winter

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in a veil of frost

and silver,

she moves always

inward,

pulling all things,

all beings,

towards silence;

draping the skies,

softening the sun,

only as she pleases;

etching cuts and burns

on trees

and earth,

she picks the stars

and studs the land;

she is a sculptor,

a blade,

a pocket of crystals;

she transforms the rain

drop,

sits upon a carved,

see-through throne;

she is a visionary,

a minimalist;

in black and white

she dreams;

she knows

her time is temporary;

she does not aim to please.

why i write

1747_65579737872_6615_nbecause writing is

revolutionary;

because i dream in

words;

because i cannot stand to think

that i will not be

heard;

because i like the black

of ink;

because it hurts to not;

because i fear that if i don’t

my heart will surely

rot;

because it slices

cuts

and burns;

because i cannot sleep;

because the earth

echoes

the sea;

because the

leaves

in

fall

will

weep.

My Past Life as a Smoker (part 2)

Quit-Smoking

Everyone’s quitting journey is going to look different. I’m by no means an expert on breaking cigarette addiction, but having been through the battle, I will share in this post some insights I learned through my experience quitting cigarettes. (Just so you know; I never used nicotine patches or any other quitting-aid products.)

This post is Part 2 of 2… you can read Part 1 here.

What’s your vision?

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All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another. ~Anatole France

In Part 1 I mentioned that I couldn’t picture my future-self as a smoker. I had a vision – a vision of a smoke-free Me. A Me who started her days and ended her meals without the need for a cigarette.

Try starting with a vision. Something to build towards and look forward to. In all honesty (and I know this might sound unfriendly), my vision was largely inspired by middle-aged women in my life who were smokers. What I saw in them I didn’t want to see in myself when I got to their age. I didn’t want to have that cough, that voice, that skin, those teeth, that need. I envisioned myself free… singing with a voice that didn’t crack, breathing with lungs that didn’t wheeze.

It’s gonna suck, big time

When patterns are broken, new worlds emerge. ~ Tuli Kupferberg

Accept the fact that it’s gonna suck. You’re going to suffer mentally and physically. You’re going to question why you’re trying to quit, which by the way isn’t necessarily a bad thing (reexamining your reason or vision). You’re going to bargain with yourself and say things like: “I’ll just start tomorrow” or “ok, just one more” or maybe, if you’re a female: “I’ll just quit when I’m pregnant” (my personal favorite – I used that one all the time). You’re going to be miserable and the days are going to be long. You’re going to crave cigarettes at every turn. Everything is going to make you want to smoke – even reading advice (ha, sorry). But when you accept that Agony is part of the process, you can move on to the next stage: believing there’s life after cigarettes.

“The Last Cigarette”

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The best way to stop smoking is just to stop… no ifs, ands, or butts. ~ Edith Zittler

It can be stressful putting so much emphasis on your “last cigarette”, so don’t pressure yourself. Don’t declare a cigarette to be your last. Just take it one day at a time and you will suddenly realize that you can’t even remember the last time you smoked.

I tried to live my quitting days as normally as I could so that in my mind, a day without a cigarette was not a big deal – not a big source of pressure or stress – it was just another day, a regular day lived the way it should be lived. Not thinking about my “last cigarette” and not thinking about whether I would actually ever smoke again relieved so much pressure… and allowed me to embrace, instead of dread, every day that I went without a cigarette.

Something new

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He that has energy enough to root out a vice should go further, and try to plant a virtue in its place. ~Charles Caleb Colton

I will be honest. I managed to quit forever while I was in the midst of a huge transition in my life. My whole world had changed – I had moved to a new country – which meant my routine and surroundings had completely and utterly changed. I walked down streets I hadn’t walked down before. I had no memory of me smoking by those stairs or with those people or in that room. I had no associations to pull at my cravings.

Quitting cigarettes is as much a mental battle as a physical one, so one of the most important things to do if you’re trying to quit is to change something very definite in your daily life.

Maybe rearrange your room so that the positioning of your bedside table doesn’t remind you that you used to keep a pack in the first drawer. Maybe take a different route to work so that passing by that stop sign doesn’t remind you that you would usually be lighting a cigarette by now. Maybe buy a new purse or everyday sweatshirt so that the pocket of your old one doesn’t remind you of the pack you used to keep there.

Get rid of all your lighters. (Yes, say goodbye to your favorite lighter.) Join a gym or pottery class. Maybe start training for a 5K or half-marathon. It could be anything, even something subtle (buying a scented candle for your home or new throw pillows for your couch), but change something in your daily life. Bring something new to ease the temporary feeling that something’s missing.

Essentially, you need to introduce something that didn’t exist in your life as a smoker. Something new that doesn’t remind you of cigarettes. Something new that will channel your energy and move you forward in your journey.

It doesn’t matter how many times you relapse

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Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it hundreds of times. ~ Mark Twain 

Relapsing is part of the process – get over it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Don’t let it be an excuse to put off quitting. Sadly and funnily enough, relapsing can almost feel like a rest stop. I relapsed over 100 times, maybe more. It took me years to quit. Remember that you’re on a journey. The important thing is to keep on going. Don’t revel or linger or wallow in the relapse. Relapse is a bully so skillful, you don’t even know you’re being bullied. Don’t let it play you. Don’t give up because of a relapse and don’t hide behind a relapse.

 Who’s in your circle?

In a gathering of two or more people, when a lighted cigarette is placed in an ashtray, the smoke will waft into the face of the nonsmoker.  ~Author Unknown

For some people, telling friends and family they’re trying to quit helps for accountability purposes. For me, it was nerve-wrecking. It meant people would be watching if I failed. Whichever strategy you prefer – telling people or not (I tried both) – remember that this is ultimately between you and yourself.

But also look more closely…

Who in your life do you feel might encourage or impede your efforts to quit? My significant other doesn’t smoke and that greatly influenced my success. Ironically though, most of my close friends smoke. That made things increasingly difficult for me. I didn’t eject them from my social circle (what kind of friend would I be?!), but I did make it known that my quitting meant a lot to me so that they could either not smoke around me or not offer me cigarettes anymore. (Actually, one of my close friends said I inspired her and… well, she’s also since quit! So you never know who you are inspiring!)

Also – I am a big sister. That role means the world to me. My siblings are a generation younger than me and, recognizing the significant role I play in their lives, I couldn’t envision myself being that older sister who smoked. It was important to me to be a positive role model. To not smell like smoke when I hugged or kissed or tickled them. To not have the smell of smoke remind them of me.

The truth about willpower 

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Willpower can produce short-term change, but it creates constant internal stress because you haven’t dealt with the root cause. ~ Rick Warren

Quitting cigarettes, in my experience, has less to do with willpower than it has to do with the sincere desire for change. If you don’t have that sincere desire, if you don’t have that sure vision of what you want for your life, then relapse and temptation will always crush your willpower. Willpower cannot stand on its own. Willpower means denying yourself something that you want. So you have to not want to be a smoker.

You will reach a point in your quitting journey where declining a cigarette will either make you feel anxious and antsy, or make you feel confident and glad. When you reach the latter bridge, you’ll know that the worst part of your journey is over.

You’re not actually doing anything

The believing we do something when we do nothing is the first illusion of tobacco. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Smoking has a way of making you feel like you’re doing something. You know what I’m talking about. You’re waiting for a bus or phone call or for your stew to finish simmering – and you find yourself wanting to light a cigarette.

When you do something, you’re investing time and energy into a purpose. Smoking accomplishes nothing… nothing that contributes to your well-being. Nothing that moves you forward.

It’s an empty act.

The C word and… “That would never happen to me”

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There was a young lady named Mae
Who smoked without stopping all day;
As pack followed pack,
Her lungs first turned black,
And eventually rotted away. ~ Edward Gorey

I’m not at all saying that health is not a legitimate reason to quit (and certainly it highly depends on one’s health situation) – I’m just saying not to put all your motivations in one basket. Holding yourself hostage with fear is not only hostile, it associates quitting with something negative instead of positive.

So don’t make fear for your health a driving force of motivation. Maybe that tactic works for some but it certainly didn’t work for me. You have to want to quit is my philosophy. Not because of fear of illness or death, but because you want to live a life without cigarettes. And what are your reasons for wanting to live that life? Reflect on them daily and let those reasons guide you. If your reasons are all wrapped up in fear, I personally don’t think that’s very effective. Why? Because of the “that would never happen to me” mentality that unconsciously plagues each and every one of us, smoker or not.

There are many advantages to “that would never happen to me” – for one, it helps us sleep at night. Horrors happen every day… but usually in that infamous “somewhere or to someone else” place. That thought helps us feel safe and keeps us from living life constantly paranoid and afraid.

Simply put, dwelling on the long-term consequences of a thing that provides you with instant gratification is not very effective. So forget fear tactics and get to the point. Do you want to quit or not?

Patience

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He who endures with patience is a conqueror. ~ Latin Proverb

Part of what makes quitting so difficult is that you have to remold many aspects of your life. Quitting means no more cigarette-breaks at work or gathering with smoker friends on sidewalks or porches. You will no longer pair cigarettes with your morning coffee or share a cigarette with that one friend. You are reshaping routine, familiarity, attitude, identity. You will feel weary and wonder what to do with that five minute gap you usually spent with a cigarette. You might feel left out if your friends step outside for a smoke.

So be patient with yourself. Be forgiving. Be encouraging. Recognize that there is a lot you are unhooking yourself from as you remove cigarettes from your life. You are in a process of transformation. You are recovering. You are learning a new way of life. Quitting is going to take time… lots of time… and with time comes the requirement of patience.

Truly appreciating your body

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Health is not everything, but without health, everything is nothing. ~ Anonymous

The body is an amazing beast. It’s perfect and imperfect all at once. It’s a miracle. It’s beautiful. And it’s only ours for a short time. To be quite honest, a new-found appreciation for my body was one of my biggest motivators to quit.

I suddenly became very aware of how blessed and privileged I was to be in good health… to be young and to be in good health. The way I perceived cigarettes began to slowly change…

Smoking became, for me, an act of ungratefulness. Smoking, in essence, is deliberately inhaling toxic, poisonous fumes into your body… a body not meant to process those fumes. Our lung’s tissues are pink… and smoking blackens and paralyzes them.

Smoking suddenly felt to me like pouring petroleum into a pool, like watering plants with acetone, like spitting on a wet painting. I suddenly saw smoking as tainting my body… I wanted to stop ruining a gift that was so freely given to me.

Make a decision

Your life is in your hands to make of it what you choose. ~ John Kehoe

After all that’s said and thought and done, ultimately, you have to just make a decision. Realize that it’s not about what you or they think you should do or not do; it’s about what you decide to do. You either want to quit – I mean in your heart of hearts you either truly, genuinely, truthfully, want to quit – or you don’t want to quit.

I believe there’s such a thing as being ready and not being ready to quit – and by ready I’m not referring to convenience and external circumstance, I’m referring to psychological readiness. You have to be self-aware enough to know whether you are ready to go into the battle of quitting, because it is a battle. You have to prepare your heart and mind for the undertaking. If you’re not ready, it’s okay. But don’t use “I’m not ready yet” as an excuse for years on end. Otherwise just admit to yourself that you don’t want to quit and move on.

Don’t “decide” that you want to quit when your heart is not in it. You have to own your decision, feel good about your decision – no matter your decision. Understand that you will live your decision and be your decision. We are products of decisions we make.

There may be a philosophical and medical “right” and “wrong” when it comes to smoking, but when it comes to you and your person, I don’t believe there is. I believe there is only what you choose to do and what you choose to not do… essentially, it goes back to free will.

So make a decision. Whether you want to smoke or don’t want to smoke, or just don’t know… make a decision. And no matter how long it takes… see your decision through.

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Decide on the life you want to live.

(Part 2 of 2)

Another Lease, Another Roommate

Saying goodbye to a cool and compatible roommate is never easy. I’ve done it more than twice already. But the new friend I gain when the keys are handed over and the bed is hauled away is a pretty fantastic trade.

I’ve been living with Craigslist roommates for 6 years. I’ve gotten to meet so many interesting people from different walks of life that I would have otherwise never come across. I’ve learned so much about different cultures, different ways of living and eating; I’ve been introduced to different genres of books and movies and music; I’ve found insight and perspective through other people’s ways and habits that I would have never encountered if I had chosen to live at home, with relatives, alone, or with a significant other.

In our fast and calculated digital world, it’s not often that we make room for serendipity to spark. It seems everything nowadays always has to be planned, always has to yield some kind of predictable, familiar result. And while that’s important in many aspects of life — accepting a new job, choosing a life partner, adopting a pet —  I don’t think that approach is necessary for every aspect of life. It’s true that everyone is different; not everyone is comfortable jumping in a pool without checking the temperature of the water first, and that’s okay.

But to me — life is so much more exciting when you don’t always know what will happen next. We tend to watch movies we’ve never seen before because that element of surprise, of not knowing what the character will do or how the story will end, is what makes the movie-watching experience fun. Life has a way of singing the same song sometimes. Inviting someone new into your life brings a different kind of tune to your world.

I’ve shared with all my roommates stories, woes, meals, moments, laughs, inside jokes, recipes, and of course… the wonderful burden of bills. I’ve been challenged to think outside of myself, my ways, my habits, my preconceived notions; I’ve learned the art of managing conflict and picking your battles and laughing things off. There are so many memories and experiences I’ve gained through the adventure that is living with people you didn’t previously know.

From one roommate I got an epic, old family recipe for a Brunswick BBQ stew. This BBQ stew has become famous within my circle of friends. It’s become an annual winter tradition in my life. To think I would have never tasted the spicy, savory goodness of this fantastic BBQ stew if I hadn’t lived with that roommate! (It even inspired a short story I wrote.)

From another roommate I was introduced to graphic novels. I’m an avid reader — I love books and I love fiction — but graphic novels had never crossed my mind, or path, before I met this roommate. Because of her I read this spectacular graphic novel called Habibi by Craig Thompson, and was introduced to the striking, imaginative realm inhabited by authors like him. Also because of this roommate I tried buffalo burgers for the first time (her dad hunts buffaloes!) and let me tell you — they are amazing!

From another roommate I learned about the world of classical music. I had never really paid much attention to its rich and enduring beauty. This roommate drew that curtain for me and inspired me with her passion. She sat me down to a profound listening experience of “The Rite of Spring” by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky. She gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for the violin and the life of a musician, for she was a violinist. But mostly, she gave me the gift of true friendship, one that continued to grow and strengthen long after we were just two names on a lease.

From another roommate I learned many cooking tips and tricks and tasted delicious foods, for she was a chef. I discovered that kale, spinach, beets, crumbled cheese, and roasted walnuts, sprinkled with homemade vinaigrette dressing, equals the best-homemade-salad-ever.

And another roommate proved to be the best TV-show binge partner I’ve ever had.

I know there are a lot of roommate horror stories out there. I have friends who have lived the dark side of the roommate experience (most of them had lived with friends, though). And I too have had some not-so-brag-worthy roommate bumps, but they do make for some pretty funny stories. Overall, I must say I’ve been fortunate. You just honestly have to know what you want in a roommate (as well as know what kind of roommate you are), what to ask in the roommate interview, and how to read a person’s energy. You don’t always have to make friends with your roommates, that’s not the point or end-goal. But… when you do gain a friend by way of living with someone you didn’t previously know… well, that’s a pretty cool twist in the script.

I realize I’m in a stage of life where I’m probably better able to appreciate the living-with-roommates lifestyle. Perhaps my feelings about this might change over the next few years. Perhaps one day I’ll tell my dog Pepper to get a job so she and I can just be roommates (and so she can pay her own vet bills). But for now, I’m enjoying this adventure. This time in my life. To me it’s been a great series of memories, and memories make great stories — and to anyone who knows me, you know I love stories.

Roommates are a temporary relationship. But friends… good friends that I’ve made that I would have otherwise never met, are anything but temporary. In every stranger’s face is a potential friend. And I’m grateful I’ve been able to share and grow and live with strangers that have transformed into meaningful friends in my life. With these friends I’ll laugh and have “remember that time when we lived together” conversations… and with these friends I’ll smile when we tell inquiring, unsuspecting people: “Um… we actually met on Craigslist.”

My Past Life as a Smoker (part 1)

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Smoking for me was a ritual of sorts. It was a personal time-out. A five-minute reflection period. A time to press pause… to linger. Sometimes it was an excuse to step away (particularly useful in awkward situations!); sometimes it was a bridge on which to bond with friends or strangers. Smoking was comfortable and consistent – I could rely on it to give me the same feeling each time. And where I grew up, cigarettes were cheap and easily accessible.

I grew up in a society where smoking was the norm, where finding someone smoking under a “No Smoking” sign was not surprising or unordinary. Where I grew up, the nonsmokers were the minority. But I was also raised in a smoke-free household. I’m not sure if my story would have played out any differently if I hadn’t been. I have friends who detest smoking because they grew up with it and I have friends who smoke for (partly) that same reason.

I smoked because I was spirited, impulsive, rebellious, anxious, and because most if not all of my friends did. And at the time I enjoyed it. Yet somehow, even in the peak of my addiction, I knew in my heart of hearts that it was only a phase. Somehow I knew that smoking wasn’t me. Somehow, I could never envision my “future self” smoking. The thought of a middle-aged Me pulling out a pack from her purse didn’t quite sit well. I just couldn’t foresee myself being a smoker for the rest of my life. I didn’t want to be a smoker for the rest of my life.

I smoked for nearly six years: a majority of those years a pack a day on average, and the latter years – my quitting years – mostly socially, less consistently.

Then I completely stopped.

I realized one day, as a cigarette was innocently offered to me, that I’d reached an unprecedented stage in my relationship with cigarettes. I realized I had reached a monumental fork. I realized that I had a choice, and in that choice I recognized my power – power I had had all along. I had managed to crawl into the arena of “social smoker” status – I had managed, over the course of my quitting years, to control my addiction to a degree. And as I stood at that fork I realized I could either continue smoking on occasion as a social smoker (risking a very possible regression to everyday smoking), or I could stop all together and transform fully into a nonsmoker.

Reaching that fork was not easy. That I was standing at the fork at all was a victory. But I still smoked… however less frequently… I still smoked. My addiction had been chained, contained, but it was still present, sitting just beneath the surface of my skin. On pause. And regardless of my victory at having reached the fork, I was still gripped by nostalgia for cigarettes… still craving them psychologically, though not as much physically. Still missing them as one would a person. I realized that day that it was time to make a decision.

I remember looking at the cigarette, at the out-stretched hand that lingered with its offering. I remember pulling the simple but heavy words from my lungs, dragging them to my mouth: “no, thanks.” I remember a triumphant orchestra bursting like crashing waves in my mind as I watched the hand retract.

“No, thanks,” I heard my mind say again.

The truth is, that day when I saw that cigarette… I suddenly saw a struggle instead of a temptation. I suddenly saw the years of agony I’d endured battling willpower and impulse, battling doubt and indecision. I saw the frustrations, the helpless feelings of failure after a relapse, I saw the yellow globs of morning mucus in my bathroom sink, I saw my face with tired skin, and the cigarette-butt graveyard in my parents’ garden just outside my bedroom window. I saw ashes.

Association. That’s what had finally changed. That’s what had tipped the scale. I no longer associated cigarettes with relief, comfort, familiarity, fun, enjoyment, relaxation… cigarettes finally represented the mental, physical, and emotional struggle I endured while trying to tear away from nicotine’s spell. Tearing away from cigarettes is like tearing off your skin, like running from a vortex that pulls and pulls and pulls at you with unbelievable might.

But suddenly, instead of the usual sinking feeling that comes when you deny yourself something that you want, I felt sure, alert, and assertive.

I had changed. The transition was slow (so slow I almost hadn’t noticed it — and perhaps a part of me was in denial, still afraid to completely let go); it was stressful and painful, but my body had changed. In that brief pause I felt that if I’d accepted that cigarette and put it to my lips (“it’s only one cigarette!”), I would have been stabbing my efforts in a very real way, betraying the path I had paved in my years of trying to quit. It would have been like stomping on a flower bed. Suddenly one cigarette wasn’t worth it to me anymore. Suddenly I could see other things that were.

My taste buds had sharpened. My air passages had cleared. Strawberries were sweeter, lemonade, tangier. My steps felt lighter, my head, less burdened. I could breathe. No more coughing. No more spitting. No more foul-smelling finger tips. No more need for something.

I felt physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger. I felt free. I felt like… me again.

Quitting smoking (any addiction) is the essence of difficult. It’s an internal tug of war. It’s an explosion of emotional warfare. It’s a feat in which you must conquer yourself, not the addiction, but yourself. And even though it’s been a couple of years now since I’ve quit, sometimes I feel they still haunt me. Not because I secretly long for them, but because they were once a part of me and my life, and as such, they’ll always live in my memory.

If you want to quit as badly as I did, then you can and you will. The power to quit is in you. It’s the same power source you tap into when you pull yourself out of bed on those mornings when you just want to sleep in. It’s the same power you use to pedal faster on a bicycle because you want to feel the wind against your face, or make it past the light that’s turning red. It’s the same power you use when you bring yourself to the surface of the water after jumping into a pool or playing with an ocean wave. The power is there. It’s ever-present. You just have to recognize it, harness it, and believe in it.

thinking

(Part 1 of 2)

You can read Part 2 here.

Pepper & me

When I first met Pepper, her name was Pippi, and she was a terrified 10 pound puppy who looked like a fawn: delicate frame, slender body shivering from fear, long legs, long snout, and a thin tucked-away tail. She was dark brown if you looked closely and black if you didn’t. Her paws and neck were white. She crouched, and her eyes dared not meet yours. She flinched and cowered at a hand’s approach.

There was a special kind of sweetness about Pippi, and a heart-wrenching innocence. She was rescued from a puppy mill (an evil dog breeding factory – more on this some other time) where she was going to be put down because as a mutt, she was deemed unprofitable. Until being rescued, Pippi had never known kindness or safety; she had never known life outside of a filthy, foul, cramped cage.

“She needs confidence-building,” Liz, the lady from the rescue organization* explained to me. “She needs to learn trust.” (Don’t we all?)

It took 2 years of research and careful thought for me to finally decide that I was ready to bring a dog into my life. It was important for me to not adopt for the wrong reasons: because I simply love dogs; because they’re so cute; because I want one; because I have this fantastic vision of what it will be like to own one. When you adopt a dog, or any pet, you adopt a life… for life. (Otherwise just buy yourself a stuffed animal if you want something cute to look at and cuddle with.)

In the end I didn’t choose Pippi because I was taken by her story or frailty or cuteness (although those factors did help). I chose her because her size and the needs of her breed matched my lifestyle, my living situation, and sure, my preferences. Mostly, I chose her because when I picked her up and felt her soft little unsure body on my lap, it felt right. Like when a puzzle piece snaps into place and you smile.

And so she became my dog and I named her Pepper.

I knew that a dog in my life would change many things for me. The responsibility would shift some priorities; the financial implications and mobility restrictions would mean some sacrifices. I knew all this… and became slightly terrified. What was I doing? All my life I had wanted a dog… and it suddenly occurred to me that all my life as I dreamed this dream I had never actually visiualized it happening. And that’s when excitement erupted like fireworks in my heart. It was actually happening!

But what I didn’t realize about having a dog was that her presence in my life would mean so much more than just sweet, cute, loving company. I didn’t realize, for instance, that she would introduce me to the neighborhood I’d lived in for years. I bonded with my neighborhood so much more after adopting Pepper. I began to notice things I had normally walked past in absent-minded haste. Because of our daily walks, she made me slow down, explore, notice the height of the trees, feel the rain, the snow, the wind, the heat. Each season brought its own beautiful assortments of wonder, and because of our walks I found myself bonding with the elements and appreciating their power all the more.

In the winter I noticed a lone tree that refused to part with its leaves. In the spring I mused at the flower beds and marveled at the fact that just one day before the beds had been bare. I got to know the people who made up my neighborhood and I got to know other dogs and their owners — we didn’t know each other’s names but we knew the names of each other’s dogs! I learned that a basenji is a breed of dog that has no bark. Children would run up to me and ask to pet my dog and I would teach them the golden rule of “always let a dog sniff you first.”

Pepper absorbed her new environment. I watched as she first feared then slowly came to ignore the sound of the train raging past us on the tracks, the police sirens screaming by every so often, the nonstop flow of people jogging, biking, walking, rushing. Witnessing her experience the newness of city life made me observe my habitat, which I’d become somewhat immune to, as we all do, more closely.

I also didn’t realize just how much a dog in my life would influence my perceptions on patience and kindness. She puts up a mirror to me every single day because dogs feed off a person’s energy. They sense the energy you exude, absorb it, then reflect it right back to you. Because of this I pay better attention to the way I handle stress, to the way I interact with others, to the energy I put out into the universe.

But Pepper didn’t just teach me to be patient with her and with all things, she taught me the importance of being patient with myself. Whether it’s personal expectations or something new I’m learning, I look at her funny little clueless, worried face and it reminds me to be patient because just like her, I too will learn and adjust and get better at whatever I’m trying to do.

It’s refreshing living with a creature that has no expectations, no ill-wishes, no worries, no demands, no coarse emotions — just love. It’s refreshing waking up to a creature who lives every day in the moment and wants nothing but a meal, a walk, and a hug. It’s refreshing to take a break from the “me, me, me” and “I, I, I” and “my, my, my” by caring for something outside of yourself.

At the end of the day, it’s true that Pepper is just an animal… but she’s far from “just a dog.” To me she’s a true role model for real love, real friendship, real selflessness, and real trust. She’s a testament to what can happen when you give a rescue pupp a chance, or anyone a chance for that matter. Everyone has the potential to love and be loved. Everyone deserves that chance. When you remove words, assumptions, and the congestion of complex emotions… when you remove your ego, expectations, and the mentality of “what’s in it for me?”… you are left only with your soul’s energy and your body’s simple actions to be able to communicate and connect with someone.

It’s been 3 years and my 10 pound puppy named Pippi is now an 18 pound dog named Pepper. She’s still delicate though a little more shaply, still brown if you look closely and black if you don’t. Instead of crouch she may just come up to you with a curious nose and a wagging tail. She still flinches but out of shyness, not fear. And she still embodies a special kind of sweetness, still lives in her little bubble of innocence.

In this world that’s ruled by needs and wants and the time on a clock, I must say that the greatest thing about being a dog owner is having a loving presence and a peaceful constant in my life that reminds me… Now and Each Other is all we’ve ever had and all we’ve really got… so… take a breath why don’t you and slow down for second… how about a walk?

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*ROMP Italian Greyhound Rescue

Why I write fiction

“Fiction is the art form of human yearning.”- Robert Olen Butler, American author

It wasn’t until I came across the above quote that I realized, yes — that is why I love to read and write fiction. I want to explore the human condition. The yearnings that pull at the human heart. Some yearnings are live wires, bursting, causing trouble or inspiring great change; others are dormant, not yet realized.

At the core of every beating heart is a raw desire, a painful need, a helplessness, a joy, a hope, a love, a passion, a fear, a secret. I’m fascinated by these complexities that make up who we are as human beings. By the eccentricities of our human nature, by the good and evil that battles in our hearts, by the intricate relationships we forge and release in our lives. By the choices we make. By how those choices follow us.

Why do we do the things that we do? What does it mean to be good? What does it mean to be evil? What does it mean to be human? Is there hope for us?

We all have unique stories and truths that shape our lives. Fiction is a reflection of those stories and truths. Sometimes the reflection is bright, sometimes it’s dark, but fiction — good fiction — is always true in that it always seeks to express or reveal what is true. That is why we connect with characters, why they become real to us — because in the characters, in their flaws, strengths, and motivations, we recognize a piece of ourselves or a piece of someone we know.

When I write fiction I get to analyze the various depths of human emotions. I get to be, feel, see anything I choose… I get to dive into the wondrous world of the everyday, seek beauty in the most unlikely of places, find the amazing in the mundane. Writing fiction allows me to step outside of myself, and it helps me find some understanding in a world that is becoming increasingly fearful, cynical, and unfeeling.

When I write fiction I discover. I practice reflection. You must look inwards as much as outwards when writing. You must trust your instincts and draw from what you don’t know as much as from what you do. You must question. You must observe. You must be sincere. I write fiction because I want to explore and bridge perspectives. I want to feel the other side of things. I want to play with the “what ifs”. I want to let others know, as many books have let me know time and time again:

You are not alone in this beautiful mess called the human experience. You are not alone. I too have braved this battle and felt this feeling and found this joy in the nothing.