A Trip Amongst the Milky Way

I’m glancing up at the night sky, 13 miles out to nowhere…yet this soil has become my somewhere. I grew up near here, but tonight I’m growing up here, again, still, just starting? Here I sit, thirty one years old yet still so young when in comparison to the worlds. As only an only child can, I normally thinks about self first (brutal honesty here!) however, I must say – staring up into this universe, I see I am lighter now like a whisper in the wind of this years problems.

But seriously, guys, I’m staring at the Milky Way. (FACT CHECK – I used my stars app😏) Do you all realize how small and infinitesimal we are in the grand scheme of this giant intricate universe? I’m sitting here utterly amazed at this moment. It’s the first time I’ve allowed myself to truly be alone in years and I’m staring back into history through the cosmos and I’m determined to keep moving forward always, always forward.

I am not who I was a month ago, a week ago, a day ago. I am always expanding and imploding and becoming something fascinating as this universe displays in it’s constant movement and change.

This expanse I’m staring at is so connected to my very atoms and I’ve spent so little time within…aye, but the universe pulls on these young and achey joints so if you don’t mind, I think I’m going to search the stars, listen to nature, and ponder life 😁✌🏼#teamnightowl

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Shakespeare and T-shirts

My friend, Cody, has this amazing t-shirt with “Gender is a drag, perform Shakespeare instead” on the front and every day that he wears it, we beam at one another with pride because a) we are literary buffs/book nerds/theater geeks and b) because he supports my queerness with the utmost beauty!
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”  The Bard most likely didn’t realize how famous his lyrical lines would become when he had Jacques speak these words to Duke Senior in “As You Like It.”  The idea of being an actor on a stage has me chuckling – I am quite awkward at times as I tend to blurt out random thoughts as they enter my mind – this no doubt muddles any current conversation I’m carrying.  When people catch me in a moment of awkwardness, I simply claim full knowledge of my behaviors and act as if “I meant to do that.”  I can pull it off, sometimes.   One thing I can’t pull off well is being a girl.  Biologically, yes, I possess the reproductive organs of the female sex, but…Well, I’d be acting if I told you that my gender matches that. I’d be acting if I told you that I feel at home in my body and comfortable in societally normed women’s clothing.  I’d be acting if I were to claim that I love my curves and womanly body.  None of those things are me. My sex and gender – they don’t mesh, they don’t match.
Gender. What is gender?  Merriam-Webster defines gender as “the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex.”   In a 2016 article in Psychology Today, When Sex and Gender Don’t Match, the argument of sex vs gender is discussed: “Sex” refers to the physical attributes of the male or female body, while “gender” refers to the psychological experience of being a masculine or feminine person.” Personally, when I think of gender, I think of it as binary – black and white.  Gender is a societally-forced label that places emphasis on “dressing as your sex” and completely neglects to celebrate the person as an individual.  Why does a person’s reproductive organs have to dictate their gender? Why does it dictate how they adorn their bodies, what grammatical pronouns are used, or what body modifications are desired?
Body modifications…The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported 17.1 million cosmetic procedures in 2016.  I imagine many of these surgeries were performed on cis-gendered individuals – some medically necessary, some optional.  Do we heckle women when they get breast implants?  Do we judge men who lift weights and sculpt their bodies?  No.
Why?  Why do we judge transgender individuals seeking comfort in their own skin, but encourage that #summerbody with the utmost enthusiasm? Because us transgender kids make people uncomfortable – we are not “normal” by societal standards – therefore, we must be a threat to society, correct?  I can assure you, I am no more a threat to society than any of the women in my family that have had plastic surgery.  I am no more of a threat to society than any of the men and women working out in the gym every day. I am no more of a threat to society than any individual having a medical procedure done to better their health.
Speaking of health…gender affirming acts, such a going by a preferred pronoun, having surgeries, and hormone replacement therapy can be huge game changers for transgender individuals struggling with anxiety and depression.  This feeling of mismatch between sex and gender is coined “gender dysphoria” and simply means that a persons assigned gender is distressing mentally as for that individual, sex and gender are not synonymous. Society pressures us to conform to standards that don’t always match our mold and this has a direct effect on our mental well being.  My psychiatrist fully believes that if I were to take part in these gender affirming acts, I could see relief from chronic depression and possibly lessen the amount of antidepressants I take.   I can attest that the pronoun change alone has made a difference – my students are my number one advocates in this area…they love to correct anyone who calls me “Mrs. Taylor” instead of “Coach Taylor” or “Mixter Taylor.”  As a matter of fact, it was a 15 year old  young man who politely asked one day if I would rather go by something other than “Mrs.” because to him it was obvious that I preferred to represent the masculine side of the spectrum.  Kids these days, they can actually teach us so much…
The month of June is coming to a close and I was fortunate enough to celebrate LGBTQ Pride  with my friends, family, and school.  In the spirit of this, I am proud to say that I identify as transgender – and if you are looking for an even more specific label (because we loooooove to label), I identify as genderqueer (I do not ascribe to a binary gender) and transmasculine (I was born as the female sex but identify masculine).  I believe that just because I was born with ovaries, this doesn’t mean that I have to wear women’s clothing, wear a feminine hairstyle, use female pronouns, and keep my curves.  I prefer male pronouns over female pronouns, but personally won’t get upset if I am “misgendered,” as I prefer to ultimately label myself as a human.

How many more names?

These statistics you see are from 1999-2011. We haven’t made progress. We’ve regressed. 

It’s another day that I was fortunate to wake up in my own bed with my wife sleeping soundly next to me. But it’s also another day, another bloody headline splashed across our news. Say a prayer, send a vibe, speak it into existence – no matter your perception of your higher power – just do it with intention. Meditate, pray, think, put something in motion not only for the “good” person, but the “bad” person, the bystander, the silent, the oppressed, the hopeful, the scared, the confused. Say something positive to anyone in this world so full of hate and just put some love back in. 

I opened my eyes this morning and it was unfortunately later than normal. Traffic has been roigo and it’s given me too much time to think. My heart aches. My morning was so I dreamt of names and names and names and they weren’t segregated. They were mixed in. People in blue and people of color alike. There are both, you know, people of color who DO protect their brothers and sisters of all colors. 

Why can’t we use this outrage to energize a movement? Why can’t we protect one another? Why can’t we WAKE UP and admit that our black and brown brothers and sisters are continuing to be oppressed, gunned down, and lynched in 2016!!!! And it is because our police forces have been morphed into mini militias that unfortunately get tainted by power hungry, ill-hearted people.  

I’ve worked in facilities that taint genres of people because of their skin color. I’ve worked in facilities BUILT to remove people of color from society. We are a racist society. We always have been scared of people who don’t look like us, act like us, pray like us and instead of using that fear to fuel curiousity, we fuel a fire of hate and rejection. I’ve worked in facilities where officers were told to not physically subdue a hostile inmate. Ease up on force. Yeah, easing up got two very good people, one behind bars and the other locking those bars, in an altercation that ended in injury. My client was enraged and in crisis, wielding a weapon. My friend, and fellow officers, were asked to be more hands off. 

My friend still hasn’t recovered his injuries. My client still isn’t out of jail and won’t be for 30 more years.  

For the love of everything sacred in this world…work together to put an end to this racist and hostile police state we live in. America’s beginnings soaked in racism continue to perpetuate this cycle. 

This doesn’t have to go down like this. Please don’t let it go down like this. 

#loveconquershate

I’ve heard this story before — that one where that color meant for purity and friendship, catastrophically shoots you dead. See, what some of y’all fail to notice is that “white” is no longer just a check box on a form used for data. White is no longer just that one crayon that never gets used. Whiteness, white privilege, and the man, has existed since the day we stripped a land from its people and put our whiteness into power. And we amplified this blind hate when we stole a race and caste them into the hells of slavery.
Symbolically, especially in literature, white represents the “good guy” and black gives a feeling of impending doom and death. THAT IS IN LITERATURE. Black and white are not so easily symbolized the same anymore. These scenarios are playing out in our very own front yard and if you’re silent in these times then you are just as bad as the oppressor. My very best friend is a Washington metro office… And a damn good one. One of the true good guys BUT because of her nature as a person. Cops aren’t all bad, but what happens when the good ones don’t step forward. Maybe that’s where we are now? This authoritarian godlike notion and training of “shoot to kill” is a double edged sword. Do I want my best friend to end up dead because she hesitated too long weighing the choices? Hell no. She is my best man, my “son,” I want her alive every morning when I wake up and say hello. It’s a hard world for the good guy…she struggles to sleep at night. She gets angry. She sees and relives moments that probably few can grasp. I don’t want it to harden her. I’m just afraid that this power struggle is continuously being fed and has gone to too many heads in the wrong form. The script is continuously being written in too many threads and it’s the wrong script. White doesn’t mean good. Black doesn’t mean bad. Ignoring whiteness is ignoring the disgusting things people of color have endured for years. It’s gut wrenching fearing for my best friend’s safety in these times. It’s even worse having to explain to my students (all people of color) why the police target people that look like them. I have to call my boy, Kharonn, to check on him. I shouldn’t have to. I’m so tired of shedding tears with my students. 

This is enough. It was enough long before now. Wake up, the America we are creating for our kids is not an America that treats them as equals. Wake. The. Hell. Up.

My friend, the criminal. 

Please know that what you read below is my account from my side of the “bars.”  No names have been used for the purpose of anonymity. I have been given full permission to write about The Pink Bandit’s time as an inmate as well as our correspondence and conversations over the last 6 years. Enjoy!

I met The Pink Bandit in jail; I was a mental health case manager at the time, and she was fresh meat in a fishbowl of piranhas. She was a kindred spirit that picked up my inner nerd quirks (nerks? New word?  No? Okay.) from across a metal table.  The thin, canvas jumpsuits were such an unflattering green on almost anyone, but she was smiling, (nervously) and it seemed to be that she was “managing” this situation decently.  This young girl, fresh out of college had just started working at the local paper…why in the world was she here? She just kept saying that she knew why she was here, and that she was just doing her time. She was too optimistic. Too oblivious? I couldn’t figure it out at first glance, so I started to dig through her chart. 

Her chart contained little about her (as this was her initial evaluation) so I just stared at the cover of her chart and listened. Our psychiatrist got to asking the conversational questions head shrinkers ask when probing every orephace of another’s memories for problems to solve or analyze. She was in good hands. This doctor knew her shit and I’d witnessed her walk people to safety through mental mine fields. This kid we were staring at seemed to be in a euphoric state of denial.  Or something…

It was culture shock but jail style. She wasn’t used to the lack of books, the tiny flexi-pens that made it impossible to write for long periods of time without making your hand cramp. The lack of things to write on. In the first months of her incarceration I would watch her scribble on napkins when she couldn’t get paper quick enough. Eventually, her library grew, mostly due to nice friends and family sending her books upon books. She introduced me to The Bloggess, who just happens to be my favorite author of all times. I accomplished getting a signed copy of her newest book for Crystal when and if they ever let her out. Haha

I digress…

She wove a story that flowed too easily to be true, it felt.  It sounded straight out of a blockbuster hit or best selling novel. I was flabbergasted (I know, nerd alert!) to realize that we were in school around the same time. I had read her articles in the Kernal and the Herald Leader.  She came from a small town in South Central Kentucky, which was known to be very small and rural.  Her family was struggling financially, and she had somehow ended up being the so-called “daddy warbucks” of the family…while in college…full time…with a job that barely paid enough to support herself. 
Here came the tears. Not many – crying in jail should be done in private, when you go to bed or when you’re in the shower. One thing this newbie had figured out was this…don’t let them see you cry. You’ll become someone’s bitch. 
 Back to her story…the tears forming were definitely real. This was probably the first time she had talked about the mess she dealt with regarding her family. Her father had passed and her mother suffered from multiple sclerosis, as well as a smattering of mental health issues. She had been the caregiver for some time and when her mother became too difficult to take care of on her own, forcing her mother to have to live in a nursing home, forcing her to pay the bill. This worked for a while and she made ends meet until she couldn’t anymore. And when she couldn’t anymore, she somehow decided that robbing a bank would no longer suffice as just a joke to her close friends when running low on funds. She was coined the Pink Bandit not long after she committed the second of four robberies a short four months later.

If I remember correctly, she hates that name…

About Dang Time, Mrs. Taylor!

When I found out last year that I would be leaving my previous position, I was so torn. Sure, that place’s mission for children mixed with mine like oil and water…but I had part of me that wanted to stay so badly for my kids. For me, it’s always been about the kids…but I had a large part of me that needed to do this for my future students.

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If you worked with me at my previous job, I hope you know that the person you worked with is not the true me.  A select few there actually KNEW me.  They knew my passion for equality in education, and they knew my struggle. Southeast DC was my place. I didn’t want to leave my place.  My best friend and mentor was there (and still is.) My kids were there. My basketball team, my softball team, my sped office where we laid it out all day every day.  But, the person you saw who yelled at children, lost their temper, and impatiently waited for the clock to tick down until the end of the day EVERYDAY.  Truth is, I felt worthless. I was depressed more than I ever have been.  I got to a point where I doubted myself so much in this profession that I almost walked away from my passion.

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Through a lot of support outside of work, I was able to get to where I am now… I love my job, I love my existence as a member of a team, I feel like what we do at my school is always done with our children’s education in mind. I am teaching children how to be successful members of society, to question everything, and to be open minded AND I LOVE IT.

It’s taken me until tonight to allow myself to stop wallowing in guilt for the kids I left there and to trust my best friend to take care of my kids. I will also admit though, if any of you are reading this, know that you are still and will ALWAYS  be my kids.  I know I haven’t been able to visit. I know I haven’t kept in contact the best I could.  But not a day goes by that I don’t think of my girls basketball team and all you girls now in highschool, of my boys from last year, my two girls that put up with my boys, and of my TEAM that kept me alive, fed, and smiling between tears over the past two years. I came in every day not for the money, but for you guys.

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And now, its as if my family has extended. I worried when I left and came to my current school (which is extremely diverse) that I would not soak up the culture like I had in an all African-American school.  I shouldn’t have worried because now I’m soaking up new cultures. I’m developing my voice in education. I have kids here, and they are diverse, loving, open minded, and inspiring on a daily basis. They have their faults but I’m happy every day with my job. I walk into work excited. I leave work smiling. My co-workers are just as diverse as my students but I’m able to smile (and get a smile in return) from any staff member in the building. I feel appreciated, I feel capable.  I never felt those things at my past school. Here, I’m home. (Thanks, Carmen for pointing me home).

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Alright, enough of that sap. I’m waxing poetic over here, filled with nostalgia and new happiness all in one. I’m happy, though — truly happy. It’s been a rough road and I’m finally looking at a new path that feels promising. I owe so much to my family, friends, co-workers, and students for supporting me through all of this and not letting the changes that have occurred damage our relationships.  And most of all for helping me realize that I am making a difference around me.

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And that…that is why I teach. 

‘MERICA

I was reviewing presidential candidates with my advisory when one of my students called out “Can’t we just vote for Obama again?  Change that rule that says we can’t!”  I found myself also asking the same thing; can we change the 22nd amendment and vote Obama in again?  America, you are really starting to scare me.

On one side, there is an overgrown oompa loompa and two dudes with the last names of Cruz and Rubio who jump the bandwagon of hating the “others” that the first guy warns us about. Idiots.  Pure. Idiots.  If we had a time machine invented, I’d kick them all back to the stone age.

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Guys!  What is wrong with you people that pay that unpleasant orangutan any mind?  Trump encourages this type of behavior! !

On the other side, there is Hilary (who an ex of mine once nicknamed Shrillary) who  has been blamed for the shoddy security at Benghazi and decided to share national secrets via email… It got me wondering: Bill was wreckless with his pants, why couldn’t she do that instead of being all willy nilly wreckless with the country’s security.  The only guy I kind of like is ole’ Bernie, but his age scares me a bit.  But, he’s passionate, he’s an activist, and above all he seems like someone I could share a good bourbon with and wax philosophical with. I like what he speaks about.  But, I’m afraid people look at him like a crazy old professor…like Doc from Back to the Future! 

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Then again….
Holy hell, Trump does look a lot like Biff.

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We’re screwed. Thanks ‘Merica…

The Guilt of a Catholic.

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I’ve been trying this new thing; see, I learned this new thing in therapy and my savior-of-a-therapist tells me to practice often.  Be present.

So, I’m giving this whole being present thing and I’m really liking it in some ways and not so much in other ways.
See, therapy (along with other supports I’ve learned along the way) has really pushed me to get through my past. My mother used to jokingly say that I needed to go to church with her best friend – a Catholic – since I had that “Catholic” guilt for no reason (it would explain my love for the pope.)  I always loved that about my mom… She has never told me I was wrong when some heavy emotion was weighing on me so much that I had to call her and talk.  She’s always said “Celia, you can’t make important decisions when upset, so just let yourself calm down and wait to deal with it when you’re in a better place.” Maybe I shouldn’t have used quotes but I bet over the years (in my mom’s infinite wisdom) she has said a mixture of those words on the same topic so we’ll just say it close enough! 

I digress….

BE PRESENT okay, I got back on track.  You may be asking “what benefits and side effects are there to this new thing called being present?” Well, let me tell ya…
1) benefit – I am calmer. I am able to rationalize a situation and understand that I am only able to control my actions, words, and ethos.  I am able to harness more of my feelings and hold onto it and not pull in the bad vibes around me. I’m not perfect with it and I still mess up and forget, BUT its getting better. It at least is helping me maintain a stable thought process and emotion when things around me are not always copacetic.  Not to mention, I have time on my hands to be passionate about stuff I’ve never had the energy to really act on.
2) side effect – when I’m calm and centered it makes me notice how much chaos and negativity are around me. It is also making me take an inventory of where I’m putting in the most work emotionally, only to realize I just need to let some things go and not let the outside world effect me so strongly.

Through being present, I’ve noticed that I’m more passionate about change…I can focus on being a voice for those around me who lack one.  I have time to be upset about the disproportionate incarceration of people of color, police brutality, deportation of undocumented citizens, and educational inequality based on SES.  Most of all, I get to spend my emotional energy in positive ways while at school with my students. I plan to take all the energy I used in focusing on other’s negativity and put it into my students education and development.

All of this present-ness (yes, I am making up words over here!) doesn’t mean I am

deaf to the bullshit

,” because stuff still happens and bugs me…however, I’m noticing a quicker bounceback in my mood.  If I can just get through the initial shock of anger from things, I might make it through and grow.

Gender whaaaaaat?

A couple of months ago (it constantly feels like two days ago because it keeps weighing on me) one of our 8th grade students asked another teacher, “why does Mrs. Taylor shave her head?  Does she want to be called Mr. Taylor?”  The irony of this particular conversation was that the question was coming from the mouth of a child that has said some offensive things, only in this situation he was being respectful and caring. It made my heart smile (corny I know, but true) knowing that this student cared enough to make sure he didn’t hurt my feelings.  My colleague, that the 8th grader was speaking with, explained that some people have long hair and some people have short hair, but that it’s all about the preference of the person wearing the hair.   She talked to him about how to ask the same question to me in a respectful manner.

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Strangely enough,  in all my 29 years no one has ever taken the time to ask what I identify as..man or woman.  Sure, at the jail my clients had their own “questions.” However,  instead of being respectful, they usually hurled their questions like insults with the same veracity that they hurled their bodily fluids when trying to nail an officer with something gag worthy. I ignored the slurs, smirked at the funny ones, and cringed at the ones that hit close to home.

Now,  before I continue, ya’ll know I can’t miss the chance to tell a funny story… I felt like a seasoned employee at the jail by the time I encountered the young gentleman featured in this story. It was during Keeneland’s spring meet (I remembered his khaki shorts and polo, the spotless Sperry boat shoes that never saw a real boat deck,  and his frat brother in the cell next to him.  People are only housed in cells if they are rowdy in the seating area where the tv is OR they are known to be violent or were brought in on 1st degree felony (jail people, correct me if I’m wrong!).  Anyways, the young man was arrested for disorderly conduct and public intoxication. He would be spending the night in the cell and I was his best friend. Due to his wide range of emotions,  my services were deemed necessary.   I ruled out any mental health issues other than maybe a panic attack caused by being in his current predicament and continued down the line to talk mental health with another individual. I’m in the middle of an assessment and I hear it… the tapping. Anyone in intake can feel their skin crawl when the tapping begins.  Banging on the door is preferred over tapping. Actually,  anything is preferred over tapping.  I lean back from my crouched position to hear the lovely young man (sperrys, polo, and shorts) tap some more and then add on my all time favorite phrase…”excuse me,  Mrs…uhhh…Mrs. Dyke-Ma’am.”  Yep. The worst part? He thought he was being polite.  And maybe he was being polite; maybe unease and ignorant upbringing made him think that calling me that was polite. Maybe he didn’t know what else to call me? I can’t be mad at his lack of speaking etiquette. And to be quite honest, I think I laughed at him (in a pitying sort of way) and dismissed it.

Let’s steer this back to the idea of gender… Society teaches us from a young age that there are two genders: male and female.  Just recently, I saw an “other” box under the male and female check boxes on a survey our students took. I remember glancing throughout my classroom and wondering if any of these children identified as something other than their biological sex. Growing up, I only understood gender as binary. Now, I can honestly say that the idea of a binary gender code seems a little outdated, a little restrictive, and a lot aggravating for kids and adults who stare at only two check boxes…

I’m 29 and I am figuring things out about myself every day. I do like brussel sprouts,  I do like sweet potatoes.  I do like having more than two options for gender. See? Not a big deal. It shouldn’t be a big deal if someone wants to dress as a man but have the genitalia of a woman. I wear men’s clothing every day and my gender bending has never hurt anyone.

Do I identify as the male gender or female gender? At this point in my life, I believe that I’m a mixture of both, leaning more towards the masculine side of things. You can call it gender bending, you can call it androgynous, you can call it queer.  I just know that I believe that gender is fluid and that sometimes it aligns with your biology and sometimes it doesn’t. Or just sometimes you feel like looking kick ass in clothing made for the opposite gender than what society labeled you.  Whichever it is, do YOU.

Just do you. And be proud of it.

Apparently, it’s Snowzilla.

I was alone for 73 hours.  Well, alone, plus the animal kingdom (Bly, Tripp, Saki, Ahmi, and Henry).  I wrote throughout the hours of being alone and what you read below is my best job at pulling it all together.  I didn’t want to post it as I was writing it because who knows what creepers would have been looking in my windows knowing I was home alone for that long.  Here’s a picture of me doing a lot of shoveling!

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These are CT Newby’s stages of being snowed in:

Stage 1: Determination – Determination is peaked through preparation time.  Being snowed in alone (with animals) means there needs to be tons of snacks, tons of activities, and tons of entertainment.  I made lists of what lists I needed to make. And dammit, I was sure I was going to finish everything on the list.  It read as follows:
1. shovel
2. laundry
3. dishes
4. re-caulk bathtub
5. tape bedroom
6. paint bedroom
I’m sure there are other things on my list, but I’m unsure if I care to remember.

Stage 2: Excitement – Excitement hit when I realized I had the house to myself for hours on hours on hours.  I ran around in my bathrobe, slippers, and beanie cap on my bald head.  I listened to music loudly, fell asleep with the tv on, and shoveled with pure raw energy.  I started to do laundry and I danced my way through junk food and snow shoveling.

Stage 3: Sleep – Sleeping can occur in nap form or longer naps during that stage of the day one would think of as “nighttime.”  During a snowstorm, with the curtains closed, I sometimes like to ignore what time it actually is and pretend.  I tried to remove caulk from the bathtub at an odd hour in the night.

Stage 4: Denial – Denial has me thinking “I am so tired of this white stuff.  I am just sure it is not going to stop falling. It just keeps coming way too hard and too fast and ahhh hell, I think I’m stuck here in this house, alone, forever. I can’t even see across the street. Of course, my anxiety kicked into high gear and I knew this wasn’t going to be a fun snowcation.

Insert Nap Here

Stage 4: Existential Crisis – This is the fancy word for BIGGEST PITY PARTY ever.  I wished I was somewhere else in some other time that feels better than how I felt in that moment.  I hated everything…the snow, the fact that I had shoveled and shoveled and still couldn’t get out.  This occurred around the 39th hour of being alone.  I made it almost a full workweek amount of time alone and I was good.  Then I felt like I was on the brink of some severe anxiety, so I decided to go to sleep listening to some calming music.

Insert Nap Here

Stage 5: Persevering – I really can’t stand snow, I can’t stand being stuck in the house, I want a flamethrower or ocean water and melt all this crap and make it go the hell away so I can leave.

Stage 6: Life Exists – I saw people. I replenished my snacks.  I found out that we didn’t have school tomorrow.  I came home, got in my indoor hammock and began to write.  The animals are calm (unfortunately, because let me tell you I almost benadryl’d these pups a couple of times).  FINALLY.