writing

Sleeping. Bag.

Two words. Packing. List.

I clicked on the link and scrolled, seeing all the usual suspects. Toothbrush, pajamas, jeans, clothes for yoga.

Then I stopped.

Two more words.

Sleeping bag.

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Photo by Spring Fed Images on Unsplash

Of course. One sleeps in a sleeping bag when they head to camp.

I never went to sleep away camp as a kid.

I went to week-long church camps and slept in cabins and bunk beds. I roasted s’mores, sang songs, and hated the group games.

Never, though, have I flown to another part of the country for a summer away.

I was too shy, too much of a home body, too little like Lindsey Lohan in the Parent Trap.

That’s going to change next week when I launch myself out of my comfort zone to head to Camp TDP – a camp experience specifically for grieving young adults. I should probably watch Hallie Parker and Annie James to prepare.

I’ll be leading a writing workshop using wordplay and other writers’ wisdom to bring words to our grief stories.

Me – standing in front of people – experimenting as I turn my pain into purpose to help other people tell their stories.

In conversations this week, people have been asking me where I’m going.

“I’m not really sure,” I respond. “I’m getting on a bus at the airport with other brilliant bereaved people and they’re taking me there.”

Yes, I have the address and the appropriate phone numbers and emergency contacts in my phone. Mostly, I’m trusting the process and willing myself to be an eager introvert in a typically extroverted space. In shaking hiking boots.

I also scanned the agenda seeking out other introverted activities. I keep imagining myself standing in the woods, nodding inward to my chubby inner eleven year old self. When I lift up my head, I’m 30 and competent and brave. I’ll bring my jeans, a Colorado flannel shirt, my Chacos and puffy vest for protection. And bug spray. Lots of bug spray.

Last week, I ran a dry-run of the workshop with a few friends here in my community. Walking them through exercises and listening to feedback made me nervous. Sharing our grief stories is tough work. It was also empowering – connection building makes my heart leap.

Inviting people into their pain requires vulnerability and risk. And I think….. I think…. I’m ready.

I’m ready to share my story out loud. I’m ready to use my talents to help others tune into their experiences. I’m ready to make awkward jokes, stumble over my words, and try something new. I need not be a polished professional to make an impact. What a beautiful thing.

Now to find the sleeping bag. Will that fit in a carry on?

August Favorite Things – 2019

Better late than never.

  1. Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Word nerds rejoice! I giggled to myself, I was delighted. The book affirmed I’m on the right track. Keep reading.

2. Toms with Sloths on them.

Because your feet are happy when sloths are on them.

3. Lily Kershaw

Her voice is enchanting, haunting, engaging. I want more. I found out she’s coming to my town to perform in October and I’ll be gone. So if one of you could go in my place and live stream to my phone I’d appreciate it. Lily, I’ll pay for the remote experience.

4. Utter Nonsense

It will keep you laughing. Not for the faint of heart or easily offended.

5. Good ol’ fashioned school supplies.

You’ll find me wandering the hallways at Target. At least until the college kids show up next weekend. Go ahead – buy yourself the big box of crayons.

Twenty Things I Learned in My Twenties

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Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash

Today I turn 30. The ‘big birthday.’ When I started this blog I was 23, unmarried, and unanchored. A lot has changed in the last seven years and I’m eager to see what the next decade brings. Thank you, dear readers, for watching me grow up.

Reflection brings its own kind of wisdom and before I dance into the next new decade, I’m sharing my love letter of lessons I’ve learned about myself in the last ten years. Enjoy.

  1. Career may not fulfill your soul.
    I spent my early twenties bouncing from job to job searching for the perfect fit. I had nine jobs in ten years. There will be conflict at work. There will be days that feel tedious and boring. It is important to find people you can learn from and environments to push you out of your comfort zone. It’s ok to make a switch, and ok to fail. At least you tried. There’s more to your worth than what you do from 9-5.
  2. Ask for that raise sooner than later. 
    You’re worth it. Practice negotiating and communicating how your skills bring organizations different value. It takes practice and it pays off. The least they can say is no, not right now.
  3. New paint makes a big difference.
    Make your spaces your own. Your house can be a reflection of you. Paint is affordable and it takes just a few hours to reclaim space for rest and rejuvenation.
  4. Planning a wedding is fun. Planning for marriage is improbable.
    I got engaged at the age of twenty three and walked down the aisle at age twenty five. That was young. We did marriage counseling, had dated for six years, and talked about many things. We weren’t prepared for how unemployment, unexpected death, and financial uncertainty would change and shape our young marriage. You can’t plan for all of the scenarios. You can, however, pick a partner who will fight for you and hold your hand when things fall apart.
  5. Pick up those shoes.
    Really, I leave them all over the house. Weekly shoe round-ups should be a thing. I’m messy. Tough.
  6. People will die.
    Yes, your people. They will die. Before your heart is ready with things left unchecked on bucket lists and words left unsaid. This is the worst truth of the universe. Surviving the death of my dad has rearranged me leaving gaps for compassion, empathy, and tears. Death sucks. Grief sucks. People die. It sucks so frickin’ bad.
  7. Say I love you every chance you get.
    The last time I saw my dad, he left my house without me saying good-bye. I just assumed I’d see him the next day. I didn’t say ‘I love you’ and I regret that. Life is short. Tell people how much you love them every chance you get.
  8. Friendships change.
    As you grow and change, so will your friends. Give others grace, stand up at weddings, cheer when they announce they are going to have a baby. Honor the space of sadness when the people you could always count on don’t respond as much as you’d like. Hold space for new relationships. Be the friend you want to have.
  9. Metabolism slows.
    Damn. Buy bigger-sized pants. Eat a few less french fries. Get back to the gym and love your body.
  10. Stop resisting when they offer to do the dishes.
    For a long time, I’d be mortified when my mother-in-law would do my dishes. It made me feel like a horrible host. She’s not silently commenting on the state of the kitchen. She’s instead using her gifts and sharing her time. People will show you their love in all kinds of ways. Stop resisting and say thank you.
  11. Having a dog is beneficial.
    They’ll pee on the carpet and destroy a few of your favorite things. But the little creature will warm your heart, absorb your tears, and take up space on the bed when you’re cold. Eye contact with an animal will soften your soul.
  12. Get a few stamps in your passport.
    Planning a trip and traveling abroad will give you confidence and joy in unimaginable ways. Gelato in Paris is delicious. Kidney pie in London is not.
  13. Graduate from an amaretto sour.
    Try different alcoholic drinks and explore how your tastes evolve. Know a few classic cocktails to ask for in a bar. When you order a shot of Fireball with your brother’s friends, they will laugh at you. Don’t let shame shape your choices. It’s ok to like what you like.
  14. Softball is not fun.
    I’d just rather not spend my summer evenings on the ball field. Practice saying no to the things that don’t bring you joy so you can say yes to the things that make your heart beat a little faster.
  15. I’m sensitive. So be it.
    My awareness of others suffering is a gift, not a weakness. Refuse to let others squash the sensitivity out of you. Continue to give the homeless woman a granola bar, make donations to charity, and cry at the news.
  16. People want to read these words.
    I must believe this every time I click publish. Your voice matters and you have every right to share your thoughts. Not everyone will resonate and likes and comments don’t qualify my words as worthy. Keep typing. It doesn’t have to make you money … though that would be nice.
  17. Family is complicated.
    It gets tricky when pain trickles through long-standing relationships. Keep trying. Keep praying. God’s grace can fix holes in family tapestries. Where we come from matters. Hold onto the good stuff, let go of the crap.
  18. You can take care of yourself.
    Of course I want others to take care of me. Bring me soup, vacuum the dirty carpet, offer tissues for the mountains of snot grief creates – yes please. More empowering though? Learning how to care for myself. Take space to sit and be sad. Invest in good shoes, honor your body with clothes that fit, and pay for a therapist to help process. Accepting help is self-care. Putting things in place to meet my own needs – even better.
  19. Money is a tool – let it flow.
    While I prefer to sit on my savings account for fear of not enough, I’m learning money is a tool for joy. Using funds responsibly can create positive, life-changing experiences. Travel. Save for the car. Get a haircut. Sponsor a child. Trust you have the capability to make more money and believe God provides.
  20. Hope lives in the relentless search for beauty.
    The gifts God gives are in the small and ordinary. Keep seeking good and you will find beauty. Clean water, fresh flowers, a kiss on the nose. Bubbles in sparkling wine, puppy breath, baby toes. Suffering and beauty co-exist. We won’t live in a world without both.

Coming Back

I’ve been practicing telling my grief story out loud. To people using their ears and their eyes.

It’s easier for me to type my story. I’m more comfortable when you’re just reading what I write.

I’m dreaming of new ways to bring my speaking voice to my experience and sent an email ask to Shelby Forsythia if she would be willing to host me on her podcast Coming Back.  She lost her mom when she was in college, and dove right in to learning more about grief, healing, and the power of owning one’s experience.

Shelby describes herself as an intuitive grief guide and works with people struggling with grief and loss. In her interviews with others, she offers refreshing perspectives on the way our culture handles grief, and focuses on real experiences with real humans as we continue to live with loss.

Her tagline, “because even through grief we are growing” pinched my heart and said, ‘pay attention to this’ – she’s on to something.

I’m thrilled to share our conversation here and am very thankful to be in her group of people growing with grief. We talk about introversion, a little bit of Jesus, and how searching for beautiful things informs my process with loss.

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Shelby is also looking for new folks to interview on her podcast for her FIFTH(!) season.  If you are interested in sharing your experience with grief, send her an email and tell her I sent you.

Happy listening.

August Favorite Things

There are hundreds of versions of this idea – what you put out into the universe is what you receive. I have a hard time with this concept. It feels too abstract for me. Then I think, ‘eesh, I don’t want to put abstract into the universe’ so I redirect. I want to radiate beauty, goodness, and kindness. I want to attract lifelong friends, lip smacking kisses and inspire viral blog posts into the universe.  I type those things here, and then I shrink. Hover over delete. It’s hard projecting what you want over the interwebs.

I’ve been reaching out to PR people and asking for money and contacting creators of podcasts and most of the time, I don’t hear back. That’s ok. I’ll keep trying. I believe when we share other’s brilliant work, they’ll lean in, give back, and be willing to share mine.

This month I’m sharing the work of some brave, creative people who are doing their thing. I’ve also got a tasty treat in the list, and a chance to give back to something bigger than you. Happy August.

August. Wow.

  1. Here for You Blog by Kellyn Shoecraft

I “met” Kellyn online when she bravely shared her work on the Modern Loss Facebook group board. She writes about her experience with loss, doodles brilliantly, and has found a way to channel her pain into helping others. I love her blog and her drawings which capture so perfectly the way I feel on my bad grief days. We’ve been emailing back and forth a bit about her post Angrief, which is so damn true. You can order Compassion Packages full of beautifully selected cards and gifts and a mix of practical things that are hard to buy for yourself when you are grieving. Think toilet paper, garbage bags, and gallon size freezer baggies for all of the breakfast burritos people send you when people die. A perfect gift for those of you who may be feeling “there are no words.”

2. Aaron Hill Photography

I met Aaron years ago when he was volunteering at the agency I worked for serving at-risk youth. His heart for the hurting led him to graduate school and he is now a social worker in the mental health field by day and takes photos by night. He has an eye for unique angles, golden-hour light, and magical moments in nature. We recently met up with him for a photo shoot and I can’t wait to see what he captured! If you are looking for an artist to work with to capture this stage of your life, he’s your guy. Why is he one of my favorites? He’s affordable, sensitive, sees people and believes we can change the world by how we treat one another. His work can be viewed here.

3. Dead Parent’s Society Podcast

You know what’s helpful? Knowing you are not alone! I came across this beautiful podcast on the Modern Loss Facebook Group post ( It’s helpful ok!) and I almost giggled in delight. One – there are enough people in this horrible club with me who have created a SOCIETY. Two- this group of WRITERS share their experience about loss in words, read their essays, and then talk about the work. I started listening to the episodes while I’m at the gym. Pounding my feet on treadmills and ellipticals I listen in to others words of loss, of hope, of recovery, of our the uncomfortable ache bubbling up when others speak of their dads freely. Pound. Pound. Pound. Yes. Yes. Yes. Grief is just as they describe. Listen in to this project out of Kelly Writers House and keep telling Jamie-Lee this project changes lives. It’s changed mine.
4. Justin’s Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

Remember Nutella? This stuff is better! We filled up our backpacks with hiking treats back when we hiked a 14ner a few weeks ago and now I bought a stash of these packets for afternoon snacks. Spread the stuff on toast, eat with an apple, or just squeeze right into your mouth.

5. My brave friend Jenny

My brave, childhood friend Jenny Stoecker is working in Bangladesh with refugees with Medical Teams International. She’s been back and forth several times over the year and I am floored by the work she is called to. Every time I feel overwhelmed I think of the people she is living with, working with, walking with, and I’m brought back down – perspective makes a world of difference. The issues facing Bangladesh are large in scope, complex, and full of political implications. Helping people on a global scale is complicated. What’s not complicated? Giving what you can of your life to those in pain. Consider donating to her organization Medical Teams International here. 

I continue to be amazed by her willingness to travel, advocate, and show up for those hurting around the globe. Follow her gorgeous pictures here.

I know not all of us are called to global work. Some of us hear whispers of creativity, build buildings, or tell powerful stories to delight people in the towns we grew up in. You don’t have to cross the ocean to influence a life.

What matters most to me? What are you putting out into the universe? And how are you giving back? How is the universe showing up beautifully in your world?


P.S. – I’m in the middle of planning a trip to England and Paris – if you know of quaint, affordable places to stay please let me know!

Deeply Awake – Guest Post by Zoë Trout

Have you ever come across an essay and thought, “Wow! Another human being understands the way I view the world!” As a writer, a quiet observer of humans, I’m constantly wondering if others have the same sensitive intuition as me. When Zoë emailed asking if she could post on my blog, and I read her essay, I inhaled deeply into her words. She gets it. She’s wired like me, at least a little bit. I’ve got sisters and brothers and sensitive folk out there doing the same beautiful work as me. I feel honored to share her perspective. From one beauty seeker to another, write on.

Author: Zoë Trout
Blog: https://speckonaspeck.wordpress.com/

Her favorite quote: “i thank You God for most this amazing / day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees / and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything / which is natural which is infinite which is yes”  – e. e. cummings

Lately I’ve wanted to write about beauty. When I say lately, I mean for months—
and for months I haven’t written a thing. It daunts me to render something so
vast and brilliant in plain words, and my mind spirals in a hundred directions. I
still don’t know how the thoughts will come together. What I know is that beauty
wants to be written about. It’s been knocking softly over these months of
avoidance, and I’ve come into surrender, and so begin.

. . .

Our acquaintance is long, I’ve always loved beautiful things. When I was little I
slipped into imagination easily and intuitively and no one demanded answers. I
collected beautiful images in a mental folio for daydreams, pouring over
photographs in coffee table books, and copies of O magazine and House &
Garden. I treasured a calendar with pictures of French countryside, and pictured
my own “some day” life nested in fine art and stylish decor in a beautiful setting.
The appeal extended beyond possessions, I wanted my whole being to be a
beautiful thing. I sat on the big purple couch in our living room and practiced
writing in cursive over and over, pouring my attention into the loops of o’s & p’s
& b’s, and the quick, elegant peaks of lowercase r’s—it wasn’t task so much as joy.
I wrote, and drew, and painted; I took pride in helping my mom choose furniture
and fabrics, and in laying out outfits for her to wear. I courted loveliness with the
unspoken belief that it would enrich my life, or really that it already was.

I continued to harbor that belief as I began to grow up. Driver’s license in hand,
many of my first independent trips were to beautiful places that made the world
feel quiet and deep. I went outside, into green spaces and under trees. I went into
chapels and galleries, and visited art I loved. I sat before text and pictures, and let
myself steep in their harmonies. I obeyed the same gravitational pull that lured
me into daydreams, the same finger wagging me towards pockets of delight. I
followed enchantment with beautiful things.

Beauty inspired more substantial decisions, too. In high school I let it direct me
to my first job in a restaurant with windows on a stylish plant nursery across a
little green lawn. At night Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday swam through the
candlelight like honey and kept the restaurant glowing. I wasn’t always excited
for long shifts on my feet but my delight was renewed in going to a beautiful
place, and getting to be part of its melody. When I had to choose a college, an
impalpable charm drew me to the school I attended on first glance. Even from the
car, its campus had the same lyrical poise as a poem, and held me under the same
power of awe.

I would go on to choose apartments the same way, and find myself laying tracks
in beautiful spaces wherever I went. Now, I often get pressed into the fog of daily obligations and then wake up to some physical grace, like a silk scarf, or leaves on
a tree branch, twirling together madly in a sudden breath. Out of the daily plod of
emails, errands, and hourly pay emerges something plainly extraordinary, like
sun on the grass, and my spirit lights anew. Sometimes I don’t watch the road as
carefully as I should in the car; my eyes drag on glassy pond-tops, shop windows
and wings outstretched in the sky; my heaven is a perch with a view.

. . .

The question of vanity is raised, and also the question of escape. Isn’t it
superficial to swoon for aesthetics? Isn’t it irresponsible to abandon screens and
numbers and the high-stakes sport of “figuring out?” What do you get from
simple reverie? The spreadsheet and the checkbook demand an answer. The
insurance company demands an answer, and the accountant, and the banker, and
the boss.

For a long time I asked these questions, too. I thought I must use beauty as a
means to escape or avoid, running away to a false palace of my mind. I assumed
my delight was undisciplined. I reasoned that it was, by nature, a weakness.
It’s easy to confuse immersion with escape.

Today I know the difference. I still seek out brilliance in nature and art, and
anything else that stills my soul. It’s no secret that I know how to escape, and
have plenty of practice, but now I see that beauty never asks me to hide.
Submerging into wonder might look going to sleep, and perhaps it is a kind of
numbing to the outside world. It asks to be prioritized over tasks and lists and
news headlines. It asks that I surrender thinking, and let myself be led. But on the
other side of that quiet I hear my own harmony in a timeless choir. I come to
know myself as lovely and beloved. I come home to my necessity in the great,
mosaicked mystery of everything alive.

The world may continue to question. All I can offer is heartbeat, and sky reflected
in my eyes. All I can do is continue, pen in hand; there’s more to see and more to
say. I keep an eye out for wonder, and the discovery reminds me I am never
asleep in beauty, but only more deeply awake.


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Zoë Trout was born and raised in Texas and studied English and psychology at the College of William & Mary. Despite living in the Boston area, she harbors a deep affinity for the South and enjoys memoirs, contemplative poetry, and traveling widely. She has previously worked as a university writing consultant and served on the editorial board of The William and Mary Review, and she continues to write creative nonfiction while working in mental healthcare.
You can read more of Zoë’s work by following her blog, where she writes about growing up, living with purpose, and finding meaning in a noisy world.

Mine.

Unofficial titles I’ve had at work over the years. Levity Lady, Head of the Fun Committee, Social Activity Coordinator.

I like spending some of my work hours planning social outings, celebrations, and bringing humor to the office.

Some other words to describe my impulse to want to make people feel happier – encourager, coach, mentor, supervisor, friend, writer.

Whisperer of beautiful things.

As I work and I process and I heal my childhood wounds of the confusion of complex emotions, I realize just how many of my coping mechanisms involve trying to fix other’s happiness levels.  It comes out at work and it comes out in my family and I am wondering if it’s coming out here too.

I wrote this post at the end of 2016 about how hard it can be to encourage others. How challenging it is to look for the light. How lots of people prefer to yank us out of our seats and into the stinky mud on the ground. There is always more mud on the ground.

Because I feel for people, deeply, and I have trouble not dragging my empathetic toes into the circles of others. Because I care. And I want you to see the light. All of the glorious light that exists when we lift our chins.

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A beautiful friend boldly told me to start saying, firmly in my brain, “that is NOT mine.”

That grief, that conflict with your co-worker, that gut wrenching diagnosis. The government shut down, the fight with your mother, that unemployment and dashed dreams. All NOT mine.

It’s a new tool for survival. A safety shield for the ever-feeling heart.

Anne Lamott wisely says,

” there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you’re waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve or date serenity and peace of mind. This is the most horrible truth, and I so resent it. But it’s an inside job, and we can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world. They have to find their own ways, their own answers. You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and ChapStick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to. And if it’s someone else’s problem, you probably don’t have the answer, anyway. Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.”

This quote got me thinking. Is that what I’m trying to do here? Acting out my need to save others by sharing what’s good. Sure, I hope my words cause epiphanies in your lives and spark you to think about small, simple blessings that dance through your days.

But I’m not sure it works, and that shouldn’t be the point.

The beautiful, beautiful point, is I do this work for me. I look for the beautiful to make me feel sane. And if it works for you too, my gosh, let’s cheers with some bubbles. I don’t want to be toxic, I want to be balm. I don’t want to be controlling, I want to be free.

And looking for the beautiful helps me, me, me, my, MINE to do that. That process of healing, of unhooking from other’s drama, of allowing me to stand on my chair, chin up, arms open and up, tears streaming down my cheeks.

I also read this funny article about writing on Medium today. Poet James Avramenko writes about what he’s learned from writing a poem every day for the last six years. I love this nugget of truth that he shares,

  • The ones you like often get no play, the ones you think suck often explode

My most visited post on this blog is about the tv show Friends. I’ve poured out my heart and talked about grief, and shared bravely about MY own stuff. And the light hearted post about my obsession with Friends is most frequently read. The deep stuff gets glossed over and often ignored. I thought last week’s post was awesome. No comments. Crickets. Doubts. Temptations to press delete.

As an artist, that’s frustrating. But James is right. We don’t get it, we just write. We don’t know what’s going to stick and we can’t anticipate the impact. Maybe there is none.

So for this year, I’m changing my intention for the blog. I don’t want to get my help all over you. I want to help myself. Help myself heal, love this magnificent, magical world, build gratitude, dream bigger, and experience new things. I’m going to write about it.

If you feel it’s beautiful, consider sharing. As James also says, “Once it’s in the world, it’s out of your hands.”

Thanks for joining me.