Freedom

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We get to be free

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016

This weekend, I made a searching and fearless moral inventory. Of my closet.

Over the years, my stockpile of clothing had become unwieldy and entirely unreasonable. As someone who has moved more often than many, one would think that I might have done a better job at paring down the collection every now and then – but alas. Twenty-one year old me held onto that item for a reason (the potential Roaring Twenties party when I might need to be a flapper? The Halloween when I am finally Cruella de Vil?), and far be it from 34-year old me to renounce my former self’s sartorial convictions.

That is, until now. Bye bye, bebe.

I suppose it’s just the latest in what’s becoming a snowball; I’ve spent the past few months “cleaning house” in all sorts of ways. I left a job, for one. I cut my hair. I gave up a month’s pay to skip town and clear my head, and returned to less financial margin but a more peaceful heart. My new gig allows me weeks that are pretty flexible and days that are pretty quiet. I have no alcohol in the house. I took all of the turpentine and paint thinner and old gasoline from the basement to the hazardous waste facility (although come to think of it, this was probably just a smart idea).

And now? Now I’ve cut my wardrobe in half. My friend Brent recently pantomimed me ripping off constrictions like the Incredible Hulk, which is a pretty accurate depiction of what’s going on inside.

One of my favorite quotes is from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden: “And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.” But last week, I heard it taken a step further; in the latest episode of her podcast Magic Lessons, Elizabeth Gilbert quoted Rob Bell’s wife Kristen as having said, “I am so tired of being good. Now all I want is to be free.”

Oof. Does that ring as true for you as it does for me?

It occurs to me that all of my “housecleaning” – from the clothes to the hair to the job to the time – is an effort toward freedom. If my biggest fear is to be trapped (and it is – I never would have survived that Chilean mine disaster), then my ultimate desire is to be unconfined, unfettered, at liberty and on the loose.

And I truly believe that liberation is the point of it all – this entire life, this entire world. We are created for freedom – freedom from shame, freedom from despair, freedom from loneliness and isolation. (I’ve actually started calling isolation “vice-olation” because it’s when I’m separated from community that I turn to bad habits and unhealthy thought patterns.) Why do we stay behind bars, believing that the deadbolt is locked and we’re trapped when, if we would just look, we would see that the door is flung wide open?

We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t even have to be good. But we get to be free.

This is my favorite news.

Stop carting around that old junk move after move, from city to city. Because whether it’s shame or a shirt from Express, both are too ugly for you.

A meandering take on honesty, vulnerability, and courage

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

I hate conflict and I hate humiliation. If someone wants to have an honest conversation that would require me to say something that might hurt their feelings, I turn tail and run like a deer. I’m learning to be better, be braver – but I know that no matter how good I get at it, I’ll always have a hard time with the type of honesty called BRUTAL honesty.

I watched “The Voice” tonight, and anytime a singer would get a zero chair turn, I would have to mute the TV and look away. I can’t handle it. Heartbreak breaks my heart. And even if these people weren’t completely heartbroken, I was heartbroken.

As my sister-in-law recently pointed out, I am a professional empathizer. And maybe that’s my issue – I internalize events around me, for better and for worse.

A few months ago, I heard that an entire herd of elk fell through the ice of a reservoir in Pagosa Springs. All 20 of them were found the next day, frozen to death. I thought of their panic, however animalistic, and I cried.

A few days ago, I saw a 4-year old girl run full-force across an airport to jump into her grandma’s arms. I witnessed her beautiful and wholehearted freedom, and I cried.

I want to have it both ways. I want to block out the bad and experience the good, but that just isn’t possible. An open heart means that I accept the joy and the pain in equal measure.

I once heard an interview with J.K. Rowling in which she said something like, “Courage is the most important virtue, because it’s the only one we can’t fake.” Courage is strength IN THE FACE of one’s fear. I can pretend to be kind, pretend to be gracious – but courageous? The very definition acknowledges that we are not yet the thing that we hope to be – but we choose it anyway.

It takes courage to be honest and vulnerable. It takes courage to let your guard down and allow the world to beat at your heart. It takes courage to hear about animals dying and not want to die, or to witness absolute freedom and imagine your own self free.

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Writing as light

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The darkness of this world has been weighing me down and sucking me under, cinderblocks tied to my ankles. You know what I’m talking about; all the news is bad. Every day is full of incessant sound bites, ISIS and Syria and Ebola and child abuse and gunmen hiding in the woods. It’s enough to give even the most stalwart a panic attack.

My heart has been beating more rapidly these days, and my fingers have been twitching. It’s not that I’m necessarily afraid for myself (although perhaps I should be). But at a very physical level, this world is not a safe place – and yet here we are, living complicated lives that slap against others’ complicated lives like BBs in a pinball machine. Life should come with a warning: Brace yourself – this is gonna hurt.

Which is why this weekend meant so much to me.

I was invited to attend a workshop called the Art of Songwriting hosted by the Nashville Treehouse. It was fairly last minute, and I had to rearrange some pre-existing travel (to Seattle – which is a trip I’ll need to make up soon). But the writer in me has been in need of some TLC (not this) (or this), and it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so glad I didn’t.

Fifteen women gathered for two days, and we had a chance to share songs, share stories, co-write, and learn from each other. It could so easily have turned into a competitive game of comparison – because shoot, these ladies could WRITE – but somehow, everyone seemed to bring their most authentic self and check any ego at the door. I was shocked. It was beautiful.

As I drove to the Treehouse, I made a conscious decision to shut the door on all of the darkness and stress and jam it with a folding chair.

And sometime during those two days, full of freedom and light and encouragement, it occurred to me that jamming the door is nothing new for me. I’ve been a professional door slammer since I was 14 (just ask my parents) – but in the last couple of years, I’ve been jamming it in the wrong direction. I’ve been doing it to my writing. I’ve blocked it out, said no, curled up in the dark closet where it’s “safe,” hoping that the boogeyman doesn’t find me.

But the only way to scare off the monsters is to bathe them in LIGHT. And that’s what writing is for me: pure luminosity.

I had forgotten. But this weekend reminded me, and I’m grateful. Kim and Paulette, thank you for hosting us – and Abby for this beautiful video!

The Art of Songwriting Sneak Peek from Nashville Treehouse on Vimeo.

Free

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Yesterday was a momentous occasion, a freaking scream-from-the-rooftops miracle: after working toward it for years, I made the final payment on my student loans, and became 100% debt-free.

I still don’t quite believe it myself.

My debt was made up of common damages: credit cards, a car loan, and everyone’s favorite, student loans. I was 17-years old when I decided to go to a private university, therefore sealing my fate as an indentured servant from graduation on. Borrowing money for school led me to feel justified in borrowing money for other things (“What’s another thousand? At this point, it’s just a drop in the bucket”).

Thus, my entire adult life has been spent owing.

Just about two years ago, my 21-year old Honda Accord rolled to a final stop on the side of the highway just outside of Kansas City. I had no money in savings, and could only laugh when the salvage lot paid me $251 for parts. I had a $2,000 credit card balance, $17,000 remaining on my student loans, and found myself borrowing $8,500 to buy a used car. All of a sudden, after 6+ years of paying the minimum monthly amount on my student loans, I was basically back to owing the original sum I did in the beginning. In other words, in 6+ years, I had made no progress.

Maybe it’s tacky to give dollar amounts. Maybe you read those numbers and think, “Wow, that is a TON of money” – or maybe you read them and think, “Come on, Annie – that isn’t so bad.” The point is that the sum was much more than I was comfortable with, more than I was able to fathom settling – and I had no idea how to get myself out of the mess I had gotten myself into.

Around that time, I started listening to the Dave Ramsey Show. I’m sure there are other financial gurus out there with valid get-out-of-debt plans, but Dave is my guy, and I think he gives solid, common sense advice. I loved when people would call in to the radio show to tell Dave they were finally debt-free, and was sometimes moved to tears as they shared their stories. Some of these folks had more debt and a smaller salary than me. Some of them were single women like me. I started to realize that actually, mathematically, I could do it: I could get myself out of debt.

However, when it came to following the Dave Ramsey plan, I had a bit of a slow start. I spent about a year trying to pump myself up, listening to his show and reading his books but only kind of following the steps. I moved in with my mom for 3 months, built up a $1,000 emergency fund, and started the debt snowball. But I continued to overspend each month, making it so I could never quite pay off the credit card – because I NEEDED to fly to Nashville, or I NEEDED to have that dress from Anthropologie, or I NEEEEEEEDED to have whatever I wanted when I wanted it. I could write an entire book on how this “neediness” is nothing short of a disease. It’s a contentment killer, a sabotager of joy, and a dream stealer – because as long as money is owed, certain dreams have to be put on hold.

And this past February, I had finally had enough.

I knew that I had to “stop the bleeding,” and there was only one way how: I drank two glasses of white wine and took scissors the plastic. And when I realized that I had no backup plan – no way to buy something unless I had dollars for it right then – I stopped buying shit that I didn’t need. Simple as that.

That’s when my debt snowball really took off, first paying off the credit card, then my car. When my student loans were the only thing left, I upped the payment from $200 to $300, and a few months later, I said “I’m over it” and bumped it all the way to $1,000. One thousand dollars every single month on a single girl’s not-gigantic salary. This was the most fun, because I watched the digit drop every month, $10,000, $9,000, $8,000, just like the New Years’ countdown.

Speaking of New Years’, my 2013 will contain zero debt.

Again, maybe you think it’s tasteless to talk about money – and who knows, maybe it is. But I’ve become very passionate about being debt free, so I’m throwing caution to the wind and writing about it – because I want other people to know that YOU CAN DO IT. If you are up to your eyeballs in debt, and feel like there’s no end in sight, and that you will spend your entire life paying for decisions of the past, I’ve been there – and I’m here to say that THERE IS HOPE.

And the feeling I have today is worth everything that it took.

Girl, interrupted

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

… and we’re back.

I thought about making a video to give a glimpse into my life in November, but if I had, it would have been full of long, drawn out silences and artsy frames of my face staring off into nowhere.  Trust me, I respect you more than to put you through that. The month was fairly quiet, nothing exploded, and I crossed off each day in my calendar as it passed.

It’s an odd thing we do, this virtual sharing of our lives. The internet is still a new frontier, and WE are the ones determining the etiquette – how much to tell, how vulnerable to be, what is meaningful, what isn’t. In real time, we are succeeding and failing and flying and flailing – and we’re often giving hundreds (if not thousands) of people a front row seat.

When it’s great, it’s really great. But when it’s not, it’s magnified.

As far as this blog is concerned, I’ve been playing it safe. Having once written from a very authentic place, I’ve been sharing less and less – and what I do share is surface-level, at best. I’ve wanted to maintain an image of having it all together – of being fine, even when I’m not. I’ve wanted to be cool and smart and witty; I’ve wanted you to like me. There, I said it.

I have spent years chasing excitement, adventure, and change – looking to validate my existence with various and sundry admirable feats. I’ve sought interruptions to the mundane, and solicited drama to avoid being bored with my life (or, more exactly, disappointed with my life).

But it turns out that what I’ve needed has not been an interruption of circumstances, but an interruption at the core of who I am.

These days, my sense of self is being torn apart in the best possible way. Oh, sure, it can feel like being put through a cheese grater, painful and terrifying, like the pieces could never possibly be put back together (unless they were melted in a microwave) (which doesn’t sound much better).

But it’s been SO GOOD, you guys. Humbling. Necessary. And it’s leading to good things.

In fact, Greta, who knows me better than just about anyone in the world, recently wrote to me, “I just feel like you’re leaving this very safe, very small, very familiar square of space and heading out into the biting air – and now you’re WALKING and FEELING and seeing things. I see you MOVING right now, more than you have in years.” What an encouragement to have someone who can recognize the things that we’re too close to see.

And how ironic that the acceptance of what I’ve historically thought of as an “ordinary” life could actually lead to much greater truths: freedom, clarity, peace.

I am still very much in process. I have jack-nothing figured out. But I am tired of holding my breath, hiding beneath the surface-level words posted in this space. I am ready to come up for air, no matter what it might look like, no matter who might see the inevitable thrashing (and you know there will be thrashing).

So thank you for being here, whoever you are. Your presence, even virtual, makes a difference to me. Our stories are meant to be shared – and I’m grateful to have a chance to share mine with you.

It’s okay to be happy

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

I’ve spent a lot of years getting okay with sadness.

While we live in a culture that tells us that, through various forms of self-medication, sadness is to be avoided at all costs, I have learned that sometimes, you just need to feel sad.  Lean into the pain.  Don’t do anything to try to change it, just fully experience it.

And why shouldn’t I feel sad?  For me, the last 5 years have held their fair share of death – death of dreams, death of relationships, death of people.  If it isn’t happening to me, it’s happening around me – although, I’ll be honest and say that these days, it’s happening to me… more than I’ve asked for, more than I imagined could hit all at once.

I’m really good at the sad.

I’m realizing that there are no happy endings – no game-winning home run, no swelling music as the couple kisses, no cowboy riding off into the sunset.  Until the good Lord comes again, we are existing in a never-ending series of ups and downs – just as soon as we seem to find our footing, the world tilts.  Despite our most wonderful moments, we will never “arrive.”  We will never figure it all out.  We will never seal the happiness deal.

Depressing?  Maybe.

But in a small way, this also feels like freedom – freedom to stop waiting for the happy ending, and to experience the happy right now.

How many times have I postponed any given occurrence of happiness, in favor of that elusive “someday” happy ending?  Brushing off a compliment because I’m waiting for the day that I’m skinnier.  Paying no attention to the moment because I’m waiting for the larger event.  Questioning my worth because I’m waiting for the day that I’m truly loved.  Ignoring any good because I’m waiting until there is absolutely zero bad.  Disregarding the many gifts in my life because they do not yet include a) a husband, b) a house, c) a baby, d) a larger purpose, e) any sense of security… the list goes on.

I’m going to go ahead and keep hoping, because good things are surely in store – but I need to remember that happy endings are smoke and mirrors.  As long as we’re on this earth, we will never be fully satisfied.  It’s time to feel the freedom to seize those happy moments – because all we’re promised is today.  Grab that happiness by the jugular, and enjoy the shit out of it.  Laugh without feeling guilty.  Be silly without feeling stupid.  Feel happy without any nonessential qualifiers.

If you need to feel sad, by all means, feel sad.  But if you’re lucky enough to have a reason to be happy, don’t wait.  Be happy now.

Clean slate

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

You have no idea how symbolic this bumper is of my life right now.

A fresh start?  A clean slate?  An empty void?  A hella fine backside?

Maybe just pure potential?

Interpret as you will.  Private Self is asserting herself these days.

But I can tell you that in one way or another, it has something to do with this.

Weightless

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Yesterday, I threw away my scale.

Just like that. Trashed. Into the dumpster.

I am a compulsive weight-checker, always keeping tabs on my poundage, and consequently tempted to feel either good or bad, happy or sad, proud or ashamed, jubilant or angry. It’s amazing how a great day can be ruined by a number – a NUMBER – like an ever-shifting scorecard for whatever level of healthful diligence I have demonstrated.

In the last few months, I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated at the number on the scale RISING – despite my ability to run further than I could ever run before, despite my capacity to carry on a conversation throughout a 60 minute jog, despite my clothes fitting the same, despite my energy and improved attitude. In the face of all of these accomplishments, the scale says that I weigh 10 lbs. more than I did before I started running last fall.

And for a girl who has been a dieter since age 11, this is traumatizing news.

Miranda has been telling me for years to just throw the damn thing out. She would get outwardly angry when she would see it in the corner of my bathroom, and, knowing the emotional stranglehold the scale has on me, would order me to get rid of it. But for me, to get rid of the scale would be to give up control – and then, maybe, to expand, expand, expand like bread dough.

At first, I thought that I would just take the scale and stash it beneath my bathroom sink – out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. For me, keeping my scale would be like staying friends with an ex-boyfriend on Facebook – an unhelpful temptation “just to check.” Sorry boys.

And sorry scale.

It’s time for a new chapter in my life – one in which I have no idea what I weigh.

Who knew that tossing out my scale would be one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done?

The plan (or lack thereof)

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

First things first.
Did anyone else notice that they said “hootenanny” last night during “Lost”?  My name was said on national television!  I AM SO TOTALLY FAMOUS!!!

Next things next.
Last night as I was dying my hair, it hit me: I am a responsible and intelligent girl, not one to slack and make bad financial decisions… and maybe it was the ammonia, but… I don’t think I’m going to get a job for a while.

Since I ended my tenure as the Temptress, I have felt a burden lifted – a heavy weight that I didn’t recognize was there, since I was too busy convincing myself to be grateful for a job at all.  But once I walked out of those heavy glass doors, box of possessions in hand, I felt it: I could breathe.

For the last two weeks, I have felt so light, so buoyant, so UNLIKE 2008 ANNIE.  I am realizing that over the past year, I had been so entrenched in the daily grind that I had lost the part of me that I rather like – the part that says things like, “Tell me about your day,” and “How are you doing?” and “I’d love to get together!” and “Yes, 10am sounds perfect,” and “Sure, let’s drive to Pennsylvania.”  Instead, there were a lot of grunts and frowns and silences.

There were also a lot of Facebook video wall posts, which was always a little bit awkward the next day.

Anyhoodles.

Obviously, I cannot and will not stay jobless forever.  I’m too high-maintenance, and I know it.  One of these days, I’m going to snap, and scream, “Give me Aveda!  NO MORE SUAVE!”  But until then, I will be engaging in a season of Survivor: Nashville.  I am allowing my spirit to take a deep breath, living much more simply, and finding creative solutions to my financial problems (and yes indeed, of course, there are problems).

I’m going to take advantage of this time and drive to Kansas City next week to help my family during a period of major transition.  I’m going to spend some days working on my EP.  I’m going to stretch something called my IT band, which I didn’t even know I had – until it got terribly inflamed and rendered me semi-crippled.  I’m going to continue applying for jobs.  And I’m going to hope and pray that the right position will come along at the right time.

A foolish risk?  Perhaps.  Worth it?  I hope.

In the meantime, you should see my hair.  It is dyed.  It is fabulous.  It is foxy.  It is… exactly the color it was before.

But BETTER.

Courage

Friday, September 26th, 2008

It is impossible to be courageous without first being afraid.

It is impossible to be courageous without first deciding that you are willing to fail.

It is impossible to be courageous without first accepting the possibility that your very best efforts might truly prove you to be inadequate and out of your league.

– – – – – – – –

But it is also impossible to fulfill your potential without being courageous.

And should your fears be confirmed with nothing short of a swan dive into glorious failure, then you gain the freedom and liberation of knowing that it’s okay to be insufficient on your own – for the strength of One much larger than yourself is made perfect in your weakness.

So take a chance. I know that I’m about to.