The thing no one wants to talk about

I walked into the grief counselor’s office and sat down awkwardly on the couch across from her. I stared at her for what felt like five minutes, before she asked me what brought me in. I told her about the loss of my father. She waited for me to say more before she asked me to tell her about my dad. I didn’t get more than a sentence or two out before I started crying. “I didn’t think I was going to cry,” I said as I accepted the Kleenex box from her. I told her about my father’s work ethic and how he taught me to work hard and be nice. I told her about the daily phone calls I’d get from him, about how they were always less than five minutes and about how he just wanted to check in and say he loved me. I told her about summers in the pool, family vacations to the beach, and the endless athletic events he took me to. The more I talked the more I cried.

When I stopped talking she let me collect myself. She smiled softly at me and said, “you’re sad.”

I don’t know why this made me feel better, but it did. Because you know what, I am sad. Sometimes we get so busy with daily commitments and responsibilities, that we don’t allow ourselves to feel what we’re feeling. I am no expert on the topic, but I think it would be helpful if we all talked openly and honestly about how we are doing and didn’t just say “fine” when someone asked. It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to not be okay.

In an effort to “practice what I preach,” I wrote this blog post. I started typing this and erased it about 12 times before I let myself finish it. It is hard to talk about loss and it is even harder to talk about addressing it. But you know what? This is real. This isn’t a Instagram portrayal of life, where you see only the highlights. This is messy and honest.

As I got up to leave the appointment, the grief counselor asked me what I wanted to accomplish. She explained that sometimes people come in knowing what they want to accomplish. I told her that I wasn’t sure and I just felt like talking about my dad and what I was feeling. That is how I am approaching this post. I wanted to talk about my experience with grief and how I think we should be more open about it. I am not writing to give advice on what you should do in a similar situation (because let’s be honest, I don’t know what I am doing anymore than anyone else), but if by chance you are going through something similar, I hope  this made you feel a little less alone.

xoxo,

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Writing about loss is hard, but this is a start

I previously said that writing is “my thing.” Writing is how I process something and writing is how I heal. I sit down with a notebook and pen or a laptop and cup of coffee and write. But lately that hasn’t been the case. Notebooks gather dust on a bookshelf and my laptop sits unopened, a protest of sorts. C5ANFS4K5J.jpg

I haven’t had the words. How can I write about something that I am feeling so deeply? How can I express that while I am making a conscious effort to be present, I still think about my dad every day? I still don’t have all the words, but I can feel them coming back to me, a little each day.

Oddly enough, I started feeling like writing again when I heard Wesley Schultz, the lead singer of The Lumineers, talk about losing his father. He describes the time that passed after his dad died as a blur and although he knew his father was gone, it didn’t really hit him until a few months later. He couldn’t find any of his black socks and he knew his dad still had clothes in his drawers so he went to grab some in a rush and pulled out a pistol. He thought he knew everything about his dad and at that exact moment he realized his dad was really gone because he couldn’t ask him anymore questions, like why he owned a gun.

I feel the same way. I miss my dad all the time, but I miss him the most when I desperately want to talk to him or ask him for advice. He gave the best advice and always made me feel better. I miss him each day it gets warmer outside and stays light longer because I know he loved this time of year. Mostly, I miss being able to tell him how much I love him. Although I have a feeling he knows that.

Writing about loss is hard, but this is a start.

Work-life balance and learning to adult

Sometimes work consumes my life. I wake up at 6:30 a.m., travel for work, interview sources and take photographs and then travel home to write for a few hours. I repeat this throughout the week and sometimes even continue this Saturday morning to meet a deadline.

It really hit me that this was becoming a routine when I caught up with a friend over coffee. We each talked about what was new and as I was talking I realized everything I had to report was about work.

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I don’t usually realize that this is happening until I go to write the title and date on an article and it’s almost a new month. Time is flying by and it’s because I am letting my life revolve so heavily around work.

I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to have more of a work-life balance and because I’m sure I’m not alone in this, I thought I would write about it here.

Extra hours don’t always mean better work

Trust me I understand working at home after work. I do it more often than I should, but I’ve found that my work isn’t necessarily any better. In fact, I usually have to edit it or add something else the next morning. I took an honest look at the work I was doing and once I realized the extra hours weren’t really doing me any favors, I decided to put more effort in getting things done during the day.

Break the iPhone habit

Are you constantly checking your phone for calls or emails from work? I know I sometimes am. I hate the feeling when I am checking my work email for the 10th time and don’t even mean to be. If you can, pick a time in the evening where you won’t check on work. I personally try to avoid looking at my email after 6 p.m.

Make your schedule work for you

I find that I am more productive in the morning. I can’t back this up with stats or scientific facts, but I can tell you I feel more focused in the morning. I try to do everything I can in that time period and leave some smaller assignments for the afternoon. By doing this, I feel more productive and find myself procrastinating less by looking at a cat video or a clip from last nights Dancing With the Stars episode.

Find out what you can do to leave work at work

Do yoga. Hang out with friends. Play with your pet. Do something that you like. I was seriously concerned when all I had to talk about was work. I took a look at my past month and realized I hadn’t been hiking or to yoga class, which are two things that I enjoy that help me clear my mind.

Organize. Organize. Organize. 

I spent an hour the other day organizing my desk and my work bag. Again, I don’t have scientific facts to back this up, but it made my work week better. By taking some extra time to organize instead of throwing it all in a pile on top of my desk, I was able to focus my time on what needed to be done, not searching for that one paper that should be in that one folder.

While I’m all for women kicking ass in the work world, I know that I personally don’t want my career to be all that defines me. When people ask me what I’ve been up to, I would like to have something more interesting to say than “oh, I’ve been working a lot.” And while these might not apply to everyone in their careers, I hope that it helps.

Now when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I can tell them about some of the other things I’ve been doing besides work.

What about you? Do these apply to you? Do you have anything to add? Teach me your ways.

Field-Trip Tuesday: Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

Who says adults can’t go on field trips? Because most of my time is spent traveling in a car for work, I try to make the most of that time. When I drive through towns that have a tourist attraction, local restaurant or museum, I try to make at least one stop.

Recently I visited the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library in Indianapolis. And there was something magical about it. Works from the late writer and Indianapolis native were on display, but more than that the library is a cultural and educational resource that helps fight censorship and support language arts.

Those able to visit should do so as the curator gives complimentary tours. For those unable to see it in person, I’ll share some photos I took.

When walking in to the library, I was greeted by the typewriter Vonnegut actually used in the 1970s and the phrase “we are dancing animals.”

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Several of the author’s drawings are also on display around the library.

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After walking around listening to videos about the author and reading some of the rejection letters Vonnegut received, I reached my favorite part of the library.

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Visitors can sit over and type on the same model of typewriter that the author used next to the same style of lamp he used. I sunk down into the chair, typed my own message and sat there for a moment. It’s easy to see why many people enjoy visiting this library, especially this room.

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After that I walked around a little longer, I purchased a collection of his graduation speeches titled “If this isn’t nice, what is,” and then went back to work (so it goes). I highly suggest people visit it if they are able.

Hiatus interrupted

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It has been several months since I logged in to my blog and my last post was almost a year ago. I realized that I needed to take a little bit of a break. I almost deleted my blog, but something kept me from doing that. I played around with the idea of starting a different blog and tested it out, but that lasted about week. Instead of starting completely over, I realized I just needed to add more of what I want to add to this existing blog.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written a few posts about being a journalist and how sometimes it is challenging for me to write all day for work and then come home and write for fun.

I forgot the key word in that sentence is fun. I like writing. It’s something I’m passionate about and have been for over a decade. No really, I can remember writing short stories as a young child on wide-lined paper used to teach children how to write alphabet letters.

I like being able to write down my thoughts, even if I’m the only one to see it. In fact, as I write this I have another story to write for work, but I wanted to write a post on here first.  I just needed to be reminded that yes, writing is something I do for work, but it’s also something I enjoy.

So, in the spirit of getting back in the writing game, I am going to attempt to write a post each week from here on out. I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

I suppose I’ll get back to that story for work now.

Until next time.

Take A Chance Tuesday

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When I was considering accepting my current position as field editor of an agricultural newspaper, I honestly didn’t know what I was going to do. I’m from a rural area in northern Indiana and am familiar with agriculture, but I have never been a farm kid.

Although corn and beans fields surrounded the house I grew up in, my family didn’t farm. I even considered joining 4-H when I was in school but when it came down to only having the time to do athletics or 4-H, I chose athletics. I also considered joining FFA but at the time the organization mostly consisted of farm kids and I didn’t feel like I would fit in.

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I wondered if I would be able to keep up writing about something that I wasn’t overly familiar with. I thought there is no way I’m going to be able to talk with farmers, political leaders as well as business professionals and educators who live and breathe agriculture.

After a few days trying to decide what to do, I decided I would take a leap of faith and accept the position. I realized that, yes, I was scared about asking a stupid question about the industry or writing in a way that showed I was learning, but more than that, I was scared of moving for a job and finding out I didn’t like it. And I didn’t want that to stop me.

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Fast forward five months and I can tell you everything has worked out. I am incredibly happy in my position and have been pleasantly surprised at how kind everyone in the industry is. I can ask questions and those farmers and political leaders I was nervous to talk to and they will not only answer them but they’ll go above and beyond to give me the background of the subject.

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Along with, the overwhelming kindness I have received from coworkers, interviewees and everyone in between, I am happy that I took a chance.

By taking the position I have been given opportunities that I never would have had if I said no. I’ve been able to travel around the state and meet different kinds of people including a Colts football player, a Nascar driver and a Nascar team owner. I’ve experienced a historic barn tour as well as a boat tour of the Ohio River. I’ve also attended a wine festival and a restaurant opening where I got to sample different food dishes and then write about them. These are just a few of the experiences I never would have had without taking this opportunity.

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I never would have been paid to do these things without saying yes to the position and I am beyond thankful I did. I hope that others considering taking a chance on something will do so!

Have you had a similar situation? If so, tell me about it!

The future, as told by my fourth grade self

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“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Mrs. Langley, my fourth grade teacher, asked the class.

Several hands shot up.

A lawyer. An interior decorator. A dirt bike champion. A space engineer. A teacher.

“What about you?” she asked me.

A story writer.

She asked the class to write a one-page essay about what our future would be and turned it in to a book-which I still have. (see the picture above)

I knew then, at age 10 that was what I wanted to do. I didn’t know the kind of writing I wanted to do, but I knew I wanted to write.

I thought it was interesting when looking back that I didn’t write author or simply writer, I specifically wrote story writer.

The more I thought about it, I decided it was fitting to what I want to do 14 years later (now). With writing I want to tell stories, but I don’t just want to tell stories, I want to tell people’s stories. Heck, I want to tell my own stories.

That’s why I went in to journalism. There is something so satisfying about meeting someone, talking and finding out their “thing.” Everyone has a thing and most don’t even know it.

In the past year I have talked with a preacher who decided to start a hot sauce business, a woman who retraced the Trail of Death, the forced removal of Potawatomi Indians from north central Indiana to eastern Kansas in 1838 and a woman who opened a coffee shop that accepts only donations.

I got to find the story behind each person – I was able to learn the man who started the hot sauce business used his mother’s recipe for one of the flavors. His mother has Alzheimer’s, which makes his connection to the sauce an emotional one. I learned the trip for the woman was a “spiritual journey” and is still very much a part of her today. I was able to ask how a business that accepts only donations survives and found out the answer: community.

I was able to get a glimpse of the stories that make up each person and I was given the opportunity to describe that story for others.

That’s what I’m trying to do with this project. I am attempting to update my series, or conversations, on a more consistent basis and it’s a work in progress.

I recently tweaked my name to “Collecting Conversations.” I know, I know, it’s not that different from the former name. I tweaked it to fall in line with this thought of telling other people’s stories. I don’t really feel like I’m “chasing” them, but I do feel like I’m collecting them and in a small way, carrying them with me.

The outtakes (in case you need a laugh):
Just in case you were wondering, in my future essay, my fourth grade self also said I would be married by 25 to a man named Casey, I would have twin girls and we would live in North Carolina. (None of which are true). My personal favorite though (and this is a direct quote from 10-year-old me): “My grandchildren were smart. They were all scientists.”

Stephen King’s “On Writing” (part three)

stephen-king-on-writing-d1d225f2c6e25fcd45dce87de1f77d4d6e695e5f-s6-c30So I took my own advice and read while 10 inches of snow blanketed the area. Today was a true snow day for me as I worked from home because of the road conditions. But, I’m not complaining, I didn’t want to go outside when the wind chill was negative 42 degrees.

Here is a continued list of advice from Stephen King’s memoir, “On Writing”

8.) It’s possible to make a good writer out of a competent one

King doesn’t hold back for fear of hurting reader’s feelings when he says it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer and it’s also impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, but “it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one.”

9.) You must read and write…a lot

King tells readers that if they want to be a writer, they have to do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. Building off of that, King continues and says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.

10.) Write one word at a time

In an interview one time King told a radio talk-show he wrote one word at a time. “Whether it’s a vignette of a single page or an epic trilogy like “The Lord of the Rings,” the work is always accomplished one word at a time.”

11.) The material is the boss

King talks about being asked why he writes the things that he does. He says that question is asked under the assumption that the writer controls the material instead of the other way around.

12.) Write what you like 

Most people say to write what you know. King says to “write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendships, relationships, sex and work.”

13.) What you know makes you unique

Even though he said to write what you like, he notes that what you know makes you unique in some other way. “Be brave. Map the enemy’s positions, come back, tell us all you know.”

Stephen King’s “On Writing” (part two)

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I hate to admit that I’m still working on Stephen King’s “On Writing.” This speaks nothing of the quality of the memoir. It has something to do with the fact I have been slacking when it comes to reading.

I’m only 100 pages beyond where I was the first time I wrote about the book, but I stand by what I said the first time – it really is full of wisdom/good advice.

Here are some additional pieces of advice that have stuck out as I’ve (slowly) continued reading the memoir:

4.) Life is not a support system for art

King talks a lot about the struggle of writing. He says that a writer should put their desk in the corner of the room and not the middle of the room. He says this should be a reminder that “life isn’t a support system for art – it’s the other way around.”

5.) Take writing seriously

King says that you can approach writing with the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind.He goes further to say that no matter the reason you come to writing “come to it anyway but lightly.”

King says if people are willing to take it seriously, there is room for them to improve the craft.

6.) Use the vocabulary you have

Writers over time have said this in many different ways, but King tells us that a person’s vocabulary should sit on the top shelf of our “toolbox.” In other words writers shouldn’t try to make their writing fancier or longer just because the short words might make you feel ashamed. Use the vocabulary you have and don’t make a conscious effort to improve it, he said.

7.) Writing = magic

King points out that writing is a learned skill, but that skill can “create things far beyond our expectations.”

“We are talking about tools and carpentry, about words and style…but as we move along, you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”