My Awesomely Random Life (and Everything in Between)

Archive for the ‘Life Lessons’ Category

Adulting 101 (From Someone Who is Still Trying to Figure it All Out)

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I’d like to think I’ve got this whole adulting thing down pat, guys.

Really.

But the truth is, I am absolutely, 100% without a doubt still trying to figure it all out.

And I’m realizing, more and more, that that is okay.

Really.

I don’t mean in the way of managing to keep myself alive, or to do basic “adult” type things. I do them, in some way or form, every day. And I don’t mean that I don’t know how to be mature, because I do (ish. I know how to be mature-ish). I think there will always be people who are older — and maybe even more successful — who are less mature, and the level of maturity needed for every adult situation, I’ve found, varies from case to case.

But as I’ve been an adulting adult (which, I admit, is not very long in comparison to other adulting adults) I’ve realized that a lot of things vary from case to case.

I go to the gym most days a week and I eat a lot vegetables because it makes my body feel better, and it keeps me from getting sick, and as much as I hate to admit it, it’s a slightly better alternative to living solely off of ice cream and gummy bears. I try to balance work life with outside-work life, the fun things with the not-so-fun-but-I-really-need-to-clean-my-apartment-and-do-my-laundry-and-buy-groceries things. Variation is the spice of life, right? Or something to that effect.

And I have learned that it is not hard to love someone — you kind of just do it, and let yourself let go and give in — but it is harder, strangely enough, to open yourself up to being loved back, and to rely on the person who loves you, and harder still to find that your love is not reciprocated and you should move on. But it happens, and the only way to do any of these things is to just do it, which is not very helpful advice, or very comforting when you’re sitting around wondering if and when someone will love you in the first place.

But part of being an adult is just keeping on with your own life anyway, even and especially if this thing does not seem to be going right.

And you have to keep on with your life even if and when it is going right, too. The rest of your world does not magically fall into place just because you find someone who cares about you. You still have to deal with the other shit, too.

And speaking of all of that stuff, there is no one and magical way to be a competent adult. You can set up auto-bill-pay and learn how to do your taxes and buy a house and all of that all you want, and there are still things that will fall through the cracks. You will forget which bill gets deducted on which day and log into your account and freak out about the lack of money and think you’ve been scammed until you remember otherwise. There are days that I forget to mail something until five days after I said I would, and have to hope it all works out OK, and sometimes it doesn’t, and I figure it out from there.  But I got there eventually and sometimes that is what matters: crossing off your to-do list as you go, as long as you finally do it. That is, in a lot of ways, adulthood. Adulthood feels less “having it together” than you think it will.

Sometimes adulthood feels like you don’t have it together at all, but you’re trying, and that is what matters.

I love going to work every day, to a job I love, but believe me when I tell you that it wasn’t always that way. But even when I hated a gig, or I felt like that wasn’t the right path for me, or I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do with my life, I woke up every day and I went, thinking that I could find some time to get myself out of the situation I didn’t want to be in any more. And it eventually worked. Sometimes forcing yourself to do the thing you hate is the most adult decision there is. (But sometimes, the adult decision is deciding you’ve had enough and drawing a line. I admit I’ve done that, too. I don’t know. There’s no good road map.)

By the time they were each my age, my mother was trying to raise two little rugrats, my father working 80 hours a week at a job he hated just to provide for his family.  They had to deal with a lot more and worse than I did, and there are a lot of days when my problems feel insignificant to those of my peers. The adult world our generation is navigating now is filled with a host of new problems we’ve never seen before, some serious and some trivial, and some we make for ourselves because humans are very, very good at fucking up our own lives. But I have also realized that part of being an adult is sitting down and saying that if I got myself into any one mess, I can at the very least try to get myself out of it, and if I cannot do it alone, sometimes the most adult thing to do is to ask for help. And if there is help to be found, I am very, very lucky for it.

And though I have a lot of years of figuring out adulthood left, I have realized that, for the most part, there will likely not ever be a moment at which I finally feel like I am an adult.

There is no magic age, no set routine, no milestone that will make it all “real” for me. I am childish and selfish and impulsive at times, but so are a lot of people, all with varying degrees of success and maturity to their names. And while we’ve all likely had great role models and idols to model what successful adulthood looks like, we’re mostly just figuring it out as we go, and hoping we don’t make too much of a mess of it all. Sometimes we do. Sometimes it’s inevitable. But then we try to fix it, and then we move on, and it’s ok.

Adulthood is not getting married and cooking dinner every night and having kids and remembering to file your taxes early. You might do some or all of these things in your lifetime, sure, but the milestones are changing these days, and so are we. Adulthood is, I think, in a lot of ways, just waking up every day and trying. And none of us really know how to do that, but we do it anyway. We try. That is the most life can ask of us — and it will ask that of you every single day. It will demand you try. So you do, and you try again and again and fail maybe but succeed the next time and try some more, and then look back at it all and call it adulthood.

Whether or not you thought you “knew” how to do it in the moment, but you tried anyway.

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The One Before the One

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I have recently come to terms with what it’s like to be the girl before the girl, y’all. And it’s not fun. In fact, it sucks ass.

The in-between, a practice run, an incredibly dysfunctional cupid.

#ItMe

Not following?

Let me explain.

Last week, I got a call from an ex — a man I truly believed I’d one day see in a tux smiling at me from the end of a churchaisle. He’s been dating the same girl since we broke up two years ago, and the crushing words that came out of his mouth were ones I had secretly prayed I’d never hear: “Wendi,” he said, “I’m going to marry her.”

I promptly burst into all the ugly snot tears.

See, this isn’t the first time I’ve been the girlfriend before the girlfriend who
becomes the wife. It has happened — you’re not going to believe this — eight times (and I’m only 30)! It’s like I’m prepping guys for marriage to someone else. If you look on Yelp, my reviews are a solid 5 stars across the board.

The in-between.

Practice run.

An incredibly dysfunctional cupid.

By definition, I am the girl guys are with in-between serious relationships. They turn to me at vulnerable points in their lives without really realizing it. I’m a space-filler, a safe place to go because I am consistent and that’s what they need or are looking for at that particular time in their life.

I’ve heard all of the names: rebound, hookup, friend with benefits — but none of them seem to fit.

Until this.

It starts out as something innocent. We figure it will be a one-time thing, especially considering he just got out of a relationship. Or he’s just not looking for something serious. Or we’re friends trying to test the waters, figuring out if we’d be good as more than that.

But then it happens.

We develop those pesky feelings.

And things begin spiral beyond our control.

We officially enter the grey area.

In relationships, that damn grey area is the worssssst. Are we friends? More than friends? Or just complete strangers who shared this undeniable spark, if only for a mere days, weeks, month?  We’ll share laughs, smiles, inside jokes. We see the what could bes, and are swiftly moving in that direction. But then something happens that knocks me on my ass.

We’ll have an awkward encounter – or worse – a shitty text convo,  and I’ll feel seasick on dry land because I have to face the music that I’m just the in-between girl. The end result usually being the inevitable droppage of the, “It’s not you, it’s me,” bomb.

After a lot of introspective thinking, and ice cream (just so much ice cream), I’ve come to  realize that he’s actually right. It’s not me. It really is him.

It’s all of the hims who’ve said goodbye to a great relationship in place of another one. It’s not me.

It’s all of the hims who were unsure, confused or just not ready for a commitment. It’s not me.

It’s all of the hims who were perfectly good guys, just not the perfectly good guy for me.

The truth is, there is no manual for this, no “Dating for Dummies.” We’re all trying to figure it out as we go. For me, it’s been quite the trial-and-error process. There have been a lot of ups, just as many downs and quite a few in-betweens.

But maybe that’s all part of the process. Maybe we go through these trials in order to figure out what it is we actually want and deserve.

Maybe it’s all worth it?

 

Because one day, I promise you, someone will choose us first.

Me Too

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I was 18. My then boyfriend’s best friend grabbed my ass in the kitchen and told me I could do better. 

Me too.

I was 21. A group of executives at the ad agency I was working at were talking in the break room, rating the female employees based on “fuckability.”

Me too.

I was 29. Walking out to my car after work, a man forced himself on me, called me “sweat cheeks”, and grabbed my arm, refusing to let go until I gave him a hug. 

Me too.

I am one of the many women who have been sexually assaulted or harassed. I am one of the many women who were at one point too afraid to speak out. But I am also one of the many women who are now sharing their stories in hopes of bringing attention to this problem, to give strength to those who may be going through something similar, to stand in solidarity of the victims who believe they don’t have a voice.

There is movement on social media right now urging those who have been sexually harassed or assaulted to write two words on Facebook and/or Twitter to show the magnitude of this problem: Me Too.

As I was going through all of the #MeToo posts out there last night, my heart broke. So many women (and men) have been sexually assaulted, a good number in their youth. When I sat down to write this, I actually shrugged off my experiences at first as something normal; it’s not a big deal, right? This happens all of the time. Par for the course for being a woman. Hearing so many other stories from so many incredible people, I didn’t think being ass-grabbed or degraded as just something to “fuck” was worth mentioning.

That was my mentality then, and it was almost my mentality now. To brush it under the rug. To not draw attention. To not make myself a victim. I was young, I was impressionable and I didn’t know if was okay to stand up for myself, to intervene, to shut that shit down and shut it down hard. Isn’t that awful? I think many survivors of sexual assault or harassment feel the same way, which is why this movement has been so powerful.

The truth is, it absolutely does matter. Every time you have felt unsafe, degraded, uncomfortable or forced to do something you didn’t want to do, it matters.  We shouldn’t have to out ourselves as survivors in order for people to grasp the magnitude of how systemic assault and harassment are. This is not what women around the world should have in common and this is not what girls should grow up expecting. I say women because while this has absolutely happened to men as well, the overwhelming majority are women, young girls who have walked down the street and been catcalled, who fear for their safety and sanctity of space.

I know some damn incredible men who would never, ever even contemplate acting in such a way, who have some of the biggest hearts that you ever did see. I think most are. But to those out there who aren’t, don’t say you have a mother, a sister, a daughter…say you have a father, a brother, a son who can do better.

I want to live in a world where my future daughter is respected, is acknowledged for her intelligence and bravery and heart and not her body. To all of the women (and men) sharing stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment, thank you for your bravery, your honesty and your courage.

Thank you for speaking up.

You are not alone.

 

Confessions of an Over-thinker (Who’s Crushing Hard Core)

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It’s no secret that I tend to be one that overthinks thangs *from time to time.

*Read always. I always over-think thangs.

I also tend to turn into a **goober whenever I develop a new crush on someone.

**Read biggest. I turn into the biggest goober ever.

Combine these two stellar qualities and you get me, the World’s Most Awkward Dater everrrrr.

I tried contacting the folks at Guinness but apparently I was barely out-awkwarded by Mr. Avocado. I see you, buddy. And just know that I do not go down without fighting. Challenge accepted.

Here are just some of the things that happen when you’re an over-thinker who is crushing hardcore on someone.

1. Deny, deny, deny. You try to convince yourself you actually don’t. Because crushes are a damn commitment! And you certainly don’t have time for *feelings* and all the worrying that goes along with them. Nope. Noooo. You absolutely do NOT have a crush.

2. ….And then you see that perfect face and your heart is instantly pulverized into a mushy smoothie—Fine. Whatever. You might have a teeny, tiny, itsy-bitsy crush.

3. Making eye contact becomes a huge conscious effort. Because there’s some weird part of you that thinks, somehow, they will look at you and just KNOW. Your eyes will totally tell on you—“Hey you. Yeah you in the corner over there drinking PBR while watching the Brewers/Rockies game. I’ve got some juicy gossip. See this person? The one looking at you through me? He/she is soooo totally into you.”

4. You practice conversations in the shower. Or on your drive to work. Or just chilling in bed on a lazy Sunday. Basically any place that you’re guaranteed some privacy. You’re coming up with interesting topics to discuss, things to say to impress him/her, and testing out the perfect tone to casually (but not too casually) say: “Heyyy!”

5. But then you begin to worry that “Heyyy” sounds weirdly excited, “Hi” is too robotic and formal, “Whazzzupppp?!” is too Budweiser and “How are you?” is too invasive. You end up settling on a simple head nod.

6. Arggghh. You gave a fucking head nod??!!??

7. Investigate your crush online. And spend the next hour convinced you accidentally liked an Instagram photo from 56 weeks ago. You consider deleting all traces you ever existed on any social media account. EVER.

8. Orchestrate the perfect way to just accidentally run into this new crush. Oh, you go to this coffee shop/bar/grocery store too? That’s so weird. I had noooo idea.

9. But when you do see your crush, you totally clam up and don’t say anything. Mayyyybe squeak out a “good” when they say “What’s up?” and immediately want to die. Oh. My. God.

10. Realize that you definitely should have gone with “What’s up?” You gave a fucking head nod??!!??

11. You look for any possible sign feelings could be mutual. I mean, seriously, ANY sign. “He DEFINITELY lingered when handing me my coffee cup,” or “He said my name and kind of smiled when he said it, so that for surely means hhe likes me, right?!” 

12. Plan. Plan. Plan. The overthinker is crippled by the thought of anything remotely spontaneous. There needs to be something set in motion. And a Plan B. And C. Because oh my God, what if it all falls through? Many, many nights are just spent thinking and scheming.

13. If you happen to run into your crush while out with your friends, you work EXTRA hard to act cool and collected. Shut up, Wendi, don’t you dare give it away. Don’t giggle. And don’t you even think about doing that weird hair flip thing you do when you’re nervous. THEY WILL KNOW! Everything is fine. It’s easy breezy. Didn’t even seem him over there looking all ridiculously cute. Nope.

14. You create a playlist of songs that you imagine one day listening to together. Like a soundtrack to magically fall in love to. Would you like some macaroni with all that cheesy cheese fest, amiright? 

15. You spend an embarrassing amount of time scoping out anyone attractive who has commented on their pictures. Because it’s probably his sister. It’s his sister. Just tell me it’s his goddamn sister, okay????

16. You remember any little detail they provide. A favorite musician? You stored that info away for good. It’s in the vault. You probably even decided to check if there were going to be any shows in your area. That way you can casually mention it. Oh what? You already got tickets? And you have an extra one? I mean, yeah, it’s not a big deal though…

17. You become paranoid that they can actually hear your heat thump-thump-thumping in your chest. Or see the gigantic butterflies pterodactyls flying around in the pit of your stomach.

18. You stress, daydream, and above all else, remember that having a crush can kind sorta make you feel a little out of your mind—but for all of the right reasons.

Why We Need to Start Talking

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One of the things I love most about being a writer is the power a story has to start a dialogue, to share experiences and invoke a sense of purpose, of awareness, of hope. As my laptop sat open last night, the cursor blinking over so vigilantly on the screen, my fingers took pause on the keyboard. Usually when it comes to putting thought into words, it’s easy, a natural flow and progression. It’s kind of my MO.

But last night it was different. Last night as I sat with a heavy heart hearing of yet another life taken too soon by suicide, I struggled to describe what it was I was feeling.

Sadness. Confusion. Heartbreak and numbness.

Suicide is not easy to talk about. But it’s something that I feel must be done.

My cousin Nick committed suicide a little over five years ago, a day just short of his 35th birthday. Growing up, I idolized him – everything from the music he listened to and the shoes he wore, to the hockey team he cheered for and the car he drove. He was the epitome of cool and could do no wrong in my eyes.

I think the thing I loved most about him however was his zest for life. He was a source of joy and positivity, something that radiated to everyone who was lucky enough to know him, to love him, to call him son, brother and friend.

When I first heard the news of his passing, I didn’t want to believe it. I couldn’t. How could a person so full of life get to this point? To feel like he had no other option? To be so consumed with hopelessness and darkness that leaving this earth was the only option? His only saving grace?

When someone passes away from old age, we tend to have some preparedness for it. None of us live forever. At the time of their passing, there is an immense sadness from the loss of this person, but our natural response is to channel our attention towards celebrating their life and memories.

When someone passes away from cancer or a terminal illness, we pour every amount of our effort into wanting to diminish any remnant of pain, or defeat, or fear that individual felt at the end of their days, and we vanquish it by adamantly honoring their courage and unwavering bravery. The last thing we would want is to allow ourselves to be disdained by how much their sickness took from them against their will. In response, we contribute to fundraisers, we join advocacy groups, we take a stand against this illness that took our loved one, and we make sure to let their name and legacy be known more than the thing that overcame them.

Why is it then that when someone kills themselves, we tend to not want to acknowledge the disease, the demons, the mindset, or the brokenness that contributed to making it happen? As humans, our instinct is to survive. Our bodies are wired to jump into action and respond to life threatening situations, for instance, it’d be nearly impossible to succumb to drowning. For someone to kill themselves, they must go against every one of those instincts that have been ingrained within their being since birth. It’s unsettling to think of all the invisible antagonists that could cause a person to do such a thing. However, that still doesn’t prevent us from wanting to fault the victim when they lose the fight.

Before anything else is said, perhaps we need to start by admitting that suicide is not easy to talk about.

We tend to not want to dwell on death and dying, in many of the forms that it takes. Whether it’s the sudden kind, like a car accident, or the slow kind, like growing old. We tend to only meet with it for a moment, handle its weight for a mere second, and then hastily retreat into our sheltered world where everything is safe again. Suicide, on the other hand, subjects us to a significantly darker side of death.

There’s a tendency to talk about suicide before as if it’s unheard of. I could never imagine doing such a thing. I wouldn’t have it in me. Not to mention, I would never allow things to get that bad. I would seek help. He/she has so much to live for. Their family is perfect. They do what they love and they’re so good at it.

I don’t blame you. It’s hard to put a feeling to something you have never felt, or a circumstance you have never experienced. It’s like asking someone exactly what they would do if an active shooter ran into their place of work and pointed a gun at them. There are so many ways it could go. It’s not something that daily life prepares you for. You may have an impression of what you’d do, but you’ll never really know until it truly happens.

We talk about suicide after as if it’s reprehensible. It’s never that bad, where it feels like killing yourself is the only way out. They should have asked for help. They threw away a lot. What a waste of a life. How selfish. How could they do this to their family, their friends, their loved ones?

After my cousin’s passing, I was talking to someone who had known him well, and they said to me, “It never gets that bad,” in regard to their frustration towards him ending his life. My breath caught in my throat. Hearing that inspired a very profound thought within me, though I wasn’t about to challenge, or debate what this person was commenting on. They had every right to say that. When it comes to suicide, it’s very natural that the thing you are most angry with for taking your loved one is your loved one. Death by suicide doesn’t alleviate any pain, it simply bestows pain onto those who remain living, and leaves them to grapple with so many questions that will never be answered.

Personally, I could not bring myself to feel anger toward my cousin and what he had done. No matter which perspective I tried to view — he abandoned his family and friends, he made a selfish decision, he didn’t alert me, or any of us, to the way he was feeling, he should have known to get help — I could feel nothing more than wanting to acknowledge his actions, and let him be at peace.

He was not an abandoning person. He didn’t have a selfish bone in his body. He always spilled his heart out to me with the utmost honesty. He tried to get help, but it wasn’t the equivalent of what he truly needed. How could I be angry at him for not being able to defeat this shapeless thing, this psychological and emotional terrorist? Yes, the reason for his death is terribly regrettable, but I can’t stand to let it diminish his existence. His name and legacy will overpower that which overcame him. I’m here to make sure of it.

I also had a retort for the statement: it never gets that bad. What if it does? What if it is that bad? We don’t ask for proof and validation from cancer patients for how bad their diagnosis is. Cancer is tangible; therefore, it is valid, we believe it, and we fear it, regardless of if we have it or not. Death from old age is inevitable, it has a ballpark occurrence that we are aware of years beyond its happening. Suicide and psychosomatic warfare are incomprehensible. We can’t see it, so consequently, we do not have the aptitude to fight against it and, as a result, the battle often becomes invalid.

In pondering the thought, it never gets that bad, it hit me that as a society, we are not only incapable of displaying altruism towards people who are depressed or suicidal, we also feel like we must blame them. The perpetual inevitability is that there are as many ways to blame as there are to take your own life.

On April 19, 2012, I became a suicide survivor. Deceiving as the name may sound, this does not mean I tried to take my own life and was unsuccessful. I am a survivor of someone who took their life by suicide. I have witnessed the physical manifestation of the torture that suicidal thoughts put a person through.

I’m not the only one. I have had close friends lose their members of their family, fiancés, boyfriends and girlfriends. I’ve seen the pain, confusion and despair that they’ve gone through trying to understand, to heal, to move forward. I’ve also had close friends admit to me that they’ve battled suicidal thoughts on occasion, have felt that all-consuming darkness. Suicide affects 1-4 people, yet it still has this negative stigma around it. I am here to try and challenge that. To encourage an open dialogue, to begin a conversation.

I refuse to become complacent, and I refuse to believe that suicide cannot be understood as tangible because I have felt it. I’ve seen others feel it.

I also want to tell anyone out there who is struggling that your feelings are valid, and that you are not alone, you are never alone.  If someone you know is struggling emotionally or having a hard time,  you can be the difference in getting them the help they need.

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is here 24/7 to help: 1-800-273-8255.

Let’s begin this conversation, together.

It’s okay to be human

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It’s one of the first pieces of advice I can remember receiving — maybe my dad said it, or maybe I only imagine he did and ascribed the wisdom accordingly because I was little and when you’re little, you live in an insular world like that: “Don’t say you’re bad at something unless you’re going to try to be better at it.”

We live in a society that prides perfectionism as the be-all of virtues, and has bred generation after generation of people succumbing to its pressures. Everyone’s expected to scramble to rise to the top — we just never take the time to tell people which top that’s supposed to be. Of course, the unsaid there is to allow for room to decide exactly what that top is, where it is, what we define ourselves as the best. And when you’re a frustrated little kid who doesn’t understand why you can’t get something right on the first try, you’re bound to let out a few sentiments here and there about how you’re lamentably bad at something.

And as we grow up, we begin to learn that being bad at a few things isn’t awful — it’s human.

It’s refreshing to have flaws, and sometimes, it’s fun to be terrible at things, to revel in ridiculous karaoke sets and botched doodles, to laugh later over that time you tried to make a five course meal and wound up ordering tacos via Seamless as a Hail Mary. Being bad sometimes makes for the best stories. There’s freedom in admitting that your prowess can’t and won’t extend everywhere. There’s something refreshing in an adult who doesn’t just admit their shortcomings, but owns them.

But when kids are little, they’re also shuttled from class to class, sport to sport, extracurricular to playdate, and we begin to form ideas that we’re supposed to be the best at everything. The best friend, the best all-star, the best in science and English and the star of the school play and the kid with whom everyone else wants to trade their lunch. We’re told to excel, to never settle for second place — not just in what we love most of all, but in anything. In everything. Fault isn’t seen as natural strength and weakness, it’s seen as an Achilles’ heel to be rectified. We don’t embrace anything we’re not the best at. We sink in humiliation until we change or feign being at least slightly above average and overall okay. Often, we give up before we have the chance to be better. We write ourselves off before we try to see what we’re capable of.

Being “bad” at something doesn’t take away from the fact that it was your best effort.

Part of owning your flaws is admitting that maybe there’s space to get better. And besides, “bad” is a subjective perception. One person’s “bad” is another person’s extraordinary advancement. Regardless, it’s okay to be at a personal “bad” now and again. Virtuosos are rare, and anyway, they’ve got their own newly heightened standards to live up to and to beat. And for every Beethoven who composed his first masterwork when he was still stringing together how to read words on a page, there are untold hundreds of thousands of people who were crappy at first. Who couldn’t even dream of even so much as touching that sort of rare talent. But no matter how bad they were, they tried over and over. And that is how they got better.

Saying you’re bad at something isn’t the problem. That’s identifying where you have room to grow — so in fact, it’s good to admit it. Especially when what you’re measuring is your own improvement. The problem is getting caught in feeling bad without a desire to change, and what’s worse is having that desire, but not taking the next steps to change. The problem is accepting being “bad” as a limitation. As a sentence. As if there’s nothing in our power to right what we perceive to be “wrong.” And that’s simply not true. Saying you’re bad at something without action is, often enough, little more than wallowing.

Because at the end of the day, the only thing that’s really “bad” is our attitude about how we perceive ourselves.

And if we’re going to call it bad, then we’ve identified what we’d like to change — and it’s now up to us to decide to actually do something about it. To change how we perform, to change how we work, to practice, to change how we structure our day to appropriate our time as needed. Most of all: to change ourselves. And to change our idea of why we’ve been lead to believe “being bad” really is that bad. You can be bad at things sometimes. There’s nothing wrong in that. But dwelling on it will only make it worse. And complaining for the sake of self-pity will get you — and everyone else — absolutely nowhere.

Say you’re bad at something every now and again. Admit to being human. Revel in that if you want to. But don’t declare yourself personally dissatisfied with your ability unless you’re going to personally work to change that. It’s self-respecting at the end of the day, and everybody has to learn to take it for themselves. Or at least, from someone else — as I from my dad, and as, hopefully, you from me.

Thank you for twenty years of magic

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the publishing of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s (or Philosopher’s) Stone, so if you’ll allow me a moment of sappy self indulgence here, I’m about to get real nerdy.

People like to smile indulgently at me now when I say I grew up alongside Harry and his friends, but I’m really not over exaggerating. From the time I was ten years old, through all the misery and trauma and loneliness and heartbreak of childhood and adolescence, they were there. They were a crutch, a comfort, an escape, an identity. As J.K. Rowling once said, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home, and some days that was the place that felt most like home to me.

Whenever I felt lonely or scared or unhappy, I knew I could find comfort in the familiar waterlogged, dog-eared pages of those books, the binding creased and failing in places.

I remember the first time I read them like it was yesterday. I was 10 years old, tiny but precocious. It was hard to tell what I had more of then – hair, brains, or spunk. I was in the library at my elementary school, where I was on first name terms with the librarian, clutching a stack of books half my height and five times my grade level when I spotted it there on the display rack, all blue and red and purple and magic.

In 2000, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was a hot commodity, even in my lower elementary school. It was surprising that it was even in stock, and I couldn’t help but think that it must have been a sign, waiting there just for me to find it.

When I got home from school that afternoon, I retreated to my room and didn’t come out until the third time I was called to dinner. There, laying on my purple and white bedspread, I met my new best friends for the first time. Harry, with his heart of gold and unfailing courage; Ron, always loyal and quick to laugh; and Hermione, who was, to borrow more of Ms. Rowling’s words, my ink and paper twin.

From then on, Harry’s story and mine were intertwined. At age 16, ugly crying over the final chapter of Deathly Hallows at one in the morning. On my 18th birthday, visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal, feeling like I could breathe for the first time in months when I saw the castle I’d inhabited in my head for years.

Sometimes I feel that, even with all the words I’ve learned since age ten, all the things I’ve experienced and felt, I will never be able to adequately describe the bottomless pool of love I have for this series. It isn’t so much a book series, a movie franchise, a set of characters, as it is part of my identity. I truly don’t who or how I’d be today if I hadn’t picked up that worn hardcover book in fifth grade.

It taught me the value of love and loyalty and light and friendship. It taught me that courage is never the same thing as fearlessness. It taught me how to speak my mind, how to stand up for what I believe in, how to fight for those who cannot defend themselves, and how to appreciate the little moments of joy amidst the chaos.

Now, two decades have elapsed since Harry Potter entered our collective lives. Hundreds of thousands of fans and friends have come to love this series. Some have already begun passing it on to their children, the second magical generation.

Harry’s story has come to mean so many things to so many different people. A whole generation who learned to love reading, to stand up for their beliefs, to make their own magic.

I know so many people, personally and by reputation, who have used Harry Potter as a way of coping with the ugliness that reality often throws our way. So many stories of strength and bravery and survival, fueled by the magic of rustling pages, midnight premieres, a common bond that draws us all closer.

Even as I sit here in my sunny corner office at my “big kid” job, my eyes rest on the thin piece of resin and wood, fashioned into a replica of Hermione Granger’s wand. After all these years, she’s still helping me be the woman I always wanted to be. While I’ve come to fall in love with half a dozen other ladies of the wizarding world – Tonks and Luna and Ginny and Lily and Molly – Hermione will always have a special place in my heart.

At ten years old, I was all frizzy hair, big words, and unfettered, self-righteous bossiness. I was what many over the years, both kindly and unkindly, have referred to as an insufferable know-it-all. Hell, at 30, I still am. Because Hermione Granger taught me that being bossy is a good thing, that breaking the rules is okay sometimes when you have a cause you believe in, that books and cleverness are important, but not as important as friendship and bravery.

So what can I say, nearly 20 years later? Thank you seems too trite, but it’s all I have. So thank you, J.K. Rowling, for changing and saving my life in ways I am still only beginning to unravel. Thank you to Harry and Ron and Hermione for teaching an entire generation to be better and braver and bolder.

The other day, I picked up my well-worn 17-year-old copy of the Sorcerer’s Stone. It’s been awhile since I took the time to sit down and read it, but as I did, I felt like I was rejoining my ten-year old self. Somewhere, lost in time, she’s always been there, hiding in a blanket fort with a flashlight and a book twice her size. She’s been waiting patiently for me to come find her again, reunited after all these years. It’s been a long time, she says. Sit down. I’ll read you a story about love and dragons and magic and some kids who changed the world. I think they’re friends of yours.

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