Down to the Wire

Last Friday, I received the short story contest prompt from Reedsy. I wasn’t sure when it was due, so I started on it immediately. I was excited- I had a cool idea (a supernatural twist on a day at the office) and my character’s voice was coming through really strongly. The length requirement was 1,000-3,000 words and I got to about 850 before I was stuck. My main character just realized his gun wouldn’t work on the ghost- his ex-wife- who was pointing a gun at him (which would). How was he going to get out of that situation? And more importantly, how was the story even going to end?

I decided to take a break from the story and work on other things. Throughout the week I revisited the story, mostly just to look at it, think Wow, what a cool start! and procrastinate some more. To be fair, it was a busy week, but I made time for reading and playing Magic, so it wasn’t like I actually didn’t have time to write.

I made myself finish it this evening (after discovering that today was the deadline. Hopefully 9:30 pm wasn’t too late). When I sat down to write it and made myself put words on the page, I was surprised to find that they came . I didn’t eat dinner until 9 because I was so excited to start writing, and I didn’t stop writing as I finally got around to eating it. I really got into the story!

I told myself I just needed to finish it, even if it wasn’t good, but honestly, I think it is pretty good. It’s probably not professional quality, but I’m proud of it. I wasn’t expecting that.

It’s not that we don’t do things because they are hard, but they are hard because we don’t do them. Once I actually started writing, it was a lot easier than I had expected. We psych ourselves out about things like this that we are really nervous about. That’s what actually makes them hard.

Don’t doubt yourself. You are capable of more than you think you are.

Go out there and do the thing that you want to!


Fight Your Fears

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. I never really considered it as a career (I like stability), but I always wanted to publish novels. I make up stories in my head when I’m bored and am constantly thinking of new story ideas.

But I rarely write.

There’s always some excuse. I don’t have enough time is the most common. Like most writers, I also use the mythic writer’s block as an excuse- I’m not feeling inspired now, I’ll write later. But later never comes. Another popular one is that I just need to learn more about the craft of writing before I’ll be able to write well, so why not just wait until then?

None of these are the real reason that I don’t write. The real reason is because it’s really fucking hard. I’m so afraid of what other people will think of my writing and how they will judge it, that I’m paralyzed into inaction.

Sometimes, like in November when I do NaNoWriMo, I’ll get into a good writing habit. Then I’ll think to myself, this is great! This is what I’ve needed all along! Now I can just keep this up and I’ll finally get more writing done.

But then November ends and I get back to the grind, making excuses to avoid writing.

So many people say that the key to being a good writer isn’t having talent, it’s perseverance. You need to be able to face the criticism, judgment, and rejection and still believe in yourself and your story. You need to experience these things and keep writing. I like to think that I’m the kind of person who does persevere. A friend once described me as someone who “relishes a challenge.” Why is it then that writing is so hard for me?

One quote I really like that applies here: “Perseverance isn’t one long race, it’s several short races one after another.”

The way I’ve been thinking about writing is that I get over the stumbling block once and keep going. But that’s not how it works. Literally every time I write, I have to face that fear and that anxiety. It doesn’t get easier and it doesn’t go away.

The first step in fighting your enemies is knowing them. I don’t feel inhibited by this knowledge, I feel armed by it.

I want so badly to publish novels. If I didn’t want it this much, I would have given up long ago.

But I refuse to give up on my dreams. I refuse to let my fears rule who I am and what I do.

will be a writer.

I am going to start today, by committing to writing one short story every week. I just found a website (Reedsy) that sends out writing prompts every week that you can respond to, which will enter you in a contest to win $50 and be published on their website. I will either link them here so you can follow my progress and read my stories or, if they are hopefully published, link you to where you can read them on Reedsy.

Don’t give up on your dreams. Fight your fears. It’s worth it.

Be An Agent For Change

Recently, a friend of mine stopped coming to a regularly scheduled social event I organized. I had seen it coming for some time, but it was still frustrating and sad. He missed several meetings without explanation and got angry with me when I confronted him about it. Now he’s ignoring me entirely.

It got me to thinking about powerlessness (I swear this is going to be a positive post overall, just bear with me!). One of the most important, and most frustrating, lessons that I’ve learned in life is that you can’t make anyone do anything, no matter how much you want them to.

My life has been fraught with these kinds of frustrations. I keep trying to encourage someone I’m very close to to go to a psychiatrist for her anxiety, but she refuses. I keep trying to encourage another person to take control of his life and pursue his dreams, but he lacks the motivation. Another to break up with their partner who they’re dissatisfied with, but she keeps getting cold feet. Another to go to a psychologist for his crippling depression, but he insists he’s fine.

This lesson was really beat home with my alcoholic ex last year. I wanted so much for him to stop drinking. I tried everything: screaming, crying, threats, pretending the problem didn’t exist. And nothing worked. It took me a long time to realize that nothing worked because it wasn’t about me. It took me a long time to realize that he wasn’t choosing alcohol over me, even the time he got so drunk he missed his flight and my birthday party or all the times he lied about his drinking and sabotaged our relationship. There was nothing could do to get him to stop.

If the strength of me wanting my loved ones to do (or not do) these things was enough to get them to change, believe me, they would have done so.

But it’s not about me. Nothing I can do will ever get them to change. Nothing you can do will ever get anyone you love to change.

There is something you can do though. You can take care of yourself.

Obviously this is a good goal in and of itself. But that’s not all. Being positive and taking care of yourself inspires others to do the same. Too often in our lives we are terrible role models for others. People brag about how little sleep they got, how long they spent in the office, or how much they hate their jobs. They don’t brag about getting a full 8 hours, having a good work life balance, or loving them. But why not?

Since I’ve been boxing and trying to be healthier, I’ve noticed it’s inspired others to do the same. My dad worked out with me the other day when the boxing gym was closed. My mom finally got the orthodics she needed in her shoes so her feet wouldn’t be in pain.

When you take care of yourself and do what you live, it makes a difference. You become a more positive person and treat others better. You motivate others to change. You become a source of inspiration. You become an agent for change.

Go out there and take care of yourself. Because you deserve it. And because it is up to us to make the world a more positive place.

Celebrate Your Success

Today was my boxing club’s one year anniversary. We had an extra long boxing session followed by cake and other snacks, and awards. Much to my surprise, and to my incredible delight, I won an award! I received the “Best Transformation” award and could not have been prouder.

I rarely win awards. Sometimes I feel like I’m the kind of person who works really hard but rarely gets recognized by others. Being recognized at Title in a domain (working out) that I usually think I’m terrible at meant a lot. In high school, I was on the swim team for all four years. I was the worst member on the team for that entire time, spending all my days swimming in “Lane One.” I was also on the track team for four years, but my letter jacket never had “Track & Field” emblazoned on it, because you needed to win in a meet to get a letter.

I’ve been working hard at boxing. I went from doing no physical activity at all, to boxing twice a week, then three times a week, and now every other day. Personally, I do feel transformed. In the 6 months that I’ve been a member, I have lost 15 pounds, acquired real muscles (even abs!), and feel so much better about my body and myself.

But like in so many other areas of my life, I rarely dwell on my success. Instead of focusing on what I’ve accomplished, I instead focus on how far I still have to go. I’ve lost 15 pounds, but I want to lose 15 more. I’m boxing every other day, but I want to be going every day. I have two very developed abs and two half developed ones, but I want a six pack.

If you are a very goal-oriented person, like I am, it is easy to focus on the next goal and forget to be proud of what you’ve already accomplished. Awards like the one I won tonight make it easy to remember that I’ve done a lot!

But you don’t need an award to celebrate what you’ve done. You just need to change the way you think. Since I was a child, my dad has sworn by what he calls the “Disney World Line Theory of Life.” He tells me not to focus on how far you yet have to go, but instead to look back and see how far you’ve come. Everyone could benefit from looking back every so often.

Take the time to look behind you in line. Think about what you’ve accomplished and celebrate it! Be proud of who you are and what you’ve done.


(Me after the workout with three of my favorite boxing coaches!)

Best Friends are the Best

I never believed in the concept of love at first sight, until it happened to me. For me, it didn’t happen in a romantic context, but I immediately connected with my best friend, Toni.

We met almost 10 years ago, when we were both studying abroad in Japan. We had come from two different undergraduate universities on the same study abroad program. We connected instantly.

I kept a travel journal every day while I was in Japan. It not only helps me remember Japan, but I have documentation of the beginning of my friendship with Toni. The first six weeks of our friendship, I wrote about her almost every day. For example, the very first time she appears in my journal: “Right away, me and Toni hit it off… and planned to sit near each other on the bus tomorrow! :)” From our conversation on the bus the next day, “We had really bonded the night before, and we did it again today too… I enjoyed talking to her SO much. I just feel like we really clicked and just got along great!”

We continued to get close throughout our time in Japan. One of our favorite parts of the beginning of our friendship was the transition from Kamogawa to Waseda- the first to second part of the program. The first part was two weeks in the middle of nowhere (Kamogawa), 2 hours away from Tokyo in the mountains. The second part was four weeks in Tokyo. For the first part, we were placed with random roommates. For the part in Tokyo, we had filled out a roommate questionnaire ahead of time and they had matched us up at that time based on compatibility.

Toni and I sat with each other on the bus again when we rode from the seminar house to Tokyo and found out our roommate assignments. We promised we would continue spending a lot of time together, no matter who our roommates were. To our complete delight, we had been assigned each other as roommates! Even our pre-program questionnaire thought that we would be compatible. We were so happy with this and felt like our friendship was “meant to be!”

Though we’ve always been long distance friends, that has never stopped us. We visit each other a few times a year and even took a graduation trip together when I got my PhD and she got her MD. We’ve experienced a lot of similar life milestones at the same time, like getting our graduate degrees, switching programs (her for residency, me for my job), and its been amazing to have her support. I can talk to her about anything. When something goes wrong, she’s often the first person I call to ask for advice and support.

Recently, she moved to Ann Arbor, which is the closest (2.5 hours) we’ve ever lived to each other. It’s been awesome to see each other more often! The life of a medical Resident (aka Toni’s life) is incredibly stressful and her schedule packed, but we make time.

Like this weekend. She had only Saturday off and started a night shift on Sunday. Nevertheless, we decided to meet up halfway between where we both live for a staycation. We looked up the city (Toledo) and found that the number 1 most romantic hotel in the U.S, a spa hotel, was located there. So of course, we had to go. Since we made the plans only about 3-4 weeks out, there was limited availability. The only room available was the most expensive one. Oh, darn.

I was a little hesitant, but Toni talked me into it and I was SO glad she did. We decided to make it our 10 year friendship anniversary celebration! We brought wine, champagne, flowers, fondue, and snacks. The room itself had a gigantic bed with a fireplace, an unnecessarily large shower, a jacuzzi, a heated pool, and a sauna.

It was one of the best trips I’ve taken! We spent the first few hours pruning up in the pool as we dipped our rotisserie chicken in cheese fondue and drank wine. We pulled all the flowers off their stems and put them in the pool for extra “romance.” We lit dozens of tea light candles and put bubble bath in the jacuzzi. We ate fruit dipped in chocolate fondue on the bed. We played Code Names and painted our toenails. We talked about our lives until past 3 am. I can’t remember the last time I stayed up even close to that late, but I was barely tired at all because I was having such an amazing time.

It was hard to leave in the morning. Even though I’m on winter break, it was hard to come back to reality. My life without my best friend and a heated pool in my room. But I feel refreshed and rejuvenated after that wonderful break. I also feel amazingly grateful to have a person like Toni in my life.


Self-Handicapping, Learned Helplessness, and Accomplishment

How many of you haven’t tried to do something because you were “sure” you wouldn’t succeed? How many of you waited until the last minute and threw something together so you could say you tried but not feel bad when you didn’t succeed? These, in psychology, are called learned helplessness and self-handicapping respectively.

These are amazingly and disturbingly common ways that we ensure we will fail. Not on purpose, of course. We are trying to protect ourselves. But in doing so, we often act as our own worst enemy.

I’ve done this a lot throughout my life. Most recently I was able to overcome the initial learned helplessness. In boxing last week, we had a plank competition- whoever could hold the longest plank (a low plank) after the workout would get a cool prize. I spent a lot of November thinking about if I wanted to enter this competition, because it would be pretty embarrassing to try and only get a really short time. They had a schedule of planks throughout the month that you could do every day to prepare. I thought a lot about taking one of the paper schedules to work on it at home, but didn’t.

When it came to November 30th, after my workout, everyone left. I wanted to leave too and skip the competition, but I had no excuses. I entered the plank competition. I asked what the longest time had been so far, and was surprised to hear that I was the first person to participate (it was the 9:30 am class, so maybe not that surprising, but there are two classes before it). Nevertheless, I had a goal in mind (3:30) and got to work.

It should come as no surprise that after a 60 minute intense workout, including planks, holding a plank was immensely difficult. Personally, I also find low planks harder than high ones. I could feel my muscles start shaking after 1 minute in. My goal seemed way too far off.

I asked the coach to tell me after each 30 second milestone for a morale boost. Time had never ticked slower. 1:30 and she could see me visibly shaking and asked how I was doing.

“Not good. But I want to get to at least 2 minutes.”

The two minute mark couldn’t come fast enough. I held my plank for a total of two minutes and two seconds. Not terribly impressive, but I had no benchmark to compare it to. Still, I was proud I had tried.

I went home, posted on Facebook, and forgot about it.

Yesterday night, I got an email saying that I won the longest plank at my club’s location and got a $25 gift certificate to the Title store.

Wait, what? I won?

My first thought was that no one else from my club participated, which is obviously the reason I won. Let me be clear and say that totally could be the case. But the fact that it’s what my mind first jumped to made me a little sad (and reflective).

It’s hard enough for us to get over our fears and try something, especially something difficult, especially when we might fail. But when we succeed and we still don’t think it’s enough, that is the worst offense we are committing against ourselves.

Even if I was the only one who competed, that shouldn’t lessen my victory any. I still had the courage to try and to keep going, even when it was difficult. I felt proud after I finished my plank. Winning shouldn’t take that away from me.

Take time to appreciate your accomplishments. Don’t lessen them. Be proud of the work that you put in- whether you succeed or not!

Anxiety in Everyday Life

I’ve written on this blog before about my anxiety. It’s something that I have a hard time talking about, because I really want to believe that I don’t or that it’s gotten better or I’ve gotten over it. But I don’t think it works that way. And sometimes I’m reminded of the role it plays in my everyday life.

When you have anxiety, you often get hung up on an incident that most people would be able to get over fairly quickly. For example, I always notice that my mom can get really worked up about things that happen to her and don’t seem like a big deal to me. Sometimes her boss will take off Fridays from work or call off because he doesn’t feel like coming in. She will get very upset about this. I can understand how frustrating it is when you’re really busy and someone doesn’t seem like they’re taking their job seriously. But my mom will rant about this on the phone for awhile, to several people, and will constantly bring it up later.

It sounds so ridiculous when it isn’t you in the situation. But I can empathize with her a lot more now that I see myself doing some of the same things. Recently, I didn’t get my proposal accepted for a class that pays me to do research with students. I felt really upset about this, because the head of the committee was a person who had insulted me and my research previously. I felt that this person rejected my proposal because he didn’t take me seriously. I talked to all my colleagues about it. In about 20 minutes, I have a lunch with this committee and I’ve been freaking out about this a little.

I talked to one of my colleagues about it, who also happens to be a counselor. I knew I was overly anxious, but it didn’t really register to me how irrational I was being until she pointed it out. I questioned whether or not I should prepare a Power Point for my students to use last minute. I made assumptions about when and how the committee would judge me in possibly re-considering my proposal. I worried about the brown boots I had accidentally worn this morning instead of the black ones I meant to wear with this outfit. I was seeing the worst in everything. I was catastrophizing. But all of these things seemed perfectly rational to me at the time. Of course I should worry about these things! Of course they were reasonable!

When you’re anxious, your thoughts and feelings seem normal to you. It seems only natural that you are worried about those particular things. Sometimes it takes an objective opinion to point out to you that you aren’t making sense.

I feel proud of myself that I was able to take that advice and take a step back from the situation. I knew she was right. So I stopped worrying about it and got back to my grading. Sometimes it isn’t that easy, but I’ve been making a lot of progress in this area.

Off to this lunch meeting. Hopefully I can retain this feeling of calm during it.

Writing a Novel in 30 Days

I did it. I won NaNoWriMo again! I finished writing my 50k word novel in not 30 days, but 27! For the third year in a row, I wrote a novel in less than 30 days.

In 2012, my third year in graduate school, I decided to do NaNoWriMo for the first time. I had heard of it since high school and always wanted to participate, but never had the courage to try. My graduate advisor pushed me over the edge. During a conversation in his office, I agreed to participate. I left his office feeling like I usually did after inspirational conversations with him- thinking Shit! When am I ever going to have time for this?

But I had signed up, so I didn’t want to give up before I even started. I got more and more excited as November grew closer. I imagined my amazing success as a famous novelist. Day 1 came around and I put on my headphones, sat down at my computer, and began to write. One hour and about 700 words later, I gave up for the day. I barely managed to get out those 700 words and that was less than half of my daily expected count. What’s more, they were awful. Truly terrible.

I was ready to give up. The biggest thing that stopped me from giving in right there was an inspirational quote from another Wrimo. She told me, “It isn’t the things you do in life that you regret, but the things you don’t do.”

That really resonated with me. All my life I wanted to write a novel. I couldn’t give up on Day 1, less than 700 words into my novel. And I didn’t.

I used that motivation to keep me going for all 50,000 words. I finished my novel in 30 days. It was crap, but I never felt prouder. I was elated. I was on top of the world. I came so close to quitting on day one, that I never thought I would get anywhere close to finishing a novel.

But the story doesn’t end there. I wasn’t done after one crappy novel. I realized that my goal wasn’t to write a novel, but to write a good novel. One that was good enough to get published.

So I kept working. I did NaNoWriMo in 2013, though I didn’t finish. I won again in 2015, 2016, and now in 2017.

Do I have good novels? Not yet. But they’re better.

Now I’m learning that you don’t usually get it right on the first try. You don’t just write a novel, you re-write it. And re-write, and re-write, and re-write.

I’m learning how to do that.

But most importantly, I’m not giving up on my dream. Each year, my novels get a little better. Each year I learn more about writing (and re-writing). Each year, I find that I actually love the hours I slave away at the computer trying to make my word count during one of the busiest months of the semester.

I write because I love it. And I’ll keep working toward my goal.

On Friendship and Gratitude

I didn’t have a lot of close friends growing up. It wasn’t really until junior year of high school that I found a group of people I really connected with. I lamented it at the time- why did it take me so long! I only had a year and a half at that point before I was done with high school and would leave all of my friends behind. I was jealous of the people who had the same best friend since preschool. They had so many memories together!

What I didn’t know, was that twelve years later, we would still be friends.

I just left a party with my high school friends. Four of them still live in the area and we hang out regularly to play board games, watch movies, or play Pathfinder. But every year around Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, all ten or so of us (whoever can make it that year) get together.

It’s amazing that we have still kept in touch for this long. I feel overwhelmingly grateful to have such good friends. I never imagined that I would still be friends with my high school friends today, but I’m so glad that I am.

There is no better feeling than spending time with someone who knows you incredibly well. We play social deduction board games (we used to play Mafia, this year we upgraded to Secret Hitler) and know each other so well, that it’s almost easy to guess everyone’s role each game.

I’ve been feeling frustrated lately that so many of my friends are getting engaged and it didn’t work out with the person I was dating. I kept looking and what I didn’t have.

But in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve started to look at what I do have. I have some amazing friends who, after twelve or more years, still care about each other and spend time together. And I am so grateful for them.

What Doesn’t Challenge You, Doesn’t Change You

Right now, I’m procrastinating. Writing my novel this past week has been tough. I feel like I lost my momentum. I lost my lead as well. I had gotten ahead, but then two incredibly busy weekends changed that.

After I hit 25k, I really felt like this would be the easy part. In my head, it almost felt like I was done already. Instead, it got even harder. I’ve thought of some cool ideas, but it’s been hard to implement them. I sit down to my computer feeling tired and excited for being done but not for the process of getting there.

I was immensely frustrated. I toyed with the idea of quitting. Quitting! After being more than 50% done! I was annoyed at myself for even considering it.

Still, I remembered previous years when I had finished early, sometimes even before Thanksgiving so I could better enjoy the holidays with loved ones. I dreamed about that this year too, but I am not even close (34,500 words for anyone keeping track at home).

Sometimes I think that I get too excited about the destination and forget about the journey. Sometimes when the going gets tough, I find it hard to remember why I wanted to start in the first place. I think about being a published author or getting my reward for completing my novel. I don’t think about the act of writing itself. I don’t look forward to writing like I used to.

But it’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to want to give up. You can’t help the way you feel, but it is entirely up to you what you do about it.

Writing, like most things in life, isn’t easy. It isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. When I write a novel or do anything else, I get frustrated sometimes. I want to quit sometimes. Some days I’m inspired, but others I have to slog through.

Just because you hit a rough patch, just because something is difficult, doesn’t mean you should quit. When thinking about my struggles with writing lately, I remembered something that my boxing coach always tells us during our workouts:

“What doesn’t challenge you, doesn’t change you.”

During the workout, I think: Of course! If we don’t work our muscles hard, they won’t develop. We won’t get better.

This doesn’t apply only to boxing, however. It applies to writing too. Or anything else that you want to do with your life. It’s not always easy. But take comfort in the fact that if it’s difficult, it will change you- likely for the better.