One More Light

One week ago, an incredible musical talent and personal hero of mine committed suicide. You might have heard of him; he fronted a band called Linkin Park. His name was Chester Bennington.

His suicide occurred on what would have been the fifty-third birthday of his good friend, Chris Cornell, who also committed suicide a little over two months ago, and who was also a musical hero of mine.

It’s taken a week for me to collect my thoughts about what I wanted to say about this. It’s hard to know where to start, and it’s caused me to do quite a bit of introspection to sort through these emotions and revelations.

Chris Cornell died on May 18, 2017, after hanging himself in his hotel room following a concert in Detroit. For all intents and purposes, he seemed to have little reason to want to die. After separating from his bandmates in Soundgarden, Chris pursued a successful solo career, followed by a stint with another band, Audioslave. A few years ago, he reunited with Kim, Ben, and Matt, and produced a brand-new Soundgarden album. He had a family, including three beautiful children. On the surface, there was no clear reason for him to consider, let alone commit, suicide.

On the surface.

Chester Bennington died on July 20, 2017 after hanging himself at his home on the birthday of his beloved and late friend, Chris Cornell. The two men shared the stage occasionally, a deep friendship, and family ties–Chester was godfather to one of Chris’s children. He had a lovely wife, six children, a prolific career, and millions of fans across the world. On the surface, there was no clear reason for him to consider, let alone commit, suicide

On the surface.

In the days and weeks following the death of Chris Cornell, I became affected deeply in ways I couldn’t understand at first. Yes, I’ve been a Soundgarden fan since Superunknown was released in 1994 (when I was the tender age of 10). Yes, I’d followed much of Chris’s solo career and enjoyed some of his work with Audioslave. Yes, I was as pumped as any old-school Soundgarden fan when they reunited a few years ago and put out a new album and announced a tour.

As many Cornell fans were, I was familiar with his struggles with depression. He was relatively open about them in interviews over the past two and a half decades, and his lyrics told the rest of the story. Just reference songs like “Fell on Black Days,” “Black Hole Sun,” “Pretty Noose,” “Blow Up the Outside World,” “Overfloater,” “Burden in My Hand,” “Like Suicide”–and these are just from their most prominent releases, Superunkown and Down on the Upside released in 1994 and 1996, respectively. His solo career saw a shift in his musical proclivities, but many of his lyrics remained dark and haunted. His final written words to the world were his last tweet on May 17, 2017: “#nomorebullshit.”

A couple of weeks after Chris passed, and I’d been listening to Soundgarden pretty much nonstop, I fell into what I can only describe as a depressive hold that shackled me down for the entire month of June. It was like a thirty-pound weight materialized in my chest and held me down. I’ve felt this before, but it had been a while since my depression had reared its head in my life. I had trouble sleeping. I couldn’t create–which as a writer, is incredibly frustrating. It wasn’t that I had writer’s block; I simply couldn’t muster the strength or energy to force my brain to make the ideas in my head translate to words. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t want to socialize. I didn’t want to see the light of day. My brain was in a dark cave, so I wanted to be in a dark cave too. I wept a lot. It took the looming deadline of a short story for an anthology, and the desire to not disappoint my fellow authors, to get me into gear. It was painful, but it allowed me to, little by little, reclaim my life.

What triggered me wasn’t simply the death of one of my musical/lyrical heroes. And as I’ve thought about what did trigger me, since the world has lost many brilliant musicians and actors and artists in general over the past few years, I’ve realized that while the death of Chris Cornell was heart-wrenching on its own, what triggered me was what it represented for me and other people who battle depression and anxiety.

One of us lost the battle–one of us who seemingly had won. One of us who seemingly had everything going for him. One of us who had no reason–outwardly–to suffer.

If he couldn’t make it, with his lovely family, his ability to make an excellent living from living out his dream, and a seemingly cushy lifestyle–what hope did that give the rest of us? Are those of us who deal with this bound to succumb one day, too, no matter how wonderful life seems?

At the start of July, I managed to break the chains that held me. I did things that brought me happiness, like playing video games, a little bit of writing, some blogging, lots of reading. I visited family, and my husband came home from war–so many joyous happenings that helped me get back to myself, that helped me realize that I was bigger than this, that I couldn’t stay down because there are people in my life that care about me and who I care about, and who count on me to be strong.

Last Thursday, I was randomly checking Facebook when I saw someone’s post asking if the headlines about Chester Bennington’s suicide were real. My first instinct was, “Hoax.” It was Chris Cornell’s birthday; we know they were close. Most fans have heard that gut-wrenchingly beautiful rendition of “Hallelujah” Chester sang at Chris’s funeral. Most of us saw the incredibly emotional performance of “One More Light” on Jimmy Kimmel days after Chris’s death, where Chester occasionally struggled to get the words out, where his bandmates were visibly devastated, where any fan of either band or person with ears and a heart would have been moved to tears. It was no secret Chester and Chris were great friends, and the internet can be a dark and plain old mean place, so of course rumors about this poor guy killing himself would take place.

Except they weren’t rumors.

There were no tweets from Chester or Linkin Park chastising the public with “rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated” statements. There was nothing–except for headlines from multiple news sources, including the often on-the-mark TMZ, stating that the singer had been found dead from an apparent suicide-by-hanging.

Finally, the CNN alert flashed across my screen.

My disbelief turned to shock. After about fifteen minutes, shock gave way to grief.

Not again. Not another one.

In a flash, I thought of all my favorite Linkin Park songs over the years that have ever meant something to me, and why they mean something to me: “One Step Closer,” “A Place for My Head,” “Given Up,” “Crawling,” “Numb,” “In the End,” “Faint,” “What I’ve Done,” “The Little Things Give You Away,” “Leave Out All the Rest,” “Shadow of the Day,” “In My Remains,” “Burn It Down,” “Keys to the Kingdom,” “Until It’s Gone,” “One More Light,” “Nobody Can Save Me,” “Sharp Edges.”

To name a few.

Like Chris, Chester was very open about his struggles with addiction and depression, both of which are heavy source material for his lyrics. His words had a universal pain to them–anyone who ever struggled with anything can find something to relate to in his words. He had an incredibly powerful roar, but also a gentle, soulful voice. Sometimes, you could hear them both in the same song. He verbalized the words so many of us wish we could say. He gave a voice to those screams that so many of us wish we could unleash. These songs united so many of us dealing with the same mental and emotional struggles–even if no one in our immediate lives understood what we were going through, there were literally millions of other people who did, millions of other people who listened to the same songs and the same lyrics and felt understood. Because the author of those lyrics did understand, and being understood when you don’t even understand yourself helps you realize you are not crazy, you are not alone, and you’re not the only one suffering.

That author is gone now.

Linkin Park was supposed to perform in Lincoln February 7, 2015. My husband bought me tickets, knowing how much I love LP, and I was beyond thrilled. That same music, those same words, that I’d discovered a decade and a half before, I’d get to hear in person. That roar, that howl, that scream, that echoed the noises in my head I sometimes yearned to release, I’d hear live. I’d get to shout every lyric to every song, I’d get to unite with my fellow LP fans, and it would be a transcendent experience (if you have ever been to a concert with other superfans, you know exactly what I’m talking about). But sadly, Chester broke his foot, and his surgery took place over a string of concert dates including mine, and was thus cancelled. They never rescheduled.

I completed my Master’s degree in May 2017. I had no plans of going to the Saturday morning commencement on May 13, but instead agreed to attend the hooding ceremony on May 12th. Then I found out that Soundgarden was going to be in town that same night. One of my all-time favorite bands from my childhood was coming to my city! I debated, but decided that I’d better go to the hooding ceremony instead. Family was involved, and as it turned out, my best friend had flown in from New York to surprise me, so that meant Soundgarden would have to wait until next time.

There won’t be a next time, now.

It may seem silly to some that these “celebrity deaths” have such an impact on people. I can’t speak for everyone and their reasons for mourning, for grieving. For me, it’s two-fold: these two men were artists, poets, and their work resonated in my soul. The power of their words inspired me to write my own. Their music was a soothing balm for when the rest of the world just didn’t or couldn’t understand what tormented me; when couldn’t understand. They expressed things I wanted to, but didn’t know how.

And also, these men battled the same thing I did–depression, anxiety. Some days, when those two things are going strong inside you, it’s really a toss-up of who’s going to win and how bloody the battle will be. Some days, you’re the victor. Other days, they seem to be. But Chris and Chester were supposed to have been examples that you can push past even the worst times in your head and in your body to rise above, to push on, to keep fighting. They were examples to show you don’t have to be held back from your dreams, that you can fight for what you love and be successful and be loved and have it all. They were supposed to show us that you can win. You can always win.

Despite their deaths, despite my grief, and that of so many others’, I still believe you can win. I have to believe this. There is too much good in this world for me not to. There’s so much worth living for, and they’re all “small” things. I don’t make millions of dollars. I don’t live in a mansion, I’m not famous. But I have family and friends who I cherish. I have pets I adore, who delight me on a daily basis with their mere existence. I have dreams worth fighting for as hard as I can to achieve. I have corners of the world to discover. There’s still tons of créme brûlée and pizza to eat, so much wine to drink. So many miles to run, so many steps to dance. There’s countless holidays and birthdays to celebrate, vacations to take. There are boundless smiles and hugs to give and to receive, so much laughter to share. Books to read, movies to watch, video games to play, stories to write.

Songs to listen to and sing along with, and remember.

The hallways can get really dark sometimes. So dark, I’m not sure if I can find my way out. But then I remember that there’s got to be a corner to turn if I just keep walking, and if I can get there, I can find one more light.

You can, too.

 

Rest in peace, Chester and Chris.

 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with depression and considering suicide, please, please, reach out for help. It’s there.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

Tasty Omaha: Timber Wood Fire Bistro

One of my favorite things to do, I’ve discovered, is take pictures of food. I think it has a lot to do with the nifty camera on my iPhone 7+. Though I’m sure this camera can’t hold a candle to actual cameras like Nikons, Canons, etc., it’s still easily the highest quality camera I’ve ever had readily available at my fingertips. My bestie “loaned” (really, sneakily gave) me a Nikon a couple years ago that she had just lying around and didn’t use, and I’m still looking for someone to show me how to actually use that thing. The little I’ve deduced so far is that it needs a badass lens to really unlock all its potential.

(Side note: Avenged Sevenfold is suddenly playing on my iTunes as I write, and it’s distracting because how tf did it get on here…? Oh, phew. Disturbed is on now. OOH-WAH-AH-AH-AH!)

Anyway, my favorite subjects are them:


And him:

 

Ok, so I didn’t technically take this picture but I totally could have!

Followed by food!

 

Another of my favorite things to do, which is most definitely not a recent discovery, is eat, especially at new restaurants. My favorite dining companions are my husband, my parents, and my best friend, when she’s in town. I was out with my folks this weekend at a new place, and as I was snapping photos to share on Facebook, because I simply love food photography and also inspiring people to check out new places around town, it occurred to me that this could become a new blog series. And as I’ve resolved to update my blog at least once a week, here’s the inaugural series post, the maiden voyage, if you will, of Tasty Omaha.

This past Saturday, July 1st, I ventured to Timber Wood Fire Bistro with my parents. It was recommended to me by a friend who had lunched there a few times with her husband.

The bistro, owned by executive chef Jared Clarke (who you may know also owns the well-loved Railcar Modern American Kitchen restaurant) is located in a nondescript strip mall area at approximately 87th and Dodge, in Countryside Village. I wasn’t sure what to expect and was intrigued by how low-key the exterior appeared (though in good company, with a Le Quartier bakery nearby, who also supplies them with their delicious bread, Starbucks, a delicatessen, and a “spirited” barbershop). The interior of the bistro is deceptively sprawling, with a choice to dine indoor or outdoor, and in addition to the main dining area–which can seat 40–there is also a smaller room that seats about half that. The decor is sleek and simple, with touches of wood embellishment. Each table has a small piece of wood that serves as the centerpiece.

I made a reservation on Open Table (which, I love any restaurant that uses Open Table!) for six o’clock. We arrived a quarter to, and were seated immediately, as there were only a handful of other patrons there at the time.

And we sat. And sat. And sat some more.

We’d been sitting for about fifteen minutes before the wait staff noticed us. Then we were given water and asked for our drink orders–I like to try craft cocktails from restaurants in particular, so I opted for a pear mule, while my mother opted to try their version of an Old Fashioned. We also ordered a bottle of wine. For an appetizer, we ordered the bread service–Le Quartier sourdough with herbed butter and olive oil–and the Timber Fries, which came with crispy mushrooms, tossed in truffle oil, topped with chipped beef and chive cream.

We received our appetizers before we got our drinks, interestingly. And in fact, we waited another fifteen minutes or so before the bottle of wine we ordered as well was uncorked and delivered to our table, despite sitting on the bar for at least ten minutes. When I inquired about our drinks, the waiter admitted that he’d forgotten to put the order in, so we ended up simply cancelling them and sticking to wine.

If it were crazy-busy? Totally understandable and no big deal. But as I mentioned, it was not busy. And the amount of wait staff they have in comparison to the number of patrons that were there could have easily provided two waiters per table.

The bread from Le Quartier was absolutely fantastic. Drizzled with olive oil and warmed in a canvas pouch on the grill, the outer part of the bread was crispy, and the flesh of the bread was soft. The sourdough twang was mild but noticeable, and the herbed butter was the perfect accompaniment. Those folks at Le Quartier never disappoint.

The Timber Fries came to the table looking like a daunting, glorious, fried dream. Upon first taste, the chive cream–like crème fraîche–was light and airy, providing a nice neutrality to the extremely salty fries and mushrooms. I also could not taste the truffle oil at all. The flavor combination had the potential to be monumental, but the fries and mushrooms were slightly overcooked, and the saltiness was over the top, even for fries and fried mushrooms.

I also ordered the French onion soup, to see how they do this classic soup. According to the menu, the soup is made up of cognac, bone marrow, roasted local beef stock, and Swiss cheese. Cognac? Bone marrow? Yep, I’m game.

The broth was, despite these tasty ingredients, bland. It was as though they used all the salt on the fries and had none left over for the broth. I couldn’t make out the cognac or the richness of bone marrow. The cheese globbed up to a rubbery consistency on top of the soup and there was a blob at the bottom, as well. I’m not sure, but I doubt it was hand-grated. Quality off-the-block cheese has an entirely different texture than bagged cheese. The best part of the soup were the onions and the piece of baguette at the bottom, which soaked in the broth, making the flesh delightfully soggy, while the crust retained it’s firmness.

As the name suggests, the menu comprises a variety of offerings all prepared in/on a wood-fire grill. When I hear wood-fire, I immediately think of pizza, and Timber has a selection of pizzas that are baked on French bread in amoeba-like shapes and topped with things like poached pear and prosciutto, lamb kabob and herbed goat cheese, mushroom and fennel sausage, pepperoni, organic tomato, and stracciatella.

Did we get pizza? No.

Should we have gotten pizza? Yes.

After much deliberation, I ordered the Prohibition Black Chicken (as I’m working on a Prohibition novel, anything that hints toward that era strikes me as a sign, so I go for it). Mom got the Cedar Planked Steelhead Salmon, while Dad got the Wood Roasted Short Ribs.

When my plate arrived, it came with a breast, a drumstick, and a thigh. There was a bed of fire-roasted veggies, and a scoop of potato rosti. It was decorated with a fragrant bundle of wood-fire herbs, which I thought was a nice garnish. The drumstick and the thigh were perfectly cooked, tender, but nothing particularly noteworthy in terms of flavor. The menu states that the chicken is “cabernet cured” but I couldn’t taste those flavors at all. The breast was entirely overcooked, to the point of inedibility. The veggies–carrots, celery, green and yellow squash, and mushrooms–were overall decent, though the carrots were hard and the celery was tough. The squash and the mushrooms were fantastic. The potato rosti struck me as au gratin hash browns–nothing more, nothing less. Tasty, but underwhelming.

I sampled my mom’s salmon, and it was glorious. The Asian-inspired glaze overflows with flavor, but her complaint was that the interior of the salmon was not cooked enough to her liking. My dad’s short ribs, accompanied with baby bok choy, were unimpressive. I found the rib to be mostly fat, and the meat underneath to be tough.

For dessert, we ordered the S’Mores Budin. Budin is a Latin bread pudding, but what arrived was basically, a rich fudge pudding with a graham cracker crust. According to the menu (desserts are not listed on their website, and neither are cocktails, for some reason), sea-salt caramel and peanut butter were to have been involved as well. I got hints of these flavors along the side where the crust was. The outer part of the fudge was delightfully warm and melty, but the interior was a cold block of fudge. I’m not sure if it’s meant to be served that way. As well, it comes topped with two toasted marshmallows, but the further into the marshmallow I got, I discovered that it was just the skin of the marshmallow that was toasted, as opposed to toasting it so that the entire thing becomes melted and soft–like it would be over a campfire.

Overall I was underwhelmed with the quality of the food and the service. The wait staff was very friendly and kind, but their speed and efficiency needs to be developed. The restaurant opened at the top of the year, and it seems like these sorts of kinks should have been worked out by now. I would be willing to try this place again for the pizza alone, as several passed our table, and they looked impressive, and Yelp reviews are enthusiastic for Timber’s Sunday brunch. However, in my opinion, the food needs finessing and flavors need to be developed to live up to the potential that emanates from the menu. Particularly a dish like the Prohibition Black Chicken, which by the waiter’s admission, is one of the most popular items on the menu.

Grade: C

Discipline, Or Whatever

Remember last year when I was all, “Oh, I’m gonna start blogging again and regularly and nyeah nyeah nyeah”?

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I was still innocent and naive to the demands of full-time school, full-time work, full-time not knowing if I was coming or going. Now I’ve emerged, MFA degree in hand, bloodied, bruised, battle-scarred, weary. Wiser.

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Link to photo credit

When I was in school, I was forced to be disciplined and was much more careful about my time management. When I graduated in May 2017, I assumed I’d carry that momentum forward and spend the time I had previously used for school on things like reading the staggering mountain of books I’d accumulated over the past couple years, or writing more, or playing more video games, or catching up on all the shows I’ve neglected, or blogging, or cooking, or actually living my life.

Instead, that momentum has come to a screeching halt.

I’ve got a bad case of W.B. (The Bane of The Writer’s Existence, Which Shall Not Be Named), which is awkward, as I’m supposed to be finishing up a story for an anthology I’m doing with several writing friends. I enjoy looking at my collection of books rather than picking one off the pile and reading it. I’ve started playing video games, but not new ones–I’m currently playing Final Fantasy VII for the 325,735,483,734th time (to be fair, the Skyrim graphics are so sharp on my PS4, I actually get motion sickness from playing. Huge Sigh.) instead, which I’m not complaining about because, let’s be clear, that’s hands down the best Final Fantasy game EVAR (IX is a veryveryveryveryvery close second, in my opinion) (also, CAN WE TALK ABOUT THE REMAKE. OMG.) (also, how many parenthetical asides can be used in one thought?). The shows I faithfully DVR’d to responsibly watch AFTER graduation are still there…all piled up. It’s almost like I have so many choices of things to fill my time now, that I’m overwhelmed, so I just sit there and do nothing at all.

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Enter some recent soul-searching, as in just before writing this blog post: I need better time management and discipline. When I’m focused on something, like writing, it would take a pitchfork, a forest fire in my kitchen, a tornado, and an earthquake to pull me away from the task at hand. I need to find a way to wash off the derpy sludge that’s encased my brain as of late.

Because there are so many things I want to do, that I need to do. I am desperate to finish the historical novel I’ve been working on. I have so many other book ideas to jump into. I want to sit down and enjoy the shows I’ve recorded and neglected (you guys, it’s the final season of Orphan Black. THE FINAL SEASON!). I want to sit down and play Final Fantasy XV and proceed through Skyrim without needing to vomit and crack into Tomb Raider (2013). I want to climb the Mount Kilimanjaro-sized pile of books and read each and every single one–I’ve got some stupendous reads in there.

Then there’s the on-going matter of physical fitness and health, too–something incredibly important that cannot, should not, be ignored. Yet, it’s too easy for me to default to, “I’m too tired” and then sit down and stare into oblivion, moodily pondering all the things I’m not doing.

Making sure I’m entertained and fulfilled is gd chore, man. But it’s worth it, because we need to do things that make us happy. We need to feed our souls in that way; we need to find the little pleasures that life has to offer us and capitalize on them. Conquer them. Times are troubling, and it’s easy to become bogged down in the quagmire of frustration at the often shit-state of the world. We need to find our happiness in all the forms they come in.

I’m a list-maker. I’m an organizer, which is sometimes (okay, fine, often) laughable, considering my penchant for laziness. But at the same time, the need to do, the need to create, the need to absorb, is too strong to ignore. So if I need to literally schedule time in blocks for these things, I’ll do that. I’ll do that until it becomes habit, until I’ve emerged from this sludgy haze clear-headed, bright-eyed, and focused. Victorious, after eating Laziness’s heart like a true warrior.

That got dark. Sorry.

Find your discipline, and use it to propel you to new heights of success, exploration, fulfillment, and joy.

 

MFAs and TFF

Go to grad school, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

No, MFA does not, in this instance, stand for “Motherf***ing Awesome”, though, it must be said, that acronym does occasionally apply to certain aspects of my life. And me.

Only occasionally, though.

In this case, I’m talking about Master of Fine Arts. As in the graduate degree. As in the thing I’ve agreed to devote two years of my life to pursuing and, hopefully, obtaining come May 2017.

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I remember it clearly: last April, my best friend and I (really, this is all her fault) were hanging out. She’d driven an hour to come stay with me overnight while Hubby attended a month-long course at Fort Lee, VA. We’d run a 5K race at one of my favorite wineries, we’d done some shopping, and we’d done a lot of pigging out. The next day, as we lazed about before she went home, we were chatting about life and things. You know, like, “Now that we’re thirty, we’d better start figuring out what we want to do when we grow up.”

And she was all, “You should go to grad school.”

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In 2012, she started her master’s program in Art History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, also her alma mater (and mine). I thought it was so cool that she was in grad school, studying something so cool.

Then, the same year, my husband enrolled in his MPA program. And then later that same year, another good friend enrolled to get her MBA.

gradstud

All around me, it seemed, the people in my life were rushing toward graduate educations, not satisfied with their bachelor degrees alone. Admittedly, I could appreciate that: nowadays, jobs are competitive. Once upon a time, a job posting requiring a bachelor’s degree used to produce a smug smile on the incumbent’s face. Now, that’s child’s play. Want to catch an employer’s attention? Want to write your own checks? Want to sob in frustrated misery for two to four years?

Better go to grad school.

full of life

I staunchly resisted. More school was not for me, I said. I was one of those “smart, but would be a better student if she applied herself” kind of people in school. I did what was needed to get by, except in my English, lit, and writing classes (where I learned the beauty of the Oxford comma). Math, my greatest academic nemesis, bested me twice before I managed to eke out the necessary “C” to graduate. On the last day of math class, when I learned I’d passed by department standards, I refrained from hurling my T-78571032324867 graphing calculator at the professor and enjoyed a private, celebratory weeping in the ladies’ room. I never had to take math again.

But I did have to take microeconomics, macroeconomics, biology, geology, religious studies, astronomy, and meteorology to name a few. You can guess how well those went for me.

My best friend was one of the first people to encourage me to apply for a grad program, my husband the second. “But I don’t want to go to school again,” I patiently explained time after time. “I’m in the corporate world. I’ve got a good job.”

I was running at a steady pace in the corporate rat race. I’d once had a misguided notion that I should try to “live my dream” where making money was concerned. I crashed and failed. Wounded, I told myself (much like after riding The Prowler at Worlds of Fun), “Never again.”

A passionless, predictable gig, day-in and day-out, was the safe way to go about things. Steady income, benefits, meetings, and graphs, and charts, and POs, and stuff. Forever. Or, like, until I was 60-something.

But, as fate would have it, that was not in the cards for me.

The company I worked for underwent a series of lay-offs and downsizing. There were three rounds plotted for the head-chopping, and I managed to squeak through the first two. The third go-round, however, I was not so lucky.

So, with the same air of resigned dignity that Anne Boleyn displayed on her day of reckoning at the Tower of London, I knelt (figuratively) on the scaffolding to receive the (figurative) blow.

Actually, I cried all the way home. Then I started figuring out what I’d do next with my life.

The mention of grad school was brought up again, but I swiftly dismissed it. School? School? I had a job to find!

I ended up with a few prospective offers on the table all at once, and ended up taking a chance on a small, privately owned business. My husband had just been accepted to the Omaha Police Department Academy, his dream for many, many years, so it all felt new, fresh, exciting. My job was new, fresh, exciting. The city was new, fresh, exciting. My life was new, fresh, excit–

Then it wasn’t. The small business I worked for had been experiencing a sharp decline in sales (something they’d conveniently neglected to mention during the interview process) and they could no longer afford my salary. Or, like, me.

So there I was, again, without a job and down on my luck.

That fateful weekend in April that my best friend visited me was a couple of days after my most recent job loss. She said, “Dude. Grad school. Creative writing. You can do it.”

This time, I actually gave it some thought. I did love to write. I’d been writing stories and poems since I was a child. I was in the midst of writing not my first novel, but the first one I wanted to seek publishing for (what has now become my MFA thesis, actually. So I will have to finish it at some point). The first novel that marked my decision to be a professional writer when I grew up, whenever that would be. But I needed direction. I knew I was a talented writer, but I also knew I was, for all my years of writing, a novice.

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There’d be the education, the sharpening of my writing skills, the networking, the accomplishment.

What did I have to lose?

A month later, I had applied to Creighton University. And a month after that, I got accepted. And about two months after that, I started school for the first time in eight years.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first day of classes. I felt like a freshman at UNL all over again, trying to find my way around a brand-new campus, trying not to be the last person through the door, trying not to be stuck in the front row. On that first night of class, meeting my professor and my fellow students, I was struck with one thought: Here I am, back at school, again. Here I am, doing this all over again. 

The first day of the rest of my life, and all that sh*t.

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Two four-hour classes a week, for two eight-week quarters a semester. Plus, working full-time. Plus, writing my book. Plus, writing another book. Plus, you know, staying alive and stuff.

And that brings me to the “TFF” part of this post. No, not “The Freaking Fabulous”. I mean “The Freshman Fifteen”.

Yeah, it happened to me. AGAIN.

got

I’d convinced myself that I’d be able to maintain my fitness program while going to school. Heck, I was a gym rat, after all! Four to five days a week, and three half-marathons and dozens of months of training runs under my belt. NO SWEAT. (HA! PUNZ. See what I did there?)

But, I had no appreciation for how tired I would be. How much work there would be. I loved it, I loved the work, because I got to read awesome things and write (hopefully awesome) things and read the awesome things written by my classmates. But it was a lot of work I was unaccustomed to, and it drained me. Lack of energy + lack of motivation to cook + lack of motivation to eat healthy = pounds gained.

I don’t know if it was a full fifteen. Maybe it was more. All I know is, things ain’t right.

mordor
Another Freshman 15 meme featuring Sean Bean, different program. Hmm.

Now that summer’s here, I’ve got a goal of hitting the gym at least four days a week. Used to be child’s play for me, but now, it can be a stretch. I’ve got a goal to eliminate my sugar addiction, another big culprit in TFF. And I’ve got a goal to maintain it for the coming year ahead. Now I know what to expect, what it’s like to work full-time and go to school full-time. And now, to add to the fun, I’ve got a part-time editing job with an indie publishing house. And they have lots of authors who are prolific writers, and I’m sensing my workload is about to get cray-cray.

But slowing down is out of the question. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “There will be sleeping enough in the grave.”

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If I’m feeling motivated enough, perhaps I’ll try that old Military Diet I posted about last year. And by motivated, I mean desperate and filled with self-loathing. I’m not there yet, though.

Now that the first year of my two-year program is over, and the second year is starting in a couple months, deciding to pursue my MFA has been one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. I’ve met some really awesome people, some really talented writers, and some really great teachers. I’ve learned that I can balance a metric crapload of stuff at the same time. Sometimes not gracefully, sometimes not graciously, but I can do it.

adultshit

Sometimes–like my classmates in the same boat as I am, like my best friend who’s now getting her PhD from Cornell, like my husband who’s a proud MPA holder and one of the rare people to realize his life’s dream–I’m really MFA (re: alternate definition).

One year down, one year to go.

 

Donut FriYay, and Cubicle Attacks

You had me at “Free donuts”.

It’s been almost a year (at the end of this month) that I have been at my job. In a (confusing) nutshell, I design call flows for a telecommunications company. I had extensive experience doing just this very thing, which made me a shoo-in for this role.

Lies.

I had an English degree.

I will be forever grateful to my boss, who decided to take a chance on a kid from the streets, who had no idea what a person in this role did, and had twelve to eighteen months to get over the learning curve and be a contributing member of the team. In that time, I’ve entered into the wild world of call flow design, learned a fair amount of geek-speak (though on a scale of “Rosetta Stone” to “fluent”, I’d say I’m about “where the person debating on buying Rosetta Stone online is, sitting open-mouthed in disbelief at the price tag”. Srsly, learning languages is already hard enough, but you gotta make it that expensive, too?), and met some really super awesome people along the way. People that I’m happy to say I work for and with.

Appropriately, our team is called “Creative Services”, and truly, we are just that. I’m one of a couple writers on the team. We’ve also got an actress/set builder/knitter/all-around freakishly talented person, a musician, a singer, a publisher, a comedian. We are all creative in our own rights, and we’ve brought all that psychotic energy into one little office.

One of the neatest (and by neatest, I mean dangerous) perks of working for this company is that every Friday, free donuts are offered. Like, scores of donuts. Donuts as far as the eye can see. Bagels, too. It’s a carb candy land.

After weeks of indulging my donut addiction, I realized, coupled with the fact that I’d started school and had done the Freshman 15 ALL over again, that donuts and I needed to break up. I stopped answering Donuts’ calls and texts. I avoided the places I knew Donuts would be. I asked our mutual friends to stop speaking to me about Donuts and giving me their life updates, how their parents were doing, the new job they’d taken, etc. Cold turkey.

But then, National Donut Day happened on Friday, and in a moment of weakness, I decided to give in, just that once.

And then, like there was no tomorrow, I wrecked an Old Fashioned. (P.S., is that what they’re called? A co-worker and I debated the name of the donut pictured, and I’ve never known what the proper name is. I’ve always just said the one that looks like a glazed ring with the bits around the outside you can break off and eat as an appetizer.)

Anyway.

Between designing call flows and eating donuts (and various other treats, because another member of our team is, like, a gourmet cook and baker and always brings us things on which to nosh) my team also engages in a healthy dose of mischief.

I learned early on that taking extended vacations on our team is not safe, and you should plan to be the victim of some kind of prank when you return. Approach cube with extreme caution and lots of trepidation. Trust no one.

Case in point: Last October, my boss made the unfortunate decision to take some time off of work. Before he was due to return, an email circulated around our team discussing ideas of the best ways to devil his cubicle and also his Monday morning when he returned. The result?

He got Caged.

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Yeah. See you.
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Nebraska football coffee tumbler? Pssh. NeCageska football coffee tumbler.
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Hey, this is crazy. Call me, maybe? –Nicholas Cage
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“What a…beautiful…family you have there.”

Most of us showed up early that Monday morning to hide inside our cubes and pretend to work, all the while anxiously rubbing our hands together in glee while we waited for The Boss to show up.

When he did, the groan I heard erupt from his throat was a cocktail of amusement, heartbreak, fury, and resignation.

He’s still picking Cages out of file folders and desk drawers, almost eight months later.

Gotcha.

So, when the mastermind of this prank announced she was taking her yearly two-week vacay into the great outdoors, it was time for a little sweet retribution. By last Thursday, conversation had started to determine how the get-back was going to be got. Someone suggested spiders, though real or fake wasn’t specified. The co-worker in question is one of the most even-keeled, unflappable people I’ve ever met, so I didn’t think that’d do the trick. So, I offered an innocent suggestion.

What if we Trump her?

It started as an uncaffeinated, bleary-eyed, one-sentence email from me in the early morning. And by four-thirty in the afternoon, this had happened:

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Trumps and Solo cups. There’s Hawaiian punch in them.
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Trumptastic.
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Trump for days.
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Welcome back!
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DinoTrump Comics: The MinoTrump.
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TyrannoTrumpus Rex.

So, Chloe. Um. Welcome…back?

I’m honored to be part of a team that not only works hard, but also really commits themselves to making someone’s first Monday after a long vacation suck that much more.

Note to self: Never take vacation on this team. Like, ever. ‘Cause payback is a bitch.

Cheers!

Welp, it’s been a while. 

And by “a while”, I mean a hot minute. And by “a hot minute”, I mean almost a friggin’ year.

In a nutshell: I started a new job, then grad school, then, like, five writing projects, and then everything went black. When I woke up, the smoke was clearing around me and Hodor was dead.

Which, just wow, by the way.

“So I can kill them dead.”

Quick digression: Hodor’s death was the noblest, most heart-wrenching thing I’ve seen on TV in a looooooooong time.

Quick digression: Has the release date for Winds of Winter been pushed up from Twenty Years From Now? Anybody know?

I apologize for my absence, if it was noted or missed (please hold your sarcasm at bay). I had quite a summer, quite a remainder of the year, and this one is shaping up to be as balls-to-the-wall busy as the last one.

But it’s been a year of accomplishment, and for that, I can’t apologize. In addition to starting a new gig (which offers FREE donuts every FriYay, by the way. Which has contributed to my weight regain, along with the Freshman Fifteen. More on this later.), I started graduate school at Creighton University. I’m getting my Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing, and I’ve got one year under my belt and one to go.

I also published my first two books, Pas de Deux: Parts One and Two on Amazon under the pen name of Wynter S.K. (“But isn’t M. Allison Lea your pen name? How many pen names do you have? Are you batshit crazy?” More on this later.), and I’ve served as editor on a couple of books by Nik Angela, one of which is on the ZON and the other is forthcoming.

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I’ve entered and lost writing contests, I’ve submitted to and gotten rejected by The New Yorker (an accomplishment in itself, in a strange way. More on this later.) and I’ve kept it pushin’.

My husband also graduated from the police academy in December, and is now a full-tilt Bad Boy po-po. It’s been a wild ride, but seeing him do what he was truly born to do never ceases to punch my right in my feelz every time he puts on his uniform (which, Hottie Alert, btw).

Hashtag dreamboat. Hashtag lucky lady.

My kids, a.k.a. The Judgmental Kitty and The Pushy Pomeranian, continue to fill my life with joy, humor, and annoyance when I’m woken at 4:30 every morning for feedings.

TL
“*nomnomnom* KITTY FEETS! *nomnomnom*”
TeddyBone
“Play with me! NOW!”
lucky
“I just can’t even…”
TL2
“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Only for naps, doe.”

In forthcoming posts, I will expand on these points individually and in detail. For now, though, I just wanted to assure anyone who was concerned about my abrupt departure from this blog that 1) I did not get dead, 2) I did not get kidnapped, 3) I did not get abducted by aliens.

me
Oh, hai. Yes, I’m alive. And not abducted by aliens.

This summer I’m hoping to go back to a couple posts a week. I’ve got a lot to share–a whole year of crazy has just been bouncing around inside this head.

With the voices, of course.

Cheers!

Makeup Haul + A New Behbeh

  
Over the last few weeks, I’ve collected some things I wanted to share with you. Some of them are probably things you’re already familiar with, but worth mentioning nonetheless.

I’m currently blogging from my brother’s and sister-in-law’s house near Chicago. Yesterday, my parents and I got word that their baby decided to make his entrance! The little guy, whom they named Eliot, is already so considerate – waiting to come out over a long holiday weekend, and before his mom’s birthday on the 10th, and his big sister’s birthday on the 15th! (July is clearly a busy month for this family from now on – my brother is the January birthday in a house full of July babies. And fun fact: he was also the January birthday in our family when we were growing up! My and my parents’ birthdays are all in October, with me making my debut 2 days after my mom’s birthday.)

So, before I hit the road with my parents, I snapped pictures of my haul to blog about it later on. With the excitement of the new baby, I thought I’d draft the blog on the road. 

And then I remembered that I get carsick. 

So, that had to wait until now. I made purchases from Gerard Cosmetics, Makeup Geek, ColourPop, MAC, and Sephora.

My Sephora haul had a repurchase, the Anastasia Beverly Hills Brow Wiz pencil which is my all-time favorite brow product. To go with it, I also got the Benefit Gimme Brow tinted brow gel. As sacreligious as this is to say, I prefer it over the ABH tinted brow gel. The ABH wand is entirely too big for the eyebrow area – it’s comparable to a standard mascara wand. The Benefit brow gel wand it TINY – perfect for getting each of those hairs coated and separated. And, the gel is much better at holding the hairs in place. Five kazillion thumbs up. 

I got the Urban Decay All-Nighter setting spray in the smaller size. I wanted to try it out before committing to the larger size because I didn’t know if it would break me out. I’m happy to report that it has not broken me out, and that the spray is excellent. I always used to skip out on the very last step of setting my face with spray, but as the weather keeps getting hotter and I’ve had at least three instances of being in hot temps and sweating off my makeup, this step is definitely key. The brand Skindinavia makes the spray and they have their own brand as well. It’s light and doesn’t leave your face feeling sticky or tacky. The spray is also a fine mist, covering your face evenly. I like this better than Model in a Bottle, which doesn’t have anywhere near as fine a spray and it definitely can leave my face feeling sticky for a little while.

I also picked up some Benefit Hello Flawless face powder. I first saw Desi Perkins, a YouTube blogger, raving about this. I’m always looking for a good powder and I thought I’d give this a try. So far, so good. It’s light but buildable and leaves a velvety finish without getting cakey. Definitely recommend.

I got a sample size of the new Too Faced Born This Way foundation, but I haven’t tried it yet except to see if it matches my skin. It’s perfect for when I’m tan. It seems to be nice and light but also buildable, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.

Finally, the item I’m MOST excited about is the Hourglass Ambient Lighting palette. Now, this thing retails for an absurdly expensive price. I’ve been holding off on buying this for over six months now for that reason. But I got a new job, and decided to treat myself, so I caved and got it, and I love it. You get three powders in the palette – Dim Light, Radiant Light, and Incandescent Light. Dim and Radiant can be purchased in full-size compacts individually, but Incandescent is exclusive to this palette. They offer a natural highlight effect when you’re going for that subtle glow as opposed to a beaming, shimmery highlight. Absolutely love this, and it’s the only highlight I’ve been using lately. (Until my Jaclyn Hill Champagne Pop arrives! Eeee!)

  
Next up is my ColourPop haul. To celebrate KathleenLights, another YouTube blogger I follow, hitting a million subbies, she had a special discount code going on, so I decided to take advantage. I ordered two Lippie Stix, a Lippie Stix pencil to match one of the shades, and a highlight. And what’s neat is that the ladies at ColourPop send a handwritten thank you note with every order. This is my fourth (or fifth?) ColourPop order and I’ve gotten a different note every time. 

  
So, I don’t wear bright or bold colors. It’s not because I don’t want to – I’m apprehensive about how they look on me. But because of the deal, I decided to order Frenchie in both the lipstick and the lip liner. This is a matte formula that is a bold red color with slightly orange undertones. It’s really a beautiful color and I’m working up the courage to wear it. I should mention that for every Lippie Stix shade, there is a matching lipliner. I rarely ever get the lip liner but in this case, I did. I didn’t want any bleeding or color unmatching going on!

  
I also got Julep, which is a cream finish in a bright red color with pinkish undertones – it comes out looking more watermelon on me than red. I use this one sparingly for a sheer wash of color, rather than boldly swiping it on for full pigmentation. When I apply it with a light hand in a dabbing motion, it’s almost like a your-lips-but-better color on me. 

Oh, how I long for the day when I wear bold colors as they were meant to be worn. Sigh. 

   
 
The last thing from ColourPop was this highlight in Butterfly Beach. It’s a gorgeous highlight that works well when I’m tanned, because it’s almost but not quite bronzey. It’s definitely a highlight, but it’s a dark champagne color. Pretty!

  
I ordered 4 lip glosses from Gerard Cosmetics. I wanted to get some more pink shades, because I don’t have enough. *sarcasm* Only 3 colors are pictured here, though, because I ordered Cocoa Bean for my bestie. With her deep skin tone, that is the perfect nude for her. She’s a makeup infant, so I like to pick up things with her in mind and force them on her. 

  
These glosses are really more like shiny liquid lipsticks, they are THAT pigmented. I should have done swatches, but there was a baby on the way! Again, because I’m a wimp, I like to dab these on. I apply them to my lower lip and then smack together to deposit a lighter wash of color to my upper lip. Then I use my finger to blend it out. At this rate, these glosses will last me forever! My favorite of the bunch is Pink Frosting, which I apply normally, because it’s a darker pink close to my natural lip color. The other two are definitely bright and bold – Fiji is a really bright baby pink, and Pink Tiara can only be described as a Barbie pink. You know what I’m talm ’bout.

  
I got a couple more foiled shadows and a pigment from Makeup Geek. The foiled shadows are excellent – extremely shiny and wet looking. You know the old trick of wetting your shadow brush and then dipping it into a shimmery shadow to make the shimmer more intense? No need with the foiled shadows. Just apply with your finger or a synthetic brush for the full shiny, shimmery effect.

   

 
I had In The Spotlight first, which is a silvery-peach color, and got Starry Eyed and Mesmerized. I’ve also gotten more into pigments lately, which is just the loose version of a pressed shadow. These offer a lot more pigmentation (hence the name) and are easier to build up.   
Speaking of pigments, the final leg of my haul is about these two from MAC. I got a loose and a pressed pigment. I actually purchased these both on eBay and spent in both what a normal loose pigment typically costs. Gotta love the ‘bay.

The loose pigment is in the shade tan, and I love this. This could be my favorite summer color. I wore this to a winery with my husband and some friends last weekend and I did wet my brush before applying it. The effect is gorgeous – the pigment is already shimmery, but when wet and applied in a couple of layers, it was even more intense. I packed it on the lid and then used a light brown shade in the crease to blend it out. 

The pressed pigment is in Dusty Rose, which is pinker in hue. I haven’t used it yet, I plan to soon.  

 
Here are the pigments swatches – Dusty Rose on top and Tan on the bottom. I should point out that these are only one swipe of the finger with just a little dab of product – these things go far with pigmentation!

I’m really into shimmery lids and skin in the summer! I’m sure that’s breaking some makeup rule somewhere, but I’m a rebel, so I don’t care! 

Feels good to let go.

Back to baby Eliot (who I have already taken to calling Eee-lee-awt…don’t know why) and all things family! 

Cheers!