People, Places, Things: A Rhyming Thought

“What is it,” they always ask,
“That will see you most fulfilled?”
“Let me think,” I say,
“Well, for starters, a lake that is most still,
And perhaps a river that rushes,
And winds through rocks and trees.
Or maybe it’s the cold air that fills my lungs!
The air found only in the high country.

Then again, it could be the mist!
The kind that caps the mountains in the middle of the day,
Or the rays of sun that break up the clouds,
Illuminating the landscape in proud display.

It could be trails or paths that lead,
To places I’ve never been.
It could be lakes or ponds or falls,
The ones I’ve visited again and again.

Oh! Let’s not forget the meadows,
Spread vast and filled with the wildest of flowers,
The places in which you can wander,
Where you can lose yourself for hours and hours.

I think it might be a rod and reel,
Baited for trout on an autumn morn,
And drinking coffee from a tin cup,
Just after dawn, when the day is born.

It might be laughing at a joke,
Atop a mountain, high, somewhere,
Or feeling the wind kiss my face,
And run its wispy fingers through my hair.

I suppose these things to be wonderful,
My brand of adventure to be explored.
But, what truly fills one’s heart,
Is sharing this, that, or anything with those whom you adore.

For the greatest lesson I ever learned,
And the truth of it loudly rings,
Look to the nouns for the order of life:
People. Places. Things.”

Breaking the Cycle

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I absolutely adore my niece, Mia. At 3 years-old, she’s already cracking me up and I just can’t wait to meet the hilarious adult who she is bound to become. I’m excited to hear her do bits and watch her make her brother and cousins laugh. The anticipation of how her intelligence will interact with her aptitude for humor is killing me because I just know it’s going to be so perfect. She is the kind of little girl who will meet the needs of the world just by walking out of her front door.

I think about adult Mia all the time. But then I get these pangs in my heart because I know what her future looks like and I end up wanting her to stay little forever. I don’t want her heart to be touched by the darkness that this world brings. I don’t want her spirit to be crushed by the weight of envy, either her own or some one else’s. I don’t want her voice silenced by the loudness of ignorance.

I don’t want her to end up like me. Or my friends. Or any other woman who has ever believed the lies that she has heard about herself. I want more for her! For her, I want the biggest challenge to be how to cure cancer or end world hunger, not how to make her voice heard just because of her gender.

When I think about all of the terrible things I say about myself, it destroys me to imagine that child, so full of adventure and bravery and inspiration, saying those things about herself. She’ll trade her dreams for schoolhouse drama, her confidence for a seat with the cool girls, and her wide-eyed wonder for some guy who has no idea what she was worth.

not enough 5

Unless we break the cycle.

The words that we use? The words that we hear? These are the words that will eventually affect her. The best way for us to raise good women is to be good women. It’s not too late for us! It’s never too late to be good to ourselves and to each other. It’s a matter of choosing honest, kind, gracious words over the ones that we’ve heard our entire lives. We can choose good men to share ourselves with. We can call those around us to live to a higher standard of loving others. We can remember that every one of us was once a child, untainted by the ugliness of the world, and we can call back to that innocence, both in ourselves and each other, through the simple act of choosing a kind word over a hateful one.

I refuse to believe that I have been permanently wrecked. I don’t have to believe that I am worthless. I don’t have to believe that I am dumb. I don’t have to believe that I am incapable.

I know different; I know the truth. I know that I am brave and good and intelligent and able and strong and beautiful. Anyone who says different is blind and is some one who probably needs more love than even I do. Today, I choose to break the cycle because my Mia, and every little girl just like her, will not grow up as a second-class citizen. Our mothers built a world for us to be better, just like theirs built one for them, and now it is our turn to pay it forward.

My Mia will grow to tell jokes and solve problems and be the kind of friend that everyone needs. She will know how to love herself and she’ll know how because we showed her. She’ll know how to better herself, how to admit to flaws, how to come to terms with failure, and how to succeed with grace. She will know all of these things tomorrow because you and I are going to learn them today.

We may never change the whole world but we will certainly change the one around us. I don’t need the lies that I’m told to be quieted; I need the truth about myself to be louder, even if I’m the only one hearing it. I don’t need Mia to be shielded from the ugliness; I need Mia to know that she is strong enough to overcome.

So, right here and right now, you and I are going to break the cycle.
Ready? Set? GO.

The Story of the Satirical Shark

I recently purchased a remote controlled, flying shark. I find it incredibly juvenile yet impossibly fun—a brand of humor to which I happen to subscribe. I flew the stupid thing around my entire house, getting it stuck in vents along the way, learning that fans are not friends, before finally stopping it in front of the master bathroom mirror. I thought to myself, “There’s a joke here.”

I was right, there was a joke there. I thought about how funny it would be if a great white shark had the kinds of thoughts that I have when I look in the mirror. Am I pretty enough? Am I smart enough? Am I funny enough? Am I “real” enough? Will people like me?

The “Mirror, Mirror” image was the first. It cracked me up! Seeing such a powerful creature, capable of untellable feats, master of its domain, getting insecure about something so trivial as being the “fiercest of them all” in the same way that the Queen in Snow White was worried about being the “fairest of them all.” That was hilarious to me. Reimagining a shark as insecure seemed like comedy gold.

I began to think of other situations in which I could place the shark that I may elicit such joy as when I put it in front of the mirror. (I should mention, at this point I’ve decided that the shark is female. So, from here on out, I shall refer the shark as “her” instead of “it.”) I thought about all of the stereotypes that women shoulder and the worries we have, the ones that are largely based on our gender and imposed on us by our society, and I came to the realization that my little shark-project was not so much simple comedy as it was satire.

It’s satire because there’s actually a large social commentary property. If it’s silly to imagine something as powerful, beautiful, and terrifying as a shark being insecure then isn’t it also ridiculous for us to be insecure? I, as a woman, may not be the terror of the seas. But I, as a woman, am capable of far more than I’ve given myself credit for. I’m capable of far more than I’ve been led—no, than I’ve been allowed—to believe. I’m not bashing women for being insecure. I’m bashing the idea that we have to feel insecure.

We carry this notion that there is something we are missing, that there is something we must attain in order to achieve security. And that something is not logical! Insecurity is not saying, “I need a job because I don’t have one.” Insecurity is not saying, “I’m a selfish person and that is part of myself that I need to work on.” No, insecurity is when we tell ourselves that we must be prettier, smarter, funnier, wiser, and… Something-er in order for us to be liked, accepted, loved, or chosen. We must always be something-er because we’ve grown to believe that we are not enough. We must always be something-er because who we are, already, is not what the world wants.

I’m calling B.S. We ARE enough. And if we stepped away from the mirror for two seconds we would find that we are exactly what this world needs and if the world is too stupid to want what it needs then you’re better off for having never changed to accommodate it. Ladies, the first step to infiltrating the borders of our insecurity is to admit that we don’t need insecurity to begin with. And to help each other accept that we don’t need our insecurities, we must encourage one another in that. We must accept on another, love another, and choose one another in the name of women standing strong, together. Men, we welcome you on this train, as well! I don’t mean to leave you out, I just speak directly to the women because we tend to be the harshest critics of one another and that’s something that we need to work on. But guys, we need you. We do. And I’m sorry if in recent years we’ve tried to push you away in an attempt to make ourselves feel self-sufficient. In the same way you are with us, we’re still learning what it’s like to be equal with you. Sometimes we over-compensate. But that’s another talk for another time and no, I’m not putting the entire burden on women so get that out of your head. J

I am going to continue unraveling my need for insecurity and I am gong to continue doing that with a dumb flying shark. Because I find it to be hilarious and I dearly love to laugh. Next time you question your worth you should ask yourself, “Would a shark need to do this?”

Because if something as powerful and beautiful and terrifying as a shark doesn’t need to worry about how pretty she is then neither do you. You, my friend, are a human being who is capable of great things.

And you’re more than pretty enough.

 

Follow along on Instagram @katiecmansfield, Twitter @katemansfield, or Facebook!

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“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fiercest of them all?”

insecure shark 3

“Is there gluten in wine? I need to fit into my wedding dress. Yes…I’m single. What’s your question?”

insecure shark 4

“I’m still about 6 lbs away from being hot enough for peak gym hours so, for now, I mostly work out at home. I want to have Kerry Washington’s arms.”

Perspective

It’s a strange moment, that moment that divides where you were and where you’re going. I’m sorry, what a ridiculous opening line, right? I’m not getting deep and philosophical here. I’m referencing my experience from two weeks ago, when I went to a Billy Joel concert in San Francisco. (And, to be quite honest, I’m having trouble getting my thoughts started here so please forgive me for this opening bit. It isn’t my best, by any means, and the massive amount of caffeine that my body is currently dealing with certainly isn’t helping. There, a sufficient amount of rambling usually get’s me back on track. But, you know, maybe not. We’ll see. Stick with me.) For several hours, I was surrounded by lights and music and joy and laughter; I didn’t have a care in the world. But then, the concert ended, I left AT&T Park and all of that excitement was gone and replaced with what happens when you come down from the high. You see, when the lights go down in the city, it’s not like that Journey song. When the lights go down in the city, you can finally see those on whom the light never shines.

You see the homeless. You see the hungry. You see the helpless.

Instead of calling it a night, I decided to drive around for a bit. I wanted to see for myself what this electric city, the one that’s had me entranced since I was a child, was like after midnight. I drove to the beach where it was quiet and cold. I drove through the park where a raccoon gang was clearly running the streets. And I drove by a lot of homes. But a lot of those homes didn’t have lights. Or doors. Or yards or locks or cabinets or rooms. Some were tents. Some were lean-tos, made of cardboard. Some were just the empty space surrounding their sleeping inhabitants.

It made me sick. I hurt for them but, more than that, I hurt for me. How dare I spend $100+ to see some old man play music when there are folks who don’t even have $10 to spend on food? Who am I to complain about my big house being a little too warm during the day when there are people who will actually freeze to death in their sleep? Thought after thought flooded my mind and I started feeling guilty. Really, really guilty.

For some, maybe even for most, guilt is the gut reaction to being faced with the harsh realities of the world. We read about starving children in underdeveloped nations and feel guilty about the half-eaten burger that was just thrown in the garbage. We hear about war-torn countries and feel guilty for complaining about a pothole in the neighborhood. It seems that when we hear about some one else’s need, we somehow manage to make it a reason to feel bad for ourselves. And we leave it there.

That’s exactly what I did that night in San Francisco! I managed to make it about me. I saw some one else’s need and felt bad for myself. And that was that, I felt bad then I went home. This is a perfect example of selfishness. If I am faced with something that troubles another and all I can do is think about how it affects me, that is selfishness and that makes me part of the problem. I want to be part of the solution, I want to be part of the movement that overturns our selfish society. And I think there is a cure to this ailment. What is our endgame? I believe it to be compassion. What do we already have? That’s easy—guilt. What is it that’s missing? Let’s talk about that.

As a selfish-person-seeking-reform, I’m confident in speaking with authority on this matter. Simply put, selfish people, the ones who feel guilty and nothing more for the needs of others, lack perspective. When I say “perspective,” I’m talking about the ability to stand back and see a situation for what it is while assessing how you fit, or don’t fit, into that situation. Now, we selfish-folk aren’t necessarily ignorant, so we know that we need to have some type of mental process to cope with the challenge of guilt. But, we can’t grasp perspective! So we depend on what’s within reach—comparison. Comparison is a completely flat approach to very three-dimensional issues and the selfish are content to rest in the guilt that is found there. For me, in my infinite selfishness, I’ve actually come to appreciate that very guilt as comfort. It’s almost as if my humanity is reaffirmed in my ability to feel bad about having more than some one else. As long as I know that hurt exists—and I hurt for those hurts—I have, somehow, now done my part as a citizen of the world. Of course, this isn’t true. All I’ve done is point and say, “Oh, you’re hungry but I’m not! I’m sorry!” And who does that help? No one. Comparison is useful as long as it is used as a building block towards perspective. How do I go from a person who rests on the laurel of comparison to one who strives for the wholeness of perspective?

You change the questions you ask. Instead of asking, “Who am I that I have this or that?” I ought to start asking, “How can I help those who don’t have this or that?” Thinking about what I don’t need does not, in any way, help those who do need. The homeless, hungry, and helpless don’t need me to feel bad. They need homes, food, and help—what can I do to meet those needs? THAT, right there, is perspective. If I take that line of thinking and apply it to the places I feel guilty, the result is perspective where once there was comparison. The result is compassion where once there was selfishness.

Guilt will always exist. How long we ruminate on it is our choice entirely. We can make it our home or we can put it beneath our feet and grind it into part of our foundation, mixing it with perspective and using it as a platform from which we act in compassion. Let us be stunted by our guilt no longer. When we flee selfishness, we pursue compassion. And compassion will change the world.

Right now, let’s ask ourselves, “What can I do to meet that need?” Not everyone is meant to meet every need. But everyone is meant to help some one. Below you will find links to organizations that are actively pursuing compassion. They’ve grown beyond guilt, found perspective, and are now free to meet needs. I encourage you to click around and see what it is that you can do for the homeless, the hungry, and the helpless.

Think about those on whom the light never shines. Find some way to shine your light on them.

Find your local homeless shelter and learn what you can do to help here:  www.homelessshelterdirectory.org

Want to help in the world’s efforts to relieve the current refugee crisis? Try this: https://onetoday.google.com/page/refugeerelief?c=US&hl=en-US

Have a heart for children who don’t have access to education? Here you go:  www.pencilsofpromise.org

Want to bring clean water to some one who has none? Boom: http://donate.worldvision.org/ways-to-give/by-category/clean-water

Our world is full of disaster. Want to help with that? So does the Red Cross: https://www.redcross.org/donate/donation?donationProdId=prod10002&flow=oc1&pgver=psearch&scode=RSG00000E017&gclid=CPDt5Y6d_ccCFViRfgodLpUK1w

Human trafficking might be occurring closer to your home than you realize. Learn more here: http://www.humantrafficking.org/countries/united_states_of_america/ngos

These are just a few! Add links in the comments if you have an organization that’s near and dear to your heart. Spread the word on compassion. It will change the world. And we can be the ones to do it.

Wisdom of Old

I’ve been putzing around the house all day. I’m a putzer, it’s just what I do. I got it from my Nonna and I intend to never, ever give up on the silly habit. While my putzing usually occurs when I’m feeling particularly creative yet unable to commit to a particular outlet, hers would happen just because she was awake. Maybe she had a constant stream of creativity flowing through her, at all times, whereas I’m only limited to it for a couple hours a day. I digress! Back to why I brought it up, and to use the word just once more. Today, my putzing led to something that I had never seen before.

I found a box full of letters that my Nonna and Papa had written each other. In 1953.

A couple of years ago, she and I were going through a lot of old paperwork and letters (all, of which, made her grin from ear to ear and left me with stars in my eyes when she would give me the background story for a particular document) so I knew that stuff like this existed. But, today, I found a box that we didn’t go through back then. Or, at least, I didn’t. From the wear of the paper and the notes in the margins, written with fresh ink and older hands, I can tell that she went through them. Not just once or twice but many times since they were written over 60 years ago.

I began reading. Letter after letter, I started realizing that she held these in her hands, maybe even as recently as a few weeks ago. I figured that there’s probably wisdom in here that she hadn’t gotten around to sharing with me. I was right. You see, the more I read, the more I realized how much wisdom, intelligence, and beauty she and my grandfather, her most beloved, shared. I read her letters but I also read his and it was in one of his that I gleaned some of the best pieces of wisdom that I’ve come across in quite some time.

In September of 1953, my grandfather opened a love note with this:

Hi Hon,

It’s about 3:30, Sunday afternoon, and I am in the park like I said I’d be. It was fun pretending that I was actually with you for awhile.

Thus began one of the most poignant four pages of writing I have ever laid my eyes on. These letters were exchanged over a period of time when my grandfather had moved to California for business and my grandmother had yet to leave Chicago to join him. They had been married for 7 years, at this point, and they had a young son, Mike, and their only family was in Chicago. Through their exchanges, it’s very apparent the hesitation my fearless Nonna experienced about uprooting and heading west. That was never the picture that I had of her, though. No! She was brave and beautiful and could do anything she wanted. It isn’t that those things weren’t true of her; it’s just that they weren’t without insecurity. And that was a card that I never believed her to hold. To me, she was a royal flush. In reality, she was the first four cards of a flush in hearts plus a five of spades.

But, if life was a game of five-card draw, then Nonna bluffed her way to the jackpot. She had a knack for making happen that which she wanted to happen. And, after reading the letter that my grandfather wrote her on that day in September, very much like the day I find myself in now, I understand why that was such a knack for her.

This letter, in particular, addresses some of her deepest insecurities. Two, of which, stand out to me. The first, she felt like she had fallen into a state of existence. She was just going through the motions, aimlessly living. The second, she feared that she would fare poorly amongst the educated, wealthy people with whom she would regularly interact once joining my grandfather in California. His response to these two items is the exact type of life advice everyone needs to hear. Or read. Whatever.

To address the first, these were his words:

Tell me, did you think real hard about me? Because I thought about you. I closed my eyes and cleared my mind of everything else but you. Then something terrible happened. I remembered in one of your letters that you felt like you were just existing and that life didn’t mean as much without me there… No matter what, your life is more than keeping house and loving your husband and children. No matter where you live—life is all around you. Take this! The grass—why is it green? Why is the snow white and what makes it fall? How can you plant a tiny seed and in a few years there’s a giant, beautiful tree? See what I mean? God asks us to do more than to merely take care of our own lives. We are supposed to get interested in our communities and contribute our time and efforts in helping other people… So honey, we must never feel as though we are “just existing.” It’s our own fault for just sitting around and gossiping about things that have no importance. Take interest in the life around you.

My grandfather. Man alive, I wish I could’ve spent more of his life with him. But, after reading his words? I realize that the past 20 years I’ve spent with Nonna were years spent with Pop. I didn’t get to live his life with him but I’ve certainly gotten to live mine with him because his zeal and passion and wisdom were fused with Nonna’s. As I read his words, I felt like I was reading something Nonna would’ve written to me. This was how she lived her life! It never occurred to me that she could’ve picked up that particular wisdom at the ripe old age of 26; the age that I am now. I guess I just assumed that she was born with the white hair and wisdom. It never occurred to me that she went through a journey of development and learning, much like me in my current state. It also never occurred to me that my grandfather had such a crucial role in her development, as she had in his. He kept her safe; she kept him wild. And what resulted was the kind of love that one only dreams of.

Lucky for me, I was always taught that to be a dreamer is to believe there are no such things as dreams… Only realities that are yet to be grasped. I am a dreamer. And now I have the antidote for the poison that is existence: life. If I cannot find the life in me then I need to recognize it in everything else. We must recognize the life outside of ourselves in order that we may let it pour into our souls, reigniting the flame that has gone out. Your life, my friend, is your fault. For better or worse, you and I are where we are because of who we’ve been, what we’ve done, and how willing we were to work for what we wanted. Let that be an encouragement! For it is just as easy to take pity on one’s self as it is to take pride and get back up. You and I were not made for mere existence. Neither was my grandmother. She figured out how to live! I mean, a beloved grandchild of hers went her entire life believing that she could do anything. That was the woman I knew. That was the reality that she grasped. I was one of the people that she would eventually take an interest in and help and I can put my finger on about a million of those moments. Thank God for Lou Caradonna, right?

To address her second insecurity, the one she held regarding how she would do in a society unlike the one she was accustomed, and this is perhaps even better of a lesson than the previous, he said this:

The only reason, not the only but a very good one, for being afraid of something is that you don’t know enough about it. Once you start getting out and start investigating, you soon learn that people and things are on an equal standing. Imagine me talking and arguing with shrewd lawyers and doctors! I was scared to death when I started here. But I got out there. When you get acquainted with things, it’s not so bad. There is one thing you should always remember: truly intelligent people very seldom try to impress you with their intelligence. They just like to talk to a person who is willing to listen and learn. So Bessala, if I can keep up then so can you. Life becomes more interesting this way. A lot of new things open up for you. Your mind becomes more inquisitive. You begin to ask why to a lot of questions instead of just the question itself. Never be afraid to admit your ignorance about something. Always be willing to learn.

Just like that, my grandfather started the unraveling of the tightly wound web of fear that I’ve spun for myself. Knowledge is the enemy of fear. If we are always willing to learn, always willing to ask questions, then we’ll never have a need to fear. Because the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. And when you know your enemy, you know how to beat him. Or at least how he will try to beat you. Even better, when we get to know our perceived enemy we will sometimes find that he wasn’t the enemy, at all. He was just an unknown.

The bit about how truly intelligent people behave is my favorite part. Here, my grandfather suggests that a truly intelligent person ought also to be humble. This is such a beautiful sentiment that is lost on so many of the pseudo-brilliant minds of my generation and generations past. The second you have to stand on a box and shout, “I’m smart!” is the second that everyone stops believing you. I would argue that if knowing is the enemy of fear then being known is, as well. And the best way to be known is to simply be you. To speak your mind when your voice is necessary, not just to remind yourself and the world of how it sounds. Only the humble allow others to know them. The humble are the only ones who don’t build walls to keep the world out and their selves shut in. You cannot possess true intelligence without being humble. Scratch that—you cannot possess true intelligence worth learning from without being humble.

Today, I learned that my grandmother had the kind of partner, companion, and husband that every man should strive to be. He wasn’t a particular set of characteristics. No, he took the time to learn her. Not every woman needs a lion of a man and not every man needs a woman who is unbreakable. That’s what they were and what I want to be. But that’s not what love is. It’s about learning what the needs are of your partner and assessing whether or not you can meet those needs and then working, tirelessly, to do that. Shortly after this exchange, my grandmother packed up and left all familiarity and moved with her young son to be with my grandfather. She left Chicago, leaving behind the old self and taking on the new one that built two businesses while her husband had his own career, raised four children with the love of her life, instilled in all those who knew her the virtue that she and her husband had learned together, and endured the pains of every day life in order to find joy up until her dying breath.

These lessons are great. 62 years ago a young man wrote to his young wife, comforting her about her worries of the future. 62 years later, a young woman reads those very words and finds herself changed. Now you’ve read them. It’s your turn, my friend.

Will we pursue life outside of ourselves when we feel our flame dying? Will we put ourselves out there and make the unknown known? Will we expel fear from the ranks of our hearts by employing humility and vulnerability? Will we stomp our feet until the world notices how intelligent, funny, beautiful, or talented we are? Or will we just be intelligent, funny, beautiful, and talented, regardless of what they think?

Moving forward, what will we do?

P.S. “Life is more than keeping house and loving your husband and children.” Papa had his priorities straight. He saw his wife as an equal human. My mind is blown. Not because I didn’t think that’s how he was but just because now I have confirmation. What a man.

P.P.S. I’m a little ignorant to how to format using this blog. I tried everything to properly indent the quotes but it was to no avail, thus the italics. Look at that, I’m already admitting things that I don’t know. Stay tuned, there’s plenty more.

P.P.P.S. I listened to Ol’ Blue Eyes and Dino and the Glen Miller Orchestra while reading their letters. I’m officially nostalgic for a time that I never even experienced. I mourn the fact that, in 60 years, my granddaughter might read letters that I wrote while listening to Maroon 5 and find herself thankful that she didn’t have to listen to that junk. (Unless its Songs About Jane, that album is ok.)

Beauty & The Beast (Of Reality)

Growing up, my vision of the type of woman I’d become was heavily influenced by my favorite characters from film. They were these breathtakingly gorgeous women who seemed to float when they walked. Not a head stayed screwed on straight when women like this entered a room. Every eye was on her, always. This type of woman was the kind men searched high and low for, the kind of gal who would accept him just as he is. She would never ask him to change a single thing—scratch that, she would never need him to change a single thing. She wasn’t needy. She wasn’t clingy. She just lets him be himself. This woman is a little crazy but it’s the cute kind! The kind the proverbial man refers to as “quirky.” She wants ice cream when it’s 10 degrees outside. She has a favorite hat and it’s red. She makes it all ok. Debt? Who cares, he has her love. Health? What’s that, she bakes him cookies every day and they’re made with fairy dust. Responsibility? Nonsense, the ethereal princess has no bedtime or day job. This woman, the one who I figured I would become, would be all things. She would be a dream girl. A manic pixie dream girl, to be specific.

The term was coined back in 2007, attributed to Nathan Rabin after viewing Cameron Crowe’s “Elizabethtown.” Incidentally, “Elizabethtown” is one of my favorite romantic comedies. It’s simple and it’s contrived but, at the time, it felt honest. It felt honest for my heart and mind that had been cultivated to believe that I would be this type of woman—the type to pull a handsome man from his life of simple existence and infuse him with my particular brand of vibrancy and passion. I dreamt of myself as the ultimate manic pixie dream girl.

Then, I woke up. At 26, I woke up and realized that I am not a dream girl. Nor am I manic. Nor am I a pixie. Nope.

I am a real girl. I am a man-up, pick-your-own-adventure, real girl.

I don’t want a man who needs my neurosis to help him figure his life out while I wait in the corner for him to throw me some attention. I do not need his attention the way an MPDG does. As a real girl, in the real world, I need his affection. Dream girls want to be noticed; real girls want to known. Dream girls are surprising but never complex; real girls are exciting, messy, boring, unusual, typical, and so complex it makes your brain hurt. Dream girls are your purpose; real girls encourage you to find purpose in yourself. Dream girls challenge you to be Peter Pan; real girls challenge you to be yourself.

A dream girl needs a man.
A real girl wants one.

Dream girls are built around the men in their lives.
Real girls build their lives with the people they choose.

Letting go of the idea that I’m meant to be a dream girl is scary. But realizing that I am a real girl, the one who isn’t afraid to ask more of men than just they’re attention, the one who stands firmly in all of her messy complexities, the one who is her own hero… Realizing that I am that girl is so freeing. The dream girl is just that—she’s a dream. But she isn’t the awesome kind of dream where you’re flying or eating dinner with a drug-free Led Zeppelin. No. She’s the kind of dream where you wake up knowing that you dreamt but you’re unable to remember what about. She’s the girl you only see between sleeping and waking.

But what you want is the girl you can know between waking and sleeping. And realizing that I am the type of girl worth knowing in the sunlight, with all of my flaws, faults, and goodness on full display, is what makes it ok for me to let go of dream girl. Real girl is so much better.

I wasn’t made in a dream.
I can only be found in reality.

I’m not the beauty who will coax you out of your shell.
I’m the beauty who is having the adventure that challenges you to have one of your own.

I don’t want Peter Pan.
I want the guy who is ready to man-up and make life beautiful with me. Not for me.
With me.

To every girl I know: Let go of your dream girl, whoever she is. Let go of her and just be you. Be the real girl. The real girl is worth knowing, she’s worth being, and I would love to be friends with her. Pursue your dreams, fall in love with some one who challenges you and likes that you challenge him. Perfection is not your endgame.

To every guy I know: Let go of your dream girl, whoever she is. Let go of her and look at the real girls around you. They are worth knowing, they are worth finding, and you would love to have them in your life. You don’t need to be convinced that life is worth living and you don’t need to suffer through ice cream when it’s freezing outside. That’s ridiculous. You get to be yourself, too. But please understand that “being yourself” around a real girl doesn’t mean that you’re never going to change. The same goes for us. Don’t be Peter Pan. Don’t refuse to grow up. Be a man. And be a good one. Real girls look at the world with wide-eyed wonder and the ability to explore it. Dream girls just point at things and say, “If only.” Choose wisely.

So, rest in peace, Manic Pixie Dream Katie. I’ll fight you out of my dreams, once again, when I see your trope in some blockbuster that is sure to be terrible. Or when I watch another Cameron Crowe movie. Because I’m sure I will. I just really love his movies.

Sincerely,
Man-Up, Pick-Your-Own-Adventure, Real-Girl Katie

A Little Ditty For A Little Lady

Today, we buried my beloved grandmother. At her funeral, I knew I wanted to speak. Normally, I would be confident to just get up and talk about her but, in this instance, I didn’t trust myself to properly communicate all of the things that I wanted to say. So, I started to write down what I needed to say. And it just wasn’t coming together! None of it felt right. It didn’t feel like they were my words on a page. And they didn’t aptly describe Nonna. My solution at 2am (7 hours before I needed this to be done) was to make it all rhyme.

You see, Nonna loved rhyming. She loved when I would tell her my stories and she loved them even more when they rhymed. So, here I am, with a little ditty (not about Jack & Diane) to commemorate my little lady. It’s silly. It’s juvenile. But, man alive, it’s also my heart. And it was her’s, as well. Here it is! A little ditty for the little lady who made me who I am.


There once was a woman named Bess,
From whom my name was derived.
She taught me to laugh, she taught me to dress,
& she taught me the meaning of life.

It was May of 1926,
When first this world met her.
If they knew then, I cannot say,
But now we know for sure,
That this life was hers for the taking
And not a single day did she waste,
For she built a family & she built a home,
Alongside whom every trouble she could face.

She’d tell us stories of the moving,
Oh! The moving she would do!
From Illinois to California–
She spoke as though she had something to prove.

Prove to whom? It never mattered,
Because, as a woman not easily flattered,
At the end of the day,
All she needed to be able to say
Was, “I wanted to do it, so I tried!”
And fail or succeed, she took it in stride.

Thus, her philosophy was laid,
Right out front, for all to see
In black & white, as clear as day,
“Whatever you want is what you can be.
Always try your best & keep your smile,
Don’t let the hard times get you down.
Because, kid, you’ll do amazing things
& you shouldn’t greet them with a frown.”

She taught me that a house is not a home,
Until down you had knocked a few walls.
She taught me the same was true of my heart,
For there is where you need the most open floor-plan, of all.

What kind of life is worth living if,
For those in need, you can’t make your heart a home?
What’s the point of things & food & money,
If it serves only you and you alone?

She told me not to wait on my ship,
But instead that I should swim out to it,
That I shouldn’t wait for the good things to happen,
No! I should chase them, pursue them, & go do it!

Her final days were unexpected
But they were filled with laughter, nonetheless.
She reminded the nurses several times,
“I hate the name Bessie! It’s Bess!”
One night, while sitting beside her,
She said, “Kate, you’ve always been around.”
& in that moment, the greatest of lessons,
My heart had surely found.

You see, life isn’t about the big gifts
Or seeing New England in the fall.
It’s about being there for the ones you love
& answering them when they call.

Your life, my friends, will be a grand adventure
If you’re generous, kind, and true.
Then, on the day you’re laid to rest,
This world will celebrate you.

My Nonna lived & gave & loved;
She poured into my life so freely.
Now she sees the face of God,
& with the angels she’s making a… dealie.

“My gold plates for your
Silver platter and spoons.
This is a deal for you, Peter!
Take it now! The deal is expiring soon.”

She’d sell ‘this’ to buy ‘that,’
& encouraged us to do the same.
She told us to write our own life’s rules,
But she also taught us to play the game.

So, my life will continue
& I’ll miss her everyday,
Until I see her again and,
“Here’s looking at you, kid,” is what she’ll say.

There once was a woman named Bess,
From whom my name was derived.
She taught me to laugh & she taught me to dress,
& she taught me the meaning of life.

Self(Less)

Dear SELF Magazine,

Karlie Kloss is beautiful. And, according to you, also incredible. Incredible because of her “dream body, 24/7 drive, and [ability to be] balancing it all.” I do believe she’s incredible but I think those are 3 of the dumbest danged reasons to attribute such a grand descriptor to a woman. Shame on you for short-changing that woman by reducing her to such perfection.

That’s right. Perfection is not the pinnacle of the human species. It’s the reduction of us. For a magazine called “Self” you sure have managed to completely miss the point of what one’s self actually is. The self is the entire being. You’ve ignored the flaws and challenges that she’s overcome in order for her to achieve self-love, self-worth, and self-respect. By your standards, she is not incredible.

That’s because your standards are garbage and reveal absolutely nothing about a person. Seriously.

According to your cover, my best me can be achieved through flatter abs, thinner arms, and a tauter butt–all in one week. And what a disappointment! Because I could have the best abs in the world and still be a jerk. I could have 9% body fat and still hate myself.

I know what you think of me and myself. You plaster it all over your cover how I need to do anything but be me. Now, you know what I think of you and your Self. And I think your Self sucks.

Sincerely,
Katie and the Women of the World

When Strangers Aren’t Strange

I’d like to tell you something. Alone does not mean lonely. Just as you can feel lonely in a crowded room, so you can feel fulfilled alone. Last night was one of the best nights of my life and you know what? I was alone. You see, I had planned a trip with a friend to go to San Francisco to see this musician, who I love, and putz around the city together. So, I booked a hotel (it lent itself to the putzing—I’ll get to that), began to plan our little trip, and then something came up at work that meant she couldn’t go anymore.

The hotel was paid for and non-refundable so I began to search for some one else to go with. Alas, my efforts were in vain and I couldn’t find anyone. I had a choice to make! Eat the hotel cost and just stay home or stick to the original plan and see what happens.

I went with the second option.

Yesterday afternoon, I arrived at my hotel. The very hotel where one of my favorite Hitchcock films was shot (Vertigo) and with my list of filming locations, fun backstories to investigate (this is the putzing), and a single ticket for a concert, I checked in. The concert. I was well into my self-guided tour of Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco, and was having a blast, when I looked at my watch. I realized that I needed to get going if I was going to make the concert. And here was another crossroads! Do I just scrap the ticket and continue on my Hitchcockian adventure or do go and see this musician, one of my favorites, and do it alone?

Again, I went with the second option.

I arrived at the music hall to find it wasn’t so much a music hall as it was a relatively small space with a small stage and a large bar. So, I got a Guinness and sat at a corner table, all alone. No one talked to me. People looked at me, some smiled and waved, but most just kept on moving. I realized that I likely had a serious case of RBF going on so I decided to look up from my phone a little more often and scowl with a little less frequency. On one of these phone-less-smile-more ventures, I made eye contact with the musician I was there to see. He walked up and introduced himself and asked if I was hanging out by myself. I told him I was but that I didn’t mind it. He said he did mind it because we’re all there together. Then, he told me that the people I happened to be sitting next to were his family members. So, I ended up hanging out with the dude’s grandpa for a while. I lost his mom a bet (In all fairness—she was wrong! “What’s Up” is sung by 4 Non-Blondes and not Sheryl Crow. I’m sorry but the facts are facts.) And his dad was really kind. I made friends with another guy who was slightly offended when I referenced Gimli as a comparison to him (he said he gets Strider more often… I said there’s no way. He agreed, there was no way.) and we all took in the music as friends.

I left before the set was over because I wanted to make it to a showing of Mad Max (the original!!) in an old movie theater, so I called a Lyft. My driver picked me up and we had about a 20-minute ride. Instead of sitting in silence, we got to talking. She asked what I had done that night and after I told her, she asked if I had done those things with other people. I told her that I had gone on the trip alone and was just kind of meeting people along the way. She wanted to know if I did stuff like this often and, when I thought about it, yeah. I kind of do. I was her last ride of the night so we got to talk a little longer and we ended up becoming friends. She asked why I’m ok with doing things alone and I told her it was because I decided that I didn’t want to miss out on my life because I was waiting around for other people to want to do the same things that I did. Her response was, “What a revelation to have. I wonder if I can do that?”

She said exactly what I was thinking because, at that moment, I was asking myself the very same thing. Can I live my life like that? You know, on purpose instead of just on accident; in reality instead of just theory. She and I ended up exchanging numbers and agreed to hang out if ever we’re in the same city again. When I got out of the car, I continued thinking about what we had just talked about. And it clicked. I am far more likely to find people who share my interests if I go out and partake in those interests than if I just think about how interested I am in them.

“But what if I have to keep going alone?” I asked myself. “Well, maybe you’ve spent so much time worrying about what strangers think of you that you completely missed the point that you could make those strangers your friends.” I scolded myself right there because, dang, that’s exactly what I’ve done my entire life. Instead of just making new friends and letting people matter, I’ve pigeonholed them all into being strangers whose opinions and thoughts I absolutely must not care about.

Here it is: we would all breathe so much easier and with so much more joy if we viewed every person as having something wonderful to offer. Instead of seeing strangers as trolls who are out to get me and make me look stupid, what if I made them my friends? Every single person on this earth is full of life. Whether they’re living it or not, it’s there. What if I made it my goal to find that life in them? I’m not saying that I should attempt to extract their deepest secrets or share with them my biggest fears (Frogs… it’s frogs. That’s actually not a big one), what I’m saying is that it wouldn’t be hard for me to genuinely care about their answer when I ask them how their day was. Every one has a story to tell. And, holy wow, do I love a good story.

So, today, I will go forth into this city alone, intent on making strangers my friends, and not missing out on the things that I want to do just because I have no one to do them with. Life happens whether or not we’re looking and I don’t want to reach the end of mine and realize that I missed it. Today, I will look for life in others. And, in doing so, I firmly believe that I will find the life in myself that I’ve always wanted. Because, being alone doesn’t have to be lonely. And strangers don’t have to be strange.

Good Grief

I thought I wanted to sit down and write about sadness and loss and pain. Not my own, of course. I just thought I would talk a bit about those experiences in theory, maybe consider my own situation briefly but move right along. I thought it would be a good idea to keep the darkness at arm’s-length, to just not even open the door that leads to my true heart. So, I began to write. And you know what happened when I wrote that? Garbage—Garbage happened.  Seriously, it was the worst thing I’ve ever written. It was so dumb and shallow that it was actually laughable. I realized that the words that I need to communicate are stored up on the other side of that door, they live in the dark part of my heart that I want to pretend doesn’t exist. So, I went in.

When I opened that door, I didn’t find what I was expecting. I’ve suffered the most catastrophic loss in my life and here, in the deepest, darkest part of my heart, I am just not seeing what I thought I would. I feared that experiencing the depth of my emotion would send me into a spiral. I thought I would drown in it; I figured I’d go under and just never come up again. But, here I am, standing on my own two feet in the soft, vulnerable, broken part of my heart and all I can think is, “I’m gonna be ok.”


In the early hours of the morning, I knelt at my grandmother’s bedside with my hand on her back, feeling the shallow rise and fall of her failing breaths. A few hours earlier, I had leaned down and spoken words that I didn’t believe into her ear. They told me that sometimes folks need permission from their loved ones to go on to the great unknown, so I told her that it was ok for her to let go, it was ok for her to leave me on my own. I didn’t believe the words when I said them and I didn’t believe them as I sat there, watching the life leave her body. How could I have meant them? She wasn’t supposed to die yet. She was supposed to go to dinner with me, like usual, and order the tilapia and be disappointed when it came out with sauce on it. She was supposed to take my phone call every day at 11 AM, she was supposed to tell me again that she was just having some coffee and getting around and then ask me when I’d be home from work. She was supposed to help me pick out a wedding dress and see me get married and have children. She was supposed to see me climb mountains, run races, and break a couple more bones while having the time of my life. So… no. I didn’t believe that it was ok for her to let go. I didn’t believe that it was ok for her to leave me on my own.

But I said it, anyways. And when she died, it felt as though my very soul had been torn from my body and every light had been extinguished. My world crumbled. This was my person. She believed in me, encouraged me, and challenged me. She was my namesake and my hero and the reason that I’m fair-skinned, blonde-haired, and blue-eyed while my family is exactly not. This was my favorite person in the world. I asked my mom if she was sure that Non was gone. “I’m sure,” she said. And right then, everything changed. I knew, for sure, that I was a goner.

Fast forward to today, to me standing in front of the door in my heart that surely leads to my demise, the one that houses my honest feelings and the true weight of my devastation. As I mentioned before, what I found in that dark place was not what I expected. I found a version of myself that was ok. A version of myself that was broken, devastated, and without Nonna but… was ok. There was the light of good grief, shed on the darkness of painful loss. The loss felt no less empty, the pain was no less severe. But the light shed on my struggle revealed unto me that the emptiness caused by her loss was room made for new life. And that new life starts now. My pain, when illuminated, looks less like an irreparably broken person and more like a woman who is primed for growth and rebuilding. And recognizing this person as myself is the exact type of fresh air I never expected to find here, deep in my heart.

What I expected was to spiral, to rage against the world, God, my family, and myself. Why is that not happening? Why am I not getting a dramatic haircut, a neck tat, or thinking about dating some one who is truly, apparently, obviously incredibly terrible for me? How am I still sane? How am I already sure that I’m going to be ok?

Allow me to go ahead and answer my own question. A few months ago, on Father’s Day, I was having a sprinkler problem and I called my dad. Instead of coming and fixing it himself, he talked me through the solution. I identified that as a loving act because, yet again, my dad was giving me a new skill that would render his useless. I put my finger on that moment and said, “That is what love is. Fearlessly allowing some one else to no longer need you but trusting them to want you, anyways.” And thinking about that moment with my dad has got me thinking back on the countless moments I’ve experienced, just like it, with my Nonna. For the last 26 years, this woman has been teaching me how to make it without her. And I didn’t realize that until just now.

She probably didn’t realize that was what she was doing, either. But that’s the thing about the pure-hearted—their love is transformative without them even trying. She has been pouring into me since I was just a small child. She gave of herself and created in me this sustainable, joy-filled human with the capacity to love and thrive with or without her. For the past several years, I’ve chosen her over so much. And I thought that I would find myself regretting that when it came her time to die. I thought I would miss out on my life because I was so busy living hers. I could not have possibly been more wrong.

Because, you see, the life I lived with her gave me the tools and laid the foundation for the life I’ll live without her. My heart aches when I think about all of the big things she’ll miss in my life. But, maybe she’ll miss the big moments because I couldn’t have had them while still having such a beautiful life with her. How was I supposed to fall in love with a handsome fella when I was so busy listening to her talk about how she fell in love with one in the 1940’s? How was I supposed to live in Peru when I lived with her in Clovis? How was I supposed to chase my dreams when I was already living one with my favorite person on the planet? I’m 26 years old and my entire life is about to change.

And it’s going to be amazing.

Not a day will go by that I don’t miss her; I’m probably going to absent-mindedly try and call her a few times before it finally sinks in that she’s gone. There are some really, really hard days ahead. But those days will be faced as this new version of myself. The version who fills the emptiness with a new, incredible life using the tools that my grandmother gave me. The version who combats loneliness with friendliness, sadness with joyfulness, and the loss with the realization of just how truly blessed I was to have her.

When I sat there, telling her that I would be ok, that she could leave me on my own, I didn’t believe it. But that new version of me did, the person, deep down in my heart, the one who Nonna built without even trying, the one who says, “I’m gonna be ok.”

For 26 years, I’ve lived a most incredible life. And tomorrow, when my eyes open and I realize that everything has changed, I’ll look upon a new life with zeal and excitement.

I’ll say, “I’m gonna be ok.”

Then, I’m going to take my good grief and I’m going to live.

And my new life will be as beautiful as the old.