Tag Archives: challenges

I would take love lessons from Weezy any day.

The words blend together and slur from one to the next like kids pushing and shoving to get to the front of an ice cream truck. Each of them wants the first choice before all the good ones are taken. I turn the volume up on my car stereo and roll up my window, sure I’m not hearing correctly.

via weheartit.com

A song by a rapper that’s not about sex, drugs and violence? What is this world coming to?

The chorus starts up and I hear it again, the way a man I’ve never met pins me down with a few words and forces me to admit where I’m at in this life.

For a second, I think he’s equating seduction with stealing. Crooks stealing hearts. Not jewelry or cold hard cash, but the single-most important organ in the human body.

You know, the one that keeps you alive and all. No big deal.

If breaking hearts is a crime, the world has more criminals than it can possibly hold in its many county jails and state penitentiaries.

I wonder if we’d come to identify certain levels of indiscretions, starting first with the girl in kindergarten who shakes her head and speeds off when the boy asks to hold her hand as they cross a street. Second up: the boy who won’t go to the Sadie Hawkins dance with the girl he likes because he was supposed to be the one to ask—not her. Third: the girl who slept around with the boy who gave everything he had to her. Fourth: the man who married a woman out of fear of being alone and left her because he was afraid he’d never be free again.

Would the crimes build and build until each situation was dissected by a judge, both parties sentenced to individual sentences? Would that stop heartbreak, drying it out at the source so every handhold held meaning far beyond the act of safety?

You deserve the best, he says. You’re beautiful.

Would we listen to a man with teardrops tattooed on his cheeks and believe that he was just as beautiful? Would we consider that maybe he needs to hear those same words and believe them just as much, or is beautiful a word reserved for a woman on her wedding day, when the rest of us know that she spent hundreds of dollars to cover up whatever it is she doesn’t want to remember about herself?

She walks down the aisle in a sheet of white and every head turns. The bridesmaids whisper the same thing. She’s beautiful.

But isn’t she beautiful in thirty years when she’s washing dishes in front of the kitchen sink? Wasn’t she beautiful when she was just a kid with skinned knees and a cherry popsicle stain rimmed around her lips?

Can’t have a man stare at you for five seconds without you feeling insecure, he says.

Believe it or not, there lies within us the ability to balance: spending all day thinking about someone naked versus holing up inside and cutting off our fingers one by one, repenting for sins we haven’t yet given ourselves a chance to commit.

Believe it or not, there are hundreds of emotions and thoughts that pass through someone’s head besides these two things, these two extremes, yet our hearts and minds jump right to the first option.

How to love. It starts with something simple: you’re not ordinary, you’re not trapped, you’re not always someone else’s eye candy.

You can be more. You have to expect more. You have to give more.

No one ever fell in love by scooting into a corner and pulling their knees to their chest. Love is a jump. A leap. A belief that something good is left in this life. That someone good is left.


I sometimes wish my body operated like an iPod.

Last semester, my creative writing professor asked us to go around the room and tell one thing we were good at.

The boy next to me said he made killer sausage and pepper sandwiches. We probably should have gotten married right then.

But seriously.

One girl said she was an expert relaxer.

And while the fifteen of us laughed and smiled and thought, “Isn’t that nice?” at the time, I know now that its something I am not.

I do not know how to take fifteen minutes or even fifteen seconds to breathe in and out. To make sure my body’s caught up with my racing mind.

The girl probably doesn’t know how invaluable that is, to be able to let go of all the worry and stress and move-move-move habits and just pause.

I sometimes wish my body operated like an iPod. I could pause at the calm moments and skip past the sticky situations. Repeat the ones I want to return to. And if I wanted to be a little spontaneous, maybe run around in the middle of a thunderstorm, I could set the preset controls to shuffle the songs.

My iPod won’t turn on anymore. Maybe that’s a sign from God that I’m driving myself into a ditch. That I forgot to recharge the battery and shouldn’t have let it sit in the glove compartment for half of the last semester collecting dust and scratches. Oops.

There was a time when relaxing was almost second nature to me. I knew how to compartmentalize my life into sections: working, running, school, collecting rays of sun by the pool. It was relaxing but structured.

Now, I’ve hit this snag where I want to do so much that I want to do and what I really need is to focus on one thing for more than 3.2 seconds.

I’ve been smacked in the face with at least three reasons why I should restructure my life and start tackling what I want. So I’m going to dive headfirst here and make up a list of things I want to cross off before graduation in 11 months. Before the Real World sticks its big hands out of its pockets and grabs hold of me and tries to smother me with the realities that come with college graduation: more bills to pay, loans to pay back, jobs to find, meals to cook, laundry to do.

(Don’t worry. I do know about paying bills and cooking and doing laundry. But there will be more of it, I am sure.)

I’m adding a tab for this list of mine and calling it 11 Months, 11 Items.

My seventh grade history teacher ruined my childhood dream.

gymnastics hershey beam awards medal

my first year of competitive gymnastics

When I was thirteen, perfection was just a misspelled word on a t-shirt from a gymnastics catalogue. Perfec10n, the shirt read.

Perfect 10.

I was obsessed with the way the phrase rolled off my tongue so easily. Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton? Now those were girls who knew how to work hard.

I thought that if I pointed my toes hard enough and stayed at the gym extra hours, working on stretches until my arms and legs were sore for at least two days straight, I could make it to the Olympics.

But then I went to seventh grade and my history teacher told this other girl that she was too old to be an Olympic gymnastic. And since we shared a birthday, I knew what that meant.

It didn’t matter anymore if I was short and skinny and ready to dedicate my whole life to being America’s next Shannon Miller. I was already too old.

I remember looking at her from across the classroom, my pulse skyrocketing as I thought quickly before he reached my desk in the back corner. What did I want to do with the rest of my life? I didn’t know. I didn’t even remember what I’d packed for lunch.

From then on, perfect was unattainable. Out of my control. Sure, I could spend 20 hours a week caked in chalk and sweat until I literally couldn’t smell myself anymore. But that wouldn’t be enough.

And so began the pattern of always being perpetually behind.

My coach would make us do five perfect beam routines in a row. No falls, not even a wobble. For some of the girls, cleaning up minor missteps on a dismount or over-rotations on a front tuck was easy. They’d focus and knock all five routines out in no time.

Me? I’d do one or two then fall. Two more and another fall.

And then, of course, I’d be late to the next event — uneven bars — which was, consequently, my worst event.

It was a cycle that drove me crazy. And I watched the rest of the girls master it, so why couldn’t I?

What I know now is that perfect’s just the accumulation of mistakes we make leading up to a self-determined ‘final destination.’ I was so busy being paranoid over the notion of “5 perfect beam routines in a row” that I couldn’t focus on the block of wood under my toes.

When USAG stopped handing out 10.0’s like candy, I’d already quit. Not because I wasn’t perfect, but because I couldn’t accept that fact. I drove myself (and my parents) crazy when I played mental games, reverting back to basic skill levels like a child forgetting how to walk and talk.

On those nights, I ran upstairs and jumped into the shower, because at least I didn’t have to think about how to wash my hair. But the truth was that all I needed — and all most of us need at one point or another — was to be shaken and reminded that perfect’s boring.

And really, perfect is a lie. USAG decided that for me. Not long after my seventh grade history teacher.

We are impossible human beings. And what’s better than that?

At first, I thought TED was a man.

Like Ryan or Alex or Jeff. But it turns out I was wrong.

TED’s not a man. It’s a nonprofit. A conference. And the truth is that I’m now addicted to TED. Addicted to ideas worth spreading.

I’m in my car, driving. Surrounded on both sides by infrastructure — a shack made out of someone’s disposed plasma TV cardboard box on my left and an academic university building made of concrete and stone on my right.

The shack’s a mindless mix of words and phrases that, cohesively, may or may not mean anything. The building’s a piece of prose.

In the middle of the road is a poem.

It’s sticking its head up from a storm drain, taunting me to run it over. Like a little blue minion. As soon as I see it, I try to swerve to avoid it.

But I’m trapped and I have to keep driving. So I slow my car down, pressing on the break, but of course it’s raining and the wheels skid and I’m slipping, sliding, hydroplaning into the poem.

I don’t want to smack into it because I don’t want to follow the rules. The rhyming patterns and the couplets and consonance and iambic pentameter are not my friends. They are a pile of bricks stacked on either side of me that frighten me.

And so despite the fact that I am a rule-follower, poetry has, for the longest time, terrified me.

And then, when I found TED, I watched this video. And pretty soon, I was hooked on poetry.

So in honor of National Poetry Month and in honor of all the people in the world tackling their fears, I am sharing this poem as a response to Sarah Kay, a wonderfully inspirational New Yorker who changed my outlook on a genre so firmly routed in my head as rigid and organized.

This is my poem. It’s called “Impossible.” And ironically, it’s not impossible.

Knock me down with the flick of your wrist. I’m horrible with
rejection. I’ll curl up in a ball and shake my head as I rock
back and forth. And I’ll wonder how in this world I ever, ever
thought it was a good idea to try at something. To take a leap
and pray that I might fly. Stick to what you know, I’ll whisper.

And my day might be almost over before the resurrection comes
at the last possible second. When I’ve almost, almost given in to
the misery, when I’ve snuggled up next to it and tried to find it
comfortable. It itches everywhere and my fingernails can’t move
fast enough.

With just 20 minutes of a stranger’s voice, a stranger’s recollection
and rejuvenation, I’m born again like the flower sprouting through
the concrete in the beginning of one of those documentaries about
life. I’m new and I’m free and I’m real. And there’s plenty of people
still in this world whose hands are rough and calloused and maybe
a little more wrinkly than mine, but they stop. They’re afraid to try.

Because ADIDAS said it best when it said, “Impossible is nothing.”

Impossible is trying to avoid the speck of dirt on the sidewalk.
You can’t see it. You can’t even feel it when your sneaker
crunches over it. But you still try. You beat yourself up over

And so maybe I’ll fail 10 million times in the course of a second,
but I’ll have tried. My heart will pull me like a greyhound pulls a
small child down the street. When the dog walks the girl. I am the
girl and I let that course flow the way nature intended it. I don’t
want to be the dog.

But the moment I let that become a problem, I’ll pull up the video
of a woman just two years older than me whose voice filled an
arena and lit strangers’ hearts on fire. And I will smile and nod
with the image on the screen because I know that there is something
impossible and wonderful and glorious and hope-ridden in
spending your 14-year-old year in the dark corners of a
coffee shop, a poetry house on the lower East side of Manhattan.

And I will remember that yes, it’s a big city, but no, I never
have to feel alone there.

Because if we open our hearts and listen instead of raising
our voices with the chorus of complaints and negativity, we
might not get anywhere. But if we encourage those
complaints to turn into action and spread that into a multitude
of good ideas, our world might turn out much better. It just
might change. We just might change it.

Impossible is nothing and it’s everything. It’s waking up in the
morning and lacing up a pair of smelly sneakers. It’s the first
step in the jog on a cold morning and the last snowfall of the
season, long after hats and gloves have been tucked beneath
bikini bottoms and cheap rubber flip flops from Old Navy.

It’s the last step of the last flight of stairs before pressing
the key into the door and turning it at the end of a long day.
The sticky sweet smell of ice cream wafting through the
nose before eating dinner.

Impossible is all around us. It challenges us and pushes us
and makes us better. But sometimes, impossible is nothing.
Sometimes, it has to be small. We have to push down the
failure and bring forth a new army of voices and decisions
and passion and hard word and determination and stand
pre-battle, ready to conquer.

Because impossible’s not a passing fad. It’s real and it’s life
and it’s not going to conquer us this time. We are impossible
every day when we do these things and more. We are
impossible human beings. And what’s better than that?

And so here I am, vulnerably presenting to you the mindset of a 19-year-old girl who jumps off the deep end and seeks solace in the wrong kind of comfort.

Last night, I sat amidst six or seven other girls, scattered unevenly in pairs or alone in a large ballroom. All of us waiting for something to start. All of us waiting for our savior, a speaker who’d written a memoir on her battle with an eating disorder. And she never came. The event had been canceled.

But long before I walked out of that room, those thoughts rose up in my head. I started mentally preparing myself for someone to save me. For someone to pick me up and shake me and tell me that she’d done it. She’d won. When she never showed up, something pretty big occurred to me — maybe I was my own savior all along.

February is National Eating Disorder Awareness Month. Part of me wanted to shy away from that. Actually, most of me did. Most of me went running in the other direction, but the other part, the small but fearless part, shook its head.

“No,” it said. “This is exactly what you need. You need to stand before these girls in high school and college and tell them how someone saves herself from the depths of a mind-controlling disorder.”

“But what about all the people who will read that and shake their heads? What about the people who will look down on me, who will tell me I was weak, that there was something terribly wrong with me? What about those people?” I asked.

“It’s not about them,” the voice said. “It’s about the girls who need a restoration of faith.”

And so here I am, vulnerably presenting to you the mindset of a 19-year-old girl who jumps off the deep end and seeks solace in the wrong kind of comfort.

Though I don’t take compliments well, shying away from any sort of praise by ducking my head and turning a shade of red, I’ve prided myself on a handful of things in my lifetime. My ability to balance on a four-inch piece of wood, to stay awake until 2 a.m. and get up at 6 the next morning. To cheer my friends on in whatever they’re doing. But sometimes, I’ve prided myself on the wrong things.

Less than a year ago, I chose the feeling of hunger over fullness. I prided myself on my ability to withhold and limit rather than replenish and take. At some point, the fear of gaining weight trumped the fear of not waking up in the morning. It trumped the fear of collapsing at the top of a staircase and the fear that my heart would simply stop beating.

There is no way to make someone understand how it feels to trick yourself so perfectly, you actually start to forget the truth. To deny that your mind has become an instant calculator of all things nutrition-based. To say you’re just trying to be healthy, to lower your sugar intake. And then, once you do that, to say your body cannot handle the sugary foods anymore. That you cannot eat those foods because you physically feel sick to your stomach.

For a small moment, you are alone in the world with the mistaken belief that you have won. Finally, you have won.

But you haven’t.

In the months that follow, you relearn the smells of your favorite foods. You relish in the taste of cold, sweet ice cream atop a warm slice of pie. You look in the mirror and you stop seeing the sullen, sunken-in face and remember what it feels like to look like a girl instead of a child. You remember how much you love curves, how much you love smiling, how much you love your life. You start thinking straight. So straight that you actually want to cry because you don’t know how you ever twisted and contorted your mind into believing anything else.

And you’re reborn into someone who can spread even more love in the world. You’ve got a mission to spread that hope, to rekindle that love in the lives of perfect strangers.

That’s what I hope I’ve done for at least some of you.