23: A MANIFESTO

Girl With Neon

  1. I am much better-equipped to handle life now than I was a year ago. I remind myself of all the ways I am different now, & how this year, I think I can make it.
  2. A year ago I was terrified to even be in the play. I desperately wanted to break out but I was also desperately scared to. I kept deliberating over whether I should or shouldn’t. The whole process terrified me. Now look at me. Going on road trips around the entire state of Florida all by myself. Traveling around the country to go to meaningful concerts. Taking actual strides – big, massive actions – towards those goals I have so desperately loved.
  3. When the Universe speaks to you, you should listen.
  4. I refuse to let others make me feel small. For too long I have shrunk in their presence, packaging myself for them as something easily understood & easily pigeonholed. For much too long I have let them make me feel like I am inferior, in a variety of ways. But I am not easily packaged up, not easily defined, not easily categorized or classified or described. The world wants me to be just like them. THEY want me to be just like them. Therefore, my greatest rebellion is to be  authentically myself & to reinvent myself continually.
  5. “The strong give up & move on, while the weak, the weak give up & stay…”
  6. What do they have that you don’t have? What separates the successful from the unsuccessful? You are made of the same stuff as they are; you have the potential to stand beside them as their equal, just as they did when they were starting to stand next to their heroes as equals. Run to it. You have just as much right to be there as they do. You have just as much right to be there as they do.
  7. Theme of this year :: make life my playground, & love every minute of it. Create that which I know is mine. It is mine.
  8. The sublime moment when you were driving home in the gorgeous afternoon with the perfect lighting & that song was playing. You had never heard it before, but it struck you as being the most beautiful song you had ever heard. When you heard it on the stage, you knew it was.
  9. You listened to the same album three times in the same week. Twice in the same day (funny of him to mention that song). Each time, it became more beautiful. This is where it’s at. You whispered the very first time, & you were right.
  10. “I try my best to be just like I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them.”It doesn’t matter what they think of me. I do not have to answer to them. A number of them will never understand me, & this is something wear proudly every day. I am glad that I am not like them. I am glad that I am not so simplistic & easily understood that they are able to falsely believe I am the same as they are. Alien. Different. Beautiful & strange. Alive. I am completely myself. I will know when I have found my people, because they will understand me without trying to categorize me.
  11. MASSIVE ACTION.
  12. I am the same age now as you were when you first started. This is incredibly inspiring.
  13. I think of all the things that I am creating for myself. All that I have accomplished in a year & all that I will accomplish. How I not only survived, but thrived. Even when I could have I did not break down & I did not give up. How I fought, tooth & nail, for what was mine. Even when it was unpleasant. I did it. All the projects I am working on are exciting to me. The books I have a deep need to write. I am going to be on that show. The music that flows from me. The art that I see in my mind. Training for that race, & the things I will learn there. Investing, in all aspects. Branching out & connecting with people instead of continuing to hide. Finally getting my shit together. All the places I will go. I know now I have the power to make all of this happen for myself. I am determined as hell, & I will make this happen.
  14. I am wealthier now than those who try to bring me down will ever be.
  15. It didn’t have as much value to me as everyone told me it was going to have. This wasn’t to say it lacked value – the value remained in knowing, & in being able to put a name to experiences. It also contained value in the simple subtraction of being able to tell the difference between the things I really liked & wanted, & the things I felt like I was supposed to enjoy but found unnecessary. The value was in knowing myself a little more.
  16. the difference between what I want to do & should be doing / weekends, weekends spent playing / the breeze & sunlight reminded me of when I was a child / I remembered lying under the umbrella on the deck, recording my own radio show with a tape recorder / it was an illusion, the way they told me being grown up had to hurt / they told me happiness was all a scam / all around me I saw adults falling into the depths of the rat race, the rat race they’d created, thought it was the way it had to be / but they were just trying to sell escapes & they were jealous of your dreams / the sign on the wall read happiness was a journey, happiness is an adventure / I thought about how the magic had been missing for quite some time / I needed to carve out a safe space for it to live & make sure I cherished it & welcomed it / whatever it takes, I’ll keep that magic aliveStop Waiting for the Other Shoe to DropThere is No Other Shoe
  17. STOP WAITING FOR THE OTHER SHOE TO DROP. THERE IS NO OTHER SHOE.
  18. The first time, as they were leaving, I whispered into the deep encompassing warm noise, “thank you, thank you, thank you.” I thanked them specifically. I thanked them for what they had given me. I thanked them for being there. A few days later, I knew I had to go there, if only to thank them. To thank them for helping me through one of the toughest periods of my life. Their art saved me, & it was only right that I had the chance to thank them. To show them I am no longer what I was. To love them, & to feel the love. That type of gratitude can be life-changing. Thank you thank you thank you. I made this happen by myself, for myself.
  19. The real value of it wasn’t even in doing it, but rather in the type of person I would become by doing it. In knowing beyond any shadow of doubt that I am capable.
  20. The things that stress out other people will energize me. Being busy energizes me. Working on my art energizes me. Everything I do energizes me.
  21. Without speaking about it, without having to, I was quietly moving myself towards the sunlight & freedom that belonged to me. The Magician. Strength. 
  22. I think about how good it will feel when I am there. We will be playing music together & I will know then completely free of doubt that I am exactly where I am meant to be. It will feel so damn good. It will be one of the best things I have ever done in my entire life.
  23. What you see here is what contains an infinity of multitudes. It contains all the art, all the ideas, all the energy, all the love. I am made of stardust. I love you so much. I have never been more proud of who I have become than I am right now. You are doing amazingly. You have come such a long way. I cannot even begin to describe my absolute love for you. I love you I love you I love you.
  24. I found the magazines in the closet. I hadn’t gotten rid of them like I had intended to, three years ago. I laughed. It felt like coming home. They were still there. This was the first time in five years that I was finally obsessed with the music again. The knowledge & love that I thought I had lost was still there. I saw things & the names of them popped back into my head & I suddenly knew them again. I finally had something to do again. A mission. A dream. No longer dormant. This time it was for real. It had always been my favorite. It wasn’t something I suddenly developed a longing for even though I hadn’t known if it a month previously. I had always loved it, it had always been a part of me. I reveled in it. It was real, it was transformative, & it was mine. It felt like coming home.
  25. “Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” “Be obsessed or be average”. 
  26. On the road I found myself quietly in between the nurturing trees & the radiant city streets at night. Lights on the water. The immensely beautiful coral reef ocean floating quietly. I could see for miles. I touched what had come before me & what was yet to come. When I had to fight for the only thing I had. I have myself & myself has me. Holding that close. I faced what terrified me & emerged the warrior.
  27. It was the kind of change I felt deep in the very center of me. It shook me to my core, & laughed to myself. I finally bought the album & listened to the first two songs off of it. Then I put on the most beautiful song I could think of & danced. I felt the energy shifting as I orchestrated & sculpted the year before my, my fingertips brushing softly past all the beautiful things I am creating. The beautiful things I am creating. It is all mine. All mine. Then it turned to midnight : I hugged myself & put on a different song. My new anthem. Authenticity feels so amazing. You can change, you can change. You can make it.
  28. You are capable of immense happiness. Remember the feeling you had as you drove on the quiet highway with yellow streetlamps & the jazz was playing & you found yourself spontaneously laughing even though you didn’t know why. Remember how fucking powerful that was. Remember the incomprehensibly beautiful transformation where you literally felt the shift inside, literally felt the Phoenix being reborn from the ashes, metamorphosis. Remember how it felt at the end, better than anything else you could have imagined, you were trembling with joy, as the cocoon slowly slipped away & was left behind as you emerged & drank deeply from the rich deep night. Remember the exact color of moonlight on your arm as you drove across the quiet darkened countryside, how the moon vibrated radiantly in the sky & you laughed freely. Remember how free you felt as the chains were finally left behind in a darkened seat by the stage & you were not the same person that had walked in there. Remember how it felt to finally, mysteriously, beautifully heal. You are capable of immense happiness. That is your “RISE”. That is your flame. That is everything you ever needed. Now you know what to do.
  29. “When you realize you lack nothing, the whole world is yours.” “Everything I need is inside me right now.” Remember these. YOU HAVE EVERYTHING YOU NEED.
  30. What an amazing way to beginThis is going to be my best year yet.
  31. “Now it’s up to me, ooh, what will be…”
  32. I am finally becoming the master of my own fate. I am finally HERE. I am fucking unstoppable. I am fucking unstoppable.

Remembering Tom Petty

Tom Petty’s songs made special moments better & ordinary moments feel significant.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers 1977
1.
I first heard Tom Petty’s music when I was fifteen & just getting into classic rock. His songs would come on my classic rock & Beatles-themed Pandora radio stations. I realized that Tom Petty’s Learning to Fly was different than Pink Floyd’s. The Traveling Wilburys bridged my love of the Beatles with my newfound love of Bob Dylan. As my musical interests continued to change, his songs kept finding their way into my Pandora stations. In that way, I became familiar with some of them.
2.
My father & I walked into Guitar Center. Mary Jane’s Last Dance was playing distinctly over their speakers as a guy crouched down cradling a black guitar tuned it. The combination of the two sounds mingled with the sounds of what everyone else in the store was playing. The memory, the aesthetic, of the way it sounded is what I always think about when I hear that song now.
3.
The first time I heard American Girl, I was leaving my neighborhood. The song was playing quiet over the car stereo. My dad was trying to make a phone call so I strained my ears to hear the lyrics. I immediately fell in love with it. There was something about the jangling guitars & the continuous pedal tones & the slightly bittersweet optimism that made me love it. When I got home, I looked up the lyrics & saw it was a Tom Petty song. Months later, I stayed in the car longer in the parking lot at the dollar store just so I could hear it.
4.
A year ago, everything in my life felt stressful. I was overwhelmed. But I always sang along to I Won’t Back Down. Listening to it made me feel better. It became my anthem. I wanted to give up, I wanted to give in, but then I was always reminded of this declaration of strength. & I knew I was going to keep fighting for what was right for me & the kind of life I wanted to live until I got there. No matter what.
5.
My sister & I drove on through the cold dark December night. We were going to watch the play Proof at the theater. The classic rock station was playing. A Tom Petty song came on. My sister turned up the volume. “I love his music.” She declared. I was surprised learning this, because I loved his music & yet I never knew she did. We talked about this. I told her there was a Tom Petty concert happening in a few months, if we saved money maybe we could go to it. We made plans to do this, but by the time we had the money, all the cheaper tickets were sold out.
6.
I was driving across the Overseas Highway on the forth day of my road trip. I’d driven from Key Largo to Key West & now I was driving more than two hours back to Key Largo in the same day. It was late afternoon, the space between the beginning of sunset & the beginning of twilight. I came upon the Tom Petty section of my playlist. All my favorite songs of his. The likes of Free Fallin’American Girl, Mary Jane’s Last Dance, Breakdown, Refugee, & I Won’t Back Down were my soundtrack. His music sounded like a road trip, like the open road. The songs felt special, hearing them halfway through the road trip, in the purity of freedom, on a very long highway when the sun was setting over the ocean.
7.
I heard it on the radio when I was sitting at a stoplight. A few Tom Petty songs had played consecutively; I wasn’t sure why. “Remembering Tom Petty.” The announcer said. It felt like a slap to the face. The second of the day; the first was hearing about what happened in Las Vegas. They said he’d passed away earlier. More songs played, but now they all sounded bittersweet. I wanted to hear them & turn them off at the same time. He couldn’t be dead. He couldn’t. I thought about Mary Jane’s Last Dance in Guitar Center & American Girl in the parking lot & I Won’t Back Down on my stereo & Overseas highway. I thought about how my sister & I never did get to go to that concert. That we’d missed our chance. It hurt like when David Bowie died. I couldn’t believe it.
8.
A few hours later on the way home, Don’t Do Me Like That finished playing. The announcer said, “Despite earlier reports that Tom Petty had passed away, apparently he isn’t actually dead. He’s in critical condition, but he’s alive.” I grinned & slapped my steering wheel. “YOU BASTARDS! You bastards! He’s alive! He’s alive!” I laughed. I came home. “Did you hear Tom Petty died earlier?” My sister asked. “Yes, but he’s not actually dead! Not yet!” I explained. No one online was sure now whether or not he was dead. Please be alive. Please, please pull through, I prayed. When I woke up the next day, I learned he really was gone.
9.
How many people have been inspired to pick up a guitar because of him? How many of us have listened to I Won’t Back Down & decided, once more, to keep moving forward? How many moment of specific, perfect aesthetic moments have his songs soundtracked? Those are the things he has left behind for us. Those are the things we can keep close. Music, & the memories surrounding it, are something that cannot be lost. & what an amazing catalog of music he has left behind. But what’s perhaps an equally important legacy to me as his music is the reminder that even in a world that would rather we be what it wants us to be, we can still be ourselves if we choose to.

Here’s Why Consistency is Much More Important Than Perfection

Save $1. Exercise for one minute. The tiniest step in the right direction is better than doing nothing at all. When done consistently, it can move mountains.

Previously published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com.

Much too often, perfect becomes the enemy of good. Perfection becomes more important than making progress in the first place. There have been so many times I’ve given up on something because I wasn’t able to do it as often, as devotedly, in the same capacity that I’d originally planned to.

But starting, even with the most seemingly insignificant action, is always better than not starting at all. The smallest action in the right direction, especially when doing it becomes a habit, is incredibly powerful.

The tiniest step in the right direction is better than doing nothing at all. When done consistently, it can move mountains.

Sometimes, it feels like if you can’t commit to exercising an hour a day, if you can’t save 10% of your income, if you can’t write 5,000 words a day, that you might as well not do anything at all. That you should wait until it’s a “better time”.

Don’t wait for the perfect time to do something. Don’t stop & start over because you messed up, or you don’t think you’re ready, or you don’t have the time, the money, the resources. It will never be a better time than it is RIGHT. NOW. No one cares if you cheated at your diet for one day, or if you only start out writing ten words a day in the novel that’s been inside you for a decade.

What matters is that you DO SOMETHING.

Walking for one minute is better than not exercising at all, if that’s all you can do for now.

Practicing playing guitar for two minutes is better than not playing it at all, if that’s all you have time to do.

Eating a tablespoon of canned vegetables along with your burger & fries is better than not eating any vegetables at all, if you’re working on eating healthier.

Flossing one tooth every day is better than not flossing at all, if you don’t have the time to floss all your teeth.

Throwing out one item you no longer need is better than not throwing out anything at all, if you know streamlining your belongings would make your life better.

Opening one window in your house is better than no windows at all, if you want to let fresh air in but only one window has a screen.

Reading one new word in that language you’ve always wanted to learn is better than not learning anything at all, if learning that language seems too challenging.

Writing one line of code is better than not working on your app at all, if you’re working on becoming a programmer & getting your app out there.

Posting something on your blog, at the “worst” time of day, is better than not posting at all if that’s the only thing & the only time you can post it.

Choosing just once today to respond differently is better than staying stuck in the same habits or emotions or beliefs, if you’re trying to reach that next level.

Writing ten words in your novel every day is better than not writing anything at all, if you’ve got a story burning inside you that you know the world needs to see.

Putting $1 in your savings account each week is better than not saving any money at all, if that’s all you have the ability to save right now.

Painting one brush stroke on the canvas is better than not painting anything at all, if you don’t know what to paint, or how to paint it.

Because everything you do eventually adds up. It eventually counts for something. At the end of the year, you will have written 3,650 words more than you’ve written right now. You will have saved $365 more than you have currently. You will have spent 6.08 more hours exercising than you would have otherwise.

Everything you do will compound. Everything you do will leverage every other thing you do. You might be worried that you’re taking the easy way out by only taking one step. But if that’s all you can do right now, your tiny action is as valuable as gold. You will find the time, the motivation, the resources, to get better at it if it’s important to you. You will get to where you’re heading.

Consistency is more important than perfection ever will be.

What you do today to take a step further in the right direction is never a waste of time. You will be that much closer to living the type of life you want to live. The type that you deserve to live.

It’s kind of like the famous “Starfish Story”. You can’t throw all the starfish back into the water. But it will matter, invaluably, for the ones you do.

You can’t always make all the progress you wish you could make. You can’t always win every battle.

But it will matter, invaluably, for the ones you do.

Now, go out there & do something.

Here’s What Happens When You Choose to Live Life Authentically

When you live authentically, loving yourself becomes a whole lot easier.

Here's What Happens When You Choose to Live Life Authentically

Previously published by Thought Catalog at www.thoughtcatalog.com.

Living an authentic life, or at least really trying to, is probably one of the most challenging things that I have done. To me, authenticity is living a life that makes you feel good about the person you are becoming.

It’s when you feel like it is both okay and beautiful to be the exact person that you genuinely are and always wanted to be, and when you get closer to a place of acceptance and love towards yourself.

To me, this isn’t a specific end result or level that you one day reach, but an ongoing process of continually reinventing yourself and making adjustments to your life to match your authentic self. In the process of figuring out who I want to be and working on becoming that, I’ve noticed some wonderful changes.

When you start fearlessly reinventing yourself, you will finally feel happier. When you start living authentically, happiness will start coming more naturally to you, and you’ll feel surprisingly good about the person you are. At first, living authentically can feel scary. You may feel guilt that you’re not living the life others think you should, or be afraid that no one will like or understand the new you.

Changing the way other people see you is probably one of the hardest parts of really becoming yourself, but it’s more than worth it. You might find yourself wanting to try new things that you didn’t have the confidence to do before, and life will probably start becoming a hell of a lot more fun.

For a good portion of my teenage years, I felt strongly dissatisfied and unhappy with my life. I couldn’t do anything that I wanted to do without being plagued by the fear that others wouldn’t like my choices, and even the smallest of frowns or negative comment would dissuade me from doing what I really wanted to do.

I felt like everyone’s expectations of who I was supposed to be were things that I had to listen to, no matter how much they conflicted with who I really was.

One day, I came to the realization that most of the things that made me feel overwhelmed were related to me trying to be what others wanted me to be. I also realized that living my life based on what other people wanted was fruitless and would never allow me to be satisfied or at peace with myself.

Immediately, I began making a list of things I needed to do to start feeling more like myself, the version of myself that I was yet to fully embrace. I worked on incorporating goals and changes into my life that felt good to me and matched up with the kind of person I was excited to start being while ruthlessly editing out the things that didn’t make me happy. When I look at my life since then, it feels predominately good, and a whole lot lighter and brighter than before. The best part is, it keeps getting better all the time, and I know that the more I work on becoming more myself, the better my life will feel.

When you live authentically, loving yourself becomes a whole lot easier.

Loving something encourages you to take better care of it, so the more you love yourself, the more you will value whatever self-care activities are important to you. You will look forward to the things you do that make you feel good. I strongly believe that living an authentic life is the best choice you can make for yourself, and the more expressive form of self-care there is. Whether self-care for you means making sure to drink a cup of hot tea every morning, eat better, spend time with your family, pets, or friends, wear an outfit that makes you feel amazing, go out to socialize more, spend time alone, work more, work less, or get enough sleep, you will become more intuitive about what self-care rituals work best when you start figuring out who you are.

Things will connect and come together in beautiful ways that you may never have expected, and you may find sudden clarity regarding situations or things that you previously felt divided about.

The biggest part of becoming your authentic self is being, owning, and loving the person that you are, regardless of how conventional or unconventional a person that may be.

Your confidence will soar when you start making choices that you really connect with. and this confidence will propel you to take the next steps in reinventing yourself. You’ll find that you aren’t so afraid of what others think of you, and when you start living with honesty, you will inspire others to do the same.

That is perhaps the best and more awe-inspiring part about truly being yourself of all — the fact that you will possess the electric power to empower others to take steps to become who they are. When you start to work on living an authentic life, you will realize how much beauty there is in the unique, amazing, one-of-a-kind person that you were born to be.

Here’s How I Had the Best Florida Road Trip EVER

Jensen Beach - Ocean Waves - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

The Ocean at Jensen Beach

I just got back about three weeks ago from my first-ever vacation: an epic Florida road trip! It was the kind of vacation that changes you for the better, not only because of the things you see, but because of the unshakable confidence & determination you develop when you’re off on your own for the first time ever & you realize this: you can take care of yourself.

I conceived the idea of going on a road trip several months ago. Being free on the open road, making everywhere I went my home, the transformative effect of spending a week in total freedom were things I knew I needed to experience. Originally, I wanted to go on a road trip out West. Soon, I realized that I could spend more time exploring & less time driving, save money, & cover more ground by going on a road trip in Florida, where I live. This is especially logical, as I live in a suburb of Tampa (which is in Central Florida) & therefore, almost all of Florida is equally close to me. I decided that was a much better plan of action.

Over the next weeks, I obsessively planned my road trip. I read books about places I might go. I Googled “Best places to see in ——“. TripAdvisor was my most visited website. I made lists, narrowed them down, added to them, & narrowed them down some more. I planned what supplies I would need to bring, what food I would eat, how I would sleep. My dad & I built custom screen windows so we could turn my Smart Car into a miniature camper. I prepared in every way possible.

Naples Pier - Sunset - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Sunset from Naples Pier

Finally, after what seemed like forever, the day I was leaving arrived. When I pulled out of the driveway early that Saturday morning, I was terrified. I was going on this road trip all by myself! I had never even been on vacation before with my family, much less alone. But going it alone though turned out to be the best possible thing for me.

One thing that scared me was the knowledge that I wouldn’t be the same person when I returned. When I looked in the mirror the day I left, I knew it was going to be the last time I saw myself before my road trip transformed me & played its part in my own personal evolution. I was equally scared that my road trip WOULDN’T change me, that perhaps I was too bitter & cynical & unhappy to be touched by the magic & by the freedom. I was afraid that it wouldn’t change me at all, & that I would return home as the same person I had been when I left.

But I was changed. I came back as a different person, a better person.

Here’s how my trip unfolded.

DAY 1

Myakka State Park - Yellow Flower Meadow - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Meadow of Yellow Wildflowers at Myakka State Park in Sarasota

Sarasota, Sanibel Island, & Naples

I left my house at about nine in the morning, & headed south to Myakka River State Park, near Sarasota. I hiked a really beautiful nature trail there. They also have THE BEST observation tower, called the Canopy Walk. The Canopy Walk is a 25-foot tall observation tower that connects with a 74-foot one via a suspended wood bridge. It was really fun to climb, & so beautiful to see over the top of the forest. Other highlights of the park? A pretty picnic area, a log cabin with picnic tables, a huge meadow of small yellow flowers, & a river filled with alligators basking in the sun.

Next, I drove to Sanibel Island. I wanted to go to the beach there, mostly so I could see their awesome lighthouse up close. You can’t go in the lighthouse but it is pretty to look at, & the beach is really nice. There were lots of nice shells, the sand was soft & clean, & the beach wasn’t too crowded. I went in the water & photographed pelicans. I drove around Sanibel Island a little bit too, & I love its cute, quaint small island atmosphere. The most adorable, tiny Chevron gas station ever is a prime example.

When I was done there, I continued heading south to Naples & I watched the sun set from the Naples Pier. I got to the end of the pier just in time, & wonderfully, there was an empty spot right in the corner of the pier closest to the sunset where I got to watch it from. It was one of the best sunsets I’ve seen.

I wanted to camp as much as possible on my trip & avoid hotels (because I wanted to camp, & also to save money), but as the Naples area isn’t the most campsite-themed place in the world, I opted for a hotel. I stayed in a VERY nice Comfort Inn in Naples, which I was very impressed by & absolutely loved.

DAY 2

Everglades Shark Valley Observation Tower - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Everglades Shark Valley Observation Tower

The Everglades

It was Everglades day! The Everglades was one of the places I was most excited about seeing, just because it’s so big & so important to the natural world. On the way there, I went through Ochopee, which is home to the smallest post office in the US, & the Skunk Ape Research Center, where I bought some cool gifts.

When I arrived at the Everglades, I entered through the Shark Valley entrance, which is on the Northern side of the park. I rented a bicycle (which costs $9 an hour) & biked the 15-mile bike trail. I’ve never biked that far before, but I survived! Along the way I saw a TON of wild gators, herons, egrets, turtles, fish, & other swamp critters. I feel like it’s a good way to see a lot of the Everglades habitat in a relatively short period of time (the whole thing took me about 2.75 hours) – both the lushly-mangroved swamp area, as well as the drier grassland fields.

In the middle of the trail is the Shark Valley Observation Tower, which was epic. It’s a 45-foot tall observation tower that has a huge spiral ramp leading to the top. The view from up there was beautiful! Along the bike trail, I hiked two small trails that branched off the bike trail. One was the Otter Cave Hammock Trail, a marvelous narrow pathway through the trees. It has a little bridge & was beautiful. Along the trail, I saw a group of tiny baby alligators, all only about a foot long, & they were in the water only a few feet away from the trail! I also did the lush Bobcat Boardwalk Trail, which only took maybe 10 or 15 minutes to walk, but leads through beautiful trees. Before leaving the Shark Valley entrance, I went to the gift shop, where I purchased three beautiful enamel Everglades-themed pins for my collection.

I then went in the Ernest F. Coe entrance to get to the Flamingo campground & drove the 35 miles from that entrance to get to the Flamingo campground. It was after five in the afternoon by this time & I was afraid the park would be closed & I wouldn’t be able to camp there. Thankfully, it was open, & after a while of driving, I arrived at the campground.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the most fun night of camping as there were tons of mosquitoes, no-see-ums, & biting flies. In fact, there were so many bugs there that the ranger booth was closed down for the season due to bugs & the ranger who cleaned the bathroom had to wear a mosquito net over his face. “A lot of bugs” means that biting flies constantly PELTED my car as I tried to put my campsite deposit in the box. Once it was dark out, I had to open my doors & put my screen windows in. This resulted in my car becoming FILLED with mosquitoes. By “FILLED”, I mean there were literally at least 70 of them in there. The high-pitched buzzing turned into a deafening roar. Despite a fresh application of 25% DEET Off, during the brief seconds I sat in my car after putting the windows in, they were still trying to bite me. I fled from my car & ran around in circles outside of it trying to keep the mosquitoes off me. That was probably the worst part of my whole vacation. My dad told me I had to go back in there & kill all the mosquitoes in my car, simply because I didn’t have a choice.

You don’t know horror until you’re forced to lock yourself in your tiny car with 70 hungry mosquitoes when you’re more than 35 miles deep into the woods & you have to sit in the car with all the mosquitoes until you’ve squished all of them & they are trying to bite you. It was only when I was done killing all the mosquitoes & realized how quiet it was that I became aware of how loud it had been when I started.

The campsite was pretty though, & very peaceful at night. Aside from the no-see-ums, which came in through my screen & bit me at least 60 times during the night.

DAY 3

Everglades Alligator Farm - Alligator Feeding - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Alligator Feeding at the Everglades Alligator Farm in Homestead, FL

Homestead & Key Largo

I went to the Everglades Alligator Farm, which had really awesome alligator shows. I got to hold a baby alligator (which was so adorable!) & watch a huge group of alligators get fed! It was so cool. I love alligators. They had plenty of them, & I got to satisfy my desire to see gators. I also got to feed & pet emus (something I’ve always wanted to do) & Silkie Chickens. They were the best. One of my favorite animals there was their rescued owl. Anyone who knows me knows that owls are my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE.

While I was there, I went on an airboat ride in the Everglades, which was really cool. I’ve never ridden on an airboat before. The driver was cool & did some circles in the airboat so we’d all get splashed. I sat in the second row because the first row was full.

Next, I went to the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo. I’ve really wanted to go there ever since I was eight years old & learned about it on a video tape. That was back when I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to go there because their mascot was a giant aquatic hermit crab. When I got there, I booked my snorkel tour & explored their visitor center, which has a HUGE fish tank. I also ate a miniature key lime pie.

It was so cool going on a snorkel tour of the coral reef! The snorkeling adventure guides take a group of people out to one of the park’s reefs on a boat & they teach you how to snorkel. They were nice & gave me a snorkel clip for free because I had no idea where mine was. Snorkeling was beautiful, & seeing a coral reef in real life was outstanding. Because it was a nice day, they were able to take us to visit the famous underwater Christ of the Abyss sculpture at the Dry Rocks reef.

While snorkeling, I saw tons of beautiful fish, like parrotfish and angel fish. It was amazing to see all the types of fish that I’d been so obsessed with as a kid in real life. The reef is the type of beautiful thing you’ve got to see in person to understand how amazing it is. I got freaked out when I suddenly saw a 4′ – 5′ long shark. It was probably only 20 – 25 feet away from me! This caused me to frantically swim back to the boat after informing the person snorkeling near me I’d seen a shark. On the way to the boat, I swallowed several not-so-tasty mouthfuls of saltwater.

When I got to the boat, I (surprisingly calmly) asked the snorkel tour guide if it was normal to see a shark in the reef & what kind of shark it probably was. He described a shark & asked me if that’s what it looked like, & I said yes. He told me it was a Caribbean Reef Shark, which almost never attack people. Him & the captain said it was awesome that I saw it because it’s not the kind of thing they see there every day. Needless to say, I stayed a lot closer to the boat after that!

That night, I camped at the John Pennekamp park, which was really nice with lots of amenities. They had a communal washer, dryer, miniature library, & sink to wash dishes in. The campsites are beautiful, with trees between each campsite. I had my own charcoal grill & my own picnic table. There were a lot less no-see-ums there & very few mosquitoes. I got bug spray with Picaridin at Walmart that morning instead of DEET, & it seemed to work better.

DAY 4

Nurse Shark Encounter - Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters - Marathon - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Nurse Shark Encounter at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon

Marathon, Key West, & Key Largo

I went to Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters, which is an awesome marine park with lots of types of animals. They had a huge touch tank full of sting rays, some of which were almost three feet across, & I got to pet them to my heart’s content. They feel like wet mushrooms & are so adorable. They were my favorite animals there. While I was there, I got to feed parrotfish, barracudas, & a snapping turtle. I also got to feed tortoises vegetables, & they were so cute when they were earing.

I did two of the animal interactions that they offer – the Nursery Encounter & the Shark Encounter. For the Nursery Encounter, I got to touch, feed, & help train the baby stingrays, which was so cool. The Shark Encounter consisted of me getting to pet & feed a 4-foot-long nurse shark! They even rolled the shark over so I could pet his underside, & showed me how they trained the sharks to touch the target stick that had the symbol assigned to them on it. I never knew sharks could learn things like that, so it was awesome.

Baby Sting Ray Nursery Encounter - Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters - Marathon - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Baby Sting Ray Nursery Encounter at Florida Keys Aquarium Encounters in Marathon

They also had a huge tank of big fish, turtles, and other fish. Wild (invasive) iguanas walked around their property, one of which was probably four feet long & orange. The staff at the park had named the big orange one Pumpkin. It was such a cool place.

Next, I went to Key West. In Key West, I went parasailing at Sebago Watersports, which was really cool! I was probably 150 feet or so up in the air, & it was beautiful to see the Keys from that high up. It was a little bit creepy being suspending by what was pretty much like a giant kite, but it was really quiet & peaceful up there. I’ve never done anything like that before, & I would definitely do it again.

The Southernmost Point in the United States - Key West - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

The Southernmost Point in the United States in Key West

The only thing I didn’t like about my trip to the Keys was when I went to the restaurant Blue Heaven. I’d heard from several sources that it had the best key lime pie & was an awesome place with cats & chickens roaming all around. I was disappointed by the fact that, despite its reputation, there were no cats or chickens roaming around the restaurant. More disappointing than that was the fact that when I walked inside to ask for a piece of key lime pie to go that I was charged $10 for ONE SLICE OF PIE, which I only paid for because I thought they were charging me the whole pie price & that they’d had to cut a whole pie to give me my slice. I thought “Maybe they don’t sell it by the slice.” Later, on Google Reviews I learned that is the normal pie price. The pie was good, but no better than the Key Lime pie you can buy from the Publix Bakery*.

Walgreens - Strand Theater - Duval Strete - Key West - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Walgreens in Key West on Duval Street – The BEST Walgreens

In Key West, I walked around downtown Key West, mostly on Duval street. They’ve got the BEST Walgreens ever, & the outside of the Pegasus Hotel is beautiful. I visited Mile Marker 0 & took a selfie at the Southernmost Point of the United States. It was cool to be in such a geographic location. I went to the beach real quick, then left to go back to Key Largo. Hotels down there cost too much for my budget, & Key Largo is home to the Key Largo Kampground & Marina. I got to watch the sun set, neon warm bright orange over the ocean, as I drove across the Overseas highway. The Key Largo Kampground & Marina was really nice, with lots of amenities including badminton courts, a pool, boat docks, & a playground.

DAY 5

Zoo Miami - Giraffe Feeding - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Giraffe Feeding at Zoo Miami

Miami, Jensen Beach, & Palm Bay

I went to the Miami Zoo! It was the best zoo I have ever been to. It’s 280 acres, which was amazing. It took about five hours to look at everything, & I loved every minute of it. The zoo is divided up into different geographical locations, like “Everglades“, “Asian Riverlife“, & “Amazon Rainforest“, & more. While I was there, I saw tons of awesome animals. I saw lions, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, parrots, tigers, hippos, koalas, dingoes, tapirs, lots of cool frogs & reptiles, monkeys, anteaters, flamingos, otters, eagles, & lots more. I had never got to see tapirs or anteaters before in real life, & they are some of my absolute favorite animals. They were awesome!

While I was there, I got to feed parakeets, cockateils, & rosellas in their aviary. I also got to feed a giraffe lettuce & feed a rhinoceros plants. It was so cool seeing those animals up close. The giraffe licked my face! They also had a huge, stunning aviary with plants, waterfalls, & tons of tropical birds that you got to walk among. It was really beautiful. I also got to pet baby goats at their petting zoo.

Ancient Spanish Monastery - Miami - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Ancient Spanish Monastery in Miami

In Miami I also visited the Ancient Spanish Monastery, which was stunningly beautiful & had a profound sense of peace around it. I think it’s amazing how they can deconstruct a building, ship it across the ocean, & rebuild it again somewhere else. Inside the monastery, it almost felt like I had stepped back in time. It was amazing to stand there & imagine what the building was like a few hundred years ago, what the walls had seen & heard.

Jensen Beach - Sand & Lifeguard - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Jensen Beach – Sand & Lifeguard Tower

I headed north to Jensen Beach, which is by Port St. Lucie. It was a beautiful beach, & reminded me of the great beaches near Panama City in Northwestern Florida. I watched the sun set there & went in the ocean. The sand is a pretty dark-gray color, & they’ve got lifeguards, which is nice. After the sun set, I drove to Palm Bay & stayed in another Comfort Inn there. After two consecutive nights sleeping & living inside my tiny Smart Car, it was nice being in a hotel.

DAY 6

Baby Armadillos - Fort Mantanzas - St. Augustine - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Baby Armadillos at Fort Mantanzas Park in St. Augustine

St. Augustine

I visited the Fort Mantanzas park, which is free to get into & is filled with old, beautiful oak trees with branches stretching & curving out over the ground. Unfortunately, I was unable to see the monument because the ferry that leads to it isn’t running right now. The docks that lead to the ferry are considered unsafe due to damage they sustained in Hurricane Matthew last year. While I was there, I walked their boardwalk trail through the forest & got to watch four baby armadillos digging through the leaves to find bugs to eat. They were adorable, & it felt so special to be able to see something like that so close. They were only about a foot off the boardwalk, so I got to take really close pictures of them without them being worried about me. All of them were small enough they could have fit in the palm of my hand, & even the ranger said he’d never seen baby armadillos. Seeing the baby armadillos made up for not being able to see the fort. The armadillos were definitely one of the highlights of my vacation.

Castillo de San Marcos - St. Augustine - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine

In St. Augustine, I visited the Castillo de San Marcos, a national monument & fort that was used by the Spanish, British, & later, the Americans. It was built in 1672. It was really cool to see something that was such a part of history, & to walk around inside it knowing that hundreds of years ago, other people had stood in the same place I was. Going places like that feels like you’re reaching your hand back out into the past & touching all the things that no longer are, & they are reaching forward & touching things they never could imagine would exist. I toured the fort it & learned a lot about forts, cannon balls, & how they defended Florida from their enemies. I thought it was really interesting that the fort belonged to three nationalities at different times, but was so sturdy it was never taken by force. Each time it changed hands, it did so by treaty. I also visited the old city gates, which it was also cool to think about how long ago they had been built.

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum

I visited the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, which was amazing. At the lighthouse, I climbed 219 steps to the top (140 feet up), & the view is AMAZING from the top. On a clear day, you can see for 25 miles! It was beautiful, & they said it’s the second-tallest lighthouse in Florida. I’ve never got to explore a lighthouse before, & that was one of the things I wanted to do on vacation. I also got to eat a really awesome piece of maple fudge that I bought at their gift shop. The fudge is made by the person who owns the lighthouse. I think it’s wonderful that they still light it up every night even though it no longer guides ships.

I went to the St. Augustine beach, which was nice except for there being a really strong current, something which prevented me from being in the water too much. That evening, I stayed in a really nice local Inn, called Jaybird’s Inn. It was a really nice place.

DAY 7

Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park - Gainesville - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park in Gainesville

Gainesville

The last day of my trip, I had a really good omelet at Jaybird’s Restaurant, the restaurant that belongs to the hotel. My omelet had smoked salmon, ham, & tomatoes in it. They also gave me potatoes & toast along with it.

Then, I headed west & went to the Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park in Gainesville, where you take their boardwalk trail 236 steps down into a giant, ancient sinkhole canyon. It was very beautiful. The path itself was beautiful, & there were tons of pretty trees, natural waterfalls, & mossy stones. The walls of the canyon were covered in ferns, like a miniature rain forest.

Tree Frog - Frogs: A Chorus of Colors - Florida Museum of Natural History - Gainesville - My Awesome Florida Road Trip

Tree Frog – Frogs: A Chrous of Colors Exhibit at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville

Later that day, I visited the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida’s Gainesville campus. They had a special butterfly rain forest exhibit where you walk through a beautiful aviary filled with tropical butterflies, orchids of all colors, & lush green plants. The butterflies there were amazing. They had a huge number of stunning Blue Morpho butterflies, which were amazing to see in real life, as well as a variety of other beautiful species. They also had a really neat frog exhibit (Frogs! A Chorus of Colors) with different types of frogs you could look at, from colorful poison dart frogs to gigantic toads. It was really cool. They also had a bunch of cool exhibits about the early peoples & Native Americans in Northern Florida, replicas of prehistoric animal bones, like a mammoth, and neat old pottery that they found in Northern Florida.

Later that day, I came home. I arrived in late afternoon. My family stood on my driveway, waving. My dog jumped around & climbed into my car when I got there. I hugged everybody. It was great. I’d missed all of them so much.

As I unpacked & told my family all about my vacation, & as I got back into my normal routine, the memories I’d made became even better. I reflected upon everything that I’d learned, & what I walked away from my vacation with. I had walked away with numerous memories, ideas, & experiences fresh in my mind.

But what made learning all those things relevant & worth it was the knowledge that I am capable.

*Disclosure: I am employed by Publix, but I would still feel the same way about the pie even if I didn’t work there.

Why I Feel So Much Compassion for My 18-Year-Old Self

Why I Feel So Much Compassion for 18-Year-Old-Me

I was looking through my old diaries from when I was a very sad, very lonely teenager. It was 2013 & I was 18 years old. Back when I was always changing my name. Trying to find some type of identity for myself. I filled out multiple questionnaires that I wrote myself. About what I believed in. What I liked & didn’t like. I wrote little stories about the things I wished I was doing instead.

There was a lot of me talking about how sad I was. How much I wanted to move out. I felt like moving out was the only way I would be able to throw off the (self-imposed) chains that made me feel so heavy I couldn’t move. I wished so desperately that I had real friends. I was in a prison of my own making. Digging myself out of it wouldn’t be for another couple of years.

I realized I actually did a pretty lot of cool things back then. I forgot how many I had done. I didn’t have a car or know how to drive, so I couldn’t really go anywhere & do anything. But I still somehow found things to do. I read a huge number of books, watched numerous films, spent all my time working on the books, music, videos, etc.

All my projects could be my main priorities. I learned a lot by reading libraries worth of books & the entire Internet (or so it sometimes felt). Back when I was both very free, very chained, very lonely, & very empowered to choose & do whatever I wanted, within the bounds that were set. How much difference is there between freedom & loneliness, sometimes?

Sometime else though stood out the most. I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for my younger self as I read what I’d written. Some of the hopes & fears that I had back then were the same ones I still had now. The fear that maybe I was really a lame person. The eternal question of who I really was. The eternal hope that I really was going to end up where I wanted to, eventually. Some of the fears & hopes that were very important to me back then look pale, & sometimes almost ridiculous, looking at them now. But I still felt immense love & admiration for me, four years ago, here & now in the future. We were still the same person, existing on different planes of time simultaneously.

In one of the notebooks, I found the letter I had written to my 10-year-old self. The letter was only one page, but summed it up pretty well. It was 18-year-old me telling 10-year-old me how much she loved her. How great sorrows & great joys were all on their way.

That no matter what happened, I shouldn’t be afraid. That I shouldn’t lose hope. Because this is 18-year-old me telling 10-year-old me that she survived everything that was yet to happen. It was powerful hope being showered back into the past, a golden light put in the hands of a frightened, lonely 10-year-old. A message from the future that she made it.

More importantly, it was 22-year-old me being able to look back on 18-year-old me (who was looking back at 10) & realize the same messages, the same love, the same hope applied equally to myself at 10 as it did at 18.

There are many things about that era that resonate with me now. The same hopes & fears. & I have been reminded how I felt them, loved them, feared them, wanted them, even back then. That if I could feel a sense of freedom even back then, that I could feel it again. I am both the same person I was in that time span, & an entirely different person, rolled into someone new who is everything & undefined, fluid, at the same time. I reach back through the folds of space & fill my hands & arms with all the things I want to incorporate & reuse. I had more wisdom back then than I thought I did.

18-year-old me expressed her love for 10-year-old me in the letter. If I could go back in my past, to me any point in time, I would tell her the same thing. She too has a lot of fears, sorrows, & joys ahead of her, more than she knows.

But I would still tell her this:

You are going to be okay.

And:

You make it.

That’s what I want her to know, because she didn’t know it well enough back then. I want her to know I love her, & I always will.

Journey Into Minimalism

Journey Into Minimalism

It suddenly hit me, as I saw the piles of unread magazines & unworn clothes, unused digital photo duplicates, uneaten food, & unused, useless belongings. Why the hell is there so much stuff? It had accumulated, over the years, & now, it didn’t actually matter anymore. Piles & piles of it, in my living room, in the closets, on the counters.

Part of the problem was my tendency towards over-sentimentality towards things that I own. I feel inclined to keep certain belongings of mine because when I see them, I’m reminded of the exact place & time of memories involving that item. I’ve started photographing these items, because I’ve realized that keeping the actual item isn’t important to me remembering it. Seeing it is enough to spark these memories. As The Minimalists say, “The memories aren’t in the things, they’re in me.”

The second reason is that I have a deep-seated fear that if I get rid of things, I might need or want or miss them sometime in the future. Even if they’ve been sitting in my garage in a box for the past five years, I still feel that way. Logically, I know that I don’t actually need it. My life has been just fine without it, & I haven’t missed it. I also know that there are incredibly few things I’ve ever gotten rid of that I’ve missed, & magically, I’ve been able to live without them anyways.

Yesterday, I threw out the three essentially empty bottles of the same scent of lotion that I used when I was 16. The smell of them was linked to one memory of mine. But I realized I don’t need the lotion to remember. The memory is in my mind, & on paper where I wrote it down. Today, I eliminated a rubber snail that was damaged by sitting in the sun too long, toys my dog never liked, & two purses I crocheted when I was a teenager but no longer used.

Earlier, my mom helped convince me to get rid of a skirt that I wanted to get rid of but felt obligated to keep. “That’s not your style anyways, & you already have a few long skirts like that one.” I put it in the bag of clothes to donate. I scanned & threw away random paper mementos that were only kind of important to me now.

Throwing out stuff & letting go of it is scary, but very, very freeing. I’m looking forward to making more progress.

I want everything I own to be my favorite thing.

Goals for 2017 (& 2016 Accomplishments)!

Colorful fireworks new years celebration

Wow, 2016 was a year filled with so many changes. There were a reasonable number of not-so-good things that happened, & a number of really good things that happened for me (you can read my poetic essay about the year here). I’ll choose to focus on the awesome things.

For last year’s posts, see 2016 Goals & Reflections on 2015. It’s pretty interesting reading them now!

Before I get started telling you what I plan on doing in 2017, here’s a quick overview of what I achieved in 2016:

★ Officially launched the publishing company I’d been dreaming about for years, Freedom Meadow Media. Starting a company was a little bit challenging, but very rewarding.

★ Published 4 books (A Beautiful Question of Where & When; So Long, Lonesome Place101 Ways to Love Yourself; & Owls), as well as 6 zines (Flowers, One; & issues 9, 10, 11, 12, & 13 of Assemblage)!

Started an online store (!!!!!!!), where I curate a collection of awesome, funky, adorable, & colorful things. I’ve sold more stuff than I thought I would so far (mostly on the eBay listings for my products), which is very exciting!

★ Re-released my debut album, Fields of Destiny, via CD Baby, therefore making it available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, & a whole host of other online music retailers. PEOPLE CAN ACTUALLY BUY IT NOW.

Got my first-ever acting role, as Audrey in Ken Ludwig’s play Leading Ladies, & a second acting role in the play Shakespeare in Hollywood as Puck.

★ My first article to be published by a website other than my own was published by Thought Catalog!

Got pet guinea pigs, which is something I’ve wanted since I was nine or ten years old.

★ Bought a Smart Car! Ever since I was sixteen I always wanted one, because they’re both very safe & very gas efficient. This is something I manifested for myself, after test driving a lot of shitty, cheap cars. I decided I wasn’t going to settle for one of the aforementioned cars I test drove, figured out a way to make the Smart Car happen, & voila! I have a Smart Car, & I love it. It’s even more awesome than I thought it would be.

★ Edited & re-published the second edition of Shipwrecked, in addition to a lot more of my books through my publishing company, Freedom Meadow Media.

★ Got my driver’s license! After a long seven months of learning how to drive, I finally got my licence. This was one of the most influential things that happened to me, because now I have the ability to go wherever I want & make things happen for myself. I’m no longer limited in this aspect.

★ Touched a crocodile (at a local Earth Day event). It was cool being able to touch such a powerful animal, & the scales on his back were unlike anything I’ve ever touched.

★ Got a Nutribullet-esque blender for making healthy smoothies. It’s not THE Nutribullet, but my dad got it for me & I love it. I made a really great smoothie with it the other day involving blood oranges, English cucumber, & a salad with pea shoots. This was something on last year’s list.

★ I actually wrote down five things that happened to me each day, EVERY SINGLE DAY, for the past year! In years prior I’ve always been bummed out about not having a written record of the year. I’ve never been disciplined enough to actually do this, but now, thanks to the Document Your Life journal that I wrote & published, I actually achieved this, & I’m proud of myself!

★ Felt like I’m getting a much better idea of who I am + what I want out to life.

Landscape with hills & trees

Goals for 2017

As for all of the awesome things I’m going to do in 2017, I have a few new ideas for planning these goals. The first school of thought which I think sounds intriguing is picking one big goal to accomplish each month. I forgot where I heard this, but I like the idea. If I do this, I’ll stay on track for all the big goals I have for the year. No matter what else happens, I will accomplish 12 big things this year, & the idea of that is really exciting. Provided I accomplish the big goal for each month, I can then achieve as many small goals each month too, without having to worry about not achieving the big things.

The second idea is inspired by two ideas. The first – multiple things James Altucher has written where he discusses picking themes for your life instead of goals. The second – what Gretchen Rubin discusses in The Happiness Project, about how Ben Franklin picked thirteen virtues to rate & measure his performance in. I thought, “Why not combine the ideas & pick some themes that I want to work on cultivating this year, in addition to the big goals?” Both lists of alternate goal are still things I’m working on.

In the mean time, here are some things I plan to accomplish in the upcoming year:

★ Direct a film. By film, I mean a real film starring actors other than myself, & a variety of locations, & a script. I have several ideas & haven’t picked one yet, but this is one of the things I’m most excited about doing.

★ Run in a 5k. As it is now, I’m in reasonable shape but can’t run for more than a few minutes in a row. I bought myself some running shoes & a stop watch so that when I’m able to start training, it will be easy.

★ Continue growing my online store. I have a TON of plans for things I want to start selling, & products I’m working on designing. SHOP Ashlee Craft will soon be home to t-shirts, a whole bunch of stickers, & hopefully some new exclusive pins, all designed by me. I also think it would be awesome to design magnets, window clings, & journals.

★ Get a paid acting gig. Acting is lots of fun, & I’m glad that I took the leap & started pursuing it in this previous year.

★ Republish out-of-print books that I love under my publishing company. There are loads of great things – books, music, films, images, etc – which are great, but people don’t know about them anymore. They should, & I want to be the one to help these works of art be brought into the light again.

★ Read a lot more. For most of 2016, I sadly didn’t read very much at all. Towards the end of the year I bought a lot of great books (Choose Yourself & What To Do When It’s Your Turn are two that stand out) & actually started reading them. Then I realized how much I missed reading. This year, I’m actually going to track every book I read, & I’m going to read as many as possible.

★ Record more cover songs. I LOVED recording my cover of David Bowie’s Changes. I have a whole list of other songs I would love to cover, so I’m going to work on this a lot more soon. Before the end of the year, I will also release another album of original compositions.

★ Start investing in companies. I’ve already picked out a few good prospects I will buy stock in soon.

★ Write more books. This is always a goal of mine, because there are always so many books to write. Currently in my book release plans are the novel I’ve been working on for two years, a children’s storybook about owls, a children’s series about a mouse, another motivational book, a book of personal essays, more issues of Assemblage, & more zines. A lot of the books I’ve already published are also going to be republished under Freedom Meadow Media.

★ Release an app.

★ Travel. I would love to travel to three different places. Somewhere in my state, a different state, & a different country.

★ Minimalism. This means excluding things – physical things, mental things, wasted time, unhappiness – to make more room for the things that really do feel good. I’m not trying to have as few things as possible, but as many things that make me happy with as few unnecessary things as possible. I really like this quote from this article I was reading earlier, titled Like Henry David Thoreau, but with Wi-Fi. “Everything in my life become my favorite thing.” I want to live my life like that.

★ Figure out what I really want. For now. Become more myself. Reinvent myself a hundred times this year, if that’s what it takes. Get to the place that I think I’m going. Be happier, for real.  Know what it feels like to finally have peace of mind. Explore & live in the world that is mine.

What are your goals for 2017? Let me know on the social media channel of your choice!

the problem & the cure

Highway road between forests

from my upcoming book, “Not a Dime a Dozen”

I effortlessly fell into the same coping patterns I always reached for, although they had never served me well. The days started feeling like running through an ocean of mud. It exerts you, but you never get anywhere. The other thing that stood out to me suddenly was the stark white walls of emptiness. It was much too silent, & while the sight of the finish line had given me something to look forward to, it was only a mirage, & it faded when night fell. This sensation grew in the moments when everything was rushed towards the redundancy of another day, & no one spoke, or at least could not be heard over the roaring cacophony of quiet.

I wondered why I always found myself at the same crossroad at night, with the familiar darkened road & the street signs impossible to make out in the darkness. The road forked off into multiple pathways, & the pressure of choosing the right one felt as random as having to pick the door the magician’s assistant is really behind. I had made choices that I thought would make things better, but the porthole door in the sky scooped me up & deposited me in the same place, week after week, & the same feelings always found me again.

It reminded me of the memory album I’d looked through a thousand times, even though each time I asked myself why I romanticized my own pain so greatly. Was there really anything beautiful about acting as the tragic figure I’d written myself to be, but never really wanted to become? I wondered what my childhood self would think of me if she’d met me now, & if she’d be pleased by the accomplishments I’d achieved, or discouraged & fearing the inevitability of often sunless days & starless nights that were ahead . I had worn these feelings like a comfortable coat, returning to them when the expanse of everything else I could do instead of this seemed too much. I resorted to it & then reveled in it, sometimes feeling as if even in the darkness, my so-called vulnerability was nothing more than another part of my facade, put on for the show of it in an attempt to control the ways others saw me.

I felt the cool waves of an infinite ocean washing up over my feet. The sun rested upon the horizon, neon-pink & hazily vibrating like a mirage. In these moments, there was no yesterday, no tomorrow, no more haunting Mondays. She told me I was getting the same way that I was the last time this had happened; what was that supposed to mean, & how was I supposed to feel about something I couldn’t help myself from feeling? At least I was trying to dig myself out from under the rubble of the fire, & didn’t that count for something?

When I saw my reflection in the mirror of her face, I reeled back. The crystal ball on the mahogany desk informed me of the shrouded sunlessness that the road I had chosen contained, & provided a glimpse of the person I would one day become if I did not turn around. The papers on the walls clearly spelled LEAVE NOW, & the flapping curtain by the open window communicated in Morse Code TURN BACK. I suddenly knew that it didn’t matter where I went or which road I chose, as long as it was different than the one I was on. I fled from the office & slammed the door behind me, vowing I would never go back.

Instead of admitting that I am afraid of courage required to step into my own self & create the kind of life I want to live, I use my own sorrow as an excuse. Wearing it & melting into its folds is easier than becoming someone new. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to disappear & reappear somewhere else, my slate cleaned & my future open. To do that would be the easy way out; it is not necessary for my freedom, & I do not need to wait for the bells to sound with the validation that I am allowed to liberate myself.

Palm trees under the sky

It was only on the forbidden drive to the city that I felt the shifting of soil. I felt acutely the changes blossoming & fading into existence, & the rubble on top of me finally being cleared away by my own doing. Beams of sunlight fell around me on the ground, & in the breeze with the music & the effortless swaying of trees, it was the first time in a long time that I finally felt normal. A preview of what is to come. Freedom was that essential code by which I knew I needed to live by, if I were to ever fully realize what things like happiness hope meant. What I had been doing was the exact opposite, & I was growing tired of my old patterns & sorrows & habits. What had once been a darkness I relished & lovingly extracted every ounce of pain from now became a song I’d never liked but heard play too many times on the radio. My old standby patterns weren’t beautiful & tragic – they were just boring, & didn’t allow half enough time for me to merely exist & simply be. Too much of it was shrouded in routine & in monotonous pandering to the politics touted by over-idolized figures I wanted nothing to do with.

If I were to have more days like this, where I felt the pure, unadulterated & fluttering joy of existing in the world of my exact choosing, I would have to summon the bravery to brush myself off & keep trying until I made it. This time, I would stand at the darkened crossroads in the night & I would not be afraid. I would pick the road leading in the direction of the same breeze I’d felt on the beach & in the city, one which wordlessly murmurs of home. When I find all the good feelings I thought I’d forgotten, waiting for me somewhere along the path, I will be able to trust once more in my ability to prevail, to create this for myself, & to thrive.

Hello, Beautiful 2017

Two sparklers

The moon last night looked like a Cheshire cat in the sky, smiling with golden good natured mischief & mystery. I listened to Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” & Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” loud in the car. My two favorite songs at the moment. I looked out at the streetlamps & the velvety cloak of darkness.

Just like last year, the transition of one year to the next occurs in the center of a sea of changes. Both this year & last year at this time, the sense of a major shift is pervasive. The kind of feeling where everything is changing; all the old ideas & beliefs & paradigms & personas & dynamics & status quos. Worlds open up – stars are born & die in front of you & then born again – everything circles around in the middle of a wind storm.

The seas are rough but able to be navigated. The rain falls hard but they water the flowers. The old things you used to be are slowly fading & shriveling & retreating back into the brush they came from.

Fears were created & fears were put to rest, & ultimately I still ended up with less of them, & more of them simultaneously. Uncertainty. The great fear still remains in the backdrop (happiness) but fears emerged to the front lines (breakdown). But the fears are all quieted in the warmth of humid nights, when it’s all wrapped up in a blanket.

Confidence was built. It was built in each hour I spent in front of those who would judge me & decide the turns my path would take, but I was still the one choosing to be there. Choosing to be judged, so that I may progress. It also showed its face when I actually started asking for what I wanted. I asked him & he said yes. I told them & they were supportive & encouraging. I announced it to them & they wanted to help me & didn’t care that I was turning away at the same time. I decided & they were there. I showed up, & spoke up, for the first time in years.

Showing up. That’s another thing. I watched as those around me were reluctant to take chances. To make choices. To put themselves out there somewhere they might fail. In most failures though, the failure itself is the only worst-case-scenario. If someone says no the world doesn’t stop spinning. & if you don’t try, there’s no way you can ever win. Showing up, in all ways, not just putting yourself out there but also showing up for your own decisions, owning them. Making choices & then making them happen.

I found a home & then it was gone. I reveled in my relief when I walked through your doors. Immediately you took me in. I found your embrace full of love & genuine connection & fun & it gave me something to do & I loved it. Knowing you made all the other things fade away. I thought that I would shrivel when you left me. I didn’t think I could do anything without you. You were like a drug. It was all about me depending on something other than myself & putting all my happiness in it & betting my whole existence on whether you liked me back. I need to stop doing that. When will I realize that happiness will never come from dependency on such anchors? It needs to be mine.

I found my people but then they left me. Slowly they walked out on me & the door closed. They never opened it again. I thought they were the ones that were supposed to make me feel the way I always wanted to feel. I thought the loneliness would go away. Sooner or later, one of us must know that I really did try to get close to you. I tried, & reached out further & more honestly than I ever had, & with deeper vulnerability. But despite finally putting myself out there & trying to make a connection, they turned their backs & went separate ways. I loved you but you didn’t love me back. & I will be okay with that. Somewhere out there I will find my friends.

Colorful whimsical ferris wheel

Also, there were beautiful things. That moment sitting in the golden light of afternoon in the restaurant smiling & feeling like I belonged somewhere for once. New love & new forms of happiness. The home, the memories, friendship – they all still meant something, frozen in time, even if they were no longer the same glowing realms they had been before.

It was a year when I really opened up my hands & reached out & created. I feel like 2016 was like a big educational seminar, teaching me how the world worked & how to ask the questions I needed to ask. A year which required me to make decisions about who I was & who I was going to be. I feel like I learned more this year that probably any other year in recent history.

2016: a year of making magic & of deepening belief in magic, & one where despite some of the painful & darkened challenges that I encountered, I still made it. I survived. It feels like it was a year of growing hope, a stepping stone year, vitally important to be completed & triumphed over before being able to move on to the next open doors.

Open, a concept I tie to authenticity. I want to make 2017 a year of authenticity, & honesty, & freedom. & I want all of those concepts to tie into happiness, to tie into a grander & more wonderful & much more happy + free version of myself.

& so, I open my arms up & my heart up & I make the new year feel comfortable & welcome. I open my heart to let in all the new light through mosaic windows, & open my hands to new creations that must be made. The hope has been built up into a big glowing ball of light, & the music is on, & I am dancing, & I turn now to face the Newness, radical potential, happiness, magic, freedom. I stand tall & proud, looking out at the star-filled sky & the Cheshire cat moon & later, cheerful rays of sunbeams painted across my floor, & I say,

“I’m ready.”