Celebrating National Poetry Month with Cyrus Parker, Author of DROPKICKromance

Hello, friends!

This post comes to you a little later than I intended, so forgive me! I wanted to post a series of blogs in April to celebrate National Poetry Month, but sadly I didn’t quite get to it. Today I’m sharing an interview with one of my favorite poets right now, Cyrus Parker. If you’ve been around the blog for a while, you’ll remember my interview with poet Amanda Lovelace about their first collection of poetry, the princess saves herself in this one. I found Cyrus through Amanda and was lucky enough to watch a little bit of the love story unfold. You’ll see Cyrus mention Amanda a few times throughout the interview, as now they’re married! Be sure to keep an eye out on the blog for a review of Amanda’s latest release, the witch doesn’t burn in this one, the follow up to her first collection.

For now, enjoy this fun interview with Cyrus, and be sure to go check out the newly released collection, DROPKICKromance! Also, Cyrus mentioned two great books in this interview that are also worth looking into. The first is Amanda’s upcoming book, to make monsters out of girls (which you can go ahead and pre-order) will release in September. I, for one, can’t wait to get my hands on this! The other book they mentioned (which I am also excited about) is Trista Mateer’s newest collection of poetry, Honeybee

 

 

 

Here’s the interview!!

 

   Have you always loved poetry? Were you always drawn to writing or did that develop later in your life? I know at some point you were involved with wrestling, what did that transition to poet look like for you?

 

It was the fifth grade that I first realized I loved writing. We had to write a very short fiction story, and I ended up writing what would amount to Sonic the Hedgehog fanfiction today. I loved storytelling, and my teacher told me that I had potential to be a great writer one day, so it’s something I’ve always had tucked away in the back of my mind.

 

My writing hasn’t always taken a traditional form, however. As a teen, I loved to draw, so I spent a lot of time attempting to make comic books. I also wrote The Legend of Zelda fanfiction and roleplayed in chat rooms and on message boards. The wrestling thing started as a thing between myself, my brother, and a couple of friends. We loved the storytelling involved in wrestling, so we created our own backyard wrestling group that was very story and character driven. One thing led to another, and my brother and I hooked up with the BCWA, a wrestling promotion based out the downriver area of Michigan. They gave us an opportunity to work for them, and we seized it. My brother and I spent about five years working with BCWA, until they ultimately closed their doors in 2011.

 

The transition to poet came after I had stopped wrestling. I moved from Michigan to New Jersey with every intention of taking my wrestling career to the next level, but life doesn’t always go the way you’d planned. I was in a new state, working a job that barely paid over minimum wage and no backup plan. Eventually, I had enough and decided to register for college classes. I started as a graphic design major but quickly switched my major to creative writing after realizing how little I liked my art class, and how much I loved my English class. Though I had dabbled in poetry a bit in the past, it wasn’t until I took my creative writing class that I truly fell in love with writing poetry. This was also around the time that I had started reading some modern poetry, such as The Dogs I Have Kissed by Trista Mateer, and milk and honey Rupi Kaur. This was also around that time that my then-girlfriend/now-wife Amanda Lovelace told me she was writing the princess saves herself in this one. Everything just kind of clicked into place at the right time.

 

Now, everything is about to come full circle. BCWA has just announced it’ll be returning in July of this year, and you can bet the DROPKICKpoet Cyrus Parker will be lacing up their boots one more time!

 

      This is your first poetry book, but is also the first in a series, correct? Can you tell us more about what will come next, or what you are working on now?

 

I definitely envisioned a three book DROPKICKpoetry series as I worked on DROPKICKromance. When I began compiling work for my first collection, I wrote about quite literally everything. The initial manuscript I completed was actually titled DROPKICKpoetry, and the poems were grouped into sections depending on the topic I was writing about. Ultimately, I felt that that manuscript didn’t have a good flow or pacing. So, after discussing my problem with Amanda over dinner, we decided together it might be best if I just focus on one thing, rather than everything. I then pulled the DROPKICKromance section title from the DROPKICKpoetry manuscript and decided to focus on my relationships.

 

With that in mind, that still leaves me with so much to say. I am currently working on book two in the DROPKICKpoetry series, which has a title, but I’m not quite ready to reveal it yet! Where DROPKICKromance focused primarily on my romantic relationships, DROPKICK2 will focus primarily on my relationship with myself, and the world round me. “Who am I?” That’s a question I think we all can relate to, and it’s something I’ve struggled with since I was a child. In DROPKICK2, I’m diving headfirst into my identity crisis, from trying to fit in as a child and teenager, to struggling with separating my wrestling persona from my real life. Also, as someone who’s recently come out as non-binary, I’ll be touching on gender and my own personal struggle with it, as well.

 

Expect to hear more news about DROPKICK2 very soon!

 

      What does your writing process look like? I love the way your titles tie your poems together and how certain poems tie back to previous ones. Is that something you do while you’re writing or in the editing process?

 

If I’m not writing for a book, I typically generate as much content as I can in my journal, writing about anything and everything that inspires me. From there, once I compile a decent amount of work, I transfer it to a word document and see what pieces speak to me, how they’re connected, and if I have enough to say about that topic.

 

If I am writing for a book, it’s much of the same, but I have a clear direction in mind when I write. Often, I’ll have a book title chosen before I do any major writing because, for me, the title dictates the theme. When I was writing DROPKICKromance, I went through at least five different titles, and with each one, the theme of the book changed. Once I have that title and theme, though, it’s just a matter of finding the right words to say what I want to say.

 

In terms of linking titles and poems to other ones, usually, I do it during the writing portion with the intent of calling back to another poem. There are those occasions, though, where the poem does a good job of calling back to another poem on its own, and during revision, I make that connection a little clearer.

 

      Most of this collection is tied to relationships, heartache, and finding both yourself and new love – what was it like to process these events and feelings through poetry and then to share them publicly?

 

The writing itself is very cathartic. I’ve always been someone who’d internalize everything. I never talked about my emotions, or what I’d been going through because it was just too hard to speak the words out loud, so being able to write it down has become so freeing. Of course, when you’re planning on putting that work out there for the world to read, you have to be more mindful of your audience and whether or not they can relate to it. I was terrified that no one would connect to DROPKICKromance because the experiences I wrote about are so personal to me, but people are connecting to it and honestly, it’s so surreal. It’s bittersweet, knowing that other people have been in similar situations as myself, but there’s something special about forming connections with people who have a shared experience with you, and I wouldn’t trade these connections for anything.

 

      The first poem in your book talks about how you never thought you were good enough, but you hoped you were. Where did you find this hope, this resilience, while looking in the face of rejection and self-doubt?

 

Honestly, it’s still something I struggle with today. Maybe not in terms of relationships, but more so in terms of connecting with other people, or putting my work out there. I have a lot more confidence now than I did at that point in my life, and a lot of that is due to my time as a wrestler. Wrestling helped bust me out of the shell I’d been hiding away in for most of my life. If you’re not walking down to the ring with an air of confidence about you if the audience can tell that you don’t believe in yourself, then how can you expect them to believe in you? Mind you, I don’t necessarily agree with that mindset, but as soon as I found my stride and started strutting around like I owned the place, even if I didn’t wholly believe it myself, the BCWA fans really got behind me. That’s part of why it was so hard for me to separate Cyrus Parker the wrestler from Cyrus Parker the person—I truly envied the level of confidence my persona possessed.

 

      This is not technically a question, but one of the things that struck me only a few poems in (particularly on “unsuspecting.”) was the honesty you write with and the connection that is so easy for the reader to make in their own lives. I related so much to the idea that we become attached to the first person that shows us affection, and I can trace events in my own life where I see the evidence of that truth.

 

I know I wrote about that in the context of one relationship, but I’ve fallen victim to that trap a few times, and each time ended badly. I’ve always feared rejection so much that I let it stop me from even talking to people I might have been interested in. I still craved that connection with another person, though, so the few times someone had expressed interest in me, I instantly got attached to them, even if I knew deep down we weren’t going to work. If you live your life like that, ultimately, you’re setting yourself up for more heartbreak.

 

      This is also not technically a question, just a thought I had while reading that I wanted to share. If you feel so inclined to respond, lovely. If not, also lovely – While reading “sometimes, it’s the little things.” I was struck with the beauty in the concept of the small details you mention. This is one of my favorite things we can do as writers – you write about an experience that everyone can relate to but you use details so specific to your own story that we get such a unique sense of your life.

 

Absolutely! It really is the little things, especially in poetry. By zeroing in and focusing on something seemingly so small, you can really explore all the symbolism it has to offer. I read a poem in my poetry workshop class— “Your Hair” by Ann Clark, which can be found in The Florida Review Volume 39—in which the speaker deals with losing someone close to them to cancer. Grief is such a heavy topic to write about, and there are so many ways you can tackle it, but the way this poem did it was so powerful. Clark chose to focus on the on the wig the speaker’s loved one purchased after losing their hair to chemotherapy: the story of her loved one picking out the wig, the presence of the wig, the weight the wig now carried with it. That poem struck such a chord with me, and I feel that it’s a perfect example of how the little things sometimes do hold the most power.

 

      In “I am mine before I am yours.” you hit on a lesson that is so hard for many of us to learn. It is a lesson that is frequently learned only when a situation forces us to learn it. Do you remember the moment this idea clicked with you when you realized that you weren’t giving yourself and your life enough credit? Do you have any advice for readers going through a similar experience?

 

I don’t think there was one specific moment where that idea clicked into place, but rather a series of them that made me question why I was giving so much of myself to someone who wasn’t giving the same back to me. You just have to keep in mind that people in your life will come and go. Some will stick around longer than others, maybe even the rest of your life, but you’re never going to spend more time with anyone than you spend with yourself. It’s not selfish to put yourself first once in a while.

 

      I love the tie into certain movies and cultural experiences, especially the Eternal Sunshine nods! Did you have those movies in mind when you wrote those poems or did the influence sneak up on you?

 

In the case of eternal sunshine i and ii, as well as pleasantville i, the title came after the poem. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a masterpiece of a movie that has stayed with me for many years, and when I wrote the two poems dealing with the erasing of someone’s entire existence from your life, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Eternal Sunshine. At the time I wrote pleasantville i, I had recently watched and written an analysis paper on Pleasantville the film for one of my English classes. The process was much of the same, where I wrote the poem, saw the connection, and named the poem after the movie!

 

      A lot of your inspiration seems to flow from your life experiences. What else inspires you, in your writing and your daily life?

 

I know this is gonna sound like a copout, but I’m inspired by everything. My personal experiences definitely influence most of my writing, but the state of society is something that I reflect on in my writing a lot. I’ve had two poems published in Writer’s Resist prior to writing DROPKICKromance that reflect on the 2016 US Presidential election and our current administration, and in the original DROPKICKpoetry manuscript, I had a section where I tackled many social topics, like body image, and mental health. DROPKICK2 will touch on some social issues, mainly in the way society tries to fit everyone into the same box, and the impact that can have on some. I believe poetry and protest go hand in hand, and I’d really like to delve more into that in my writing in the future.

 

      One of my favorite poems in this collection is “and it was like falling in love with you all over again.”  In which you talk about reading your wife’s favorite book for the first time. Were you much of a reader before this? Can you talk about what it’s like to fall in love with someone and their favorite books, or through their favorite books? As a book lover, this is such a beautiful idea to me. I love experiencing the favorite book of people I love, it provides so much insight into their lives.

 

Admittedly, I was not much of a reader before Amanda, but it was one of the first things we bonded over. I remember her telling me about The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and how badly I needed to read it, and so I did. Then she bought me the rest of The Hunger Games trilogy and a copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and I ate them up. I couldn’t get enough, so I was constantly asking her for recommendations, buying them, reading them, and asking for more. Reading her favorite books, falling in love with the same characters and worlds that she had fallen in love with, was so magical, and it gives you such a deep look into just who someone is as a person. Luckily, Amanda and I share a very similar taste in books, so I know I can never go wrong by reading one of her favorites!

 

      Speaking of which, what’s your favorite book? What are you reading right now? Are you a re-reader, and if so, what’s one book you never get tired of?

 

I might be a little biased, but my favorite book right now is to make monsters out of girls by my wife, Amanda. It’s the first of a new duology titled the things that h[a]unt, so it’s not connected to her women are some kind of magic series, but if you enjoyed the princess saves herself in this one, you’re going to love monsters. While much of princess was written through the lens of a younger Amanda, monsters takes one of the relationships found in princess and delves deeper into it, in a more mature way. It’s definitely my favorite work of Amanda’s thus far, and I just know everyone is going to love it, too!

 

I’m not reading anything currently, sadly, but the last book I finished was the new and improved Honeybee by Trista Mateer. Honeybee is a powerful collection of confessional poetry that deals with love, heartbreak, and sexuality, in a way that makes you feel like you were the one going through these events. Honeybee is easily one of my favorite collections of poetry, and I’ve found so much inspiration in it.

 

I don’t reread a lot, but the Six of Crows duology by Leigh Bardugo has a special place in my heart, and its one series I can easily see myself going back to throughout my life!

 

      In your poem “I’m sorry; you don’t deserve this.” You touch on dealing with old wounds and the feeling of brokenness while also experiencing new love. I was wondering if you’d talk a little bit more about that. It’s not something our society discusses much, but, in my experience, at least, it is something a lot of us live through.

 

I absolutely agree that it’s something that’s not talked about much. People don’t think about how profoundly their actions can impact someone. I have a history of being lied to and cheated on, and that relationship left me with an unrelenting case of self-doubt, and trust issues that would follow me into a relationship with quite honestly, the most trustworthy person I’ve ever met. Many people push this idea that love can fix anything, from repairing a broken heart to curing depression, and that’s simply not how life works. While being in love and having someone in your life who care about you can be an unbelievably amazing thing, I’ve found that time really is the best healer, but even it can’t heal everything.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!

 

Cyrus Parker


So there we are, friends! I know the post is a bit late to celebrate April as National Poetry Month, but I’ve loved Cyrus’ work from the first day I found it and I wanted to spotlight it. Don’t forget to pick up your copy of their debut collection, DROPKICKromance!

Celebrating National Poetry Month: My Favorite Spoken Word Poets

Friends, I love poetry. I love spoken word poets, so much. In honor of April being National Poetry Month, I thought we’d celebrate together! Below you’ll find some of my favorite poets, and a video of one of my favorite poems by each.

Anis Mojgani has been a long time favorite of mine. I had the absolute pleasure to see him perform and I almost died of happiness. Here’s my favorite poem of his, Shake the Dust:

And because he’s my favorite, have one more (I was personally in the room when this one was recorded and it was stunning, Come Closer:

Here’s Sarah Kay performing If I Should Have A Daughter:

Sarah frequently performs with her friend, Phil Kay. Here’s their performance of their poem An Origin Story:

And another favorite of mine they do together, When Love Arrives:

Here’s Rudy Francisco performing Scars/To the New Boyfriend:

Sabrina Benaim performing Explaining Depression to my Mother:

Neil Hilborn, “OCD”:

Andrea Gibson performing The Nutritionist:

Do you have a favorite spoken word poet I didn’t mention? I’m always on the look out for new ones!

Friday Five: 5 Things That Are Saving My Life Right Now

I’ve been listening to Jen Hatmaker’s podcast for a few months now and one of my favorite things about it is the question she asks all of her guests at the end of each episode. What is saving your life right now? It’s a quote from Barbara Taylor Brown, an author I also love. So, I thought I’d start a new tradition around here and share 5 things that are saving my life every Friday.

1) The first thing on this list is podcasts! You definitely didn’t see that one coming, right? I’ve been listening to all of my favorites when I’m driving or doing chores around the house. Anytime I can sneak those headphones on! My three favorites right now are by Jen Hatmaker, Annie F. Downs, and Jamie Ivey. I highly recommend them if you’re looking for something new! Also, a friend of mine just released the first episode of her new podcast, Unveiling Your Creative Superpowers. Her resource Bright Ideas Collective has been so encouraging and helpful as I get serious about writing and blogging.

2) The second thing saving my life this week is my new Anchored Press Daily Planner. I’ve always been a planner girl. I am also notorious for buying new planners all the time. But, I think I’ve found my best options! I use the Simplified Planner Weekly Edition for my day job and I’ve just added the Anchored Press daily for everything else. I needed more space than the SP weekly offered me and their daily editions sold out months ago. I’m so happy I stumbled on the AP planner. It’s got hourly slots from 6 am-8 pm, a to-do list area, a slot for meal plans, and also a daily devotional with a section for prayer/response. I’m a busy girl, but I need Jesus time every day. If I don’t get quiet time in before I leave the house, the AP planner is a lifesaver for getting a few minutes of Jesus in my busy day.

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This tote isn’t part of my Friday Five, but it’s the BEST and it’s from Trades of Hope, a company that empowers women right where they are through handcraft production.

3) Worship Music – for real. Specifically Hillsong United/Live, Cory Ashbury, and Passion. I have always connected with music, and I very specifically need it when I get too much inside of my head. Today was filled with a lot of moments that could have killed my joy. Instead of falling into that, I put on worship music and turned it up loud. My go-to song when I feel like praising Jesus but need something a little untraditional is Chance the Rapper’s song Blessings. I’m gonna praise him, praise him ’til I’m gone.

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4) Another thing that’s rocking my week? Fresh food. Whole food. The store I buy all this food from…Trader Joe’s is saving my life right now, for sure. I can grab all the things I need to make fresh, home-cooked meals at home for a more affordable price and it’s not as overwhelming to shop at. I know most of the options in that store are going to work for me and I don’t have to spend as much time looking at ingredients and narrowing down products. Some current favorites are the coconut aminos (since I’m avoiding soy on an elimination diet, and I love Asian inspired dishes), applesauce pouches (I know these are probably geared towards kids, but they’re great to throw in my bag for after yoga snacks with no mess and no spoons needed), and almond milk (I can usually get this in a lot of places, but its a huge staple in my diet).

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5) The last thing saving my life right now is writing. My thoughts have been overflowing this week and I finally got a chance to sit down and journal out my thoughts and write a few blog posts.

 

Bonus! Number 6!

I can’t believe I almost forgot about yoga. Y’all, yoga has been such a lifesaver lately. I found a great local-ish studio that has a great schedule and range of classes. I’ve been trying to get to a class every day, or at least every other, and it has done so much good for my physical and mental ailments.

 

 

Okay, I promise I’m done now! I’d love to hear from you! What’s saving your life right now? Also, I won’t turn down podcast recommendations or gluten/dairy/corn/soy free recipes that are easy and inexpensive (those are unsurprisingly hard to find).

 

How God Reminded Me to Take Care of My Body

I’ve had chronic pain, fatigue, and depression for years now. I’ve been tested for everything doctors could think of and the closest they could come up with is Fibromyalgia. I’ve spent the last year or two building my wellness toolbox – putting together a list of things I can do to take care of my body, mind, and spirit. I find a combination of traditional medical and non-traditional holistic practices works best for me. At the beginning of the year, my toolbox included medications (both for my depression and my physical pain and fatigue), yoga, talk therapy, writing, massage therapy, regular chiropractic visits and a few dietary adjustments like less caffeine, no gluten, more whole foods.

Last month I decided I wanted to add acupuncture and nutritional counseling into my toolbox, to take steps closer to more optimal health. I know that unless Jesus chooses to heal me completely, I will likely have to continue making lifestyle adjustments that work for me each season of my life. Right now I need more rest, less stress, more Jesus, less coffee (even though I want ALL OF THE COFFEE), and a whole lot of self-care. In this season, I wanted to add acupuncture and nutritional counseling so that I could have more control of my days, more information to work with, rather than another prescription to add into my daily handful. I have had more fatigue and I was hoping these new tools would help me manage it better.

Y’all I have struggled with this for at least 10 years. I’ve know gluten makes me feel so much worse for at least 3 years now, but I am only human and I am so constantly tempted. This may sound insane to some of you, but I truly think that the devil knows that when I am feeling good, when I have energy, that my soul is even more on fire for Jesus and the assignments he has given me. I think that the way satan tries to take me down is to get me to a place where I give in and I eat the honeybun or the home-made brownies. To make me skip yoga class or sleep through Wednesday night church services (true story).

I have been slowly building my resources to fill my wellness toolbox, finding thing after thing I can control and use to stay in my best condition physically + mentally. But here’s the thing I have to remember: through the storm, he is Lord. That the weak are made strong in the Savior’s love.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, just get comfortable with Hillsong music because that’s one of the major ways Jesus is speaking to me these days. He’s speaking to me through worship music (specifically Hillsong), podcasts, church sermons, and the most surprising – children’s books.

Oh, you read that right – Jesus is speaking to me in the ways that most fit my life, and as a children’s librarian, those books are where I spend most of my workdays. This week, it was specifically the Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. In this story, I am the caterpillar and God is trying to make me a butterfly, but I’m too busy eating chocolate cake, apples, pears, salami, cupcakes, Swiss cheese, pickles, and so much more food that was not created with my caterpillar body in mind.

If you’ve already lost me or (unimaginably) you’ve never read this beloved children’s book, here’s the premise. The tiny caterpillar hatches out of his egg in the sunlight and is starving. He eats a bunch of fruit, but he’s still hungry. Each page of the book is a new thing he’s eaten, but none of it fills him up. On the last food-centric page, he eats through a ton of different foods that caterpillars do not traditionally eat. He eats through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one hot dog, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon. Do you think the caterpillar is still hungry? No, but he does have a nice stomachache as a reward. The next page shows the caterpillar eating the food that caterpillars are actually supposed to eat: nice green leaves. He feels great. He’s a fat caterpillar now and he builds his cocoon and turns into a beautiful butterfly.

Still hanging with me? I’m that caterpillar. I’ve been eating things that I know aren’t good for me. It’s not everyday, it’s not all the time, and it’s not always on purpose. Sometimes it’s because I’m limited on what’s available, sometimes it’s because I just want a regular date night with my boyfriend at one of our favorite spots. Often when I make a conscious decision to cheat on my eating plan, its still gluten free options and only every now and then for special occasions.

Sometimes though, it’s because I just lose it. I let the stress of knowing I’ve got a cocoon to build and wings to grow. Sometimes the cravings of the addictive processed foods I grew up on are so strong that I give in. On those days, I look like the caterpillar on the last page. I eat a whole box of pop tarts, a snickers bar, a bag of white cheddar popcorn, a slice of pizza, and who knows what else.

Anyways. When I read the Very Hungry Caterpillar to my story time kids on Wednesday, I heard the Lord very gently whisper (not audibly, okay? I’m not Joan of Arcadia…did anyone get that reference?) to me “You are the caterpillar and you are filling that beautiful-soon-to-be-butterfly body I created with food that was not created to nourish and grow you.” Y’all, it was all I could do to keep on reading that story and not just fall down on the floor in surrender.

As I went through my workday and this reminder kept popping up, and I was like, “Okay, Lord. I got it, no more pop tarts.” And I really thought I did have it, but Jesus wanted to give me another little reminder that night in church – which I actually went to because I did not take a 10-hour nap after work this time. The message was about prayer, another in a long series we’ve been doing. The message was not about taking care of our bodies or anything that really screamed this same message I’d been receiving all day, at least I thought. Then the pastor referenced Proverbs 26:11.

If you aren’t familiar with that verse, it’s about fools returning to folly and a dog returning to his own vomit. Yeah, I know, gross. But, Jesus was making another point to me. Stop eating the food that you know makes you sick, stop eating your own vomit (metaphorically).

I’d like to say I walked out of that service and truly had a handle on it, but the truth is that I bought a honey bun last night and scarfed it down after work, and then hated myself for it. But, today I woke up and soaked in his grace and his love and remembered that I’m not perfect, and Jesus still loves me even if I sometimes eat my metaphorical vomit.

This ended up being way longer than I intended, but I hope it has helped encouraged you or aided you in seeing what your own folly might be. What do you keep returning to that you know isn’t good for you? What do you keep avoiding that you know God created to nourish you?

Trust Without Borders

If you’re not familiar with the Hillsong United song, Oceans (Where Feet May Fall), you should take a few moments and do that now. Here’s a link to a performance of the song, live in Israel.

Here’s some lyrics (if you don’t want to spare about 10 minutes to listen, though I think you should):

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I first heard this song as it was being performed in a service at Passion City Church. It was a very holy moment for me. If I recall correctly, I was in tears by the end. I remember singing it with every inch of my being and meaning it as a prayer, not just a song. I’ve listened to it that way ever since. Those lyrics have been a prayer I’ve said, probably weekly, for at least a year, maybe longer. Sometimes I just listen to it on repeat (I also do this with the song Blessings by Chance the Rapper when I really need to get out of my head).

Here’s the thing about prayers and God: He will answer them if it’s in line with his will. I’ve been praying “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders…take me deeper than my feet could ever wander.” And, y’all – God has been listening. I didn’t put it together until this morning when the song came on my playlist. I’ve been crying out to God on a regular basis to bring me to a place in my life where my TRUST IS WITHOUT BORDERS. And then I wonder why he’s starting to prune things out of my life and leading me into new adventures that would be insane to attempt on my own.

I have been a Christian for a long time now, but I’m only months away from my 26th year of life and I’m just now really starting to grasp the unbelievable and astounding amount of love God has for us. This is partially due to the constant mixed messages sent out by the “religious” crowd and how strongly I didn’t want to be associated with those messages. Maybe this is a quarter-life crisis, but I am currently so head over heels for Jesus that it feels like I might burst. The weight of grace, holiness, and his perfect love for us is so beautifully overwhelming, and a concept I couldn’t grab hold of in my younger years.

I’ve been binging Jess Connolly writing/preaching/podcasts lately and the message that comes up frequently in her work is the reminder that we are all imperfect sinners, all of are busted and broken and Jesus is still champions us. In fact, the people God uses most frequently are busted and broken so that his glory can shine through, so that others can see the perfect love of Christ through our story. Jess often uses the story of the Samaritan woman from John to illustrate several of her points. The aspect of the story that sticks with me the most is the fact that Jesus knew everything that woman had ever done and he still chose her. It didn’t matter that she was a woman, that she was of a different race (one hated by Jews – until Jesus came along and busted up that racial discrimination), or that she had tons of husbands and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband. Jesus did not give one thought to the fact that she was not perfect, that she didn’t have her life together, or that she was shunned by most of her community. Jesus knew everything she had ever done and he still loved her, still chose her. Even better? He knows everything we have ever done and he still chooses us day after day, mistake after mistake. We don’t have to earn that love or to try and maintain it, we just have to accept it.

It wasn’t easy to accept and believe that Jesus knows everything I’ve done, everything done to me, every broken part of my soul and still loves me – it’s so countercultural to us. But God doesn’t get spooked if we don’t believe right away, he’s still there day after day. There is nothing to messy or broken that we can do – including not believing him – that will make God leave us. He is forever going to champion us, choose us, and use our busted stories to show his power in redemption.

I believe that is what God is asking me to step into: allowing him to use my story to point back to his glory, and to help others step out of the darkness that I know so well. I’m not going to tell you that I’m not scared, that I don’t think it is a crazy thing for me to do, but I will tell you that I believe God’s got it. He’s got me, and he isn’t going to let go. He will show me each step forward, I only have to tune into him.

God is answering my prayer, a prayer I didn’t quite realize how desperately I was praying.

He is calling me deeper than my feet have ever wandered, and it will make my faith so much stronger.

Living Like You Believe It

Hi friends,

How’re we doing this week? This week has been a whirlwind for me, filled with so many good things. I came home from a soul-filling trip to visit family and friends we don’t get to see often. I got to take my siblings to see our favorite musician, Noah Gundersen. I got to see one of my dearest friends at the show.

This week was also when the world celebrates Valentine’s Day and the Church celebrates the first day of Lent. Though we don’t typically celebrate Valentine’s Day, my boyfriend surprised me at work with beautiful roses and delicious chocolates. Fresh flowers are one of my favorite things in the whole world and those roses have brightened my week tremendously.

I have never traditionally celebrated Lent, at least not the intentional way I am this year. I ordered the All Good Things Collective Lenten Experience Cards, and though we are only a few days in, I am already seeing the fruit. I chose this method for Lent because I’m already doing an in-depth Bible study with my mama and little sister.  Each day has a different card and each card has a verse to study and a conversation starter.

The first conversation starter was to share your biggest prayer request with friends. Currently, mine is to find a spiritual mentor and accountability partner.

Today’s focus was on repentance. As I read through the day’s scripture and though back over my week, I realized that I don’t always go through my days as though I believe that God is who he says he is. I don’t trust him to do the things he says he will do, the things he has already done. One of the scripture passages I studied this week was Matthew 11:28-30.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”

That’s the New King James version. Some versions say all you who are weary and burdened.  I have had a busy, busy month. I have struggled with fatigue recently in ways that I haven’t struggled in years. I am so weary. I feel so burdened. I have tried every solution I could think of – except to go to God first. Often, in this situation, Jesus is my last resort. I don’t think “Hey! I’m weary, let me go to God with this and rest in him.” I am human, and I have fallen short of the glory of God. I do it every day, we all do. That’s why grace exists, but we can’t let that grace keep us complacent. I can’t use grace as an excuse to not take things to Jesus when I am aware that I’m not seeking him first.

Do I believe that God is who he says he is? Then why am I not living like it?

The Depression Slide

I haven’t been posting as much lately, for a few reasons. Partly because of a flare up with my physical symptoms.  For me, the spiral of physical symptoms leads to the spiral of mental symptoms and vice-versa.  I haven’t written much because I’ve been trying to hold my head above water.

I sat in my therapist office last week as we discussed the weird in-between weeks of depression.  I’m not currently in a depressive episode, but I’m in what I like to call “the slide.”  For me, this is the time in-between the good times and the bad times, the period in which I can try and take the steps I know will help, or I can watch myself slide right into a full-blown (physical) flare up. The flare-ups of my physical illness will lead to a flare up of my mental illness and a classic depressive episode.

This is where all those coping mechanisms I learned in therapy get put into action.

Here are the top five things I have to do on a regular basis to maintain my best self (physically and mentally):

  • Be in the word. For me, this means regular bible reading/prayer/small group/church attendance. Lately, I’ve been going through the Val Marie Paper Fresh Start Prayer Devotion + Journal, using the All Good Things Collective Daily Remain Journal, and Priscilla Shirer’s Discerning the Voice of God study.  I truly believe that my depression is best managed with a fully holistic approach, and for me that includes not just diet, medication, and therapy,  but also spiritual nourishment and warfare.

 

  • Eat good food + drink water + exercise.  This is nothing new for most of us to hear, but I need constant reminders. I have to stay on a gluten-free, low dairy diet for my best self. This is hard and I have been tempted by cake ALL WEEK, but I made it through and it has been worth it. I end up cooking at home as much as I can and taking leftovers for work (check back soon for my favorite recipe). I eat cheerios + almond milk for breakfast, only drink my coffee black, and try to avoid soda or sugar heavy drinks. I suck at drinking enough water, but I try!  Again, not anything new, but something I am not super motivated about. I know that regular exercise helps me sleep better and feel better overall, which helps to keep a flare-up away. I shoot for in person, hour-long yoga classes two-three times a week and use Yoga With Adriene videos if I miss a class.

 

  • Therapy + Medication. I know, I never shut up about therapy. I never stop talking about therapy because it changed my life. Seriously,  the list of things that changed my life goes like this: Jesus, my people, books, therapy, and coffee. I go at least twice a month, and often more. Never less. Even when I think I don’t need it, therapy helps me in my day-to-day so much. It helps me stay afloat, to not slide into the pit of despair.  It took me a long time to find a therapist that works with me, and for me, and fits into my budget.  Also, medication is a thing that helps me function in a way that a lot of other things didn’t. I tried just therapy for a while, then therapy and meds, then just therapy again. I learned that I function best with medication to help balance out the chemicals in my brain.  I know that there is a lot of stigma around anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, but friends – I am here to tell you, if you think you need medication, just talk to your doctor. There is no shame in taking medication for depression. Would you refuse a cast if your arm was broken? Would you refuse pain medications after surgery or medications to help manage your blood pressure? Mental illness can and should be treated like a physical illness. Your brain can get sick just like your heart or your liver, and not just from cancer. I fully recommend therapy and medications, as I don’t think medication alone is the best option. It will help chemicals, but it won’t help you understand and learn to cope with your medication.

 

  • Spend Time With My People. I am an introvert and a loner. My depression makes me withdraw and my physical fatigue makes me want to do nothing besides go to sleep when I get home from work. I know that I have to have intentional interaction with my people to stay healthy. This isn’t every day, or just in passing. I have to be intentional about scheduling time with my boyfriend, my family, and my friends on a regular basis. I need to communicate with them on a daily basis, even if it’s just to check in or discuss something that’s not serious – I just need the connection.

 

  • Schedule Time For Myself. This is super simple, in theory. One night a week, at least, I block off time for myself. I make no plans, and tell everyone I am unavailable. I spend time reading, writing, catching up on shows, or even just resting or going to bed early. I intentionally do not let myself do chores or anything that I have to do – this time is strictly for rest and renewal.

 

 

So far, I’m doing all of these at about 90%. I slept in Saturday and didn’t go to yoga, but I did make it Monday after work. This morning I overslept and didn’t get my quiet time in before I left the house, but I found a pocket of time before starting work to fit it in. Another part of managing depression is grace. You won’t cope perfectly everytime, but that’s okay. Sometimes you won’t be able to catch it before you slide into that pit. But it is worth the extra work when you can manage to take care of yourself before it gets bad.

What about you? What’s in your tool box? Your top 5? I’m always looking for new ideas. If you don’t know the answer to this question, take a few minutes and make a list of a few things that make you feel good and try to do those each day.

Managing Mental Health with Professional Help

If you’ve known me for more than 3 minutes, you’ve probably heard me talk about how I think every single person on the planet should go to therapy. Therapy has saved my life, a dozen times over.  I am about 8 or so years into regular therapy. I’ve taken a few breaks here and there when I was moving or just in a particular season that made it harder to regularly attend therapy.

Early in my undergraduate days, it was suggested that I experience what’s called Dysthymia – sort of double depression.  It’s also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder.  Dysthymia is characterized by a consistent and underlying low mood occurring for 2 or more years that is experienced in addition to regular episodes of regular depressive disorder.  That’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo that boils down to this: I’m naturally a more pessimistic person whose regular mood leans toward sadness or discontentment.  When something triggers a depressive episode, I experience that a little more strongly than people who just deal with regular depression because my mood and outlook are already darker.

For me, this means that my mental health is something I have to stay on top of every day. If I let my therapy, medication, or self-care routines slide, my mental health slowly deteriorates and affects every other area of my life. It sounds dramatic than it probably is, but I just wanted to give you a picture of what my experience is so that you understand where I come from when I talk about treatment options. This is something I have experienced and want to help you take the first steps to finding help.

We’ve already discussed self-care routines and how that plays into managing mental health. The two other major game changers for me are regular talk therapy and regular medication. I have tried to manage my mental health both on medication and off it. I ultimately decided that the best option for me is to use medication as one of many tools to help me maintain good mental health.

While I don’t believe medication is the right answer for everyone, I do believe everyone can benefit from talk therapy.  Regardless of your budget, there are many options available. I’m going to highlight some options for those of us who have a bit of a tighter budget.

If you are an on-campus student of an undergraduate or graduate program, even part-time, go talk to your student services office. Most programs offer free counseling for students, as the fee is often built into your student fees. This is how I did my first four years of therapy, and where I made my initial progress – including the discussion of dysthymia and trying medication for the first time.  If you aren’t a student but live near a university, inquire about graduate psychology program. Often they will offer some sort of community counseling for zero or low-cost, provided by grad students who are learning the art of professional counseling. I know the major public university near me offers something similar with counseling offered by grad students but supervised by trained and certified counselors.

One of the first things I always suggest is to check with your insurance provider.  Some providers will cover therapy, some will offer discounts, some won’t cover it. The worst they can say is no, but they might provide a list of counselors they will cover completely or partially. Also, if you have any of that HRA spending money that applies to medications/appointments, etc – this also applies to therapy.

If you’ve checked with your insurance provider and don’t have any options there, my next suggestion is to shop around your area for a therapist who will work with you on a sliding scale payment plan. Don’t be afraid to ask about the fee, and about what wiggle room there is within that fee. The worst they can say is that they have a firm price, and you can move on to the next on your list. I’ve seen several therapists in the last 8 to 10 years and all but two were willing to work on a sliding scale plan. The two who weren’t were employed by private  Christian offices, which typically have higher fees and fewer insurance options.

Two easy ways to find practicing therapist in your area are the 211 phone number and the Psychology Today online therapist finder. The 211 phone line is an assistance line that helps you locate aid organizations in your area and covers everything from housing assistance to physical and mental health resources. Find out more about that resource here.

The therapist finder on the Psychology Today website is a great resource to start your search off. You can enter your zip code and find a list of certified practicing counselors in your area. You can find all the helpful information you need in each listing, including where they practice, a description of their education and services, what insurance they accept, and if they are willing to operate on a sliding scale payment plan. Here’s a link to my counselor’s Psychology Today profile!

If traditional therapy isn’t something your ready for, but you need to talk to someone immediately, check out IMAlive. The online, chat-based network allows you to reach out to a trained and certified crisis counselor for free, 24 hours a day. You don’t have to dial a number or talk to anyone in person.  IMAlive originally formed out of a need seen by To Write Love On Her Arms, a non-profit that helps bring hope and help to those of us who struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicide, or addiction.  TWLOHA has been responsible for renewing my hope countless times and for encouraging me to reach and get help for my depression all those many years ago.

 

Please know that you are not alone in your struggle. Please know that it doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad Christian if you seek help, in any form, but especially medication. I know there are some stigmas surrounding mental health in the Christian community, but I need you to know that God did not intend for you to suffer alone. He specifically called many of his children to become counselors or study medication that would help his people continue to live fulfilling lives.  Personally, I know that I can not fulfill the calling God has placed on my life to further glorify him if I am not taking care of my mental health by using the resources he has given me access to.

Tuesday Tales: Crash the Chatterbox

When lies are not confronted, callings are not fulfilled.” – Steven  Furtick

I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I’d never heard of it, but I put it on hold at the suggestion of a friend and I am so glad I did. I am only about 15 pages in, but I have already found so many relevant bits of wisdom.

Furtick’s premise in this book is that we all have a chatterbox, a representation of the lies we believe that keep us from hearing God’s voice.

The book is built around four confessions:

Confession 1:  God says I am – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your insecurities

Confession 2God says he will –Overpowering the lies of the enemy in your fears

Confession 3God says He has – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your condemnation

Confession 4God says I can – Overpowering the lies of the Enemy in your discouragement

The book has a section dedicated to each of these confessions, with a portion of the section explaining the confession and then a section dedicated to the practical application in our lives.

Normally, I underline and take notes in my books – this is a library book so I can’t do that, but I’m making notes on post-its and I can’t wait to see how many I end up with once I finish!

 

Have you read Crash the Chatterbox? Let me know your thoughts!

Managing Your Mental Health In The New Year (Part Two)

 

So yesterday’s post might not be what you expected when you saw the title, but I want to assure you that setting and maintaining realistic goals for myself is incredibly important when it comes to managing my mental + physical health. I am a goal-oriented person, I need to have something to strive for and build on each day. In the past, I’ve let this sort of take over my life and I frequently set unrealistic goals for myself and then got frustrated when I couldn’t achieve them. For me, this frequently led to a depressive episode, especially in college. When I was an undergraduate student, I was also at the most difficult time with my health, both physical and mental. Setting unrealistic goals, like not being late to class or completing all of my assignments both on time and to the perfect grade, set me up for failure. The Powersheets prep work helped me make sure I was focusing on realistic goals that will help me focus on maintaining my mental + physical health, my faith, my finances, and my relationships with the people I love. I would encourage you to think about setting some realistic goals for the New Year, and remember that good things grow slow! Your goal doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s and it can be a simple as making your bed or drinking a full glass of water as soon as you get up each morning.

One of the goals I set for myself for the New Year was to cultivate my self-care. For me, that means to maintain the practices I put in place last year and to continue to figure out what self-care means to me. Self-care plays a huge role in maintaining my mental health, and other than the new medications I started last year and regular therapy over the years, I would say that maintaining a regular self-care practice has been the most helpful in my journey with depression. My self-care routine may not look anything at all like yours, and that is okay. In fact, that’s the point. While I encourage you to try one of the things on my list if it interests you, your routine should be full of things that refresh you and not everyone functions the same in this area.

For me, the things I’ve found to add to my routine are a mix of boring, free, exciting, and an investment. There are a few things that I decided to work into my monthly budget and while I could be using that money elsewhere, I have decided that it is more than worth it to invest in these practices. One of these investments is a weekly 30-minute massage, and if it is within your means, I highly suggest giving it a try. Before I committed to weekly massages, I would get them every few months and while they were nice, they didn’t do a lot for me long term. Massage works best when practiced regularly. It took about a year for me to find a masseuse who was the perfect fit for me financially, geographically, and comfort level wise. Committing to giving myself 30 minutes each week has done wonders for my mental health and my physical pain levels. In addition to massages, I get regular chiropractic adjustments and this was a game changer for me. It does more for my physical pain than my depression, but when I physically feel better my depression is easier to manage.

I include my regular therapy sessions as a part of my self-care as well. The frequency in which I meet with my therapist changes, depending on where I’m at and what I’m dealing with at the time. Also, budget occasionally influences how often I see her, but I’ve made a commitment in the last few months to decide how many times I want to see her that month and budget that money out so that unless I have a significant emergency, my therapy isn’t affected.  I also include super boring things in the self-care category like taking your meds on time, drinking enough water, working out (for me, this is mostly yoga),  and eating healthy (ish).

For me, self-care also includes regular quiet time with my bible and prayer journal, and regular time set aside for alone time. I am an introvert through and through and I go absolutely insane if I don’t get time to myself on a regular basis. It makes me short tempered and cranky and I hate how I begin to treat my people and myself. When I don’t schedule regular alone time, I get overwhelmed and overbooked which creates cracks in my defenses that depression easily slips into. Three tools I’m using this year to maintain my quiet time and create margin for myself are the Holy Bible YouVersion app, with a plan to read the bible in one year, the Write the Word Journal (created by Lara Casey who also does Powersheets), and the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley.

The Write the Word Journal comes in several versions that all focus on a different topic. The choices are Cultivate Joy (which is the one I’m starting with), Cultivate Faith, Cultivate Gratitude, Cultivate Hope, and Cultivate Renewal. Each new entry gives you a verse to copy out in your own handwriting and then a page to record notes or prayers.

The Simplified Planner was created by Emily Ley, a designer and mama who couldn’t find a planner that suited her needs so she created her own. It’s my dream planner, honestly. If you’ve known me for longer than 6 months, you know that I’m a big fan of planners but can never ever find one I like enough to use more than a few months. I used one of the daily editions last year for a few months and this year I’ve got a weekly that I am so thrilled with, I think I might actually use this one all year!

What I love so much about Emily and the Simplified Planner is that, like Lara Casey and the Powersheets, the focus is on simplifying your days down to what is absolutely most important. Emily is a big proponent of giving yourself margin, or what she calls white space – the spaces in your planner pages that aren’t filled, so that you have time to spend with your family and friends and time to schedule in your self-care.

Both of these women have taught me a lot about living a slow-paced life that allows for focus on the most important, rather than creating a life filled with tasks, events, and meetings.  Towards the end of last year, I sat down and figured out what my non-negotiables were and what I could let go of in my life to give myself more white space. This has allowed me to have more time to myself, more time for my self-care routine, and more time to spend with my people.

 

What about you? Do you know what your self-care toolbox contains? What tools are you using to manage your mental health in 2018? Do you know what your non-negotiables are?

Interview with Poet Alicia Cook

Hi, friends! It’s been too long, both since I’ve been on the blog and since I’ve received this interview to share with you! I am so, so excited to share my recent interview with another favorite poet of mine, Alicia Cook. Alicia is an award-winning writer and activist. Her first collection of poetry, “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately” was a finalist for the 2016 Goodreads Choice Award and is a good chunk of the interview. Her next collection, “I Hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip” comes out on June 5th! I received an advance copy, so expect a fun post on her release day!

I loved getting to know Alicia more with this interview. I am so appreciative of how she uses her voice and talent to advocate for those in and around addiction. There is so much in this interview I love so much and so much of it relates to the message I try to project on this blog, to share with readers. When I reached out to Alicia about interviewing her, it was simply to celebrate and share one of my favorite poets, but it was so beautiful to see her share about depression, anxiety, living in survival mode, and how music, words, and honest conversations help us live with those things and come out of survival mode.

Check out our conversation below, and then be sure to grab her newest collection!

 

Q: What inspired the Mixed Tape format of Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately?

A: I had been posting poetry online for quite some time…nearly 3 years at that point, and people reading my poetry online, started asking if I had a book out OR if I was ever going to release one. I wrote Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately at a dark time in my life – where hope was hard to find – so I wrote it to manifest my own hope, in a way. Plus, a nonprofit organization that helps families affected by addiction was in need of funding, so I decided that I would release a book of poetry in January of 2016, and donate the first year of royalties to them. What specifically inspired the mixtape format was my love for music, it is borderline obsessive. During that hard time in my life, music proved more than it ever had, that it could be my escape from reality – that it could help me feel less alone. I am 32 years old; I grew up in the 90’s – I used to make mixtapes all the time. I miss the simplicity of those times quite a bit, so I decided to go that route for those reasons.

Q: Why did you decide to use blackout poetry in the remix portion of your book?

A: Not many people who have started keeping up with my social media the last two years realize this, but when I first started sharing my art on social media, I was only sharing blackout poetry. I would find old books and paint, draw, whatever on them, to create blackout poetry. If you scroll allllllllll the way back in my feed, some of them are still there. So blackout poetry was always a big part of who I was/am as an artist, so I knew I wanted to include it in Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately.

Q: I would just like to start with – I LOVE the currently listening to in your book?! I love writing that in my own journals so I can go back later and really get into how I felt writing. Can you talk about the role music plays in your life, and in your writing? It seems most likely that you went back and selected songs that fit each poem, is that correct? What do you actually listen to when you write?

A: The currently listening to section of Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately came to be in a few different ways. For one, yes, I definitely went back to a few poems once they were written and plugged in songs I felt matched the feel/theme of the book. But MORE SO, songs inspire me. I will hear a line or a beat and it will pull my own poetry out of me. So, some of the songs were actually chosen because a line or something from the song inspired the piece. Track 6 in Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately seems to be the most popular piece in that collection, and some readers found themselves annoyed or even confused as to why I would match that poem with a 50 Cent song – when really, if I hadn’t been listening to 50 Cent one day say in the song “Been hit with a few shells by I don’t walk with a limp,” I am fairly certain I would have never written Track 6! I felt that putting a song at the bottom of each poem also fit my “brand” well – since I post song lyrics under each of my Instagram posts, and have done that for many years. Music plays such a big role in my life, in all our lives I think. I listen to certain music for the same reason people read my poetry – to connect with something. As I mentioned earlier, music has helped me survive some of my toughest moments.

 

Q: What does your writing process look like?

A: I’ll let you know when I have one! Haha. I can’t sit down at a designated time like some do and write poetry for 5 hours. That is something I am just not conditioned to do, though that practice definitely works well for others. When it comes to poetry, I write as it comes to me. I keep a journal for each project I am working on – I record voice memos since a lot comes to me when I am driving – I keep email drafts. Usually, a line or two will hit me, and I’ll write it down and each time I revisit it, I try to write around it a bit. The same process goes for my songwriting. It usually takes me 3-4 months to write one song. However, in my full-time job as Director of Communications at a college, I have to write on a deadline and that is more achievable because I swear I use a different part of my brain to write fiction, essays, and press releases than I do poetry.

Q: Can you talk about the advocacy you do for addiction and how that’s connected to your life and writing?

A: I advocate for families affected by the disease of addiction. I aim to help those affected feel less alone. I spread awareness and I hope to break the stigma surrounding these families. When I was 20, my 19-year-old cousin Jessica overdosed and died. We were very close. It hit our family hard and forever changed our makeup. I knew I couldn’t be the only one affected by a drug that in fact, I had never used myself, so I started writing about experiences and a lot of people have connected with me, especially now, in 2018, when we are facing the worst drug crisis in our history. While Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately was not explicitly about the emotions one goes through while loving someone battling drug addiction, it is implicitly implied and I also dedicated the book to those touched by drug addiction. Poetry is subjective though, and I’ve found that when someone reads a piece of mine on heartbreak or grief, they can step into the poem through their own experiences and really connect to it, regardless of whether or not I wrote it from that same space of trauma. My new poetry book, I Hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip sticks to many of the same things of hurting, overcoming, and healing and is dedicated to everyone recovering from something.

Q: What is inspiring you in daily life and in your writing?

A: I am writing a lot of songs, or rhyming poetry, lately. Longer stuff. I love experimenting, pushing my limits. Literally, everything has the power to inspire me – from a song lyric to something someone around me might say. I overheard two women talking the other day and it inspired something. I try to keep my heart, mind, and ears open all the time because I never know when something might really strike me.

Q: You have a new project coming out soon, what inspired you to start working on that project?

A: I Hope My Voice Doesn’t Skip comes out June 5 and I am excited, but also nervous. What inspired this project was my own life and travels over the last 2+ years since Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately came out. I am basically going to hand over my diary to readers and be like, “here. This was the last two and a half years of my life. Do what you will with it!” haha. Time and nostalgia were two major influences of this upcoming work. I speak more about family as well.

Q: The new work is tied in with music as well, correct? Do you find that your work is consistently connected to music, or was it purposeful that both of your books are so grounded in music?

A: Yes! I took it one step further and actually worked with these amazing up and coming musicians to turn a handful of my poetry into properly recorded songs. So, the readers will be able to read the poem, then go follow a link to listen to it as a song and get to know the singer! I am so grateful I had these wonderful relationships with these amazing artists to help bring my vision to life. The songs will also be streaming. My work will always be connected to music, whether outright like in these two collections, or in the imagery.

 

Q: How did you begin writing poetry? Did it naturally come to you, or did you seek it out?

A: I stumbled upon poetry when I was 8. I wrote something, my mother submitted it to a kid’s anthology, and it was accepted and published. By the time I was 10, I knew I wanted to be a writer and my parents got me my first electric typewriter. The rest is a combination of God-given skills, schooling, reading, and extreme persistence.

 

The following questions are related to specific poems in “Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately”

Track Six:  In this piece, you talk about how the strongest people you know are not defined by the definition of strong most of the world uses. My favorite line is:

“The strongest people I know make the decision                                                                  every day to wake up                                                                                                                           and place their two feet on the ground                                                                                    even though they know the monsters                                                                            beneath their bed will grab at their ankles”

I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about this – either in your own life or someone close to you. I focus a lot on my blog about living with mental and chronic illness every day and how that looks differently than most people picture it. I would love to hear your perspective on what it is like to get up every day knowing that it might not be a good day, that the hard stuff, the monsters under our beds, will come at us full force.

 

A: I have had my struggles with depression and anxiety. But this poem was written with my sister in mind. She was going through a tough time and I wrote this in an attempt to help lift her out of that darkness. I admire her more than she realizes. I think she’s the strongest person I know. Listen, life is not easy. I love my life, and even my life has had some pretty terrible moments where I thought for sure I wouldn’t make it to the other side. But that is when you uncork your full potential and strength I think when you need to save yourself or someone you love. I admire people who are constantly knocked down but keep standing back up. They might get knocked down again, but each time they rise they are wiser, stronger, and more prepared.

 

Track Eight: This poem touches on losing yourself and the typical response of society to “find yourself again.”  The response in your piece is that this idea of finding yourself again seems like a terrible idea and felt more like a cure. You explain why in the poem, but I’d love if you’d expand a little more and talk about the process of becoming someone new vs going back to your old self.

A: I heard that phrase a lot while I was writing Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately. At nauseaum at times. It got to the point where I started to really dissect the true meaning of that phrase and it took on a less empowering meaning the more I looked into it. For example, if who I was was the reason I was in this mess, why would I want to be that person again? Wouldn’t that mean that the same issues would find me? BUT, if I learned from this and grew from it, maybe I could become a different version of myself who wouldn’t have to relive those terrible moments. Sure, this new me might have her own problems to face, but at least by recreating the wheel, I was giving myself a shot at a different outcome. Reinvention or changing your mindset is hard and takes work. But that work is worth it if you are not happy with the person you currently are. At any moment, even a slight change in outlook could set you on another path. I find hope in that.

Track Twenty-Two:  In this poem, you talk about surviving life vs. living life, and that is such a beautiful and necessary topic (in my opinion).  In the end, you say you will never settle on surviving every again. You mention a few things like travel, and lazy Sundays that helped you during this time, but I’d love to hear more about how you got from survival mode to be able to choose to live every day. Do you have any advice for readers stuck in survival mode right now?

A: Survival mode is a real thing. And when you are in survival mode, you are living in immediacy. One moment to the next, just praying that you make it through. During this time in my life, I was so focused on simply getting through the minute, that when friends would ask me what I was doing next week, I honestly would have no idea because I couldn’t fathom planning that far ahead, ya know? Anxiety would skyrocket. Immediacy. But I think choosing to live again happens slowly and deliberately because it is easy to get stuck on that hamster real of simply surviving. I think Track 22 and Track 8 complement each other well in that regard. I had to make a choice to allow good things and moments and people back into my life. Once I cracked open that door, I slowly but surely began to find joy in those things again. Coping mechanisms are so important. Open conversations help, whether with someone close to you or a therapist. There are models to healing that you can make your own that will help you begin to live again.