Monday, June 17, 2013

Time to Slay Some Dragons

Believe it or not, I am a relatively shy person. In grade school, I was the nerdy girl who was always picked last for teams. In middle school, I was the even nerdier girl that all the boys made fun of. In high school, I was ‘that smart cheerleader’ that never quite fit in. In college, I finally came into my own, but that is a different story for a different time. The point is, I was tormented by other people for most of my young life. People can be so mean and children are often changed because of it. I know that I was.

 I was always an excellent student, especially in English class. I loved to read books and write book reports, but my true love was creative writing. From poetry to short stories, I loved to put words together to create emotion. One event from sophomore English still stands out in my mind. I had completed a writing assignment as instructed, only to find out that we would be required to read our work out loud to the class. When my turn came, I stuffed my papers in my bag and told the teacher that I hadn’t done the assignment. I was so afraid of what the other students might think, of what they might say, that I was willing to take a zero on the assignment.

To this day, I still have anxiety in social situations. I prefer to go about my day unnoticed. I will often share my thoughts on Facebook, just to delete my posts or comments shortly after. Attention makes me nervous. That said, I would rather stand up in front of a huge group of strangers, than ever have the focus of a small group. It feels as though since I can’t see them, they can’t see me. It’s less personal.

Writing, however, is very personal. As I finish the final edits on my first novel, I spend a lot of time worrying about what will happen once I submit it. What if no one reads it? What if they do? What if no one gets me? What if they hate it? What if they’re cruel? These questions race around my mind in never-ending circles. They are my dragons. I need to be brave. I need to take a stand against them.

Everyone is weird in their own way. There has got to be at least one other person out there with my same particular brand of weird. If people don't read it or like it, then it wasn’t for them. Different strokes for different folks, as it's said. There are people out there that don’t like Nutella. I promise, I’ve met them. You can’t please everybody. I just need to be proud of who I am and all I’ve accomplished for me, not for anyone else.

Which brings me to the issue of censorship. I am the product of a very conservative, Christian upbringing. The way that I was raised, R-rated movies were forbidden, sexual intimacy was reserved for marriage, and harsh language was rewarded with a mouth full of soap. For this reason, I have waffled back and forth about the content in my book. When I began writing Fall of Darkness, I tried to write within the standards of my upbringing, but the dialogue didn’t sound right and the story line didn’t move as well. It just wasn’t as believable. Real people use words that I often wouldn’t. Real people do things that I often wouldn’t. So do my characters, but that’s what makes them feel more real. Life is a rated R movie.

Will I squirm when my parents read my writing, knowing there’s content that they would not approve of? Will I be embarrassed to admit that I authored my work? Yes and no. Censorship is another one of my dragons. I need to be proud of the art that I have created and accept that not everyone will approve. Perhaps I can cheat and take a sharpie to the controversial content in the copies that go to friends and family.

When I began the editing process, I read reviews for books in my same genre to get an idea of common pitfalls . I was horrified at what I found. Even in instances where authors gave their books away for free, readers were impossibly cruel. I think people forget that there is a person on the other end of that book. The writer has dreams and feelings, just as they do. It takes a lot of courage to put pen to paper and share your ideas with the world. I hope that readers can approach my work, and that of any other writer, with that in mind. A lot of time and heart goes into a novel. My heart is written into every single one of those pages. That is my Mac-daddy of dragons.

It is time to take a deep breath and trust the world that has been so cruel in the past. People may hate my writing, but maybe they’ll love it. I just need to be brave enough to not let it matter. It is time to slay my dragons and overcome my fears.



Thursday, June 6, 2013

What is a REAL woman???

All my life, I have struggled with negative self body image. I come from a long line of obesity and chronic health problems, but I'm determined not to let my genetics get the best of me. Though I was "the skinny sister" growing up, I was a solid, athletic teen and significantly larger than most of the other girls on my cheer squad. It didn't matter how much I exercised or what I ate, the fact remained that I was average. I hated my body.

As a grown woman with children, I look back at those days and wish I'd realized how lucky I was. Time and life change us. We grow and mature. It's okay to accept yourself for who you are. I see that now.

During my first year or two of marriage, I gained about 10 to 15 pounds. I exercised regularly, but ate like most twenty-somethings on a budget. A lot of frozen pizza and cold cereal. A friend talked me into going to Weight Watchers with her. I thought, "Why not? I have a few pounds to lose."

Under that program, I lost almost 40 pounds. I was the smallest that I'd ever been since before puberty. For the first time in my life, I felt skinny and beautiful. Looking back, it saddens me that I had to be skinny to feel pretty. Skinny is NOT the only kind of beautiful. Healthy is so much better.

Three children later, I have gradually returned to my pre-Weight Watchers size. I am not fat, but I definitely have some pounds that I would like to lose. I watch what I eat, I work out for two hours each day with a mix of cardio and calisthenics, and I run races regularly. My last baby was born just over a year ago and the weight still does not want to come off. I'm not going to let that stop me. Though I would love to lose weight, that's not what I'm working for. I'm working for a healthy heart, strong muscles, and to reduce my risk for disease.

The current trend is to lash out at the media for the photo shopped pictures of emaciated celebrities and models. I have seen countless "real women" campaigns that depict the average American woman. I'm not saying these are bad. In fact, as a mother of a little girl, I'm thrilled to see positive body image promoted. I want her to love herself no matter what she looks like. However, I disagree with the verbiage "real women."

What constitutes a real woman? Is it her size? Her curves? Her lifestyle? A female body builder or emaciated model is just as much a real woman as an average or overweight one. I think we need to change our thought process. Big, small, fit, or fat- we are all REAL women. Our size and level of fitness do not determine who or what we are. We need to stop objectifying ourselves and focus on the things that matter- our health and our happiness.

I have often heard that genetics, hormones, and children are just excuses. I've been told that fitness is 100% lifestyle, exercise, and diet.  I couldn't disagree more. Genetics, hormones, and children are NOT excuses. They're challenges. How much we fight to overcome them determines our results. A change in lifestyle alone is not always enough. Some of us have to work that much harder for every single pound, to counteract the cards stacked against us. We all have different challenges in life. I'd much rather have mine than those of someone else. You never know what trials others are facing, until you walk in their shoes. Be kind to one another. Be kind to yourself.

I had a poster on my wall as a child that depicted a bouquet of red roses with a single daisy in their midst. It read "Be Your Own Kind of Beautiful." That is what I want. That is what I work for. I don't have to be perfect. I just have to give my all and be proud of who I am.

I choose to teach my daughter to be the best version of herself that she can be. Yes, I want her to take care of her body, but more importantly, I want her to love herself for who she is. There is nothing more beautiful or real than that.

Monday, June 3, 2013

What I Learned From My First Marathon- A guide for the average Joe runner (like me)

I hated running as a child. In fact, I would find any excuse to get out of the mile testing in gym class. As an adult, I started running after the birth of my first child and was hooked from day one. Since then, I have ran countless 5k's, 10k's and half marathons. Until this year, I had never braved a full marathon. I figured it was time to suck it up and take the plunge. It was one of the most difficult, but rewarding experiences of my life. I would like to share what I have learned...

1. There are no excuses. I have seen a man with one leg, a blind woman, numerous obese people, and countless elderly folks cross that finish line. If they can do it, you can do it.

2. Don't judge the other runners by their looks, the above mentioned people and many others may leave you in the dust.

3. You are only competing against yourself. For most of us, the fun of racing isn't found in winning. Unless you are an 80 pound Kenyan (or any other natural runner with some serious speed and endurance,) then that will never happen anyway. That's not the point. The victory is in finishing. The victory is in improving, in driving yourself to be better and stronger than before.

4. Running with friends is always more fun. While flying solo allows you to set your own pace, friends will keep you company and motivate you when you need it most.

5. The running community is filled with the most amazing people. Runners and their supporters are some of the friendliest and most supportive people I've ever met. Runners that have finished will loop back to encourage those that haven't. Spectators will hold signs for hours to cheer on random strangers.

6. The above mentioned signs will probably be the most entertaining aspect of your run. From Ryan Gosling 'Hey Girl' posters to jokes about the ails of running, they provide encouragement and laughter along your journey. Some of my favorites have included: "Toenails are for sissies," "You smell that? The girl next to you pooped her pants. That's the smell of dedication," "Run easy. You're NOT going to win," "26.2, because 26.3 would be crazy," "I thought you said 2.62 miles," "Worst Disney parade ever. This choreography sucks," "Sweat is fat crying," and "I'm sure it seemed like a good idea 4 months ago," "I didn't get up this early to watch you walk," and "Almost there! Only 26 more miles to go." This list could go on forever.

7. I know, I know, I said don't judge the other runners, but that doesn't mean you can't people watch. The average Joe marathoner will likely finish between 4.5 and 7 hours. That is a long time to be running with nothing else to do. While the spattering of signs along the way are great, your fellow runners can also be a source of entertainment. From people in costume to men in just speedoes, it takes all types to run a race. There was a man running ahead of me that juggled the entire time.

8. Treat the volunteers kindly. Those aid stations are your lifeline. You will never understand how wonderful the aid station volunteers are until you run a race that doesn't have enough of them. These people are angels. Treat them as such. A simple "thank you" goes a long way.

9. Runners are disgusting slobs. I mean this in the kindest way possible. Between the port-a-potties, piles of discarded clothing, and scattered debris of poorly aimed trash, runners make a huge mess. Some of this is beyond their control, but a lot of it is not. It's sad to see how many paper cups line the streets (right next to the trash cans) along a course. It takes an extra fraction of a second to throw those cups away. It takes the volunteers a lot longer to clean them up off the ground.  I'm just saying.

10. Though running is one of the few free sports, racing is a completely different proposition. It's expensive, but it's worth every penny.

11. No matter what the pre-race instructions say, you will probably want to bring your own music. A lot of races provide on course entertainment from high school bands to deejays, but it's usually only about once every couple of miles. It can get awfully quiet out there.

12. Less is more. I see people decked out in all the running gear imaginable and then I see their gear stashed on the side of the road a few miles in. If the race is a good one, then you don't need the belt with water bottles and a million packs of Gu. Pack light, your body will thank you for it later. Heck, there was a barefooted man in a loin cloth running my marathon.

13. Wear something comfortable and plan for chafing. Chafing sucks. Guys need to protect their nipples and who knows where else. Girls need to invest in some body glide for any parts that rub together. For me that tends to be the cheeks of my bum. Gross over share, I know, but I wish someone had warned me.

14. Listen to your body. Pain is only temporary, until it becomes an injury. I think everyone hurts toward the end of a race, but know your own limits. Allow yourself enough recovery time.

15. Do your best and have fun. It's all about the experience and it is what you make of it.