My Awesomely Random Life (and Everything in Between)

For the Love of a Dog

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I fell in love with those ears, those paws, that heart from the moment that my sister Lindsay (the best doggo mom in the entire world) brought her sweet Izzie girl home from the dog rescue nine years ago.

From the first time that I snuggled her up into my arms, her floppy ears and too-large-for-her-teeny-tiny-puppy body wiggling with complete and unadulterated joy, my world had shrunk, and I had no say in the shrinking. I was always going to have to say goodbye to her. You see, it’s an inevitable heartbreak that you take on when you welcome any four-legged best friend into your family, into your life. That it took so long to come was a blessing.

And still, and still, it felt like too soon. Like she had more paws to give, with enough force to knock me sideways if I wasn’t ready for it. Like she had more empty water bottles to find on walks and carry around with her. Like she had more sunshine to soak in, where she would sprawl on my sister’s porch in the summer afternoons. Like she had more squirrels to chase, more slippers to carry around the house, more commands to completely and utterly disobey.

Like I had more ear scratches to give her. Like I should have told her, one more time, and one more time again, what a good girl she was. How much I loved her. How lucky we were that she had come into our lives.

Izzie was my favorite furry little niece, my go-to girl for hikes and hugs and couch snuggles. And as her cool Aunt Wendi, I was obligated to give her all the treats, take her on all the walks and give her all of the snuggles. She was perpetually happy, and full of light, and always knew when her humans needed a little extra love on those especially hard days. I have so many incredible memories of this sweet girl, memories I will forever hold close, but there is one that will always hold a special place in my heart. Whenever I would come over to visit, Izzie would get so excited, she’d do a little butt wiggle and pee. Usually all over my shoes or legs. It happened every time I saw her for the first time. And she only did it for me.

That’s love.

I’m going to miss her little butt wiggle, and her overly excited piddles. So much.

Because what they don’t tell you about losing a dog, is that if you give your heart to them, it will be broken.

You will get it back with holes in it, holes in the shape of pawprints, pawprints that can’t be matched by any other dog. Her specific pawprint, carved into my heart.

If you give your heart to a dog, it will be filled to the brim. She will ask for nothing from you but love (and treats.) Nothing but belly rubs (and treats.) Nothing but snuggles and walks and pee greetings (and treats, and treats, and treats.) She will love you even after you spend all day saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing and letting everyone down. You will never let her down. She will forgive you over and over again, without you needing to ask. And she will make you laugh on days you didn’t think it possible.

If you give your heart to a dog, it will be so full that even when it breaks, you will be left with more than you had when you started. 

I gave my heart to the most amazing doggo named Izzie 9 years ago, and I cannot describe how full she left it. Even now that it’s broken. Even now that each beat comes with an echo of hurt, a shadow of missing. It holds a pawprint belonging to a dog with the biggest of paws, to match the biggest of ears, to match the biggest of hearts.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Until we meet again, Izzie girl. You were and will forever be so, so loved. And touched so many people’s lives, my included.

Hold down the fort in heaven for me, baby girl.

Choose Gratitude

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I remember when I was in second grade my teacher asked us to write what we wanted to be when we grew up on a note card. At the time, I was bursting with dreams—an astronaut, a singer, a writer, an English teacher just like her. Of all the items on the list, though, there was one overarching theme. When I grew up, most of all, I wanted to be happy.

And so I wrote that on the piece of paper—‘happy,’ a promise to my future self. That scribbled word was a goal, a mindset I would work towards, regardless of the obstacles along the way.

Years later, and more or less ‘grown up,’ I think about that note card often. I think about how it has followed me through the turbulence of my teenage years, the chaos of college, and into adulthood, where honestly, being happy seems like the most important conscious choice I can make.

Being happy, I’ve realized is not something you can pinpoint, grab between your fingertips, or keep. It’s more abstract than we give it credit for. We search as if we’re able to discover it, obtain it, hold it in our palms—but sometimes it’s so beautifully fleeting.

And sometimes happiness is not really a ‘thing’ at all, but a decision.

Deciding to live with a spirit of gratitude. Choosing to be thankful, to see the bright side, to love and smile and have hope, regardless of what’s in the way. Accepting that you cannot change everything, but you can adapt your attitude. And letting yourself heal.

Happiness comes from finding peace with where you are. Not because it’s exactly where you wanted to be. Not because you have everything you could ever need. Not because you are wealthy, or in love, or doing better than the person next to you.

Happiness comes for no reason at all, other than because you decide you want it there.

You decide to create it, to make it, to build it out of the circumstances around you. You decide to open the door to it, to let it in, and then to foster its growth in your life, no matter what good or bad moments you face.

You decide that you want to live positively—bringing in good energy and people and moments and exhaling all that is out of your control. You decide that when terrible things happen to you, when you’re broken, when you lose people you love, when you’re left, when you’re exhausted or defeated or angry, that instead of letting the circumstances of this life control you, you want to react with a smile on your face. You choose to say, ‘I can’t change what has happened, but I can change my reaction, my next breath, next step, and where I go next.’

And you walk forward, focusing not on what you’ve lost or has been taken from you, but the knowledge you’ve gained, the love you’ve created, the strength you’ve found, the hope you’ve given yourself, and the wealth of things, people, memories, and moments you have to be thankful for.

So choose to be thankful in the challenges. Choose to see the bright side, the healing, the places you will go and people you will meet next.

Choose to let go of what you cannot fix or control, what you are not in charge of, what is out of your reach. Choose to accept the circumstances of this life, even when they’re imperfect or awful, and instead of wrapping yourself up in negativity, exhale and release.

Release what is not meant for you. Release what has abandoned you. Release what has attempted to destroy you, hold you captive, bring you down. Release the pain you’ve been holding in your chest. Release the anxiety, the anger, the fear.

Release and make a conscious choice—today and every day—to seek happiness and live with a grateful heart.

Because there you will heal, you will begin again, you will grow.

A Small Bit of Wonderful

 

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The smiles will be lost to memory long before the laughter stops echoing in our heads, and the hazy feelings will linger in varying degrees. The hangovers will be forgotten as soon as we say, “Never again,” so intently in the moment, so disingenuously in reality. We will immortalize these memories one pixelated, filtered photo at a time. We’ll text and call and post and tweet that we’ll do it again, do it soon, do it together.

I was 11 the first time I ever said goodbye to anyone. My grandmother was ill for a long time, and we knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it easier. We grieved, we coped, and we honored her memory. She’d lived a long and incredible life, and inspired everyone she knew, me especially.

Years later I said goodbye to another person I loved, though it felt different, harder in a way. With the anniversary of my cousin’s passing just a few days ago, it’s reminded me of how truly precious and fleeting this wonderful and crazy and unpredictable life thang is. It was a few days after my 24th birthday. Nick, who had been dealing with severe depression, took his own life. There were so many questions left unanswered, and guilt, a feeling that I could’ve done or said something to prevent this from happening. I was inconsolable. Not only because I missed him — I did and still do, terribly — but also because he had so much to live for. We all did. We were so young. Youth is often wasted on the young, as they say.

He hardly had that chance to waste it though, before it was wasted on him. It felt unfair. It was unfair. Loss always is.

No matter how much we try to evade it, loss is inevitable.

It hurts every time, and we can’t outrun the hurt. We’re not supposed to. And that will be okay. We will grieve and mourn. We will honor and remember them. They are indelible, not just on our minds, but in our hearts too. We will learn how to live anyway, not quite for them, but not without them either because still, we will keep little pieces of them with us always.

Because living in the here and now is less about living fast and risking the consequences, but more about living deliberately — making our lives worth living, and living them the way we would have with the people who maybe didn’t have the chance we still do. So we laugh more and stay up later and travel further and run faster and take bigger risks and love harder. We search for that one mark only we can make in someone else’s memory, in someone’s life, in the great expanse of knowledge and in the world. And we don’t stop until we find it, and even then, we keep going. We keep living.

Though we may one day be gone, our memories won’t be.

How we made other people laugh and think and feel won’t be, either. The things we did and said and made and contributed will be our legacy, and whether it’s conscious or not, we aim to leave good ones. Legendary ones, even, in our own small ways.

So laugh louder and hug fiercely and brave the late nights that turn into early morning hours as best you can. Make more, do more, stop worrying about the possible negative outcomes. The ends will outweigh the means as long as you keep pursuing both simultaneously. Love someone so much your heart is fit to burst, and love as many people as you can this way. Love everyone this way, if you can help it. Everyone deserves that kind of radical love, and being free with your love doesn’t make it any less special.

Make a tiny masterpiece out of caring for others. Start with a small bit of wonderful.

You’ll eventually realize that was always the only thing you needed, the only thing that mattered. 

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When I was younger, I remember my mom and dad telling me over and over again to enjoy the little moments, the here and nows, because life has this funny way of going into hyperdrive with every passing year. I never really got it back then; but as I look back on the last few weeks, months and years, their words ring truer than ever.

Life moves damn fast.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about that lately; the things I’ve done, experiences I’ve had, adventures taken and the incredible people I’ve met along the way. I’ve also realized that there is so much that I have yet to do and see and accomplish. And all of that comes by sticking a giant middle finger up to fear and taking big risks. Someone wise recently told me that life begins outside of your comfort zone and they couldn’t have been more on point with that. It was a reminder, and the kick in the ass I needed to get back to doing just that.

Here are 20 little things I’ve learned that life is way too short for:

1. Not petting just all of the doggos.

2. For loose ends, for feelings that were never acted upon and gestures that were never taken.

3. Not asking for a raise because you’re afraid of being denied. At the very least, you’ll learn what you need to work on so that you get one the next time around. Or it will give you confirmation to take your talent and drive and skills where you will be given that opportunity to grow.

4. Not applying for that job because you’re afraid you’re not qualified enough. Speaking from personal experience, you’re probably not giving yourself enough credit. You are a fucking rockstar. And you’ll never know what could happen unless you try. So try! Reach out. If nothing else, they’ll know who you are and remember you. That first impression is priceless.

5. Not introducing yourself to people you admire because you think they’re above you. They’re not, and they were once where you are now. They remember that.

6. Wearing heels when you want to wear flats.

7. Wearing flats when you want to wear sneakers.

8. Living for the weekend. There are seven days of the week, seven opportunities to see that show and go to that dive bar and stay up until the wee hours with your favorite humans sitting on the kitchen floor, laughing until it hurts.

9. Letting the actions of other people dictate your own happiness. FOMO is a very real, 21st century phenomenon. Just because it’s real doesn’t mean it’s not bullshit. Live your life offline. Photo-worthy opportunities will arise naturally because of that.

10. Not telling people how you feel, whether if it’s that you love them, or that you have a great idea, or that you feel used or alone or scared or happy. Express yourself, at every chance you can. The people who care about those feelings are the ones to keep around.

11. Worrying about those five pounds. Kids, trust me when I say that nobody but you knows they exist.

12. Not standing up for yourself.

13. And your work.

14. And what you believe in.

15. And what you deserve.

16. Holding onto a grudge. There is great power in forgiveness, in others and yourself. You never know what’s going on with someone behind closed doors. Practice kindness and show compassion. The world could use more of that.

17. Beating yourself up for a mistake. Apologize once, and then work to make it better, but also remember to forgive yourself for being — of all things you might have the audacity to be — human.

18. Not watching cheesy movies or listening to catchy pop songs because you think you should have better taste than that. Netflix is full of fluffy rom-coms that do nothing but provide joy. Thinking you’re above a little lowest common denominator happiness just means you’re denying yourself potential happiness. It doesn’t make you any more high brow than anyone else.

19. Filling your life with so much unnecessary stuff just because it was cool or hip or you wanted it in that moment. You can’t take your mounds of stuff with you. Stuff doesn’t mean anything in the long run. You can’t put a price on the memories you make and the experiences you have. Sometimes practicing impulse control is only getting us ready and excited for the stuff that’s really worth it.

20. Not eating dessert. Like I said, you can’t take it with you, and that includes whatever jiggle you earned from eating that really delicious cookie. Or donut. Or cookie-flavored donut. Life will be sweeter for it.

Life moves damn fast.

So take the damn chance. Get on that plane, send that person an ‘I’m sorry’, tell them that you love them, that you’re IN love with them. Drive all night to see someone in the morning. I don’t care if it makes you vulnerable, if it exposes you. Expose yourself. Open the hell up.

Let life fill you with hurt, with happiness; let it weather you, let it teach you. Let it inspire you, let it break you down and build you up. You are here to risk your heart. And create moments and experiences and do things that equate to living a “F*CK YES!” life.

Please don’t ever forget that.

Stronger Together, Apart

 

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Hey, guys.

How’s everyone doing? How we feeling? I know that the past week has been heavy. And confusing. And scary and uncomfortable and there are still a lot of unknowns weighing over our minds and hearts. I actually woke up a few days ago thinking that this was all just a really bad and crazy dream,  a direct result of me eating way too much spicy Kung Pao Chicken right before I went to bed. And then I woke up and realized the really bad and crazy was in fact, very real.

Every since I was a young girl, I’ve loved figuring out the answers to problems.

Jigsaw and crossword puzzles were my jam, and don’t even get me started on my slight obsession with McGyver. To this day you cannot convince me that a toothpick, some gum and a bottle of DW-40 won’t solve any crisis.

As a writer, as a forever learner, doer and out-of-the-box thinker, I’ve gotten really good at looking at an issue, at an obstacle or problem in many different angles, analyzing and coming up with a plan of execution. Or multiple plans. Brainstorming, researching and making an action plan is kind of my MO.

If my best friend is having relationship or family issues, I will sit with him/her and figure out a way to get them past this, no matter how many bottles of PBR/wine we have to sacrifice along the way. If a coworker is struggling to find their footing at work, I will help them come up with a plan to tackle their responsibilities like the boss I know they are. If my mom is still texting in hieroglyphics, I will…..yeah, sorry mom. I think that one’s a lost cause.

I like having answers, I like knowing that anything can be solved. And I hate, hate, hate seeing the ones I love and care about in any sort of pain or discomfort.

I’m a fixer, that’s kinda what I do.

But sometimes life throws you a curve ball of a problem, one that you don’t necessarily have the answer for.

Enter in the coronavirus, or Covid-19 as you’ve probably heard it being called.

It has been incredibly hard for me the last few days, for a lot of different reasons. And I know we’ve all, in some way, shape or form, been affected by what this pandemic has created in our lives. A new normal if you will. We’ve all had to change the dynamic of our lives, making sacrifices and putting a pause on many of the things we love. We’ve all felt some kind of loss.

But for me, the toughest part of this all is this feeling of helplessness. And maybe you can relate. As I sit in my room right now, writing this blog post while practicing safe social distancing, I’ve become very aware of how lucky I am. To have a safe place to stay, to have my health, to have the ability to work from home and purchase the food and supplies I need and to have people in my life who I can depend on, no matter what.

The truth is, there are many, many people out there who aren’t as lucky. And as a fixer, it breaks my heart to think that while these people have already been dealt a hard hand, they now have an even harder one.

The great news is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

While the events of the last month have brought a lot of fear and trepidation to our collective society as a whole, it has also brought out the good, the truly good, in people. Strangers offering to buy groceries for those who can’t afford it or are uncomfortable going out in public right now. Employers granting their employees extended sick and PTO time. Community centers opening their doors to families and young children who need a place to safe place to stay, who need a warm meal. The countless men and women who are on the front lines – in hospitals, emergency care centers, health organizations and community centers – bravely and selflessly putting their lives at risk to make sure the sick and unhealthy are being taken care of. The outpouring of messages spreading hope, solidarity, empathy and love seen on social media, in the news (or the texts, DMs, or phone calls you’ve received from the ones who care about you) have been immeasurable.

I hope you see that, too.

Because it proves that while we may not have the answers right now, there are so many things we can do to help, to be there for one another, to lessen the burden, to make this heavy, and confusing, and scary and uncomfortable time a little less heavy, and confusing, and scary and uncomfortable.

And I hope this continues, too. Long after we’ve moved past this odd mark in our history. Maybe that’s the one thing we can all take away from this experience. Maybe it should be the one thing we should all take away from this experience.

Stronger together, *apart (*at least for right now).

I love you all, and am here. If you ever need to talk, or vent, or simply sit in silence.

We will make it through this.

I promise.

xoxo,

Wendi Jo

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The things we say we’re always going to do, the things we say we’ll leave until tomorrow are just as much a part of us as the things we actually do. After all, they’re still ideas that have planted themselves into our heads, no matter how far away we try to distance ourselves from them. These are the dreams that we’re a little unsure about, a little worried about, the goals that sit in the back of our minds, a nagging reminder of everything that possibly could be — but also, maybe everything that could fall through. A chance, a possibility, a maybe, a hope. Hedging everything we have on something that’s not on steady ground. And in that steadiness often lies the rush, the reason why. When you risk, you feel like maybe that’s what this living thing is all about.

There will always be the people who always take risks above safe bets. It’s admirable and brave, to be sure, and there’s a certain amount of knowledge you acquire when you do that. It’s one of the fastest ways to learn. Because you at least tried, and you now know, at least, what’s on the other side. And to some people, that trumps the safe advice. To some people, risking bigger is what it’s all about.

A risk can also be a luxury sometimes, and if you don’t have the funds or ability or wherewithal to scramble back up to standing if you fall, sometimes you do have to pass. It’s the advice nobody wants to hear, the caveat that gets lost in the thrill and danger of leaping before you look. But not everyone can afford to have the attitude of someone who really just doesn’t care what happens. Some people have to care, some more than others, and sometimes, doing everything only because you want to be able to say you tried isn’t enough. There are obligations out there. There are bills and rent and family and debt and promises we made already to other people. There are responsibilities that make risking irresponsible sometimes.

And so sometimes, you have to pass on a chance, and say no to a risk, and take the safe bet. I did that once. In high school, my only dream was to go to a big university like NYU or Stanford to get my MFA, to become a writer. I sent off my college applications, and got into a fair few. But my safety school, the one I’d applied to for a standard degree, offered me a scholarship larger than any other offers I’d gotten combined. It would have been a risk to choose a $200,000 education, to pay that off waiting tables, and hope one day I’d have my big break. And so I chose the safe option, and it turns out the world kept on spinning, and I found a new path, though I had no idea what that would be all the way back in high school.

Who’s to say what would have happened if I’d taken that first risk? Who’s to say what wouldn’t have happened? All I know is I might not be as happy as I am now.

It might not feel like it now, but there will always be another crush’s eyes to meet across the bar, another job to apply for when the one you’re offered isn’t the right fit, another dream to chase when you wake up. That’s how the world works. You let go of one thing to make room for another. And eventually, if you want anything good and true and worthwhile, you’re going to have to throw caution to the goddamn wind and go forth.

Because everything in life is a risk. That’s the trick to it. Sometimes we just pass up on some risks so that we can wait for the even better risk, the one that’s going to be that much more worth it.

All too often, we let fear and comfort decide our fate. Because saying no to one risk leads to saying no to another, no matter how much we wanted either. And there needs to be a certain amount of stability in life, to be sure. But getting too stable, too comfortable, too complacent is a surefire sign that you’re not growing anymore. You can be sensible about chasing your dreams. Really. It’s that space in the in between, when you allow yourself to sink into the knowingness of stability while simultaneously reaching for something more — even just in little inklings that crop up in the back of your head, saying wouldn’t it be incredible if… 

And these are the risks we don’t usually take. These are the things we only stumble upon once in a while. These are the things that are amazing and worthwhile because they required the possibility of losing something else, something less great, less risky, something that presented itself first and we leapt before we knew what we were doing. But these real things, these special, incredible what ifs are important enough to risk losing everything. They are why you have to hold out for the kind of risk — and the kind of reward — your hard work and determination deserves.

Sooner or later, every last one of us has to stand or keep sitting in the face of what we really want. The leap may risk falling, but the sitting ensures you’ll always be on the same, solid ground. The truth is that we’ll all risk eventually.

But will you do it now, or will you do it later, or will you do it when you have no other choice?

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There will be days when it’s hard.

There will be days when it seems impossible.

There will be days when it is.

There will be days when you’re stressed, or you’re tired, or you didn’t sleep well the night before, or you got into a fight with your best friend, or with your boyfriend, or with your parents, or you saw your bank account statement.

There will be days when your boss yelled at you, or your client canceled the account, or you didn’t meet numbers, or you locked yourself out of your apartment, or your roommate used the last of the toilet paper.

There will be days when your dog peed on your coat, or you missed the express train that pulled out of the station right as you got there, or you tripped and fell on the street, or you spilled hot coffee down your shirt, or you lost your debit card.

There will be days when you got a really bad tangle in your hair, or you lost a contact lens, or you got a blister, or you found out your ex was dating somebody new, or plans fell through.

There will be days when everything happened. There will be days when nothing happened. There will be days when it’s because it’s Wednesday. There will be days when it’s because it’s not.

There will be days when everything and nothing is the straw that breaks your back, and you want to cave. Sometimes, you begin to. Sometimes, you do even though you don’t want to, not really. There will be days when giving in, when relenting, when giving up seems so easy and so obvious, and it will be so painful when you do it. There will be days when you feel weaker by the second, and more useless, and more hopeless, and lost and alone and confused and scared.

There will always be these days. There will be a lot of them. There will be more than you will be able to count.

But there will always be tomorrow, too.

And there will always be right now.

And you can always forgive yourself, right now, and take a deep breath, right now, and move on. Right now. Right in this moment. It’s not easy, but worthwhile things often aren’t. And you will have to learn to forgive yourself, even when you slip up—especially when you do—because the extra shame incurred in starting from scratch will only tie you down. After all, you are only human, and humans sometimes falter. And really, that’s okay. If you thought you were anything more, if you still thought you were superhuman, you’d still be chasing invincibility to rock bottom.

You are not useless. You are not hopeless. And no matter how scared you are, you will never be alone. And deep down, somewhere, in the part of you that decided the good days and your happiness and your health were all worth fighting for, you know that, too. Hold onto that knowledge. It will see you through the worst.

Because those bad days will always happen, but it’s in this moment, right here and now, that you can realize that no matter how many days you have, they do not mean you’ve lost the days you’ve won. And there will be more days to win, whatever winning means to you. Being clean, being sober, being recovered. Just not being depressed and overwhelmed and overwhelmingly sad. Whatever it is. If it’s all of the above, if it’s none.

This too shall pass, and you will not be less of a person for it. Bad days cannot take away who you are.

There as many days to win as there are tomorrows. Days that you can win. Days that you will win.

Because these days—the bad ones—do not define you. Not unless you let them. You are defined by the days that you decide define you.

And you can be defined by the days you win.

The Heart of the Matter

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We hear it all the time, in memories and eulogies, over too much wine and too much heartbreak — “I should have told them.”

That we cared, that we were upset, that we loved them, that no, we’re not okay and here’s why. There are so many different instances of the idea that maybe we shouldn’t tell people everything, whether it’s a lighthearted punchline in a stand-up special, or our own hearts that remind us of what happened the last time we did this. We got hurt, we got rejected, it turned out that the other person didn’t care.

WHATEVER THE OUTCOME, IT NEVER TELLS US THAT THIS IS A RISK WE OUGHT TO TAKE AGAIN.

So we regress into ourselves, we stopper things down. We tell people we’re fine when we’re very clearly anything but. If we’re lucky, when we explode, it’s not a breakdown but a breakthrough. It’s something that tells us about ourselves, something that illuminates not only a feeling we had in the core of ourselves, but a way we should live our lives better. Usually, though, we’re not so lucky. Instead, we cry our eyes out, experience a pain so heavy that it physically hurts. And we stopper this down, too, and put on a brave face, and tell people we’re fine.

(It’s funny that as we live in an increasingly connected society — one where we can tell complete strangers the tiny, little inane details of our most mindless thoughts, we’re still not comfortable with the idea of telling those close to us how we feel. Maybe this is irony. Maybe it’s just human nature. After all, most of those jokes can’t be used against you. Your attachment to the people and things you love, however, can.)

The whole of who we become — not just who we are right now, but the person we’ll be tomorrow, and the person we’ll evolve into in five and ten and 15 years — transpires through a set of beliefs we cultivate through experience, the emotions that come from those beliefs, and the actions that come from those emotions. And that person who was and is and will be us learns how to cope with feelings and emotions from past experiences. If you never practice by telling people how you really and truly feel, you’ll never learn.

And when we spend most of our lives quelling those feelings, shielding ourselves from vulnerability and dampening the ecstatic, marvelous, horrifying, tragic beauty that is life and all it’s supposed to mean to us, we’re not living it completely.

SOME OF US AREN’T LIVING IT AT ALL.

In fact, some of us are on autopilot most of the time. Acting out of supposed obligation, not will and choice and emotion and feeling.

There are, of course, caveats. We are told from a young age that it’s a risk to let people see how you feel. To leave emotions out of the workplace, never to let them see you cry, that you’ll be seen as less-than for expressing anything other than tacit okay-ness with how things are swimming along. And, in some instances, you can understand why this is true. Because sometimes the head and the heart don’t align, and yours isn’t the gut reaction being called in for opinion.

BUT IN ALL OTHER CASES — IN ALL OF THE OTHER WAYS THE WORLD MANIFESTS ITSELF AS SCENARIOS AND POSSIBILITIES —  IF YOU ASK ME, IT’S BETTER TO RISK BEING HURT THAN TO FEEL NOTHING AT ALL.

Because eventually, the ends will outweigh the means. A risk you take on telling someone how you feel, expressing why you’re not okay, saying the damn truth for once in your existence, will open you. And it will open every part of your life up to the things that could be and should be and will be. You stand no chance of finding love if you don’t tell anybody how you feel. You stand no chance of finding yourself if you’re always convinced that you can only contain half of what you really know to be true of you in that moment.

Tell someone how you feel. Go after what you want. Be honest with yourself, and your emotions, and listen to your gut reaction when something screams at you from your very bones that no, you are not okay. Ask yourself why that is. Listen to yourself. Trust that a feeling is a feeling is a feeling. There’s no wrong way to experience an emotion. There’s no wrong way to feel.

So tell them now. After all, it’s either this, or telling someone else why you were afraid.

Which one would be harder to admit?

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Something I’ve been thinking about lately is toughness. Being tough, being strong, being resilient, being scrappy, being brave, being stubborn, being unfazed and unrattled and unshakable and relentless. Being confident. All of these these things are synonyms in places, overlapping like a weird venn diagram of words and emotions and feelings. These are all good things to be and to have, and work as assets no matter who you are or what you do. Everyone is faced with criticism and critique, and everyone has to rise again from setbacks. That’s how life works. It ebbs and flows.

But of all these tools in the spectrum of human emotion that help get you from valleys to peaks and back again, I don’t want to have a thick skin.

I don’t want things to bounce off of me. I want to feel. Even if the feeling sucks. But that feeling is a reminder that I’m human.

In some ways, thinking you’re not human — that you’re superhuman, and maybe even invincible — is helpful. It’s the adrenaline that pushes you through something scary and challenging, and makes you think you’re stronger than you are. Fire isn’t as scary if you don’t feel the flame.

And whether you work or even just spend part of your life in a digital space, you learn pretty quickly to let things bounce off you. We’re told to know better than to read the comments. People send nasty messages to complete strangers all the time, either forgetting or ignoring the fact that there is another person and not just an anonymous computer screen on the other side of those words. Having a career based in social media where I often pour my proverbial soul out into the world wide webs on a regular basis, I’ve been the victim of said vial and ignorant and just plane awful messages and comments. And let me tell y’all, it’s not as fun as it sounds.

Add on top of that, the fact that it seems like the news is reporting on another atrocity every single day. Life would, in theory, be so much easier if you felt and reacted less.

But I don’t think that’s the way to go about it. Often, telling someone else to grow a thicker skin is to excuse the actions of everyone around them. “People are awful, don’t let them get to you.” But of course awfulness is going to get to a person. Of course it will bug someone. That’s human nature. You can’t tell a person to not feel, just because it keeps the status quo intact.

And okay, sometimes people can be hypersensitive about some things, but they have the right to feel any which way they choose. You can’t tell them that a feeling is wrong. (You can tell them that the concepts on which they’re basing their feelings are misguided, but a feeling is different from its dogma, and feelings in and of themselves are not right or wrong. They are just feelings.) And excusing the actions of other people — that oh, people are just overwhelmingly shitty, grow a thicker skin, move on — is to excuse that shittiness and let it keep happening.

Sure, you can only control your own actions and not the actions of other people, but your actions can also include taking other people to task when their actions are bad. You don’t have to ignore, and you don’t have to roll over, and you don’t have to simply accept things as they are. You don’t have to grow a thicker skin.

You can and should be resilient. You should stand your ground as much as you can, and especially when it’s for things that are right. But don’t grow a thicker skin. Don’t teach yourself how to not feel.

Let things affect you. Let things get under your skin and crawl up your veins and sit uncomfortably with you until you do something about them. Call people out when they say mean things to you. Stand up for yourself, and for anyone else you see being bullied or put down.

We may mostly be grown ups, but we’re still not so far from the playground. And sometimes on the playground, you’d skin your knee and it would sting and you’d get gravel and grit in your scrape, and it would hurt, but you would remember that sting and you would learn. Sometimes it was your own damn fault. But sometimes it wasn’t. Just because somebody else pushed you over didn’t make that sting hurt any less. And sometimes, those scrapes left scars. Sometimes, those moments of vulnerability lead to lessons and breakthroughs. Those moments of weakness often tell us who we really are.

Be strong and confident and believe in yourself and know when people say things, sometimes they say wrong things just to get to you. By all means, be stubborn and be smart about the fact that the internet is often dumb and people on the internet say dumb things and it’s often smart to ignore these things. But having that wisdom is different than having a thick skin. Don’t confuse the two, whatever you do. Don’t grow a thick skin, or at least keep parts of it vulnerable.

Feel. Be human. Be imperfect. Be alive.

My Hope For You

Avila at Chestnut

It’s hard to fathom that another year has come and gone. And while usually this is a time when I take a moment to self-reflect on the past year, and share all the things that I look forward to in 2020 (which to be honest, I still definitely did because I’m a creature of habit like that), I wanted to do something a little different.

I wanted to put the focus on you.

Yes, you. The person reading this.

Because sometimes we all need to be reminded of just how beautiful this life really is, to be reminded to take advantage of the big moments, the little moments, the everything in between. To be reminded that despite the challenges and heartaches and rough patches you may have hit over the course of this year, you made it through. And you will continue to do so because you are a badass. And are strong, and courageous and bold and damn you’re doing the thang. And I am so fucking proud of you.

In 2020, my hope for you is this:

I hope you see things that take your breath away, things that make you feel like you have never felt before. I hope you travel to the places you have always wanted to explore, I hope you catch the sunset at the perfect time on a random Tuesday drive and have your whole chest expand with gratitude. I hope the night sky is always beautiful wherever you rest your head.

I hope you drink good coffee and stay out late with someone who enlivens you. I hope your bones are tired and your hair is messy and your heart is full of nostalgia. I hope someone who makes your whole damn face light up kisses you the way you have always wanted to be kissed, that they hold your hand and take care of you when you’re sick and bring you flowers just because.

I hope you fall so deeply in love with your life that your happiness is undeniable whenever someone looks at you. I hope your days are filled with people who inspire you, and that you always let them know just how rare they are, just how much you appreciate them. I hope they do the same for you. I hope you connect with your moments, the ones that make you feel like you’re doing something right, the ones that happen quietly in the middle of a conversation when everything stops and you truly realize just how lucky you are to be alive.

I hope you are reminded every single day why you’re special. I hope you are reminded that you make people feel heard, that you make people feel understood and accepted. I hope you believe that — that you have purpose, that you’re a good person who deserves beautiful things and rich moments in life, that you mean something to someone.

But most of all, I hope you look back on this next year and smile.

I hope it becomes the year you leapt — the year you started living.

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