The One Where I Say Everything is “So Good”: My March Wrap-Up

I WROTE ANOTHER BLOG POST. Two posts in two months? Who am I? Queen of productivity? Master of words?

Really I just liked a lot of stuff this month, so I felt compelled to keep the streak going. Also, I had a lot to do school-wise this month, so working on this blog post was a fun way to procrastinate, I’m not going to lie. So, without further ado, here’s what got me through grad school in the month of March (and if you want to read last month’s post, click here).

My Alma Mater’s Women’s Basketball Team’s Run in the National Tournament

Holy COW. This is at the top of the list because it’s the most recent development and one of the MOST EXCITING DEVELOPMENTS.

I attended undergrad at a little university in western Oklahoma: Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU for short). I was lucky enough to play four years of college volleyball, earn a fantastic education, and deeply immerse myself in all things Bulldog pride during my time at SWOSU. Since I’ve graduated, I’ve remained a fiercely proud alumna. I’m a bulldog forever, and if you ask I’ll sing the fight song loud and proud. Heck, I’ll sing the fight song no matter what; it’s my jam.

ANYWAY. The SWOSU women’s basketball team made it all the way to the NCAA Division II championship game. The game went into DOUBLE overtime. (DOUBLE.) (!!!) In the end, our Dawgs were not victorious, but watching those girls play their hearts out for SWOSU and their teammates made me so proud. SO PROUD. My heart goes out to those athletes. Even though the team ultimately came up a little short, there’s no denying how incredible their season was and how much they brought the entire SWOSU community together. My heart was so full for a solid week while they were competing in the Elite Eight–there was so much Dawg support and pride flooding my social media, and I was reminded that this little school in the middle of western Oklahoma is full of the best people; there’s no place like it. I miss it sometimes; I really do.

SWOSU women’s basketball, I’m so dang proud; all of Bulldog Nation is proud. Thanks for the wild ride.

My Dog, Because She Turned Two

Ellie is TWO YEARS OLD. Just thought y’all should know. Her birthday was on the 24th. She’s my little Aries girl, my fiesty little thing.

Ellie Kevin Lancaster, you have my entire heart and I’m so thankful you’re my little pal.

MY MOM, BECAUSE SHE ALSO HAD A BIRTHDAY (AND BECAUSE SHE’S THE BEST)

My Mom’s birthday is March 22, and my sister and I were lucky enough to be home for spring break to celebrate. She’s the best. The BEST. Here’s a picture of all three of us.


Love you, Mom. I’m so lucky to have you.

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

I read the book Red Clocks early this month when snow days seemed to pile up one after the other, and it was such a wonderful break from required reading, even though the required reading has been awesome (more on that later).

This book was so addicting and so horrifying (in a good way). It’s feminist dystopian fiction that feels contemporary and very real. While the story sucked me in, what kept me captivated was the prose–beautiful and strange (again, in the best way) and suprising. I also really loved the characters, but I especially connected to Ro. I read a library copy, so I don’t have the book to quote, but Ro’s attitude toward life is something I can relate to. She’s doing life on her own terms (or at least trying to), resisting expectations and the norm, and there were moments in her narrative I wish I could have highlighted, but, alas, I had to be a good citizen and return the copy in tip-top shape. All in all, I highly recommend this book.

Better World Books

HAVE I GOT THE BEST ONLINE BOOKSELLER FOR YOU! (At least in my humble opinion.) My friend Nataly introduced me to this website, and I’m hooked.

Better World Books is an online new and used bookseller that has a mission to give back. They’ve raised over 28 million dollars for literacy programs, and they’re doing other cool stuff. Here’s a link to their “impact” page on their website.

I’ve ordered two books (used but in fantastic condition) through Better World Books so far, and I’m hooked–shipping’s always free, and you can find such great copies for so little. Both of my copies were under FOUR BUCKS.

In short, Better World Books is incredible and I love them. I’m a loyal customer for life.

Performances Found on Youtube That Inspire Me Creatively : A [wordy] ramble, an ode to musical theatre

It’s no secret I love musicals. My eventual financial goal is to be able to afford two things:

  • An annual pass to Walt Disney World. (Duh.)
  • Season tickets to whatever theatre is closest to me so I can see all of the traveling Broadway productions that come my way. All. Of. Them.

Anyways. I’ve always been a fan of going down YouTube rabbit holes, especially when it comes to musicals and other performances by my favorite artists. Whilst tumbling down these rabbit holes, I discover new performers I love, new songs I can’t get enough of, and new musicals I swear one day I’ll see. When I find performances/artists I admire, I keep coming back to those videos, and I’ll have them playing as I write. It’s almost like listening to a well-worn playlist, but instead of strict audio, I can look up every once in a while and see a person doing their thing, making their art.

As a writer of fiction, good performances can be the most inspiring. There’s something about the way an actor can say so much in the portrayal of their character without explicitly saying anything at all. Sure, explicit stuff is getting said (well, sung). But it’s that unsaid stuff–a look in the actor’s eyes, their body language, etc.–that’s so powerful. As I write, listening to and watching performances inspires me to uncover and write the nuanced stuff in my stories: the interiority of the protagonist, unspoken tension between characters, and all the other subtleties. Watching a good performance, for me, can make me want to craft a human, whole, complex character with messy emotions, makes me want to capture a human experience in the most effective and creative linguistic way possible.

Long story short (can I ramble or what?!), I love musical theatre, and holy cow do I get inspired to create after watching performers do their thing!

Here are some of my favorite online performances as of late from rehearsals or concerts and special events. These and other performances (I usually pick a video on YouTube and go with the suggested playlist) have played in the background as I started my last workshop piece of the semester, which is due pretty darn soon. (Oy. I need to write. Anyway.)

  • Jessie Mueller in a rehearsal for Waitress, “She Used to be Mine. This is my favorite song of all time (it’s so specific to the story but also so universal for so many?!? It’s marvelous), and I love how Jessie Mueller portrays the heart of the song. So HEARTBREAKINGLY BEAUTIFUL. The Tony performance is beautiful too, but there’s something about this performance that gets me every time.
  • Rachel Bay Jones singing “So Big, So Small” from Dear Evan Hansen. This song and this performance gets me every time. Also, for my writing personally (in terms of themes and who my protagonists are as people), this is the perfect performance to set the mood for a night of drafting. The last few lines get to me in so many different ways emotionally–I think of my own mom and our history, and I feel an overwhelming amount of love and a smidge of sadness but mostly pride and gratitude. Ugh. So good. Everything about this is so good.
  • Abby Mueller singing her Broadway Bucket List, but especially the last performance of the video when Abby sings “I Miss the Mountains.” What can I say? I love the Mueller sisters’ voices, the ways they convey the story of a song. I have never seen a production of Next to Normal, and I’ve only recently listened to the entire album (thanks to my friend Drake; hi Drake!), but I feel like Abby captures the complexity of Diana so distinctly and beautifully. I was so emotionally moved after watching this performance for the first time (even before knowing the context in which the song exists), and I think that’s a testament to Abby’s acting. Also, another gem is this video of Abby singing “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” So, so good.
  • (How many times can I say *so good* in a post? Does the limit not exist?)
  • Keala Settle in workshop for The Greatest Showman. If this doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, do you even have a heart? (Kidding, but only slightly. Hehe.) But seriously, I love the joyful, raw energy of this whole video, and when I watch it, my heart swells and I get all sorts of inspired.

Ok, this section could grow and grow, but if you’re a writer who likes musical theatre, I encourage you to glean inspiration from talented artists like these. YouTube is your best friend. Listening/watching before and during drafting gets my brain a-goin’ and my fingers a-typin’, so why not give it a try?

My Required Reading This Semester: a 10/10

I just want to give a shout out to my professors this semester–the required reading, for the most part, has been SO GOOD. I am especially thankful for my New Voices in Native American Literature class. It’s my last literature class in my MFA, and we are reading ALL CONTEMPORARY WORKS. All of the authors are alive and kickin’! Do you know how rare this is in a literature class???? As an aspiring author, I appreciate that scholarship is being done on contemporary work. It’s awesome.

Here’s a complete list of what we’re reading in both of my classes, in case you’re curious and/or are looking for some new reads. I haven’t read all of them (we still have a little bit in the semester), but I’ve read a lot:

Native American Literature

  • Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot (soooooooooo good; heartbreaking but beautiful. READ THIS.)
  • Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson
  • Some of Tommy Pico’s poems
  • Selections from When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
  • There There by Tommy Orange (sooooooo good. Highly, highly recommend. I’m writing about this text for my seminar paper).
  • Buckskin Cocaine by Erika T. Wurth (also really loved this one).
  • Trail of Lightening by Rebecca Roanhorse
  • Selections from Moonshot
  • Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones (this was SO GOOD. Read this.)

Seminar in Fiction: Writing the Short Story Cycle

  • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson (ok, this one I didn’t particularly care for, but it was written in 1919, so I’ll cut it some slack).
  • Florida by Lauren Groff (the queen of atmospheric prose).
  • This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz (problematic and I don’t know how I feel about it… except mostly not great. Diaz can write, though? All-in-all mixed feelings, but it was a quick read).
  • Bad Kansas by Becky Mandelbaum
  • Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth (very, very good)
  • Olive Kitterage by Elizabeth Strout (one of my favorites; rereading now and I love this book so, so much)
  • A Vist From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
Isn’t this cover beautiful?

This Song

Behold, one of the best feel-good, “let’s get sh*t” done songs ever:

Here’s the link to this gloriously joyful song.

I “discovered” this song while on a walk after a week of stress and rampant imposter syndrome. The sun was shining, the weather was warm for the first time in so long, and I was feeling optimistic. This song put me in the best mood. The best. If you need a tune to help you get goin’ and productive, this is perfect for you.

PLANNER STICKERS…BECAUSE

I’m not talkin’ about those cutesy stickers that say DON’T FORGET or REMINDER or BIRTHDAY or whatever. No. I’m talking about these stickers:

Food. With. Googly eyes. The best. (Also, wow, is my handwriting something.)

Ok, I’m done

Thanks for reading, friends. Maybe you’ll see another post next month? Maybe? I know April’s going to be a doozy for me, so send some good thoughts and pixie dust.

(And I’m sending you some good thoughts and pixie dust. Thanks for reading!)

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Trying To Find My Aesthetic

This is going to sound a little dumb, but man, oh man, I want to know what my “aesthetic” is. 

You know. Aesthetics. I want to know what colors, textures, images, fonts, and other pretty things truly embody the essence of who I am.

It’s why I’ve changed the header photo of this blog a million and a half times–I’m always on the hunt for the perfect image/color/icon/something that captures my voice, that sums up my tastes. I don’t ever seem satisfied. I’ll probably still change the header a million times more, even after this yet-another-list-like post aims to pin down my general aesthetic, my vibe, my brand. 

I’ve never sounded more millennial. 

Let’s get to list-making. Also, maybe we’ll make a mood board or two. That could be fun

We’ll see how this goes. 

AESTHETIC One: Disney Parks (Specifically Magic Kingdom)

This is a no-brainer. Walt Disney World will forever be my most favorite place, so it’s no wonder I’m attracted to pastel colors, castles, popcorn, fireworks, that sort of thing. Let me try to capture what I’m talkin’ ’bout in a nifty little collage of pics found on multiple free stock photo sites and/or just Google Images or Pinterest or my old camera roll because why not: 

Ok, finding those photos made me realize there are subcategories to a Disney park aesthetic, but this about captures the gist. I think. 

Mickey Mouse, forever!

Aesthetic Two: Artsy Writer/Reader But not artsy in a moody way; artsy in a *cheerful* way 

So. I write. I’m currently getting my MFA in creative writing, and I’ve had some small success so far with publishing some short fiction. It’s no wonder I love typewriters, books, blank pages, notebooks, books, more books, bookshelves, knick knacks on bookshelves, office supplies, and more. You get the idea: 

Ok, in that little collage, I took three of the photos, so that’s impressive; maybe I know my aesthetic after all! Also, as you can probably tell, I really like wood–the color, the texture. Which leads me…

AESTHETIC THREE: DISNEY’S ANIMAL KINGDOM/TRAVELER/ECLECTIC/plants lol 

I love Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Everything about it. 

First, I used to work there. I was a character attendent and got to spend each and every day helping my Disney pals go on the best adventures. Second, I love Animal Kingdom’s overall atmosphere. The vibrancy of the colors, the smells of plants and soil and Flame Tree Barbeque, the park’s commitment to conservation, and the Tree of Life, an icon, a beauty. I love, love, love this place. 

To be honest, all but one of these photos are my own, so you can tell I freakin’ love, love, love, love this place so much. Maybe this is my favorite of the aesthetics? Mabye?

But wait! There’s more!

Aesthetic Four: neon lights, calm, cool, artsty, dark

This one’s new for me, but lately I’ve been drawn to this aesthetic. I’m just going to drop a collage, because it’s hard to explain:

See? Totally random. I don’t have a good explanation to why I connect to the lights, the darkness. But I do? For some reason? 

Aesthetic five: vintage things but not-too-vintage, maybe? ALSO VINTAGE DISNEY BECAUSE, *YES*

I LOVE vintage-y stuff. Like 50s/60s/70s vibes. I think it’s because I watched Mad Men for the first time this year. Also, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, a show set in the late 50s/early 60s, is just fabulous.

There’s just too much great TV set in the past, and those shows have influenced me in the best way possible, mostly because the shows I’m discussing feature women kicking you-know-what and taking names!

Also, I love vintage Disney posters/art. 

To the collage! 

So this collage is a hot mess, but you get the idea. 

Also, I found the Peggy Olson print on Pinterest, and I just love it. Also, NO, I do not condone smoking (Peggy has a cigarette dangling from her mouth, you see). Remember, this was a different time! A different era! 

i think i’ll stop there 

As you can see, my tastes vary. The vibes I vibe with (gosh, do I sound millennial or what?!) differ across the board. As I look back, though, I think each aesthetic correlates with a different aspect of my life: 

  • Disney parks  = my inner self, my spiritual self. I’m optimistic to a fault (for the most part). My public persona is bubbly, smiley, all-too-happy.
  • Arsty writer/reader = my career, my goals, my aspirations. I love what I do, and these images remind me of what I am lucky to do each day. That’s cool. 
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom = my home life. Would you guys be surprised that I have an entire gallery wall dedicated to DAK?! I own a succulent! I love natural wood! My pillows are bright yellow, and I want to acquire more textured pillows!
  • The moody neon lights = I think this represents my work, my fiction writing. My stories are a little dark with flashes of humor, light. I think this is why this blog and my portfolio employs some of these images. 
  • Finally, the vintage = while I don’t really own any clothes from these eras or inspired by these eras, I find myself wishing I could pull them off. The structured peacoats = swoon. The sunglasses = adore. A good hat = need. Come to think of it, I have a few pieces like these, but gosh, I don’t know if I would be able to pull of an entire wardrobe like it. I wish, though. Also, I want a record player so badly, it’s not even funny. 

Ok, now I’m really done. Thanks for stopping by and reading this blog post written entirely in the spirit of procrastination. 

Christmas break is almost here, and I am so, so ready. 

Ok, bye! 

End-of-Semester Chat

HOW DID I ALMOST GO AN ENTIRE SEMESTER WITHOUT WRITING? HOW?!?

I’ll tell you how. Grad school is BUSY. And I don’t prioritize well.

So. I thought I’d hop on the blog and chat a little, provide a casual update of my life, and maybe offer some sage advice. The advice thing probably won’t happen, but we’ll see. This space is not a space in which I plan my content. I have all of graduate school and my fiction writing for that. This space is my space to write what comes to mind as I go. It’s my free space. My happy place. 

So. What’s new? Or what’s not new? Here’s a list of what comes to mind:

  • I’ve got my adviser, my committee, and my plan of study APPROVED! I’m on track to graduate with my master’s in the spring of 2020 (my program is a three-year program). 
  • I think I have an idea of what I want to do after my master’s, but that’s not important now. 
  • I’ve given up eating bread for the most part, and for some weird reason, I feel like this has changed my life for the better. I haven’t given bread up completely (I love pizza and cheeseburgers too much), but I’ve cut back on the stuff quite a bit. 
  • I’ve started running again. I’ve been keeping track of my workouts on Instagram. It’s fun! I feel better! 
  • I’ve been planning/writing my thesis. It’s going to be a collection of short stories, and the thought of putting it all together before approximately February 2020 both thrills and terrifies me. 
  • I’ve almost read 50 total books this year! I’m hoping to get to 50 by the time 2019 rolls around. 
  • Teaching this semester has been a total dream. My students are FANTASTIC. I’m also more comfortable with myself as an instructor. I put stickers on their rough drafts and, I don’t know, I feel like myself when I lecture. It’s fun.  
  • I’m gonna end this list because I’m rambling. 

In short, things are good.

Now for the advice, maybe. I’m not going to go into detail, but if you’re feeling down or unhappy about yourself (any aspect of yourself), make the conscious decision to do something about it. I’ve tried to do this over the semester, and I feel it’s working. I just feel good. It’s hard to explain, but really it’s simple. I’m doing good, feeling good. 

Now that we’ve chatted briefly, I should get back to doing something about my to-do list. I have some stuff to get done by the end of the semester (obviously), so I need to actually go and do that stuff. T-minus two weeks until winter break, however. Ah. So excited. 

I hope everyone and anyone reading this is having a lovely day. You’re great, I believe in you, and December is going to be your month. And, if it’s not, the next month will be your month. And the next. And so on. 

You get the idea. 

Okay. Bye! 

“There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.” 

-From Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Manifesto-of-Sorts

The semester starts in a week! THANK GOODNESS! I LOVE GRAD SCHOOL!

(I really, really do.)

I’ve been lesson planning, writing, reading recreationally, and getting my life together. It’s always a fun time when “getting your life together” is on the agenda.

Getting my life together involves errand-running and goal-setting. In this post, I’d thought I’d write down a few goals, even though some aren’t really concrete. Some are super vague, and most you can’t check off a list.

So this reads more like a little manifesto, I think. Unless I’m getting the definition of “manifesto” confused with something else. Oh well.

So. During this school year, this semester, and this life, I vow to…

  1. Stand taller, speak louder, and cut I’m sorry and I don’t know from my vocabulary. Or at least limit those phrases to situations that actually call for them.
  2. Take failure as it comes and handle it with grace. Accept that it’s a part of the ‘biz and life and everything.
  3. Celebrate every victory, big or small. Maybe with some cake (but not too much).
  4. Work my you-know-what off every single day.
  5. Rest and relax and do what I love every single day.
  6. Read for my craft.
  7. Read for my enjoyment.
  8. Send snail mail to people, because I’ve realized I love writing letters and I want to spread more ink-smeared magic.
  9. Smile more.
  10. Say, “Yes!” more.
  11. Say, “No!” when it’s best for me.
  12. Find so much joy in the opportunity I’ve been given to learn and teach and write.
  13. Go to [restaurant that is famous in college town], because I feel like it’s essential to the whole experience of living in [college town].
  14. Maybe exercise some. (Really, Kaila. EXERCISE SOME.)
  15. Take pride in my work, take pride in the process, and take pride in the ideas that pop into my head. Because sometimes I have some good ones.

I hope everyone is having a happy day. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch Kids Baking Championship. Baked goods and cute kids = a winning combo for television.

Ha. Okay. Goodbye now.

When I Think of Summer 2018…

My summer’s almost come to an end–it’s almost time for workshops, writing, lesson planning, grading, meetings, readings, etc. It’s almost time for my second year of grad school to commence.

Oh man. I’m so excited for the upcoming semester.

And while I’m excited for what’s ahead, I wanted to write a little post about this summer, about the little moments that have become memories.

So. When I think of the summer of 2018–

I’ll think of purchasing bubbles for a dollar and sitting in the backyard nightly, blowing bubbles for Ellie (my pup) to chase.

I’ll think of reading so much and learning so much for my craft. This summer I truly discovered the complex joy that is literary fiction.

I’ll think of large Diet Cokes with vanilla from Sonic, purchased almost every single day during happy hour.

I’ll think of the week I spent with my best friend up in South Dakota and Iowa, in which we talked and drove and talked and bid on pies and ate s’mores and went on a wagon ride to which I said, “It’s like Kilimanjaro Safaris of South Dakota!”

I’ll also think of the soundtrack Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and miles and miles of corn fields.

I’ll think of finally seeing Waitress after more than a year of obsessing over the soundtrack and the story. Sweet smells (that lobby, though!), sweet pie, sweet experience.

Side note: when can I see another musical?!

I’ll think of trekking to the local library almost every day to write fiction (hopefully the start of my thesis…ahh!) among the books, huge wireless pink headphones spitting the newest Carousel revival soundtrack into my ears, the songs “Mister Snow” and “If I Loved You” always on repeat. So soothing. So nuanced. So great.

I’ll think of finally writing more for this blog after months of being stuck.

I’ll think of The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men, the two shows I watched religiously over the summer. Elisabeth Moss is a master, and the characters she portrays are incredible.

Side note: from now on, whenever I’m feeling a little glum/not confident when it comes to my work, I’ll ask myself, “What would Peggy Olson do?” She’s amazing. 

I’ll think of the sleep I lost because I stayed up late watching The Handmaid’s Tale and Mad Men. 

(Ha. I love television, don’t you?)

I’ll think of my re-discovering the gloriousness that is Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food (is that how you spell it?!) ice cream.

I’ll think of barn swallow nests and bird watching.

And, finally, I’ll think of spending time with the people I love most.

It was a good summer, indeed.

Twentysomething Thoughts

The following post contains twentysomething thoughts unique to my own experience, inspired by a real-life middle-of-the-night existential crisis. 

Enjoy!

***

Does anyone still feel like they’re perpetually sixteen? Or is it just me?

Should I know how to do [insert random thing you don’t know how to do] by now? (For me, personally? I don’t know how to change a tire. Or the oil. Or fix a toilet or a toaster. Or anything.  Isn’t that what AAA is for? And management? Or am I pathetic?)

Do I look “old?” Or could I pass for a college junior/senior? I mean, I am in grad school… it’s still school, am I right?

I think I look old. I spot crow’s feet. I need moisturizer, stat!

I remember when I was in high school and my friends and I were just sittin’ around chattin’ during lunch about our futures, and I remember thinking, okay, by the time I’m 24/25 there will definitely be a guy I’ve either married or am about to marry, and I’ll have a real job, and maybe a little house and for sure a dog or two, and I’ll be thinking about kids by the time I’m thirty, for sure. 

Isn’t that hilarious?

I mean, if you do have that–good for you. Truly. That’s awesome.

I just can’t imagine that right now. For me, at least–it’s scary. So permanent.

I do have a dog. Ellie. That’s something. My goodness, I love her. Do you want to see a picture? You do? Okay, then! Here you go:

Back to this permanence thing–I think that’s what scares me most. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered I like things to change, I like to move around and mix it up. My dreams change, my address changes, my taste in clothes changes, etc.

So when it’s time to “settle down,” will I be ready for it? Could I live in one place forever and ever? Could I do the same thing every day forever?

Is anyone ever really ready for it?

Shouldn’t I be content with permanence? Shouldn’t routine be a comfort? A joy? Only some are lucky enough to have it, I guess.

Okay, this next one is serious:

Do I need a signature shade of lipstick?

The thing is, even though I’m mostly just a chapstick kind of gal, there’s a part of me that loves the idea of a signature lip shade, perfume, scarf, etc. Having a signature anything–now that’s something, isn’t it? Isn’t that the epitome of being a grown-up, a woman in charge?

Maybe I’ll look into it. The signature lip, I mean.

What if I always feel unsure of everything? Why do I always say, “I’m sorry,” or “I don’t know,” after every dang sentence? I’ve noticed I try to qualify everything that comes out of my mouth. I know what I think; why do I feel like I have to apologize for thinking it?

You know what’s sad/funny? I’m obsessed with presentability. I want every aspect of my life to be presentable. Acceptable.

It’s funny because I claim not to be.

I want to be acceptable. Normal. Me. My apartment. My clothes. My car. My bag. The stickers on my laptop.

Am I too old to have stickers on my laptop?

Is anyone ever really “too old?” I mean, whenever I say, “I feel so old,” to my mom, she just rolls her eyes and says, “Kaila. You are not old.”

And I don’t think she is either.

Don’t we all want to get super, super old? Isn’t that the goal, ultimately? So why do we worry about the whole age thing? Shouldn’t people just be people no matter the number of years they’ve lived?

So there’s no “too old,” or even a “too young,” right? Or is there?

I don’t know.

There I am, saying (typing), “I don’t know,” again. Oops.

One thing’s for sure: I am in my twenties, and I have no idea what I’m doing most of the time.

Except for quesadillas. I know how to make quesadillas. And pasta. And scrambled eggs.

And that’s something.

 

“Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Cheese Curds”

Alternate title: “My Week of Christmas Trees, Red Barns, and Midwestern Charm.”

Hey, blog.

As you can tell by the two titles, I’ve just returned from a vacation in the Midwest. My best friend from the DCP lives in northwest Iowa and eastern South Dakota, so I was so excited to finally make the trek up north to visit her and her family!

Also, as you can tell from my “trek up north” comment, I do not reside in the Midwest, so everything I experienced was so. Much. Fun. And new! And adorable. And eccentric. All wonderful–magical, even. Charming as heck.

For reference, I like to think of myself as a Texoman–I divide time between the Lone Star State and Oklahoma. (Yeehaw, I guess?) I say “Y’all” religiously, Whataburger spicy ketchup runs through my veins, and I know my state songs forwards and backwards, partly due to overt/obnoxious pride, and partly because we were required to learn “Texas, Our Texas” in the fourth grade. I sang the song in front of the class, as did every little Texan in my school.

I digress.

Let me tell you, I love experiencing new places, especially new regions of our country. In the past, I’ve fully experienced the deep South, Florida, and Texas/the lower Midwest (what I call Oklahoma), but I had never really experienced a place like Iowa/South Dakota. As I was driving north, I noticed some differences in the physicality of the land.

First: Christmas trees. Evergreens! Everywhere! On farms! Beside the road! Just chillin’!

I couldn’t stop saying, “Look at all these Christmas trees!” I loved them so much–Allyssa’s (my friend) childhood home had so many just hanging out in the yard, so that alone could make a girl happy.

But there’s more.

Did you know red barns exist? That they’re not just on postcards? Or on Thomas Kincade prints?

Red barns, my friends, actually do existUsually in an idyllic little grove in the middle of corn fields, as did most of the farms I saw. When I got closer and closer to Allyssa’s homestead, it was late afternoon, stupidly (perfectly) sunny, and my head kept swiveling to-and-fro to catch glimpses of these perfect little barns, some stamped with a decoration that indicates they are part of a “century farm,” a farm that has been in the same family for at least one hundred years.

Can you believe that? I don’t know where I’ll be in two years, and these folks and their family have been running a farm for more than one hundred. (!!!)

Of course, I knew red barns existed before this trip, but where I’m from, most of the barns I see are abandoned and collapsing by the side of the road–I’m from Texas, yes, but not in an area dominated by farmers and/or ranchers. I’m a suburb gal, so the sight of these red barns–bright red, trimmed with white, beautiful, clean and pretty barns–made me so happy.

Let’s move on to the different attractions I experienced. I’ll give you a quick rundown:

Obscure museums, tours, a corn palace (yes, you read that right), a small-town Fourth of July parade, fireworks, a stop at a cathedral (I’m still a Catholic school girl at heart), walks around an entire town (because it’s that small), bingo, a pie auction, and quality chill time with my best friend and her family.

There was probably more–we did so much during my short visit.

Let me discuss the most quirky/charming/wonderful activities, because this trip was chock-full.

The Corn Palace. Yes. It’s what you think it is. In Mitchell, South Dakota, there’s a big building that’s covered in corn, corn husks, and other corn bits. The corn composes intricate murals that interpret the theme of the year. This year’s theme is “South Dakota Weather,” so the Corn Palace was covered in murals depicting snow, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and more. The Corn Palace is one of those iconic roadside attractions–like the world’s largest Ketchup bottle, or ball of yarn, or polyurethane cow (anyone watch The Middle?!)–and, let me tell you, I’m a sucker for that stuff. I live for all things quirky, and I love a good gift shop.

It was no surprise I went nuts for the Corn Palace. I bought a hat and three postcards. The hat is now my most treasured possession.

The Corn Palace = a-MAIZE-ing.

Ha. Haha.

Let’s talk about the pie auction. It is possible, out of everything Allyssa and I experienced, that the pie auction was my most favorite.

A little background: I was in town for Allyssa’s hometown’s Freedom Days, a weekend full of Fourth of July themed fun. There are tons of fundraisers that happen for Freedom Days, and the pie auction is one of them. The proceeds help pay for next year’s fireworks display (which was incredible, by the way; #thankyoupies).

The gist: people in town bake pies, a real auctioneer auctions them off, and the bidding starts at $50.

Yes. $50.

I CANNOT BEGIN TO EXPRESS HOW INCREDIBLE THIS EXPERIENCE WAS. Pies went for $100! $200! $300! $400! $500!

The biggest bid?

$1,025!

I KNOW, RIGHT?

Apparently, this bid holds the record as the largest in the town’s history. To be a part of this historic night was magic. I even bid on a pie (thank you to Allyssa’s dad for being the sweetest ever), and came home the winner of a S’mores concoction.

Victory tastes sweet.

Speaking of food–let’s talk about FOOD. Midwestern food.

Here are food/restaurants I savored while experiencing the Midwest to its fullest:

  • Culver’s (Hello, Cheese Curds! I LOVE CHEESE CURDS! Those things just don’t exist down here.)
  •  Pizza Ranch. Delicious.
  • Culver’s frozen custard.
  • There was more, but for some reason, I can’t remember.
  • Oh, yeah! Allyssa’s fam cooked brats (my first time trying those, and holy cow, so good), burgers with the best-tasting beef, and “barbeque,” which is our version of Sloppy Joes. All delicious.
  • And Taco John’s. I find the whole concept of Potatoe Oles wonderful/wacky–remember, I’m a Texan, and we think our Tex-Mex can do no wrong.
  • Okay, I still think that. BUT. I loved Taco John’s and its “West-Mex.” Apparently, that’s a thing.

Overall, experiencing some of the cuisines of the Midwest proved fun, tasty, and new-to-me. I loved it.

The best part of the Midwest?

The people, of course. Adorable accents and all (everyone had an accent–Midwesterners seem to skip over their vowels altogether, at least compared to us Southerners. Also, the vernacular: “Pop” instead of “soda” or “Coke,” phrases like “shoot a pickle!” [FAV], and more. Oh, I could dissect dialects ALL DAY).

The people are so nice. I felt so welcome by everyone–Allyssa’s family (I love y’all), the townspeople, our tour guides on our many excursions, etc. There’s a lyric from “Iowa Stubborn” (from the musical The Music Man) that sums up the people of the Midwest perfectly:

“But we’ll give you our shirt/ And a back to go with it/ If your crops should happen to die.”

Good, good people with the biggest hearts. What more can I say?

Thank you, Allyssa and fam, for being my hosts and my guides to all things Iowa/South Dakota. Not only was last week a week for catching up with my best friend, it was a week of new adventures and new experiences. I had the most incredible time.
Now, if you excuse me, I’ll be here craving cheese curds for the rest of the year. They are just so dang good.

Favorite Feelings

The first day of a vacation, i.e. what today is for me. (I’m coming for ya, Allyssa and Iowa and South Dakota!)

The first sip of a large Diet Coke with vanilla from Sonic, because it’s extra vanilla-y.

Reading in a pool, your body half-submerged as the sun warms your shoulders and arms.

When you flip on the Food Network and the Pioneer Woman is on. She’s fantastic.

The crunch of a tortilla chip dripping with creamy jalapeño sauce from Chuy’s. UGH. I melt.

A perfectly clean room.

When you sit down to write and your brain actually spits out ideas.

The first time you listen to an album or a song, and you end up loving it. It’s the magic of listening to lyrics for the first time, you know?

When you used to work at Disney World and you visit for the first time in over a year, and Russell from Up remembers you and walks you to the Wilderness Explorer Clubhouse. (Oh, Disney. I MISS YOU.)

Receiving snail mail from your friends. Just sayin’ hi.

Sitting between the shelves of the local library, writing. You feel so official.

Actually seeing–not FaceTiming, not texting–your best friend for the first time in months. (Tomorrow, tomorrow!)

The tickle of your dog’s tongue on your nose.

Watching baby birds evolve: from aliens to gargoyles to feathered gargoyles to real life birds.

Long drives by yourself. You sing at the top of your lungs and no one judges you when you zone out to think about life and stuff.

And on that drive, you’re able to think of new story ideas and blog posts (like this one) and you feel energized and creative and productive!

And, finally, the satisfaction that comes with writing your thoughts down. There’s nothing better.

Hope and New Beginnings and All That Jazz

I’ve talked about how much I love the New Year on this blog before, but this year I love it times ten. I’m so hopeful and so energized and ready to take on whatever comes my way.

Like so excited.

I think I’m ready to not feel like I’m in a “funk” this year. I’ll be honest, after returning home from my college program in August of 2016, I felt lost and out-of-sorts, unsure and hesitant. Kind of…blah. I think the transition from college to Disney World to the real world to graduate school has been daunting and rough at times. But now I’m feeling good. More balanced. Ready. Excited. Hopeful.

Some quick little goals/resolutions:

  1. Enjoy my first year of teaching–I’ll be teaching composition one as part of my graduate teaching assistantship this coming semester, and I am so excited to give it a whirl.
  2. Make my health a priority this year. Work out! Feel like an athlete again! Eat well! Be mindful! Feel great!
  3. Write and write and write and write and write and revise and revise and revise and revise and submit and submit and submit and submit to magazines and whatnot.
  4. Be happy. Stress less. Enjoy the little things.
  5. Find a hobby–maybe cooking? Something?

I hope everyone has a happy, productive, and magical 2018.

Encouragement

Today, around 10:00 a.m.

Hi, blog! Long time no write. Well, I have been writing, just not for you. Which is dumb, but I’m remedying this problem right this very second! Yay!

Grad school has been a whirlwind so far. Truly. I’ve loved it, but it’s been an adjustment. Ellie and I are finally settling into a little routine (I think), and I’m really good at heating up Lean Cuisines and Stouffer’s French bread pizza.

Right now, my stomach is in knots and I’m just a nervous bundle of energy. Today, I turn in my first bit of fiction for one of my classes.

I’m so terrified, guys! I just hope my piece is sort of up to par with all the PhD and the second or third year MFA students in my class. I just hope that my school didn’t let me in by accident, and that my professor and my fellow students won’t read what I wrote and say, “Holy cow, where did this girl come from? How did she manage to get here?!” I know this is a common thought and fear among grad students–“imposter syndrome,” it’s called–but I hate it! I hate thinking I’m not good enough. I hate thinking that other people might think that I’m not good enough.

Isn’t that silly?!

Here’s where the title of this post comes in: encouragement. I’m going to write a bit of encouragement to me and to all of you.

Dear You,

Maybe you will be horrible. You might not be good enough. There’s always that chance that you won’t be good at something. There’s a chance  you’ll fall flat on your face. 

(Wow, strong start, am I right?)

BUT. Even if you are horrible, why is that such a big deal? If you want to be good at something, just put your head down, work like you’ve never worked before, and you’re bound to get better. You might never be the best, but gosh darn it, you can be your best!

(So much cheese; I cringe. But I’m a huge fan of all things cheesy.)

What you wrote is your very best at this moment in time. That’s all you can do. Take the criticism, take the feedback, and then run with. Get better. Work at it. Keep your optimism and grit and your stupid little Pollyanna smile. 

(I smile a lot. Former cast member probs, I suppose.)

You got this. Work! Know that you won’t always get gold stars, and embrace that feeling of uncertainty. You get to work at what you love to do, and you’re going to get better. 

Sincerely, 

Me.

annnnnnddddd….

Today, around 4:29 p.m. 

UPDATE: The class went well! I did a happy dance in my car before I drove home! I got some great notes and good feedback, and everyone was so nice. I’m happy to be here, and I’m so happy to be learning from such talented writers.

My anxiety has been lifted (for the moment, at least), but the bit of encouragement I wrote this morning is still relevant. I hope it helps you, because my little pep talk really helped me “buck up” and embrace my fears. If I acknowledge my anxieties, I can face them head on and accept them. Why stress about being good enough? What’s the worst thing that could happen?

I hope you have a great day, my friends. Do your best today and every day.