35 Things To Do Before 35

In less than a month, I will be 33. I had lists upon lists of things to do before I hit 32 (as a child, I’d always pictured 32 as the perfect age: not too young or too old to do anything.) Now that I’m heading into No Man’s Land Past 32, I thought it would be a good time to take stock of what is important to me, what I want to accomplish, and who I want to be by the time I’m 35.

Here’s what I came up with. Seems reasonable, no?

      1. Not die.
      2. Swim with porpoises.
      3. Get my passport.
      4. Travel to 2 countries.
      5. Finish & publish SERA.
      6. Finish & publish CrossFit WIP.
      7. Continue & publish IMAGINARY CLOSET series.
      8. Get 4 more tattoos (13 in total).
      9. Watch a sunrise, outside, with my kids.
      10. Begin ballroom dance lessons (YouTube tutorials are allowed if finances are unfriendly.)
      11. Perfect my handstand.
      12. Deadlift 200 lbs.
      13. Master strict pull-ups.
      14. Run 10K.
      15. Write a closure letter to every person whose baggage I carry around with me daily/weekly/monthly.Happy celebrating winning success woman sunset
      16. Take a painting class.
      17. Play Für Elise on piano. Well.
      18. Create a signature drink.
      19. Host a dinner party.
      20. Learn how to use my sewing machine.
      21. Design and sew a dress.
      22. Design and sew a stuffed ALOT.
      23. If the first one pans out, make more ALOTS.
      24. Develop poetry-writing clinics for elementary/middle/high school students.
      25. Learn the basics of photography.
      26. Wear a bikini at a public beach.
      27. Slow dance outside during a thunderstorm.
      28. Plant a lilac bush.
      29. Organize my kids’ baby photos.
      30. Paint my living spaces.
      31. Learn how to make an omelet that I will love.
      32. Start baking again.
      33. Write a yearly letter to each of my children.
      34. Make my will.
      35. Write a new original song from scratch.

What’s on your list?


The 14 Stages of Grief

Most people who have experienced loss have heard of the 5 stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The thought that anyone can boil down the experience into 5 steps has always been ridiculous to me. I’ve lost many, many people over my lifetime. I’ve lost jobs, friendships, and have lost a best friend, a sister, and a father. I am not an expert on grief, but I’m an expert on my grief.

I believe there are others who have read these stages and wondered why you don’t fit in them. I have written another version; one that reflects my experience, and, perhaps, yours.

The 14 Stages of Grief

  1. Numbness – Time stops, thinking stops, everything stops. You find yourself arriving places you hadn’t realized you’d left for. A small but powerful part of your brain takes over and you somehow do what needs to be done, albeit nearly unconsciously.
  2. Blur – Time speeds up again, sort of. In fits and starts your reality and thought speed up exponentially as if to make up for the unthinkingness you’ve been swaddled in.
  3. Hyperactivity – You have lists, get stuff done, have everything under control, and are BUSY, people. No, you don’t have time for a hug or to sit. There are things that need doing and you’re going to do them really really fast, faster than anybody ever. This stage can last for many days with no sleep. Eventually, though, it will give over to the next stage.
  4. Exhaustion – While your emotion is still largely blunted, your body has stopped responding when you try to make it do things. This may be confusing to those around you who wonder why you’re asking your arm aloud to please pass you the coffee.
  5. Elation – This comes in under exhaustion, and is marked by inappropriate giggling and exclaiming how much you love everything. This is a sign that you are still in shock, not that you are in any way healing. Don’t let it fool you.
  6. Sadness – Oh, God. The sadness. It hurts in your belly, in the back of your throat. It threatens to actually tear your mind apart and drive you crazy. You want to hide from it, sleep it off, drink it off, run it off, anything. But wherever you are, so it is. Just try, try to remember to breathe.träumende Frauenskulptur mit Rose in der Hand
  7. Utter Disbelief – As you see others going about their daily lives, or hear a song on the radio, or listen to a family member telling a story, you will have a moment – not of forgetting, never that – but of pure, sheer disbelief that this thing has happened to you. Two things may come out of this stage, depending on your personality: you may panic, or you may lapse into emotional catatonia, which is similar to Stage 1, except that time trips along nicely, you’re just detached from it.
  8. Rage – I always wondered why they used the word “Anger”. Rage is heat, it is primal, it is a scream, a violent visceral emotion as you rail madly against the unfairness of it all. It will burn through you quickly, and sap your strength.
  9. Repeat Stages 4, 5, 6.
  10. Loss of Faith – After you’ve realized that this is actually happening to you and no one can for the love of God tell you why, you begin to question everything. Nothing makes sense if they are gone. Nothing is really real. Nothing really matters since we’re all going to die anyway. There is freedom here, but don’t linger too long.
  11. Repeat Step 1 as you realize that the rest of the world is spinning away without you, that your loss hasn’t impacted anything, not really.
  12. Grief Guilt – This is a very specific type of guilt, a voice that tells you that you aren’t sad enough, that you’re forgetting to grieve, that you aren’t grieving as much as you should be. It will happen if you notice a cool cloud formation in the sky, or laugh at a joke. This will never completely fade.
  13. Restructuring – You now understand that this is real, it is happening to you, and there is not a damn thing that you can do to make it any better. This is the time that your brain will jumpstart into restructuring mode, evaluating your loss in real terms and figuring out how things will change in daily life. This is the first step toward your new life. I suppose one could call this “acceptance”, but I’ll be damned if I know anyone who has actually accepted loss.
  14. Resignation – This is the best most of us will ever get. In the rest of our lives, there will be joy, there will be life, but when we look back at our loss, all we can truly hope for is resignation.

Get the Most Out of Journaling

People write for all kinds of reasons. Some people write to track major successes and ventures, to try and see patterns – see why things worked. Others write to create a chronology, like mini-chapters of an autobiography. Still others are simply compelled to write, and journaling is the least demanding outlet available.

There are times, though when journaling is (or should become) necessary. It’s one of the healthiest ways to deal with anger, disappointment, heartbreak, and failure.  When you’re missing someone with no chance to communicate with them, when you have successes that need to be shared, when your emotions are so overwhelming you will be swallowed whole without an outlet: this is what journaling is for.

So you sit down, with your rage, or fear, or excitement sitting heavily on your shoulders, and the paper stares at you, mocking and cold. This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. Other people journal all the time; they aren’t paralyzed or hit with writer’s block. You start feeling like your inability to journal properly says something deep and dark about yourself. All of a sudden the terrible emotions you were looking to escape from are a million times worse, or the excitement you were looking to celebrate has dulled.

Stupid journaling. Stupid people who recommend it. Just like meditators. Smug jerks.

At this stage, it’s fairly common to give up and spend the rest of the day in an emotional huff, snapping at everyone and everything to release some frustration and crankiness that the journaling was SUPPOSED to take care of. Stupid journaling.

Stop. Take a breath. Try a few of these tips and see if they work. Most have worked for me to get past even my worst cases of paper mockery (the feeling the actual paper you’re trying to write on is laughing at you. Found in the final stages of writer’s block.)

  • Write in different colours. I have a simple colour scheme I follow, based on the way the colours make me feel.
    • Black – anger
    • Red – hurt
    • Green – guilt
    • Purple – excitement
    • Blue – narration of events
    • Orange – fear

The most interesting thing I’ve found with this style of writing is that I can go back months and years and know at a glance which of those emotions dominated any given period of my life. Then I can look at the happenings during that time and see patterns in my emotional responses. But even if you’re not that into introspection, seeing a whole page covered in red can be pretty damn satisfying.

  • Write letters
    • To people I miss, I speak to them as if they could answer.
    • To people who have hurt me, I give my side, no holds barred, no interruptions.
    • To people I am intimidated by, I define my relationship with them safely and privately.
    • To people I admire, I write to them so I don’t gush all over them.
  • Start a secret blog
    • Be as out there as you want, as judgmental, as weird, as kinky – whatever floats your boat – with impunity.
    • In this medium there’s an aspect of human interaction missing in the other forms of journaling.
    • Create a whole look, a whole persona on your blog. Be an expert, be bigger than life.

One VERY IMPORTANT NOTE HERE. If you want to write a secret blog, a place just for you, then KEEP IT BLOODY SECRET. There can be NO CONNECTION BETWEEN THIS BLOG AND YOUR REAL LIFE. Don’t be stupid about it; it’s the internet, for heaven’s sake. If you write crappy things about people, do it on the understanding that they might find it, read it, and be hurt by it and this is NO ONE’S FAULT BUT YOUR OWN. If you don’t want to risk that, then please just keep a paper journal tucked under your mattress like the rest of us.

  • Read

Sometimes it takes other people’s words to start yours flowing. Find a book that matches your mood, reread an old favourite, or ask for suggestions from your social media circles. There’s a reason that Bridget Jones’ Diary was such a huge hit – we love living vicariously through other people’s misery.

A few options to try:

  • Brainstorm single words
    • Fear…
    • Guilt…
    • You…
    • I…
    • Different…
    • Hope…
    • Love…
    • Tomorrow…
    • Yesterday…
    • Success…
    • Failure…
    • Next…
    • Again…

If none of these ideas get your wheels churning, right now may not be the ideal time to start journaling. Perhaps a 5k run instead?

Happy writing!




Everything I Learned in Life I Learned from Badass Female Literary Characters

I read.

I read to the point that reading and words and literature pretty much define me. I have a line, a quote, and a character reference for every situation. I read to the point that my imaginary friends, found between dog-eared pages and now sometimes on my kindle screen, have been far more real to me that the drama that ran rampant in junior high, high school, university, and (most unfortunately) beyond.

These friends have never abandoned me, never betrayed me, and have always acted within expected boundaries. They are safe, but they are still flawed, still human. They are the embodiments of everything I want to become and I owe much, much more to their progenitors than I can ever repay (mostly because they’re all dead.) They have helped me through the hardest times in my life: when I’ve lost all hope, when my heart has been broken, when I feel there is no way that I, small as I am, will ever measure up.

Some, in particular, have actually saved my life.

Elizabeth Bennett, who I love to the point of naming my child after her, taught me to own up to my mistakes. She taught me that judging people quickly often leads to judging them unfairly – either negatively or positively. She taught me that you don’t always have to agree with your family, but you always have to respect them. And she taught me that keeping things to myself is tricky business – it’s impossible to be called out on something you didn’t share, but then you don’t want to end up like her: having to take responsibility if your reticence causes your sister to be secretly married to the major d-bag you used to have a crush on.

Mary Lennox taught me about recovering from childhood adversity, about growing as a wild thing, and about care and guardianship. She taught me about trust – and how when it is deserved and earned it can be a door opening to the greatest adventures in life. As her flowers grew, so did her spirit, and I’m finding the same as I care for and tend to my children, my books, and my business. The more love and effort I put out there, the more I gain.

Lucie Mannette taught me about strength, about grace under fire, and about preserving beauty as an inherent good. Lucie never faltered in her goodness, her elegance, or her quality. She endured death, betrayal, and the greatest fears imaginable, but she did it without losing herself in the process. She did not turn hard and hateful when the world showed her nothing but cruelty and pain. She bore trials that I cannot fathom with humility, hope, and greatness of character. Last year, during my “Year of Tribulation” I looked to her example time and again, and she never failed to inspire me.

Anna Karenina is my antiheroine. She is the pure embodiment of everything I fear in myself. She destroyed herself and those she claimed to love in her boundless passion, lust, and selfishness. Her obsessive nature drove her to the highest pitch of human experience, and then it left her to an ignoble, pathetic death. Anna taught me the importance of moderation, empathy, and caring. The opposite of Mary Lennox, she showed what happens to the human character when guardianship is abandoned and selfishness is allowed unfettered reign. Anna and Emma Bovary (both completely antifeminist stories regaling readers with the worst case scenario of a woman taking control of her sexuality) unwittingly uncovered a human failing, not a feminine one. I know as many male Annas as I do female.

Emily Starr and I have been best friends since I was 8. She got older a lot faster than I did, but that was ok, because I could always go back and relive our younger days together. Emily was born to write. Emily taught me that writing for pure enjoyment is intrinsically valuable, and that there are other people out there for whom writing is not a choice, but more akin to breathing, sleeping – it is necessary for their very survival. Emily taught me to accept criticism, and to work harder, to write better, to avoid the dreaded “damning with faint praise”.  With her I always felt just on the verge of seeing the blazing, unhindered beauty the world, and I learned to live in those moments when the veil would flutter and I too could hear the note of unearthly music. Emily taught me to always set my sights high, to aim for the Alpine Path.

Together these amazing characters have shaped my life, my mind, and my path. I would not be who I am without them…and so many others.