the choice to be an optimist

“Are you always in a good mood?”

A barista at a local coffee shop asked me this recently as I walked in with a smile beaming.

I laughed. “Well, I try to be.”

She gave me a look, lips pursed, and responded, “I know some people who could use some of that attitude.”

In my mind, I was thinking that maybe she could use some of this attitude since I was in this coffee shop four times a week and rarely had seen her so much as smile.

But after the encounter, I was almost mad. Of course I’m not always in a good mood. Of course not. And even if I was, why bring attention to it with a question plagued with rudeness? Why ruin my good mood with a question that seemed to refer to it as a bad thing?

I’ve noticed that people do tend to hold certain expectations of me: I’m the energizer, the enthusiast, the optimist, the person people rely on for motivation and positivity. I love having this role, and it comes so naturally to me. With this role, though, comes the belief that I’m always happy… or that I’ve never experienced hardship… or that I’m innocent, naive, and sheltered. And these things are just not true.

I’m not always happy, but I do genuinely try to be. As no-good and terrible as life can be (see: my sister with a child she can’t take care of, my alcoholic mother, my struggle with post-traumatic depression), I make a choice to see the good. To see whatever silver lining is hiding in the clouds. When you approach life with a glass-half-full mindset, you simply tend to be happier. This isn’t genetics or the way I was hard-wired. This is a choice.

I’m happy in spite of all the things life has given me because I want to be. That’s it. That’s the whole “secret” to living a happier life–deciding you want to.

No one gets to call me innocent because I smile. No one should use the word “naive” to refer to me because I don’t indulge in telling them about my problems. I’m not sheltered because I live a life that’s centered on the good in it.

Being happy, being genuinely carelessly happy is intentional. It takes effort. It’s not always an instinct. It’s rephrasing “I have to do this” as “I get to do this.” It’s self-care, and not necessarily the pretty kind. Sometimes it’s getting out of bed even when I don’t feel like it, it’s studying for an exam in a class that I hate, walking 10,000 steps when my legs hurt. It’s performing well now for successful results later for the happiness that these things bring.

Being happy is setting yourself up for success. Being happy is seeing success and growth in failure.

And all this takes is a decision. A decision to see your life for what’s good in it and working to change the things that aren’t.

12/2/2019 – i gift-wrapped my own trauma

my mind has been wrapping all my trauma into boxes,
securing it with caution tape, a do not enter sign, and healing in the form of a fortress.
but then i saw my mother drink and i saw her forget and i saw her with her back turned to us as my dad said that he wishes she would drink less,
as my sister said she was moving out until she got it under control,
as i said that our relationship was over until she tried to change.
and i saw her respond with
“life made me this way.”
silence and rage.
silence at the inability to change.
rage at her suggestion that her life is not something worth living for.
i choked on my comments
(“yes because your loving husband and three children ruined you”
“we should’ve been enough for you”
“life sucks for everyone and we don’t all have drinking problems”)
and let the last one spill,
leaving hate and defiance and revenge to linger in my mouth:
sweet like peach-ring candies,
bitter like childhood trauma unpacking itself from boxes.
addiction ruined this family

7/26/2019 – sunlight and stardust

i think i am made of the stars and suns and moons and maybe even the planets too because i’ve always found wonder and life and warmth inside myself i’ve never had to look too far away never had to use a telescope to find fascination or joy or childlike pondering. sometimes i think i am made of the stars (and suns and moons and maybe even the planets too) because even with the wonder and the life i’ve never found a home on this earth and these people never understand me or maybe these people just don’t want to understand me because i’m sure my sister didn’t mean to disregard my emotions that i so rarely express and i’m sure my best friend didn’t mean to make me feel so isolated in her company — but they did so anyway. so i choose to believe that i am made of the stars and suns and moons and maybe even the planets too because if my hazel eyes are made of sunlight and my skin is made of stardust then maybe, maybe, maybe these people don’t understand me only because they don’t understand what i’m made of
though i suppose i don’t need to be made of sunlight and stardust for that to be true

why i’m fed up with “strong female characters”

I love books. I’m a fan of many long-running television shows. And I have decided that I am tired of the narrative that so many people (maybe even society in general) spin around some so-called “strong female characters.”

“Strong female characters” who’s personalities are — albeit well-developed and even interesting — overshadowed by their physical strength.

“Strong female characters” who are well-written and multi-faceted that are (more often than not) seen as little more than rude (or bitchy or mean or feisty… you get the idea).

“Strong female characters” that have so much potential and grace that are ultimately just nothing more than females with physical strength or an ability to kill.

Not to say than a true strong female character CAN’T have these things, just that they are not a requirement.

Characters like:
Katniss Everdeen, who is normally remembered for her talent in archery rather than her blind loyalty to her sister.
Buffy Summers, who is more commonly known as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” rather than “Buffy, the girl who sacrificed herself to save the world…. twice”
Ziva David, most remembered because she knows how to kill a man using a paperclip 18 different ways; not most remembered for her innate desire to protect her sister Tali.

Those three characters (and so, so many more) are truly strong, but not for the reasons we most commonly think of.

And I am so tired of it.

I want more female characters like Felicity Smoak — who’s most notable characteristic is her intelligence.

I want more Feyre Archerons, who learned to hunt at age 14 out of necessity to keep her sisters from starving. Who didn’t mind fighting a battle to protect her home, but who’s stomach churned at war for the sake of war.

I want more Selina Myers, who is genuinely so terrible at her job (as VEEP and as president) but is funny and quick-witted in spite of it.

I want more Arizona Robbins, who is kind and compassionate and so very caring and capable. Who faced trauma and thrived anyway. Who loved her job even on the worst days of it.

I want more female characters who haven’t ever used a weapon — who have no desire to ever use a weapon.

Female characters with good, healthy support systems.

Female characters who are too proud, too kind, too loyal, too dedicated, too driven, too cruel, too optimistic.

I want female characters with visible flaws — who are strong despite these flaws.

A “strong female character” does not have to be physically strong or even mentally or emotionally strong. And she certainly doesn’t have to be perfect.

A strong female character just needs to be a multi-dimensional character with motives and thoughts and feelings that fit with her multi-dimensions.

And I can’t wait for the day that this narrative is flipped.

the top five shawn mendes songs (imo)

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done… okay, maybe not, but I definitely STRUGGLED. I went to his concert last Sunday in Saint Louis and I almost cried. Please enjoy this (and listen if you haven’t already!)

disclaimer: this list is *probably* out of order. i don’t know. i love them all.

5. senorita (with camila cabello)

HELLLOOOO SHAWN MENDES, am I right? This song is SENSUAL. “You love it when I come” at 2:56? no need to SNAP like that. For the most part, his singles released for radio have been relatively ~PG~. No parent is gonna be mad at their children belting “In My Blood” or “Mercy,” but some might raise an eyebrow at this one. This is a little out of his normal wheelhouse, and I am here. for. it. Not to mention the fact that it’s a TOTAL. BANGER. perfect for singing in the shower or having sex. very well-rounded. a solid 10/10

4. never be alone

The first Shawn Mendes song I ever fell in love with. Beautiful lyrics, inspiring message, pretty chords. So pleasant and easy to listen to. The whistling is SO FUN to sing along (whistle along?) with. This song always makes me feel a little bit happier. And I lay under the same stars as Shawn Mendes? Fucking phenomenal. Makes my heart cry. Will gladly take a piece of his heart. This song forever has a spot on my sad playlist. I will sing this to my children… if I have any

3. mutual

A RELATABLE SONG. Catchy chorus. Perfect for dancing in your underwear. I have considered sending this song to ~boys in my life~. WHAT DO U WANT FROM BABBBYYY OHHHHH. This song has made it’s way onto my all-time favorites playlist on Spotify–it’s in good company. Honestly, his whole self-titled album is a sonic masterpiece. Tell me I’m wrong. This song should’ve been released as a single. People would want to know who hurt him like this.

2. bad reputation

This song. This song has my WHOLE HEART. (for no apparent reason?) All of his friends have seen her naked, or so the story goes. We’ve all been there… ok, maybe not there, but somewhere close because people talk shit. Shawn loves you anyway! 1:55 to 2:25 makes me feel like I could RULE THE WORLD. Such power. Such grace. This song has always been a favorite and will always be. I’ve cried in my car to this more than I’m willing to admit.

1. where were you in the morning?

The most pressing question: who would leave Shawn Mendes and NOT leave their number? I’m very confused. This song is *slightly* more PG13 in that it’s about hooking up, but definitely less so than Senorita. Another 10/10 for every. one. of my moods. All of them. “I hope you had a good visit, cuz I know you had a good time.” — ICONIC, SHAWN. BEAUTIFUL. Look at that confidence!!!! What a king. I need more of that attitude in my life. 1008/10.

6/25/19 – fury

the animal was trapped in its cage—
teeth on bars, claws drawn,
gnawing at the metal.
it’s eyes were fiercely calm;
fire and rage hidden right behind the urge to escape.
the metal bars snap—
teeth attack and claws shred.
the animal crowns herself as queen and leaves her newfound kingdom in a storm of flames and blood.
she looks at the mess she made.
she smiles.
happy to destroy those who wanted to destroy her.
this animal chose “anger” as her name

“you look like a whore”

A vibrant pink crop-top with stripes like the nineties, tied in a knot at the front with a conservative neckline that didn’t even show my collarbone and sleeves that covered my shoulders. Super-high rise, mid-length shorts, completely black with an elastic waistband. White sandals with two straps. Foundation, concealer, light mascara, and slight contouring.

This is what I was wearing when my mother told me that I looked like a whore.

When I told my best friend, she laughed and said, “Well, that’s how you know you look good.” I laughed with her.

Once the jokes were aside, I began to wonder why my mother still feels the need to comment on my appearance. She knows (because I’ve made it clear to her) that the way that I eat, the way that I dress, and the way I do my make-up and my hair is not ever her business. Her opinion does not matter to me. I will not listen if she tells me to change my clothes or take my foundation off. If I am walking out the door, I am well aware of my appearance and I’ve made a conscious decision to leave the house looking whatever way I look (dressed down or up).

Because my mother doesn’t only have a problem with me dressing well — she also comments when she thinks I look too “embarrassing.”

“I can’t believe you’re leaving the house in that,” she’ll say as I walk into the living room with a sweatshirt and leggings on and my hair in a bun. “You’ll be embarrassed if you see someone you know.”

My mother is representative of a larger problem. She’s only one of the many, many people in this world who hold girls and young women to these unreachable, mountain-high standards of perfection.

You shouldn’t have acne or bags under your eyes, but you also can’t wear too much make-up. Your jeans should be flattering, but not too tight. Your tops should be form-fitting, but make sure they don’t show too much cleavage!!! Put effort into the way you look, but make sure other people can’t tell you’ve put effort into the way you look.

When people look at teenage girls, they see only their appearance and not the personality or thoughts or feelings that accompany their appearance–that are significantly more important than their appearance.

Whether or not I’m conventionally attractive or dressed well is surely not the most significant thing about me, and it’s not the most significant thing about anyone ever.

I stopped caring about other people’s opinions on my appearance around the time that I realized this. Why does it matter if I have acne if I’m brave? Why does my messy hair matter when I’m intelligent? Why does my crop-top hold any weight when I’m patient and loving?

Newsflash: it doesn’t… or at least it shouldn’t.

We won’t be enough for the people in the world who expect perfection.

I won’t be enough for my mother.

But I have always been and will always be enough for my sister, who believes in growth and grace over perfection. My sister, who would never tell me that I look like whore for wearing something that I feel confident and pretty in.

We will be enough for the people in our lives who value us for our thoughts and ideas and personalities. We will be enough for the people in our lives who matter.

Learning to block out the opinions of a society who doesn’t care about us isn’t easy, but it is freeing. There is power in telling people who have negative things to say about your appearance, “I don’t care what you think about how I look.” There is ownership in wearing what you want to wear, whether that be bralettes or skirts or sweatpants or jeans or dresses or heels or tennis shoes.

These are our bodies, and we should dress them as we please.

Anyone who has a problem with what we look like should maybe just stop looking.

an autobiography of sorts

Growing up, there were things about my life that held no sense: a static noise surrounding a courtroom memory, a strangely emotional attachment to an old softball jersey that didn’t even have my own last name on it, and a haze of sadness in regards to my grandmother, who never sent me holiday cards. Even now, I can picture a landscape of snow in a room with a judge and with a box filled with cell-phones, and I can hear the man in the black robe asking if I’m nervous. Nervous about what? Maybe I never understood, or maybe I simply can no longer recall.  In the bottom of my t-shirt drawer, there is an XXS youth jersey with “SCHROEDER” inscribed on the back. This is my mother’s maiden name, and I never quite knew why this lonely shirt carried more meaning to me than my several others adorned with “JOHNSTON.” My father’s mother sent a card (and sometimes even money) to my two older sisters on every birthday, every Christmas, every Easter. My mother used to tell me that mine must have been “lost in the mail.” I began to realize this wasn’t true. I began to question the aspects of my childhood that simply didn’t add up, the things that made me sad.

Flash forward to 2017, my (middle) sister’s college graduation open house. Here, my family took our first photo together in years.  I was a carbon copy of my mother–I had her eyes, her cheekbones, her smile, and her face shape. My sisters bore my father’s squinted eyes and his round, happy cheeks, though they also managed to steal my mother’s nose and her eyebrows. Somehow, unlike my sisters, I inherited all of my mother and seemingly nothing from my father.

Because I hadn’t.

When I was 17 years old, I started to put the puzzle pieces of my life together. First I found the corners, and then the edges, and then my parents sat me down and connected the rest.

My mother and father were married, and together they had my two older sisters. My mother–who I candidly hold some contempt towards–cheated on my father. They got a divorce, and my mother got a new boyfriend. My parents told me now that this boyfriend was, biologically, my father. In other words:  I am adopted.

When my mother told her boyfriend she was pregnant with me, he pushed her down a flight of stairs in an attempt to kill me.

I should not be alive.

My mother left said boyfriend and told my father, and I suppose the boyfriend went to jail. They told me in this conversation that he eventually died; I don’t know if I believe them. Perhaps, he really did, or maybe they were trying to protect me from a decision I had yet to make.

There was an ongoing joke in my family that I was my father’s favorite kid, but I’ll never forget what he told me that night. “You may not be my first child, but you were the first kid I got to choose.”

My mother is a hard person to get along with; she is irrational, stubborn, mean, and selfish. My mother is the worst parts of myself, and we never liked each other much because of that. We fought, and we fought, and we fought. By this time in my life, I had no respect for her. She spent my father’s hard-earned money on alcohol and cigarettes, wouldn’t drive in the winter, told me I needed to lose weight, and refused to hold down a job. (That being said, I have always possessed an amount of love for my mother–albeit strained and sometimes forced.) My father told me a few months later in a sole conversation that I was his reason for remarrying my mother. He said, “It seemed as if I never chose the right girls, so I decided that she was the mother to my children and that I loved you, and that was going to be enough for me.”

The court wouldn’t let him adopt me unless he and my mother were legally married. So, he married her. He gave up his chance at a happy life for me. My dad loves me in a more immense way than I could ever have imagined–and I’m not even his.

My father and I are not blood. We are so much more. He showed up to every one of my softball games and practices, even when we both knew that I would not see the field. He stood up for me when my mother refused to trust me. He carried me to bed every night I fell asleep on him, and he carried me off of the softball field when I was too weak to walk. My freshman year, when I decided that I no longer wanted to live, he had enough strength to live for the both of us.  He patiently drove me to college visits all over the midwest (Bloomington, West Lafayette, Evanston, Ann Arbor, Iowa City, Lincoln, Urbana-Champaign) until I fell in love with the black squirrels and glass buildings at Nebraska. He has always believed in me in every aspect in my life, whether it be standardized test scores, or my AP Composition test, or my talent level in softball. He believes I can, and so I can. He puts up with my foibles and flaws. He lets me sing in the car, even though I’ve never been able to hit the right notes. He buys my favorite chocolate when he knows I’ve had a rough week, and he sends me silly GIFs just because he can.

I know that he loves me, and I know that we don’t need a DNA test to prove it.

6/19/19 – impulse

the sensation snakes through her body,
kissing every bone
and whispering at her muscles:
pull the trigger.
for a half-second,
she wields confliction like a sword,
ready for battle as the victor of indecisiveness.
half a second later,
the sensation creeps to her mind and twists and turns.
she’s suddenly armed with mediocre decisions,
a fully loaded gun,
and a body that’s ready to react.
she has turned on herself.
she is the enemy of hesitation.
soldiers of the other side shout about her
“impulse control issues”
and she fires back with ill-formed thoughts.
she pulls the trigger on her weapons and her words,
leaving her hesitation to die as a hero.
– sometimes she truly can’t stop the trigger from pulling itself

being afraid vs. living in fear

I realize that, as a nineteen-year old full-time college student, I am not the most reliable source of wisdom. Even so, I feel like I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot in the past two years of my life. If my thoughts, feelings, and ideas can help someone else experience this same growth, why shouldn’t I share my experiences?

Recently, I’ve realized that I am a person who is okay with being afraid. I’m not necessarily the biggest advocate for change, but I welcome it with open arms. My life has evolved in ways I never could have imagined when I left for college last August: I now have three jobs when I used to have none, I willingly share some of my most vulnerable writing with people I’ve known less than a year, and I recently decided that, although I used to dream of my husband and our two children, motherhood may not be for me.

Each of these things, each of these changes were admittedly scary changes. I was unsure I could handle the responsibility I was taking on in my professional career. Tearing down the walls of invulnerability I had built because of my mother (and subsequently sharing my writing) terrified me–other people weren’t supposed to know that I had feelings. Waving goodbye to the pretense of what my life was supposed to be made me want to scream into the void.

These things were also liberating: I proved to myself that I am, in fact, a functioning adult. I am allowed to have and share my feelings, even when they’re negative. I no longer feel boxed in by a future that I’m not even sure I want.

Fear spawns action. Fear provides an internal motivation to produce results. Fight or flight? Either, so long as you’re fighting to win or fleeing to something better.

Having a job and paying my own grocery bill? Fight.

Being vulnerable? Fight.

Having children? Flight. Definitely flight.

I’ve always thought (and never said) that not being afraid is a sign that you aren’t being challenged enough by yourself. You wade in the shallow side of the pool, only eat foods as spicy as you know you can handle, or apply for jobs you know you can get. You stay in your comfort zone.

Nerves and fear go hand in hand — anxiety is a feeling of fear.

Be more nervous. Or rather, try more things that make you nervous.

As truly as I believe that fear is healthy and encouraging, I also believe that living in fear is damaging and harmful.

You should do more things that make you afraid, but you shouldn’t be afraid of life. You shouldn’t be living in fear.

My mother has incapacitating fear that interrupts her quality of life. She refuses to drive a car. She drinks to handle her anxiety. She once told me not to call her if I was in trouble because she can’t handle the fear of me not being okay.

My mother looks for things to be afraid of; she looks for things to go wrong.

I’ve realized lately that I have no tolerance for this. Bad things in life happen. They happen to everyone, and it sucks. But why should we be afraid of things that haven’t happened yet? Why be afraid of a car accident that hasn’t occurred? Or a plane crash that doesn’t exist yet–that probably won’t ever exist? Why be afraid of things you have no control over?

I think that you can be afraid of things as they happen and things that you have control over. Anything else is a waste of emotional energy.

At least, anything else is a waste of my emotional energy.

Be afraid. Don’t live in fear.

Let fear be a driving force, not one that stops you in your tracks. If your fear is stopping you in your tracks, try something less scary.

Be afraid, but don’t live in fear.

Let your fear spawn action. But don’t live in it.