Unexpected

When I was in 6th grade, my classmates and I participated in a program at a place called Exchange City. Basically, we were to apply for jobs, learn how to interview, and, once our positions were secured, we went on a field trip to a makeshift “city” set up where we were told to run our businesses and do our jobs and try to make a profit. I suppose this was to prepare us for the “real world,” and it was a very cool and valuable experience overall. I only wish we could have done a more advanced version later on, maybe during senior year of high school.

When we were deciding what jobs to interview for, I narrowed it down to three – the total number we were permitted to interview for – and though I don’t remember the third, the two main ones I wanted were Postal Worker and Environmental Control Agent. I desperately wanted the latter, and was eager to interview for it. I could imagine myself strolling along the carpet streets of the Exchange City facility, ensuring that everything was going well. To be honest, I don’t really remember what the job entailed, all I know is that I REALLY wanted it. I pinned all my hopes on that job.

The 6th grade teachers got teachers from other grades and parent volunteers and other school staff to act as interviewers. I don’t recall interviewing for whatever the third job was, but the Postal Worker interview was with the mother of a boy in my class, held in the instrumental practice room. I had dressed up for the day, and even wore a skirt despite the fact that my usual wardrobe at that point in my life was full-on workout gear, complete with sweatband.

I answered her questions honestly, treated it like a normal conversation, explained why I was the best for the position, and wasn’t overcome by nerves. I walked out of the room content that I had done a fair job and represented myself well, but since that wasn’t the job I dreamed of, I didn’t think too much about it afterward.

Then, it was time to interview for the Environmental Control Agent position. I was wracked with nerves, and I don’t even remember who it was with, it passed in a blur. I was so anxious to impress, I stumbled over questions and my knees shook the whole time. I left the room rattled, but still held faith that I had done enough to earn the job. I stuttered, but got my point across.

After some days of deliberation, our class received our jobs – the ones we would maintain for the duration of our time at Exchange City. I waited for my slip, fully expecting to see “Environmental Control Agent” at the top. That is, until a girl in my class proudly exclaimed from across the room that she had gotten it instead.

I was crushed. I couldn’t fathom doing the assignment as anything else. In retrospect, it was a school assignment and not a real job, so there was no reason to be upset. But I was twelve, so, everything was a big deal those days. Obviously, I hadn’t impressed during my interview, and someone else had deserved the job instead. I’d let myself down.

Eventually, I got my slip. I took a minute to open it, trying not to be upset over losing out on my dream position. And at the top of my assignment was the position: Postmaster. Not Postal Worker, which was the position I applied for. Postmaster. I had not only knocked my Postal Worker interview out of the park, I’d done so well they gave me an even better job!

Just like that, losing out on the other job didn’t seem to matter any more. I still succeeded, but in a way that was a little… unexpected. And I made the best of it, selling candy-grams and other letters when it came time to perform my duty, making sure the Postal Worker delivered them all on time. I did have to buy us out of debt at the end of the day at Exchange City, but still, I had a great time and I loved the job I was given, even though it wasn’t the one that I originally wanted.

To this day, I have no idea what an Environmental Control Agent does. But I do still look for the positives, and my successes, in places and situations that might not be expected.

 

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Hoping and Coping

After letting recurring depression/anxiety issues fester for the majority of my late adolescence and early adulthood, I have sought help over the past several months. I don’t want this to be a “woe is me” post, so I’m going to avoid delving too deep into the nature of those issues, but my mental state has impacted the decisions I make in life, and now, with assistance, I am seeking to make change. I am hoping to make change.

But making change is HARD. Especially when your life has been fairly stagnant, and your comfort zone has become a small, enclosed area that will be difficult to break out from. I recognize that it is something I must do, but some days, I doubt that I have the strength to do it. I have been working at the same place for ten years. I have lived in the same house for twenty-two, save for the 3 year period I was at college. There is very little variation in my life, day to day. While others have moved ahead, and progressed, I feel stuck in a fog. I have settled into a routine, and while it is mostly comfortable, and familiar, I don’t think I like it.

Since I don’t handle change well, I’m curious to know how others cope with it – and how others are able to inspire change in their life. My issues are possibly rooted in the fact that I also fear the unknown. When new possible scenarios pop into my life, my mind instantly latches onto all the things that could go wrong instead of all the potentially wonderful outcomes. One might say that I am prone to self-sabotaging behaviors and negative trains of thought, and I struggle to steer myself onto a more positive track once I start spiraling into all the “what ifs?”

When change is on the horizon, in my grasp, my first instinct is to pull away – and I don’t want to turn back anymore. I want to be excited by change, thrilled by the idea of moving forward, even if the road ahead is dark and my lantern casts only a feeble glow. I can’t rely on guarantees, wait for “sure things,” or respond only to certainty. It’s not even that I don’t like change – it’s that I find the whole process of change overwhelming, and sometimes, that’s too scary for me to overcome.

I know that change is often positive, and struggle leads to better things. I was terrified of going away to college, and really struggled with being away from home in the first months. I battled homesickness on a constant basis, struggled with making friends, hated both of my jobs, and didn’t feel like I belonged at school. I didn’t really connect with my core group of college friends until a study abroad trip after my first year. From then on, it became much easier to adapt, and I settled into a groove. But the whole process behind those changes was a challenge, and any time I think of going through difficulties like that again, my motivation stalls. It was worth it that time, yes – but is it always?

The question is – when you are prone to overthinking and doubt – how do you overcome those dark clouds looming overhead? How do you cope with change when you fear the unknown? I’d love to hear any insight.

Dark Blue

(TW: Death)

I was afraid of the deep end of the pool for most of my formative years.

I never passed level 3 swim lessons because I wouldn’t dive into the deep end of the pool. I would sit on the end of the diving board, cross my arms over my chest, and cry while my frustrated coach stood on the sidelines, begging me to take the leap and try. After about fifteen deadlocked minutes, she would relent, and allow me to crawl back to safety, clinging to the wobbly board as though it were my last link to salvation.

I didn’t know what was down there, lurking in the 12 foot-deep, chlorine-rich water. The water was much darker than the shallow end. The waves from jostling limbs made the water ripple like taunting laughter. The dark blue water was home to a monster—I wouldn’t even dangle my toes in it. It’s an almost comical twist that years later, I became the manager of my high school swim team in a desperate attempt to rack up some extracurricular activities for my college applications after a knee injury sidelined my athletic career for good.

I was out in the lobby drawing up timing sheets for the new head coach, so I didn’t see what happened. I didn’t see our coach pull her limp body from the pool. After the initial commotion, I slipped out the side door to flag down the oncoming ambulance, shivering as the biting flakes of the first snow of the year landed on my skin. Steam rose off the water as the November air clashed with the steamy humidity of the pool deck. It settled like a fog over the linoleum.

I only looked at her once. Her arms spread out crucifix-style. Her lips had turned blue. Dark blue, like the deep end of the pool.

I didn’t know her. Maybe I passed her in the hall once or twice, her face drifting along amidst a sea of other faces. I can’t even picture her because the only time I ever saw her was when she was laying on the slick tile of the pool deck and her lips were blue.

I don’t know if there is some sort of standard regulation to follow when something like that happens – if there is some code to abide by, when death abruptly snatches a seventeen year old girl out of the deep end of the pool. I don’t know what to say to people who are sobbing over the loss of someone. Over the next few days the swim team struggled to understand how their sanctuary had become a tomb, how someone so young could be whisked away so fast, and remembered how excited the girl had been to start her first year as a member of the high school swim team, and wondered how it could go so horribly wrong?

They sent one of those standard pre-printed letters home with us the day after, about how grief counselors would be available for kids to talk to, and friends were welcome to attend a memorial service and would not be penalized for missing classes. My mom asked me if I was okay (of course I was) and if I wanted to talk about it (I said I was fine). Because what was I going to say? That I have the image of a girl’s dark blue, oxygen-deprived lips stuck in my head?

What do you say when you don’t know how you feel? When you know that it doesn’t matter how affected you are by some traumatic event, because the fact of the matter is, a girl lost her life – you didn’t know her, and others are grieving around you and you are useless to help then and you don’t even have the right to grieve a loss that isn’t yours.

I didn’t say anything. I went to practice the next day, put in the lane lines, sat in the lobby and did my homework, and wondered how long it would take for the monsters in the deep end of the pool to go away.

In Between

Millennials get a lot of crap, these days. But I think  folks forget that the age range of millennials covers a lot of ground. A quick google search told me that millennials include everyone born between 1982 and 2004. That’s people currently aged 14 to age 36. So criticism of millennials comes across as skewed, if you ask me. And I’m here to set the record straight – not all of us are worthy of revulsion. Some, sure. But not all.

I’ve personally been criticized for being “overly-reliant on technology” or having my “face in a screen all the time” or having “no respect” for the older generation” or having no idea “what it was like to play outside as a kid.” And I’m 26 now, for reference.

First of all, I played outside all the time as a kid. Not only that, but I played in the woods. I played in VACANT LOTS. I got ticks in my hair more than once from playing near cornfields or in tall grass. My friends and I also biked everywhere and walked a ton – my sister and I even walked all the way to the local pool a couple of times, and we went to a day camp where we participated – with enthusiasm – in nature-based activities. We would go home at the end of the day sweaty and covered in dirt.

My childhood best friend and I used to run through a neighbor’s yard to one another’s houses and leave letters to each other in our respective mail boxes. Hand-written letters. Why? Because we didn’t have cell phones. I didn’t get a cell phone until my sophomore year of high school, and it was a flip-phone.

I used to fall asleep at night to the sounds of peaceful music, or well-loved stories… not on iTunes, though. No, I’m talking about cassette tapes. I still have a ton of them.

I went to a tech camp once, the year before I started middle school, and learned how to make a website with basic html and all that. And guess what it was saved on? A FLOPPY DISK. To that end, I also fully remember what dial-up internet was like, and the insurmountable frustration of being unable to use the phone while someone was on the computer. I also used to perform basic photo manipulations via MS Paint, not Photoshop.

My parents taught me manners, and I do my best to honor that. I will, unless provoked, be polite to everyone, regardless of age/gender/whatever. I say please and thank you. I hold doors open for people. I respect all generations, unless I am shown disrespect. I am grateful for everything I have, and, though I love technology, I don’t have my face in a screen all the time.

I could go on, but the point is… I think “generalizations” are often ill-used. Lumping all millennials together is erroneous, just as it is when any group of people are lumped together based on skewed information, bigotry, or preconceived notions. Most people – like me – are wandering somewhere in-between. And sometimes, that’s the best place to be. Seeing the world from somewhere in-between, somewhere gray and less defined, somewhere there is room for interpretation, makes it easier to face each day as they come.

 

 

Grinch

At my place of employment, I have earned the reputation of being a bit of a Grinch around this time of year. I’m not a “holiday spirit” person. I’ll wear ugly sweaters and watch the old stop-motion TV movie specials, like Rudolph or Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey, but that’s about it.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve started having “Santa” visit our store on weekends during the holiday season, so kids can take pictures with him and tell him what they want for Christmas. Last year, my boss asked me if I wanted to be an elf during one visit, to which I replied, “I’d rather have my eyes pecked out by geese.” So, needless to say, I’ve never been the jolly assistant during these events.

Our “Santa” is actually an employee of our store, not an outside volunteer. It’s the same at all of our locations – we get a suit sent to us, and someone has to don the costume, fake beard, and red hat to play the role for a couple of hours on weekend afternoons in December.

We are lucky, though – because we’ve got a guy who looks exactly like Santa on our staff. He didn’t need the beard, the suit, or the hat – because he had his own already. He starts growing his beard out over the summer every year in preparation for the holidays. Even before we started doing “Santa” visits, he would come to the store in full Santa regalia on Christmas Eve and Black Friday, just to hand out candy canes to kids and wish them a Merry Christmas. His wife (who is also an employee) dresses as Mrs. Claus and helps him meet and greet with the kids, and walks faithfully around the store to make sure no wide-eyed believers are missed, even though she relies on a walker.

This guy works early mornings and does freight/stocking outside of his Santa shifts. I remember one morning – in August, no less – when a little boy saw him working out on the floor and gasped, “Santa!” He wasn’t in his suit (obviously,) but he genuinely looks like Santa, so he slipped into the role immediately, knelt down, and asked what the kid wanted for Christmas. The kid was thrilled, and his mom was so grateful that our employee played along without missing a beat. Well… even my cold, black heart grew three sizes that day.

Earlier this week, I asked him about how the last Santa visit went, and he told me about how a mom brought in her baby to sit on his lap. She’d been born premature, and despite being a few months old, was so small she was barely the length of his arm. I can’t imagine having to deal with things like that. Children who might be sick, or scared, with worried parents, or lofty hopes. But he handles it all in true Santa fashion – he treats the kids with respect, spreads as much joy as he can, and assuages their fears to the best of his ability.

I admire his dedication – besides being a loyal and hard-working employee, he and his wife give their all to being “Santa” and “Mrs. Claus” when winter comes along, all for the sake of the kids. They don’t have to do it – they do it because they want to. Even a Grinch like me can appreciate that, and recognize – in a world that, at times, seems very bleak – things, and people, can still give us hope and inspire us to do our best.

Happy holidays, y’all.

 

Writing Techniques: Querying

This isn’t technically a “techniques” post, because, admittedly, I have very limited experience with this. So, instead, I’m just going to babble a bit about how my process with querying has been going thus far, so it will be a bit more personal.

I never attempted to traditionally publish I’m With You, though, in hindsight, I wish I had given it a shot. My confidence was festering in the gutter after my college graduation, and hearing about the horrendous odds of landing an agent as a fledgling writer didn’t boost my spirits. So when I heard about an indie publishing contest, I submitted I’m With You on a whim. Never queried an agent or anything.

But it’s over and done, and I’m attempting to query agents for my latest MS – a YA/Fantasy currently called Otherworlder about a girl named Evie teaming up with a pair of quirky talking animals in order to save her little sister from peril in a world full of magic. It took me a long time to get to this phase… not only because I’ve been working with editors, getting feedback, revising the MS over, and over, and over, and spending a lot of time tweaking my query materials and researching potential agents. But because I am a wuss.

Well… that’s not totally accurate. But I do, like many others, suffer from anxiety, which has prevented me from taking steps in my writing career and beyond. I used to be crushed by any and all criticism, and paralyzed with fear over the idea of rejection. It took me a long time to seek help for these issues (until I started developing ritualistic behaviors, which is a bit of a red flag) but I recently did so, and I’ve gotten a lot better in regards to handing my writing and general life stuff. Getting a proper diagnosis and learning how to handle it has done wonders – I’m not saying that as a sympathy grab, it’s just the truth. I still have bad days, but I’m improving.

Thus, I’ve drawn all the deep breaths I can manage and have at last begun to send out my queries. Of the 20ish I’ve sent out so far, I have gotten a rejection. It’s no great shock, but a few months ago, that would have destroyed me. I probably would have thrown in the towel immediately, even though I know virtually every author has been rejected at least once, if not multiple times. I literally used to have confidence as thin as a delicate, porcelain elephant figurine sitting on the mantle of an eighty-year-old woman named Ethel. Fortunately, I am now in a better mental state to handle rejection rationally. It’s going to happen, and I know that – but I need to take it, absorb it, use it as inspiration to do better, and move ahead. Keep going, and keep writing. Be Winston Churchill, and never surrender!

Send me all the positive vibes you can, fellow writers! And please feel free to message me with your own querying stories and suggestions! I’m working on my next MS in the meantime, but I’ll take all the support I can get, as I really want to share all of Evie’s fantastical escapades in Otherworlder with you.

 

Allie’s Awful Guide: Public Speaking

I used to be far more terrified of public speaking than I am now, to the point where I agonized over having to give speeches or presentations in class. I even opted out of presenting speeches a couple of times because losing a few points was preferable to standing up in front of an audience. However, over the years, I developed a few coping mechanisms that have helped me adapt. Unfortunately, most of my methods are, shall we say…. unorthodox. So unorthodox, I probably wouldn’t even recommend them, unless you have exhausted all other options.

1.) Wear something distracting, but not inappropriate!: I don’t mean show up to class in a Freddy Krueger costume or a swimsuit or whatever. When I was in college, I gave a few speeches and typically selected a “focal point” for my wardrobe. This gives the audience something else to focus on. I’m not sure what measure of success this tactic had, but I applied it in hopes that people would be too distracted by my hideous wardrobe to care about what I was saying, and it gave me a level of comfort. For example, I wore a hideous sweater and pigtails (PIGTAILS!) for several of my speeches during freshman year classes. I’m talking a grandma-level sweater, complete with snowflake embroidery. It was actually super comfy and I sort of wish I still had it…

2.) If you’re nearsighted, don’t wear your glasses!: This tip applies if you struggle with the idea of standing up in front of an audience and facing dozens of expectant eyes. My nervousness about public speaking gets insanely worse when I consider having an audience. I removed my glasses all through college if I had to give a speech – faces were blurry, but I could still read any notes or gesture accurately to my visual aid. It genuinely helped me relax while delivering presentations. Farsighted folks are up the creek with this one, though.

3.) Improve your PowerPoint game!: I know, most teachers or professors will tell you that the visual aid should not be the basis of your presentation – your words should be the focus, not whatever you’re displaying onscreen. I understand that point, but wholeheartedly disagree. I am a PowerPoint wizard and owe much of my minor public speaking success to my visual aids. There are ways to make a stellar PowerPoint that defines your presentation without going heinously overboard. As long as you don’t add too much superfluity – obnoxious sounds, clashing colors, too many annoyingly long transitions – you’ll be fine. You want your audience to be engaged with it. If I see an audience enjoying my PowerPoint, I am instantly more relaxed while speaking in front of them.

4.) Don’t over-prepare!:  I have given vastly better speeches when I haven’t been poring over my note-cards for hours. In my later college years, I stopped using note-cards altogether. I would get too focused on following what I had written down word-for-word and it stressed me out beyond belief, so when I fumbled over a sentence or two, it would derail me completely. Winging it completely is ill-advised, but I have found it loads better for my fragile nerves to just ensure I know my stuff, but don’t try and cram an entire speech verbatim into my head. I also put the keywords into my PowerPoint, just in case I get a bit lost!

5.) Nab an early slot!: If you are presenting in a classroom setting, don’t put it off as long as possible. Try and get in early so you get it over worth, especially if you’re like me and will be stressing out about your speech until the moment it’s over. You’ll be far more relieved watching others squirm over giving their presentations, knowing that you are already finished, than prolonging it until the final day.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK. Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Bursting in Air

I have never been an outwardly patriotic person. I don’t wear flag tees, I don’t have an American flag banner displayed outside my house, I don’t sing along to the national anthem at sporting events, and I stood during, but didn’t recite, the pledge of allegiance during junior high and high school. That doesn’t mean I don’t care about my country. I could go on a long rant about my feelings on patriotism versus what certain people seem to think patriotism and national pride is, especially in our tumultuous and occasionally hostile economic, political, and social climate, but I’ll tell this story instead.

On the night of the 3rd, I tagged along to the local fireworks show with my best friend and her sister. I’m not big on fireworks, especially due to the adverse effects they have on wildlife, pets, and folks (especially veterans) with PTSD, but hey, it got me out of the house and I got to spend time with people I care about. We got snow-cones and snagged excellent seats with a stellar view, at a table up on a patio area right outside our old high school.

As soon as we sat down, there was a drastic shift in the weather. It’s been broiling hot in PA this week – it’s felt like 100+ degrees the last few days – and just the walk from my friend’s car to the high school had me dripping sweat. But when we got to out vantage point, the wind kicked up, and we could see a froth of grey clouds swirling on the horizon, encroaching on the fading blue-gold sky. A few droplets of rain splattered down, but we still had about a half hour before the show would start, so we got a bit nervous that they’d have to cancel.

Then, the first rockets launched into the air – fifteen or so minutes early, likely an effort to beat the oncoming storm. The cloud-filled sky was full of sparkling, glittering colors, explosions and showers of radiant light, crackling gold dust, like stars bursting into the air then fading to ashes. We could feel the intensity of the ear-shattering ‘booms’ and ‘bangs’ down in our marrow. Many people view fireworks as a celebration of national pride, a joyous reminder of our independence, and I get that – it is a marvelous sight to behold. I found myself smiling throughout the display, enjoying my time with friends.

The rain held off, but the lightning didn’t. There’s be a pop of golden light and arcing beams of red and blue, and then a flash of lightning. The crowd would “ooh” and “ahh” at all the splendor, then cringe as the gray clouds were illuminated by flickering white and the growl of approaching thunder. Almost as though the fireworks were at war with the elements, battling for dominion over the sky. And it struck me, then, just how appropriate it was. Our country, and our freedom, fending off the ever-present threat of a storm – a storm of our own making. What is meant to be a celebration, or a moment of pride, eclipsed by something growing and festering beyond our control. The image of what patriotism is meant to be in conjunction with a force that shaves some beauty from it, and sends shivers down the spine.

I hope everyone had a Happy 4th – or just a good week, whether you’re American or not.

(Ant Man and the Wasp review coming Monday!)

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

Were

I don’t think I will ever forget the day I ran the third leg of the 4×1 relay at a track meet in Harrisburg. I remember noticing that the anchor was a little too far ahead for me to hand her the baton. I was so sure we were going to miss the handoff – we were going to step out of bounds, she was going to have to stop, our coach was going to be pissed because this was the week before the next big invitational. At the last available second, I did a move that the cast of the Matrix would probably be proud of. The anchor grabbed the baton and took off for the finish line. My foot got caught in the track and I hit the ground, and as I lay there on the turf, the line judge asking “Are you okay?” I knew that no, I was not okay, because knees are not supposed to protrude out the side of your leg.

I mean, at least we won the race. That was my only consolation as the doctor at the emergency room snapped my knee back into place – in the waiting room. A woman waiting for her turn exclaimed, barely audible over my screams, “Oh my god they broke her leg!”

I remember having to put on the blue bonnet, and the surgical gown, and the bright lights of the operating room fading as I drifted out of consciousness, and then waking up to the blurry face of my extremely handsome doctor looking over me. The morphine in me decided to tell him “I love you” and thankfully he just laughed and said “That’s what they all say.” He explained that they found a few bone chips during the operation, as well as a mysterious ligament in my leg – apparently, the existence of this ligament was debated, and I had provided them with more proof. Yet they refused to name it after me, which, to this day, I consider a grave injustice.

The first night, when the nerve block wore off, it felt as though someone had repeatedly plunged fiery-knives into my leg. A week later I returned to school and developed a burning hatred for ramps, which are surprisingly difficult to traverse with crutches. And a month later, when physical therapy began, I learned just how hard it is to teach yourself to walk properly again when your brain refuses to tell your knee to bend. It was a long journey, and though I languished through so much of it, I had a lot of help from friends and family.

Eight months after that, I learned that former glory is not always able to be recaptured – just because you used to win gold medals, and have trophies decorating the shelves in your room, doesn’t mean you’ll always be able to do that. Coming in dead last in the 200m trials, a race I used to dominate, during track tryouts the next season proved that my ability had shattered with my knee. Now, I can’t forget the flashing ambulance lights, and the x-rays, and all the physical therapy, and how one leg of my pants will always be ill-fitting, and the unintentionally biting words of my former coach as I packed up and left after the first day of tryouts, “You were a real good sport.”

And the worst part about it is that word.

Were.

~~~~~

If you’re in need of a new read, check out my YA novel, I’m With You! The ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 (£7.99) on Amazon Amazon UK.  Nook book is also $1.99 and paperback is $9.99 on BN.com.

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