Winter is (still) coming.

Winter, Day 384

Dear Diary,

WHAT THE HELL?

Spring has officially been here since last week, and although I'm looking outside at beautiful sunshine, I'm admiring it from afar because it's actually only 15 degrees, or something ludicrous. Twenty mile-per-hour winds, the usual. We even woke up to a fresh coat of snow this morning. 

I am going home to pack my suitcase with a swimsuit, a book, my sunglasses, a towel, probably my boyfriend, the cats, may as well bring a pillow, all my toiletries, everything I own on earth... and moving to the equator. See you later, bye.

Wouldn't that be nice, though? I don't remember what it feels like to step outside without a coat. To feel the warmth of the sun. Sunburn, even. How does that sensation make me feel? I want to open the windows in my apartment and smell the fresh air. What is it like to run outside while wearing short sleeves? 

So many questions to which we may never have answers. 

Speaking of unanswered questions -- am I the only one who continues to believe Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is safe and sound on a tiny island somewhere? I know that's unrealistic, wishful thinking, but what a mess. If I was the relative of one of those poor passengers, I'd be just delusional enough to never, ever give up hope until someone showed up at my door with a piece of plane from the bottom of the ocean. That, or until they showed up at my door with my human. At this rate, neither is happening any time soon. I may just stick to ground travel for a while.

You should also know I finally caught up on Game of Thrones. I've now read and seen the Red Wedding, and I'll never recover. I was handling myself quite well until they went and SPOILER ALERT massacred Grey Wind the direwolf. There was just so much dying and blood and back stabbing and front stabbing and slashing. Walder Frey can go burn in hell with Joffrey. And Todd from Breaking Bad, let's be real. 

I also came across a little nugget of information on the internet yesterday that blew my whole mind. Just blew it right out of the brain water. The actor who plays Walder Frey also plays Filch in Harry Potter. Catelyn Stark is played by the same actress who plays Hermione's mom. Filch SPOILER ALERT kills Hermione's mom. I just cannot be at peace with that knowledge. Never. Damn you, Filch. Damn you.

Can we also talk about last week's episode of Scandal? Because what is with every show on television straight up murderizing everything we hold near and dear? I'm gonna need a timeout from television. I'm still not recovered from losing Hank, OK? 

So I hope you're glad we're all caught up on our television drama. You're welcome.

I don't know what else I have to blather on about at the moment, so you can go back to your day. But first, I've strongly considered changing the name of my blog to adoxography because, sure, it may not always be beautiful writing over here, but the writing sure is on a subject of little or no importance. 

I am 100 percent OK with that. Just so we're clear.

Professional guidance?

Although I've been adult for something like 15 years -- give or take 12 -- it oftentimes surprises me when I'm approached as an adult and professional, and asked for my input. I'm caught by surprise, like I have to quickly put down my coloring crayons and pay attention.

"Who, me? Oh, that's right. I'm a professional. Yes. How may I help you? Excuse the food stains on my pajamas."

A friend of mine, whom I met in the big, bad social media world last year, is the vice president of the Society of Professional Journalists on campus. He reached out to me a while back to ask if I'd sit on a panel of other area professionals to talk to the students about the powers of blogging and preparing for the outside career world. I agreed, like I do, and then put it out of my mind.

And, like I do, exactly two days before it's time to sit on the panel, I realize I agreed to sit on a panel, and I have the requisite panic attack. It's only in the last year or so that I've started getting my feet wet in the presentation world, and I've yet to reach a point where I go confidently in the direction of a large group of people. I'm still busy going confidently in the direction of my dreams, or whatever it is Henry David Thoreau told us to do.

Or the direction of the couch. Whichever. 

It's as though I forget I'm an adult. That I have a career and job that I'm good at. That people may come to me with questions and advice, and that I may know the answer. I'm a professional (when I'm not busy being not a professional), and I professional very well, if I may use "professional" as a verb. How many times can I use "professional" in one sentence? Did we lose count?

I get nervous when I know people are coming to me for inspiration or thought leadership in the career world. I have thoughts, I do. And I know how I got to where I am in my career, but what if it isn't the path people should take? What if I made mistakes along the way? What if there is a better way? 

There are very defining moments in my career path that have led to where I am. In fact, this very blog once landed me my first job in public relations. But I know I still have room to grow and things to learn (lots of things), and when there is a room full of eager, smart, young minds looking at me, I forget all of the things I do know. Their world is so much different than when I sat in their place.

Let me step back a moment. I graduated from college ten years ago this year, which blows every corner of my mind. OK, carry on.

Ten years ago, I didn't have social media. I didn't have Facebook until later that year. There was no Twitter. It'd be another year before my blog would come to exist. It's hard to even imagine a world without social media, as it's become a significant part of my life, including my job. But if I did have social media as a networking outlet as a college student, I can't imagine the opportunities that would exist. 

When I was a student, I'd sit down with my mentor and talk about experiences and opportunities. I'd call newspaper editors looking for jobs. Begging for jobs. I'd occasionally email people I knew, though even then that was more rare than you'd think. I didn't have a website to house my writing -- I had printed copies that I'd bind nicely in a folder. My news clips from the college newspaper were hardly available online. And this was just ten years ago. Technology moves at light speed. 

Today, students are building web portfolios. They're tweeting editors and CEOs and people of influence. Everyone is connecting on Facebook and LinkedIn. We're getting jobs because of how we've created our social presence on the internet. When I sat in my job interview for my current job, we sat around chatting about my blog and Twitter feed because they'd all seen it. Read through it. Knew "who" I was.

That can be a good and a bad thing, let me add. The persona you create online is critical, if that's how you're marketing yourself professionally. Be prepared for the repercussions. Make sure the persona you create is your actual persona. I've been lucky in that I've found myself in situations where who I am, and who I portray myself to be in the social media realm, have aligned quite nicely with my work environment. I think my profession sort of lends itself to that. You're more likely to hear, "Hey, what's your Twitter handle?" than you are to have someone ask for your email address or business card. 

And just like that, I've rambled for ten minutes about finding your footing in the professional world because I do know these things. I need to be reminded sometimes. It's just that sometimes that reminder comes in the form of young, soon-to-be professionals looking for guidance. 

And so I try to guide. 

And then I quickly go home, put on my pajamas, and cuddle up with cats in front of trashy television because that is what I do when I'm not professional-ing.

Never forget. 

Let's get real about some things for a minute

The internet has been inundated with personality quizzes lately. In the last month alone I've discovered which kind of pizza I am, how I would die on Game of Thrones, which European country I belong in, the kind of potato I'm meant to be, and, most importantly, that the coat hanger is the inanimate object I most represent. 

This is life changing stuff. 

I'm also most like Hagrid from the Harry Potter series, which makes sense seeing as though I'm a large, hairy half-giant. 

Needless to say, I tend to take most personality explanations with a grain of salt. Except pepperoni pizza. I am definitely pepperoni pizza. Though, a while back I dug around in the 16 Personalities website to discover I'm considered an "ISFJ," which is quite accurate and an interesting look at yourself, if you've got time to go through the quiz process. 

I like to learn about myself and take a deeper look at what makes me tick, other than pajamas and cats. Some things are hard to look at. I have flaws. Everyone has flaws. I guess it's just that more recently I've been trying to understand them and improve them, if they're worth improving. Sometimes it's hard to look at yourself and do a mental checklist of what's "wrong" with you. Because who's to say those things are wrong? 

Today I came across an article that stuck itself to my core. It's about highly sensitive people and their habits. It's no secret I'm sensitive. Ask anyone who's ever gotten to know me. It's easy to shrug off a delicate personality with, "Oh, whatever. I'm just sensitive." But this article broke it down in a way that made me understand a bit more about what it means, down the the smallest, peculiar habits. Most importantly, it reiterated that being this way isn't a bad thing, contrary to everyone in the world. 

"Why are you so sensitive?"

"Stop being so sensitive."

"Why do you take everything so personally?"

Why are these questions always asked in such an accusatory way? As if being sensitive is a disgrace. You're asking me why I'm so sensitive as if you're asking me why I'm so racist. (To clarify, I'm not racist.) As if I should stop the behavior immediately and fix it. And the thing is, do you think we have an answer to the question? It's like asking why the sky is blue. Or why you're such a jerk. 

Here's the thing -- I don't know why I'm so sensitive. I don't have an explanation to my personality. What I do have is an awareness of it. A knowledge. A desire to understand it and learn to manage it in a healthy way. Do I like being sensitive? God no. But can I stop being completely sensitive? No. Can you stop breathing?

Though I can't stop being sensitive, I can certainly work on the personification of it. My reactions. The way I behave when I'm sensitive to something. I'm always going to be sensitive to things, but I don't have to lash out or shut down or go on the defensive. But I'll tell you what I will always do -- cry. No way around that one, world. Sorry.

So next time you're frustrated with someone for being sensitive, stop for a second. For one, you're mad at someone who's deeply sensitive to the fact that you're now mad at them. Two, rather than spitting out the usual, "Stop being so sensitive," maybe try, "Help me understand this." Or, "What can we do to avoid this moving forward?" You don't have to apologize. Hell, even I'll admit that 72 percent of the things I get sensitive about don't require apologies. No one did anything wrong. But making a person feel bad about being sensitive, when I can nearly guarantee they already feel bad about being sensitive, isn't helpful. 

The article says that highly sensitive people feel more deeply, are more emotionally reactive, prefer to exercise solo (running, for example, over team sports), take longer to make a decision and are more upset by making the "wrong" decision. We're said to be more detail oriented and more prone to anxiety and depression, cry more easily and have above-average manners. That one stuck out to me:

"Because of this, they're more likely to be considerate and exhibit good manners -- and are also more likely to notice when someone else isn't being conscientious. For instance, highly sensitive people may be more aware of where their cart is at the grocery store -- not because they're afraid someone will steal something out of it, but because they don't want to be rude and have their cart blocking another person's way."

I am that person. I'm so weirdly affected when I witness bad manners. Almost disgusted, in a way. The way I best judge someone's character is how they treat their server at a restaurant. And that person in the grocery store worried about being in the way? Me. I'm also paralyzed by the idea of hurting someone's feelings, but in such a backwards way that I inadvertently end up hurting feelings in my process of avoiding it. I avoid confrontation. I avoid situations that require me to say no. I absolutely can't, no way, no how, be the person to call a company to gripe about their service. Even if I win in the end, even if it gets me what I need. I can't be purposely mean. I can't even be stern. All bets are off if I'm in the middle of a real world, actual argument, don't get me wrong. But when it comes to taking the initiative to be directly rude to a person, I just can't do it. I'm too afraid of the reaction.

The other piece of this that blew my mind was a bit about how annoying sounds are significantly worse for highly sensitive people. I kind of thought this was a joke at first because, really? I am an absolute insane person when it comes to sound sensitivity. So much so that I've very seriously considered therapy until I realized there is no way out and I'm trapped in my own personal hell for the rest of my life:

"While it's hard to say anyone is a fan of annoying noises, highly sensitive people are on a whole more, well, sensitive to chaos and noise. That's because they tend to be more easily overwhelmed and overstimulated by too much activity."

It almost seems like a cruel twist of fate that these two characteristics would be linked. Can you make me any more of a neurotic human being, universe? Of all my personality traits, these are the two that have affected (always negatively) every aspect of my life.

There is no one who knows me who enjoys eating with me because I physically cannot handle listening to the sounds of eating. Not the chewing, not the biting of utensils, not the swallowing, not the scraping of plates. I have an actual physical reaction. I get panicked. My heart races. It's feels like fight or flight. This whole other emotion takes over, and all I want to do is scream. 

Try dealing with that every meal time. It's terrible, and I'm not lying when I say I would fight for a cure for that before I'd fight for world peace. Or literally any other cure for anything that exists on planet earth. That is how terribly it affects me, and how much I wish it wasn't a thing.

So consider these things next time someone's too sensitive for you. Consider their struggle. Sure, not every sensitive person is as aware or as open or as willing to accept and understand its effects, but some are. 

I don't love these things about myself, but I like learning about them. I've spent the better part of the last year in a relationship with someone who inadvertently has helped me grow and learn to love, improve and understand parts of myself I never cared to think about. It's a powerful thing wanting to be a better person. It's even more powerful when someone else brings that out in you. 

And now that I've rambled, and everyone has already stopped reading, my message is this: be kinder. To yourself and to others. Maybe we'll cure things with it one day.

And stop being so sensitive. 

(See what I did there?)

Another story I tried to write.

This year I started National Novel Writing Month with an entirely different story than the one I shared from a few weeks ago. I got about two chapters in and realized I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, as per usual. 

I find myself in the same rut -- my characters, while different, with different stories and different names, are the same. Always. I can't seem to break out of the mold. And more often than not I don't like them. I find myself bored. The thing is, I always base them on pieces of myself -- things that I know, characteristics of myself, experiences I've had -- so I'm not sure what that says except I'm exceptionally boring. I need to break out of that mold and step out of my comfort zone. Maybe choose a male character. Write from the perspective of a female protagonist who isn't exactly like me. Someone who doesn't run. Someone not from Wisconsin. Someone who hates cats, I don't know. 

Point is, I see a pattern in my story writing that I need to break. Maybe then I'll be able to snap out of the rut I get myself into and actually finish NaNoWriMo one of these years. 

Until then, here's the original story I started in November. This is everything I wrote, up to the last sentence. Then I just got... done:


PROLOGUE

There’s always a before and after, isn’t there? Before. And then after. You never realize it, though. Not before. It isn’t until after, when everything is changed, that you realize you had a before. And the one moment that changed it all stands between the two like a brick wall. You can’t bulldoze it. You can’t climb back over to the other side. You can only stare at it and remember what stood on the other side. Remembering. That’s all you get.

I’m Audra. This was my before.

I would have done it differently had I known. But wouldn’t we all?


AUDRA

Audra scrolled through the photos absentmindedly while waiting for her coffee order. Caramel macchiato, skim milk, hold the whipped cream. Every time. Her order never changed. The baristas knew her, of course. It was such a cliché, she realized.

“Hey Audra, the usual?”

Always the usual. Her mind was preoccupied this morning, so she replied to Jesse with a smile and nod, her concentration still focused on the photos in her phone. She’d been out for Mel’s birthday the night before, and photos were now beginning to populate the internet. She trusted Mel not to post anything ludicrous for the world to see, but you could never be too careful.

“Shit,” she muttered to herself, coming across an awfully unflattering photo. She hated the way her nose looked from certain angles. Most angles, really, if she was being honest. Did it really look that long? And crooked? People told her she was pretty all the time, but she always felt her looks were pretty in an unconventional way. Her hair was long, but a particularly forgettable shade of dirty blonde. Her eyebrows were unruly, her lips too thin. Every once in a while her eyes would spark with just a hint of green that always pleased her. But her nose; it always came back to the nose.

Skimming through the photos brought her mind to the morbid place it always went any time she analyzed photos of herself: would any of these be suitable for an obituary? It was a bizarre thought, she knew. But there’s no way she was the only person who ever considered this. She hoped.

It always crossed her mind, though, any time young people were in the news after a tragedy of some kind. The photos always seemed to make the entire situation that much more tragic. They’re always so young and beautiful with bright futures. The photos always seem to capture that, too. That essence. A perfect moment in time when they had all the promise in the world. Audra was skeptical whether any of these photos from Wally’s Pub met the “promising future” qualifications. Can you even show beer in an obituary photo?

She shook the thought from her head and looked up in time to see Jesse set her low-fat caramel macchiato sans whipped cream on the counter. She breathed a sigh of relief.

“Life saver,” she said while grabbing the hot mug, smiling at her favorite barista.

“That kind of morning?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Isn’t it always?” she winked, turning on her heels to head to the sofa in the corner. She liked to consider it “her” sofa since she’d been coming to Caffeine Café for nearly every Sunday for the last three months. She sat on the same sofa every time. She’d been a regular at the café since moving to Madison for college four years ago. The sofa in the corner – the one by the fireplace – was hers. No question. Which is exactly why she was taken aback to find another person curled up in her spot.

In true Audra fashion, she made no secret of her disgust as she audibly heaved her bag onto an ottoman across from the sofa and sat in the adjacent chair. She then continued to sit and glare in the general direction of her sofa. The man on the sofa paid no mind to her obvious frustration and continued to sip his coffee and read his fancy e-reader.

Two strikes against him, she thought to herself. In my sofa and reading an eBook. It bothered Audra that no one read books anymore. Good, old-fashioned books. You know, the ones with pages. She practically scoffed at the thought.

She continued to glare at the man who gave absolutely zero fucks about the wrench he’d thrown into her morning and pulled out her laptop. The semester was rapidly coming to a close, and if she was ever going to graduate, she had to get writing. She loved the fiction writing course she’d taken this semester, but the task of compiling 40,000 words for a piece of fiction was currently her personal hell. Audra was a writer by nature. It came to her as easily as riding a bike. The 11 notebooks at home full of short stories she’d been compiling over the years served as evidence. But this particular project had thrown her into a writers’ block she’d never experienced. And just like the last three days she sat down to write, she stared at what she’d already written and wanted to throw it out the window.

She hated her characters, she hated the plot.

“I’m better than this,” she mumbled to herself, glancing at her phone. An incoming call from Mel. She ignored the call and brought her focus back to her computer. Mel would have to wait. Audra refused to leave the café until she had at least 3,000 words hammered out. She looked at her current word total of 347 and dropped her head into her hand. It was going to be a long morning.


MEL

Audra never answered her phone. Ever. Mel knew this, but always tried anyway. She was nothing, if not persistent.

Mel ended the call and through her phone onto the pillow next to her. She was still in bed, of course, because of the whisky. She’d had enough last night to guarantee Sunday would be wasted on a hangover.

“Audra, you suck,” she said to no one in particular. Except Milo. Milo was a dog, so his insights were far and few between, but he at least pretended to listen. She tugged at her blanket and rolled over, pulling the sheet over her head. Milo responded with a grunt as he readjusted and spun in circles to find the perfect place to lie back down. He chose the spot directly in front of her face, naturally.

It’s not so much that she was regretting the whisky, but rather she was thankful she only had to turn 23 once.

She tossed again, this time away from Milo, unable to get comfortable or to cease the pounding in her head. Mostly she was curious how Audra’s night had ended. She knew once Tom showed up at the bar, Audra’s mood would plummet. And it did. But that didn’t stop her from mercilessly flirting with the bartender. At least he was good looking, Mel considered, while burying her face into the pillow.

She, of course, had gone home with Henry because there was hardly ever a scenario that didn’t end with Mel going home with Henry. He’d already snuck out this morning to head to work at the coffee shop downtown. Which is probably where Audra was, she realized. At the coffee shop ignoring my calls, she thought to herself.

Audra spent most Sundays at Caffeine Café working on her fiction project, she knew. Mel admired her motivation. Always did. She’d known Audra her entire life. They were in preschool together, taking naps and sharing one carton of chocolate milk with two straws on a regular basis, which was funny because it’d been 19 years and little had changed.

Mel’s father, Thomas, graduated high school with Audra’s parents, Lydia and Jeremy. The three of them were inseparable in high school, and when Thomas met Grace while on a family vacation in New York, the trio grew by one. When the two couples married after college, it was inevitable that their firstborns, born seven weeks apart, would be just as inseparable. Mel and Audra pride themselves in living up to expectations.

Music and apparently a lot of blood

Music makes me so happy, you guys. I finally took to iTunes to use a gift card I got for my birthday, and now I'm full of new jams and can jump around my apartment and flail my arms to the beat of the music and no one can judge me. Except all of you, now that you know.

I'm partially disappointed in myself because Beyonce's "Drunk In Love" made the cut, and I've been quite vocal about just how over Beyonce I am, but here we are. Girlfriend can't help it she makes catchy tunes, even if she does wear entirely too many leotards. You're also going to find Demi Lovato on the list, so go ahead and make your judgments, internet. I'm 32 going on 16. I put some raunchy Jason Derulo on there to increase my average age, don't worry. What are you listening to? Do tell. 

I'm sitting in my apartment right now drowning in the aroma of chili that's been cooking in the crockpot all day. I feel like I could take gulps of the air and actually consume chili. Sunday night crockpot meals have become quite a hit. Last weekend we made this balsamic roast beef, and it was painfully delicious. We've also taken to watching Friday Night Lights, and yes, it's good. But could Texas be any more awful? That whole town. They're all terrible and mean and can we talk about how all of the kids look 25? Don't get me wrong, I am loving the show. I am. It's like Dawson's Creek with football. I'm probably already Team Tim, much as I was Team Pacey. Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose. Tami Taylor forever. Etc.

If there's been any question, yes, winter is still here. I actually made it outside to run a few times this week. Until tomorrow, of course, when below-zero wind chills return because THE WEATHER IS OUT OF CONTROL. I took comfort the other day in the fact that my marathon is still four months away. Four whole months. Except now I'm not entirely sure that we won't still be in the throes of winter come mid-June. I don't know how much longer I can manage winter running. It's getting so damn hard. I took my first digger earlier in the week, busting up the same knee as last winter when The Great Biff of 2012 took place. Remember this? My knee does:

Biff.jpg

This week's damage was a fraction of that, but my right knee is pretty much over being battered and bruised. Kind of like my soul. YOU HEAR THAT, WINTER? GO AWAY. I HATE YOU SO VERY MUCH.

Ahem. Okay. Composure regained. 

As far as running goes, I'm pretty set on shooting for a Boston qualifying time at Grandma's Marathon. I'm five minutes short of my qualifying time right now, but I ideally want to take a solid seven or so minutes off of that to get a comfortable cushion for entry. Who knows what'll happen. At this rate, we'll likely be snowshoeing the course, so you know. Whatever. I'm already way ahead of the training game compared to this time during my last training cycle, so that eases my mind a little. Guess I'll just pump my running playlist full of DEMI LOVATO AND BEYONCE GOODNESS to get the adrenaline pumping, huh?

That's all I've got for now, world. I've got to extract this cat from my lap and get my chili ready to pour into my face. I promise to share more of my NaNoWriMo story soon. Until then, I'll leave you with this photo of a bloody hand print that was found on my apartment building's door the other day. Yeah. How bad do you want to move in? 

Really, really bad, I bet.

photo (2).JPG

Strangely, I've only now realized how much blood is featured in this blog post. Oops. Sorry about that.