Monday, January 28, 2013

Quoteworthy: Going for it

The last month has been a reality-bomb of changes across life's spectrum. I lost my most favorite person ever, my Papa, to cancer, relatively suddenly; I got a new job; I began the process of finding an apartment and renting out my house; I bought a new car; and one of my nearest and dearest friends had a baby. In the same week. Oh, and I graduated from physical therapy after three off-and-on years, which means that after three years of checking in with someone else about my body 2-3 times per week, I'm on my own. Eeeek.

I struggle to process change. It's part of the roots and wings thing. It's been hard to digest all these different changes at once, especially while I am preparing to leave my job, and move my whole existence (and rambunctious dog) across state lines. 

Losing my grandpa, while incredibly difficult, served as a great reminder of how to live a good life. His family and friends remember him as always having time to pay a compliment, always with a smile on his face, always working hard and reminding people he loved them. While it's hard to leave my family right after losing our beloved patriarch, I know that Papa would want me to go kick some ass and take some names. Life is to be lived, after all.

The good news is that I've got it through my thick skull that writing can help me process all of it, and it has. I'll be ready to share it some day, but for now, I've gathered some quotes about courage and, to be corny, shooting for the stars.

"The trouble is, you think you have time." --Buddha

"If you are lucky enough to find a way of life that you love, you have to find the courage to live it." --John Irving

"Courage is not the absence of fear, but the judgment that something else is more important than fear. The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all. For now you are traveling the road between who you think you are and who you can be." --Meg Cabot

"Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive." --Howard Thurman

"Sometimes you just have to leap, and build your wings on the way down." --Kobi Yamada

Courage (n): the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to live without fear; to act in accordance with one's beliefs

Spirit (n): the principle of conscious life

Thursday, January 24, 2013

'& (Then)'... Chicago

It's funny, the title of this blog, my little space on the internet, is kind of serendipitous. I liked 'roots and wings' because I had long noticed a theme in my life: I wavered between desiring adventure and needing security. A fiercely independent and ambitious girl who also happened to be extremely sentimental and somewhat practical.

After years of struggling to be one or the other, I thought I had achieved a good balance, even if I was still pulled in different directions at times. was taken. To be honest, I threw a 'then' in there so I could get writing, not giving it much thought, and never even considering Roots & (then) wings just made sense to me, innately.

You know how when you rent a car, you see that car everywhere? You're like, how is everyone driving a black Impala? Well, after I chose the title, I noticed a new theme: comfort, then adventure. In that order. As if the only way I could truly explore was by first being anchored in a place of familiarity. I think this is true of a majority of people, but for me, it is a lesson that I am learning over and over about myself. And it always surprises me how fundamental it is to my happiness.

This is why it's pretty fitting that almost exactly two years after I bought my house in Marquette, I landed an exciting new job in Chicago. Yes, I am headed for city living. I will always call Marquette home (the 28 remaining years on my mortgage cinch that deal). But now that I've tended to the roots, it's time for some wings. Chicago, here I come.

I'm acutely aware that I am leaving most of my best friends, my family, and what grounds me. But I am wildly excited to discover what's waiting for me and Henley Boo on the other side.

Roots, check. And then...

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

9 Things English Teachers Taught Me About Writing [& Life], Part 3

I'm recalling 9 lessons from past English teachers. You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here

7. Show, don't tell. Dr. Ronald Johnson was a professor I had during my Junior year of college for a non-fiction class. I had heard the adage "show, don't tell" in many of my classes, but he drove the idea home with the use of peer-edits (where everyone reads your work and gives you verbal critiques in front of everyone else--the good, the bad and the ugly). The good pieces (and good writers) stood out in these sessions because they showed you how things happening (and how those things affected them), rather than told you. For instance: My hands shook when I walked into the kitchen, but I walked in tall and spoke evenly: "Can we talk?," I said to Brad. "It's about what you said earlier." --rather than I don't think my boyfriend noticed I was nervous when I walked in to confront him.

This immediately helped me revise my pieces so that I was showing my audience the story, and therefore letting them experience it themselves, rather than just telling them what happened.  But it wasn't until I was looking into moving to North Carolina after grad school that the lesson came full circle. Their state motto is "Esse Quam Videri", which means "To be, rather than to seem". It essentially means: Come as you are and don't bullshit us. Be you, don't waste our time trying to prove otherwise. In a book I read about living there (oh you know I researched the dickens out of it), they explained that the people there would rather you be harried and rude than fake and pleasant. It actually offends them if you try to be anything but what you are at the moment. 

I realized that this is exactly how I want to live my life. I never want to just seem happy, I want to be happy. I never want to just seem grateful, I want to be grateful. I want to show the people in my life my story, I never just want to tell them. (Cue up another blog goal!)

--Dr. Johnson also taught me that writers write (you are not a writer unless you are working on something) and that there is merit in everyday things (good writers can make those everyday things seem interesting, because they weave the story with things that connect and compel every day people).

8. You have to put yourself out there. Dr. Ray Ventre was my graduate advisor. Having had Ray as a professor previously, I felt just comfortable enough to propose some out-of-the-ordinary directed studies for my grad student study plan that would help me later on when writing for non-profits. But I had to drum up the courage to ask, and I had to put myself out there. I was proposing supplementing the classes they offered with other trainings and self-guided study that I had found via, you guessed it, research. I was terrified I was going to offend him, the department head, he who most likely decides the cirriculum. But Ray signed every directed study form I put in front of him, and I know he did it because he believed I was invested in my education, and my future. 

It's not a coincidence that around the time Ray expressed that trust in me, I started taking more risks with my writing. I learned from him that you must put yourself out there. You'll be pleasantly surprised by who will welcome it, like all of you sweet people who have reached out to say you're enjoying my blog. Thanks, sweet people.

--Ray also taught me that you need to study the writers who have come before you, from the greats to the obscure people in your university's journal. Learning about them as writers equals learning about yourself as a writer. And there is always more to learn.

9. Everything comes together in the end. Dr. Teresa Hunt was my professor, my advisor and my employer, but she was, first and foremost, always a mentor. She passed away unexpectedly during my last year of graduate school, but before she died she taught me plenty. I still think about her when I do a close edit or use hierarchical headings (riveting link right there, folks).

She told her students, who were headed down different career paths, from software technical writing to training and development (or non-profit writing for me), that their job in grad school was to learn how to write. Their employers could teach them everything else--the lingo, the trends, the expectations they had. All we needed to do was walk in with that one skill and we would be successful. This helped to calm the nerves we had, faced with making a career out of something that doesn't always lead to lucrative ends. (Every English major has heard the joke about asking if you'd like fries with that.) But, she was right; from the handful of classmates I've kept in touch with, we are all thriving at jobs that require a lot of us. Having a firm grasp on different styles of writing has made all of our paths a lot easier to navigate.

When I was on the fence between moving to New York and staying in Marquette for grad school, Teresa was the only one intuitive (or gutsy?) enough to tell me what I needed to hear: "You've been there, done that, Bobbi. New York will be waiting if decide to go back." I thank her every day for encouraging me to stick around and learn more.

I feel like this is true of the writing process as well. Give something your all, but trust in your skill. If you're unsure about something, put it away in a drawer for a while, and when you pull it out later, when you're a little bit wiser, the answers will appear. 

On the other hand, you need know when to edit, edit, edit. The final product rarely resembles the first draft, but you won't know what the final draft should look like until you have a really, really ugly first draft in front of you. (Do we need to even go into how that applies to life?)

--And one more: Teresa taught me that once you know the rules, you can break them, but you absolutely must learn them first. When you study communication, it soon becomes clear that there are rules for a reason: 99% of the time, rules about punctuation and grammar (though sometimes annoying and seemingly arbitrary) help keep your writing understandable and allow your real message to come through. After all, you want your audience to focus their energy on the message itself, not interpreting the message, right? And I can start sentences with ‘But’ and ‘And’ like I just did because I know you’re not supposed to. But it works sometimes. Even incomplete sentences like this one. Breaking the rules sometimes can lend itself to the tone and pace of a piece. In short – you have to know what works all the time, the classic rules, before you can begin to successfully experiment with things that aren’t supposed to work but might. In life.... well, I think you get the picture.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Henley Doing Cute Things

Sorry for the radio silence, which is especially annoying considering that I just pledged to write more in the new year. (Failing New Years' Resolutions? So 2012.) Let's just say things are a little up in the air right now, and when they settle, I'll have plenty to say. You likely won't be able to shut me up. You might block me on Facebook, and that's okay. You might do that anyways for what I am about to unload on you.

If you didn't already know that I am an obsessed dog-mama, whatev. Keep posting your angry sports updates and pictures of your two-legged kids on the potty, and let's all live in harmony, obsessed with what we fancy. Unless it's blatantly ignorant hate-mongering or super-duper complain-y diatribes on your first-world life, because, well, BLOCK.

Because today I need a little pick-me-up, behold, Henley doing cute things:

 Porch sittin'

 Hittin' snooze


 Snowball fightin'



Joy ridin'



Now there's a place on the internet that will always make me smile. Hope it made you smile a bit, too.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

9 Things English Teachers Taught Me About Writing [& Life], Part 2

I'm thanking my English teachers as a stand-in goal for my 30-Before-30 list. You can check out part 1 here.

4. Tell your truth. My mom was always very big on truth while I was growing up. The very worst sin you could commit was to lie, whether about something simple like your homework being done, or something more serious. So I have always been kind of fascinated with the truth, but while we were learning about memoirs in Dr. Kia Richmond's Non-Fiction Writing class, I learned that a) the truth makes for very interesting writing, and b) the truth is complicated.

When writing non-fiction, like a memoir or, you know, a blog, you have to remember that things happen as we remembered them, not necessarily how they really happened. For instance, I swear up and down that I remember the day of my brother’s bike accident. I remember running out in the street where my mom held a limp, bleeding Jake in her arms, stunned, waiting helplessly for the ambulance. I remember running back into the garage, then again out into the yard, where twelve-year-old me (or was I eleven?) sank down into the lawn and tried to make myself cry, not so that I would seem sad, but because I wanted my physical reaction to match the devastation that I felt on the inside, and the discrepancy was very confusing. I know now that I was in shock, but I remember feeling betrayed by my body. I think I remember pinching myself, but is that more of a cliche that I just happen to identify with? Or did I really pinch myself in hopes to feel something?

This will always be a difficult topic for me to write about, and in Kia's class I finally understood why. It's hard to trust yourself. There is the way I remember it, and then there is the version my mom has told me over the years--her version, in which I just stood in the driveway and waited for the ambulance, then rode to the hospital with my calm yet frightened dad (always good in a crisis, yet what a temper day-to-day) while she rode along with my unconscious seven-year-old brother.

Yet I swear I remember running back into the garage and sitting on the one little step, trying to realize that this was happening. And I swear I remember kneeling in the grass, looking at all the people who had gathered, the neighbors who brought blankets, the kind woman who calmly told my mom that it would be safer for my brother if no one moved him. In the end, I have to trust – and share – my version because it’s all I have. If my mom’s version helps me remember parts of mine, great. But I can’t rely on someone who was hysterically trying to wake her son up after seeing him hurdle the handle bars of his bike, face first into the concrete – and trying to tell her story does no justice to my story.

I think this is true of everyday life, and I see it in some of my current struggles. There are two--or more--sides to every story, and relinquishing your perspective does little to set things right. You have to trust your experience.

5. Know your audience. This came from Kia's Intro to Professional Writing class my junior year of college. We had guest speakers, people who used writing in their careers (authors, PR people, editors, journalists, teachers, administrators, etc.) and they were asked to share their thoughts on professional writing. They all said the same thing: you have to know who you're addressing. An author needs to know who reads his genre. Editors need to be familiar with the style of the publication. Teachers need to know what their students already know or what they are expected to learn in a specific class. You need to know who you are writing to so that you know how to begin, what not to say, and how to say everything in between.

My mom calls it 'using your psychology', but basically it's just doing your research and knowing the people you're dealing with the best that you can, so that you can predict how they will react and know how to address them in the most compelling, satisfying way. Knowing how to approach people is key to any communication.

--Kia also taught me that good writing is about connection, and you'll never connect if you don't open yourself up a little bit more than you're comfortable with. (What's that saying--"Life begins at the end of your comfort zone"? Well, so does good writing.)

6. There is always something you can teach. And always something you can learn. When I was nominated (by Kia--are you seeing a trend here?) to be a Writing Center tutor at the beginning of my sophomore year, I was a pile of nerves. This honor is usually reserved for juniors and seniors, I thought. What could I possibly have to share?

But what I learned from my boss, Dr. Z.Z. Lehmberg, is that you always have something to share. In short 20-minute sessions, I helped students improve their writing little by little--add a comma here, save that thought for the conclusion, what about adding a paragraph of history in the beginning? I found my confidence in the Center, session by session. I realized I had a lot to share, and that I loved to see people improve. And over the course of my first year, I had gained knowledge about dozens of different topics, uncovered new ways to organize thoughts in the most effective way, and learned how to speak to people so that you can bring out the best in each session.

--Z.Z. also taught me a valuable lesson: Sometimes how others see you can shape how you see yourself--for the better. She wrote me a letter of recommendation that included this description: "People often feel at ease when meeting with Bobbi. She has a quiet inner strength that is inspiring." Huh. Good to know.

Stay tuned for Part 3...three last tidbits from English teachers.

Friday, January 4, 2013

9 Things English Teachers Taught Me About Writing [& Life], Part 1

Despite some awesome progress in PT, it's become pretty clear that I won't be able to accomplish all of my 30-Before-30 goals on time, whether financially or physically. So, bring on the stand-ins.

One of my stand-in goals is to thank my English teachers. I think that I had extraordinary luck with the teachers I ended up with throughout middle school, high school, college and graduate school. For a girl who used to hole up in her room writing short stories and the humble beginnings of "books" from the age of 6, I was lucky to have ended up with so many nurturing, creative, and talented educators to teach me, encourage me and help me on my way.

Here are three of nine things I've learned about writing, by way of those educators. These are things I know to be true about writing, but, as I've been realizing lately, they are also true of life.

1. Be authentic: You have your place. I hated middle school. My body had developed earlier than other girls and my mouth moved faster than my brain--not a great combination. The girls in the class above me (and some in my class) did not like my naive and immature confidence. This, paired with a body that I did not yet understand, gained me attention I wasn't sure I wanted (but wasn't sure I didn't want, either), leading to a lot of angst and many tears.

Mrs. Zueger was my 7th grade English teacher. Quirky and charming all at once, Mrs. Zueger had full command of her class. But she was more than a teacher. Her room was a safe haven I could run to when being "bullied", and she always knew when to shelter me, when to stand up for me, and when to challenge me. She knew how praise me in the exact way my 13-year-old self needed to be praised, while helping me mature and grow.

I say this half-sarcastically and half-earnestly: I think the trauma of middle school led me to block a lot of memories. While I have a few memories of particularly terrifying confrontations with these girls, most of this I recall in a general sense. Conversations with my mom (who was equally scarred by this period of my life) fill in the blanks. Because of this I know that in more ways than one, I wouldn't be the person that I am without having Mrs. Zueger as a teacher. I truly believe that some of my spirit would have been lost by this devastating period if not for her guidance. 

My mom reached out to Mrs. Zueger, exasperated from parenting a teen who was wise beyond her years in some sense yet stubborn, sassy and emotional (who, me?). Mrs. Zueger acted as an intermediary between my mom and I, assuring that I was staying on the right track, and giving me extra writing "assignments", which I think acted as a type of therapy for me--as it still does. She was the second person, the first being my mom, to realize what power writing gave me. It corralled my thoughts, expressing what I couldn't say out loud. I don't remember much of this very clearly, but I do know the lessons I learned from it: stand up straight, know when to question yourself, learn when to shut up, know when to follow your gut, and be as kind and calm as possible in the face of adversity. And I'm a better writer for it.

--Mrs. Zueger also taught me how to work with other personalities, when she paired me up for a group project with the quietest girl in class (no doubt because I was the loudest girl in class). We had to make up a story based on two characters (mine, a cheerleader, and hers, a robot). We surprised ourselves when we were able to write a funny story about a cheerleader and her robot!

2. Be compelling: But find your own way. In Mr. Hammerstrom's sophomore speech class, we were taught five or six 'acceptable' ways to start a speech. You know - like, posing a question, citing a shocking statistic, or quoting a famous person. But I always remember Dave Perlove's approach. He got up to make a speech about something normal, probably a persuasive piece on laundry or an instructional speech on something obscure like grilled cheese. (Hammerstrom was always good for the really, really weird assignments. That's why we learned so much.)

Dave staggered up the front of the room and, with his classic shit-eating grin, yelled, "SSSSEEEEEEEEXXXXXXXXXX!!!!!!" The class burst into laughter, Mr. Hammerstrom blushed, and Dave nearly peed his pants, but he got us with that opener. We were at his full command; he no doubt had the full attention of a class full of hormone-charged high school students. I learned two things that day: You indeed need a good opener, and you aren't always going to be able to find it on a list of acceptable ways to start a speech.

In my career so far, I have been most successful when I follow my instincts and inject a little bit of personality into a project rather than choosing from a list of suggested templates. Hammerstrom taught me that people like something they can relate to--and you're probably not going to find that in a template.

--Mr. Hammerstrom also taught me that what doesn't kill you, in fact makes you stronger. I had my first anxiety attack during the ten minutes before my sophomore speech. But I survived and I am proud to tell you that I did not commit the forbidden travesty of starting my speech with "Okay..." To this day, I've presented at countless meetings and two conferences, sans attack.

3. Stand by your work. This lesson came during senior year in College Prep Writing in Mr. Cook's class.  The assignment was to write about something that was a hard lesson to learn, and to use song lyrics to help illustrate that lesson. These were to be peer-critiqued, and I chose “Just to See You Smile” by Tim McGraw and wrote about how my grandpa and my high school boyfriend were the most selfless and loving people I know. Part of the piece was about how I didn’t feel I always deserved it. The student who critiqued it wrote, “No, you don’t deserve it. You’re a spoiled bitch.” I was beyond hurt.

Here I was, offering up my truth, a confession that was hard to put to paper and someone had read it, and then crushed me. I found out later that it was someone who had tried to hurt me in other ways, and realized with time that it was rooted in jealousy and immaturity, and--most importantly--it was a cheap stab cowardly masked by anonymity.

But at the time I took it very hard. Mr. Cook wrote alongside the culprit’s boyish print, “Bobbi, you seem to have had unfortunate luck with the reader of your piece. I, on the other hand, enjoyed it immensely. A.” This taught me that no matter what your reader thinks of what you write, you have the final say because it’s a piece of your heart. And someone out there, someone smarter and more refined, is going to appreciate it. (This is also, coincidentally, a portion of my thoughts on love, but that’s a whole other blog post.)

I learned from Mr. Cook that you have a limited amount of time to make your reader feel something--anything. Your only job is to tell them a story, and make them feel like they touched someone else’s life long enough to identify with it or judge it or learn from it or reject it. And you have to be prepared for your reader to do all these things.

--Mr. Cook also taught me that writers need to read, read, read and soak up everything they can.

Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3... six more nuggets of knowledge from my past English teachers.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Off The Wagon

I've fallen off the gluten-free wagon. Being sick is when having food sensitivities is the toughest for me. I had come into the holiday season with self-pep-talks about how strong I would be at gatherings, and huddled with my mom to make sure we made a few dishes at family gatherings that were dairy and gluten free (me) and low in sodium (her). Recipes were researched, ingredients were purchased, and then bam--the flucoldplaguesinusinfection monster, as its been so lovingly dubbed around these parts.

It started with fried chicken on the second day of the flu. I was getting down to the nitty gritty of my groceries, and I woke up from a nap with the cold sweats--and intense hunger. Chicken was the only fast food option that sounded good...and it sounded SO good, so I pulled on my boots over my sweats and warmed up my Jeep. I didn't feel any immediate reaction. I should know better.

It has since devolved into other convenient carbs--crackers, chips, and a cheeseburger. Ugh, it hurts just typing it out.

All of my symptoms have come back--tummy troubles, painful joints, headaches. And I'm completely convinced it's the reason my sinus infection couldn't be kicked with an antibiotic. (Don't get me started on the antibiotic's side effects.)

Pity parties are just so much less compelling when they are self-inflicted.

Today it's back to dairy-free smoothies, lots of greens and water--and zero dairy/zero gluten. I'm trying not to kick myself too hard...this lifestyle is difficult, and so much harder when you barely have the energy to get off the couch. But it's become clear that making those choices have real consequences for me, and I'll have to try harder to prepare for the times that making those choices is really, really tough.

I'm armed with a high-quality probiotic, and all the discipline I can muster.

Hello 2013. I guess I do have a resolution after all.