Summer Solstice

And now I will attempt to describe a terrible darkness in terms of great light.

Like grains in an hourglass regularly turned,
the units of light readily apparent in any given spot wax and wane:
from a crisp autumnal sunset on a day when the globes are perfectly matched,
slowly draining through a long, dark winter,
until a day comes when there is scarcely any light remaining,
and the tender hand of the universe slowly and methodically turns the glass again.
Here the osmosis gently reverses.
The grains of luminescence gradually accumulate
until once again the scales sit unwavering,
the hourglass balanced precisely on a cool spring morning.
But only for a moment.
Because the sunlight doesn’t stop;
it accelerates as the spring races to meet the summer,
passing the solar baton in a spectacular fashion,
the grains rapidly piling up and up and up,
culminating in a tremendous crescendo of brilliant light

on this day:
June 20th.
(Or thereabouts.)
When the opposite end of the sun’s hourglass hangs heavy
as a plump peach, ripe for the picking.

It is this very day that children live for.
For this marvelous day when
“you can play outside until dark”
feels like getting away with murder.
This fantastic solstice and its surrounding cushion
are where sweet summer memories are made.
The concentration of sunlight in these days is almost violent:
with firecrackers popping
and bomb pops melting
and cannon balls exploding into cool, clear neighborhood pools
— all on what feels like “bonus time.”

And of course, the epitome of all things summer evening:
Like the last little bits of sun,
protesting the eventual onset of darkness,
easing its arrival with a reassuring reminder that light’s still there,
winking knowingly as you try desperately to hold them in your hand
and keep them forever.

Catching fireflies was always my favorite summer thing.

I hope this resonates with you.
I hope you have your own memories of wringing the last drop of sunlight out of those summer evenings,
tap-tap-tapping on the hourglass to make sure you got your June’s worth of adventure.
I hope that you closed your eyes and smiled softly inward as you recalled them.

Because if you, too, passed the other 3 inferior seasons eagerly anticipating the abundance of sunlight that summer affords,
waiting with bated breath for that hourglass to flip and fill,
then maybe you’ll understand

when I explain to you that depression is waiting for the sun to hurry up and set so that you can rightly go to bed.

Imagine what it would be like to wake up on June 20th and realize that you haven’t seen a single lightning bug this year–
not because they’re not there,
but because you aren’t.
Because for a couple seasons, now,
after waking up already tired,
and passing the day in a sad, uncomfortable haze,
unable or unwilling or both to do much at all outside of your bed,
you just sit nightly by your window
and wait in agony for the sun to set,
cursing those extra minutes and seconds of daylight
that you once treasured.

Because all you want to do
is go back to sleep.

That which once brought you such pure, unadulturated joy,
now brings you a mocking, tormented sort of pain.

This is depression.

But thankfully, just like minutes of sunlight,
the weight of depression waxes and wanes,
and with time,
and hard work,
and courage,
and patience,
the desire for bedtime to arrive
gradually eases.

Just like the falling of night,
the longing for sleep comes a minute or so later
every night
until one night
when you find yourself sitting around a backyard with friends,
in still-damp swimsuit,
smiling and laughing,
and just as the thought strikes you
that you haven’t done any of those things in a very long time,

you notice the knowing wink of a firefly.


This post is about getting rid of plantar warts!

Yup. For real. This post is not about love, or birding, or self-discovery, or mental illness, or playing outside (wait, it is a little bit about playing outside), or Lake Erie, or my tragic relationship stories. It’s about warts. I’m serious. You probably don’t want to read this. Turn back now.

But there are some people out there who need to hear my words about warts! This post is for them.

Really, this is your last chance to turn back if you don’t care about warts.

Okay, you’ve been… WARTned… ok that didn’t really work.

Basically, I have had been plagued by the cursed little beasties known as plantar (or plantar’s, or Plantar’s, I don’t really care) warts for years and years now. They first appeared in high school. I remember sitting in the bathroom with my first girlfriend nervously opening one of those Dr. Scholl’s freeze-a-way kits and trying to… well… freeze them away. Spoiler alert: warts (or my warts, at least) are not afraid of the cold.

Ever since then, I’ve tried everything to get rid of these angry harbingers of ugliness and slight discomfort. I’ve tried everything over the counter. I’ve tried duct tape and other means of “suffocating” them. I’ve been taking vitamins A and D for a couple years to try to kill the virus itself. I’ve tried castor oil, garlic, vinegar, the rest of the kitchen cabinet. I’ve tried manually removing them at home (ouch) and at a podiatrist’s office (double ouch). I’ve tried everything short of surgery. And they always come back. Always. I finally gave up and decided that the universe just wants me to have warty feet.

So imagine my utter surprise when I noticed a couple weeks ago that my foot was actually looking better. Yesterday I looked again, and lo and behold, each wart is slowly getting smaller and less ugly. What the heck?! What’s changed in the past couple months?

The seasons, that’s what! Pete Seeger was right: there’s a season for everything, and apparently summer is not the season for warts.I put two and two together and realized that I’ve been walking around barefoot for the past couple months.

Now, I go around barefoot every summer, but never as much as I have been this summer. (I’ve been at my parents’ house in the suburbs where there are fewer shattered liquor bottles decorating the sidewalk.) My warts have been getting intimate with concrete, dirt, and rocks–and they don’t get along well.

And as any good wild child knows, going around barefoot makes your feet a little Mowgli-ish. My soles have gotten a little thicker and rougher, with some callouses. But I can definitely tell that it’s not just callouses covering up the warts. The warts themselves are absolutely getting smaller. I’d say they’re about half the size they were a month ago.

So that’s it! Dr. Lauren’s* prescription for banishing plantar warts for good: go around barefoot. Go play in the forest. Go walk in the river. Go climb a tree. And don’t wear shoes! You’ll thank me.

*I am very obviously not a doctor. This blog post is not a substitute for medical advice. If you have severe warts or whatever, go to a real doctor. I cannot be held liable for any unfortunate thing that happens to you while you are walking around barefoot. Shit happens.

Love: No Lighter Fluid Needed

I originally published this post on my Medium page. But I can’t decide whether I actually like Medium. So now I’m putting it here. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I’ve had a handful of enjoyable yet ultimately inconsequential relationships. These were largely about sex, about buying each other lunch, about having another warm body around. They were nice and full of caring and, best of all, uncomplicated. And there’s nothing wrong with having relationships like these.

I’ve also had two relationships that each changed the course of my proceeding life. Two decidedly un-un-complicated relationships. Two “real” relationships, “grown up” relationships. Relationships where saying “I love you” was never even flinched at, and words like “our” and “future,” and “when we” and “buy a house” were smashed together without a second thought, like particles colliding and creating big booms of emotion. You know. Those relationships.

Both of those two relationships were wild straight out of the gate. They were each like a campfire started with a healthy dose of lighter fluid and newspaper: the meekest match-flame rapidly expanded with a flash of blinding light and a wave of overwhelming heat. Yes, with those two women, love went from a schoolgirl crush to a roaring fire in what seems in retrospect like the blink of an eye.

But then in both of those relationships, eventually — just like fires founded on lighter fluid and newspaper and other such shortcuts — love quietly sputtered. It happened so suddenly that we were still dancing around the fire before we realized it had gone out. We were left quite unexpectedly in the cold, dark night, each blinking blankly at the space where we had just moments ago seen the other standing beside us.

As most heartbroken exes have, I’ve spent many long, weepy nights struggling to figure out what went wrong in each of these cases. Where could I have done something different to create a different outcome? Why didn’t this work? How did this happen? There’s some gasoline in the shed, I think– should I go get it?

Eventually I learned that those questions don’t necessarily have answers, and if they do, they’re unhelpful at best (and mentally anguishing at worst). I realized that in both those cases, beneath the violently passionate flame of new love, we didn’t have much to support us. It was like we’d gone out and bought all these fancy lights and bells and whistles and accessories for a bicycle that was missing its drivetrain and back wheel.

I’ve learned that if you want a relationship to burn steadily for a long time, it must be built upon a solid foundation. Whether you like your campfires teepee-style or log cabin-style, it doesn’t matter, take your pick — as long as there’s something underneath you for support. No lighter fluid needed.

That brings me to my second — and perhaps harder to swallow — point. When you’re building a campfire for the long haul, one that will burn steadily and keep you warm for a very long time, it means that you might not necessarily see a great rising pyre at the outset. Love doesn’t always start with a wild roar. Sometimes it starts with a whisper that slowly, methodically increases in urgency. Don’t assume that because a person didn’t radiate a sort of heavenly light the very first time you clapped eyes on her, she’s not “the one.”

Maybe we have to grow our love from seed. Maybe we don’t always have a jump-start, a dramatic reaction, a quick ignition. Maybe we have to build love the old-fashioned way: with tinder and kindling and fuel to burn on. We have to provide the spark ourselves, then fan it tenderly, giving it plenty of room to breathe. No lighter fluid needed.

I guess what I’m asking you to do is to not ignore the one who seems like a great partner but ahh there’s just no chemistry, ya know? No spark. You might be surprised to figure out that you are capable of making your own spark, with a little patience and effort. And the fire you make by your own hand will be brighter and warmer for a much longer time.

On Purpose

Here’s my response to WordPress’ daily prompt:

Purpose is something I’ve struggled a lot with lately. It’s queer how such an abstract noun can affect such concrete consequences in one’s life.

We speak often about our lives “having Purpose.” What does this actually mean? Is Purpose a little slip of paper with a short checklist of tasks to be accomplished, passed out by someone on your first day of adulthood? Did I miss that day?

Is Purpose a vocation — firefighter, accountant, kayak guide — that I was supposed to choose based upon that multiple-choice test they had us take in high school? I think I was under the bleachers kissing my first girlfriend when they went over the results.

Is Purpose finding a thing that you love to do, and doing it all the time? I’ve seen written: “do what you love and the money will follow.” So I spend an afternoon birdwatching, and when I return to my car and go to put my binoculars back in their case, I am shocked to find that no currency of any sort has materialized in there.

Is Purpose a prize you stumble across while sweeping the sand of some great beach with a device designed to detect destiny? Am I to simply keep walking, plotting a methodical course, waving my arms steadily back and forth in front of me, waiting to hear a beep? How do I know I’m even on the right beach?

A couple months ago, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work as an Interpretive Planner with Taylor Studios, Inc., one of the nation’s premiere exhibit design firms. I was over the moon. I pulled myself up by my roots and found myself trying to replant them in Champaign, IL.

Obviously, this opportunity was a Big Deal for my Life Purpose. A full-time job! A salary! Moving On Up! Finding My Way! Lots of capital letters, and all.

And it was, sure. It was a great job, working with great people, doing important things. TSI is an incredible company. I loved it there.

But things happened. Things I didn’t expect and couldn’t have foreseen even with the best pair of optics on the market. A latent depression that, cicada-like, returns to stretch its legs and see what’s new. Anxiety that I’ve always carried around abruptly getting much heavier, and commencing a curious ticking sound. A longing for my family and friends and homeland so profound that it must surely be some evolutionary remnant of a migratory urge.

I had found Great Purpose in my Great Move and Great Job and Great Growing Up. So why was I suffering to the tune of unbearable?

I think it’s largely because I thought I knew more about Purpose than I really did. I find this is a great causer of problems in many different arenas, this gap between what we think we know and what we really do, and then between those two and what we can ever actually really know.

So here I am, just giving you a gentle reminder that maybe you don’t know all that much about your Purpose, even if you think you do. Don’t be surprised if Things Happen and quietly, almost tenderly tear your theory to shreds. Don’t be surprised, and don’t despair. You’re on the same beach I’m on. You can keep searching frantically for Purpose if you want, but I’ve decided to just sit back and watch the tide for awhile, and I’m doing just fine.

New things!

Hello! I hope you’re enjoying this rainy (or not, depending on your particular sky’s mood) Sunday as much as I am. I just wanted to share some upcoming ch-ch-changes to this blog.

This may come as a shock, but I can be wordy. My feverish love affair with language sometimes bogs me down. But I know that brevity is (usually) good for blogging, and (always) good for my job.

So in an effort to hone my skills of concision, I’m going to try to start posting some “micro” content, a la the great Seth Godin (and many others). I’ve never written this way before. I may be utterly miserable at it. Hopefully I won’t scare too many people away.

The second tidbit of newness is that I’m going to start porting my content over to Medium. I’ve enjoyed the platform passively for awhile, and I’d like to try it out. For the time being, I’ll post to both locations. If Medium seems like a nice place to settle down and raise a family, Love and Birding might end up living there permanently.

For now, you can follow me on Medium! You’ll find last week’s post there soon, followed closely by my first “micro-post.” In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this bathroom wall quote that made me wrinkle my face in a not unpleasant way:


A quote on the wall of Caffe Paradiso in Champaign, IL:

“The fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of futurism.”


As gay as a four-leafed clover

A couple weeks ago, I got a kick out of a great Autostraddle post called “The Impossible Math of Gay Soul Mates.” It examines a great episode of This American Life through the lesbian lens. If you haven’t yet read it, please go do so. I’ll be here when you get back.

Are you properly dejected yet? If not, don’t worry! Just keep reading. We’ll get you there.

Jokes aside, I found myself nodding along as Erin slogged through the tragic equation that I knew from the start would only spit out a coefficient of hopelessness. I appreciated her insight, because it’s something I’ve tried to explain many, many times. More on that later.

I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow, though, when I saw that Erin lived in Portland. Ah, Portland. The mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow of queerness. The Eden about which we all whisper in hushed, reverent tones. More or less Narnia.

I decided to try out Erin’s math on my new home of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. It’s a city (okay, two cities, but not really) that’s far smaller than Portland, and probably less gay. Oh, and if you’re double-checking my math, I’m rounding down. Because I’m a horribly jaded pessimist when it comes to love. Horribly jaded pessimists always round down.

125,176 — The number of people living in Champaign or Urbana.

62,588 — Half of those people have ladyparts.

31,294 — We’ll assume that half of the ladies are single. Aaaaall the single ladies.

5,476 — I used Erin’s age range factor, assuming 17.5% of CU’s bachelorettes are within my age range.

1,369 — The attraction scale. Maybe it’s naive, but I like to think I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to physical attraction. Instead of the 20% taken by Erin and Kestenbaum, I used a round 25%.

1,026 — Now the trickier ones. Like Erin, I’m not gonna make a lady furnish her diploma, but I do value education, self-improvement, career development, motivation, and a solid lady pantsuit. I’ll stick with Erin’s assumption that 75% of lesbos feel the same way.

853 — Here’s something Erin and Kestenbaum both left out: non-smokers. In 2014, that was 83.2%.

419 — You got to move it, move it. According to the CDC, 49.2% of adults met the official Physical Activity Guidelines for aerobic physical activity in 2014. Those guidelines seem pretty reasonable to me, so I factored in 49.2%.

139 — Now, of course, there are a host of factors that are impossible to quantify. Sense of humor. Sensitivity factor. Common interests. I think a good way to judge this is to reflect on dates I’ve had in the past. Of all the women who have ever piqued my interest, what portion did I ultimately end up really attracted to? If I had to guess, I’d say about a third of the women who I’ve gone on a first date with really captivated me, enough to request a second date and seek a relationship.

92 — And finally, the factor that Erin brought up: are the feelings mutual? Again, I’ll base this on my past experiences in the dating world. I think I’ve been pretty lucky (or perceptive?) in not getting rejected too terribly often. Of all the ladies I have sought to build a relationship with, I’d say about two-thirds of them reciprocate, and agree to go steady with me.

So there you go: at this point in my life, in the city I live in, about 92 single ladies who meet a lot of my important standards are maybe interested in me too. Hey, that’s not bad!

Oh, wait. Did you forget why we were here?

That’s right! IT’S TIME FOR THE DRAMATIC EFFECT!! I haven’t yet added in the queer factor. And while I wasn’t able to find any statistics on the LGBT rate in Champaign-Urbana, I think it’s safe to assume it’s on par with the Illinois average. 3.8% it is.

Drum roll, please…


I’ve moved to a hip and happening new city, single and ready to mingle, thrilled to see what my new home has to offer. I plan to stay here for at least a couple years–say, till I’m 27 or so. I know that it’s silly to get attached to plans, and I’m not, but I’ll admit that part of my Grand Life Vision for the celebratory milestone of Age 30 includes settling in to start a family. So I think it’s reasonable to hope to have met the other half of that family equation by age 27.

All this to say: in a perfect world, this is the city where I’ll find my Person. And I’ve only got three options.

But of course, it’s not a perfect world. I might not find my Person by the date I’ve marked with cute little pink stars in my Lisa Frank trapper-keeper.

Photo of notorious trapper-keeper artist Lisa Frank

Sidebar: Have you seen Lisa Frank?

In fact, I might never find my Person at all–or I might find three of them. (This isn’t the time for me to digress about soul mates vs. life partners, but here’s an article I highly recommend.) And it’s obviously kinda goofy to try to fit anything as rich and complex and mercurial as love into a mathematical equation.

But on the other hand… it’s real. This is reality for lesbians, and for anyone else whose dating pool is constrained for any reason. It’s real, and it’s frightening, and it brings me to my Soapbox Moment for this post: it’s a really good reason to stop judging lesbians (or anyone) for “U-Hauling.”

Some time ago, I was talking to a friend after a particularly hard breakup. Conversation rolled around to the classic lesbian stereotype of moving in together way too soon, and she asked why I had done it (again). As Erin points out, it’s this impossible math. It’s the fact that as a queer person, the odds of love are stacked so against you from the outset that if you find someone who seems even the littlest bit like Life Partner Material, it’s only natural to want to plant your flag and set up shop. Because if that person gets away, you never know when or where another match might be found.

It’s also why we settle. It’s why my last relationship ended not long after a painful conversation in which it was revealed that my partner had never felt the same way about me as I did about her–and had never actually felt that strongly for anyone she had ever been with. Even if we find a person who we like a lot or maybe even love, but we know that it’s not that crazy-in-love that we’ve always been told to wait for… we settle. Because we’re afraid that it might be the closest we ever get, and we don’t want to pass up a “pretty great” because we’re waiting for a “truly incredible” that we might never bump into.

So sure, keep kidding about what a lesbian brings on the second date. But when you hear that your queer friend is looking for a new apartment again, don’t immediately jump to eye-rolls and tsk-tsks and “shouldn’t she know better by now?”s. First, pull out your trusty TI-83+ and crunch some numbers for yourself. Think about how it must feel to be single in a world where finding a match is like finding a four-leafed clover. And save your judgment. And offer to help your lesbian friend move because she’ll probably provide some really good snacks.

Photo of root beer and ice cream

Seriously, such good snacks.


An open letter from a Park Desert

It was a warm and sunny weekend in the Midwest. Having moved to Champaign mid-February, I had anticipated being cooped up indoors for awhile. So when thoughtful Global Climate Change gifted us with a high of 70 this Saturday, I jumped at the chance to get outside. A bit of internet research led me to a disappointing conclusion. I had two options for a Saturday Afternoon Adventure here in central Illinois.

One option was to stroll the abundant, cute little city parks. These parks are refreshing, breaking up the urban landscape with freckles of green. But their recreational potential is really limited to (a) exercising your Yorkie or iguana (b) swinging on swings (not complaining) or (c) admiring the lovely sculptures (again, not complaining; I rode a bronze horse the other day, and it was delightful). Not exactly worthy of busting out my binocular harness.

I chose the second option, which was to take a drive to one of the handful of state parks that form an unfortunately girthy halo around Chambana. At just under an hour’s drive, the closest was Moraine View State Park. The pictures I saw online… well… they didn’t thrill me. The park’s website left a lot to be desired, too. The impression I got from the internet would ultimately echo my feelings about the park itself.

Sure, it was a place to roam. I saw a couple interesting birds and some pleasant scenery. But there were no oak savannas, no mighty mighty river, no wet prairies. There were no trails longer than a mile. In fact, there were no trailheads or maps to help us find the three sad trails that did exist; we drove around for quite awhile before finally spotting a decrepit wooden post marked “nature trail.” That description was a bit inflated, to say the least.

Moraine View State Park lake

Bright colors and cheery atmosphere brought to you by Instagram.

Without getting too melancholy, I’ll just say that I felt a pretty profound homesickness yesterday. What’s that phrase that you always hear, regarding divorce? “I’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle…” Some of my fondest memories of my time in Toledo are from weekend jaunts at Oak Openings Preserve or Maumee Bay State Park or Wildwood or some other lush oasis of green. I could hop on my bike or in my car, and within minutes, be lost among towering oaks or cactus-dotted sand dunes.

You’ve heard of Food Deserts, I’m sure. While not quite so grave, there’s another kind of desert that exists in our society: the Park Desert. And after many years in a metropolis blessed with a truly world-class park district, it is truly, deeply saddening to find myself living in one.

So this Letter from a Park Desert is my humble request of the people of the greater Toledo area, and of anyone who lives in a region with similarly amazing parks:

Please, please don’t take your green space for granted.

Especially for those who have lived in Toledo for years, it’s all too easy to grow accustomed to that “certain lifestyle,” to forget (or not even realize at all) that there are places out there without parks like yours. It’s easy for an after-work jog at Swan Creek or a weekend hike at Oak Openings to become so second-nature that you don’t even consider what it would be like to not have places like these.

(If you couldn’t see it coming: I am now going to climb up on my soapbox for a minute.)

Just as it’s easy to take these parks for granted, it’s easy to take their creation, their upkeep, their quality for granted. When I tell people that my new job involves writing copy for exhibits in museums and zoos and the like, the most common response I get is this: “Oh! I never actually thought about how there has to be someone who does that.” It makes sense. Grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and you don’t stop to think about how it got to be that way, who made it, for what reasons.

But parks don’t just appear. (Obviously – or I wouldn’t be here bemoaning Park Deserts.) Parks don’t clean themselves up, they don’t mark their own trails, they don’t give potential visitors information to attract them there. Parks don’t select their own rare and interesting wildlife out of a mail-order catalog. Parks don’t have the ability to maintain their own unique and beautiful habitats (thanks largely to our handiwork as humans).

Parks are the work of nature, sure. But they’re also the work of people. Of very learned, very dedicated, very professional people. People who work diligently, tirelessly, and nearly always thanklessly, behind the scenes to make those parks as wonderful as they are. People who have to make important decisions that will result in their parks either flourishing or fading.

So here’s the corollary to my first request that you don’t take your parks for granted:

Trust in the people who make these decisions.

They are in their respective positions for a reason. They did not walk in off the street, I can assure you. They know what they’re doing. And, perhaps more importantly, they care. They care deeply. They want, ultimately, one thing: they want for you to not have to live in a Park Desert.

So if those people believe that the deer herd must be thinned, carefully and safely, to keep your park beautiful and wild and healthy? Trust them.

If they believe that a marketing campaign will improve user experience, solve costly customer service issues, and attract more visitors and residents (and their money) to your city? Trust them.

If they feel that in order to keep one of these learned professionals – these people who care deeply about their parks and the health and happiness of the public – around and dedicated to their agency, they need to offer him or her a higher salary? Trust them.

These are the people who have offered up the incredible banquet of green (and red and orange and indigo and sienna and brilliant yellow and deep brown…) you find spread before you, yours to enjoy. They’ve kept you out of the Park Desert, and they will continue to do so, if you let them – if you trust them, if you support them and the decisions they make. As a new resident of a Park Desert, trust me when I say you’ll be glad you did.


#humblebrag: I’m a Writer (capital W)

Good evening, readers! I wanted to take a moment to apologize for my recent absence from bloglife.

Actually, that’s a stiffly-built formality if ever I wrote one. I really just want to #humblebrag. (I only feel comfortable using this word since it recently appeared as my Word of the Day.)

I’ve been busy of late. After a lovely holidaytime with my family, I jumped into my car and raced off to dazzling Rantoul, IL for an interview with Taylor Studios, Inc., an interpretive design firm.

greeings from rantoul.jpg

Home of 12,000 people, three Mexican restaurants, a healthy population of old-timey fighter pilot ghosts, and one killer interpretive design firm.

The interview must have gone well, because I was offered a position as Interpretive Planner. If you have no idea what the terms “interpretive design firm,” “interpretive planner,” or “fighter pilot ghosts” could possibly mean, you’re not alone. I’ll cast some light on these very vague, millennial-sounding job words in a forthcoming post. (Well, the fighter pilot ghosts are exactly what they sound like.)

For now, I’ll just say that I’ll be doing a lot of writing. And that makes me incredibly happy.

I’ve loved words as long as I can remember. Collecting them like stones, sorting them by color and feel. Stringing them together in different patterns, testing each prototype on paper or in speech, feeling the effects of that particular combination. The only sport I played in school was Power of the Pen; I’ve gone through notebooks like toilet paper.

So when I was offered this position – working with the same concepts I knew and loved from my prior work as an interpreter and programmer, but using the vehicle of writing more than speech, as a part of a small and passionate company that creates incredible products and experiences – I couldn’t be happier.

That is, until last week, when the editor of Adventure Kayak magazine told me that she’d like to publish my last blog post in their next issue as an op. ed. piece. The new job was like a slowly growing campfire: a rising, glowing, hard-earned satisfaction. This? Well, this was a firecracker – one that went straight to my head.

All this #humblebragging to say that I’m very grateful. I’ve worked very hard in my life, particularly in the last year or so, to get to this point. To the point of calling myself a Writer, capital W. And it feels awesome to finally be here.

This time last year, I was flailing, not knowing what I wanted to do or why. I was, by and large, working for my paycheck. Sure, I was invested in my agency, and its mission, and I enjoyed what I did. But my work seldom brought me joy. It rarely got me passionate. I never felt challenged. Perhaps more importantly, I felt resentful toward the people in my life who were so committed to and enamored of their careers that they felt deeply and personally fulfilled by them.

So I guess I’ll try to bring this around to some sort of moral, try to infuse this wholly self-indulgent post with some sort of redemptive message. If you’ve ever been jealous of someone who is totally, sickly in love with their career…

Harness that emotion. Put it to work for you. Tell yourself “I want that,” and take steps toward getting it. Think about what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, what you love. Figure out how to make it your life’s work. Write down some goddamn action items, the whole nine yards.

And make it happen.

Because when I was asked offhandedly the other day what I did for a living, and I simply said “I’m a Writer,” the feeling was worth the work.

You may not need education, but I wouldn’t kayak without it

This is a response to Tim Shuff’s article We Don’t Need No Education: Credential Overproduction in the Kayaking World, which appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Adventure Kayak Magazine.

Full disclosure: I’m a millennial. I’m of the demographic Tim Shuff characterizes as “busy paying off the student loans for the PhDs on their Starbucks resumes.” I may not have a “Starbucks resume” (and isn’t entirely certain what that is) but I’m trying my hardest in a world where the generational divide can seem downright cavernous. And over the past year or so, I’ve become a kayaker. I’m writing this not to argue, but simply to share my viewpoint. Still reading? Good on you for your willingness to listen to a millennial!

Shuff makes a lot of excellent points, and his overall message (as I understand it) is valid. Kayakers, especially those new to the community, get bogged down by all the training and certification hoops they’re asked to jump through. The wall of intimidating acronyms (ACA, IDW, IT, SEIC, and on) is large and stands prominently in the newcomer’s path down to the water.

Veterans of the sport understand that it’s not the only path. That there’s another route to becoming a kayaker: the “caveman” route. The figure-it-out-as-you-go route. The option to quietly side-step officiality and simply trot down to the surf. So why don’t we millennials take this simpler, nobler path?

The thicket of acronyms is so unavoidable that newcomers might not even see that other route. Maybe that thought has genuinely never occurred to them. Or maybe it has. Maybe they know that the “caveman” route exists. But here’s the thing: that path isn’t free of barriers, either. It comprises lots of obstacles that exist in the lives of us youngsters. There are emotional barriers. There are social barriers. There are financial barriers. We didn’t choose to put those hurdles there, but there they are.

Let’s address the helicopter in the room. Yes, I am one of the earlier products of “helicopter parenting.” My parents were concerned for my safety, and wanted me to know that they were proud of me. And yes, I’m now rather insecure. I’m anxious, I’m timid, I’m nervous. I don’t blame my parents; I had a great childhood and I love the person I’m growing to be. Being helicoptered made me sensitive, thoughtful, and honest. It also made me too terrified to buy a boat, drag it down to Lake Erie, and hop in. What may sound like an adventure to some sounds like a cold and watery grave to this helicoptee. Blame my upbringing, blame my generation, blame whatever you want – still, I could never do it.

Certifications give me something I value above thrill: peace of mind. They give me confidence in my ability to be safe, to live to paddle another day. The confidence they afford me allows me to actually relax and have fun while paddling, rather than worry with each stroke. At the end of the class, the instructor gives me the pat on the back that I need to feel secure. If it weren’t for a class, an instructor, a credential, I’d never have the gumption to get out on the water. Credentials empower the Meek of Heart to conquer the intimidating emotional barrier to paddling.

Classes help with the social barrier, too. You may be thinking that I don’t need an acronymed instructor for that – I should just go out and find some kayaking buddies! Well, maybe that’s feasible in mystical places like The West Coast, where there’s a kayak shop on every corner and paddlers on every pond. I live in Toledo, Ohio. There’s a paddling shop an hour away. There’s one small livery just out of town, but they offer no instruction. There is a relatively new kayaking club, which is a haven and a blessing.

I wouldn’t have found that club, though, if it weren’t for my ACA class. The class was a gateway to meeting the very few fellow kayakers in my area. And given what I’ve already told you about being helicoptered, you can probably guess that I’d prefer not to paddle alone. For people who live in places like I do, the social barrier is a real obstacle to paddling. It’s classes and instructors that welcome us into the sport with open arms.

But even if I could find paddling buds on my own, I’d still be up a creek without… well, you know. When Shuff said that my ilk are busy paying off student loans, he was absolutely right. I was ushered directly off the high school graduation stage and into an expensive 4-year program at a big, impressive (and credentialed!) university. I graduated with a little over $33,000 of debt. I make about $23,000 per year. I live in one of the most affordable cities in the nation, and my monthly bills total about $1000 (that’s with minimum payments). All told, if I want to make meaningful progress toward getting out of debt, there’s not much left over for buying ‘yaks.

So I’m left looking for a boat to borrow. The most economical option is to rent from a livery, but as we already discussed, there’s only one in the area (and that one stretch of river will get old pretty quick), and I’m nervous to just head out on my own. Once again, credentials are my answer. I can go out with a certified instructor for a fraction of the cost of buying my own gear. I can take an ACA class, which is a bit more expensive, but still within my means, and ultimately empowers me to explore other options. Of course I want to buy my own gear someday. But for now, these options are the only ones that make financial sense to this debt-saddled millennial.

So yes, there are two routes to the water: taking the path through the certification jungle, or hurdling the emotional, social, and financial barriers that exist in the lives of people my age. So what’s a girl to choose? Sure, the certification route is time-consuming and bureaucratic and not right for everyone. But the other obstacles can be bigger, badder, and real-er. Certification isn’t the only way, but for some, it might be the best way.

Should we be admonished by the elders of the sport for choosing the route that makes the most sense for us? I think not. After all, no matter what route we take, we’re getting ourselves down to the water. Whether it’s the fast and furious dash of Shuff’s generation, or the slow, methodical crawl of mine – new people are paddling. Isn’t that what we all want?

The best-laid plans…

…I can’t even finish this lead-in. Sigh. Another plan going where best-laid plans go.

The first day of a New Year glows with the best of intentions. Sometimes we state them very clearly, as Measurable Objectives. We craft intricate plans, with bullet points and spreadsheets. Other times, the intentions are fuzzier around the edges, more like Goals than Objectives. (Is it at all obvious that I’ve been writing lesson plans all week?)

Whatever the flavor of plan, it will most likely fail. The statistics, as usual, do not lie. I could quote some here, but you already know the punch line. The overwhelming majority of New Year’s Resolutions fail. And then how do we feel? Awful.

I’m no exception. I made pretty lofty plans for 2015! Plans for a new job. Plans for learning my kayak roll. Plans for a relationship I treasured. They were great plans, and the idea of their fulfillment made me very happy, and so I became attached to them.

Turns out that those plans weren’t so attached to me, though. One by one, they were swatted from my grip by the great cosmic hands of the universe, or whatever. And as most people are when their plans are dismantled, I was left feeling frustrated, heartbroken, disappointed – in short, 50 shades of not great.

So what, then, should be my resolution for this fresh and glorious new year? After the spectacular failure of my plans for 2015, one might think that it would be to never make another plan again. But should it?

A certain quote from CS Lewis brought me comfort in many times made dark by the Great De-Planning of 2015. Lewis said:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Love is really just a different species of plan, I think. To make a plan is to be vulnerable. To make a plan is to create an opportunity to fail at that plan. And that failure could bring guilt, despair, and any of the other 48 shades of not great.

Plans are like love in that way. They’re also like love in that we can’t simply stop making plans just because we know that they might not work out. What would we ever accomplish? From the tiniest plan to feed your cats, to the hugest plan of starting a family, we must have goals. We need some greater vision to move toward, even if the movements are a little disjointed and clumsy.

The problem comes when we become attached to our plans. Sometimes we allow our plans and our visions of achieving them to become an integral part of our happiness. When we cling so tightly to our plans that they become part of our identity, that’s when we’re totally devastated by their failure.

So this year, I’ve decided to do something simple but important: to just approach the year with a sort of nonchalant warmness. I’ve decided to have a goal, but to not attempt to plan out every little strategic move toward that goal. And I definitely won’t be getting attached to any theorized means to my end.

I want to make 2016 the Year of Me. I’m going to build my own identity – one that doesn’t rely upon having a fancy new job, or living in a hip new city, or performing feats of athleticism, or even having a romantic partner. I’m going to just be me, moving toward a goal of self-love and general happiness, no matter what path I end up taking to get there.

I’ll admit that I had big plans for today. Map out my workout plan! Apply for the latest awesome job I found! Finish editing the first episode of Yet Unnamed Podcast! All of these plans represented things that are important to me and my wellness and my betterment. All of these plans were Objectives to support my Goal, my commitment to making 2016 the Year of Me. These plans were laid well.

But when push came to shove, I realized that today just wasn’t a day for plans. At least, not those plans.

I realized that today, what I actually needed was to watch a lot of Parenthood. I needed to eat a lot of Christmas cookies. I needed to take a nap with my cat. I needed to make my bed purely so that I could lie down in it and watch more Parenthood. I needed to attempt to make a really nice dinner, fail miserably, then have a protein bar and a glass of V8 and call it a balanced meal. Oh yeah, that happened in my bed, too. Deep, deep into Parenthood.


Season 6 is on Netflix. Haddie’s finally a lesbian. Can you really blame me?

Am I incredibly proud of the noble contributions to humankind I made today? No. But do I feel totally awful? No.

And because I didn’t feel awful when my little Objectives for the day ended up falling through, I know that I still worked toward my Goal. I didn’t become so attached to my To-Do List that I feel woefully incompetent for not crushing it. I still took steps toward happiness, even if they weren’t the steps I’d planned on.

I feel like this is the place for a nice, shiny, pull-it-all-together concluding statement. But not right now. I have some more Parenthood to watch.