Back At It Again

I know that some of you started following me because this started off as a blog about writing, and then it started talking about traveling with a little bit of lifestyle content thrown into the mix. And then all of the sudden, the writing content stopped. There was a little travel content here and there, but it mostly became a lifestyle blog.

Let me tell you what happened…

My friend died.

Some of you who started following me because of my writing content may have noticed I haven’t done a full blog post about writing since around August or September of 2017. At that time, I was growing frustrated with my “current” work in progress because I was overwriting. My original word count was supposed to be around 85,000 words but I was starting to believe the story would really end up being around 110,000 words.  Yeah, that was a big baby. I know. But the real issue with the story was that there was just too much content. All the stuff that was there was needed information told in a way that wasn’t direct exposition. I was introducing too many of my plots at once. So I decided to take a month off from writing. I was supposed to use that time to figure out how to trim down my bloated first act or simplify the entire story.

By October, a very close friend of mine had died. His death was life altering for me because I always felt he was the one that got away. I live in North America and he lived in South America. We met during his high school study abroad experience. We became friends the moment he sat down next to me in French class. We started walking to and from school together because of how close we lived to each other. We became inseparable that year, with all of our inside jokes and shared curiosity.

Over the years, throughout high school and college, we stayed in touch. His death destroyed me because he was my biggest regret. I regretted the fact that I wasn’t brave enough to let him know how I felt when we were younger. By the time we were in college, we’d talked about things and even tried to visit each other once or twice. But he was in med school in Brazil and I was studying film in the U.S.

He was only 21 and cancer had stolen him.

Unbeknownst to him, he had leukemia.

My mother is currently in remission from the same type of cancer that killed him.

He was almost done with medical school.

He’d just delivered his first baby in May 2017. I can still see the photo of him smugly grinning as he carefully cradled a newborn baby; he and his instructor dressed in matching light blue scrubs and hair caps. That image will forever be burned into my mind because it’s the last smiling image I saw of him before the waves of “condolences” and “gone too soons” crashed against my computer screen, sending me into a black hole of depression that made me abandon social media for two weeks and writing for five months.

I failed NaNoWriMo not because I was busy, but because I couldn’t write. I had no creativity left in me. The story was dead. All I could think about was what this world had lost. We’d lost someone who was trying to do something good for the world. We’d lost someone who knew what he wanted to do and how to do it. I’d lost someone I’d loved and I knew I’d loved him because, outside of my father’s death, I’d never felt so hollowed by the news of death.

And so, after five months, I finally seemed to have recharged. For the first time in five months, story ideas are organically germinating in my mind. For the first time in five months, I feel like I have agency in my life and I’m not faking it.

 

Why Don’t We Talk About Finances​?

Why is everyone so afraid to talk about finances? I grew up in a home that didn’t really talk about it as if it was “grown folks” business. It wasn’t until I was deemed old enough (senior year of high school) that my dad opened up to me about our family finances. The discussion we had was eye-opening because, for most of my life, I didn’t think we were bad off, financially.

I grew up living a simple life. We lived in a six bedroom, one bath, full basement, 3 story house that had belonged to my grandparents and was passed down to my dad. Our neighborhood wasn’t that bad, but as the decades went on, the neighborhood started taking on more and more negative connotations. We always had food and we always had clothing, a running car, and heating during the winter. We didn’t have central air, but that was because the house was a turn-of-the-century home and the remodeling would have cost too much. We had air conditioners and steel fans for St. Louis’ hot summer days. When I think about my childhood, I remember big Christmas celebrations,  birthdays, annual trips to amusement parks and even out-of-state field trips. If I asked for something, my parents always delivered it. Luckily for me, I didn’t ask for things often, so it was never really a burden on them.

But all of this was a lie. A carefully constructed lie. My family never tried to act like we were big ballin’ or whatever, but at the same time, I was purposefully kept in the dark on financial matters. During my senior year of high school, while I was applying for colleges, my father had a frank discussion with me about our finances. We were working poor. I would say we were working class but that would imply that there was money stashed away somewhere in a 401K or we had investments or something like that when in reality, we were working poor. We didn’t live paycheck to paycheck. We lived every three paychecks to paycheck.

My dad explained it to me like this: he could miss two pay periods and everything would be fine but if he missed the third one, one of the bills wasn’t going to get paid. My father was a master saver but he was a man with a family and he was the only person working. He had three kids and a wife that couldn’t really work due to the aftermath of chemotherapy and leukemia. Don’t get me wrong, my mom can work, but working a fulltime job would destroy her body. She has an extremely weak immune system and her joints are all messed up from the chemotherapy and leukemia. That all started when she was in her early thirties and still continues to this day. So my dad shouldered the burden of everything and became the sole provider for our family. We were staying afloat until the 2008 recession hit.

After two years without work, both of my parents finally re-entered the part-time workforce. Well, my dad started off as a full-time manager but because the economy was still so shaky, he slipped into part-time work and that led to another job, and that led to another job. Things were tough. By 2012, he and I were having frank discussions about our finances. My dad was of the generation that still believed that a college education was the gateway to wealth or at least financial stability. And since a fair and good education was something that my family was denied (my parents, aunts, and uncles all grew up before or during the civil rights movement) they always encouraged me and my siblings to do well in school and pursue higher education. College was seen as a gateway out of poverty.

During my freshman year of college, my father died from cancer. His battle only lasted for three months but it depleted all of his savings and the money I’d been saving while in school. It left us paying off medical bills, property taxes, and funeral fees. My father had insurance, it just didn’t cover cancer… Isn’t life great? But that’s neither here nor there. After his death, I ended up taking out more student loans because my dad was no longer giving me money for school. After four years at a private university, I raked up $38,000 in student loan debt. I know, your eyes just kind of glazed over, right? Originally, I was on track for $32,000 in loans, which would have put me closer to the national average, but I just had to study abroad (I say sarcastically). But in all fairness, I don’t regret studying abroad, I just wish I would have planned for it, starting in my freshman year, instead of doing it as an impulse thing the summer before my senior year.

But yeah, I’m $38,000 in debt and I’m not freaking out. Mostly because all of my loans are federal loans, President Obama made sure I wouldn’t be screwed over by the interest rates (Thanks, Obama!) and I plan to get an actual job. I’m working part-time, making peanuts, but I recently went through the process of ALMOST getting my first professional job. In this case, almost really doesn’t matter but at the same time, it does. It let me know that even with my very small job history, my degree allowed me to make it to the very last hiring stage of a job that would have started me off on a salary of $35,000-$37,000 a year. I really wanted that job but the whole experience just made me grateful went to college. It let me know that my degree isn’t worthless and that it can open doors that can lead to high paying careers and that made owing $38,000 in student loans a little less scary. It also made me believe that maybe my dad was right to believe that college really can be a gateway out of poverty. It just takes time.

Happy Birthday To My Blog!

Today is my blog’s first birthday. I’m so excited. Looking over all of my posts I can see a change in myself. I’m no longer the wide-eyed college kid who was constantly worrying about my future. Now,  I’m a working adult, trying to further my writing career.

At the beginning of January, I was promoted to a management position at the job I’ve been working at for less than a year. This is a big deal for me because I didn’t get my first job until I was in college. My first job was a secretarial job so I’ve never tried to venture far from that. Even with my current job, it relies heavily on customer service and data entry. All of the other jobs that I’ve applied to, in my search for a second job, have been secretarial as well because I was afraid to expand my horizon. It wasn’t until I realized I was undervaluing myself, my skills, and my education that I truly started making changes.

I’ve never seen myself as a natural leader. I’ve always been the leader who stepped up when no one else would but that has changed and I honestly think it’s because of this blog. Writing down my experiences and sharing them with you has inspired me to do better–to do more. So, I’m very thankful for this blog. It has changed the way I feel about myself and the way I approach problems in my professional and personal life. I look forward to another wonderful year with you. May we all grow as people and prosper in all of our aspirations in 2018.

What I Learned From My Solo Night Out

I don’t get out much. Shocker, I know, but ever since last year, I’ve been on a mission to do more things by myself. I know that sounds strange. Why would anyone actively try to be alone? Well, around a year ago, I read a very introspective article written by someone in their 30s talking about all the things they wished they’d done in their 20s. We’ve all seen these types of lists but what made this one special was that it focused on all the things she wished she had done by herself. Some of the things were simple such as going to see a summer blockbuster in theatres by herself or taking more nature walks in the park near her apartment, by herself.

Blueberry Hill Duck Room1
At first, it doesn’t seem so enlightening but the more she talked about why it’s important to do those types of things by yourself every now and then, the more I understood why she wrote the article. It has a lot to do with what we miss when we’re with our friends. Our attention is so focused on what our friends are doing or the conversation we’re having that we don’t notice all the stuff that’s happening around us. We miss parts of the movie. We don’t stop to smell the roses or notice the bird’s nest and the baby birds inside of them. As the list goes on, the things she wished she had done by herself became more extreme such as taking a solo road trip or going to a music concert by herself. After reading the article, I’ve been trying to do more stuff by myself. I’ve seen a summer blockbuster by myself in a foreign country (so a mini trip by myself, although that really doesn’t count). I’ve gone to more events in my hometown by myself and last Sunday, I went to the Bishop Briggs concert by myself.

Blueberry Hill Duck Room2
The concert was held in the Duck Room of the historical Blueberry Hill bar/restaurant. The bar is a historical landmark that draws tourist and locals to the Delmar Loop from all over the country. The sidewalks of the Delmar Loop are lined with gold plaques similar to the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The plaques tell the rich history of the famous people who hail from St. Louis. Right outside the Blueberry Hill bar stands a lively statue of the great Chuck Berry himself.

The Duck Room is located in the basement of the Blueberry Hill. It’s not a spacious room but it’s not cramped either. I took a few pictures of the place before it started to fill up. By the end of the night, the room probably had somewhere between 250-300 people in it. The show was sold out. The opener for the show was a band I was virtually unaware of until that night, Foreign Air. Foreign Air at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room
I enjoyed their live performance. It was a little jarring, I’ll admit. The lead singer does a lot of voice manipulation. If I had heard the songs on the radio, I would not have thought much of it. I probably would have thought it was the other members of the band providing backup vocals but seeing it live, that was something.

The main event was Bishop Briggs. When the band took the stage and started setting up their instruments the crowd started to stir but when Bishop herself came out, the crowd went wild and she met our energy and challenged it. Just from seeing her on stage, I could tell that she was quirky and kind and was genuinely happy to be performing in front of us. She was nervous the first two songs but once she knew she had the crowd and the air around all of us started to warm with our collective excitement, she relaxed and her voice grew steady and strong. I found myself swaying and dancing the same way I do in my bedroom when I’m listening to her music. img_2502I looked around and realized I wasn’t the only one. It felt so nice to just relax and enjoy myself. For three hours, I wasn’t worried about all my problems and anxieties about my future. I wasn’t stressing over my personal relationships imploding around me and I wasn’t missing people I would never get the chase to speak to again. In that moment, under the blue, red, and purple lights, I was fine. I was happy. I was alive and I was having fun.

 

 

Bishop Briggs1

Bishop Briggs Live at the Blueberry Hill Duck Room

 

Inspiration in the Dark

A while back I made a post about my yo-yoing weight and how I wanted to make a permanent change because I was tired of how my life was going. It’s been a few months now and I wanted to give you all an update.

It’s important to note that I have severe scoliosis—it just isn’t obvious—so my workouts are a bit limited. My limitations come in when I’m dealing with weights. I’ve been advised by a few doctors not to lift weights so my workouts usually consist of toning exercises (basic Pilates and resistance training with a resistance band) and cardio. I can do the Pilates and resistance training at home because I have yoga mats, medicine balls, exercise balls, kettlebells, small dumb bells, and several sets of resistance bands. But the one thing I can not do at home is the cardio because I hate running. So for the cardio, I was going to the gym and using the elliptical for an hour, four times a week.

This went on for about a month and a half before I lost my motivation and gave up. But wait, don’t roll your eyes just yet, let me explain. I lost my motivation because even though I was slowly slimming down I was losing a lot of muscle. Yeah, you see, I’d actually stopped doing the Pilates and resistance training and was focusing my time on the cardio because that’s all I had time for and it was working. But because I wasn’t toning my body, I lost a lot of the muscle I had in my core and ended up looking flappier than before. A good example of this is the fact that I am smaller than I was when I made the original post but I now have “love handles” because my stomach isn’t as firm as it used to be. Once I realized what was happening, I tried to correct my error but it was already too late. I’d lost some fat that used to sit around my tailbone area and because it wasn’t there to cushion me, getting down on the floor and doing the moves I used to do became painful. My tailbone and spine began to take on too much pressure and it became really painful. So I just stopped altogether.

I didn’t lose or gain any more weight until I went to Texas in the beginning of August. While I was down in Texas, I stayed with a family that was on a diet and I didn’t want to be rude so I ate what they ate and their portion sizes and I actually lost weight. I probably lost about four or five pounds over the span of two weeks just from eating better but because I don’t diet, the moment I got back to St. Louis I ate everything that I’d literally been dreaming about and gained the weight back.

This was around the time my brother became an inspirational figure to me. My fourteen-year-old brother has always been skinny and as he’s gotten older, he has also gotten taller. He has the same body type as our dad. He’s naturally skinny but with him growing so much, he was starting to look slender. He didn’t want to be slender going into high school so for the past month and a half, he’s been going to the gym and working out. Over this short amount of time, I’ve seen him put on muscle and start sculpting his body into the image he wanted. It was easy for him because he was already skinny, all he had to do was put on the muscle. But, just from watching my own friends try, I also know how hard it is to put on muscle and he’s done it all without taking supplements or drinking protein shakes or anything like that. He just eats up everything now, but I get it. He’s hungry, so I can’t really get mad at him for cleaning out the fridge. But watching him get abs, rounded shoulders, and develop the muscles in his back and pectoral region really inspired me to get back in the gym and on the yoga mat.

I know I can make a difference before the year ends.