A Decade Under the Influence

[Titled after the Taking Back Sunday song I listened to in my teenage years? Maybe.]

Here we are- at the end of a tumultuous decade. There isn’t a way to describe it all, really. Beautifully hard, bittersweet. My timeline and newsfeeds are overpouring with side-by-side photos, recaps of the past ten years: accomplishments, losses, pain, love, suffering, obstacles, growth, change. I’m no stranger to it all, as I think back on 2009-2019. I am more conscious of time, how I move forward through it, how much stares back at me in the rearview mirror…

Some defining moments:

• Earned my B.A. & M.F.A. degrees
I started at Susquehanna University my freshman year and transferred to Westminster College in the fall of 2009. I graduated in May 2012. I was part of Mortar Board, PRSSA, the Holcad Newspaper, Scrawl literary magazine, Campus Programming Council, Sigma Tau Delta International English Society, Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, and other organizations.
After six years out of school and months of consideration, I began my MFA at Carlow University in January 2018 and graduated this past December 2019. The two residencies at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, were among the highlights of my time as a graduate student.

• Moved to Pittsburgh & into my own apartment
I moved to Pittsburgh (“the big small city”) in the summer of 2012 and lived for two years in a house with a few of my good friends before moving into my own little apartment, where I have made my home for the past five years. I’ve sunbathed on my roof, I’ve decorated my apartment with secondhand store gems, and I’ve burned meals. I took a bus for the first time, made it my mission to try all the new restaurants/breweries, learned that I love French fries on my salad, kayaked the three rivers in the summer, and fell in love with late night city lights. But I also grew tired of the never-ending sports talk and the dull grayness of this Steel City, how suffocating its boundaries can be.

•  Bought a one-way flight to Spain & traveled Europe for six months
In 2013, after working a job that left me burned out and at rock bottom, I bought a one way ticket to Barcelona, Spain. Through the help of Workaway, I lived with the most amazing family for three months in Blanes, and then spent the other couple months traveling all across Europe. It was the most thrilling thing I have ever done, and the thing I am most proud of, to this day. I learned how to rely on myself. How to love myself despite failure or faults or fear. How to feel the world around me, and see where I belonged in all of it.

• Traveled to 43 countries & countless cities
Though my wanderlust had begun long ago, that journey in Spain (or Catalonia, rather) kick-started what would be a nearly nonstop travel addiction. I have traveled extensively both domestically and internationally, since 2011. 43 countries in total, and 5 continents. And nope, I have no plans of ever stopping!

• Started my blog
Because of these adventures, I wanted to create a home for the stories, photos, and memories to live. I admittedly have a terrible memory, so I wanted to do this for myself, but also as a way to share these experiences with friends and family both near and far. Thus, this blog was born in 2015.

• Ran races, including first full marathon
In between 2014-2015, I fell in love with running. What began as a small challenge for myself grew larger like wildfire until I was running multiple half-marathons and even completed my first full marathon, just six months after I received my pacemaker.

• Got a pacemaker 

Which, oh yeah- I got a pacemaker in March of 2016, after some health issues. It came as a shock, since I was healthier than I’d ever been. But it was also fuel. Fuel to keep living a life riding the edge, to not wait until the next month/year or until I had more money and things were more convenient. Fuel to cherish this body I’ve been given and not waste any more time doing the things I want to do while I am still physically capable of them.

• Published two books & many poems

I published my first chapbook, Next to Everything that is Breakable, in 2017. Not long after, my second chapbook, The Shedding before the Swell, was published in the fall of 2018. Two book launches were celebrated, surrounded by ones I love most. Many poems were also written, sent out to journals and literary magazines, rejected, accepted, edited, published, revised, and reborn. I gave dozens of public readings. I attended a handful of writing conferences (Conversations & Connections, AWP, Sigma Tau Delta, etc.) and even won some awards. I started my author website and Twitter. Above all, I was able to cement my passion in something concrete, and from that foundation, build a community around it.

• Became an aunt to two adorable girls
My sweet Cora was born in 2015, and my fiery Ellie was born in 2018. They are as different as night and day, and their relationship as siblings reminds me so much of my brother and I when we were young. Watching them grow up, evolve into their own selves, and see their wonder for life and learning has captured my heart in a way I hadn’t felt before. (Although it’s still weird to me sometimes that my brother is a dad!) I cherish this family.

• Found Level Red Boxing
When my body decided it needed a break from running, I found boxing. As a woman who travels alone, I’d originally been looking for self-defense, but when I took my first class at this place, I was hooked. This gym has become my second home, and the members and instructors have become some of my closest friends. They push me every single time, and help me feel strong at every level.

• Left a toxic working environment
My first job was a hostess at a family restaurant and my second was being part of the general maintenance crew at PennDOT. During my college years, I worked in the Admissions Office and gave tours to prospective students, which I truly enjoyed. I’ve always been passionate about higher education and have loved working in the field, so after graduation, I started my career in Admissions at a for-profit college. In 2013, I finally left that toxic (and ultimately unethical) job to work in Administration at another thriving University where diversity, inclusion, innovation, hard work, and heart are the core values.

• Diagnosed w/ MDD, anxiety, & excoriation (dermatillomania) disorder

While I knew deep down I was struggling with my mental health, and always have, I was officially diagnosed toward the latter part of the decade. I began taking medication and started therapy. Everything comes in waves, still. And I suppose it always will. But I am learning to stay grounded and not be swept away with the first wave. Dermatillomania, however, was something very new to me, and difficult to accept. I try to continue to be transparent about each and every one of these struggles because not only is it important to end the stigma around mental health, but because you really never know who is suffering in silence. We all have our demons and downfalls. We all suffer. We are human. The more I am open when it is easiest for me to close off the world, the more it helps those around me know I need support. And this, my friends, is exactly what I’ve learned more than anything. I need love. I need support. I need connectivity. We all do. I have been nothing without those around me, caring for me and guiding me, always.

• Joined The Madwomen in the Attic workshop community & became co-curator of the reading series

I love the Madwomen in the Attic. With every fiber of my being. If you follow me on any social media, you’ve no doubt heard of this wonderful group of women writers. I was honored to start co-curating their reading series back in 2017 and am lucky to be the emcee. This has given me the chance to hear new voices, meet new poets, and stay involved in the community.

• Lost a lot of loved ones, learned how to survive my grief

My grandfather, a man I loved so dearly, passed away on Valentines Day in 2017. I have said goodbye to classmates, former friends, and extended family both in death and distance. I grappled with the fact that not everyone who enters your life is meant to stay, and that friendships don’t always outlast what you think they will. And that it’s okay- sometimes they aren’t meant to. I’ve watched friends become strangers and strangers become friends. I have entered and left two very serious long-term relationships, both which absolutely broke me at the time. I learned that heartbreak is incredibly physical. And that I can survive it. I have learned how strong I am- that I am, and always was, whole on my own. That I love the person I am becoming and every scar she used to try to cover up. That the essence of a woman’s worth is not equated to who she’s with, if anyone, or motherhood or beauty or any other ridiculous notion society pushes. I have written some of my strongest pieces after emerging from the fires that tried to engulf me and learned to become the flame- hence the current working title of my manuscript, Ember. Nothing can ever really extinguish us. We don’t have to have it figured out. We just have to keep going.

• Met some of the BEST humans & strengthened old connections
This needs no explanation. Through my travels, my education, my work and recreational endeavors, I have met some of the most fascinating, kind-hearted, talented, and brilliant souls. People who make early mornings more alive, who make long drives and running errands adventurous, and who make being lost feel like you’re right at home. They have carried me through so many seasons of my life. You guys- you are my home. Thank you, and Happy New Year, wherever in this world you may be reading this.

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Strong at Every Level

Years ago, as many of you know, I found my love for running. I ran multiple half marathons and even completed my first full marathon six months after my pacemaker surgery. But going from 0-100 so quickly took its toll on me as the time passed. My knee started giving me pain. Running wasn’t as fun for me anymore. I felt like all the progress I’d made was now undone after my surgery, and I just didn’t feel like starting back at the beginning. I was burned out from doing too much too fast, honestly.

As a single woman who does mostly everything (i.e. living, traveling, running, walking, etc.) alone, I became interested in self-defense courses. I wanted to know how to protect myself. To feel more confident and prepared, should anything happen. And as many other women can attest to– with the world we live in, unfortunately, this isn’t a far-fetched possibility.

 

Which brings me to the point of this post: It was back in late August 2018 when a new fitness studio opened near me, Level Red Boxing Pittsburgh, and I tried a boxing class. I can’t explain how instantly and fiercely I loved it! How badass it made me feel, how powerful, how stress-relieving the entire class was… Needless to say, I signed up for a membership that same day. I was looking to tone up and to release negative energy in the form of hitting a heavy bag. What I found, however, was a gym that became like a second home and friends that became fast family. Everyone welcomed me with open arms, and helped push me beyond limits I didn’t know I’d put on myself. Their mantra is “Strong at every level,” and I really did start to feel that way.

In December 2018, I was the first member to hit 100 classes (level yellow) in Pittsburgh and shortly after, in April 2019, I hit level red (200 classes). I hit 300 classes in September and am now nearly to 400!

 

Level Red Boxing began near my hometown in Erie, PA and has since opened in several states. Check out their website to see if there is a studio near you! While this is not self-defense, and it also isn’t solely boxing, it is a great mixture of cardio, boxing basics, and fun! They offer 30, 60, and 90 minute classes for all fitness levels, and the staff are always helpful. Instructors are motivating but not in-your-face, and exercises can be modified for those who need to do so.

See my membership spotlight below and what I’ve had to say about my experience:

 

Thanks for everything, LRB. Love you, fam ❤

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Sweet St. Louis

Wow, y’all. I believe this is now my SIXTH Sigma Tau Delta International English Convention- my fourth as an alumna. The first two were in Pittsburgh, PA and New Orleans, LA during my undergraduate years. Then came Minneapolis, MN, Louisville, KY, and Cincinnati, OH. And now, St. Louis, MO!

I’ll never forget when I was in the Uber, heading from the airport to my hotel, when I caught my first glimpse of the Gateway Arch.

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I stayed at a hotel right in downtown, where I could see it from my window. I also checked out Busch Stadium, Forest Park, the Cathedral Basilica, and Citygarden Sculpture Park. There was plenty more to see, but as usual, I was only in the city for a couple days. I presented my poetry collection and made a couple new friends, and tried the best BBQ ever.

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I also visited the Botanical Gardens, shown here.

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As you can see from my photos, one of my favorite things about this city was the incredible street art and murals!

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These images were taken on a rainy walk through the Mural Mile.

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Such wonderful memories here in sweet St. Louis!

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Next year, the convention will be held in Las Vegas– so make sure to stay tuned to find out if I get accepted and what adventures await, if so!

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H-Town Vicious

Why yes, I’m referring to the Beyoncé song, “Bow Down.” And speaking of Queen B, I visited her hometown this year, and am here to tell you it’s irreplaceable. So get in formation, ladies & gentleman–

Remember when I went to Belize and met these amazing friends, and then went to Mexico with them a couple months later, and then again to Cuba? I had yet to actually hang out with them in the States, since I live in Pennsylvania and they live in Texas. However, that changed when I visited for a weekend, for my first time at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo!  (I did not realize this was a thing. And it’s a HUGE thing!)

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We actually had a weekend full of concerts, as well. Cardi B at the Rodeo, and then Trampled by Turtles the next night at the White Oak Music Hall.

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Also- can’t forget the CRAWFISH! This was a first for me, and I was slightly terrified at first but then loved how messy and delicious this experience was! We also saw The Orange Show and Smither Park, two gorgeous installations of art.

 

 

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Most of our time was spent in between the Heights and downtown, so there wasn’t a lot of actual area covered, but we really packed so much into this three day weekend and I had such an absolute blast brunchin’ with these babes after Barbarella’s!

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What’s better than fried butter and friendship?!

Fried butter, frito pies, chicken and waffles, tamales, you name it! The food scene is on fire in this city! As is the weather, the nightlife, and the people. Can’t wait to visit again.

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Beachin’ in Barbados

JANUARY 18-21, 2019

My 40th country was the ever beautiful Barbados! Home to Rihanna, amazing rum punches and sunsets, and some guy that told me he’d buy me a Toyota…unless I greatly misunderstood the Bajan dialect, which is probably a safe bet.

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I met quite a few friends, including both locals and fellow travelers that became fast friends. I had flying fish for dinner, which was delicious, and chatted the night away with rum punches at some of the oceanside bars.

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I mainly stayed near Bridgetown, a port city and the capital of Barbados, and spent time on the lovely Rockley Beach, Worthing Beach, and also visited Brownes Beach, Pebble Beach, and Needhams Point. Walking along the boardwalk in the morning was one of my favorite experiences. It was beautiful to watch the waves crash into the white sand and feel the warm sun on my shoulders, not yet overpowering in the heat of the day.

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Like the graffiti? I had to send a photo to my mom 🙂

Barbados is such a friendly island and even though it is small in size (21 miles by 14 miles, to be exact) there was so much I wanted to do and see before my weekend there was up. I didn’t get to try pudding and souse, but I sampled Banks beer & Mount Gay rum while hanging out at the Chill Cafe.

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If you get the opportunity for an island getaway, I highly recommend Barbados as a tropical escape!

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Final Residency

I completed my third (and final) residency in my MFA program in January. To say that this program has changed my life is an understatement. In the words of my friend and former Madwomen mentor, Tess Barry, it is a “two year bath in champagne.”

I have worked with incredible mentors, had the pleasure of meeting and listening to many renowned visiting writers, and made lifelong connections in the friends I have found here.

Here’s our group at Steel Cactus: Amy, me, Jaclyn, Phillip, Cathy, Hannah, and Sam.

And then at the famous Jazz Night: Gerry, Phillip, Jaclyn, me, Cathy, Richard.

I met the remarkable Sandra Cisneros, award-winning author and beautiful soul.

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I presented my craft talk, Writing the Wandering Home: Place and Placelessness in Poetry.

And here we all are at the final dinner, the original crew: Richard, Cathy, me, Gerry, Jaclyn.

& the three musketeers, the girls: Jaclyn, me, Cathy.

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I would not have made it through this program or the past year of my life (including surviving Ireland!) without this incredible human. Thank you, Jaclyn. We did it!

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My brilliant, powerful teachers: Judith Vollmer and Jan Beatty.

I am beginning this last practicum with a full reading list, and a notebook full of goals. I’m not sure what shape my manuscript will take, but I know my voice is shifting the more I grow in this program, and I can’t wait to see how it sounds.

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