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Thoughts

Everyone is just waiting

October 13, 2017

When people find out you write words for a living, it’s inevitable they’ll also ask you what you like to read. I actually despise answering the question because it’s typically just judgement lurking behind that mask of genuine curiosity. Like my selections should be so sophisticated, so expertly curated, that you’ve never heard of any of the authors, both classic and contemporary, gracing the rows and rows of bookshelves in my Beauty and the Beast style library. But I’ll answer it for you guys here because 1) I like you, and 2) it brings me to a larger point.

I love my Brene Brown, and Glennon Doyle Melton, of course. Plus, the all-time greatest SNL lady duo (Tina + Amy, respectfully). If fiction’s your game, the Kevin Kwan books are fun and both The Shack and Kite Runner shook my soul a touch. But if we’re talking about my favorite, the one I’d read a million times, the book that I reference most often with my friends large and small, it’s Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

You know the book. By the good Dr.

If you graduated, you likely got a copy or five. You probably even have one inscribed by a parent or teacher or creepy neighbor.

I adore everything about this book because I see myself in it. I saw myself in it when I was little. I saw myself in it when I got my second copy before leaving for college. I saw myself in it as a new mom staring into the eyes of a life I’d created. And the other night, when I read it to my girls, I saw myself in it yet again. I am the little man, who only wears yellow, topped off by a ridiculous hat, being carried away in a semi-deflated balloon.

It’s different every time, but on this particular night, this got me:

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles cross weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

Gah, don’t you guys ever feel like this? I do. Except instead of a string of pearls, I’m waiting for an unlimited flow of money so I can redecorate my house to look like grownups live here instead of frat boys. And instead of the fish, I’m waiting for motivation to move my ass and really create change in my body. And instead of a wig with curls, it’s a book idea. And instead of wind, it’s time to get lost in the woods. And instead of Friday night, it’s … Ok, that one holds up.

I am waiting. Just waiting.

The day after reading the book and getting caught up on this section, I was listening to the Rich Roll podcast in my office at work. And his guest, whose name is escaping me at the moment, but he has a tea business I believe, was talking about being present. It’s a topic that comes up all the time. In fact, some would say it’s entirely played out. But it keeps coming up because none of us are doing it.

I mean, I sure as shit can’t say I’m present. Can you?

He was talking about social media, and how it encourages us to live in the past. We’re scrolling through, looking at things that happened seconds, minutes, hours, days ago, and experiencing all these feelings about what we’re reading in the posts. How we should have taken our kids to the pumpkin patch, or tried that watermelon fruit carriage for our sister’s baby shower, or had a gender reveal party where things exploded into pink or blue dust. And all the while, as we scroll and envy, we’re missing our lives.

The bigger question he arrived at was, if you’re never really present in the moments and happenings of your life, then what’s the true point in living it? When you get to the end, will you think, “That’s it?” or “Damn, that was a life well spent.” And holy handclaps that made sense to me.

I fall victim to the temptress that is “life through the filtered lens” all the time. I see others trying new workouts and getting good results, and I think maybe that’s what I’m missing. I scroll and Google and research the best remedies for my anxiety and my shortcomings all the time. And I could be spending that time actually doing things that would relieve my anxiety and lessen my shortcomings. I could be reading to my kids. I could be hiking. I could be living my gosh dang life.

But I’m waiting.

I’m waiting for the pounds to go,
Or waiting for the funds to flow,
Or waiting for the world to change,
Or waiting to feel a little less strange.

I’m waiting for some muscle tone,
Or tasks to get done by my very own clone.
Or the kids to eat, or the fear to numb,
Or waiting for the right words to come.

I’m waiting for the work to slow,
and the food to cook, and the flowers to grow.

I’m always just waiting.

And I get so sick of it.

They also covered the current state of the world on that podcast, specifically how everyone is living out of fear. And a fear-based life can really ruin the time you have, which is a surprise to no one, and yet, I know I can’t shake it. But the only thing you can do is live your truest life. You can only focus on creating change, not what others are doing to destroy it. You can only focus on your actions, your intentions, your mind. And if you’re in a good place with all of those things, the fear should subside a bit.

Or so they say.

Pages

Your summer reading (or listening) list

June 30, 2017

Four years ago I made a promise to myself. No longer would I be the girl at the party just nodding politely when the conversation turned to books and the like. No longer would I only pretend to be well-versed in trending literature while others rejoiced in the entertaining pages of the latest best seller. The Gone Girls and the Hunger Games and the 50 Shades of Sex Reading would elude me no more.

There was just one little problem … time. And the fact that I didn’t have any. And I was even one child down at the time!

It was then I discovered the true beauty of the audiobook. All the pleasure of reading without the pressure of carving out additional down time. I play those puppies while I’m in my car and make my commute, long or short, a delicious dose of indulgent me time.

Before you get all Audible crazy, there are a few risks you should be aware of. First, the narrator has an unfortunate amount of clout in this situation. A bad reader can ruin a perfectly acceptable book. I once suffered through an entire series (cough, cough, The Mazerunner) – three books – with a gentleman whose lisp made me daydream about a fictional man with a 3-year-old’s face. Conversely, I’ve been carried away to Australia, England and the inner depths of the soul by masterful, enchanting voices, too. It’s a roll of the dice.

Second, you still have an obligation to not drive like an asshole. I’ve had books both mesmerize and infuriate me while I was behind the wheel. I finished Gone Girl going 70 mph down the highway. That’s living dangerously, my friends.

These books are some of my favorites ever, of all time. Almost all of them are available on audiobook, but the good old fashioned bound versions are just as worthy of your time. I hope this summer is filled with stories that move you, change you and keep you entertained.

FICTION FAVES

The Shack by William Paul Young

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Crazy Rich Asians AND China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Looking for Alaska by John Green

The Walk Series by Richard Paul Evans

TRUTH TELLERS

Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed AND Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton

Year of Yes: How to Dance it Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

Rising Strong AND Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

10% Happier by Dan Harris

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

FOR SHITS AND GIGGLES

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Yes, Please! by Amy Poehler

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

When I become obsessed with a book …
Want to read more about some of these beauties? Check out these posts from the past:

Falling Hard for Amy Poehler
10% Happier Ain’t Too Bad
Go Get You Some Big Magic
Little JoJo and the Case of the First Grade Burdens
Working on my Core
Warrior in Training

Thoughts

Confession: I gave bad advice to bachelors

June 9, 2017

In 2003, Hank and I were just babies. I was a journalism student who smoked a pack of Camels a day and wore black stretchy pants with one-shoulder tank tops when I wanted to be fancy. He was a frat guy who drank Early Times with a splash of Coke and grew lawn grass in a pot as a conversation piece.

At the seasoned age of 20, through a series of events erased by Bacardi and time, I ended up connecting with the editor of the newspaper at Hank’s all-male school. It was a perfect storm, really. I was a card-carrying member of the cult of Sex and the City and they were thirsty for a female perspective. Thus, a weekly advice/editorial column, called From the Hip, was born.

I had the purest intentions, I swear. Hand over my heart, I believed I was giving them legit advice. I aspired to be a guiding light for their liaisons, both committed and casual. They were my Anthony Michael Halls, and I was their Carrie Bradshaw, and together we were going to revolutionize the way men and women – who drank a lot and hooked up – communicated with each other. I exposed all of the sores and issues on the underbelly of the twenty-something dating scene, often shoplifting stories from my roommates’ love lives, which were far more exciting than my own.

The men of the campus gradually started seeking me out. Once adequately liquored up, guys would come up to me at Tommy’s, the townie bar, and scream their questions in my ear over Sublime and Tom Petty. I’d walk by them at parties and they would point and sloppily gush as they realized, “Hey! You’re that girl in the paper!” Then they’d be on to a sweet piece of ass who wouldn’t exploit their misfortunes for a spot in the “Stuff” section. Professors and students debated my opinions in class and it didn’t always fall in my favor, which bewildered me. Until recently.

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with an old friend about writing aspirations and the good ole’ days and all the things you cover with the dear ones, and she mentioned my old column. I hadn’t thought of those articles in years. I hadn’t read them since college. So, I went home, did some Googling, and soon found myself sitting inside the mind of my 20-year-old self. And let me tell you, it was scary in there. Nothing was how I remembered it. It was like finding your childhood dollhouse and realizing just how tiny the furniture was. The writing was terrible, the perspective was all wrong and the topics were predictably tacky.

Aren’t these just the cutest things you’ve ever seen? I mean … precious. And naive AF. Sure, there might be some little nuggets that hold up, but overall, the work and the arguments are mediocre at best. My 34-year-old self realized I had done a massive disservice to the men at that college, and their partners. I took a platform primed with potential for enlightenment and healthy dialogue and squandered it on topics like strip clubs and clingy exes.

The view from the woman behind this keyboard – now 14 years of living, 10 years of marriage, and 3 children the wiser – is much different. It’s messier. Happier. More Claire Dunphy than Carrie.

Honestly, I’m confident the voice of Courtney 2017 wouldn’t have really resonated with the men of 2003, or the 20-something men of 2017 for that matter. But you know what, screw it! Here’s to trying to right what’s wrong …

FROM THE HIP
What real women really want

By Courtney Leach

First, gentlemen, I must apologize for casually disrespecting the complex expedition we endure to establish strong relationships in the unsophisticated fashion that I did. The idea that the intricacies of one person dedicating their mind, body and soul to another person for any period of time could be simplified or summarized in 800-word musings was an ignorant, albeit well-intentioned, endeavor.

It has taken me 16 years of being with the same man, decades of listening to my dear friends and a lot of great books and self reflection to realize that my opinions, or anyone else’s for that matter, are just that, opinions. They are beads representing other people’s experiences we string on a necklace and wear on the battlefield of our own relationships. They are tools in the shed, but each landscape is different. There is no magical salve for your relationship pain points, because each partnership is unique and requires its own set of care instructions. Instructions you come to on the other side of steep mountains and colorful emotional bruises.

But since this stage is meant for advice, I might have a little bit left in my back pocket. A few beads to string on your necklace.

You’re in college now, and what I offer you is a glimpse into your future. A telescope for the not-so-distant journey ahead. My sincere wish for each of you is that you find that person who pours into your heart and fills in every gap, every hole. When fate reveals your other half and truest equal, it’s an unimaginable gift. Recognize the beauty in that and celebrate it every day, with both minor and magnificent gestures. Everyone’s love language is acknowledgement. Everyone needs to feel appreciated. Including your partner. Don’t forget that when things get hectic.

I can tell you that, in my experience, the best unions are rooted in respect, fed with thoughtful exchanges and watered with laughter. There will be so many hard moments and gut-wrenching decisions to be made in the years ahead; Unfathomable losses and love so intense it frightens you to death. The sooner you learn to dance in the light and joyful reprieves, the fuller your heart will be. Don’t take life so seriously. There’s enough weight to carry between the two of you as it is.

Understand that the woman you love will feel like a stranger in her own skin at some, or many, points in your life together. Maybe it’s a result of pregnancy and the subsequent nursing and hormone changes that accompany that process. Maybe it’s a change in metabolism or motivation or her ability to cope with the suffocating stress of keeping a household running. Whatever the cause, the body she has now, will not be the body she has always. And she will wrestle with that. Be understanding of this gradual evolution. Remember what came with those curves; your son, your daughter, a warm meal at the family table, a soul standing and aching next to you in the hardest of times. You, too, will likely change. Just use it as an excuse to go for a walk together.

Contrary to what your current stage of life would have you believe, sometimes being the strongest man, means staying completely silent, unless your words can guarantee progress or healing. It requires you to hold your tongue when the sharp organ is dripping in toxic antagonism, and reserve your words for constructive conversation instead. Words can build bridges between torn hearts, but they burn them just as quickly. Be thoughtful with the woman and the people you love.

If you’re angry, go lift some weights. Move boxes around in the garage. Go for a run. Just go. The water tastes like shit when you draw from an indignant well. Just be sure to circle back when your mind has cleared. Progress is the pup born of honesty and communication.

Always have your partner’s back. Even when she is wrong. She probably knows deep down that she is. (If she is.)

Life is about to pull a big fast one on you and pick up its pace. It goes way too quickly to argue about who’s going to come to your wedding, or get the groceries, or fold the laundry, or take the car in for an oil change. Don’t burn these sweet minutes on such inconsequential disputes. With a full-time job and active kids and a thousand responsibilities you can’t even imagine right now, you’ll come to see your time together as an extravagance. Be an observer of your partner’s struggles and the load she carries. Watch for opportunities to pitch in and do it, unprompted. Make the ride a little easier so you can both enjoy the music on the radio and the sights as you speed along. She isn’t the only one who can pack the sandwiches. And, I’m tellin’ ya, a basket of folded laundry at the hands of her spouse, is a woman’s greatest aphrodisiac.

When in doubt, come back to the love. You will always think that you are right. And she will always think that she is right. And both of you will be accurate. But there is nothing more important than the magnetic, authentic admiration you feel for the soul that climbs in bed next to you at night. Lose that perspective, and you’re screwed.

To assume it will be perfect is to set yourself up for a life of disappointment. It’s a fool’s vision. You have to go all in. You have to do the work. You have to get into your bathing suit and embrace the heat when it all goes to hell in a handbasket. The bruises and bumps and hiccups are perfectly human, and they will subside with time and care. And, as you grow together, as a couple, you learn when to warn each other to duck and come out less scathed. In the end, 98 percent of your disagreements are trivial, and the best things often come from the brutal 2 percent that’s left over.

In the end, being a good man is a matter of character. It’s about supporting your partner’s dreams and setting some of your own as well. Hold onto who you want to be, and make a point to validate the goals of the person across the table, too. Put yourself in her shoes, even when that badass, exhausted woman is wearing those pointy uncomfortable ones. Pitch in so she doesn’t feel alone, always. Practice empathy, loyalty, compromise and humility.

Remember that you are not perfect. Neither is she. You are two flawed creatures trying to build a burrow where you can create a life of contentment. Don’t overthink it. Just bring it back to love. If you always come back to the love, you’ll do just fine, young man. (Well, that and pare your morning shit back from 45 minutes to a more acceptable 15, um kay?)

Thoughts

Turtle Talk (and other stops on my road to being a writer)

August 31, 2016

How the hell did you become a writer?” an acquaintance inquired during a stalled start to the morning meeting.
“I mean, how does anyone choose their profession?” I thought, but instead replied, “I just always liked it.”
“Yeah, but like, no one really becomes a writer. Like, unless you write books, right?”

You never think something about yourself is odd until someone else flags it as odd. That’s what makes it official. You mean everyone doesn’t leave the last tissue because they like the design on the box so, so much? I don’t think the way I earn a living is particularly noteworthy, but I’ll entertain almost any question for the sake of content. I can trace the roots of this one all the way back to a little majestic dot on an elementary school map, called Turtle Town.

MiraclesWriting

While others were known to dabble, I made a career out of having an awkward phase. The beginning of my climb to peak unpolished adolescence arrived at age 10. In the fourth grade, I had spacey, jagged teeth and mousy blonde hair with bangs that easily flipped and frizzed at the slightest breeze or rush of activity. My lips were always chapped. I wore a rotation of sweatshirts with assorted appliqués over turtlenecks in contrasting shades (they never matched exactly because I liked to embrace my rebellious whims). My boyfriend, who wore hammer pants, was 2 inches shorter than me, and I was a meager 3 feet in stature. Things ended abruptly when he placed my Pound Puppy, which I had gifted to him against my mom’s wishes, in a sad, semi-rain-soaked brown grocery bag on top of my desk with a note that read simply, “Itz over. – Jon”. I knew nothing of myself. I was a sheep. A follower. The full extent of my ambitions for the foreseeable future consisted of marrying Dylan McKay, having a smile like Julia Roberts and moving like Penny from Dirty Dancing. (The fact that my parents allowed me to watch sex-tinged programming with prostitutes and “knocked up” resort performers is not for any of us to judge.)

What I didn’t realize was I had something going for me; A hand to gently guide me toward fate. I had Mr. Johnson for fourth grade and Mr. Johnson was the shit. In the midst of sleepovers where we made girls pee their pants and call their parents at 1 a.m. and clammy, sweat-soaked hand-holding, and the arrival of Gushers, Mr. Johnson went and turned our classroom into a microcosm and just waited to infiltrate our tiny, ignorant little brain saplings.

Every year, the students in room 23 would decide the name, mascot, and basic government and judiciary system of their pretend city. In 1993, the name was Turtle Town, the mascot was a fox – just kidding – it was a turtle, and the government was comprised of a collection of pinheads who liked to show off their turdy friends and make fart noises in the middle of films about migrating birds and what have you. But it was cool. We had elections and town meetings and learned all kinds of important life stuff without realizing we were being taught (such suckers). I can’t remember if it was my idea, or the teacher’s, but at some point, it was decided that Turtle Town needed a newspaper. It would be called Turtle Talk and I would be the editor.

I went to my parent’s office and took a giant accordion-style file folder and labeled the slots with sections – sports, front page, government, etc. I carried around a small spiral-bound notepad and pen and pleaded with my classmates to write fake pieces of news. “So, like maybe you left the town hall meeting with a stomachache because you ate bad porridge at the Turtle Top Tavern. Huh? Whatdaya say?” In the end, I discovered a truth that followed me for the next 23 years and counting: If you have the vision, and you want something written, it’s best to just ask the right questions and write the damn thing yourself. And so, I did. I slapped on my Bonne Bell Dr. Pepper chapstick and got to business writing horrific headlines and cheesy photo captions and exposés on Turtle Town’s public officials (the majority of which never made the cut). I fashioned that fabricated content into a true, tangible newspaper, piece by piece. Of course no one really gave a crap. How do you compete with an unstoppable TGIF lineup and Beanie Babies for Pete’s sake?

Followers be damned, the seed had been planted. I loved to write. I loved coming up with ways to tell stories and talking to people who’d done things I hadn’t and working with words until they formed the perfect linguistic cadence. (This last sentence may be a bit overkill for the work I was turning out at this time.)

Writing

Where Mr. Johnson left off, my high school journalism and English teacher (one in the same) picked up. This woman was a dead ringer for Miss Geist from Clueless. She had a sarcastic wit Amy Schumer would envy, sobering honesty when you really needed it and a hands-off style that just made kids thrive. She didn’t reach all of the kids in the school, but the ones she did, she changed. We were like a gang comprised of rejected members of the Breakfast Club. There were intellectuals, athletes and “outcasts”, but when we entered that corner classroom, tucked away from the social hierarchy, the subtitles dissolved entirely. We ate boxes of Lemonheads and troughs of Cheetos while we brainstormed story ideas and layouts. We made McDonald’s runs to clear writer’s block. It was an editorial-induced euphoria that kept me high for four solid years.

I wrote sappy editorials about saying goodbye to upperclassmen and being single on Valentine’s Day. I spent a solid week sipping sugary gas station mochas and pouring my emotions out for the intro page copy in our yearbook my senior year. My Miss Geist doppleganger, who by then was like a second mother, encouraged me to make a last-minute change of college for a better Journalism program and a leg up down the road. I followed her advice.

In 2002, Sex and the City was a female institution. You knew if you were a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or, God forbid, Miranda. I was studying Magazine Journalism in the Midwest and, culturally, could not be farther from the Big City storylines I relished so intently. My then-boyfriend (now-husband) was a student at a small all-male college a little shy of 2 hours away and they were looking for a female columnist for their newspaper. One sample article later, I was committed to pen a biweekly editorial on life through a woman’s lens. From the Hip ran for 3 glorious years. It was the closest to Carrie I would ever get. And while most of the questions submitted came from lonely independents who just couldn’t understand why the weekend lady visitors weren’t feelin’ their flavor, we did venture into some heavy early adult topics. If nothing else, writing that column made going to the bars super fun. “Hey, aren’t you From the Hip girl? Whoa! Wussup?” “Hey, you know what you should write about? Why girls don’t make any sense.” “Hey, you were wrong. That girl totally called the next day.” “Hey, you know what you should write about? [Insert late night radio show topic].” “Hey, your article cut into the football feature. I’m not mad though. I’m just sayin’ it was long.” Those were good times. I sincerely loved those times.

And those were the articles, with heavy sexual undertones and ridiculous subject matter, that I took with me to apply for my first job out of school; an editorial assistant at a food magazine. The publisher must have been on heavy pain meds when he hired me. My portfolio was sad, but my rate was cheap and I was eager to work like a typing mule. The magazine had zero money. Paychecks would bounce at least once a month and we were our own cleaning service. But the education I got in the five years I worked there was immeasurable. I went into immaculate kitchens with freshly butchered meats and cheeses I couldn’t pronounce. I learned about wine varietals and molecular gastronomy and organic farming. I was 22 when I started that job. It was a champagne experience on a penny pitcher beer budget. I adored my editor. I still adore my editor and I still call her my editor even though we haven’t worked together in seven years. She had her priorities right and was a sharp wordsmith. She shaped my writing and she showed me how to balance my work and personal life without sacrificing myself. She ran on her lunch hour, knew the best places to grab a beer and believed in the value of a Friday Coke. Every young writer needs an editor like that.

Eventually my writing turned into more of a job than a joy. I made some career turns and strayed from the rich editorial path a bit in exchange for a more realistic salary. It worked for a few years. But I know myself and I knew that I was missing the art of writing. Not just the piecing together of words with alliteration and spot-on syntax to reel consumers in, but the actual soul sharing and storytelling part of it. I started this blog, privately at first, as a way to quench that desire to express myself in that way. I needed an outlet to complement my occupation. And, 3 years later, here we are.

EnjoyItWriting

A man that I admire a whole heck of a lot said, “We write so that we can taste life twice.” He was referring to journaling. I think that is what this blog – and truly, many parts of my professional career – are for me. I’ve seen natural springs and traversed the steep hills of a maple syrup farm and flown in helicopters and hiked the AT and survived 7 years of motherhood, and I can relive those days any time I want. I can pull out a magazine or pull up an article and recall those sights and sounds and characters because I’ve shared them and they live somewhere outside of my forgetful mind. That is the gift that writing gives you.

You might love cleaning people’s teeth or educating young children or giving quotes on various goods and services. I love the sound of the keys when my fingers can’t keep up with my mind and the satisfaction of submitting a finished article. For me, it isn’t about showing up in your newsfeed or standing from the tallest podium in a room of screaming grownups. I just want to make people feel something. I want to elicit empathy and contemplation and exploration. I want to write things that inspire and engage people and make us hop off the hamster wheel for a few minutes. Not everything I write is going to do that, but I respect the process, and I respect rare gem you get when the words come together just so and set something off for someone.

From Turtle Town to this Desperate search for Superwoman, there’s just something about writing for me. I’m so blessed to have found it. I’m so thankful you read it. It’s so delicious tasting this life twice. Period.

Pages

I hope I’ve made it

December 15, 2015

“Honey, go upstairs and see if there’s anything you want to take home before we have that all torn apart,” Mom said. Every couple of years my folks get the bug to overhaul some section of their farmhouse. The long-vacated second level seems like as good a place as any to slap on some fresh paint and throw down some new vinyl. The rooms that once held my sister and me have been a warm ghost town for my parents’ puppy to defecate and grandchildren to Crayola the walls for years now.

I’m always amazed at how even now, 15 years since I technically lived under Mom and Dad’s roof exclusively (Hank and I did spend a year back in the nest in 2010-11 when we moved back to town) these relics of my younger years still remain. A high school phone directory with pager numbers written on the back. My cheerleading jacket and an “it’s a cheer thing” t-shirt. Pictures dimmed by a centimeter of pasty dust. A vase keepsake from prom that reads, “Oh what a night”. (Which I believe it really was.)

I’ve come and left with a carful of boxes at least three times, and these are the memories that didn’t make the cut. There just wasn’t a place to put them in my grownup life. Not that I wanted to lose them forever, but I didn’t want them on my suburban mantel, either. You just assume your folks’ place is your evergreen locker. A vault you can crack open at your leisure. Until they tell you to get your shit and throw it in your own dang attic so they can have a designer come in and punch up the color scheme.

My most recent sweep turned up a stack of notebook pages torn from the spiral binding nestled in my old vanity drawer. At first I thought they were just pieces of my typical written ramblings about teenage angst and pimpled pipe dreams, but then it came back to me. They were assignments from my …maybe junior … English class. The teacher, Mr. Rusk, would begin some of our sessions by proposing a question or topic. He would give us a few minutes to consider it and then encourage us to free write our thoughts. At the time, I don’t remember thinking this was anything particularly motivating or inspiring. But to read them from where I sit at the table now … gold. Pure gold. There are some real nuggets here.

Writer

Rusk’s Topic: Insignificance 

2000 Courtney: “There are so many things in our world that we find insignificant; people, emotions, litter, time and pennies. I see these things trashed day after day. Throwing bags of litter out of the car window or spending a gorgeous April day on the couch watching a movie you’ve seen 8.000 times. Pennies are everywhere. People are always seeming to drop them, leave them, or simply just misplace them. They’re found stuck to drive through windows and clinging to car floor mats. People see them as 1 cent, and well, meaningless. Each penny is worth something. Saved, it can add up to a small fortune. Greed has led to the demise of the copper piece. Everyone wants a quarter instead. But those who save and don’t waste will pull ahead in the long run.”

Rusk’s Topic: What does it mean to be fearless?

2000 Courtney: “How many people can honestly say that they are fearlessly themselves? Maybe it only happens when we’re older. Maybe it’s impossible to fearlessly be yourself in high school, a time when most people don’t even know who they are. What holds people back from being themselves? Is it insecurity? Is it doubt? Or do people simply not know how to be themselves? I believe society drives people to be like everyone else because that is socially acceptable. I think that people should live by that statement. Fearlessly be yourself. After all, it’s only showing the sides of yourself that we usually hide away. It can’t be all bad.”

Rusk’s Topic: If you could invent something, what would it be?

2000 Courtney: “Warning labels for human beings. I would be able to read what I’m getting myself into before I was in too deep. For instance, I would probably avoid a person wearing a sign saying, ‘I am on a path to complete selfishness and you’re in my way.’ Perhaps maybe I would even be wise enough to notice a sign saying, ‘I say what you want to hear and do what you want me to do … until you leave.’ Boys would be another area of my life which would greatly benefit from these signs. Hearbreak is an inevitable part of dating. They go toegether like peanut butter and jelly. The warning label might read ‘I’ll give you the best 3 weeks of your life. It’s the three months after that you have to worry about.’ But, as helpful as these would be, I’d rather take the bad with the good and experience life’s lessons.”

Rusk’s Topic: Purpose

2000 Courtney: “A predestination given by God which is usually realized and achieved by a human being. That is purpose. I find different purposes in different ways. For example, after a month-long relationship that my friend assumed would be a lifetime, her heart was broken when he ran back to his ex girlfriend. i learned of the news when my friend showed up on my doorstep with nothing but a handful of tears and a broken heart. We stayed up late that night and I listened to her cry and gave her my advice. And right then, for one night, my purpose was to be there for my friend.”

Rusk’s Topic: Some book we must have read

2000 Courtney: “In the story, the wolf makes the brave decision to take freedom and independence over stability. As a 17 year old preparing to graduate from high school, I am surrounded by stability. I know I am alive and I know I’ve lived fro almost 18 years. But have I really lived? Have I ever been in a situation where I could only rely on myself and my personal strength? So, hopefully, come Ausgust 2001, I will be heading off to college. Somewhere far away from my 3 dogs, my flowered bedspread, and the goose cookie jar in the kitchen that always seems to be full. And when I am alone and searching for my future, it is then I will walk away from my collar. I will find my freedom. My independence. Myself.”

Rusk’s Topic: What would you do with 30 minutes of air time?

2000 Courtney: “I would sell it to the highest bidder and take my girlfriends to Cancun for our senior year spring break.”

Girlfriends

Rusk’s Topic: Change

2000 Courtney: “In this world, there are always things we want to change. But the 7 girls I call my second family are just ‘cool’ the way they are. We couldn’t be more different. There’s the funny one, the crazy one, the moody one, the responsible one, the supportive one … However, it was only when I got all mixed up in the diverse group that I found myself. I know time will move us all in different directions. We will settle down and watch our children make their own friends. But time will never erase the campouts, the deep talks while everyone else was sleeping, or moments crowding in front of a mirror trying to fix our  hair. It’s always been said that time would pass and then I would write a movie script about our relationships. I don’t know about that, but I value their optimism in my future. The ladies who have shown me strength, hope and love, my second family, I hope will never change.”

Rusk’s Topic: If you had a dinner party with 3 people, alive or dead, who would they be?

2000 Courtney: “I would have my maternal grandmother, Garth Brooks and God.”

Dinner Party

Rusk’s Topic: What lesson would you share with your younger self?

2000 Courtney: “Never hurt others to make yourself feel cooler. Popularity, i have found, is like a game. The finish line being popularity, whatever that is, and the starting point being your first day, and everything in between is just scandals and drama and gossip. People get pushed around and stepped on simply so others can feel good about their social status in the end. Never give up on the human race. Just when you think it’s too ugly, someone will shine through. Never sacrifice parts of yourself to satisfy someone else.”

Rusk’s Topic: Write a letter to your future self.

2000 Courtney: “Dear Courtney, There’s probably a smile and surprised look on your face right now. My friends at the prsent time are Jenn, Kim, Kelly, Molly, Ashley, Jill, Jackie and Haley. News just broke that Jackie is pregnant and I see her less and less every day. I am awaiting my senior year of high school and thinking about going off the college. I hope that I am reading this while sitting with my dream husband, in my dream house, doing my dream job. I hope I actually went away to college and stuck with it. I hope I have an amazing job at Rolling Stone or a couple movie scripts on the screen. There’s a possibility I even pursued acting. Overall, I hope I lived the last 10 years the most I could have. i hope I took big risks and some even paid off. I hope I’m not sitting somewhere reading this with a heart full of regret and a mind filled with unfulfilled promises to myself. I hope I’ve made it and most of all, that I am happy.”

DreamLife

If these excerpts tell me anything, it’s that I was an over-analyzing, cheeseball of a teenager who had incredibly ambitious thoughts about what could be smushed into a decade. The crazy thing about this last one is the fact that our friend Jackie’s little girl is about to start driving and is one of the most beautiful, balanced young women I’ve ever seen. I still consider these girls my second family and I still value pennies, kinda. Really pissed that Rolling Stone thing didn’t work out though.