On Breast Cancer, Bustily

Breasts have always been a source of stress for me.

When I was about fourteen, it became clear that I wasn’t going to do much more developing, and at the time, it was devastating. All the other girls had boobs and I didn’t. They used to tease me mercilessly: “If you didn’t have feet, would you wear shoes?….Then why do you wear a bra?”

After the pain that was being a flat-chested adolescent subsided, I was left with the marvelous acceptance of my body. As it turns out, the joke may be on them. I can fit into clothes. I can wear backless dresses. I can jog comfortably. (Not that I would ever jog, but if I wanted to, it would be easy.) People are forced to talk to my face after their eyes realize that the expanse of skin where my cleavage should be is just that, skin.

Who needs boobs anyway?

My birth mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. Her mom died of breast cancer. All of her mom’s sisters have had it or died from it. My birth mother survived. She had many dark hours and a tough battle, including surgeries and struggles with health insurance. A woman at work had breast cancer last year. My stepmom had breast cancer last year. It’s just breast cancer everywhere. These struggles are so unique and so  life-changing.

I know in my core that I will someday get breast cancer. I’m ready for it. I’m at peace with it. One of the recommendations is that you do a preemptive double mastectomy. I looked at my mom and told her that I’d worked too hard to grow the ones I have now to even consider that at this point. If I ever procreate, I will get rid of the boobs after I’m done having children. If I don’t procreate, I’ll get new ones at some point during my 30s. But regardless, I’m definitely going to go up a cup size. (When in Rome...)

Reading the news about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy made me stop and think. Breast cancer is such a serious struggle, such a profoundly widespread epidemic, but at the same time, preemptive surgery is also such a serious undertaking. I admire the courage, the willingness to subject herself to the pain and the recovery in order to mitigate future complications.

I am confident that I’ll make the right choices when the time comes. I am confident that no amount of cleavage defines me as a woman. I am confident that my vigilance and forward-thinking will keep me alive. I’m grateful for all the women who’ve come before me, who’ve shared their experiences, who’ve taught me how to handle it with grace and dignity and strength.

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On the Weekend, Quickly

The weekend went by too quickly, as usual.

Friday was a stressful day for me – I had a meeting that took up a few hours in the morning, so I had a lot to get done at work before my shift at Dairy Queen started. We close at 10 pm, but on Fridays, we have to clean the store before we leave. Usually, we get everything done and are out the door by 10:30. On Friday, that did not happen. We clocked out at 11:20.

I declared a fifteen-minute break after we closed the doors and finished dishes. I was tired. We pulled crates out behind the store, like we used to do during summer nights in high school, and we sat for a few minutes. We attempted to try out some team bonding exercises I’d watched in Spokane, but I think we failed. (Or the exercises themselves failed. No, probably us. Something about truth-telling and strength. You push down on someone’s arm and if they’re telling the truth, they’re able to withstand your push, but if they’re lying, it’s easier to push their arm down?)

Then I decided that I wanted food and beer. We ended up closing Old Chicago. (Their late-night menu is amazing. We had bruschetta, 2 orders of chicken tenders, salad, and 4 beers between the two of us and the bill came to like $30. Why do we not do that more often?)

There was such great joy in the knowledge that my brain was working, dusting off some of the deepest corners of thought processes and bringing them to the forefront of my consciousness. I was lost in conversation, content to forget some of my points and make wild assertions that I was potentially incapable of backing up.

Saturday was more work. I was tired, since I’d gotten home so late. I was fumbling around, trying to unpack an emergency delivery order and get stuff done. I ended up flustered. I was grateful when my backup showed up. We were slammed. I stayed later than I was scheduled, but had to rush home to shower so I could go babysit.

During babysitting, I decided that this was one of those “you only live once” moments, and so instead of going to the goth bar to celebrate a friend’s going away, I drove up to Ft. Collins to celebrate another friend’s graduation. Oh my, was that an adventure.

I got there late – everyone had already been out and about for a while so I had some catching up to do. Our main objective for the evening was to make to a bar that had swings. We ultimately failed at that, arriving just a bit too late. But in the interim, we had a blast. (At least I did.)

(Just so we’re clear, I knew that my eyes were halfway closed when we posted that photo. It was just the best one out of the bunch.)

We almost got kicked out of our hotel some time during the early hours of the morning. At the time, I was thinking that we were being so quiet, but now I realize that seven people are in no way quiet. Ever. Especially not when they’re trying to twerk. (Still can’t do it.)

I woke up the next morning hating everything and in desperate need of coffee. I drove back to Denver, took a nap, then headed to my grandma’s house for Mother’s Day. I got my mom a necklace – since she works with the hearing-impaired, she speaks ASL and therefore the sign for “I love you” always makes me happy. I remember having it on something – a stamp? – as a kid. I saw a necklace with the sign for “I love you” and then a little charm that says “Do all things with love” and I had to have it. I hope she likes it.

On Resetting

He used a metaphor of outstretched palms trying to hold an ever-increasing load of books. Every single book is a source of stress in your life. At some point, you can no longer hold onto the books, and the lot of them will come tumbling down to land at your feet. That’s what this last weekend was for me. Desperately trying to maintain some semblance of normal in the face of being overwhelmed, I overdid it, and the result was disastrous.

It’s now Thursday; I am sicker than I’ve been in a while, and thoroughly worn out. But on the plus side, the worst of it all seems to have passed and my mood seems to have brightened as my energy has returned.

I was worried about how silly I looked this weekend (exhaustion, emotional panic, and whiskey are a potent combination), but my mom was quick to reassure me that this is all uncharacteristic and that the people who know and love me know that. “How are you supposed to explain everything to someone who has no idea?” she asked. “You can’t. And you can’t be expected to.” I felt better.

You can never make certain things go away, but you can change them. You can turn them into something positive, if you try hard enough. You can work to move past them so instead of them ruling you, you rule them.

Now that the worst of it has passed, I am still not sure how I’m going to stop working 60 hours a week. I am still not sure what I’m going to do next. But I do know that these past few days have been the reprieve that I needed to reset myself and find my balance.

I always tease my friend Britt about Marines being such babies, because whenever he gets sick, he needs me to take care of him. I once asked him why he never takes care of me when I’m sick, and he responded that I never get sick. He’s right. I have the immune system of a horse (not sure that’s an applicable metaphor or not, but going with it), but when I get sick, I’m laid out. He came over with soup and a cupcake, both of which were delicious, and then held me while we caught up on Game of Thrones episodes that we’d missed.

Carlos is going to be very grumpy when I have to go back to work tomorrow; he’s been spoiled with eighteen hours of snuggling per day and I know that my absence will annoy him.

I love his beast face.

And above all, I am so grateful for Tobias.

“I’m serious,” he said. “I’ve met tens of thousands of people in my life. You are one of the most positive people I know. Your energy is infectious.”

“You’re one of those rare lights in the universe,” he told me. “I only wish you could see how bright your light is.”

I smiled.

“I’ll keep repeating it until you believe it,” he said. I finally laughed.

On Easter Weekend, Catholic Guiltily

Those of you who know me know that I’m not big on holidays. I enjoy them, certainly, but they bring such a source of stress for me that I usually pretend they’re not happening until I’m obligated to attend some holiday-related event.

Easter is not terribly stressful. You might go to church, you might go on a Easter egg hunt, you’ll most likely eat ham. (Last night, as she was helping me cook dinner, my friend Emily declared, “I’m pretty sure no one actually likes ham. You just eat it out of habit.” I think she’s onto something.) For the lapsed Catholics like myself, Easter is a good holiday to hang out with family and a great reminder that it’s time to start welcoming spring.

Easter throwback – 2007. Chicago, Illinois. Too bad I didn’t have this outfit this weekend; it would have been perfect!

We hosted another party this past weekend. After all of the fallout from the last party, we decided to call it “Ashes to Ashes: The Resurrection.” So naturally, it was Easter-themed. I panicked, because last time, I knew exactly what I wanted to wear.

This time, I found myself lacking not only direction, but conviction as well. Apparently, Catholic guilt is a seriously real thing: I didn’t want to go too far down the road to hell with my heresy, but I also wanted to have fun.

I found myself at Goodwill with two of my friends the afternoon of the party. At that point, I was still considering some sort of Eve-inspired outfit, or something Easter-egg-esque. Then we came to the undergarment rack. It’s actually great – I got a white slip for $2! Ben suggested that I buy a blue nightgown and I found a white robe to go over it. I also purchased some pink pajama pants and a pink silk shirt, thinking that I could wear those with my Easter bunny ears and be some sort of Easter bunny. (In the end, the pink was horrible. As we were checking out, I asked Jacob if you could return things to Goodwill. “You always re-donate them,” he said. That is exactly what I will be doing.)

The best thing about having a house is having a washer and dryer for when you buy undergarments at Goodwill and need to wash them before you wear them out in public but you only have two hours to get ready.

As I was getting ready, tossing nearly every article of clothing I own around my room, I imagined myself much like Lucille Bluth home alone. In the end, I donned the blue nightgown and the white robe and was quite content with my “Virgin Realness” ensemble. It was soft, which is my number one requirement for clothing, it fit, and it was sort of pretty. (Katie would later tell me that I looked like something out of The Great Gatsby, which I took as a high compliment.)

Jacob and I:

These photos were taken by the very talented Paul – I am eternally grateful that he cut the shoes I was wearing out of each shot. You have no idea how hard it is to find shoes that match undergarment outfits. I considered some shoes that I bought when I was 17 and still haven’t worn in public – they’re lovely, over-the-top sparkling heels with camel colored bows on the toes, but my feet slip out of them. I did a test run around the kitchen, realized they wasn’t going to fly, and ended up selecting some very gorgeous but not-quite-right heels. By the end of the night, I was back in flats.

Jacob and I had to run across the street to buy some batteries for a light-up headdress, and the cashier asked us if we were in a play. We mumbled something incomprehensible and slipped out, trying to contain our laughter.

It was so good to see everyone. I loved the energy of the crowd, the positive vibes and genuine happiness radiating out of everyone led to a very successful evening. It was over all too soon, and I was dragging myself home for sleep before the family packed Easter Sunday.

We went to see my dad’s family and had brunch with them. I’d worked from 8:30 in the morning until 11:30 on Friday night and then turned around and opened Dairy Queen on Saturday, so I was exhausted. By the time we’d finished our afternoon Easter dinner at my mom’s house, I was ready for a nap. I crawled up to her bed and slept for an hour.

My little neighbor was so cute – she had gotten a little stuffed bunny for Easter and so I held her and she rested the bunny on my shoulder. Pretty soon, she’ll be too big for me to carry, unless I magically develop more muscles, so I want to make sure I take full advantage of the time I have left.

My little cousins got hair chalk – apparently that’s a thing. We covered our clothes in towels and got down to the hair chalking business. It’s fun! I ended up covered in pink and green, but I had Medusa-like green chalk curls briefly. The little one, who’s six, ended up with bright pink hair. She was so excited about it.

On Sunday night, I tried to introduce my brother to Game of Thrones. We’ve still got free HBO for another month, so I intend to take full advantage of it. He sat with me while we watched the third season premiere. It’s really hard to explain everything. I finally got to the point where I’d just say, “good guy,” “bad guy” to help him differentiate between the characters. Hopefully he’ll start it from the beginning and fall in love with it like I have. (I’ve been terrible and haven’t read the books yet….it’s on my list, I swear!)

I hope your Easter was lovely!

On Mike, Because He’s 23.

“Guess who said it,” he yells. He’s reading from his little book of quotations. He’s previously told me that if he ever dies, the book contains everything I’ll need to know about his life. And my life. And life, in general. “‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love…'”

I’m frantically running around the house trying to find clothes and put on makeup – it’s 10:20 pm on a Friday night and I swore to the boys that I’d be ready to leave by then. (Surprise, surprise: I’m not.)

“Mandela!” I yell back. I pause, suddenly unsure, but still pretty sure. “Or Gandhi. Or Mother Theresa!”

“Mandela!” he yells back. His friend laughs. He’s been watching my frantic getting ready with amusement – he has an older sister, too. I love having this time to banter with my brother. Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am to live with him – even though we’re both super busy with jobs and/or school and life, I still get to see him. I imagine that I’ll be really sad when someday, it’s not the same anymore. I take it for granted and I know that.

My first Cubs game! 2010

My brother and I could not be more different human beings: he’s the calm, reserved one. I’m the take-charge, emotional one. He lets things go; I don’t.  I live in a fast-paced world with no time for slowing down; he spends time meditating and reflecting. He cleans the house. I make sure the administrative details (bills, ew!) are handled. In truth, we complement each other very well. We both learn from the other and take care of each other. We’re both surprisingly protective – if someone were to hurt my brother, I would hope they understood the hell that I would unleash on them.

South Africa, 2010

We’re 22 months apart. I don’t remember how I felt about getting a brother, but I do remember how much fun we used to have playing together as kids. (And fighting, of course. I’m a little bit tougher than I look because I grew up fighting Mike.) We used to dig holes in the garden, trying to make a swimming pool (frustrating process, let me tell you). We would play baseball against the wall of the house. I used to dress him up and make him play dolls with me.

My most regrettable failure as a big sister was the day he sat on a nail. We were eating lunch outside on the back patio (pb&j and Cheetos), and I didn’t want him to sit at the picnic table with me (because I am a terrible person), so I told him to go sit on a pile of boards. Well, as it turns out, some of those boards had nails sticking out of them. And he sat on one. (I’m currently alternating between typing and covering my face in shame. Even now, I feel awful.)

Mike’s my partner in crime. We used to sneak out of our rooms during nap time and slide down the stairs on my mom’s exercise mat. We used to sneak into the neighborhood pool for night swimming. We used to play this game where we’d flip each other off at the dinner table when our parents weren’t looking. The first one to get caught lost. (I don’t lose.)

When we were in high school, my friends and I thought we were so cool because we had a freshman. Mike was our freshman. (We weren’t cool; we know that.) We used to call Mike “fruitypants” – ugh, long story, but it’s something a guy I once dated used to yell out of the windows of a moving car just because – and it stuck. To this day, whenever he runs into our old Creative Writing/English teacher, the teacher always calls him “Fruitypants.” Mike looooves that. But somehow, it stuck. Sometimes, we still call each other “Fruit” out of habit.

Mike is one of my best friends. I’m so grateful that he’s my little brother. He’s one of the wisest people I know. He’s got such a big heart, and he’s so smart. He’s thoughtful and kind and funny. Everyone who meets him loves him. He was always looking out for me in South Africa.

In our family, we always tease each other about being “the worst guy.” Mike started it; my mom and I picked it up. It’s usually used in a teasing way, out of exasperation. “Oh, you’re the worst guy!” my mom will say, and there will be a lilt of laughter in her voice. It’s the kind of warm expression that radiates love and family.

I love them. They’re the best worst guys ever.

Happy birthday, Mike! It’s your Michael Jordan year and it’s going to be so good!

On Nostalgia, Forwardly

I’m in the middle of a project – and by that I mean I’ve begun something but I have no idea where it’s going to take me – and I thought I’d share a little bit with you:

I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of family, but I don’t spend all that much time talking about my childhood. I wonder if we all lose memories as time goes on. The way we remember is unique, of course, and memories are different for each of us.

For me, memories are a glimpse, like a single photograph stored that will stand in for an entire afternoon. That stagnant picture is often directly correlated to the most emotionally charged moment, be it placid contentment or raucous shouting. Those pictures in my head bring emotions to the surface, but any really tangible details are often swept away, long gone.

My most beloved childhood memories are usually moments of solitude: climbing the apple tree in the backyard to read a book, coloring while listening to a book on tape, digging in the garden.

It’s interesting to see these pictures, and now I understand why photographs are so very important to people. Photographs are the memories we neglected to make, or have lost, or can’t find. Photographs bring us back, jolting us into a moment that our brain may not be able to recall.

When my brother was about 17 – I was in college – he had our favorite picture made into a giant canvas. It now hangs above the mantel in my mother’s family room.

It’s this one:

My favorite thing about my baby pictures is the faces that I make. I’m always moving, or laughing, or making a silly face.

My love of books and distaste for pants is not a new thing.

On Christmas, Merrily but Quickly

When I was younger, I thought people who got practical gifts for Christmas were silly. Why would you wish for pots and pans when you could have books or toys?! (For the record, I’ll still take books any day.)

Now that I’m a bit older, I recognize the value in practical presents. In fact, I welcome them. (I do miss the joy of tearing off wrapping paper expectantly, although I’ve come to realize that there is so much more to life and family than presents.)

This year, we got shovels from my mom – who has always really enjoyed the idea of matching presents…and we’ll be using them tomorrow morning since it’s going to be a white Christmas! (Yay, Colorado!)

(This is our modern American Gothic look. Dig it?)

American Gothic Christmas

On Being Adopted, Quite Happily

Sometimes people ask me what it’s like to be adopted, but honestly, I have no idea what it’s like to not be adopted, so I’m never sure how to answer that question.

I never not known that I was adopted.To their credit, my parents did a great job about normalizing the adoption experience. (They adopted my brother and I at birth, so we’ve never known any other family structure.) Both my brother and I were lucky enough to know who our birth mothers are, instead of having to wonder. We’ve always known – there was no awkward conversation when we realized that we look nothing alike.

(My brother is two years younger than me – but he’s been bigger than me since I was about seven. He’s now 8 inches taller.)

(Easter 2011)

My boss, whose four children are all adopted, always says that adopted kids always want to know two things: why was I given up for adoption? and who are my parents? I can answer 75% of that question. I know why I was given up. I know who my birth mother is, but my father will always remain a mystery. Instead of finding myself less curious as I age, I find that my curiosity grows. Not that I’d like to know the man. I have no desire to have any sort of relationship with him.

I’m fascinated by the aesthetics of it all – I look very little like my mother. I do have her double-jointed limbs. I do have the paw print in my eye (which will always remain my favorite part of myself). But I am more elf-like. Where did my nose come from? (She has a very German nose, while I ended up looking like a resident of Rivendell.) I am longer, and pointier. (I have ridiculously sharp ears.) My coloring is different. We are very similar emotionally, spiritually, and share similar energies, but outwardly, we share little, except shapes of our chins and eyes.

My mom used to tell me that when I was little, I would be talking, and she’d turn around expecting my birth mother to be standing there, because my tone and what’d I’d just said sounded exactly like her.

Granted, it’s not always such a rosy, happy love fest. When I go the doctor, and they ask me about my family history, I shrug. And it makes for some complicated emotional stuff. As much as I’ve been loved, I’ve also had to deal with an immense amount of family turmoil.

I love that we have such a connection. I am glad for it, but at the same time, I’ve never felt the immensity of the mother-daughter relationship. (This isn’t something that I’ve ever necessarily wanted or assumed or expected.) I hope that makes sense. I felt a wave of jealousy rise through me when my brother got to be with his birth mother and birth father for lunch earlier this year. It surged through me, really. Mike’s birth mother is active in my life – she likes my posts on Facebook, we’ve been playing a word game together on our phones, she sends positive loving comments my way all the time. I’m so glad I got to keep her, too.

At the end of the day, I’m glad for the extra mothers in my life. I’m glad for my birth mom, I’m glad for Mike’s birth mom, and I’m glad that I get to have both my mom and Mike to keep forever, even if they are the worst guys. I’m glad for the love, and for the magnitude of support and acceptance from my family. I’ve never felt like the odd one out at family gatherings. Mike and I always had a hard time in middle school pulling the “you’re adopted” joke on each other, because if he’d say, “Oh yeah? Well you’re adopted!”, I’d respond with, “So are you!”

Mike is fascinated by the nature vs. nurture question, as am I. The two of us grew up in the same household, yet we are nearly complete and polar opposites. We love comparing personality traits with our birth mothers and our mom. We laugh because when I’m mad at Mike, I use the “mom voice” exactly like our mom does. That’s definitely a nurtured behavior.

My birth mother gave me a book, “Guess How Much I Love You,” when I was in third grade.  A part of me will always be the Little Nutbrown Hare reaching up into the sky, trying to find more ways to show his love. I read that book to the kids I babysit sometimes, and I always tear up. Being loved so much that I got to have this life is overwhelming.

I got to see her this weekend. (I’ve seen her twice this year! That’s the most in any year ever!) It was wonderful. It was so wonderful. This is the woman who gave me life, who nourished me and took care of me when I was a tiny cluster of cells. She loved me, even though she’d never met me. She held me after I was born. She chose my parents, my future family. She set me off running in the direction that my life would take. I will forever be grateful.

I love that I was adopted. I hate the unknowns, but I love the wild speculation. And should I ever meet anyone who looks like me, I will be thrilled. I love that I have a spiritual connection with my birth mother that no one will ever take away. It’s the paw print. It’s the protection. It’s not something anyone else will ever understand.

I’m not sure how I’ll look when I’m 80, or whether or not I’m genetically pre-disposed to anything (except breast cancer), but I do know that I’ve got a good head on my shoulders and that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that I am loved. And that’s enough for me.

On Moving, Incompletely

It happened.
We bought a house.
I now own land. (Well, the bank owns more land.)

We closed last Wednesday. That night, my family came over and we toasted the new house with champagne and thoroughly explored everything. I climbed the tree in the backyard. (You’re never too old for a good climbing tree.)

Then we went to Home Depot to get painting supplies. We jokingly bought paint suits, just like they wear when they cook in Breaking Bad. Then we went home and started taping. And I donned my paint suit and covered the bathroom in biodegradable plastic drop cloths and got to work.

Meth suit breaking bad walter white painting

As it turns out, the paint suits were the best purchase we made. (At one point, I stepped down off of the can I was using in lieu of a ladder and put my entire foot in the paint tray. Note to self: ladders would be a good choice next time.)

But I did it. I’d never painted a room before, and I don’t think it looks horrible at all. (The tape came off, eventually. This is post-painting, pre-untaping.)

Black Bathroom

(The wall is about 60% white, from the floor up. Then it becomes black. I’m accenting with green and it’s lovely and not at all overwhelming. And if you hate it, don’t say anything because I’m determined to bask in my self-satisfaction for some time.)

This is our sweet backyard (honestly, the main selling point of the backyard is the dream of future summers spent lounging in a hammock, or grilling, or drinking a cold beer while sitting in a chair with the cool night air on your skin….all we need now is lightning bugs.)

Englewood backyard sweet

I’ll take more pictures soon….between the hectic painting schedule, the move itself, and trying to get our old apartment clean (eek!), I’ve had no time to breathe. I am very looking forward to some much-needed sleep this weekend.

And this guy – Carlos Black Cat Bunny Chicken Nugget

(Swisher commented that the glare Carlos is giving is the same glare I give.)

Carlos was super confused about the move. But I am so grateful for such a wonderful animal – he handles change far better than his mother. He had to spend much of Sunday in his cat carrier while people came in and out of the apartment. (He was very vocal about his displeasure.) But he got to go to the new house Sunday night and has been prowling around ever since. He seems to enjoy it, although I can tell that he misses the large windowsills we had at the apartment. I’ll have to build him some shelves for peering out.

I don’t feel all the way settled yet. And I don’t feel all the way sad yet. It’s bittersweet, of course, this moving stuff. The apartment was the most wonderful place – my room was HUGE, the park was right across the street, I could walk to bars and my Thai place (my pineapple curry commute just about quadrupled). But I’m not complaining. It’s just always a little bit sad to leave part of your life behind. Cupcakes! Think of the lavender lemon cupcakes! (That I only get like once a month anyway….)

On the plus side, I found a gift certificate to my favorite bar, so I’ll have to go back sooner rather than later to use it. It’s not like I’m leaving Colfax forever. I’m just not going to be two blocks away.

But even better: I am now like ten minutes from work. I even stopped at the grocery store (2 min away from the house) this morning and wasn’t late. We have an insane backyard. We have an adorable house. I have the black bathroom I’ve always wanted. We have stainless steel appliances in the kitchen, including a dishwasher (!), and a washer and dryer (!!!!) in the basement. I won’t have to schedule laundry now!

 

The house just oozes charm. It’s got rounded doorways in the main room, a quaint kitchen, beautiful wood everywhere. Life is beautiful and I’m so very grateful for all the help that we’ve received. Cleaning and moving are the worst things, but we seem to have survived with only minor difficulties and no major meltdowns.

Now, to finish cleaning the apartment and hope for the security deposit. Then we can focus on the settling in.

On Rage and Authenticity, Quite Happily

As much as I dread the thirteen-and-a-half-hour workday, I find that it is a reminder of many things, including strength, dedication, commitment, and so on. Mostly, it’s a reminder of the lengths that I’m willing to go to ensure myself a solid, stable future and to keep Carlos in the style to which he’s become accustomed (which is basically just fat. Wet cat food is not cheap, but since it delights him so much, it’s worth it – and I benefit indirectly because the amount of snuggling I receive correlates to his enjoyment of his wet food).

Lately, as I struggle yet again with a lingering resentment for a part of my extended family, and as I work long days, I am reminded of the opportunities for gratitude in everything that I do. Today at my real job, I had the opportunity to have a wonderful conversation with my lady boss, a woman I’ve come to respect and admire for both her spirit but also her ability to keep everything together in the face of immense pressure. She’s funny, strong, and intelligent: all things that I aspire to be.

After that, at my night gig shelling out ice cream, I was grumpy because a couple came in and made fun of the way I said “food laws” by way of an attempt to explain why we no longer offer a certain product. Excuse me if I get offended because you find my use of “food laws” so immensely entertaining that you need to say it eighteen times. I’m exhausted, annoyed, and perfectly capable of using correct language, but sometimes it doesn’t happen. “I misspoke,” I said simply, glaring at them, hurt and embarrassed. I swear, “cross-contamination” and “regulations” are words that do exist in my vocabulary, even if I’m not always capable of injecting them into conversation. I was determined to let it bother me all night, holding onto my repressed rage at the indignation I felt.

But of course, life had other plans and I was treated to some of my absolute favorite customers. A mother and her son came in and told me that they were delighted to see my face behind the counter. A father and his son came in – they were in for ice cream last night so I made a quip and we discussed our own personal limits for enduring Journey songs on the radio. Another guy came in who knows my boss, and so we talked about the neighborhood and the church and parking tickets. Yesterday, I had a conversation about the American habit of rushing through eating, and the idea of savoring a meal and appreciating the experience. These are all totally strange conversations, but they’re the kind of conversations that I want to be having. They show me so much about people.

These are the moments when I’m reminded why it’s so important to forge wonderful bonds with people, even if those interactions are infrequent, or based solely on introduction to free Blizzard punch cards. The people who may have the most profound impact on you are the people you may know the least, and that’s why it’s so important to present your best self at all times – not your best fake self, but you, entirely. The people who came in tonight revived my spirit and my mood. They have no idea they had that affect, of course, but I can only hope that I did something similar for them.

As I think about the version of myself that I put forward, I think back to a conversation I had with my mother this week about my frustration with an issue that I’ve done everything in my power to resolve, but to no avail. She told me that no matter where I go in life, and no matter what tax bracket I find myself in, I’ll never lose my grit. (I immediately saw myself wearing dusty cowboy boots and clenching my teeth while smoking a Marlboro.) But she must not be wrong, because the sentiment was echoed by someone who means very much to me who told me that my authenticity shows in everything that I do.

And the more I think about it, the more it’s true. Living my life guided by three simple principles – “don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal” – has allowed me to be my most authentic self at all times. I’m not always right, but at least I’m always me. And leaving out all deception, theft, and malicious intent has allowed so much love and happiness to grow inside of me.

Consistency and adherence to my core values allows me to experience so much that others can’t, and I’m immensely grateful for it. I’ve found myself in many situations this year that have tested me in ways that I never imagined – both professionally and personally – and yet they’ve allowed me to flex my honesty, my drive, and my intuition.

Things are going swimmingly – I’m happy. I’m happy discussing conspiracy theories with my Dairy Queen co-workers; I’m happy writing press releases at my real job; I’m happy in my new relationship; I’m just really happy.

Of course, I’m overworked, exhausted, and prone to bouts of melancholy. Of course I’m panicked and stressed and overwhelmed, but even through all of that, I’m happy with myself and with the person that I’m becoming, which is far more important than anything else.

I’m so grateful for everything that I’ve experienced in life, because it’s made me so much stronger. I’m no wilting wallflower. I believe it was Courtney Love who said, “I’m not a woman; I’m a force of nature.” I aim to embody that. And as my mother said during our conversation, no matter where I end up, I’ll never forget where I came from. I’ll never forget the hard work I’ve had to put in to get here, because in the end it’s all worth it. Along the way, there are little bits of encouragement, reminding me that the path I’ve chosen is the right path.

When I wonder why I’ve been rejected by an entire section of my extended family, I can’t help but take into consideration the fact that perfect strangers are excited to see me. I can’t help but think about how much I care about the people I love, and the things that I’d do to help my friends. I can’t help but think about how much of my personality gets to shine through at all of my jobs, at family events, on dates and adventures and through literally everything that I do. I can’t help but think about the person that I am today, and the person that I was yesterday, and I realize I’m still exactly me; I always have been.

What was my advice to adolescent girls dealing with people who are assholes? Oh yeah, “fuck ’em.” Here’s another piece of advice: if all of the evidence points to you being an authentic, awesome (oh, totally modest right now, too) human being, fuck the people who can’t wrap their heads around that. Fuck the people who don’t respect you, or value you, or care. You can find new family; you can make you own – and you can find the respect and value in tiny places like a pair of customers at Dairy Queen who express joy at your presence. That’s enough to remind you that who you are can’t be all bad.

Everything is going to be all right. Everything is all right. Everything is better than all right. Everything is amazing. Life is beautiful. It’s complexity and it’s pain, but it’s insanely worth the journey.

My authentic self, chilling on a rock in the desert:

He does take the best pictures, doesn’t he? (He’s editing, more soon.)