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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Red Dog Reading Series

Stoked to announce that I’ll be reading *TOMORROW* Tuesday, February 14th, at Carlow University with the Red Dog Reading Series.

The Red Dog Reading Series is Carlow University’s undergraduate reading series open to the community and all universities.

Come out this Valentine’s Day- 7 p.m. until 8 p.m. in the Carlow University Commons, 2nd floor university space, and help share the love of poetry!

XOXO.

 

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Monologue of the Woman Dreamer

I don’t know how to peel back the months of my life. When those moments I was in became days that drifted into years, how I stopped recognizing myself in old photographs or where the people beside me in them went, or how to get them back. (As if I could convince myself it would be the same.) When six year old innocence became sixteen angst, became the shell of this twenty six year old woman. I blazed through adolescence with bleached hair, a hungry heart, a kind of wild ambition I can’t even dream up now.

Graduation was almost five years ago. The night before, I stood on that dock ready to jump, ready for cool dark water, something to shock my body, something to wake me up, just something underneath that May moonlight to either bathe me or drown me, I wasn’t sure which. It’s a strange feeling to want to be consumed. To be ready for it. That desire, that ambition, meant long city nights were ahead, and I fought my way to see them through. To pay the electric, to keep the light on, to keep burning. I set myself on fire. I raked through a 9-5 like I was taught.  I stopped looking for answers to the questions I forgot I’m allowed to ask, steadied myself against the current of the world and from reaching the bottom of the bottles on my shelf. I buried myself. Had milestones and mistakes on repeat. I bled trying to figure out just what it meant to be successful. A degree. A job. An apartment. Check, check, check. I did all of it. And yet…what for? And what now?

What happens when the supposed keys to happiness don’t twist and give way at the door in front of you? What if your wants and your needs and your reality don’t meet at this intersection and you look over to find nobody but doubt is sitting shotgun? I’m knee deep in my life and all of a sudden, I’m not sure where I am going or if I like it and who I am. I’ve stood in shadows and I’ve stood in the light, and I still don’t know how to love myself in either.

But I’ve loved. I’ve loved men who have seen all of me and yet never even knew my scars. What does that say about them? Better still, what does it say about me? I’ve loved the chase, the thunder of the unknown barreling through me. I love the hum of a heartbeat, the strength of fingers interlocked, the safeness of a naked soul. I clung to the notion I should romanticize busyness. I loved making calendars and planners fill up until I realized I was emptying myself. Running on coffee and the belief that I was making you, or at least someone, proud. That I was becoming something. Starving despite a full stomach, the appetite for my life lost. Maybe I’m repeating myself. Maybe we’ve all been there.

Women- how fragile and fierce are we? Too much this, too much that, but not enough. Crooked noses, big feet. Hair that frizzes in summer heat to swallow anything it touches. Clavicle bones that are never kissed, shoulders sunken with a weight we shouldn’t have to carry. The dripping curve of a lower back that forgot how it felt to be touched. Eyes an ocean of maybes. Stomach too soft, hips hidden from unwanted gazes (even our own), cellulite sliced into upper thighs as if it was a hot pepperoni pizza. Lips that beckon to tell secrets and inhale whatever a sunset is made of. Made of a million particles of “what ifs” and a swelling storm that rages even when we’re calm, even when we smile. Everything we are could bring you to your knees. We are composed of sheet metal our fathers molded from childhood, translucent glass that can never break, diamonds and teeth from past lovers, wood from the tree in your front yard, dirt roads and plastic bags, and stitched together with ribbon our mothers gave us- fragments of raw love, fraying at the ends. With bad posture and clumsiness and a beautiful brain and a lot of guts. I promise I am 75% fire and within me there is a real hurricane. I feel too much and I feel nothing at all. I’m trying to explain to you how that’s possible.

How do you learn to know who you are when the world is still telling you who to be? Where can you find what you love and let it kill you?  Maybe we’re just the blind leading the blind toward this whacked-out definition of happiness. Will there ever be a moment you look in the mirror and you don’t feel even just a little uncomfortable?  How do you make sure friends won’t be just a profile on a Facebook page and family won’t be strangers you feel obligated to see on holidays? Stop hiding behind filters and phones. Strip it all down, scream, do something. We’re so far removed from feeling anything and acknowledging it, revealing it. Too immersed in media and this illusion that everyone else has it together, and therefore so should we.

I’m here to tell you I don’t. I’m not exactly unhappy with my life. I’ve stood in crowds at concerts, feeling invincible. But when it ends, I wonder when’s the next time I’ll feel a part of something again. I’ve been told how envious people are of my accomplishments and experiences, like my life was this incredible dream they wish they could attain or trade something for. To some, that validation would hold meaning. But what do you say back, when they don’t realize the half of it? I’ve made friends in corners of the world, but those connections don’t reach across phone lines, probably for reasons that all lead back to me. I’ve stood on Machu Picchu, dined atop the Eiffel Tower, rode a camel in Morocco. I have traveled to cities where my tongue couldn’t speak the language, felt my skin burn from the fire of a different sun, and I’ve tried to soak my tired bones in all of it to find out what it means. Seeking fulfillment. I’ve crossed state lines and boundaries and crossed off bucket lists. I’m living but when do I start to feel alive?

And here we are already, another calendar year, another birthday looming ahead, emotions moving at the speed of light. How did we get to this place? I wish I could slow it down. These seasons are melting together so fast, memories always slipping through the tiny cracks in the palm of my hands as I try so desperately to hold on to them. And yet, I’m here still secretly hoping the leaves would just hurry up and change again, still wondering if there’s something more and measuring up just short of it, still waiting to find the word “yes” just so I can say it out loud, over and over again, to my reflection without flinching.

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Land of Fire & Ice (And Everything Nice)

Bright rainbows breaking through clouds, the rush of a waterfall around every corner, rolling green fields, and the nicest people you’ve ever met?

Sounds like heaven, but the name is Iceland.

I was lucky enough to visit this incredible country this past week- this time with my boyfriend for our three year anniversary. It was our first international trip together, and his first time outside of North America- something I’ve been wanting to experience with him since we started dating!

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We got a sneak peek of the mesmerizing Northern Lights as we flew over Greenland. Our captain woke us up to instruct us to look out the left side of the plane for the show!

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Due to the weather, this would unfortunately be the only sighting we’d have the rest of our trip, but the views alone of this country and the adventures we went on more than made up for it! We spent the first full day exploring Reykjavik. The country’s capital and largest city, and it charmed us from the very start. Take a look at some of the city’s gems:

We saw the Sun Voyager, a striking steel sculpture along the water.

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Harpa, a concert hall near the harbor where we saw an awesome exhibit.

Hallgrímskirkja, an immense church that boasts outstanding panoramic views of the entire city.

Perlan, a glass dome rotating restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious dessert after a long day of hiking.

 

Lake Tjörnin, Ráðhús Reykjavíkur (City Hall), Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat,  etc.

 

As much as we adored the city, we loved the countryside even more. We couldn’t pass up one of the most famous routes out of Reykjavik- the Golden Circle- featuring Þingvellir National Park, Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur), and Gullfoss waterfall.

Gullfoss waterfall– This double-tiered waterfall reminded me at first of Niagra Falls, but I loved how close we could get to it!  Not to mention the way the sun reflected off the water- the rainbow was a gorgeous payoff for the long climb and the downpour of rain we got caught in!

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Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park the site of two tectonic plates (American and Eurasian) that drift apart at a speed of 2 cm/year, and also the site of Althingi, the oldest functioning parliament in the world. We couldn’t get enough of the history and autumn colors here.

 

Haukadalur geothermal area (Geysir, Strokkur, etc.)

Bright blue bubbling pools, hot springs, and mud pots, this place was a delight to see! Although the sulfur smelled like rotten eggs, you forget all about it with the excitement of seeing Strokkur explode every 5-10 minutes.

 

We made a stop at Fákasel Horse farm to see the famous Icelandic horses. They are all pure bred- once an Icelandic horse leaves the country it cannot ever return, and no horses can be imported. They also have five gaits instead of four, making them very unique.

 

We didn’t think we could top the Golden Circle, but we were proven wrong during our exploration of Iceland’s South Coast shores:  Skógafoss waterfall, Reynisfjara’s black sand beaches, Sólheimajökull glacier, Eyjafjallajökull volcano, and Seljalandsfoss waterfall, among others.

Skógafoss We were able to climb to the very top of this powerful waterfall. (Look to the top right of the photo- that’s where we were!) The slippery steps led us to an unbelievable view looking down below.

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Black sand beaches of ReynisfjaraThis world famous beach was like nothing we had ever seen before! Gray pebbles, dark sand, basalt sea stacks, rocky pyramids towering over us. The impressively strong, high waves crashing into the shore and gusts of wind were scary and wonderful all wrapped into one spectacular visit.

 

Sólheimajökull glacier- This glacier emerged right as we rounded the bend after a 10-15 minute hike. It completely took our breath away- it was the first time either of us had ever seen a glacier in real life! We learned it covers Katla, a dangerous volcano that is threatening to erupt in the near future. (Which we were glad we missed.)

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Eyjafjallajökull – You can’t see the glacier here in this photo below, but the left photo is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and stopped air traffic throughout all of Europe. The photo on the right is a massive rock in which houses have been built into. It’s been called the “elf house.” Many Icelandic people believe in elves. JJ and I weren’t convinced, but it is ironic that after we took this photo, our camera stopped working…

 

Seljalandsfoss– By far one of our most favorite destinations. This magnificent waterfall has a path that leads you BEHIND it, so you can actually walk to the other side for an even more stunning view. But beware: you absolutely will get soaked to the core. Definitely worth it!

So okay, you get it. We saw some extraordinary things in nature and played under a lot of waterfalls. But what did we eat?

Pylsa– Iceland is known for their hot dogs, and I certainly had my fair share of them. Not joking, I could really go for another one as we speak! The picture on the right is at Bæjarins Bestu, which proudly displays a picture of Bill Clinton enjoying his meal. If you order one with everything on it (which I recommend), it includes raw onions, crispy fried onions, ketchup, special Icelandic mustard, and remoulade.

Don’t believe me about how AMAZING and renowned they are? Check it here.

Flatbrauð- rye bread with smoked lamb & Malt drink (non-alcoholic, typically mixed with orange soda for holidays)

 

Skyr– A thick yogurt that was very filling.

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Several different soups to help warm up on colder nights:

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Traditional Icelandic Meat Soup.

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Turnip soup- never had a turnip in my LIFE but this was delicious!

And, of course, who could forget FISH?

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The best fish either of us had ever tried at the Drunk Rabbit.

Chuck Norris Grill– we couldn’t stop laughing at all of these sayings!

 

Dillon Whiskey Bar– Sampled some Balvenie (aged 12 years) here that I loved!

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Drinks- Icelandic Pale Ale & White Ale, Viking, Thule,  Egils Gull beer, Somersby cider. etc. We tried it all but the Black Death, Brennivín, which we plan on trying in the States.

 

Blue Lagoon– How could we come to Iceland and not visit one of the 25 wonders of the world? On our last day, we spent a full day here relaxing and literally soaking it all in. With blue water the temperature of 100° F, a swim up bar, and silica mud masks that left your skin feeling 10 years younger, there was no better way for us to wrap up our romantic, fascinating, and completely breathtaking vacation.

 

We could not have asked for a more beautiful adventure together, and already can’t wait to go back. Iceland captured our hearts from the beginning, but if you’ve read this post, it’s not hard to see why.

 

 

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First Anniversary!

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Whoa. Exactly one year ago I created From This Side of the Sun. I had zero clue how to use WordPress, let alone how to blog, and no idea what would happen once I let this baby out into the world. All I knew is that I had to do it. I had to create an outlet for my voice.

Since then, it’s been nothing short of an incredible adventure in itself, and my saving grace in its own right. I’ve been able to share my stories of traveling, my struggles and accomplishments with running, my poetry, and even opened up about my health issues. I’ve written about my passions and my most embarrassing moments, from wild adventures to every day life. I have connected with so many individuals across the country, and surprisingly enough, this blog has brought me even closer to those already here at home.

So a massive THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart, for following along these past 365 days, being an instrumental part of my continuous growth and support of strength, and letting me share my world with you.

New here? I got ya covered. Here’s a snapshot of  some of my favorite memories (both old & new) of posts from August 2015-now. Time really does fly when you’re having fun, huh?

 

Can’t wait to see what’s next!

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Shawna & Shelly 6.18.16

This past weekend, my best friend of over 10 years got married to the love of her life, and it was the most gorgeous day.

Both the ceremony and reception took place at West End- Elliott Overlook Park. What a view!

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We started our day with wine at the salon, how else?

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LET’S GO GET YOU MARRIED!

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So honored to stand by your side as your MOH.

 

Bridesmaids and the entire bridal party.

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Cutting the cake- Prantl’s famous Burnt Almond Torte.

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A reunion, a marriage, a perfect day.

 

Shawna and Shelly, as much as I love the both of you, I love you even more together. I’ve never met two people who are more supportive of each other, who take care of each other unconditionally, and who love without boundaries. The strength of your relationship knows no limits. You may not know it, but your love, your commitment to one another is such an inspiration. I want to shout from the rooftops just how happy I am that you guys found each other. From seeing your relationship begin, to seeing that love grow into marriage, is something I’m lucky to witness, and I can’t wait to see all the years to come. May you always have each other to hold, and have a spare bedroom I can sleep in.

Here’s to Shawna, and Shelly, to their soon-to-be adventures in Chicago and to sharing a lifetime of happiness together.  To my best friends: I love you, and congratulations!

 

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The Blur That Was Ibiza & Paris

Wednesday, September 4-Tuesday, September 10, 2013

From raving with David Guetta & parasailing into sunsets in Ibiza, to eating dinner atop the Eiffel Tower, it was all unforgettable. Even a little rain couldn’t put a damper on these adventures! I drank pink champagne outside the Louvre, devoured macarons, saw Jim Morrison’s grave, took in Moulin Rouge and the Palace of Versailles, visited the Notre-Dame Cathedral & Arc de Triomphe, went on a breathtaking night cruise on the Seine River, and locked my love in one of the most amazing cities.

 

 

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