my hair is gone but I’m still a lady, dammit

I chopped all my hair off last week.

And no, it wasn’t some big, outrageous move in protest of societal gender stereotypes. I wasn’t trying to make a feminist statement about beauty standards. I’m not having an emotional breakdown or rebirth. I’m not even going to bore you with some rant about how my hair doesn’t have to symbolize my sexuality or whatever.

I just got tired of my long hair, that’s all.

I woke up one day, looked at the frizzy, limp locks resting lifelessly on my shoulders, and I was over it. I was sick of making the choice between letting my wavy, crazy strands stay loose and pulling them back into a messy top knot every morning. I was tired of the time it took to tame my mane into submission if, god forbid, I actually wanted straight hair on any given day. I was sick of washing it and drying it and shopping for hair products that I wanted to believe would do the impossible. So I got rid of it.

Well, most of it anyway. I made an appointment and strode into the salon with nothing but the idea that I wanted “short hair.” I felt empowered. I felt that, if I was going to do this at any time in my life, this was as good a time as any. I’m moving in two weeks, this would help signify my “fresh start.” (Okay, maybe there’s at least one goopy metaphor to be found in this experience, so sue me.) So I babbled my half-baked ideas to my stylist and hoped to god I was giving her a clear enough picture that I wouldn’t end up bald. And then I watched as my long, lifeless, pain-in-the-ass locks fell straight to the floor.

I felt okay about it, even as my stylist kept snipping and trimming and my hair kept getting shorter and shorter. I watched my face in the mirror, a smiled plastered on in fear that if I stopped, I wouldn’t feel okay anymore. I thought about all pretty braids and curls that would no longer adorn my head and my smile got weaker. I watched as the stylist dried my hair and it no longer tickled my neck or back, and my smile started to disappear. I got nervous. I haven’t had hair this short since I was a toddler. Would this still look good tomorrow, when I had nothing but my inept hands attempting to shape and smooth it? Would I end up looking like Peter Pan? Or (worse) a 40 year-old soccer mom? OH GOD, WHY DID I DO THIS?!

But it was over, and I walked out of the salon, my head so light I worried it would fly up off my body like a lost balloon. I checked my reflection in the mirror of a public restroom and barely recognized myself. But I didn’t look like Peter Pan. Or a soccer mom. I looked like me, with short hair. And I liked it.

And yeah, it’s taking some getting used to. I’m still learning what products to use and how to style it the right way. But I don’t feel like I’ve lost my sense of femininity. If anything, I think my self-confidence has already gotten a boost. I’m still a woman, but now I don’t have long hair to hide behind. I have to get used to a new “pretty” and that’s okay. My own beauty standards can be changed, and I’m glad I get the chance to do that. That’s the awesome thing about hair: what matters is ultimately that you own it and make it your own kind of beautiful.

I look at this haircut as a symbol of growth, as well as one adding a level of simplicity to my life. So I’m happy to be embracing the short hair, because five years ago, I never would have had the guts to do this. And that, my friends, is called “growing up.”

…I guess there were more metaphors in there than I thought. Shit.

free from the shackles of long, tangly hair

free from the shackles of long, tangly hair


why I write

I haven’t been writing much this summer. Or, I haven’t been writing much that’s good this summer, I guess. But I have been reading, as much as my full-time nannying job will allow, and during a recent trip to the library, I picked up a book called Writing Creative Nonfiction, a collection of essays and thoughts by various writers and teachers about the genre I have come to call home. The very first essay in the book, “Why I Write” by Terry Tempest Williams, struck me, and so I wrote my own response. I’m not sure this is even worth posting in blog form, but I found it immensely helpful to sit down and consider the topic: Why do I write? Why have I chosen this as my new educational and career path? What makes this artistic discipline so valuable in my life? So here we go. This is why I write.

I write to unwind. I write to heal. I write to understand. I write to connect the two halves of my brain that so often seem separate. I write because I believe in the power of the written word. I write to learn more about the world around me. I write to make peace with the past. I write to be funny. I write to be serious. I write to stretch myself.

I write because it’s addicting. I write when I’m reading a book and the words on the page jump right off of it, beckoning me to craft my own story. I write to remember. I write to find my boundaries. I write and it’s usually not good enough. I write because it’s the closest thing to bottling a moment I want to save forever. I write because it is a constant in a life full of unknowns. I write to get the bad taste out of my mouth. I write to try and capture the vivid colors of each season. I write because I can’t sleep. I write because I don’t want to sleep. I write to empty my mind. I write in my bed, with my pillows squished up around my body, keeping me upright. I write at the coffee shop, amidst other writers. I write to understand the “human experience.” I write all the things I can’t say out loud. I write because it’s the only thing that gives me the feeling of complete control.

I write when I’m craving chocolate. I write while the warm, crackly vinyl on my turntable sings to me. I write when everything else seems hopeless. I write to unplug. I write to pretend I’m somebody else. I write to take risks. I write to be safe. I write when I feel like crying. I write when I am crying. I write when I’ve had too much coffee. I write when my wifi isn’t working. I write instead of washing my hair. I write to feel the keyboard keys clack beneath my fingers. I write things that don’t make sense. I write when the thought of watching one more episode of Lost on Netflix makes my brain melt. I write to be worthy of my mysterious, dark purple lipstick.

I write to revise. I write hoping there is at least one person out there who will understand my muddled, chaotic thoughts. I write for comfort. I write when I’m waiting for my toenail polish to dry. I write and watch the words meld together on the page into something magical. I write and it’s never truly finished. I write even when I don’t want to. I write because I know the beauty that lies in a powerful story. I write because I’m good at it. I write even when I don’t believe I’m good at it. I write for me.

I write…and that’s all that matters.

at the coffee shop


goodbye is a bitch

As I write this post, I am sitting on my parents’ screened-in porch, listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, covered in a thin but ever-present layer of dog hair, drinking a Diet Pepsi (sorry Mary, I have no idea why there is no Coke in this house, please don’t be ashamed of me), and batting away the occasional advances of two loving and eager dogs whose attention-seeking behavior is clearly a ploy to steal my prime spot on the loveseat where I’ve been sprawled all afternoon.

It feels good to be home. Really, it does. And I know it will be hard to leave again when I load up my car this fall to drive all the way out west, but getting back here was hard. Over the course of one week, I watched my students graduate and move out, then gradually said goodbye to each of my friends and coworkers as they headed home — some for just the summer, some for only a few weeks, but all of whom I had no idea when I would see again. After the residence hall had emptied out, I began the daunting and stressful task of cleaning out and packing up my apartment — a collection of furniture, clothes, and knick knacks that have made two adjoining dorm rooms feel like home for the past three years. All I could take with me were the things that would fit in my sedan, so a giant purge was in order. However, in case you hadn’t noticed by now, I’m a pretty sentimental person. Getting rid of things was an ordeal. I didn’t want to part with the six dollar end table I’d picked up from the thrift store or the throw pillows I’d sewn that matched my bedding. I wasn’t ready to sort through my nail polish collection and decide between two shades of lavender, or throw out the half empty bottle of perfume I never use, or reduce the size of my mason jar collection to just a couple. As I sorted through donations, trash, and things to keep, I watched my life collect into piles. Stuff. Things. Objects. Things that could be considered meaningless but meant something to me.

As much as I wish I could be the kind of person who can throw her life into a few suitcases and boxes and be ready to move across the country, I’m not. I like to be at home, wherever I am. I like decorations — little random jars filled with things, pictures on the walls, fuzzy blankets draped across the couch, shelves filled with books and movies and frames. I like comfort and coziness, and I’d built that for myself at my home in Michigan. It felt safe. As I looked ahead at the next chapter — moving to a new city, a new region, going back to school, taking a bunch of new risks — I wanted all of that safety to come with me. I wanted to pick up my living room, with the shelf on the wall filled with books and records, the squishy couch where my kids curled up and told me their secrets, and the old tube TV that I bought before my freshman year of college, and bring it with me to Spokane. I didn’t want to sort through it, I just wanted it all to come with me. I wanted to walk into my new apartment, turn on my same twinkly lights, and see all of my things there, greeting me like old friends.

In the end, I emptied my two rooms into my tiny car. It wasn’t easy. I got rid of things I didn’t want to, but I kept all the basics, the things that were irreplaceable (and plenty of things that are, but I’m stubborn). I had no less than three major meltdowns. One such meltdown occurred two days before I was scheduled to drive back to Minnesota, as I sat surveying the refugee-like state I was living in, half-packed boxes and trash bags surrounding me, and sent a panicked text to my friend Mary, who promptly responded with “Where are you? I’m coming.” (She showed up no less than five minutes later with a bar of chocolate. I don’t know what I’m going to do without her next year.) And it was among those boxes and bags, as I cried to Mary about everything left to do the next day and my fears about leaving and how my mom hadn’t been home when I’d called her earlier, that I realized it wasn’t just my stuff I was attached to. It was everything. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to my friends who were still here, to say goodbye to this place. I had spent so much of my last days there tearing through my belongings, throwing things in trash bags and deciding what was worth the space, and not enough time making my peace with leaving.

That final night, with my car loaded up, my walls bare, and only some blankets and a massive bag of laundry left in my bedroom, I cried a lot. I said goodbye to some of the most important people in my life and sobbed. I brushed my teeth while crying. I tried to calculate if there would still be room in my car for my laundry and I cried about that. I hugged my teddy bear which I had purposely left unpacked and cried some more. But I let myself cry because, fuck, the whole thing sucked, and I wasn’t about to pretend that it didn’t.

I drove the whole twelve hours back to Minnesota in one shot, the first time I’ve ever done that alone without splitting it over two days. I filled up my gas tank and shelled out the $4.25 for an iced mocha because that’s what you do when you’re about to drive all damn day and you’re on the constant verge of tears. And even though I had been dreading the drive and I cried a lot during the first few hours, I survived it. I sang through countless Broadway soundtracks, I made up a bunch of weird harmonies to old John Mayer songs, I cursed my car for its lack of air conditioning and cruise control, I got stuck in countless construction zones, I refused to stop for fast food and instead subsisted on snacks, and, with four hours left, I crammed the raggedy blanket I’ve had since infancy under my ass to try and elevate my partially-numb right leg and keep going. But when I got home, my mom had bought four different flavors of Ben & Jerry’s to welcome me. My dogs jumped up and down. My dad told me we didn’t have to unload the car until tomorrow. I collapsed into the comfort and familiarity of a place that wasn’t my usual home and I knew it would do for the summer.

So now I’m here, with another chapter of my life behind me (and most of it still in boxes, because I hate unpacking). And I still feel a little bit like there’s a Michigan-shaped hole in my heart, and I know it’s going to feel that way for awhile. Until I move to my new apartment and I fill it with new old thrift store tables and mason jars and twinkly lights. Until I find the new people who will play Cards Against Humanity with me on a Monday night or sit at the coffee shop for hours on end. Until I have time to let my feet sink into the new soil around them and my eyes adjust to the streets and buildings so that they become just another familiar sight. Until it feels like my home.

I have unending thanks for the things I gained in magical northern Michigan over three years and four summers. I don’t think I would be sitting here, writing this post, dreaming about the future if I hadn’t taken a chance and gone there in the first place. So even though goodbye is one of the hardest words I’ve had to say in that place, I’m thankful that I got the chance to say it at all.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

my last Lake Michigan sunset. for now, at least.

on being alone

Sometimes, weekends are hard.

On certain weekends, I love being alone. I wake up in the morning and stretch my limbs across my bed, feeling the coolness of the sheets beneath my skin and reveling in the quiet of being the only person in the room. I make a plan for the day that is only mine. Maybe I’ll go for a run, maybe I’ll sit at the coffee shop after lunch, maybe I’ll read my book for hours without worrying about anything else. Maybe I’ll straighten my hair or maybe I’ll let it go wild and wavy. Maybe I’ll wear yoga pants all day or maybe I’ll put on a push-up bra and that pair of jeans that makes my butt look good. Maybe I’ll meet up with my friends or maybe I’ll just lie in bed, lazy and dreaming and doing nothing at all until the sun peeking through my curtains finally tempts me up and out. It doesn’t matter, because I am the only one I’m responsible for. And it feels so damn good to be alone, to make my own decisions, to not worry about relationships and the future and forever. To just be me.

But on other weekends, it hurts. It hurts to be alone, to wake up after a restless night of sleep and not know what’s in store for the day. To lack structure, to wish someone would call and tell me where to be when and for how long. To stare at my to-do list and not know where to start. To read a chapter in my favorite book and be so distracted by the utter silence surrounding me that I can’t even swallow the words on the page. To pick out an outfit but not know who I’m wearing it for. To cry and not know why, and then cry some more because I don’t know why I’m crying. To wish there was someone to grab coffee with, even for a quick 20 minutes. To wish there was a someone at all.

I’ve prided myself for so long on being “okay” with living a single life. I’ve made my own decisions, I’ve changed my mind, I’ve made a path for myself that is all me — I take comfort in knowing all of that. And in the midst of those things, I’ve loved, I’ve made mistakes, I’ve found friends, I’ve gotten hurt, I’ve kissed boys I shouldn’t have kissed. I’ve had experiences and I’ve learned from them, which is no small thing. I don’t know if I would be picking up and moving across the country to go back to school if I had someone else to worry about. I don’t know if I would have worked for three amazing years at a place that has totally and completely altered the way I see my life and the path that I’m on. I don’t know where my life would be, but even while I try not to focus on the What Ifs of life, it’s hard not to. What if I had met the man of my dreams in college? What if I had gotten married at 22? What if I wasn’t alone?

Relationships are complicated and messy and they make you see your life through a lens other than your own. For so long I tried to convince myself that one lens is all I need right now. But I finally believe that’s true for me — at least, most days. Other days, while the rain softly drips outside my window and I sit on my couch, wrapped in a blanket and surrounded by the scent of coffee and nail polish, I wish there was someone there to pick out a movie on Netflix with me and make fun of my dorky boxer shorts.

But I can take solace in the fact that not every weekend feels this way. And I’m proud that I’ve learned how to be my own person, that I’m not afraid to make choices for my own life. I’m not the girl sitting around, waiting for my somebody to show up. Sure, I have my moments where I feel totally and completely desperate and wish more than anything that I had a partner next to me, and I don’t think that’s wrong. When I feel like a pathetic single mess, I will own that and embrace it and allow myself to feel that way. I will allow myself to feel sad and alone on that rainy Saturday, because in the long run, I’m doing something. I’m going somewhere. I’m not letting the idea of love keep me from accomplishing the things I want in life, because you have to be your own person before you can be someone else’s.

And I know that a relationship, that love itself, won’t solve my occasional feelings of loneliness. It’s not the solution. It’s hard and it’s work and it hurts sometimes. But that’s the funny thing: being in love hurts and not being in love hurts. The presence and absence of love is an all around pain in our asses as humans, but it’s obviously important enough to us that we overlook how obnoxious it is. And I mean, I’m not one of those cynical girls who believes that “love is dead” or we’ve killed the idea of it by twisting it into something that it’s not, because what good is that belief going to do anybody? (Also, it’s a cliché.) No, I believe in love, and I’ve seen proof of its existence every day. So while I haven’t found it yet (and I have a relatively convoluted view of it that was born from viewing too many romantic comedies at a very impressionable age), I have hope that I will. But I’m not going to make it my life’s mission to find it right now, because I can’t find love until I’ve truly found myself. And at least I’m on my way to that.

portrait of a rainy day in a single girl's apartment

portrait of a rainy day in a single girl’s apartment


I’m not a risk-taker.

A year ago, I bought a GRE study book and began brushing up on my high school algebra for a test that, during undergrad, I had never even envisioned myself taking. I crafted a spreadsheet comparing the various costs, application requirements, and deadlines for nine different graduate schools. For ten months, I made checklists. I ordered transcripts. I filled out countless online forms with my personal information. I wrote. I deleted. I revised. I cried.

I waited.

And now, as I sit here eating microwave popcorn directly from the bag and listening to Nick Drake on vinyl, I’m done. It’s all over and I survived. I made it to the portion of the process that I didn’t ever really think about.

I spent so much time editing my writing sample, talking to current MFA students, contacting my references, and painstakingly finishing each application. It was so easy to think about each school, each choice, in theory. Yeah, I could live in Chicago or New York City. Sure, I’d move across the country to go back to school. No problem. It didn’t seem real. It didn’t seem tangible. When I thought about the future, the concept of place was this big blank space in my life. I pictured myself at work in a generic, nameless library. I pictured school, being a student again, but not a specific city. Even though I wanted so badly to get accepted, for someone to read my voice and pick me, I hadn’t thought past the arrival of the acceptance and rejection letters. I hadn’t thought about picking my life up and going somewhere completely new to study something that is, in most people’s minds, impractical. I hadn’t considered learning to navigate a new city, buying furniture, finding my new favorite coffee shop.

And now that’s where I’m at.

So I’m going. I’m moving to Spokane, Washington this fall to attend Eastern Washington University with a teaching assistantship. I’m going to be a writer and a teacher and a student. And I’m proud. Nobody forced me to do this but me. I made it happen. But beneath all of the relief and excitement, there is just as much stress and anxiety as there was while I hurdled through the application process. I might get there and be the worst writer in the class. I might not make any friends until January. I might get lost trying to find the grocery store. I might hate my life.

It’s finally starting to hit me that this place, this haven I’ve called home for the past three years and several summers before that, won’t be mine anymore. I won’t have trips to the beach in the dead heat of late August, or infuriating April snowstorms. I won’t lie awake in my bedroom on Sunday mornings, watching the light filter in and out of my curtains that aren’t quite dark enough and listening to teenagers whistle outside my window on their way to brunch. I won’t recount the hazy events of the night before with my friends, slumped in a booth in my favorite coffee shop. I won’t spend my evenings listening to eighteen year-olds pour their lovelorn hearts out while they sit on my couch and eat leftover donuts. It’s scary to think that something I’ve known so well, my life for three unbelievably formative years, will be gone. It’s even scarier yet to think that someone else — someone I may not even know — will be living it, taking naps on the couch I painstakingly selected for my living room and taking pictures of the snow-covered campus from my bedroom window right before Christmastime.

But I realize that leaving is just as much about saying hello to my new life as it is about saying goodbye to my old one. I can’t stay here forever, and if I’m going to leave . . . well, this is the best reason for me to do that.

I’m trying to be realistic. I know that I’m committing to at least five to seven emotional breakdowns over the next six months. I know that in the beginning I’m going to want to hide in my apartment and call my mom crying. I know that my workload will be stressful and I’ll say to myself “you chose this” while I pull an all-nighter highlighting passages in yet another collection of essays.  But I also know that I will settle in eventually. I will find friends to sit with while we stare at our respective computer screens in our favorite coffee shop. I will bake gluten-free muffins to take to my writer’s workshop. I will come to love my new home. It just might take a little while to get there.

I’m taking a risk, and I don’t normally do that. So . . . at the very least it will give me something to write about. Right?Green Lake

who needs a man when I can just date myself?

It’s February. At boarding school. In northern Michigan. And, as has been the case for the past two Februarys before this one, I am in a rut. Sure, things are looking up, and every day we are one day closer to emerging from this dark, snow-filled, winter hellhole (I really love the midwest, I really really do…), but right now, my daily routine involves sleeping, watching endless Netflix, and eating chocolate. So I’ve been looking for ways to break myself out of this lethargic mentality, to mix things up, to escape the lure of my comfortable, warm, wonderful bed, piled high with pillows, flannel sheets, a fleece blanket…

It’s harder than I expected it to be.

I try. I try to exercise instead of sleeping until noon. I try to eat vegetables instead of three grilled cheeses at lunch. I try to read one of the many books on my shelf instead of watching seven episodes of Game of Thrones in a row. But after a certain point, I even get bored with those things.

I don’t like to do things by myself. I undoubtedly classify myself as an introvert, but when it comes to activities, I’d rather have a buddy. I would never dream of walking into a nice restaurant and sitting alone to eat an entire meal. All of the thoughts that circulate through my head are enough of a burden when I’m out with another person, let alone sitting by myself and staring into space while shoveling a fancy salad into my mouth. Like, I said my idea of “alone time” is curling up in my room. Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly restless, I’ll go for a drive on the country roads near campus or head to Target to buy a new shade of nail polish. But, truth be told, I don’t get a lot of alone time anymore.

That’s not a bad thing. I enjoy spending time with my friends, and in my current living situation, they’re always just a few steps away. I can roll out of bed and head to the next dorm over to find my people. If I need a dose of social time in the middle of my cloistered writing session, all I have to do is eat dinner in the cafeteria. I can always find people to go on an adventure with on my day off. My job is very social. And I like that . . . to a point.

Sometimes, like most overscheduled, stressed out people in America, I worry that I’m not taking enough time for myself. I love spending time with my friends, and such close proximity to the people I know and love is going to be one of the things I miss most when I leave here. Suddenly, I’ll have to make plans to meet up with people at a specific place, at a specific time, and we will all drive our own cars to get there. So I try to make the most out of the time I have here, packing in as much social time as I can when I’m not working.

The problem is, I need to take time alone to recharge. It’s easy for me to make plans for myself — to sit and write, to finish a book, to go for a walk in the woods, to watch a movie I’ve been meaning to see — but it’s even easier for me to break them when something else comes along. So last week, I decided to make a real date. With myself.

At first, I thought this sounded like the most pathetic thing ever. Who goes on a date with herself? Someone who doesn’t have another person to go on the date with, duh. Would I even have fun by myself? I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to, and I’d probably get bored. But I did it anyway. And guess what? It. Was. Awesome.

It was a snowy afternoon, so I drove downtown and grabbed a table at my favorite coffee shop with a cup of black coffee and my laptop. I sat and worked on a screenplay I had recently started. I people-watched a little bit. I savored the taste of well-brewed coffee. Now, it’s worth mentioning that this part of my Me Date was not uncharacteristic. I often sit alone at the coffee shop with my computer or the latest book I’m reading. But typically, one of my friends ends up meeting me there later on. This time, I had no obligation to anyone but myself. It was freeing. It was beautiful.

After an hour and a half of writing, I walked down the street to the local independent movie theatre. This was the anxiety-inducing part of my Me Date. I had never been to a movie by myself before. I know some people do this all the time, and it now occurs to me that I’m not sure why I always felt I needed a movie-going buddy. The only time you can talk is before the movie starts. (I guess popcorn is cheaper when you split it with someone? Whatever.) I bought my single ticket to see Dallas Buyers Club (SO GOOD, by the way!), then threw caution to the wind and ordered a popcorn and a Diet Coke. (I know, it was so nice of me to treat myself.)

Sitting alone in the theatre, I felt good. Whole. Free, again. I knew I could watch the movie without the obligation of discussing it, or sharing an armrest, or even sharing my popcorn. I could process the entire experience internally, an introvert’s dream. And even though I was surrounded by people who had come with their spouses, significant others, and best friends, I didn’t feel ashamed about being there alone. I felt independent, and, if only for a couple hours, finally free of the stress and anxiety that had been plaguing me during these winter months.

I walked out of the theatre with a renewed sense of autonomy and freedom. I felt like I had cleared a hurdle. I drove home, singing along to my playlist of female empowerment anthems (typical), a smile plastered on my face. I didn’t feel alone or pathetic, but I did feel like I was on my way out of my February rut. And while I won’t henceforth be doing everything on my own, I am not as afraid of it as I used to be. If my friends don’t want to see a movie, I will go on my own. (I’m still a little not convinced I can sit alone at a restaurant for an entire meal, but who knows.) I’m still afraid of moving somewhere new on my own, but I’m getting closer to feeling like I won’t end up a hermit who never leaves her apartment. If nothing else, it’s a step in the right direction.

living in a writer's paradise.

living in a writer’s paradise.

on being boring and being okay with it

I’ve been a pretty idle writer this winter. Considering the only time I leave my room and brave the below zero temperatures and four foot high snowdrifts is to go to work, the cafeteria, or possibly the local coffee shop, you’d think I’d have written enough material for my first book by now. But somewhere in the middle of the seven thousand snowstorms that have hit northern Michigan, I lost my momentum.

For the first half of this school year, my life felt like one big manic, caffeine-fueled, essay writing session, curled up with my laptop amidst pillows and blankets in my dimly-lit bedroom. In between work shifts, four mile runs along the highway, and nights out with friends, I sat beneath the glow of my twinkly lights and worked hard to crank out enough solid material to prove that my Bachelor’s degree in music isn’t the only artistic thing about me. I wrote down phrases, portraits, and paragraphs. Little moments filled the pages of a notebook that I carried with me everywhere. I made lists of topics to explore, thoughts to flesh out. And somehow, all of that work seemed worthwhile and fulfilling. Writing and revising a bunch of essays about my small, run-of-the-mill midwestern life drove me nuts and yet it drove me at the same time. I felt like I was working toward something, like I was in the middle of a marathon and, while I wasn’t expecting to finish in record time or receive any sort of prize for my labors, I was exerting everything I had in order to get . . . well, somewhere.

Now I’m waiting. Waiting for someone somewhere to hear my voice and know that it has potential, that it can be molded and shaped into something better. My thirst for knowledge, for learning to refine my craft is greater than ever, but I’m at a standstill. I don’t know if anything will even come out of all of the work I put in this fall. So the only thing I can do is keep writing. I know that. But I can’t.

I haven’t added anything new to my notebooks in weeks. I haven’t crossed anything off my list of topics. My computer is full of documents only a few paragraphs long. My blog account has 17 unfinished drafts. I know this is part of the process, that not everything I write has to be publishable or great or even slightly good. But I’ve developed the gross habit of abandoning ship anytime the writing gets rough, or my ideas seem trite, or I can’t come up with a good synonym for a word I’ve already used too many times (thanks for nothing, I’ve hit a nonfiction wall; I’m running out of things to say about myself and my experiences, because, when it comes down to it, I don’t see myself as a particularly interesting person.

I recently got the chance to see Lena Dunham, the creator of HBO’s Girls and one of my favorite writers, speak as part of Oberlin College’s convocation. (By “got the chance,” I really mean I found out she was speaking, requested tickets via mail, convinced one of my coworkers to come with me, drove 400 miles to Ohio on my day off for the event, then drove all the way back to Michigan the next day, but whatever. I swear I’m not a creepy stalker.) As someone who wants to make a living exploring the world of nonfiction, but who is relatively a (for lack of better word) dumbass when it comes to the “industry,” I found so much solace and inspiration within her words. At one point, she discussed the concept of doing things “for the story,” something she has explored using her Girls character Hannah, and something she herself has struggled with in her life as a writer. Ultimately though, she has found a way to work creatively using her own experiences and forgoing the notion that, as a privileged white girl, her stories aren’t interesting enough to tell. She writes what she knows, and even though what she knows isn’t always the most dramatic, it’s real and compelling and relatable.

And after all, isn’t that what art is, really? It’s something that people can connect to, something that exposes the universal commonalities about the human experience. I may not have tragic stories worthy of a memoir; my parents are still happily married, I got my degree from a nice private liberal arts school, I’ve always had a roof over my head and food in my fridge. I am, by all accounts, a boring person, but I am ready to take my boring and use it to my full advantage. I can write an entire essay about nearly having an anxiety attack while attempting to navigate Chicago without a GPS, or the time I got bangs on a whim, or my love affair with purple lipstick. I can use words to make seemingly uninteresting stories seem, well, interesting. Real. And that’s what I want to do. That’s what I have to do.

I know this isn’t a new concept. I know there are plenty of people who have made their living writing what they know. But it’s taken me awhile to let go of the nagging feeling that my introverted self needs to get out more, do more exciting things, and be in situations that will fuel my writing. Now I see that I do have stories to tell. I can strive for authenticity, both in my life and in my art. I can live my life the way it is, be the person I am, and write about that. I’ve already got the material, I just have to work my ass off to make it into something I’m proud of. In my opinion, that is the true test of an artist — working with what you’ve got to make something incredible. And yeah, I’ll probably still have unfinished drafts all over my desktop and essays that never turn into anything good, but that’s okay. I’m just going to be me and write me, because, in the end, that’s all I can do.

I have no picture to prove that I was, in fact, in the same room as my idol. but I have a ticket stub that may or may not end up framed on my wall.

I have no picture to prove that I was, in fact, in the same room as my idol. but I do have a ticket stub that may or may not end up framed on my wall.