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Whatcha Writin’ About?

Ever since COVID hit the US and changed everyone’s daily life, I’ve been doing A LOT of writing. Since I’m no longer working my second job and I can’t go to the pool because it’s STILL closed thanks to both construction and this pesky virus, I’ve been spending so much time behind a computer screen I’m starting to think there’s going to be an actual imprint of my ass on my dining room chair.

Anywho, I realized that despite all this writing that’s been going on, I haven’t really talked about it at all on my blog. Which I totally should be doing since, you know, I am a writer and aside from blogging about mental health and connecting with other mental health warriors, I also want to connect with other writers.

So what kind of ventures are in that folder marked “current writing projects?”

For starters, I managed to completely rebuild the 90,000+ word manuscript that I lost back in January thanks to a USB crash. Luckily one of my friends had the first draft saved in her email and I rewrote the entire thing from that in 4-5 months.
The Month of May follows Ella, a young woman who unexpectedly inherits her grandmother’s house and must return to her hometown of Pittsburgh where she is overcome with both beautiful and horrible memories of her first love and her late grandparents. As Ella navigates these complicated emotions in the steel town that raised her, she ultimately has to decide if she’s strong enough to let love in all its forms back into her life again.
I sent it out to 2 beta readers who were actually helpful, and am going over their comments before making some ‘final’ corrections and touch ups. I’m hoping that I can start querying again by the end of the year and keeping my fingers crossed that I can come up with a 280-character pitch to participate in my very first #PitMad on Twitter on December 3rd.

While May was out to the betas, I turned my attention to another manuscript I lost in the great USB crash of 2020. At the time, Ocracoke’s Daughter was 30-40,000 words, another contemporary fiction novel that I’ve rebuilt to around 55,000 words.
Here’s a pitch I randomly wrote — Adopted at birth and raised by strict conservatives, Sarah Sullivan always thought she was destined for two things – to marry the boy she met in middle school and raise his children. But after a decade of miscarriages and indifference from her overbearing husband, she files for divorce and travels to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to find her biological parents and herself. On the serene shores of Ocracoke and Hatteras, Sarah befriends a man with his own secrets, and an eccentric woman who claims to be her aunt – and the descendant of one of history’s most notorious pirates.
I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made with this one too, but I’m feeling a bit stuck with certain aspects, particularly those that require lots of research — and possibly involve traveling to parts of North Carolina that isn’t really plausible right now with budget and travel restrictions. Thanks again, COVID.
Basically I need to do a bunch of historical research on Blackbeard the pirate and should probably travel to the town of Bath, NC, which I have no idea if I’ll ever have the opportunity to do anytime soon. Fingers crossed that I’ll get some research completed when we (hopefully) vacation near Ocracoke this October.

I’ve also got a handful of other smaller projects I’ve been toiling with —


Summer Essays — Since this summer was essentially void of any typical summer experiences, I lamented those warm, sunny hours away by tapping away at my keyboard on my porch. Instead of lounging by the pool, riding roller coasters, or attending concerts, I wrote about past summers instead and came up with a series of ‘Summer Essays’ that I hope to find a home for someday. These include summers in my parents’ backyard pool, long days exploring the hills at my grandparents’ house, four years of band camp, decades of long weekends at a friend’s cabin in the mountains of northwestern PA, memories of dozens of vacations on the Outer Banks, and the summer of 2003, when my life changed forever.

Lunch with Miss Kitty — This is a piece I’ve been working on that I hope to pitch to a handful of dog-focused publications, this one in particular about my new fur kid, Miss Kitty, and our developing bond as she adjusts to her new life in her forever home. I’m pretty happy with it but am struggling with an ending.

Sweats — I decided to try my hand at a flash fiction piece that is told from the view point of a hoodie that a tourist buys on Westminster Pier while vacationing in London. I actually love 2/3 of this piece, but again am struggling with the ending. It took on an entirely different direction than I initially intended, and I’ve always had a hard time wrapping things up in less than 1000 words, so this one may take a while before I’m ready to submit it.

I’m also still trying to find a home for the following — Light of the Fire, a short story I wrote about the bond of female friendship after one of my friends lost everything in a house fire last year; Comet is Cupid, a non-fiction narrative about how our late dog Comet brought me and my husband together; and a short poem called Stained Glass Window about how people in my life who used to be my biggest cheerleaders faded away when I finally began standing up for myself and pursuing my dreams.

Bridges to Beaches — Aside from the novels, this is probably the project that I’m most excited about, yet is the least complete. Right now it’s just a cluster of unorganized ideas in a Word Doc that have been floating around in my head for a few years now.
I love writing about traveling and visiting lesser-known places in and around my hometown, so I decided that I wanted to start a travel blog from a local and down to earth perspective. So many travel blogs seem focused on unattainable destinations — far away, exotic islands, expensive hotels in European hot spots, or remote, sometimes dangerous villages in the middle of nowhere.
As someone with a limited budget (and travel anxiety), I want to write about accessible, affordable, and unique experiences that the average person can enjoy.
Since I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my entire life, I figured I’d start with my hometown. Everyone knows about our champion sports teams, our three rivers, and our myriad of museums, so my blog would focus on the hole in the wall, best keep secrets of this thriving, revitalized steel town. The best places to go kayaking. A tiny, but impressive collection of antique cars and carriages. A $10 tour of one of the MLB’s most beautiful baseball parks. Farmers markets. Secluded walking trails nestled amid the campus of The University of Pittsburgh. Fascinating historical spots.
The blog would also include write ups about nearby destinations perfect for day trips or long weekends, like Lake Erie and Presque Isle, Columbus, OH, Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, Lake Canadohota, and New York City.
Since North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a popular tourist destination for Pittsburghers (and it’s my favorite place on earth), I also wanted to include a section dedicated to vacationing there. Again, anyone can find articles about the beaches, the popular museums, and typical tourist attractions, but I’d want this part of the blog to focus on insider tips, hidden gems, and best kept secrets of this whimsical chain of barrier islands.

Just last week I had an idea for a fourth part of the blog, and that would be a section focusing on small businesses in the Pittsburgh area — a real estate agency, a salon, a photographer, painters, musicians, restaurants, non-profits — the possibilities are endless. I think it would be a really exciting way for independent entrepreneurs and artists to make connections and get their names out there.

Wow. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at all the ideas my brain can conjure up. It’s exciting, but it’s also intimidating. I still work a 9-5 job and though it no longer controls my everyday life, my anxiety is always at the back of my mind telling me that I’m being overly-ambitious or that I’m not good enough to have any success with these projects. I’m also still struggling with the technical aspects of ensuring that any of these ventures are a success, like social media presence, SEO, and being relevant on the internet, but hopefully I’ve recently found some resources to help with such obstacles.

In addition to all of these projects, I’m still trying to educate myself about being relevant and present on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m seriously considering starting a Linked In page for my writing. And holy crap WordPress has been telling me about its new formatting and offering me tutelage for months now but it’s finally here and now I have to figure out all this new crap on my own. Oops. (BTW does anyone know how to link prior blog posts on here? I found the “embed” button but can’t figure out how to change the text of the hyperlink).
I’ve also GOT to figure out how to link my blogs to Twitter. In the words of Kimmy Gibbler, Sweet Cheese.

With any luck, and a lot of hard work, I hope at least two or three of these projects see the light of day in the coming months or years. I’d love to hear what you guys think of any or all of them, and would also love to hear what you’ve been working on! Feel free to comment with a link to one of your projects if you’d like.

And as always, thanks for reading and commenting.

Updates Available

Hello, all. I just wanted to pop in and share some updates with the blogosphere. My last post focused mostly on all the writing projects I’ve been working on recently, and I’m really proud of myself for getting so much accomplished in this dismal summer/year as far as my craft goes. I realize that my blogging hasn’t been as consistent as it once was, but of course the entire world is a dumpster fire right now so what IS ‘normal’ in 2020?

Certainly not the last few weeks of my life.

After giving the rundown of my writing projects in my last post, I felt really motivated and was looking forward to getting back on track at blogging weekly or bi-weekly. And then the universe laughed.

My mom had a mild heart attack on September 22nd. The doctors said that this kind of heart attack is very common in kidney transplant patients, and she was only in the hospital for a few days for observation and to have a stent put in before she was back home recuperating. Aside from a nasty reaction to one of her new medications, she’s doing pretty well. With her medical history, this mostly just seemed like a bump in the road, albeit a scary one, but it definitely knocked me for a loop.

J and I have also spent the last month or so becoming more annoyed and frustrated with our disrespectful neighbors and our neighborhood — so much so that we met with a family member who is a real estate agent and discussed the first few steps of selling and buying a house. While we’re more optimistic about our options, we have A LOT to do before these plans can be put into motion, so we have to bide our time for at least another 6 months. Unless we hit the lottery of course.

The BS at work exploded with MAJOR changes two weeks ago, and it’s wreaked havoc on my mental health and confidence. I won’t go into too many details, but I will say that I still have a job, although nearly every single thing about the position looks differently than it had for the past six and a half years. Some days I feel really optimistic about where I’m headed at my 9-5, and other days I feel like my brain is going to leak out of my ear. I have no idea where this is going.

Our dog, Kitty, is going to be a big sister.
I temporarily lost my mind a few weeks ago and agreed to get a second dog. J and I had talked about it after Comet passed, and before we adopted Kitty, but I kept saying I wasn’t ready. But then one day J sent me a picture of an adorable pup from the same rescue organization that Kitty came from, and I started crying as soon as I saw his face. So. We’re getting a second dog. I’m excited for Kitty to have a companion, but I’ve never lived with 2 dogs before and it’s definitely going to be a big adjustment for all of us. Plus, he’s coming 2 weeks before we go on vacation . . . so we’ll have 2 dogs in the car with us on a 10+ hour drive to the beach. I’m sure there will be plenty of blog posts about this to come.

So, yeah, in the midst of all of this, I’m trying to get ready for vacation . . . without really getting ready. This trip was initially planned for May, but COVID ruined that, so we postponed until now. With the way 2020 has been going, I’ve done pretty much NOTHING to prepare for the trip, which goes against everything my type A personality believes in. Normally I’m making color-coded lists and tossing items into suitcases a month beforehand, but this time I’m trying to fly by the seat of my pants. Because again, who knows what is or isn’t going to happen at this point.
Except, you know, there’s 2 dogs going with us.

Any positive/happy vibes you could send would be appreciated.


(Still) Confused About Freelance

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This is going to be a “whiny, poor me, I don’t get it” post. A more honest, raw version of this one from a while back.

Because since 2016, when I decided to devote every minute of my spare time to my writing, I still have yet to understand a lick of how to make money doing so.

I signed up for yet another newsletter that supposed to help with this kind of stuff. And just like every other website/newsletter/club/class, I find myself asking the same questions and thinking the same confused thoughts . . .

Step One is to acknowledge your uncomfortable feelings. Yes,  I know that it’s normal to be nervous and intimidated. Yes,  I want to be my own boss, make supplemental income, and be proud of something. Yes, I want to help people by providing a service I’m good at.

Step Two is to find my niche. What is my niche? I don’t have a college degree. I’m not an expert on anything except maybe Tudor History and Harry Potter. Sure, I’ve worked some form of admin or customer service work over the last fifteen years, but who hasn’t? How can I possibly use that to help me find writing jobs?

I’d like to think that after six years in the salvage auto/insurance industry that I’ve picked up on some decent information. But I’m hardly a “qualified” expert. I have no licenses or certifications. And offering to proofread or re-write one of our clients’ or vendors’ websites is probably a conflict of interest. I can’t sacrifice my 9-5 job.

The only other thing I know a lot about is mental health and therapy. But again I have no qualifications, no degrees. Just because someone knows a lot about a disease doesn’t mean they’re qualified to write about it. So I can’t even make money writing about things I have intimate knowledge of. How is this supposed to be helpful?!

messy notebook

Clips. Okay, here’s something I finally have. I’ve published six pieces over the last few years and I have my own blog. Yay! But . . . I’ve never been paid for those pieces. And most of the writing samples are deeply personal or fictional. How am I supposed to use personal essays or fun flash fiction to sell myself to businesses looking for content or technical writers?

Portfolio & Online Presence. I kind of have these too. Score! But again, my portfolio is full of un-business related credits. And while I do have social media accounts for my writer-self, those are mostly to interact with other writers and readers. LinkedIn apparently is a must. But I already tried searching for freelance jobs on there and only one came up. What the heck am I doing wrong? How do people find me on there? What could I possibly post on LinkedIn that isn’t on my Facebook, Twitter, or blog? And for the third time — HOW ARE MY PUBLISHED PIECES ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH, FIRST LOVE, AND THE OUTER BANKS GOING TO GET ME FREELANCE CLIENTS?!?!?!?!

Rates? Screw rates. This is probably the aspect of freelancing I’m least concerned with. At this point I’ll let a college kid pay me $20 just to proofread his mediocre term paper. Throw me a bone here, please.

Prospects and Marketing. 
I’m starting to feel like a broken record here but . . . how can I have any prospects when I don’t have a niche? How can I have prospects when I don’t have any relevant business experience or credentials?
And how am I supposed to market myself without any of the above? Not to mention the fact that I’m still the most technologically inept millennial on the planet. In the four years since I’ve been back in the writing world, my eyes still glaze over anytime I read anything about marketing, SEO, widgets, or site traffic.

I just . . . I can’t . . .  I don’t understand.

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It’s like math class all over again. I feel like I’m doomed to fail because I’m not business minded.

Any help anyone has ever offered has only made me more confused.

Is it possible I’m just entirely too stupid or just not good enough to make money writing? I’m not even asking to be one of those people who can quit my FT job. I just want to make, like, an extra $100 – $200 a month.

Is that too much to ask?

PS:  The writer who runs the latest newsletter I’ve subscribed to considered herself a failure for “only making” $500 a month freelancing when she first started out. Sigh.

fortune

Get to Know Me in 20 Random Questions

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these questionnaire type blogs, and considering the weight of my last three posts (and the constant boredom brought on by COVID), I thought it might be fun to do one now. Feel free to join in!

1. What’s the first thing you notice about people?
I’m never quite sure how to answer this one because to be honest, it depends on the person. I think it’s mostly how you present yourself — not just appearance but your demeanor. Are you patient, kind, and inviting? Or are you annoyed, demanding, and short-tempered?

2. What is your eye color?
Brown. Boring old brown. Maybe cause I’m full of shit?

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3. Do you have any siblings?
Yes, a sister who is 2 years younger. She’s an artist too! Check out her fabulous paintings:
EllaMessArt

4. When was the last time you cried?
A few days ago watching the series finale of Fuller House. No shame.

5. What was your favorite and worst subject a school?
Favorite was usually a writing class or history class. I was always good at English class but grammar was boring to me, mostly because it came so easily.
Any kind of math was the WORST. And then there was the torture of gym. Shudder.

dodgeball

6. Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
I always struggled with this question too BUT a few weeks ago I learned a new word — ambivert.
So now I have a new way to describe myself and a word to add to my arsenal.

7. What was your favorite TV show as a child, and what is it now?
When I was really little, I remember watching Winnie the Pooh with my dad on Saturday mornings.
Now this is a bit of a tougher question as I only allow myself to watch maybe an hour of TV a night, so I really only watch 1 show at a time. Recent faves include Friends, Seinfeld, GoT, Fuller House, & Sex Education

8. What is your biggest fear?
Still not ready to say it out loud — to myself or anyone else.

9. If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?
Oh, man, that’s a tough one. Probably sit down with writers, editors, and agents who could best help me become the writer I want to be. And then go to the beach.

10. Do you use sarcasm a lot?
Only every 10 minutes or so, especially at the 9-5 job.

11. If you were another person, would you be friends with yourself?
You know, I don’t think so. That’s not meant to sound self-depreciating or anything, but I realize that I can be really emotionally intense and sometimes needy.

12. What are your favorite smells?
The beach. Old books. New Books. My Gram’s house.

13. Would you rather win the lottery, or work at the perfect job and why?
Probably work the perfect job, which would of course be writing. The ‘why’ would be to prove to everyone who doubted me that I could make a damn good living as a writer. And to actively live my passion of course.

14. Morning or evening person?
It really depends on the situation or event. Do I like getting up early to go to work? No. But do I like getting up early to go on vacation? Yes.
Do I like staying up late finishing a project or chore? No. But do I like staying up talking with good friends or watching a hockey game? Yes.

15. Aside from necessities, what one thing could you not go a day without?
Lip balm. It’s an addiction.

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16. What’s your favorite music genre & artist?
Impossible for me to answer. I love so many different types of music — Mozart, show tunes, Green Day, Christina Aguilera, Queen, Ed Sheeran . . .

17. What is the first thing you do in the morning?
Check the time, then go to the bathroom for teeth brushing and other bathroom-related necessities.

18. If you could eliminate one weakness or limitation in your life, what would it be?
Anxiety.

19. You’re wearing a fragrance, what is it?
Avocado Co-Wash from Lush. Sooooooooo refreshing!

20. If you could eat lunch with 4 celebrities, who would they be?
OMG I really don’t know how to answer this. I’ll just leave it at that.

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Anxiety & Masks

 

holding breath

I’ll be honest — the first time I put a mask on I wanted to claw it off immediately.

It was back in March, before things got really bad here in the States, and a few weeks before Pennsylvania’s governor mandated that masks be worn in all public places.

My husband, who works in a hospital, encouraged me to wear a disposable surgical mask to the grocery store, and I admit that I ripped it off after about ten minutes. It was itchy and awkward, and I experiencing claustrophobia for one of the first times in my life. The only other time I’d felt like I was suffocating or that the walls were closing in on me was when we’d gotten lost in The Underground on our trip to London.

Needless to say, when it became mandatory to wear a mask and I realized that I was going to have to wear one all day in the office, I had a full-on panic attack.

While I 100% support the mask mandate, I realize that there are some people with invisible conditions — like anxiety or claustrophobia — that may have a hard time adhering to this rule, so I wanted to share some ideas that helped me and might help others adjust to this new normal.

  1. Material & Type:
    The first disposal mask I tried was a high-grade surgical one. I didn’t like the way it tied around the back of my head and the thicker material was too much for someone who’d never worn a face covering. I felt the same way when I tried to use a mask that a coworker had made from an old pillow case. It was entirely too thick, which made me hot and it to me it felt like an actual pillow was being held over my face.
    After trying a few different things, I found that a different type of disposable surgical mask worked better for me, as did masks made out of thinner fabric like these ones from Target.
    You can also play around with different features or types of masks — some people like ones that loop over the ears, while others prefer ones that tie behind their heads. Some people are more comfortable wearing a scarf of bandanna. In most cases, as long as you’re not performing surgery or caring for someone with COVID-19, any of these are acceptable options.
  2. Size:
    This is something I didn’t give much thought to when I first started wearing a mask; I assumed they were ‘one size fits all.’ But now that it’s become a staple in life and something that’s probably not going away anytime soon, I’ve realized how important it is to have a mask that fits properly. And for those of us with anxieties, the fit may help alleviate some of those uncomfortable feelings.
    I have a tiny head, and subsequently a tiny face. Sunglasses, headbands, and ball caps are typically too big for me, and the same goes for masks. The fact that the first few I tried were entirely too big for my face probably contributed to the feeling of being suffocated or overwhelmed. The last few I’ve purchased have actually been kid sized, but they work well for my apparently small dome.
    If you’re struggling, try a smaller size or a different brand. As long as it covers your mouth and nose, you’re good!

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3. Practice at Home:
Like with almost everything else, practice makes perfect. In order to get used to masks, I wore one around the house for a few minutes at a time before I felt comfortable doing so for extended periods. When it came time to wear one out in public, I first ran out to pick up a prescription, knowing that the trip would be short and I could take it off in probably less than ten minutes. Once I tackled short errands, I was finally able to wear one for a long trip to the grocery store and during work.
Concentrating on taking slow, even breaths also helped, as did using mantras like “I am safe” and “I’m getting plenty of oxygen.”

4. Use Essential Oils:
I’ve become a fan of diffusers and essential oils over the last couple of years, and occasionally use them on my mask. If I’m having a rough day at work or feel a panic attack coming on randomly while wearing one, I sprinkle the fabric with a few drops of lavender or this CBD oil.. Having the calming scents right against my nose helps me breathe better and stay calm.

5. If You Wear Glasses:
One of the chief complaints about masks is that they make your glasses fog up. While I usually wear contacts, there have been a few occasions where I’ve had to suffer through wearing my spectacles in conjunction with a mask, and it is a pain in the ass.
For those of you who wear glasses daily, may I suggest a mask with a nose wire? My husband, who wears his glasses all the time, works on the dock at a hospital, and explained that if the wire is pinched flush against your nose, it will greatly reduce fogging.
If you’re the crafty type, you can even make this a DIY project using materials like pipe cleaners, paperclips, or even twist ties.

glasses

6. Have Fun!
Look, we’re all kind of grasping at straws for ways to maintain sanity at this point. If we have to wear masks, we might as well have fun with it. If you’re the artsy type, have a (small, social distance-enforced) party and make masks with friends and family. Use old t-shirts, pillowcases, socks, and even bras to make yourself a one-of-a-kind face covering.
Flaunt your interests with sports team logos or these fabulous literary masks.  One of the coolest masks I’ve seen is this one,  for Harry Potter fans, which is an impressively authentic version of the Marauder’s Map.
You can also use this opportunity to support a good cause with the purchase of one of these masks that give back.

Well. There’s a post I never anticipated writing.

Hope this helps someone and hope you’re all staying safe and healthy.

 

gloves

The Only Way Out is Through, Part 3

continued from Parts 1 & 2 

2011 – 2014

Towards the end of January 2011, my friend invited me to her house for “a small dinner party” to celebrate my twenty-sixth birthday. In reality, this was a ruse to get me to a surprise party where J got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife, surrounded by family and friends.

We basked in the glow of our engagement for a few months, but before long the two of us grew frustrated – with our situation and with each other. J was once again unhappy at a job that he thought had long-term potential, and I was wrestling with the fact that I’d have to leave my comfortable job for a place that paid more than slightly above minimum wage.

While J unintentionally bounced from one job to another, I finally secured a new position working in an office for a team of mental health providers. My salary would increase, my commute time would decrease, and I was excited to work in an environment that catered to people who, like me, struggled with anxiety and depression. Or so I thought.

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My new job gave me absolutely no training, and the office manager who hired me had next to no patience. I was made to feel inept and useless, and to make matters worse I soon realized that both the office manager and another employee passed the time by reading through patient files and making fun of peoples’ symptoms. As if that weren’t enough to chase me away, I also discovered that the head psychiatrist was sleeping with the office manager – and both of them were married to other people. I was so completely disgusted that I quit within a matter of weeks, and was lucky enough to secure a new job the very next day.

My new venture was being a dispatcher at a plumbing and heating company. Again, my salary increased and my commute time decreased, and I finally felt good about my job and planning our wedding. J had also found a job he liked, but I was growing frustrated with the fact that we had been engaged for nearly eight months and still hadn’t set a date. While I knew that our engagement would be long, I had no idea that we’d have such trouble when it came to jobs or finances. After a couple of arguments, J and I finally got back on the same page when it came to our future, and we set a date for September of 2013.

After about a year as dispatcher, I grew weary of trying to handle 30-40 service calls a day with only five techs. I quietly began sending out resumes, promising myself that I’d only change jobs if the pay was significantly higher and the company did work I truly believed in. I was, after all, planning a wedding and buying a house. This was no time to make unnecessary changes.

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In the summer of 2012, I applied for a job downtown as a receptionist for a nonprofit organization that was an affiliate of an elite university in Pittsburgh. It was a long shot, so I was shocked when I secured an interview. And I nearly shit myself when I snagged the job.

I was intimidated, but excited. The organization was doing educational work in third world countries and their office was a brand new, gleaming, high-tech environment that made me feel as though I’d finally made it. Even though my commute and parking situation was now horrendous, I was making more money than I ever thought possible doing menial tasks like ordering office supplies and transferring phone calls. I even got the chance to assist some of the departments with research and small write-ups, which I was repeatedly praised for.

Three months later it all went to shit. My immediate supervisor went out suddenly for weeks because of surgery, and her boss, the demanding CEO, dumped all of her work on me. Caught off guard and completely unprepared and overwhelmed, I did everything in my power to keep up with his impossible demands and condescending attitude. I worked ten hour days, begged vendors to cater to his every whim, and spent parts of every day sobbing in the ladies room. I knew I had to keep this job but I didn’t have the experience to be the executive assistant that he was used to. When I found out that the CEO and the director of HR were sleeping together (again, both married to other people), I lost all respect for the entire organization.

Before I could find a new place of employment, the arrogant, womanizing CEO fired me the day after he used me as a gopher during an important event. While I was relieved to be out of such a toxic environment, I was twelve months away from my wedding and J and I had just begun looking at houses. What on earth was I going to do?

exhausted

Losing that job, filing for unemployment and looking for a new position absolutely devastated me. I felt like I had completely and utterly failed and I saw no way that J and I could ever go through with the wedding or home buying process. At one point while talking to a woman at the unemployment office, I became so emotionally overwhelmed that I ended up sobbing into the phone on the floor of my parents’ basement. “I’m supposed to be planning my wedding!” I shouted to this poor stranger. “But instead I’m doing this!”

Slowly, with the help of a therapist and an employment agency, things began to improve. I started feeling slightly better, and was making decent money again when I started a new office position at an appraisal management company. While I was glad to be making a regular salary again, I knew within a matter of weeks that the position simply wasn’t for me. The work itself was confusing and the environment was super flaky. Several of the managers were condescending and disrespectful, and the pressure was incredibly high due to the fact that each employee underwent a scrupulous review every single month.

Still, I knew I couldn’t quit because the wedding was inching closer. J and I were nine months away from being husband and wife, so I figured I’d muddle through as best I could for the time being.

Somehow, amid all the chaos in our professional lives, J and I found and purchased our first home and got married five months later. Despite all the turmoil of the last several years, these important events (mostly) went off without a hitch, and we had an absolute blast the day we said “I do.” Someday I’ll tell you all about it in detail.

wedding pic
photographed by Lavender Leigh Photography, Pittsburgh

 

But our woes with employment weren’t over yet. Right around the time I started looking for a new job to escape the pretentious environment of the mortgage company, I lost that job too. My panic was ironically short-lived, considering we now had a mortgage, but I was able to secure a job six weeks later in March of 2014, and I am still working there to this day.

Seeing all of it laid out like this definitely makes me realize how much shit J and I have been through over the years. It makes me realize how strong we are as a couple and as individuals, and solidifies the knowledge that we can make it through anything together.

But more importantly – and perhaps most relevant right now – is the fact that tough times always come and go. When you’re in the thick of it, it’s absolutely horrible. You can’t see the forest for the trees and some days you just want to give up. I know I’ve definitely had similar thoughts during the shit storm of a year that has been 2020, and I know most other people out there have too.

Even though none of us know when we’ll see sunny skies again, we can’t lose sight of the fact that someday things will get better. Whether you’re struggling with the effects of the pandemic or dealing with a personal crisis, there will come a day when a present problem is a thing of the past.

With any luck, we’ll learn something from it and be stronger in the future.

Stay strong. Stay healthy.

black heart

The Only Way Out is Through, Part 2

continued from Part 1

2009

At the height of the recession, J and I were thankful to have jobs. Neither one of us were making great money, but plenty of people were stuck on unemployment and having trouble finding work. As we prepared ourselves for the first holidays since his dad’s passing, we looked forward to 2010 as the year that we’d be able to move in together.

In November of 2009, I was covering for the receptionist at work when J’s cell number lit up the call screen. I answered eagerly, still relishing the fact that I had a boyfriend who called me at work from time to time.

But when he told me that he’d been fired, I went into instant panic mode. I remember crying in my office, feeling angry and confused. We had just gotten back to our new normal; how could this be happening? My anger and frustration only grew when I learned the details of his termination – it was due to a miscommunication that had been blown out of proportion, and he spent the next several months fighting for unemployment benefits. As 2009 came to a close, we had to face the harsh reality that our dreams of moving in together would once again be delayed.

wait

Over the next couple of months, J spent hours every day desperately trying to find a job in a crumbling economy. To make matters worse, he had a health scare in March that sent him to the hospital for several days while he was uninsured. Though we were both grateful that he was eventually okay, he was now several thousand dollars in debt due to medical bills, with no job prospects to soften the blow.

It took J six months to find a job, and another six months to find one that he didn’t hate or didn’t put his well being in danger. By the fall of 2010, he was finally making steady money again. Little did we know that our problems weren’t over yet.

2010

On October 16, 2010, I woke up to find a note on the kitchen table in my mom’s neat handwriting. Dad had taken her to the hospital for antibiotics, it read. See you in a day or two.

Mom had been doing at-home kidney dialysis for years, and occasionally she contracted  peritonitis from it. This was a common problem for dialysis patients, but luckily one that was treated quickly and easily with IV antibiotics. She’d had it a few times in the past, and after spending 24-48 hours in the hospital, she’d return home perfectly fine. This was not one of those times.

IV

The infection Mom had contracted raged out of control for days, which turned into weeks, which turned into months. She was admitted and released to and from the hospital three separate times and underwent several procedures and surgeries. Nothing the doctors were giving her seemed able to fight the infection that had consumed her entire peritoneal cavity. To make matters worse, the strong drugs they were giving her diminished her appetite and made her unable to keep down anything she did eat, so she wasn’t getting enough nutrition. She grew weaker and sicker before our eyes, and was in the ICU by Thanksgiving. As the rest of the world readied itself for Christmas, I was faced with the possibility that I might lose my mom.

The idea wasn’t new to me, considering that she’d been fighting an autoimmune disease and subsequent kidney disease since I was five, but this time things really seemed bleak. I remember spending every spare moment at the hospital, jumping every time the phone rang, and being so sick with worry and fear that I could barely eat. I lost ten pounds in a month, and was desperately trying to keep the house, laundry, and meals together in her absence. All the while, my work suffered, as did my relationship with J. I was so exhausted of having bad things happen to us, and I had no idea how to convey my grief to anyone. The icing on the proverbial cake was the group of friends I lost in those months – people I’d known since middle school who accused me of being a drama queen and a cry baby and were actually angry that I skipped a Halloween party to be with my hospitalized mother.

By some miracle, Mom began to recover just before Christmas. We spent the holiday in a rehabilitation center, and a few weeks into the New Year she was finally home for good.

After living through what ended up being some of the most trying months of my life, I was definitely ready for a bit of a reprieve . . .

hope

The Only Way Out is Through, Part 1

Like most of the world, I’ve spent the last several months of quarantine asking myself a series of scary questions – How long will this last? When will I feel safe or normal again? When will things get better? What if things get worse? How on earth are we going to make it through this?

Though nearly everyone is asking similar questions and wrestling with some major life changes (or standstills), and we keep repeatedly (albeit virtually) reminding one another that we’re in this together, we are, for the most part, still alone. No one has any concrete answers to any of the scary questions we’re all asking, and that’s probably the most frightening part of all.

lost

I’ve had moments where I’ve used the circumstances of the pandemic for good – writing and submitting like crazy, cleaning, taking walks, and having plenty of ‘me’ time. But there are also times that I’ve felt like I was going to absolutely insane if I couldn’t leave my zip code or couldn’t fathom the next time I’d get to travel. I’ve cried over not being able to hug my friend when she offered comfort over the death of my dog, and I’ve cried after leaving my parents’ house and not being able to hug my immune-compromised mom. One day at the grocery store I couldn’t reach an item on the top shelf and I couldn’t get close enough to anyone to ask for help, and on came the waterworks. I’ve stormed away from my desk at work after yelling at a customer for the four hundredth time that day to read the signs on the door regarding masks and the ‘one person in the office at a time’ rule. In those moments of overwhelming emotion, the biggest question on my mind is how on earth am I going to get through this?

During moments of clarity I’ve had to remind myself that although the world population is muddling through uncharted territory, we’ve been through worse – or at least similar — situations. As have I.

Though things are absolute and total shit right now, personally I am in a better place in my life in a lot of ways than, say, a decade ago. During the first four years of mine and J’s relationship, we experienced one devastating blow after another. It seemed like as soon as we cleared one hurdle, another one would be waiting around the corner to knock us down once again. There was a long stretch where we couldn’t see how the two of us would ever be able to get better jobs, a house of our own, go on vacation, or get married.

trapped

Today, with the world going to hell in a hand basket in more ways than one, I look back on those times and think about how strong we must have been as a couple and as individuals to keep going until we reached our goals. I’ve been wanting to write about those tumultuous years for a while now, and figured that now is as good a time as any. I’ve got extra time on my hands to write, readers have more time to read, and we could all use a little inspiration and reflection about getting through tough times.

So without further ado, let me get into part 1 . . .

2008

J and I met on a blind date coordinated by mutual friends. The four of us had dinner, then headed to a bar for drinks, where aforementioned friends finagled a plan to have J take me home that night. There, in the front seat of his Chevy Equinox, I kissed him for the first time. When I went to bed less than an hour later, I realized that I’d just met the person I was going to marry.

About a month into our budding relationship, J and I began to discuss moving in together. I was still living with my parents after plans to get an apartment with a friend fell apart, and he was back at home as well after leaving a toxic relationship. I’d always promised myself that I’d never live with anyone until we’d dated for a year, but I already knew J was the one, so I went along with it full force. We discussed budgets, desired neighborhoods, and furniture before realizing we were talking crazy. Though we were both serious about our relationship, we figured it was a good idea to wait awhile before jumping into that water head first. It was April 2008, so we decided that if we were still together come January 2009, we’d continue with plans to move in together. Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.

Our relationship blossomed quickly over the next six months. We said mutual ‘I love yous,’ went on weekend adventures, and I introduced him to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which he promptly fell in love with. I told him about my anxiety, he shared his less-than-perfect past, and we celebrated his birthday and our first Christmas together as the year drew to a close. But it was Christmas night that our lives and our relationship were changed.

broken

After the holiday festivities died down, J’s dad went to bed early so he could be up for his 4am shift the next day. Shortly after, the two of us retreated to J’s room to snuggle up and watch a movie. As the credits rolled, we heard a God-awful thump from across the hall. The next several hours were some of the scariest of my life. I remember J dialing 911, shouting that his dad was turning blue. I remember his mom racing up the stairs to see what was wrong. I remember dashing next door, hoping that J’s cop neighbor was home to help. I remember sitting in the brightly-lit ER in the middle of the night listening to a doctor say the words “his condition is very serious.”

J’s dad suffered a massive heart attack, the kind they call ‘the widow maker.’ His brain had gone so long without oxygen that he was placed on a ventilator and we had to wait several days to see if the swelling would go down so the doctors could determine if he’d ever regain consciousness again. Less than two weeks later came the devastating news that he was brain dead, and the family made the painful decision to take him off life support. Three days into 2009, J lost his father.

Looking back, I have no idea how I made it through those weeks. J and I had only been dating for a little over eight months. His parents hadn’t even met mine yet. I’d never been close to anyone who had lost a parent at our young age, and didn’t have the first clue about navigating the situation. Whenever I was with J and his mom, I felt like I was intruding on their grief, but as soon as I left I’d feel guilty. I never knew what to say or do to make either one of them feel better, and I worried about whether or not our relationship could survive this. I remember crying in my car out of fear and anxiety anytime I headed over to their house, then forcing myself to stop and act as normal as possible during my visit. As soon as I left, I’d drive down the street to park and cry some more as the family’s pain and the feeling of helplessness washed over me.

stone

It took a long time for us to adapt to our new normal. J and I celebrated our one year anniversary that spring and we spent some time at our friend’s trailer that summer. Eventually we ended up taking a vacation that October. J’s parents had planned a cruise well before his dad’s heart attack, and instead of his mom cancelling or going alone, the three of us went together. It was my first experience on a cruise ship, and touring the islands of St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Grand Turk gave us the break we all needed.

When we got home, J and I started talking about moving in together again, and set our new goal for January of 2010. We finally felt like we were getting back on our feet again after a long, hard 10 months.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t have been more wrong . . .

lock

A Dog Named Kitty

Bloggers I have big news — back on May 29th, after weeks of emails and waiting, J and I finally met our new fur baby!

Introducing . . .

Our 2 year old bulldog/lab mix — Miss Kitty from Texas!

Kitty 1

Now I know what you’re thinking — who would name a DOG KITTY?!?!?!

J and I thought the same thing at first. But then we discovered that this fur baby was found emaciated and lactating on Kitty Hawk Road near San Antonio, Texas. The name felt more suitable after we heard her story, and we decided to take it as a sign that this pup was meant to be ours since we’ve frequently vacationed in Kitty Hawk, NC.

I’ll spare you the heartbreaking photos of what Kitty looked like the day her foster mom found her darting in and out of traffic. But every bone of her spine was clearly visible and several of her boobies were the size of water balloons. While Kitty was safe after her foster mom scooped her up, her puppies or an owner were never found (although an owner who would dump a pregnant/nursing dog doesn’t deserve to have her back).

Fast forward several months when J and I decided to start the search for a new fur baby after Comet’s passing. Since neither one of us had adopted a pet in over thirteen years, we didn’t realize that searching even local pet shelters cross-referenced you with the massive online database across the entire country. Thanks to some error in search parameters, Miss Kitty kept popping up on our screen, and neither one of us could resist her adorable face or her story that tugged at our heartstrings.

Kitty 4

When we realized she was over 1500 miles away, my anxiety definitely perked up. How would she get to us? What if we didn’t “click?” Would she be traumatized after a journey that far? What if something happened to her on the way to Pittsburgh?

The first time we talked to Kitty’s foster mom calmed most of my fears. I learned that transporting adoptable dogs is a fairly common practice these days, and that the rescue organization that Kitty was being adopted through transported pets all over the country on a regular basis. Once Kitty’s foster mom gave us the thumbs up for adoption, we signed some electronic forms, paid her adoption fee, and the wait began!

The process took several weeks, which was delayed for two additional weeks thanks to the travel restrictions due to COVID. When the day finally came, I was experiencing all sorts of emotions — I was still worried about something happening to her convoy as they sped towards Pittsburgh; I was afraid she’d be scared of us or hate us; I worried they’d bring us the wrong dog or not show up at all. At one point I became convinced that the entire thing was a scam and that we were going to get kidnapped and sold as sex slaves.
And as dumb as it sounds, when we piled into our SUV to go pick her up, the realization that Comet was really, truly gone forever crashed down around me.

When the transporters with God’s Dogs Rescue finally arrived, Kitty had to be carried out of the van. She was trembling uncontrollably and absolutely terrified. J and I immediately gathered her in our arms, whispering calming words of love, and I promptly burst into tears. I was so happy she was finally ours but I was heartbroken that she was so terrified.

Kitty 3

As soon as we got her home, though, Kitty was immediately affectionate and incredibly gentle. She even found the courage to play and had a healthy appetite right off the bat. Her separation anxiety was apparent from the get go, as she trembled anytime someone left a room for the first 24-48 hours. She was also scared of our steep staircase and our dishwasher, but all things considered, our first weekend together went pretty well.

While J had taken a couple of days off of work to help get Kitty acclimated, I had to go back to work the following Monday, and I was a bundle of nerves. Those nerves became raging anxiety when J returned to work, and I was absolutely beside myself those days that she was completely alone for hours at a time. Since I work 15 minutes from home, I came back for lunch,  but my mind was constantly going a million miles a minute. Even though we had puppy-proofed our home, I was afraid she’d find something to eat or destroy. I kept picturing puddles of pee and piles of poop scattered throughout the house. My worst fear was that she was going to be so traumatized from the separation that it was going to negatively effect her health.

At the end of her first week, we had a rough couple of days. Kitty accidentally head-butted me in my cheek when I bent over to grab her ball, causing me to stumble backwards and hurting me badly enough that I was sore for a couple of days. I can’t believe she didn’t leave a bruise. She had three accidents three days in a row — all while we were home with her! And then on Friday, my neighbor texted me around 11am telling me that Kitty had been barking nonstop for hours.

I think the rescue people call this the “testing the boundaries” phase.

Now I’m well-aware that most of these things are to be expected when adopting a new dog and they’re learning your routine and adjusting to a new place. I expected the accidents, some chewing, and even the anxiety. But I hadn’t dealt with these things in decades, and certainly never in the middle of a global pandemic, when my anxiety was the highest it’s been in ages. Add job-related BS and drama to the mix and you have yourself the perfect recipe for an all-out meltdown panic attack.

When I got the text from my neighbor, I had the worst panic attack I’d experienced in months. I started shaking uncontrollably, my thoughts were spiraling at a million miles a minute, and I couldn’t concentrate on the simplest task. I started crying and hyperventilating and had to lock myself in the bathroom. All I could think was that I was a horrible dog mom and didn’t deserve this sweet pup. I kept thinking of all the possible mistakes I’d made and to make matters worse, I conjured up dozens of worst-case scenarios, from Kitty getting hurt to our neighbors forcing us to get rid of her.

Thankfully, that weekend was much, much better. Kitty continued showing an overflowing amount of affection, took several walks, and even confronted the vacuum cleaner and the lawn mower. And even though I’m still ridiculously nervous whenever we leave for work, we’ve laid out a few plans to help her deal with her anxieties (and mine!) and potential problems, and I’m hopeful that with time, the three of us will develop a plan that works.

Kitty 5

Part of me still can’t quite believe she’s here and that she’s all ours. It’s almost like I’m dog sitting. There’s this little stranger in our house and I’m not quite sure what her next surprise is going to be — good or bad.
I feel even more pressure to care for her now, in the beginning, than I did once Comet became a staple in our lives. I want her foster mom to know that she made the right choice in letting us adopt her. I want Kitty to know that she’s safe and that she can trust us and that she won’t ever be abandoned again. I want her to know that we’ll always come home to her.

Most of all, I hope the three of us have many happy years together, just like we did with our sweet Comet.

Kitty 2

 

some (publishing) news!

Good evening, bloggers!

Just wanted to take a few minutes to let you know that I recently had two poems published by Capsule Stories, a print literary journal that publishes once every season.

I’m proud to be featured among dozens of other talented writers, especially in an issue that’s all about “Moving Forward.”

Check out the Summer 2020 edition and their website at https://capsulestories.com/summer-2020-edition/

My poems that are featured in this issue were posted several years ago on my blog Outer Banks Poems.

Enjoy! And let me know what you think!

journal