Year In Review: 2016

2016-collage

I’ve started writing this blog post four different times, and it keeps trying to become a novel. Twenty-sixteen was an enormous year. It’s hard to summarize my own experience without explaining the hundreds of things that happened all over the world.

Externally, it was widely regarded as a bad year. There was more gun violence than ever in the news. Turmoil in the Middle East, to put it diminutively. A worsening of the racial conflict in America. A tide of political squabbling powerful enough to pummel a person into the sand day after day after day, and a completely unthinkable outcome. And so many voices passed away: Bowie. Prince. My princess, Carrie Fisher. I even had to put my beloved dog to sleep, because he was getting so fearful and aggressive so quickly, I felt I had no choice but to keep my family safe.

But 2016 was one of the happiest years of my life.

Winter

Before 2015 ended, I read a book that changed my life, and saw one of my fondest childhood dreams come true in a huge way when Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out. A FEMALE was front and center of the highest grossing movie in America, wielding that tremendous power created by life itself—the Force. That movie actually made me weep with gratitude, and I denied how much it meant to me until recently when Rogue One came out and I could no longer contain my enthusiasm. Star Wars is just a movie franchise, but it has always been something far greater than that to me. I admit it, I’m a hopeless Star Wars geek, even at 31.

So I went into 2016 with a huge grin on my face, and a heart full of hope and exuberance.

I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing in the creative realm, though. I’d read Big Magic and it was somehow inspiring and discouraging at the same time. I nearly gave up on writing fiction because I didn’t enjoy the act of writing it, but I decided not to quit because frankly I’m tired of giving up on everything. I rediscovered that quote in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet: “This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write?” And I decided to spend the year asking myself that question, and paying attention to the answers.

Spring

In the spring we traveled to New Zealand to celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary. It was an absolutely fantastic trip, worth the many pennies we paid for it. We hiked and kayaked and relaxed in a hot spring and rode in a helicopter and ate some wonderful seafood and slices and savory pies. Hobbiton was even more magical than I expected, with the milky way and shooting stars showing so clearly overhead that it was like I’d never truly seen the night sky before. I’d go back to New Zealand in a heartbeat (but there are other places I need to see first).

One of my best friends got married and moved to Minnesota in May, and I was her shivering Maid of Honor. I honestly never thought I would be somebody’s MoH, and it meant the world to me. It was bittersweet to send her into the next chapter of her life. I gave a toast, which I had carefully written and revised and memorized and worried about, and it went over really well. After that, feeling high on adrenaline and a little bit intoxicated on old fashioneds, I couldn’t stop dancing to the phenomenal playlist she had put together for the reception. It took me two or three days to gain my strength back after that party.

I caucused for Hillary Clinton for the second time, and I was unabashedly happy to see her make history as the first female nominee of a major party for President of the United States. I wasn’t the least bit worried when Trump won the Republican nomination, because a person like that couldn’t conceivably win the election. A female Jedi-to-be and a female President-to-be. I was over the moon.

We went to California to surprise my grandmother for her 91st birthday, and I got to see some old family documents and hear my great-aunt’s stories. Apparently my great-grandmother was under five foot tall!

Summer

In the summer we roasted a pig and visited Wisconsin and rode bikes and learned to make sushi rolls and painted our living room a nice teal color. I got new glasses. We went to St. Louis for Nathan’s birthday and saw LCD Soundsystem perform at a very muddy Lou Fest. I went to half a dozen concerts in 2016—seven if you count the two days of Lou Fest. So there was much dancing and singing and driving and being happy.

I gave a pint of blood. I rescued many pounds of food from the garbage and presumably fed some people by donating my company’s leftover catering to the local homeless shelter three times. I donated more money to charity in 2016 than I ever have before. I read a book called Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler that was about a racist, hostile, desolate future America, and I couldn’t fathom a story like that ever coming true.

Fall

In the fall I was still feeling great. Ambitious, even, which is an unusual feeling for me. I finished my first article for Wikipedia. I wrote a dozen blog posts. I wrote and revised a short story, and I started to believe that even though my fiction isn’t good, I can make it better through the process of revision. I started to feel hopeful about writing fiction, and even started to enjoy it a little bit. I participated in NaNoWriMo for the third time, and I managed to keep going even as the unthinkable happened. I was writing away as state after state fell to Trump on Election Day and my husband reported that there was no longer any way Hillary could win the presidency. I wrote every single day in November and I hit the 50k word goal, but unfortunately I failed to keep the momentum going afterward. Maybe I was too stunned by all the bad news rolling in each day like clockwork. Bad news for the environment. Bad news for immigrants and minorities. Bad news for everyone relying on Obamacare. Bad news for women. My first draft has yet to be finished, but I haven’t stopped working on it yet, and I don’t plan to. I must keep writing this story. I found my answer. I must.

We dressed as Morticia and Gomez Addams for Halloween. We saw Arrival, and it made me cry, too. I put my dog to sleep, and that made me cry a fucking river. We hosted Thanksgiving. We got norovirus before Christmas and had to somewhat quarantine ourselves over the holiday. My brother and his girlfriend visited us for New Year’s Eve, and we were there when they became engaged at the close of the year.

At the end of 2016, I still had a smile on my face, in spite of everything. There was a lot of ugliness this year, and I believe there’s a lot more ugliness to come, but there was also a powerful undercurrent of beauty and joy in my heart, and it persists. I’m posting this on Martin Luther King Jr. Day because over the course of the past year I’ve come to believe his words, the same ones President Obama used in his farewell speech last week: “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I’ve become an optimist. I believe that there’s good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for (which is a J.R.R. Tolkien quote, and also belongs in this blog post). I believe it will eventually win, and I’ve realized that I have the power to help.

I don’t think 2017 is going to be easy, but I’m ready to stand up and be an agent for good in small but important ways. I have big goals I’m working toward personally, and I’m happy to have both the work and the goals. I’m enjoying my own journey. I’m ready for whatever is coming next.

Book Giveaway Winner Announced!

giveawayI just filled out the form to nominate someone to receive a copy of Doing Good Better, and I was able to choose THREE people to receive a free copy! How perfect, since I had three people enter the giveaway: lahgray, Calee, and Emily C.!

(Note to the winners: You will receive an email from the Centre for Effective Altruism sometime in the next couple of days offering you your free book. If you change your mind, you don’t have to accept it. You’re always welcome to borrow my copy instead! :))

Thank you so much for entering my first (and probably only) giveaway, ladies. I appreciate it! I sincerely hope you find this book uplifting.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

BOOK GIVEAWAY! The Book That Changed My Life: Doing Good Better

giveawayI received an exciting email this morning from the Centre for Effective Altruism. They invited me to nominate someone to receive a free copy of the amazing book Doing Good Better by William MacAskill.

I read this book a year ago, and it changed my life. I had a total Ebenezer Scrooge moment. I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about it anyway, so what better time than now?

Before I read this book I was feeling pretty cynical about the world in general. Humans suck at doing good. We’re cruel to each other. We’re careless with our planet. We aren’t very kind to animals on the whole. What’s the point in even trying to make a difference when each of us wields so little power against the enormous darkness in our world: hunger, poverty, cruelty, oppression? Why bother caring when so many people who could help refuse to do so? Why save people when the planet is already struggling to support our population? Why bother sending $10 to a charity if they send you $20 worth of marketing materials in return?

I talked to a friend about it. He told me that it’s harder to be kind and altruistic than it is to be cynical. But when you get right down to it, every person has a story, and everyone who’s struggling deserves to be helped. He told me about this movement called Effective Altruism that aims to identify the most important and fixable causes in the world and get people to focus their efforts there.

So that gave me a little glimmer of hope, and then I picked up this book, and it gave me so much more. It made me feel rich and powerful. It made my somewhat meaningless day job feel suddenly full of meaning. There hasn’t been a day since I read this book that I’ve felt sorry for myself for having the job I have, so that alone is testament to how it has changed my life.

Here’s one of the most important things I learned from this book: small amounts of money can do tremendous good. Somehow I always thought that the highest moral action was to volunteer. Spending time physically dishing out soup to the hungry or knocking on doors to drum up political support or traveling to Africa to build homes seemed like the only real way to make a difference, and I’ve always shied away from those things because I highly value my free time and because—well—I’m shy. But in reading this book I learned that a little money can actually go a long way, and giving money to an organization is often far more valuable than giving time. I won’t bother trying to rehash the information in the book, but this guy is a brilliant economist and he did the math for us, and you can read all about it. It partially depends a lot on the type of charitable work you would do and how good you would be at it (I’m starting to think that getting involved in political action might actually be a very powerful use of one’s time), but the point is that giving money is a deeply charitable act as well. You don’t have to be super rich or influential to make a difference, and you don’t have to feel like a lazy a-hole if all you do is give money. And choosing a charity with your brain instead of your heart is a particularly kind thing to do, because it’ll greatly increase the impact you can have. Money has great power, and compared to the rest of the world, we have a lot of it. Giving money is a wonderful thing to do.

That might not sound like a very exciting premise for a book, but if you have some interest in altruism, I strongly encourage you to read it. It’s well written and not a slog to read. And in the wake of recent events, I think we could all use as much hope as we can get our hands on.

So if you’d like a copy of the book, just leave me a comment and convince me that you want to read it. 😉 I’d also love to know about books that changed your life. I’ll pick a winner next Wednesday (11/23/2016)!

(Apologies to Sandy Underwood and Cincinatti Magazine for shamelessly stealing their amazing photograph.)

7 Types of Crappy Gift Givers & Receivers

veruca salt willy wonka animated gifBrace yourselves: the holidays are coming. That means many of us will be thinking about gifts soon. The thought makes some people groan, others rub their hands with glee. Whatever your attitude, this post may insult you, possibly in multiple ways. It’s meant to.

Here’s the thing: I think we as a society have some terrible attitudes about gifts, and we hurt each other’s feelings all the time over something that’s supposed to be joyous. We need an adjustment. We’ve got a variety of different crappy ideas going on, so I want to shed some light on them. I’m guilty of almost all of these myself, so in no way am I trying to say that I’m a model gift receiver or giver. But I’m trying to get better. Here’s what to watch out for:

Crappy Receivers

1. The Expecter – Expects to receive gifts on certain occasions. Yes, most of us do this, and yes, it’s kinda crappy. Unless it’s for a shower event, of course, since gifts are the point of a shower. (And, by the way, this is why you can’t throw a shower for yourself.)

2. The Princess – Even though you put money, time, effort, or thought into the gift, it isn’t the “right” thing, so the princess is ungrateful.

3. The Guilt Tripper – Feels bad and consequently makes you feel bad because you gave her a nice gift.

4. The Mute – Never acknowledges that a gift was received.

5. The Refuser – Preemptively requests No Gifts, or refuses gifts that people try to give. This is usually meant to be kind, but it counts as being an Expecter and/or a Princess.

6. The Veruca – Requests a specific gift from you without being prompted.

7. The Victim – Views a gift as an act of aggression. Sometimes this attitude is the result of having previously received a gift from The Gangster (see below).

Crappy Givers

1. The Grinch – Hates giving gifts. Sees it as an obligation instead of an opportunity to make someone they care about smile. This attitude is sometimes the result of having to give to a crappy receiver.

2. The True Love – Gives mass quantities of gifts. …And a partridge in a pear tree.

3. The Poor Planner – Forgets to leave room in his budget or schedule to give gifts.

4. The Clueless – Has no idea what to give, even if she knows you intimately. This person sometimes imagines that anything she might give will be somehow wrong.

5. The Puppeteer – expects you to keep every gift he gives you for the rest of your life. Feels personally insulted if you part with something he gave you.

6. The Genie – Asks you what you want as your gift. Depending on the situation this can work, but often it puts undue pressure on the receiver.

7. The Gangster – Gives a gift with an ulterior motive. May intend to make you (or someone related to you) feel inferior, obligated to reciprocate, or otherwise bad.

Now, here’s what I think is the correct attitude to have when it comes to gifts:

Giving: if you choose to give a gift—and yes, you do have a choice—do it with love. Do it because you want to make the receiver smile. Go forth and choose something that you think they might like. Then give it to them. The moment the gift has been received, understand that the receiver has the right to do whatever she wants with the gift, including give it away immediately, and don’t take such behavior as a sign of ingratitude.

If you don’t know what to get, gift cards are perfectly good gifts. The receiver gets to go to a shop she likes and pick out something she might not have gotten for herself otherwise. Just don’t judge her for what she picks! Alternatively, you can give gift cards for movie theaters or restaurants. Who doesn’t love going out on someone else’s dime? Spa treatment gift cards are also awesome and usually appreciated.

Another great gift for the right person is a charitable donation in that person’s name. I’ve done this a couple of times and it was well received. It’s easy, and it makes everyone feel good—as a gift should.

Gifts don’t have to be expensive. If you just can’t afford to buy or make gifts, you can probably still write a nice note on a card and give that instead. And that’s perfectly acceptable.

Receiving: don’t expect to receive a gift. From anyone, ever. (That said, it’s wise not to buy too much for yourself in the couple of months preceding your birthday and major gifting holidays.) If you do receive a gift, lucky you! Someone cares a lot about you. Be grateful, no matter what it is or how much money you suspect was spent on it. Say thank you. It would be especially kind if you tried to put the gift to use, but you have the right to do whatever you want with it and not feel guilty.

Look—when someone offers you a gift, they’re not just giving you the thing itself. They’re offering you their love. That’s the whole point. So even as the receiver, you have a job to do. You need to accept the gift with grace and gratitude, especially if you know that a sacrifice was made when this gift was acquired for you.

I think it’s okay to keep a Pinterest board of things you’d like to receive as gifts. That way, nobody has to directly ask you, and you’re more likely to receive things you actually want. Keep it up-to-date, otherwise you might receive things you don’t really want anymore. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see someone’s Pinterest board if you don’t have a Pinterest account yourself, but it’s still the best option I’ve encountered. You can also create wish lists on many e-commerce websites, and those are usually easier for your friends and family to view. You can add absolutely anything to your Amazon registry, even if it isn’t sold on Amazon.

Most importantly, whether you’re the giver or the receiver, remember this: the moment a gift is received, it has served its purpose. The true purpose of any gift is to make both the receiver and the giver smile for a moment. If the thing happens to be useful and/or desirable to the receiver, great! If not, that’s okay, too. In this society where we all have hundreds of possessions and everyone has unique taste, the thing itself is not essential to your relationship. It really is the thought that counts.

Agree? Disagree? Did I forget any distinct types? Tell me in the comments.

Why I Wrote an Article for Wikipedia (and You Should, Too)

I’m happy to announce that my first Wikipedia page is now out in the wild. I am not going to mention it by name in text for the sake of protecting my identity, but you can see it in the screenshot below and then go find it, if you’re interested. As of this writing, the page hasn’t changed much since I wrote it. It received a rather poor rating from the mods, and I’m not entirely sure why yet, but I am proud of it anyway.

Wikipedia article screenshot

So why did I decide to write a Wikipedia article? I had never heard of the subject of my article before I picked her somewhat randomly from a list of redlinks (missing articles). I was certainly not an expert on her. I don’t believe I’m an expert on anything, because even though I read a lot, I have a terrible memory. I get my facts pretty crooked, unless they’re related to Star Wars.

But I learned how to do research in the third grade. And I needed this little confidence boost of feeling like I’d contributed something concrete to the world, however small. Strange that digital things can feel concrete, isn’t it? And the #1 reason that I decided to write an article for Wikipedia is:

90% of Wikipedia contributors are men.

I wanted to become a Wikipedia contributor to help tip that balance a little. It took me an embarrassingly long time to put this one article together, but I want to push myself to keep contributing occasionally to Wikipedia, both writing articles and editing existing articles. Wikipedia is largely written by and about men, so there’s a big need for articles to be written by and about women.

Wikipedia lists the following as reasons that fewer women contribute than men (source: Gender Bias on Wikipedia):

  1. A lack of user-friendliness in the editing interface
  2. Not having enough free time
  3. A lack of self-confidence
  4. Aversion to conflict and an unwillingness to participate in lengthy edit wars
  5. Belief that their contributions are too likely to be reverted or deleted
  6. Some find its overall atmosphere misogynistic
  7. Wikipedia culture is sexual in ways they find off-putting
  8. Being addressed as male is off-putting to women whose primary language has grammatical gender
  9. Fewer opportunities than other sites for social relationships and a welcoming tone

Another reason cited in the article is Wikipedia’s failure to attract female editors.

So far, I haven’t really interacted with the Wikipedia community, so I can’t speak to what it’s like. My plan right now is to keep to myself, but maybe some day I’ll be confident and involved enough to want to join the fray. The threat of online harassment is definitely off-putting, but I think it’s an issue no matter what forum you enter online — even among family and friends on Facebook! It’s more damaging in some forums than on others though, and it’s weird to join an established community with nothing but your words to represent you.

As far as the interface, I didn’t find it too difficult since I have a background in web design & development. In fact, I thought learning and using the markup was pretty fun. But I can see how it would be uninviting to many. I had to use Google to find the resources I needed, on Wikipedia, about editing Wikipedia—things like style, markup, formatting, citation. It was like there was too much information and no good way to navigate it.

But it’s a rewarding little challenge to step up and create something that could be useful to people. I would encourage all of my friends to give contributing a shot, especially the women. You don’t have to be an expert, you just have to be able to learn and follow the rules. I did 100% of my research online, so I was able to do it on my own time, from the comfort of home. I’m sure not all articles can or should be researched this way, but as long as the sources meet the criteria, it’s still better than if the Wikipedia article continued to not exist at all. If the powers that be decide that your sources or your writing suck, they can point it out and it can be fixed.

If you’re interested, here’s the list of redlinks where I found my subject. Poke around, maybe you’ll find someone who interests you. Join us! Everyone’s favorite encyclopedia could use your skills.

2015: Year In Review

Dear 2015,

You surprised me. And not exactly in a good way. I didn’t expect you to be such a difficult year for me. I love multiples of five! 1995 was a great year; I was a happy ten-year-old. And I think 2000 and 2005 were both good, as years go. 2010 was a little rougher; I was planning my wedding and that was stressful as hell. Still, you started off with a bang, literally. I was in my basement bar with my husband and a few good friends who are still able to stay up until midnight, and we set off crackers and listened to Red Eyes probably too many times for everyone else’s taste. I felt really hopeful. You were going to be a good year. But you were difficult.

Your winter was beautiful. I was happy. I like winter these days, all glitter and snow and cookies and cocoa. We went to fabulous Chicago to shop for my sister-in-law’s wedding dress. I threw a swap party and we had champagne and cream puffs and everyone went home with something new and free. We attended a wedding in the snow, and a concert in a living room. But I started to feel sad, despite the cheap Harry Potter screenings at our new favorite theater/brewery, Flix. Both of my grandparents’ health had taken a sudden turn for the worse early in the year, and I worried for them and for my dad, who was all but solely responsible for looking after them from a very long state’s length away. Spring came despite my mood and it was beautiful too, with plenty of blooms and nice weather. My brother and my sister and her boys visited us, and for a couple of nights we had a wonderfully full house. We braved the sudden heat to go with Mom to the butterfly garden in Ames. And my sister and I went to see The Smashing Pumpkins* here at Hoyt Sherman. So I can die happy now.

Both of my grandparents fluctuated and then one of them improved and the other took a fall, and in a coincidence that was both fortunate and unfortunate I got to see my grandfather one last time when we traveled out west in June. I was climbing up through the majestic wooded heart of California during his final hours. I wasn’t able to attend his funeral, and that was a strange thing.

But sometimes death brings a sad sort of relief, and the truth is that I started to feel much better shortly after Grandpa died. Nathan accompanied me to Iowa City for a long weekend in July, and I was briefly a Hawkeye (sort of), learning about writing literary fiction in a whirlwind but inspiring Iowa Summer Writing Festival class. In August I turned 30 and managed to be remarkably happy about it. I celebrated by going to a nice dinner and a roller rink with my most playful friends. I sparkled as much as I could get away with.

Fall is usually my happiest season, but yours was tough for me. It was lovely, don’t get me wrong; the leaves took their time changing and it was unseasonably warm, and I took a wonderful seven-week online writing course (again through the University of Iowa). But stressors came up at work when the company I work for was acquired, and I was struggling to try to find a new home for my poor unlovable dog, and to figure out some health issues (which I have discovered are not actual issues, again. Hi, I’m Stephanie and I’m a hypochondriac). We attended all kinds of dinners and parties and movies and shindigs, the wedding of my sister-in-law and a concert in Minnesota—all of which was fun, but fun gets stressful after a point for an introvert like me. And beyond my own personal sphere, a lot of bad crap in the world was demanding everyone’s attention and energy: shootings. Terrorism. A refugee crisis. Politicians.

You were not a waste, or anything like that. I have no hard feelings toward you. You taught me about Effective Altruism and the KonMari method, and you made me believe that there’s nothing I have to get, do, or be in order to be happy. You told me that I am enough. You convinced me to work harder for Big Magic. You gave the world a respectable new Star Wars movie! And most importantly, you gave me Motivational Shia LaBeouf. I am deeply grateful for all of those things. I think you’re sending me into 2016 with a tiny bit more skill and a lot more dedication. I’m ready to work hard, and to see new corners and crannies of the world, and to believe in my own health and happiness, for real. Let’s do this.

Motivational Shia LaBeouf

On Turning Thirty

I am standing at an arbitrary, imaginary threshold that i will cross in a matter of hours. Beginning tomorrow, i will be over thirty years old, and i will no longer think of myself as young. That is strange and scary, because all of my life thus far i have thought of myself as young. And i never will again.

It’s not that i think i’m old. To think of myself as old would be an insult to everyone on earth who is older than i am, and i also think of that as including my future self. She is not old. I don’t really think of any human on this planet as old, because our lives are so very short. Maybe the ones who live for longer than a century are old, but the rest of us don’t even have memories of the first World War. Human history is short, and we who are walking the earth today can remember only a tiny fraction of it. As a species we are extremely young.

But, age is relative. And i’m starting to feel a little awkward in young women’s clothing. The models in makeup ads are starting to look like mere girls to me. Yes, i admit that a large portion of the pain of becoming no-longer-young is due to the increasingly upward comparison that is beauty. But i care about that less than you might think. I placed a lot of value on attractiveness and aesthetics in general when i was a young woman. I was a designer and a photographer, and i allowed myself to love the hell out of being able to see. And yet, i have always preferred the sense of hearing over the sense of sight, as though i had some understanding that there were more important things than aesthetics; more beautiful things than beauty. And lately the more i think about it, the more i realize that sight is just our interpretation of particles of light bouncing off of things. It’s amazing and undeniable how the sight of something beautiful or provocative can affect us, and yet when you think about it, the way things look is not even what they really are. My eyes, for example, aren’t just brown. They’re also myopic and the left one has a slightly enlarged optic nerve, putting me at somewhat of a risk for glaucoma later in life. But you can’t see that and you don’t care about that when you look me in the eye. We know and value what we can see, and oftentimes we value that above what we feel and hear and know. I don’t know quite how to express it, but i’m realizing lately that while what i look like is important because it’s how i interface with the world, it’s not as important as what i know and how i feel, despite society’s natural bias to the contrary. And i’m learning more all the time, and i feel pretty darn good. And, to be honest, i think i still look pretty darn good, too, and will for years to come—even if i don’t look eighteen anymore.

Steph!

One comforting fact about aging is that nobody is alone in the process. Everyone ages, and everyone does so at the same rate in terms of actual time elapsed. Those pretty young things in today’s ads will be my age in time. If they’re lucky! And i was their age once. I kind of think of aging not so much as passing from one age to another as collecting ages. Because i know what it is to be ten years old, what it is to be eighteen years old, what it is to be twenty-nine. I will (hopefully) always have that knowledge, so in a way i will always be all of the ages i have ever been. Except my baby years, of course. I can’t remember those.

I saw a quote somewhere that said something along the lines of: “never be sorry to grow older; it is a privilege denied to many.” And that’s the main thing. A birthday is a celebration of life, and a milestone birthday is extra special. Look how far i’ve come! I haven’t accomplished as much as i always thought i would by this age, and i think that’s the thing that i see pain people the most about turning thirty. We all set these “thirty by thirty” goals for ourselves, or maybe just a few big things we feel we must accomplish: get married, have kids, get a terminal degree, get our dream job. We set ourselves up for disappointment on this particular birthday for no real reason. Just because humans happen to have ten fingers and probably for that reason settled on a decimal numbering system, which naturally places emphasis on multiples of ten. So thirty is where we stop and look around and ask ourselves if we’ve landed where we wanted to be as adults. I think when i was twentyish, i wanted to have published a beautifully designed book of poetry and recorded a couple of life-altering albums by now. But i never set a hard-and-fast deadline—and that is probably part of the reason that i haven’t created anything of note yet—but it has also kept me from feeling like a failure. I still have some time. I am probably not going to record music, but i still have plenty of time to publish something (probably). And i have made a lot of really good decisions and achieved a pretty great life for myself, so i have nothing to feel sorry about.

I am by no means content, mind you. I once told a friend that i didn’t think i’d ever achieve contentment. I think artists just have restless souls, so to speak, and i think i have an artist’s soul after all. I must create something, because i want to honor and help and contribute to this world in a way that goes deeper than just giving money to my chosen cause. I have a voice and a unique perspective, and i might just have something to say that the world needs to hear. I just need to do a lot of exploring to figure out what exactly that might be and how to say it.

I feel deeply grateful for all of the people who have shown me love on this very special birthday. I am so supported and loved, and it’s touching in a way that makes the tears just spring from me. So you might catch me sobbing if you see me in the next couple of days, but i promise i’m not feeling purely sorry for myself. I am so happy to be turning thirty, because it means that i survived the dark days and the scary car rides and the unknowable risks that come with being alive. I’m still here, and i will never stop being grateful for that. Life is easy and it’s hard and it’s ugly and it’s gorgeous, and i am so thankful for all thirty of my years and for this moment, and for however many future moments i’ll be lucky enough to grasp. I want it all. I love everything.