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Lifeblood: My journey as a story teller (Personal Essay)

Long time no blog post! Sorry about that. I took all of May off and just checked out. There’s also stuff going on, for example I am on new medication for my previously unmedicated ADHD. And I’ll probably do another blog post about all of that soon, but today, I’m going to go off on a brain tangent that convinced me to write a whole damn blog about it. It’s going to be a long one, everyone, and it’s a personal journey I hope gives you in some insight into me. I’m feeling weirdly reflective(and I am way to self-aware about myself sometimes), and I don’t really care who reads this, and that’s how it become a blog post. Some of you might read this and be like “Wow, why would she post this?”

Look, I don’t know, but here we are. Feel free to stop at any time if you’re not interested.

Deciding to write my first book, publish it, doing it again, and becoming a full-time author was the best thing I’ve ever done with my life.

But there’s a really important thing that always comes to mind when someone thinks what being an author is, a piece that I love more than everything else. Yes, there social media to interact with amazing readers who give me their time to read these books. I often say you are the only reason I’ve made it this far, and in a lot of ways, that is 100% true. There’s also marketing so I can share my books with more people, running this entire massive thing as business so I can pay my bills and provide a good life for those I’m in this wild world with. And all of those things mean a lot to me, but I don’t always love them. Yeah, that includes interacting with you. I’m a bit of a introvert and I get overwhelmed. I recharge and I come back, ready to have more wonderful discussions with you.

But there’s one thing I always love. Just one.

I love being a storyteller.

I don’t mean as job, either, though it’s pretty amazing I get to do this full-time and support myself and my family with it.

If you took that away, I would still love being a storyteller and I would find a new way to do if I had to.

Being a storyteller is at the core of me for reasons I’ll never understand, and sometimes, I sit around thinking about the life that brought me to this point. Today is one of those days for some reason and I can see the thread of it in my life, always present, always there for me to use as a way to express myself.

Beyond that, like so many other authors and creatives(hell, anyone in a profession), I get asked the all important(but not really) question:

Why?

The questions can get specific, too.

Why write books when you could never make enough money to support your family? Why be a “starving artist”? Why write these books and not something else? Why not write screenplays or something and become Hollywood famous or whatever?

I could go on for days with these types of questions, but they all boil down to that single word.

Why?

Here’s why and it’s a doozy, but this is the “backstory” of the author you read today. This is the why.

At certain points, I’ll point out how the life I’ve lived comes up in my writing, just to keep it interesting to you. This is by no means a definitive retelling of my life, just the major parts that I see make the most impact on my journey to here.

We’re starting young, because our childhoods have the ability to define our lives in ways we don’t understand until years later.

I was the child who played with stuffed animals, crafting massive epics with them over days and weeks. And these stories were romantic, sometimes dark, and people died. Betrayals and wars.

There were no tea parties. Those didn’t interest me for some reason. But the DRAMA. I loved the drama. And it was, thankfully, make believe.

I also did taekwondo with my older brother for years when we were very young. We were little fighting kids that could kick someone and make it hurt. We did competitions and stuff. We’ll come back to this much later, but it ended when I was like 8 or something. I still don’t understand why. One day, my parents just told it I wasn’t going anymore and neither was my older brother. We never went back to it.

I was also the kid who almost had to do kindergarten twice because I couldn’t read well enough for them to feel comfortable moving ahead to start elementary school. In fact, at the beginning of that school year I was put in an “in between” sort of class that the school district had for kids like me. But then, my dad’s job forced us to move (as it had before and would do again) and the new school district didn’t have that. I was placed in first grade late in the first half of the school year (November if memory serves right). They thought I could handle it.

I learned not only how to read but fell in love with it. Through all of elementary school, I was the kid with all of those AP points or whatever. Read book, take quiz. I had a mountain of them and I don’t remember a single name from any kid in elementary school, except for the cool boy that my parents named my little brother after. Blake.

Through it all, I was still the kid that loved telling stories with those stuffed animals. Hell, I have the most embarrassing memory of using RC cars for a chase scene in the garage, trying to tell one of my parents (I remember which one, but I’ll leave that out) a story, and said parent was like “what is wrong with you?”(paraphrasing, and YIKES). I was crushed, no joke. Now, going through elementary school, I wasn’t very good at social things. Like at all. I had like two close friends that lived on my street and was starting to have a lot of trauma beginning to build in my kid-brain that would come back to haunt me as a teen and an adult.

Some of the drama wasn’t make believe anymore. Maybe one day, I’ll give you that story, but not today.

I had other passions, too, though. Part of me wonders if I did them because my older brother did or it was the culture I was in (Sports and the South, y’all). I played soccer as a goalie for years. I played softball all of those years, most of them as first base and pitcher.

This move had been both amazing and, in hindsight, terrible for me.

(Fun fact: I had moved to Jacksonville, Texas, where Jacky Leon lives)

We moved in when I was 6. We moved away in the summer 2002, right after I turned 12.

I lost some of my love for sports because I missed a couple of seasons thanks to the move. My middle school had a team and my parents didn’t get me registered with school fast enough for try outs (shit happens). I didn’t try out the next year. I stopped playing soccer through middle school and didn’t go back to it until high school. Middle school sucked.

My refuge was my stories with my stuffed animals, kneeling beside my bed, using the bed as a stage. They beat the bad guys. They had friends and family and wars, but they came out on top and fell in love, and all those wonderful things. This might be weird to a lot of you, but seriously, these stuffed animals were my crutch until I entered high school. In a lot of ways, I had to grow up quickly, introduced to things the exceptionally young shouldn’t be. And in other ways, I tried to hide behind this one piece of my childhood that protected me and the good guys won and the bad guys didn’t and even though there was drama, things were good. I did this privately and no one was trustworthy enough to be invited to my stories. I did not tell other students about this (obviously, it’s weird to many and I’m still a bit embarrassed by it, but I’m in a sharing mood and it was over 15 years ago. I’m nearly 31, moving on).

And I still loved reading too, finding myself in the library almost every day, trying to find something new to read. I was desperate for new stories, not just my own. This thing I had worked so hard to do, that almost changed the course of my life. Reading was my second refuge as I got older.

At the totally-not-prepared age of 14, I entered high school. Through those years, I was an eclectic mess. I played volleyball for a year (maybe two?). I played varsity soccer as a goalie, and actually, what drove me to quit was that I fell in love with midfield and the HS coach wouldn’t change my position. I played for a club soccer team, too, and he let me play midfield. I was actually pretty fucking good at it and that’s how I found that new position to reignite my love. My school’s coach wasn’t having it, though, so I walked away.

But I wasn’t just into sports. Oh nooooo.

I was the Vice President of the school’s FFA (Future Farmers of America, for those who don’t know) for 3 whole fucking years. See, my dad worked tangentially in horticulture and I would go on business trips with him, meeting growers and seeing all that stuff. I was the good daughter he could kinda show off for sales (whatever), and I got cool vacations as his work friends took out fishing. He was so well known that I did a speech competition for the FFA and one of the judges had been my dad’s friend for 15 YEARS BEFORE THAT. (insert me singing “It’s a small world after all”) He didn’t know I was my dad’s daughter until he asked my dad about it later, at some conference.

I also got really into art. And that’s where we come back to this journey of me as a storyteller. Friends of mine were into anime and manga and I fell in love (I’m not in as much love now, neither here nor there). I wanted my stories to look like THAT or something like it or just be visual. To jump out of my head, and be seen. I started to draw with a purpose. To make comics. Web comics, manga, comic books, I didn’t care. I had a goal, a dream.

I was still bullied, no matter how many “cool kid” things I did. i was that weird girl who had weird friends, and yeah, my brother was a varsity football player, only one grade higher than me. To get at him, they would often mess with me. So that compounded a lot of it and my brother actually got into fights (something my dad told him he was allowed do. “Brothers can do what dads can’t”). It’s one of the reasons I write characters that really don’t want other people defending them all the time (occasionally is fine, but I don’t need white knights). Because that shit is embarrassing, and it makes you feel guilty for existing, a burden on someone just because you have tits and breath air. That fucking sucks. And it can make you angry with everyone involved, the bullies and the defender and the person telling the defender to step in. The words hurt, but seeing the fallout because I “couldn’t” defend myself (because I was the daughter, the sister), hurt even more. I had all the same taekwondo training as my brother, and my older brother? He’s really not a violent or aggressive guy, but he was living to this fucked up expectation that was put on his shoulders, getting offended for me, getting in trouble with his coaches and shit. I sometimes wonder if it hurt him as much as it pissed me off. (Fuck gender roles)

Oh and my parents got a divorce while I was in high school. Remember that building childhood trauma, compounding through the years? At 17, I got the chance to abuse my parent’s loose ideals about alcohol. They didn’t really care unless I wasn’t driving around drunk in the 1996 Jeep Cherokee they had bought off my uncle for me (fun fact: that Jeep was older than my little brother). Something finally made me just feel good and I needed that. I was more social, had an easier time around people, found more friends.

What’s particularly… interesting about this is that both of my parents struggled with alcohol. I often write about sins of the parent and trying not to repeat the patterns of those before? This is the beginning of me doing that very thing and later, I would have to do a hard correction for this early, young mistake of mine. And it’s one of those things that haunts me to do this.

Let’s jump forward through the years from 17-20 quickly. My family was a mess, emotionally unavailable, and I was trying to swim in an ocean that really wanted to drown me. I tried writing a little around 19-20, but it didn’t go anywhere at the time. I joined the United States Navy to escape instead. To run as far as I could, knowing that the Navy could send me places my family might not be able to reach me with their bullshit anymore. Maybe I could outrun this pain I felt and finally find a place where I fit. (Hi, Kaliya. I see you hiding here in my kinda-life story.)

I stopped drawing and kept drinking.

And the Navy did take me away. I went all the way to Japan and I took my baggage with me, and learned the hard way there are some things you can’t run from.

In October of 2012, I got incredibly drunk and went to work the next day and one of the doctors I worked with called me out (I was a medic, working in a hospital, checking in patients for the doctors at the clinic). He could have done a lot of things, like try to get me kicked out. He gave me headache medication, water, and coffee. He made me work all day, kept an eye on me, and talked to me. He made me go work out after work. He made me write 100 sentences to bring to him the next day, “I will not drink on school night.” I, 22 and stupid, and asked why ‘school’ and not ‘work’. I ended up having to do 200 sentences. 100 of each.

“If you’re going to behave like a child, I’m going to treat you like one.” Ouch, but fair. I had been forced to grow up too fast in a lot of way, but I also didn’t grow up in others. I was using a crutch when I surrounded by a lot of reasons not to use it and find other help. I was being an idiot and I finally had the resources to get real help and not do the same thing that repeatedly ruined parts of my parents’ lives.

He saved me and I will absolutely never forget him.

In November of 2012, I started dating my now husband. I was 22. I had always kinda liked video games and table top games, but he taught me to love them. And you know, there’s a lot of great stories video games and table games have to tell. I’m always drawn to a good story.

In December of 2012, still 22, I submitted paperwork to admitted into outpatient rehab for alcohol abuse, borderline addiction. Another year or two going down my path, and my counselor made sure I understood that I could have been another statistic. Just another tragic story. He, and the team of other counselors at my rehab, taught me that therapy and support works to help all the things I was fighting with. That those things I thought were normal, like that compounding trauma growing out of control, were not how life was supposed to be. That somewhere in my life, the people who were supposed to protect me not only failed once, or twice, but repeatedly until I became an adult. Maybe it was malicious, maybe it wasn’t. Most likely, it was ignorance and dismissal.

They also taught me that I was strong. That by surviving, struggling, and finally reaching for help made me powerful.

But either way, somewhere, something went wrong and I was left the baggage from it. I will always have the trauma, the trouble with alcohol, and a daily fight to keep overcoming both.

And if this sounds like something I’ve written about, you will be correct. I often draw on this when I write characters with issues. It was the first time in my life I felt like I had strength and it has driven me ever since because I will never let anyone else tell me that I am powerless. When people make me feel powerless (we all have our moments), they can’t force me to stay. I have the power to at least walk away and keep them from damaging me even more. And so I give my characters this power a lot. I write their journey to finding this power or I write them trying to balance this and the need to community and love. Either way, it shows up a lot.

I married my husband December 6, 2013. We both left the Navy in 2014, each for our own reasons at the time. My Navy story isn’t something I’ll ever want to put up. Everyone’s experience in the military is different and everyone joins for wildly different reasons. It’s not my place to judge someone else’s service or anyone’s place to judge mine. But, I will say, it gave me good and bad things, taught me a lot about myself, and in the end, was not a place I was truly happy.

I went to college and was drawing again, now 24. I wanted to do those characters again, write stories again. I was hopeful.

Then I had to pay the bills and I started doing art as a job. I spiraled into depression again, this time without the alcohol.

Right before I was set to finish my associate’s degree, mid-2017, I desperately needed something to do. I wanted to tell fucking stories, damn it. But I couldn’t bring myself to picture up a pencil and draw.

I loved to read! It seemed so simple at the time.

I’ll try writing again.

And I wrote a book that we won’t speak of. Then I wrote Wild Pride (released in October 2017).

And I found the closest thing to perfect I’ll ever know. It released with bumps but I found something so special. Not readers, not stability (hahahahaha), but the ability to tell stories that I wanted to tell. Stories that help me continue to explore who I am, who other people are, and how we constant run up against each other, even if all us mean well and some of us don’t. Stories that explore the complexities of life and the world we live in. Stories where good can finally triumph over evil, even if the good ones are a bit damaged like me.

And I could finally share them.

I am a storyteller. It’s my lifeblood, the thing that brings me the most joy in this world. It’s my refuge, my peace, my passion, my drive. It’s shown me even more things I love about this world.

There is nothing that excites me as much as falling into a world of my own creation and exploring every hidden corner, that might hold secrets even I don’t expect. See, for all those years I had no close friends, I watched everyone. Let me tell you, people are surprising. A single person can be capable of amazing things and terrible ones at the same time and I couldn’t tell you if that person is good or bad. They just are who they are because people are amazingly complicated. The first impression you get of someone is almost always not who they are and you might not get that for a long time. There are layers, all built over the life they have lived. I find that fucking fascinating so I start putting those people(not literally) into my stories along with the baggage of my life and the wars of my childhood stories, all the delicious drama and romance I loved so much even when I was too young to really understand any of it.

At the core of my layers, the center of my weird life onion, there’s that little piece of myself, a girl playing with stuffed animals, telling stories with drama, filled with war, love, and romance.

A story teller.

So when people ask me “why are you an author?”

I’m an author by medium, finding it the best way to share the stories I want and, many times, need to tell. In my heart, I have a need to be a story teller, and I’ll do anything to fulfill that need. Maybe I’ll return to the idea of comics one day. Maybe I’ll switch it up and try to write a screen play.

I am an author because I am a story teller, and this is why.

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