The Year Ahead

I’ve seen a lot of people sharing their words of the year for 2017 lately. I’ve seen “focus” and “courage” most recently; both of which are great choices. Neither are what I would pick for myself though. I don’t want to steal those words from the people who chose them, nor do I think they quite fit for me. And that’s okay.

It took a long time for me to decide on my goals for the year, and I think, after writing and considering them, I’ve finally come up with something in terms of a theme. But that’s for later.

For now, here are my goals.

Run farther, faster, smarter.

2016 saw me get back into running…again. (For a while, my enthusiasm for it has ebbed and flowed. I think it’s here to stay this time.)

What I love about running and what continues to bring me back to it is that it really helps clear my mind, it helps my ever-fluctuating weight, and there’s nothing like some quality delayed-onset muscle soreness after a good workout. Not the kind that hurts forever, but the kind that reminds me that I did something good.

I want to run a live 10K this year, the equivalent of a 6.2 mile race, and some 5Ks while I’m at it. I’ve always loved a good 5K run.

I want to run the Navy 5 Miler again, and while I didn’t get into the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, there’s always next year for that.

2016 saw some great PRs for me on the running front–from my fastest (and of course my first) five miler to my fastest single mile ever. Even when I was running nearly every day in high school, I’d never had a mile under 15 minutes. (I’ve always been heavy and slower than molasses in January.)

In fact, just on Sunday, I nearly broke 13 minutes after having to take three weeks off because I caught what felt like the plague. My fastest mile is still at about 13:36, but this year, I hope to maybe break 11 minutes. There are plenty of weeks ahead to do it.

The smarter piece is important too. Take my rest days seriously. Take my nutrition seriously. Count my miles and run my routes intelligently. (Don’t go out too late, wear reflective clothing if I do, stay where it’s well lit. Wear warm clothing when it’s cold. Use my live-tracking. The simple safety things.)

There are plenty of races around me and to run–and even though my New Year’s Day run was not fun (headphone issues and my base had been completely wrecked by my three-week hiatus), there is plenty of time left in the year for good runs, smart runs, far runs.

Write better, longer, more.

Admittedly, I’ve fallen into quite a writing slump. I hadn’t been writing on this blog as much as I liked to and I have plenty of ideas just waiting around to be written. Kind of like puppies waiting to be taken into good homes. (It’s an odd comparison, but it works in my brain.) And even in terms of my work products, it’s hard for me to say that I’ve been completely happy with what I’ve been publishing.

My hope for the next year is to continue to improve my writing. I want to expand my vocabulary (which I started working on in 2016 with the creation and use of my word wall–something I’ll probably write about sometime soon!) and vary my sentence structure. While maintaining my distinctive voice. That’s something that’s more important in the things I write for work, but it’s something I truly value.

When I write, I tend to lean toward short pieces, between three to four hundred words. Which are fine and good. But, there’s much more that could be said about so much. And yet, I find myself just writing to get to the end, not writing to really describe. This year, I want to write more. For work and for fun. On this blog, in my novel(s), in my newsletter. Everywhere. (One of my not-included-in-this-blog goals is to open my first novel up to some beta readers. That may come next quarter. Stay tuned.)

I’ve always loved writing. I will always love writing. And the more I do it, the better I feel.

Be stronger in faith, love, and hope.

I joined my church in April 2016. I fell in love with that church and my faith had been something I questioned for a long time through my younger years. But as an adult I’ve found it so very useful, especially when I’m feeling at my worst.

I am admittedly new to a lot of church things. I’m new to a lot of (read as: pretty much all of) the aspects of organized religion, but there are some things I love. I love the concept of “walking in love”–where we are all encouraged to give what we can to others, to show people the love that Christ has shown us. And I want to do so much more of that this year. My church makes it pretty easy to do all of that and my church as a whole is a great example of it. I could wax poetic about it forever.

I want to go to church more. I don’t go as often as I would like, but when I do go, it’s almost like something magical happens and I automatically feel so much different, so much better after I leave. It’s always a semblance of relief–a burden being removed. I love that feeling and I want to experience it much, much more often.

Be thankful for all good things: the big, the small, the in-between.

My planner for 2017, which I’m completely in love with, has a weird spot at the bottom of each left-hand page, the page designated for scheduling and the to-do list. (Both of these will be incredibly useful features.)

For a long time, I didn’t know what to do with it. It’s just about an inch tall–not nearly enough room for my large, bubbly handwriting to fit in an inspirational quotation. And too big to just keep blank.

And the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be good to have a “gratitude space.” A place to write the things I’m thankful for that day. Some days there will be a lot, some days not so much. Sometimes big things, like being thankful for having a job or maybe getting the promotion I’ve been looking into for a couple months now. Sometimes it might only be the little things, like what I wrote down the other day: “clean slates, open roads, and running shoes.”

But the point is to be thankful for all of it. I’ve really been living on borrowed time for over four years now and it’s time to really appreciate it.

I think I’ve finally come up with a theme for the year. 

It’s been hard, just thinking about it. But, I think I’ve got something.

All of these things, all of these goals I have for myself, have to do something with existence. Whether it’s existence in a written space, existence on the road and sporting running shoes, existence in faith, and existence in gratitude. I know, at some point, they all may waiver. There could be an injury, writer’s block, loss of faith, or a rough patch of time. (God forbid all of these.)

One definition of a word that’s come to mind is: “the quality or fact of continuing to exist.” That word? Tenacity. One of the definitions of tenacious (the adjective form): “not readily relinquishing a position, principle, or course of action; determined.”

And I think that just about sums up where I want to be in 2017. Not giving up. Determined. Existent. Tenacious.

Yin and Yang

Two complimentary forces. Good and bad. Shadow and light. Yin and yang.

These are the things I think of when I think of everything that happened in 2016. (Of course, it feels like the dark side is perpetually winning and it’s driving me a bit bonkers at the moment, but…I digress.)

As I’ve struggled to put together a piece for work about well, my job’s own 2016 in review, my personal struggles and memories keep bubbling up and telling me that I need to let them out. And here we are. With the good and our bad, our shadows and our light, complimenting each other and fighting it out for the forefront on my mind.

As I’ve worked on the work project, I found my calendar from the first six months of the year. A full-sized planner. I archived it, of course, because I knew I’d need all my notes for my annual review. And the more I thumb through it, the more I see that it’s full of different things. The good and the bad. Both work and personal.

When I think about the year as a whole, I remember so many different bad things. I always remember bad things versus good things. A huge fight and falling out with my dad (that finally resolved this week). The loss of Kristi’s dad atop a list of so many of our heroes we also lost, including Carrie Fisher. The election and its results that changed so many things and caused me to question my career far more than I ever had before. I was unmedicated for a long time–the longest time since I had started them, and times had gotten scary. (I’ll write about this eventually, but not now.)

But there were also good things. I have to remember the good things. I have to hold onto the good things. 

As I thumb through that planner, I can quickly and easily see just a few of them.

February saw both my second Springsteen concert and my first trip to Florida. My mom got us *great* seats to see Bruce from a friend of hers. And, basically a week later, when Kristi went and ran her second half marathon at Disney World, she invited me to come along. I even got to go and meet Tinkerbell! And we took tequila shots with her dad, which is one of my favorite memories of him.

March saw Kristi and I get engaged. I’d bought the ring less than two hours before I asked her to marry me, with the help of a toddler-sized bright yellow raincoat. Thankfully, she said yes. (A week and a half later, we got our first bit of bad news. Two weeks after that, more bad news came. And more after that.)

April, Kristi and I celebrated her 25th birthday in Florida. Two trips in one year. I was baptized into the Methodist church which has seen me through so many dark, dreary days. I also went to a Jeopardy taping and held my very first training that I wrote and gave. It was terrifying, but I was so glad when it was done.

June saw us going to Awesome Con together, me working late nights, and running my first live race of the year, a 5K I ran with some coworkers and their friends.

July, Kristi and I saw Toby Keith and Disturbed in one weekend and ventured an extra twenty miles after one of the concerts just to get Waffle House. (They didn’t have chocolate chips that day. It was sad.) I went into the Pentagon for the second time ever and got to stand at the podium of the press briefing room, which was probably one of the coolest moments of my young career. We adopted our precious boy cat, Stripes.

August, I got a new apartment for my birthday where Kristi and I moved in together. My work colleagues from all over the country came into town and we celebrated my birthday at a big happy hour. My mom and brother came to stay with us in the new apartment, not long after we moved in–their first time coming down to visit since my mom first helped me move to DC in July 2014.

September, during a week of late nights and early mornings, I managed to squeak in a visit to Nationals Park to see my second Springsteen concert of the year. It rained but the show was fantastic. My first big stadium show. Labor Day weekend just two days later, Kristi met my dad, we saw Blink-182, and I took her to my hometown in New York. I ran my first five-miler and didn’t die.

October, Kristi and I got our engagement photos done, and my dad’s illness finally was nearly resolved. I made my last trip there for the year. (I try to go 3-4 times a year.)

November and December were hard. Harder than they should’ve been.

Obviously in November, the election happened. Kristi and I applied for and got our marriage license.

The election changed our plans, making us wonder and worry for the future of our legal marriage. But, we decided and we moved up our legal ceremony and we won’t let that dissuade us from having a big wedding in October 2017–as we originally wanted and planned.

I found myself running to each church service I could that week. Three different times I found myself in the pews, praying to God for hope, clarity, and grace.

Later, I ran my second five-miler and still didn’t die. I wrote another 50,000 word manuscript as I tried to drown out all the uncertainty in my mind. (It was far easier this year.)

December, Kristi and I hosted brunch for her friends in our apartment. Her mom came to visit for Christmas. We married on  December 27th and went to dinner afterward. Our New Year’s celebrations were small, we watched Netflix and cuddled with the cats, knowing that 2017 had lots in store for us.

There were so many horrid things about 2016 but going through and seeing all of the good things that happened makes it all worth it. 2017 will be better; it’ll still have its challenges, but I have faith it will be better too. There is shadow and light in everything, after all.

 

 

A New Thing

In an attempt to combat all of the horrible feelings I’ve had lately–the ones I can’t quite explain and some of the ones I felt the other day–I decided that it’s about time to start a new thing.

I’m starting my own newsletter. A place where I can share just a few things, a few snippets of thoughts and feelings, or some words that spilled out that don’t quite have a place to go.

Right now, I have a lot of homeless thoughts and ideas.

A lot of them probably could live here, in this space that could be called underutilized at best, but they don’t quite seem to fit in. I’ve tried to squeeze them in, but it’s like a misplaced puzzle piece. Instead, they’re stashed away in various drafts in various spaces. But, maybe a newsletter might fit them a little better.

I don’t like the idea of homeless thoughts, ideas, words, and phrases. I don’t like the idea of writing things and keeping them to myself. And I definitely don’t like the idea of not writing at all.

Lately, writing’s been difficult. I’ve been in a funk, in a haze, and I’ve been considering doing this for a long time. I’ve gone back and forth on it. But, it’s time to commit. And I’m committing.

I hope you enjoy it.

Why Can’t I?

“Forthcoming: a memoir.”

“I’m writing a book.”

“I’m starting a newsletter.”

“Here’s this new blog post I’ve just written?”

And then there’s me. Meek and mild. Hiding in my corner of the internet, questioning myself, yet again.

It ebbs and flows, this insecurity. This feeling like I can’t do anything. This feeling that anything I do won’t be good enough.

The thing is, the numbers say it. Numbers say they won’t be good enough. You go and you look at stats, you look at page views, you look at this-that-and-the-other and you see, that nobody’s there.

Maybe I’ve just lost sight of it. Of the “why.” Of the reason why I put my pencil to the wide-ruled pages of my notebooks for so long. Of the reason why my J and F keys stick from overuse and exhaustion. Of the love I have for words on a page–a paper page or a web page, it’s never mattered. It was about the words.

But, I sit here, and I try. I try to put the words together. I try to get the confidence to share the news of a new project I’m looking to start next year. I try to get the confidence to put something out there, something that I can be proud of again. But, here I sit. Behind a keyboard, typing, deleting, typing, deleting. It moves like a Metro train in rush hour: starting and stopping incessantly.

Why can’t I just be like most other people who actually can get past their insecurity? Why must I be stuck in it forever? Why must it be the one thing that stops me always?

I’ll have the idea, I’ll start the project. I’ll make progress and I’ll have something I’m mildly proud of. Yet, when it comes time to share it? I turn back into the meek, mild, timid version of myself and I hold it tight. I doubt it and myself. I doubt everything and I shroud it all in shame and so the next time I look at something that could be a diamond in the rough, something that could be a real gem, all I see is muddled garbage. I sully it. I turn it into something awful. This blog, my work, it’s all feeling awful now. Everything feels awful, nothing feels good enough.

Why can’t I just be proud of myself? Why can’t I just be happy? Why can’t I?

 

Unimaginable

“There are moments that the words don’t reach. There’s a grace that’s too powerful to name. We push away what we can never understand. We push away the unimaginable…”

Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote those very words into a song called “It’s Quiet Uptown” as part of the Hamilton musical that is technically poised at a part of the musical after Alexander and Eliza lose a child. That was their “unimaginable.”

Many of us across the United States right now have started to live our own “unimaginable.”

We saw a woman, one who has inspired scores upon scores of women for decades (and decades to come) lose, but lose with a grace no one could ever understand, with a Bible verse that I have latched onto. (It’s Galatians 6:9 for those who might have missed it.)

We have seen someone who we scoffed at, who we abhorred, who we denied, suddenly rise into power. We have seen this filthy man bring out the absolute worst in the people we thought knew and loved us. We have seen sexism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia, every kind of prejudice and hatred you could possibly conceive of run rampant across our country.

Our new reality, the one we have been shoved into (and absolutely not of our own volition) was unimaginable. It’s a nightmare. I keep expecting myself to wake up in a cold sweat and have it be days before Election Day all over again. I reel each and every night, waiting to awaken violently, hoping this has all been a vicious, vivid nightmare. But, I haven’t. My computer still says it’s November 13th. Not November 7th.

It happened. It was our unimaginable, and now it’s our unfortunate, inconceivable reality.

My fiancee and I are now scrambling to get our wedding legally done so that we can at least have it for a small amount of time. It was the right decision for us, and for many other LGBT+ couples I know. Others are still deciding. There is still a little time.

Many women I know are shuffling to get their birth control covered and protected by their insurance–going to get IUDs (intra-uterine devices, a long-term form of birth control for those who may be unaware) before their health insurance starts saying “HA, YOU’RE A WOMAN AND THAT’S WHY YOU CAN’T HAVE NICE THINGS” thanks to the almost certain destruction and doom of the Affordable Care Act, as promised by the president-elect.

All of these horrible things and more that are unfathomable and sure to lead to “suffering too terrible to name” are all happening.

I can’t shake myself awake. I keep texting my friends, asking if they’re okay, asking if we’ve woken up yet, trying to find some solace somewhere.

I’ve gone to church three times this week. Once on Election Day, once the day after, and for Sunday service. I have spent so much time in an attitude of prayer, praying for my own salvation, for the grace of God to be with me–hold me together, keep me alive, keep me from exploding into a fit of rage. God, be with my family as we all struggle. My friends, my family, my LGBT+ brothers and sisters, the immigrants, the people of color, the Muslims, the powerful women I know. All of us. Send us your grace. Hold your children as tight as you can and help us push away this unimaginable. We are grateful.

I keep praying for the ability to wake up. The ability to survive. The ability for this unimaginable to stay just that: unimaginable. Unbelievable. Unfathomable.

I keep the faith. I keep the praise that I am still surviving, that I am still breathing, that I have someone who loves me. But sometimes I know her love doesn’t keep me safe enough. God’s love may do that. Mostly.

But right now, as this unimaginable happens, as it creeps into our lives, we ache, we hurt. My eyes have been puffy and sore and I don’t think I’ve gone a single day without breaking into sobs once.

I have heard time and time again over the last few days that “everything will be okay.” I have heard time and time again that “you will be fine.” I have been told to “get over it.” I cannot.

This is my unimaginable. This is the last thing I wanted for my friends, for my family, for my country. I see the ache and the pain and all the attempts to make all of this hatred normal and I become sick to my stomach and I remain sick in my soul. It’s unimaginable.

As this terrible series of circumstances becomes our reality, it will never become “normal.” I can’t let it become normal because that would mean that I will do the same thing that I have shouted, cried, and railed against: condoning the actions of one man that has spoken against everything I know, love, and believe in. And that is unimaginable.

But, we all shall press on. Because giving up, that is what is truly unimaginable.

Writing Away

Novel writing. Something, long ago, I never in a million, zillion years thought i would ever do. But yet, in less than two weeks, I will embark on a mission to write a 50,000 word novel manuscript in one month…for the second time.

Last year I was fortunate enough (through a feat of incredible finger strength and dedication to getting a fancy t-shirt) to actually complete this challenge, with a novel manuscript that has for the last year been left largely unedited. (It desperately needs some revisions, but I’m actually pretty proud of the project.)

I learned a lot about myself and about my writing style during that wonderful month of November 2015. I gained some new words, some new writing software, some new friends, and a new technique for getting past writer’s block that I now swear by and use regularly. (Word sprints, anyone?!)

This year, instead of going back to last year’s project, I’m starting a new one. A brand new manuscript. A brand new idea.

I’m ecstatic about this one.

I was ecstatic about last year’s as well. Last year, I spent my month chronicling the characters of my commute to and from my office in first-person vignettes about all the weird things I saw, frustrations I felt, and daydreams I had.

At times I felt like I was writing more of a cathartic journal than a novel, but it was incredible. I learned so much about how I structure my sentences on any given day, how often I use a lot of varied adverbs (something I’ve been trying to quit doing for quite some time now…but have not yet succeeded at given how many instances of -ly appear in this blog post alone), and how stream-of-consciousness writing will always be one of my favorite activities.

Right now, I’m immersing myself in a lot of preparations. Outlines, character building, and my arch-nemesis: title drafting. There have been phrases, anecdotes, metaphors and similes abounding and I’ve been compiling them all, saving them for the days where the words will count and they’ll have their time in the spotlight.

I’m so excited. Truly.

I fell in love with writing again last November. And this November, I’m truly looking forward to writing away and continuing our torrid love affair.


Side Note: If you’d like to take the challenge of National Novel Writing Month, check out http://nanowrimo.org. There, you’ll find all the resources you need to get started. If you’d like to follow my novel’s progress, check out my author profile on the same site: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/jessstapf.

Enough.

I went to bed last night knowing today would be hard. I couldn’t fall asleep with all the stress and worry trying to strangle me, weighing on my chest. I couldn’t breathe for a large portion of the night and my normal techniques to calm myself down didn’t work. At all.

But I pressed on.

I woke up this morning knowing today would be hard. I rolled over and snuggled the boy cat until he squirmed. I’ve finally learned how to avoid his claws.

I stared at (and largely ignored) the clock on the wall as long as I could. I rolled out of bed, shuffled to the closet, played “fashion show” and changed my mind about my outfit five times. (And then lamented the fact I can’t remember where I put my favorite pencil skirt when we moved.)

I got in the car. I carefully painted on my concealer, mascara, and a possibly-too-deep burgundy lipstick. I sang along to the radio and tried to let all my cares go, but in my heart I still knew today would be hard.

I kissed my fiancée goodbye outside the office. I got brave. I knew a mountain of hard work awaited me.

I marched into the office, swiped my badge and put my game face and my fancy shoes on.

I faced the day, as strong as I could.

Twelve hours after I kissed my future wife goodbye, I left the office in the midst of a thunderstorm.

I survived.

Twelve hours later I sit on a train, tired and still anxious because tomorrow another hard day awaits.

But, I will do what I always do and put my game face on. My war paint on. I will find my zone and I will do as much as I can wherever I am with whatever I have.

And that is more than enough.