I’ve participated in The Daily Post before, but the Weekly Writing Challenges have always intimidated me. It just so happens, however, that this week the challenge is something I was already planning on doing: Wrapping It Up.
Here are the top five things that have changed me this year. Some may make you laugh, some may make you sad, and some you may not even care about at all; but this year started as the worst I’ve ever had, and ended as the best. If I didn’t include the bad, there would be no room for me to have any good. I’ll do them in the order they occurred, so there’s not an actual “ranking” in my top five. Unfortunately, the first one is pretty sad, but here goes anyway –
#5. Courtney Manning
I’ve never really discussed this before with many people. The ones who were there were the ones outside of my parents I really opened up and shared how I felt about this.
February 10, 2012
I was working another soul-draining shift from Chili’s Bar and Grill. I was closing, again. Around 6 pm, I noticed one of my managers disappear into the office, and when she came back out she was crying. When people asked her what was wrong, she ignored us and pulled a few people off of the floor and into the office as well. They left the office going outside in tears as well.
My curiosity obviously heightened, the bartender and I clocked out for our breaks and went out to her car to eat. The whole time we were talking smack, saying someone was getting fired, there was going to be so much drama, blah blah… Just gossiping, of course, to pass the time.
As we were sitting outside, all of the managers who had the day off showed up.
We knew this wasn’t good. Even if someone was getting fired, they wouldn’t need everybody there to do it.
My phone started ringing in my pocket not long after they showed up. When I looked down I noticed the host, Jessica, calling me. I was confused because we were both here together, and we weren’t exactly allowed to use our phones and I knew she was still on the clock.
“Where did you go?” she asked. But she didn’t just ask. She asked through a fit of heartbreaking tears.
“I’m outside eating with Briana,” I said, putting another piece of chicken in my mouth.
“Did you hear what happened?”
Tears. I looked at Briana and she raised her eyebrows and we both shrugged. And then she said it. The simple phrase I’m never, ever going to forget:
I dropped my fork with the half-eaten piece of chicken and made every conscious effort not to spill my meal all over Briana’s car.
“I didn’t know if you left to go home or if you want to come back or anything like that, but I just thought you should know.”
I hung up the phone and stared straight forward. I felt my heart breaking into a million little pieces. When Briana asked me what happened, I could barely even get out the words. I told my food to stay in my stomach as it begged me to come back up and spew itself all over the pavement. When we went back inside, the corporate office refused to let us close early and I had to stand there, on a busy Friday night, serving tables I didn’t even care about, while knowing one of my friends had just died. I didn’t want any details. I didn’t want to break down at work. I tried so hard to stay strong for that entire shift. As soon as I clocked out, I lost it. I didn’t even sleep for three days.
She had moved here with her boyfriend. They weren’t working out the way they thought they were going to, so she moved back home with her parents. In that time, she started dating another employee from Chili’s, and she had come down the day before to celebrate his birthday with him. On her way back, she made a stop with her ex boyfriend to gather some of her things, and when she left she ended up getting into a head-on collision with a garbage truck. I still wish I had never seen the pictures of the crash. That moment, that day, that situation, made me realize how short life was. It’s part of the reason now I’m all about positivity and beauty and life and love and all that cliche stuff that some people think is too sappy. But I do it for her, because that’s who she was. Her time was taken before it needed to be, and I just want her memory to live on. I still have the last thing she’s ever said to me, and the last thing I’ve ever said back as well:
The rest of February, all of March, all of April, and all of May sucked. I could bullet every month and write another thousand words on each as to why they made me hope December 21st was real, but the only one worth mentioning at all is Courtney. The rest is just life laughing and taking a dump on you just when you think things are going well.
So let’s skip forward to some happy stuff! June 8-10. Electric Daisy Carnival. The best experience — ever. I know I’ve talked about it here before, but it was legitimately the best experience of my life. It was my first rave, ever. And I lasted longer than everyone I went with and didn’t even do drugs. (Seriously! I say that with pride!) My nickname that weekend was “Let’s Rage.” I don’t even know what came over me. I never have as much energy as I did there. Just in case you haven’t seen the above linked article, or you don’t feel like reading it now, just take a look at my favorite part:
Up until Felix Baumgartner, this was the coolest skydiving experience I’ve ever seen. 340,000 people, I never even saw an angry person, everyone’s all about peace and love and unity and respect — PLUR, if you will. No drama. No anger. No negativity. Just a love for music and a bonding experience. I was sitting on top of the world for a good two weeks after EDC and I can hardly wait for 2013!
We even got to witness some history in the making: EDC was shut down. Never has it ever been shut down before. It legitimately made national news. People weren’t even angry then! I was pretty upset, because the only DJ I even went to see (TIESTOOOOO!!) was next and I still, to this day, have yet to see him. (Now, though, I have other DJs I like — I just wasn’t familiar with this music before I decided to come rage to it.) I’ve just never felt as happy as I did that weekend. It’s the most freeing experience you’ll ever have. People who don’t even like that music should go and have a great time. I think even my parents would enjoy it (as long as they didn’t witness any of the drug action. It’s not as evident as you might think, if I didn’t “know” people were on drugs I wouldn’t have “known”. Do ya feel me?)
Best experience ever.
#3. Leaving Chili’s
This might not seem like a big deal, but it was one of the biggest steps I’ve ever taken in my life. Toward the end of September, I opened up this blog. It’s been my baby ever since. I used to blog a lot back when it was first popular, I think I’ve talked about that before — but back then you never shared your stuff because people could steal it. Now, though, it’s this whole wide community and everyone encourages each other, supports each other, promotes each other, and it’s overwhelming and awesome. I’ve had the opportunity to come across some amazing photographers, writers, poets, musicians — all sorts of goodies nowadays, and I am loving every second of it.
Chili’s was a job I got in the middle of college, and that was what it was supposed to be — a college job. I envisioned myself being successful right off the bat from college (maybe not necessarily like a huge published author, but like — working for a newspaper, working for a blog instead of just hosting my own, that kind of stuff), but life works in funny little ways and I was stuck there. I felt like I was going to be stuck there forever. They’re my family. Now that I’ve left, they still are. We’ve been through some stuff together, don’t get me wrong, and at the end of the day Chili’s was a unique experience I will never forget. That’s where I came into adulthood. That’s where I learned who I was, what loyalty meant, what betrayal meant, what it was like to live, what it was like to hurt, all of it. I experienced every emotion possibly known to humankind to its fullest extent working at that place.
But alas, it was terrible. The worst place I’ve ever worked.
So I decided to get out. I was too comfortable, too scared to try for another job. What if I didn’t like it? What if I couldn’t make as much money? What if I couldn’t support myself? What if it was a terrible decision? Blah. Blah. Blah. I’ve also talked about this a little bit here, but a quick recap — I left casual dining and went into fine dining. It was scary. It was a huge leap. I instantly rethought it. Instantly regretted it. But now, almost three months later, I’m so happy I did it. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Bucking up the courage to finally put a step forward did loads for my self-esteem. It actually propelled me to put certain content on this blog. To be proud of my work. To be confident in myself. For a long time I always feared criticism, hatred, nastiness from other people. But now I’ve learned how to deal with it, how to thicken my skin, how being myself will always be better than conforming to someone else’s opinion of me. I’ve learned all that, already, in just the two and a half months I’ve been there. Who knows what’s in store for me next. But my blog, in my eyes, is successful. I’ve got some readers. I enjoy conversing with them, and I always welcome new ones. It’s been a blessing, and ever since I took that confident step forward, my life has changed. Which leads to —
WHAT A CRAZY EXPERIENCE! I never even know about this until the second week of October. I just busted out an idea and did it. It was the hardest challenge I’ve ever done, but I’m so, so happy I did it. Everyone who participates is so encouraging. They all know what’s going on. It’s weird, though, how it subliminally works. Before NaNo, I never claimed to be a “writer.” I always listed it as a hobby, not a “job”. It’s my ultimate job goal, to be able to write and make enough money to support myself so I can work for me and travel and experience the world and all that, but I was always too scared to tell anyone that. If you’re a writer, you know how it is: You tell someone you’re a writer, and it’s always, “What do you write about?” If you tell them you’re a novelist, “What’s your book about?” If you’re a blogger, “What’s your blog about?” They’re all intimidating questions, because you always risk them not liking your answer. They might think your novel idea is stupid. They might think your blog is cliche and overdone. But the most important thing is, at the end of the day, you’re a writer. Not everyone is going to enjoy your work. But there’s always at least one who will.
I’m very proud of the work I’ve done during NaNo. I know my novel needs a lot of work, I’m not saying I wrote a perfectly polished draft that’s ready to go for publication. But the best part of NaNoWriMo was just what they wanted: it got me writing. Every day. No excuses. No worries. Just writing. Because, as a writer, that’s the most important thing you can do. It’s like when people do sports. They have to condition themselves. Practice every day. Keep their head in the game. A football player doesn’t just walk into the Super Bowl. A baseball player doesn’t just happen to get into the World Series. A writer doesn’t just have a well-written novel, or a well-written blog, or a well-written whatever just off the bat. It takes work. It’s tedious. It’s underestimated. It’s intimidating. But it’s important. I think that was the biggest lesson I learned from National Novel Writing Month. Above all else, just write. And the more you write while not worrying about what others think, the more you fall in love with your own work, the more confidence you build in yourself, the more practice you get, and the closer you come to perfection. You pick up editing tips as you go along. You read other’s work and you know why theirs is potentially better.
The best thing, though, is never to get discouraged. And that’s what’s so amazing about the writing community these days. Everyone’s encouraging. When it comes to the blogosphere, or to writing novels, self-publishing, advertising yourself, all of it — essentially everyone is your competition. But the greatest part about writers, is they encourage their competition. They understand each other. There are so many blogs out there that are far superior to mine — but when I like their posts and comment on them, it drives them to look back at mine, and when someone who’s work you enjoy likes your work back, it’s a very fulfilling feeling. That’s what NaNoWriMo brought out of me. An appreciation for the art. An appreciation for everyone who participates in the art. A love for the writing community. All very important things that now have led me to state, “I’m a writer,” when people ask me what I do. “I’m a writer and I work at the Chart House.” The serving position is secondary instead of primary. It used to be, “I’m a server at Chili’s…but I also like to write.”
Now I’m a writer, first and foremost, and the serving job is just my income. (Don’t get me wrong, I love my job now, but writing has been my interest and goal far longer than being a server.)
So, if you’re a writer or you want to be a writer, all I have to say is write. Just write. Don’t care what people say. Write for you before you write for anyone else.
#1. Immortality Awaits
It just so happens the biggest change in 2012 came right at the end. My book. I wrote this book when I was 18, and I’ve been revising it ever since. I’ve had it professionally edited, I’ve applied all the editing tips I can, and I know it still needs more work. But, because I completed NaNo, I came across this little thing called CreateSpace, which led to this:
The first proof I’ve ever gotten, of the first novel I ever wrote. Now, I have three. And they’re all different genres. This one is sci-fi fantasy. I have one sci-fi horror (it’s my Jensen blog that I talk about all the time…but when I finish it up on Wednesday I’m going to go back and edit it before I self-publish to Amazon), and then the NaNo book pulling in the mystery-thriller genre. That’s the most fun about writing. Exploring genres, expanding your talents, pushing yourself to boundaries you’re scared to cross because every writing experience is a learning experience. Every blog post defines you, and when they’re all put together people will realize how unique your talents are. Each blog takes different content, different thoughts, different experiences to write. You can’t just type “I love blogging” over and over and post it every day, because then you’re dense and dull and no one will read you.
This proof makes me so happy. Even though I know it needs a lot of work, I’m wrapping up the year 2012 with my dreams coming true. That proof was literally sitting in a box on my doorstep. My life’s ambition, sitting in a box in front of my door. I came home to find it waiting for me. That never happens. This year is ending with overwhelming support, overwhelming positivity, and overwhelming happiness. I use my tables as an audience now. I’ve pitched my books so many times. At least two tables a night hear all about my work. And I’ve given my name to a couple of them, and if they actually look for me I’ve started a readership outside of the blogger world.
In the end, even though 2012 started as the worst year I’ve ever had, it ended as the best. It’s weird how life works. Sometimes it will kick you while you’re down, and sometimes it will prove to you that you have a spot in this world. You’re not a mistake. You have a purpose. I’ve hopefully found mine.