, but it’s hard to laugh it off when Fido nearly swallows one of the corner pieces. They still (eventually) find there way into place, even if they’re roughed up around the edges. I can’t totally see what the picture will look like when it’s all done, but I can see a lot more than I could this time last year… and I think I like what it’s becoming.

The more I think about Perfect Guy, I realize he’s not at all what I really want. Sure, it’s great to fantasize about the guy who will know exactly what to say, exactly what to do, and exactly what flowers to buy, but when I think about what went right in those almost-theres, I don’t think about what was perfect about them; I think about the stumbling, the awkward smiles, and the exact wrong thing that somehow made the moment right. I remember the innocent smile as a hand found mine, the absolute genuineness in a smile… an awkward first kiss that turned into a not-at-all awkward second (and third, and fourth…). What makes a something perfect isn’t its flawlessness, but its humanity and truth, which is something that’s easy to forget when you’re daydreaming about Perfect Guy. What makes something beautiful is its absolute honesty and vulnerability, not its precise timing or flawless execution.

I like where my life is right now. I like having the time to be on my own and be content with everything else… I like to be able to write and flirt and smile without having to worry about making anyone happy except myself. What’s most important to me right now is chasing my dreams, spending time with my friends, and most of all taking care of myself because I never acknowledged that as very important. For the first time, I can just look at the pieces in front of me without mixing in another thousand components from somebody else, and that’s totally okay. Even though Perfect Guy is fun to dream about, he’s just a placeholder for the person whose puzzle fits in with mine. Whoever captures my heart next doesn’t have to be 6 feet with brown hair, blue eyes, and perfect muscles. He might arrive tomorrow, next week, or next year. He won’t be Perfect Guy, but I’m glad that he won’t, because Perfect Guy wouldn’t know what to do with my puzzle if he saw it. It’s dynamic and messy and tumultuous… just like people. Just like life.

***

THE IMPORTANCE OF STORYTELLING – 9/5/13
Some of my favorite memories are of my father reading to me. He had an amazing talent of turning even the driest news article into something that seemed like the most exciting adventure story on the shelf; I wasn’t so much mesmerized by what he was reading so much as how he was reading it. Each sentence connected to the others to form one coherent body of thought, and I found myself involved in the story’s process as my father spoke the words and traced along with his fingertips. Before I could even fully comprehend what it meant, I was becoming connected to not only my father, but also the writers of the words, the “characters” in each story, and the entirety of humanity itself. The act of storytelling places its participants in a greater context beyond just themselves, as storytelling is an active process where participation is just as important as listening; it doesn’t just end because the book closes, and can be retold and relived endlessly.

While stories are of the past since they are always told after the fact, they do not remain in the past. Stories first told hundreds of years ago can remain just as relevant and part of the present as “modern” stories, and it is only through the sharing of language that we are able to find true connection and meaning. Today, we are plugged in almost constantly to our headphones and artificial screens, “connected” almost instantaneously with unlimited knowledge and the whole world at our fingertips, but the question remains: what are we connected to… a computer or a smartphone? In our quest for immediacy and the “present” tense, we are starting to forget the importance of slowing down and understanding what we’re reading, beyond a text about after-class plans. In trying to live in the present we forget that there is really no such thing– even as we speak of what we are doing, it becomes what we have done. There is nothing but the past to be lived and understood, so to fully become human it is our job to accumulate into it.

Stories provide a way to really connect with one another as humans rather than just with profiles or typed phrases on a screen; they are an organic entity which metamorphoses with each new set of eyes and audience. the words of Shakespeare and Plato might remain unchanged, but each participant has the potential to take something new from the experience of reading or being read to. Stories are what unite us as people, and much as accretion into tradition is the only way to achieve true individuality, stories are the only way to connect to the world and be able to extract meaning from it. Every story is a picture of the world from a different author’s eyes, showing us not just what is but what can be if we put down our toys and listen; they challenge us to pay attention and become active participants in our life instead of just passive observers. Stories make our world by challenging us to think and above all, engage with ourselves and each other.

***

PLUGGED IN AND FULLY CHARGED – 8/14/13
I can only vaguely remember a time when I didn’t have high-speed internet. The thought of not having any kind of information I want or need immediately at my fingertips is an extremely foreign one, because technology has become such a smoothly integrated piece of every day life. It allows us to get questions answered in seconds, settle arguments with just a few clicks of a keyboard, and has enhanced our ability to live comfortably and effortlessly. I love my laptop and smartphone just as much as the next person, but sometimes I wonder what life would be like without them.

Technology has made it easier than ever to get connected and stay connected with the world around us, but the question remains: what are we connected to? In an age where relationships can begin and end through texts and instant messages, surely we’re not really connecting with each other…if not our fellow humans, then what? Are we simply linked to the links on our webpages or the phrases in our word documents? Whether or not that is a “true” connection is not mine to say, but I would take a coffee date over a digital one any day (and I don’t even like coffee).

It might just be the predisposition of someone who is rather fond of literature and human contact, but there’s something beautiful in the way people interact when they’re face to face. Behind a screen, you can craft each response to be perfect or rifle off the “appropriate” one without a thought, but in the moment there is such beauty in imperfection. When you’re actually speaking with someone, there is power in the unspoken and weight behind each moment of thought. Most of all, you can see real emotion through the way someone’s eyes crinkle when they laugh and the way a smile lights up an entire face– it’s truly an “lol” moment instead of just three letters that could just as easily be typed without a single drop of laughter at all.

There is such passion when we are challenged to think and feel instead of just sending a text with three seconds’ worth of thumb-taps. The lack of instant gratification and perfection is what makes a real conversation perfect, the beauty lying in the lack of immediacy and the truth behind spoken words. Rather than the sweet nothings a flat screen can repeat to you, there is a three-dimensional emotion from a three-dimensional being who can hold your hand and brush your hair out of your eyes as he whispers how beautiful you look. The anticipation of a first date or first kiss can be lost as phones keep us “connected” to each other and in constant contact, a real connection lost behind the facade of one already forged.

The thing that I love about reading old literature is that I’m reminded of a time when smartphones and computers didn’t exist. We had to go to each others’ doors and knock if we wanted to spend time together, and we did things like write letters, send flowers, and go on real dates where we had to wait the entire week to say how much we missed each other. We didn’t text our friends under the table to update them on every second of a “perfect” date we weren’t even really participating in… we were engaged and couldn’t tell a word of it until we saw our girlfriends next. There was no Facebook, there was no texting, and there were no camera phones… we thrived on each other as tangible beings instead of just profiles, pictures, or words on a page. We were challenged to connect with each other instead of just the words we text off in seconds flat. Technology has made conversation easier, and in a lot of situations it’s a fantastic resource… the problem lies within our tendency to replace communication with meaningless conversation. I text just as much as anyone else, but reading a text will never come close to the high I feel from reading a really beautiful sentence in a real book or hearing the knock on my door as I finish putting on my lip gloss.

I guess you might say I’m a little “old-fashioned”– maybe it’s a literature nerd thing. The intriguing thing about times and places where the only contact was through actual people and handwritten letters is the depth through which they really connect. The unspoken in a conversation over lunch can be just as powerful as the spoken, and you could feel what was being said instead of just speculating as you stare at typed letters. When we only had each other to focus on, we were a lot more focused on not just the what, but the how; how our words impact one another, how we feel and why, and how this person fits into our life, if they do at all. Now, it’s simple to store contacts in our phones and add friends on Facebook, no matter whether we intend to make time to see them or not.

With technology, it’s easy to take a vacation from your reality and slip into different skins depending on what your audience wants. Take that away, and we’re challenged to be comfortable in our own, and to make our reality what we want it to be instead of just imagining it. Daring ourselves to make a date to just sit down and talk is one of the most beautiful things we can give each other as humans, so take a second and engage in the small talk or ask someone how their day is going (and really mean it). Take the time to have a conversation and start making real connections instead of just cyber ones. While you probably won’t see me giving up my smartphone or laptop anytime soon, you find my reality within the confines of a screen. Life is what you make it, and mine is anything but digital.

***

MOVING FORWARD – 7/23/13
About two weeks ago, my dad finally got the call– the “you got the job” call. It’s a message we’ve waited to hear for five years, and all I remember running through my head was, Oh my god, it’s over.

To say it’s been difficult to watch a person as phenomenal as my dad go through what he’s gone through for so long would be a complete understatement… I don’t even know how to begin to describe what it felt like. Countless instances of getting close, but not close enough, and countless other phone calls saying “we’re sorry, but we’ve gone with someone else.” Too many almost-theres, so I got sick of keeping track. It was as if the road before us only seemed to stretch farther and farther along, no end in sight and nothing but the same scenery… the only thing that changed was how tired we got as we moved along.

It’s a situation that’s difficult to understand unless you’ve been there, and the stress that comes with it is an inexplicably complex beast of disappointment, anger, and defeat. There were some days that I felt a kind of pain I didn’t know I could feel, as if each rejection was instead a knife pushing itself just a little further into me. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for my dad on the receiving end of each call, and he accepted each defeat with a kind of grace and resilience that I couldn’t begin to understand; I was so angry, and it made me angrier that he was able to stay so calm. It wasn’t fair for someone as good as my father to be going through something so awful.

As I sit back and really think about it, I don’t know how he did it. Going through a job loss in itself is enough to push you down and keep you there… enough to take away a lot of what’s good in life, and he didn’t endure it for weeks or even months– he survived five years. We saw the start of my high school career and the beginning of my college one, my dad still managing to make it to every concert, every game, every show, everything important, no matter how many jobs or classes he had going on at the time. He never lost sight of what was important, and he never stopped moving forward, even if the road ahead looked exactly the same as the road behind.

Through those five years of aimless searching and dead-ends, he was never once stuck. Sure, sometimes it seemed like an endless process as I watched him float from odd job to odd job and take class after class to complete his degree, but he never once gave up. He never felt sorry for himself, and never used his predicament as an excuse to give less than his best or to lose faith. It’s a kind of strength I didn’t know existed: the ability to smile no matter how much money is in the checking account, the ability to give 110% no matter how many times you’ve been burned… the clarity to never lose sight of what’s truly important.

It’s hard to remember much about life before this all started, and I’m even getting fuzzy on the details of that fall day in 2008 when my parents brought me into the office after school and told me they had some news. I do remember too many sleepless nights, inconsolable tears, and uncountable interviews, all but one ending in rejection. Mostly, though, I remember the lessons about hard work and perseverance from a man who had every excuse to flake out. I remember seeing him walk across a stage three years later and accept his college degree, something that never would have happened if he hadn’t lost his job. I remember getting to have breakfast before class twice a week with my dad when he worked as a full time temp in the convenience store in that hall… another opportunity that would have been lost had he not been let go. For every bad thing I remember, there are at least two good things that never would have happened if he hadn’t lost his job.

My dad losing his job got him un-stuck from where he was. Before that fall afternoon, he was stagnant in a place that was starting to suck him dry. After he lost his job, I saw so much more power than I ever thought possible to have in one person. He wasn’t stuck because he refused to be stuck, no matter how bad the situation seemed at the time. It didn’t matter if one interview ended with a “no,” it just meant that we kept moving on to the next. That’s probably the most important thing my dad’s taught me through this whole ordeal: you’re only stuck if you resolve to be. If you don’t like where you are, you can always change it. You might not get where you want to be today, tomorrow, or even the next day, but you’ll get there if you put one foot in front of the other and move. It took my dad five years to get where he was going, and even though a lot of the time the scenery didn’t seem to change, each step forward was just one less he had to take in the right direction. Now that we’re here, he’s only going up.

***

THAT GIRL – 6/28/13
I’ve never much thought of myself as the kind of girl who “turns heads” as she walks down the street. We’ve all seen her before, and we’ve all been jealous as she seems to glide along weightlessly. Suddenly, we look down at our t-shirt and jeans and feel a little (maybe a lot) self conscious. We’re sure that if she was wearing the same outfit, she’d look at least ten times better, and find ourselves wishing maybe we’d put on a little mascara and done something other than the go-to ponytail with our hair. The funny thing is, that girl doesn’t really exist. What we see as perfect, she’s almost guaranteed to see as something not unlike what we see ourselves as in that moment.

It can be exponentially easier to see the beauty in someone else than it is to see in the mirror. We’re a million times harsher on ourselves than on anyone else, and things we forgive in others are the same ones that we condemn in ourselves. Every awkward moment, bad hair day, poor style moment, and misplaced pimple becomes a monumental flaw that feels impossible to see past; they’re things we hardly notice when we see another face, so the question becomes why they are so much more prevalent on our own.

I’m just as self-conscious and perhaps somewhat deprecating as the next, much to the annoyance of those who love me. Despite their protests that maybe I should take it easy, I just couldn’t see what they “thought” they were seeing. I could only see the slight stomach pudge, non-cute-turned-up nose, chin zits, and annoyingly omnipresent air of “innocence.” At a time in life when I wanted license to feel “sexy,” and perhaps even “gorgeous,” those were the farthest from any adjective I was prepared to use to describe myself. The problem wasn’t that it wasn’t there, I just couldn’t see it no matter how hard I thought I was looking.

Everyone has moments where they doubt themselves or don’t give themselves enough credit, even “that girl” who appears completely flawless. We write off compliments as being “obligatory” social graces or necessary kindness from the people who love us. I do it just as much as everyone else, but sometimes we get a chance to glimpse into what everyone else is seeing and possibly have our own “a-ha” moment. That moment came for me when my best friend shot some pictures of me around my college campus. As we looked through them afterward to pick which ones to edit and post, it was as if I was looking at myself, but through someone else’s eyes. For the first time in a very long time, I felt truly beautiful. Some of my favorites were the ones where I wasn’t even posing…she just seemed to capture me.

With images of “perfect” bodies and faces plastered all around us, it’s easy to expect ourselves to meet a distorted, impossible ideal. We simplify beauty to the pictures we see of models with washboard-flat stomachs, flawless skin, and expertly applied makeup, instead of celebrating the very things that make us cringe. Beauty is anything but black and white, and it’s time that we stopped seeing it that way. I find beauty in places I never thought I would: in my laughter, in my smile, in my eyes…. even my smarts, my kindness, and I’d throw in that “dreaded” innocence too. There are few things in life we can be sure of, so we need to stop giving ourselves excuses to be unsure of ourselves. We are all that girl on the street, and it’s time to start believing it.

***

RELINQUISHING THE TIES THAT BIND – 5/25/13
We all have pieces of our personalities that we try to hide from the people in our lives. Either we think they’re too embarrassing or too annoying to bother anyone else with, so we just bury them and hope they go away. A lot of times, that ends up making the problem worse, because then we’re faced with the task of hiding something that hurts enough already.

For a lot of my (somewhat) mature life, I’ve struggled with anxiety… I even landed myself in the emergency room with a panic attack on one occasion because I thought I was having a heart attack (at 16 no less). It was something I used to be really ashamed of, because it made me feel like there was something “wrong” with me or that my brain was completely mis-wired….or that I was weak. I hated how being anxious made me feel, and I hated how it made me feel like a huge burden to my parents and the select other people I let into that portion of my life (of which there were very few). No matter how much I tried, it wasn’t just something I could “turn off,” even though that’s what I thought people were expecting me to do. From my point of view, they were getting sick of having to deal with “crazy Katlyn” and her stupid moods, and they were getting tired of me being a “drama queen” over absolutely nothing.

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with the fact that “anxiety” and “drama” are two words that are anything but synonymous. My anxiety wasn’t something I’d conjured up just because I wanted attention or sympathy from my peers…in fact most of them were completely in the dark of what was going on in my mind at all. I was in a war with myself, and as much as I knew it wasn’t a good idea, I found myself more and more drawn to just staying within myself and acting like it wasn’t a problem. I didn’t care if it made the war worse or better, I just cared that I wasn’t bothering anyone with my “petty” problems.

Anxiety is kind of like an ocean– it ebbs and flows just like waves, with your emotions and experiences controlling the tides rather than the pull of the moon. Some days, I was too busy or too happy to be anxious, but other days it was the only thing on my mind. I took careful note that keeping myself occupied helped to stop the flow of negativity to my mind, and used that (plus my wide range of passions) to guide me through the high school experience. This strategy worked perfectly well through most of high school, but then I hit my senior year.

As anyone who reads this with some semblance of regularity has certainly picked up on, I had a relatively intense senior year. At first, this worked perfectly well, but it didn’t take long for emotional trauma to throw a wrench into the carefully-oiled machine that was my senior year schedule. In making sure virtually every second of the year was perfectly choreographed, I had not left room for any form of upset. Long story short, mean-girl drama, normal teenage drama, and an impossibly busy schedule sent me into the biggest nosedive I’d ever remembered experiencing. Faced with the enormity of the load I’d placed upon myself, it became increasingly clear that there was no way I was going to measure up to my idea of “success” and still stay sane.

Basically, in trying to minimize the effects anxiety was having in my life, I’d brought it on myself in magnified enormity. One of my worst vices was a virtually unattainable perfectionist ideal for myself, and seeing it slip into oblivion only freaked me out more. I was a failure, my life was a failure, and everyone knew it. Slowly but surely, things began to fall to the wayside and I felt myself becoming flaky as I involuntarily prioritized my commitments to avoid becoming complete magma under the pressure and heat. Seeing myself avoid certain things in favor of the others made me sick to look at myself in the mirror, which only made everything worse.

Normally, I could find a haven in the theater whenever I was going through something tough. I would get into the auditorium and my troubles would just melt away under the lights, making me feel capable and calm, a functioning cog in a greater machine working toward a beautiful end. Unfortunately, this time around I was just as afraid of the theater as I was of everything else. It had become the source of a lot of my problems rather than the solution as I felt friends turning their backs on me over things I had no power to straighten out. No one, it seemed, was willing to listen and I couldn’t figure out what I’d done to deserve such a whacked-out brain; I started believing that I must have been a real bitch in a former life and I was just paying penance for her sins.

Somehow, I made it through that mental purgatory, and being able to look at it as something I survived rather than something I was desperately trying to battle through, I realized I’d been entirely wrong about a lot of things. Working through that year of my life felt impossible at times, it’s true, but in doing so I found so much more strength in myself than I ever thought possible. It taught me how to lean on the people who love me when I have to, and that trying to go it alone is no way to make it through. My family and friends weren’t waiting for me to “get over it,” they were waiting for me to tell them how to help so that I could feel more like myself again. I had been asking “why am I so weak,” when really I’d been so much stronger than I’d let myself believe.

The thing about anxiety is that it does a good job of making you feel completely powerless. You feel totally out of control and like a prisoner in your own mind. That mind slowly begins to feel like it’s not even yours anymore, and then you’re just not displaced from the people around you, you’re also displaced from yourself. It’s scary to feel like even you are an enemy of you, and it pretty much drops your self-worth to zero. I’m not exactly sure when I hit the floor with everything, but I do know that it was somewhere in between hyperventilating outside of the auditorium during a show and beating myself up because I had a 3.87 GPA instead of a 3.9.

Sometimes, it’s felt like my anxiety has been in control of my life. It’s dictated my feelings, my actions, and my sense of self-worth. It’s made me question myself and feel as if I’ve lost myself, and it’s scared me out of turning to those that I love. Despite all the negativity it’s put in my life, the experiences anxiety has put me through have also reminded me of all the good things. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask for help, and that the people I love will love me no matter what and want to help me. I’ve seen that while anxiety is hardly something that you can “get over” like a bad mood, it’s something that you can learn to overcome. There are good days and bad days for everyone, and that’s something I’m learning to be okay with. I don’t need to project my mental stresses into some other form just because I’m afraid I can’t deal with them. I’ve learned that everything I’ve had tossed at me is something I’m equipped to handle, whether it’s a solution I find within myself or I uncover with the help of those around me.

Everyone has problems. Mine is a mind that doesn’t slow down and the occasional bout of anxiety. The trick to surviving life is to remember that it’s never too late to try one more time, and you can always find the power to at least take a little step in the right direction. I’m still me: thoughtful, kind, intelligent, and a hard worker, even if sometimes my stress level goes a bit overboard. I have so much more going for me than the vices that try to hold me back, and I’ll never let their grip stop me from being the best possible version of Katlyn. We all have our own “anxiety issue,” whether it’s anxiety, perfectionism, depression, or anything in between. We are not alone, and there’s always a light in the dark.

***

GODDBYE 2012, HELLO 2013 – 12/27/12
The last week of December is inevitably a time to reflect on the past year and promise yourself that starting January 1st, things will be different. You look back on everything that’s gone wrong or that you wish you could have another shot at, and make a list of resolutions so you don’t make the same mistakes next year. 2012 was full of ups and downs for me, and it seems unreal that it’s already drawing to a close…this year, I graduated high school, spent most of the summer with my best friend halfway around the world, and completed my first semester of college. I finally let my guard completely down, and I had my first true experience with heartbreak. I started a blog, and submitted my writing to a contest for the first time ever. In the midst of feeling as though I’d completely lost myself, I realized I’d truly begun to find myself. 2012 was a year of massive growth, and though it brought a lot of pain, from that pain I also learned some important lessons. That’s why this year, my resolutions aren’t based on fixing what was wrong, but learning from what ended up being right.

So, I resolve to…

…remember there is always room for the people who love me.
2012 was a year of bad timing. A lot of people in my life walked in at inopportune times, making it impossible for any happy ending to transpire. This was heartbreaking in itself, as I watched things crumble under nothing more than a lack of synchronization. Most of the time, we were just at different points in the journey…and most of the time, I ended up deducing that it was something I was doing wrong to make everything even more of a mess than it already was. It was just easier to assign blame than to accept that “fate” had simply intervened to say “hang on, I have an even better idea.” Instead, it seemed to me as though people were walking into my life only to run screaming out of it a few seconds later. My turning point was that day in the summer, when he kissed me.

I realized that timing and distance are just excuses, and I realized that I was happier without the people who I formerly could not see my life without. They had served their purpose at the time, and each one helped me grow and realize something about myself that I was blind to before. As they left, I couldn’t see my life without them, but with each step forward I found myself unburdened by a face from the past meant to stay there. My present was evolving and changing with me, making room for new people and filling in the holes left by the old.

Most importantly, that kiss (and the following heartbreak) taught me that there is no time to waste being afraid and finding reasons to push the people you love out of your life. It might seem scary and impossible, but there is always room for the ones you care for. That’s the thing about love…it doesn’t diminish or work any less when stretched over distance or made to endure a difficult time. The people we love stick through it all because they love us, and that’s what matters. Life is too short to not be with who makes you happy, and life has no meaning if you resolve to spend it being miserable. 2012 taught me that building walls may keep the bad stuff out, but it keeps the good stuff out too. In 2013, I resolve to always leave a space for love, because you can never have enough.

…always say what should be said, even if it isn’t as convenient as silence.
That moment finally gave me the courage to speak up. In the past, I usually found it easier to remain in silence; no matter how much my heart would scream out, my head would keep it firmly muzzled, keeping every desire, passion, and emotion tightly locked away so the lives of those around me could remain smoothly running without interruption. So many words were left unsaid simply to avoid the drama, the discomfort, or the difficult conversation…I pressed the mute button on myself so everyone else could remain on full blast. This winter, I finally made him have the conversation with me. For once in my life, I said what I was feeling even though I knew it was awkward, inopportune, and messy. I let the honesty I had kept to myself for as long as I could remember come pouring out, for once not painting it as fiction in a patiently waiting word document.

This year, someone finally heard me, even if he wasn’t ready to truly listen. It was one of the only times I had placed my need to be honest above someone else’s need for convenience. Because of that, I realized I have just as much right to be crazy, upset, and emotional as any other person. There was no reason to hold everything in, and no reason why everyone else around me was allowed to explode as I waited on the sidelines, silently screaming inside. I had spend my life asking why I should be allowed to break down, and 2012 was the year I realized…why shouldn’t I? 2013 will be a year of a new start, one where it won’t take me four years to tell someone how I feel, and one where others’ fear of the truth will not scare me into submission…Katlyn, un-muted.

…remember, perfection is not a goal.
2012 was a year of immense pressure. Let’s backtrack to senior year: 4 AP classes, two physics Olympiads, NHS, marching band, orchestra, editor of the yearbook, stage manager and assistant director for two huge productions…I think I got everything. Throw in a few typical teenage-girl dramas, and I have no idea how I made it to the other side! Still, despite the massive load, I found myself disappointed at many turns for not maintaining a “perfect” GPA and not being the “best” at so much of what I was doing. That added more pressure, which just made it harder to perform to my impossible standards…rinse and repeat as many times as necessary. My parents finally drew the line at the turn of the semester, when I was begging to take government online so I didn’t have to drop any classes…I would have been taking an extra class on top of an already college-level schedule. I was, for all intents and purposes, a woman completely possessed and blind to the unhealthy effect such a high-intensity lifestyle was having on me.

After graduation, I got the chance to step back and reflect on my high school career, away from the pressure of having to go back in a few months. I had made it through, for the most part unscathed, and walked across the stage with my fair share of cords and medals. Sure, those GPA cords were silver instead of gold, but holy crap, I did a lot! I looked at my list of activities in the yearbook….there was a block next to my senior picture. Getting away from the high-pressure environment that high school had morphed into, I realized how ridiculous I was being to demand some heinous version of “perfection.” As far as I was concerned, I had reached the Katlyn version of perfection by managing to survive (with some semblance of grace) everything I had let myself take on. And yes, while I couldn’t claim to be the very best at every single thing I’d ever done, I had gotten so much more out of my high school experience than someone who was just the best at that one thing.

College gave me a chance to start again, and I found that by consciously making sure to keep the line between “active” and “over-exerted” distinct, I was a lot happier. I didn’t pile on more classes than I could handle, I didn’t join twenty different clubs…I eventually found myself glad that I hadn’t made the cut for marching band, because I realized I would have just been plunging into the exact same lifestyle that had almost broken me. I had finally gotten the break I deserved, and even though there was that one pesky class I hadn’t managed to 4.0, I found myself proud, because I had finally learned the lesson it had taken me eighteen years to pay attention to: I didn’t need to be the “perfect” me, just the best Katlyn I could be. The new year will give me a chance to wipe the pressures and disappointments off my slate, making room for a fresh chance to be proud of myself for who I am instead of being upset for who I’m not.

Finally, I promise to…

…smile every day, because life is too short and too beautiful to waste time not enjoying it.
2012 made me realize that a lot of people are desperately unhappy with their life, and unwilling to do anything to change it. They simply resolve to be miserable because they’re doing what they’re expected to do, and only have time to see everything wrong with life. I have absolutely no desire to be like that, and I can’t imagine ever being okay with that mentality. This year, I have found that even though I’ve had my fair share of clouds, it’s the sunshine I choose to remember. Slowly but surely, I’ve found it a much better use of memory to box up the heartbreaks, the disappointments, the anger, the pain, and put them on a shelf in some corner of my mind– forgiven and accepted, but not forgotten so I don’t lose what I learned. I have realized through everything that I want to be the kind of person who finds the joy in every day, not just the stress…someone who truly lives life instead of just “getting through it.”

From 2012, I choose to remember having the best date for prom, walking across the stage to get my diploma, and reuniting with my best friend after two months apart. I choose to rejoice in the new friends I’ve found at college, the new knowledge I’ve acquired, and the relinquishing of my writer’s stage fright. I choose to celebrate my first birthday without mountains of snow, my place on the Dean’s List, and the choices I’ve made that have gotten me to where I am now. In 2013, I choose to let the lessons from years past resolve me to a better future, and to never waste a day away worrying or taking a second for granted. My yesterdays might be gone, but they’re what have gotten me to today, and that is what’s important.

So thank you to everyone who made 2012 yet another year to remember. Thank you to my parents, for being amazing (which you should know….you guys got your own blog post!); thank you to my best friend for being the most amazing best friend anyone could ask for (even if you’re busy all the time!); and thank you to everyone who walked in and out of my life this year, because you all had a truly profound impact on me, no matter how fleeting your guest appearance was. 2012 is nearly gone, and 2013 is almost here, so here’s hoping an even better Katlyn will be resolving this time next year.

***

THANK YOU – 12/7/12
They say things happen for a reason, and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — that life is a grindstone, and whether or not it polishes you or grinds you to pieces depends on what you’re made of. I think it’s fair to say that far from being ground down, my family is just getting really polished up…we must be getting prepared for something special.

It wasn’t fair four years ago when my dad got laid off. It’s still not fair four years later when he’s continuing to look for full-time, benefited work. Life doesn’t always make sense, and sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes, you can’t always see the reason behind why something has happened, or the lesson you’re slotted to learn. It can take a while, but looking back, you can see that all of the problems along the way helped you get polished up for something even bigger and better. We haven’t found what that bigger, better thing is yet, but I’m sure it’s not far off.

My parents are two of the best people I know. They work hard, they play hard, and they love unconditionally and unwaveringly. They never let our position limit my experiences as a teenage girl — they sent me to the proms and the field trips, even if it meant one less date night for them. They let me dorm my freshman year even though it would have been easier to keep me at home — no experience was ever lost with the excuse that “we can’t afford that.” They never let me feel limited.

The guilt associated with being a teenage girl whose family faces adversity is, at times, completely overwhelming. You feel an unyielding sense of selfishness for letting them send you to prom in a new dress, for letting them send you to Cedar Point with your physics class, and for letting them constantly put you before themselves. You wonder if they know how much you worry about them, and how much you wish there was some way you could make it better. You admire them for always keeping hope and never giving up, even though it seems like that would be so much easier than staying strong and trying again. You wish they knew how grateful you are for their love and support.

Not everyone has to know what it’s like to worry that you’re being selfish for living in a dorm or wanting to get an apartment next year. Not everyone has to go through the pain of watching your dad get passed up again by someone less qualified and less capable for no logical reason. Not everyone has to work for their extra spending money, and not everyone works hard to bring home stellar grades that will make your parents proud.

But not everyone knows how it feels to have parents who love you so much that they will put you first so you’re not missing any teenage experiences. Not everyone knows the joy when your dad gets called back for another interview and nails it. Not everyone knows how great it feels to be able to buy your own lunch out or your own movie ticket without having to ask your parents, and not everyone knows that when you get good grades, you don’t just make your parents proud…you make yourself proud too. Not everyone knows the beauty of a family so close that your idea of an awesome Friday night is hanging out on the patio, eating pizza and drinking pop with your parents.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have a family like mine.

Sure, we’ve had a lot of problems (some might say more than our fair share). We’ve struggled, lost our balance, and fallen down…but we’ve always stood back up. Even though our path hasn’t been the easiest, I wouldn’t have it any other way, because maybe if it had been a walk through the park, things would be different. I might never have seen my dad walk across the stage, graduating from college with a 3.99 GPA. I might never have seen the never-ending strength and support my parents have in each other. I might never have known that the value of spending a Christmas Eve belting carols and baking cookies at home is sometimes even better than an exotic beach-side vacation.

The holiday season is always a time to look back, reflect, and most of all, be thankful for what you have. So thank you to my parents, for being such powerful role models. Thank you for showing me the strength of belief and thank you for never allowing anything hold me back as I reach for my dreams (which, admittedly, are rarely small). Thank you for never letting me forget how truly loved and profoundly blessed I am. Thank you for teaching me what a meaningful life is really about. Thank you for the chance to make you as proud of me as I am of you. And, most importantly, thank you for teaching me that our family may spend a long time on the grindstone, but we’ll never crumble.

Thank you for making me strong enough to polish.

***

THE CALCULUS OF LIFE – 9/11/12

I spent the better half of my time in high school in upper level math, studying calculus. Kind of abnormal for a girl whose thing has always been English, I know. There was something about calculus though, that was infinitely intriguing, and it wasn’t the Taylor polynomials; calculus is the mathematics of change, the study of functions and their relationships to each other and their derivatives. Calculus was more conceptual than any other mathematics I had encountered, and while I could plug and chug equations just as well as the next closet math geek, I definitely enjoyed integrating and differentiating more.

Life, I’ve found, is a lot like calculus. There’s you (the function), and then everything you have a relationship with: the functions that change your “slope” (derivatives), and the functions whose slopes you change (your anti-derivatives). Everything in life has some way of being connected to everything else, and those connections can be explored through any combination of deriving, integrating, solving, or plotting. Humanity in itself is like one singular living organism: breathing, changing, growing, and evolving together and apart.

Change is a natural part of life, yet change is paralyzingly scary. You don’t always know what you’re going to get as you change and as life around you changes, and not knowing is the most unsettling phenomenon to experience. Human nature tells us to resist change, to cling to the familiarity of the past, but just as a function’s value changes as its x-coordinate increases, so we change with every second, minute, hour, and day. We have local minimums, maximums, points of discontinuity and maybe even the occasional asymptote to scale before continuing the journey. We have times when it seems as though our slope is taking us infinitely upward (or worse, infinitely downward), but we normally find ourselves swerving back into the visible part of our grid.

Take it from someone whose life has been the definition of change: it’s a lot more fun if you just throw your hands up and enjoy the roller coaster, instead of getting caught up in concerns about the “what ifs” that change might bring. Change has brought me a new path to follow as I start college, a new inspiration to share my words with someone besides myself, and a new chance at happiness. Being okay with the change in my life has opened doors back up that I thought were long closed and has shown me just what derivatives and integrals are sticking around. Being ready for change has gotten me past any asymptotes or holes that might formerly have stood in my way.

Don’t let an asymptote stop you from your next local maximum. Throw your hands up and cheer.

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