Chapbook #2

Beyond stoked to announce that my second chapbook, The Shedding Before the Swellis now available from Dancing Girl Press!

So grateful and happy to have Ashvin Harrison‘s beautiful work gracing the cover.

IMG_5995

 

Stay tuned for the date and details of the launch party!

                                                                                                       Always,

sig2

Going For It

Not many people know this, but I started graduate school for my MFA in January.

I am still working full time, but I decided that this goal was one I seriously wanted to accomplish for myself and to push myself academically and personally, to become a better writer.

My motto for this new year has been to just go for it, and that’s what I am doing. The residency proved to me that I made the right decision. Never in my life did I connect so quickly to my peers and mentors. I felt like even though I only met these people ten days ago, it felt like we had been friends for a lifetime! I was surrounded by the most brilliant writers, and the energy was contagious. All in all, it was the single most overwhelming (but in the best way) thing I had ever experienced.

And now, the real work of practicum begins. For those of you who are or have previously been in grad school, especially a low residency program, what advice would you give?

sig2

How I Travel

Oh, how I wish I had a dollar for every time anyone has ever asked/told me any of the following:

I’m so jealous, I wish I could do that!”
Ugh, if only I had the money!”
If I ever had the time, I’d go.”
Don’t you get scared/lonely/tired of traveling by yourself?”
“…yeah, but you’re young and a woman.”

Maybe you, reading this right now, have even thought the same thing about me. You see pictures on Instagram and posts on Facebook: Peru, Thailand, Aruba, etc. and think, how does she do it? The money, the days off work?

Let’s get one thing straight here: I am no different than the average person. I am not rich, “just lucky,” or any of that. And it would make me furious to hear how some people just assumed all of these things about me or the way I lived my life, simply because they didn’t know. I worked my ass off to get to where I am and for the things that I have accomplished. I work a full-time job, take writing classes, pay my school loans, struggle to maintain a social life, go to the gym, etc. and still get a decent night of sleep like everyone else. I am an ordinary girl, who just decided what she wanted and went out to get it.

While there are certainly traveling tips I’ve picked up over the years, nothing will get you there until you can understand and accomplish #1 on this list.

  1. You have to want it bad enough.
    It seems so simple. Who doesn’t want to go on a vacation, explore somewhere new and fun, make memories seeing the world instead of being at work? But it’s more than that. You have to want it bad enough that you are willing to make sacrifices to achieve it. You have to want it more than you fear the unknowns or what-ifs. More than you doubt yourself and your abilities. You have to want it more than you make excuses for the reasons you can’t do it. “I want to travel, but…” No. If you truly want it more than anything, you will find a way or make a way. This goes not only for traveling, but whatever you want in life. A degree, to get in shape, etc. You have the power. Mindset is everything.
  2. You have to be willing to sacrifice. 
    I get it. Money holds us back. Not once did my parents give me money to go on trips. I don’t come from a rich family. I’m still paying student loans (and probably always will be until I die). So what are you willing to give up? I worked a job I was miserable at for a year, but it allowed me to save up money to spend five months in Europe. I don’t get Starbucks every day. I recently sold my car. I don’t buy Michael Kors purses or go out drinking every weekend, because those things don’t bring me happiness. I’d rather spend my money on experiences. If you know that you can cut back somewhere- do it! I also didn’t stay in nice hotels when I went on my first solo international trips. I stayed in very cheap hostels, in dormitories, and ate bread and Nutella sandwiches, and carried a water bottle that I would refill at water fountains so I could have something to drink. I hardly ever went out to eat. Not glamorous, but that’s the truth. I wasn’t dirt poor, but I wanted to save my money for other things. Not eating out for every meal, every single day, allowed me to buy flights to Belgium and Switzerland. And believe me, I’d trade dinner at a restaurant for that kind of adventure any day of the week.
  3. You have to be flexible and open-minded.
    Maybe you’ve been dying to go to Chile, but flights are so expensive for the time you want to go. If you work, can you change your vacation days and go when flights are cheaper, in the off season? If not, can you look into other destinations that are more in your budget? Google Flights has an amazing tool that allows you to view the varying prices of flights over time, and also track when the price fluctuates. I went to Aruba over July 4th weekend. During the summer, my department gives us the option of working flex time (basically working 10 hours days four days a week, and then having a day off). I usually take Fridays off so I can have a long weekend, which is really convenient for traveling. Example: I worked that week Monday-Thursday, 10 hour days. Had Friday (my flex day) off. I left for Aruba Thursday night. Since July 4th was on a Tuesday, I only took off Monday, July 3rd. And there you have it! A five day vacation, only taking one day of PTO. I also was able to pay less for the flight, because I chose one with an overnight layover in Charlotte, where my best friend graciously allowed me to stay at her apartment. I was able to put up with longer travel time because of the payoff. I strategically planned it this way to my benefit. You just have to think outside the box, which leads me to my next point…
  4. You have to be smart and put the effort in. 
    This one goes hand-in-hand with being flexible and open-minded. Maybe you’ve seen an amazing Groupon for Italy, with airfare and everything included! Before you purchase it- consider the small details in print. Is your airport even listed as a departure point? If it isn’t, how much is it going to cost to travel to the next closest airport? How many meals are you really getting, if any? Look up the hotels they’ve listed. How much is the nightly rate, and how much is airfare for those dates? It might actually be less expensive to book it yourself, separately. Vacation packages are usually solely for the convenience of not having to plan it yourself, and if that’s why you want to go that route, then more power to ya! But, if finances are a factor, do your research. Can you stay at a more affordable hotel than the one they’ve pre-selected for you? Is the airfare cheaper if you leave the day before or come back the day after? When I travel solo, I try to be as economical as possible. Where some would normally take a taxi, I go on foot. I walk everywhere. It allows me to be among the locals more, to really get to experience a city and see more of it, and also is great exercise. I also really feel like I’ve earned it, in a way I can’t explain. But the same goes for excursions and tourist sites. Instead of going with a big group or private guided tour, can you pay the minimum of the entry fee, find a less costly way of arriving there, and explore the site yourself?
  5. You have to overcome your fear.
    People tell me I am “brave” or ask how I am not scared to travel alone. I’m never sure how to answer this. I was scared to death before I went on my first trip alone. I still get anxiety over so many things. As a woman traveling alone, I constantly have to have my guard up and be aware of my surroundings. People don’t see or understand that it isn’t fun 100% of the time. It can be so stressful and exhausting. But the reward is all in the rest of the experience. I refuse to be held back from the fear of “what if”. The risk of NOT taking the risk is a lot greater for me. Bad things can happen in the States (or whatever your home country) as well as South America, in any city, to anyone, at any time, whether they are alone or not. I don’t want to be on my deathbed regretting not following my dream because I was worried about what “might” happen. Traveling alone made me realize what I am made of, and to be comfortable with myself, which is something I had to learn. You’re going to be with yourself the rest of your life, might as well start getting to know who that person is. Do I wish sometimes that my family or friends could come with me? Of course. But they would never hold me back from going just because they couldn’t go. The reality is that if you wait for someone else to be ready, you may be waiting forever. It all comes back to #1, a single question: How bad do you want it?

Bottom line: Don’t spend your life waiting and wanting.

unnamed (5)

P.S. Check out my article, What Keeps Us, if you want to learn more about getting out of your own way.                                                                           sig2

A Year in Review

Remember that bucket list I had for 2016? Gotta be honest here, I’ve been crushing it.

*At the end of this year, I will have gone on four international trips:

-I took my mom on vacation to the Dominican Republic, something I’ve always wanted to do.

-I’d been waiting to see South America for a long time, so I finally bought a ticket to Peru and Bolivia in July for travel that same month(Which was a little crazy, yes.)

-I had yet to explore a new country with my boyfriend, so we booked a trip to Iceland in October.

– In less than a week, I’m heading to Thailand and then South Korea.

-I also traveled to Minnesota, Georgia, Delaware, and Illinois, among other places.

 

* This year I got serious about my poetry and started submitting my work, and it paid off:

-So far, I have had over 15 poems published in anthologies, literary magazines, and journals!

-I won first place at the 2016 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention for my collection.

-I had essays in Thought Catalog & Odyssey Online.

-I read with the Pittsburgh Poetry Roadshow & Voices From the Attic launch party.

-I celebrated my first year of blogging!

 

 

But, 2016 wasn’t all smooth. I also had some scary stuff happen with my health.

*I had a pacemaker put in, but was determined to keep running and I finished:

-Pittsburgh  5k

-Pittsburgh half marathon

-GNC Liberty Mile

Erie full marathon

EQT 10 Miler

 

I made this list not to be conceited, or talk about how great my life is (trust me- it isn’t always!) but because I’m incredibly proud of my accomplishments this year and have worked really hard to get to this point. It’s taken sacrifice, hard work, and admittedly, a couple breakdowns, but I’m so happy with where I’ve arrived.

I’m a big believer in being proud of your achievements, because why shouldn’t we be? If we don’t, who will? You’ve worked your ass off. Celebrate your victories. Don’t let jealousy in. Don’t be bitter. Don’t worry about coming off as “bragging.” Uplift each other. Support each other. You traveled to a new country? I wanna see! You committed to a healthier lifestyle? That’s awesome! You graduated? Great work!  Go ahead & show it off. I’m proud of you.

For those of you feeling stuck: I was there. I promise if you focus on the things you love and make them a priority, they will become your reality. I stopped putting my dreams off this year, and look at what happened. 2017 can be your year. Go get ’em.

 

sig2

 

 

 

 

P.S. Happy holidays everyone!

I’ll check back in a couple weeks when I’m back in the States.

 

A Change of Pace

Well guys….if you’re reading this, I have successfully finished my fourth half marathon!

This one, however, was much different than the rest. (You can read more about my running journey here.)

Let’s backtrack: I had never run more than two miles when I signed up to run my first race, the EQT 10 miler, in November of 2014. I ran and ran and ran. I got faster and stronger. I fell in love with it. In May of last year (2015), I placed 3rd in my age group in the 5k race, and the next day finished my first ever half marathon under a 9:00 min/mile pace, a huge feat for me. I went on to run two more half marathons that year and countless other races. And then, I signed up to take on my first full 26.2 miles on May 1st, 2016.

Fast forward to January of this year. More fainting, loss of breath, and several doctor appointments and tests finally brought the news of my heart issues. Not even 6 weeks ago, I underwent surgery to have a pacemaker put in. This completely shattered my plans to compete in the Pittsburgh full marathon, and indefinitely set me back on my progress with a sport I’d come to love and respect so much.

 

pm5

In action at the 5k Saturday. I finished at an 8:20 pace.

 

But if it’s one thing that running has taught me, it is the ability to push yourself not only physically, but mentally. Anyone who knows me well can tell you that I am stubborn. That I set goals. That I am hard on myself.

So it wasn’t really a shock to them that although I couldn’t run the full marathon, I would try to tackle the half. And with less than four weeks to train, I did just that.

Regardless, the race day nerves were there Sunday morning as I got ready.  I peed approximately 27 times before entering my corral, and then once more before the gun went off. I started off strong. It was raining, but the cooler air felt good. I tried to feed off the energy from the volunteers and spectators, but I didn’t feel the same excitement this year. I won’t lie, I knew this was going to be a tough one and I just wanted the race to be over with. My Garmin watch didn’t pick up signal until closer to the 2 mile mark, so I was already off to an interesting start. I tried to calculate my time/distance in my head but eventually just gave up. Just finish, I reminded myself. That’s what you’re here to do. Coming to mile 5, I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye. It was my friend Haley, who was just as shocked to see me! I wasn’t sure if our paces were going to line up, but we ended up running the remainder of the race together. This ended up being one of the major reasons I was able to finish when and how I did. The rain had stopped, and now it was muggy. Around mile 8, my legs were beginning to throb and a dull ache grew in my knees. My chest felt tight and breaths were getting harder and harder to come by. I knew I had gone a little too fast in the beginning, and I was starting to pay for that now. Or was it from my pacemaker? Everyone had told me to stop and walk if I didn’t feel good, but I refused. (Stubborn as ever, remember?)

runn

All of my long training runs since my pacemaker surgery had been slower 10-11 minute miles, which was hard for me to accept, but I was currently at a 9:30 pace. Keep going!! I told myself. I ignored the pain and pushed on, the miles melting together. Haley and I had talked for the last three miles, but we both were (literally) running short of breath and had an understood silence between us as we kept pounding pavement. It was such a relief to have her beside me. I just kept telling myself to keep going, stay with her, finish strong together. We were now around a 10:30 min/mile. I was slowing down and I knew it. My legs wanted to give up almost as bad as my mind did. We headed slightly downhill into Station Square and saw a woman getting taken away by the medical staff. I looked away and tried not to think about how that was the third person I saw strapped to a stretcher. I remembered this part on East Carson St. far too well- this was the most difficult part of the course for me last year. I still can’t figure out why, when there’s the gradual incline of the bridges, the hills, etc. Southside had the FLATTEST part of the course, yet here I was again, dragging ass through fluid stations, pouring water over my head and just wanting to die. This straight stretch lasts forever, and the task of putting one foot in front of the other seemed so daunting. I knew we were finally in the double digits at mile 10, but the finish line was a lifetime away. Another bridge and two hills were still waiting for us. My Garmin flashed an 11:20 pace and my heart sank. Although my goal was to finish, I was secretly hoping to get under a 10 min/mile pace. Realizing that there was no way I was going to get that, I focused on just reaching the finish line. I was so close, I could do this.

That final ascent is such an AWFUL beast. I poured more water over my head, trying to catch the droplets in my mouth. I needed electrolytes, so I grabbed Gatorade too. We ran through a fire hydrant that had been turned into a sprinkler. “This is the last hill, you got this!” cheered onlookers. Almost. There.

I have loved, and will always love, that moment when I can hear the announcers, the music, and see the crowds of people getting thicker as I approach the final leg of the course. There it was, the golden archway, the finish line. I took a deep breath and gave it everything I had, sprinting to the end. I heard my boyfriend scream, “Go Kara!” and I pushed harder. I couldn’t even feel what my body was doing.  As soon as I crossed, I slowed to a walk and turned for Haley. When I was able to reach her, we collapsed into a hug and I couldn’t hold back my emotions anymore. I thanked her profusely, because I wasn’t sure if I could have done it alone. I put a hand to my chest and felt my scar. I overcame so much more than 13.1 miles. And I was damn proud of this fight.

pm6

Who run the world? GIRLS.

It wasn’t until I made it through the crowds and reunited with JJ that I found out my pace. I came in at 9:47/mile- I still made my goal of under a 10 minute pace!

pm2

Was it much slower than last year? Yes. Did I want to stop? Absolutely. Did I (maybe) cry? Yep.

But am I going home with a sense of accomplishment in my heart and a medal around my neck? You bet.

Whatever it is you want so fiercely, believe you are capable. Even if you’re the only one who believes it. Especially if you are the only one who believes it.

 

pm3

 

NEVER let anything hold you back. And remember, not all scars are visible. We’re all fighting something, and we’re not alone in it.

 

 

sig2