Standing on the Ledge

Today marks the final day of class in my doctoral program. Nothing exciting. I just had to write a five- to seven-page reflection about my study abroad trip.

As I stated previously, the trip was powerful. I had an opportunity to experience a side of Nayarit and the surrounding community that I would never have otherwise seen thanks to Human Connections. And Northern Illinois University.

Looking back on it, this study abroad taught me so much more than my trip to London back in 2001 did. I think the most important thing I learned was the importance of cultural humility, which is the idea that we do not know everything and that we need to be aware of our own position in power balances so that we can navigate situations without hurting others. Honestly, I think that this can help me be a better leader in my work with students, because it reminds me that I can learn so much from others and leverage my privilege to help those who do not have as much as I do.

Even though it meant I had a longer summer semester than my cohort, I am grateful I took advantage of this opportunity. But now that it’s done, I’m in this strange place. On one hand, all that stands between me and graduation is my dissertation. On the other hand, ALL THAT STANDS BETWEEN ME AND GRADUATION IS MY DISSER-FRICKEN-TATION.

So, what does that mean?

Well, between now and Aug. 16, I have to revise my research proposal and get it back to my dissertation chair. Once she’s good with it, I have to defend my proposal to my dissertation committee. That’s not at all terrifying.

But once my committee says, Yeah, that sounds like a good project. You seem to know what you’re doing, I actually have to conduct my research. No big deal. (For the record, I’m stress eating M&Ms as I write this.)

Then, once the research is done, I have to write my dissertation. Honestly, I think that’s going to be the easiest part of all of this. But I have to do so much before I get there.

And then once that’s done, I have to defend my dissertation. No big whoop.

My goal is to defend the dissertation by September, conduct the research by the end of November, write everything over winter break, do revisions through January and February, and then defend in March. In short, this next year is probably going to be insane.

But when all is said and done, I’ll be Dr. Kinnaman, which has a nice ring to it.

Turbulence

Two weeks ago, I climbed on a plane for my study abroad program. Now, I hate flying. I have a terrible fear of heights, and planes bring out the worst of it. That, alone, wouldn’t have been such a big deal, because books, music, and podcasts tend to help calm me down, but pretty much the entire way from Salt Lake City to Puerto Vallarta, we experienced turbulence.

With turbulence, I always worry that something’s going to go terribly wrong, and the plane will just drop from the sky. And as some snarky person once said, it’s not the fall that will kill you; it’s the sudden stop. So, I needed a distraction. I read an entire book, but that wasn’t quite enough to ease my panic.

I had been using my phone to jot notes on my novel when the idea hit. Kath, my main character, has a lot of my fears – the dark, clowns, lakes. It made sense that, along with those other fears, she would be afraid of flying. And that’s when I got the idea for the short story below. I wrote this over the course of my trip, wrapping it up on the flight back to Denver.

What’s different from the other Kath / Smith short story I posted is that this is more in line with the voice in my novels. The bulk of each book features Kath’s first-person perspective, and the remaining chapters are third-person, typically from Smith’s point of view. This story takes place about two months before the first novel, Last Breath.  Enjoy!

 

Turbulence

“Hey, it’s okay.”

As Smith spoke, he laid his hand upon mine. I would have given him my own to hold, but I was too busy clutching the armrests.

I hated flying, but I was willing to put my fears aside as best I could for Smith. Plus, it helped that he was beside me offering comfort. If I were doing this alone, they probably would have kicked me off the plane before we even left the airport.

The plane hit another pocket of air and bounced. Squeezing my eyes shut, I sucked in a breath and held it, waiting for us to drop out of the sky. Beside me, Smith leaned in close and whispered in my ear, “It’s okay, I promise.”

At the sound of his voice, I exhaled but kept my eyes shut. Smith had explained how turbulence worked to me time after time, but it never helped in the moment. Even pointing out the calm demeanor of the flight attendants walking through the cabins serving drinks and dinner failed to help.

I just wanted to be safe on land. If there was an easier way for us to get to London, I’d have taken it, but this was our only choice. Well, besides taking a boat, and I’ve seen The Poseidon Adventure, Titanic, and Jaws too many times to be okay with that. Plus, it would have added so much more time to our vacation.

For as much as I hated flying, I loved visiting London. This would be our fourth trip, a surprise birthday present from Smith. We had never visited in the spring, so I was excited. I just had to get through the next six hours of this overnight flight without panicking.

The plane smoothed out, and I felt comfortable opening my eyes. Looking at Smith, I tried but failed to muster a smile. His dark chocolate eyes reflected concern. I gave him my hand, but I couldn’t help but squeeze it tight.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“Don’t apologize,” Smith said. “Would it help for me to distract you?”

I wasn’t sure how he could, but I was willing to let him try. “Yes.”

All around us, people slept or gave their attention to electronics. Smith leaned in close, his beautiful eyes studying my face. When he spoke, he kept his voice low.

“Remember our honeymoon?”

How could I forget it? It was the perfect conclusion to the most incredible day of my life, the day that Smith surprised me with a wedding. Keeping the surprises coming, he had planned a month-long journey: two weeks in Australia followed by two in New Zealand.

“I wanted to take you somewhere beautiful and warm. That winter had been so cold and miserable, and you complained more than normal about the snow. Plus, I needed to do something big to make up for being so distant in the weeks leading up to the wedding.

“I worried about you, though. Flying there meant a long trip that would cause you so much stress. I didn’t want you to worry, but I had no clue how to make that happen.”

I smiled. “Worrying is what I do best.”

Smith’s lips drew back into his crooked smile that I loved so much. I wanted to kiss him and lose myself in the one thing that I knew could bring me peace, at least for a little while. But we were surrounded by people, and even though no one paid any attention to us, I knew it would cross our PDA boundary.

“I wanted to give you memories that lasted a lifetime. We just had to get you there first. When I told you where we were going, I saw equal parts excitement and fear in your eyes. You wanted to go so bad, but you knew that it meant a very long flight.”

“I asked you to drug me somehow so I could sleep through the whole thing and just wake up there,” I said. “I could never sleep naturally on a plane. There are too many many things that could go wrong.

“I wish someone would just invent teleportation. Of course, that has its own set of problems that I would worry about.”

“You’re such a goof,” Smith said with a smirk.

“But you love me,” I replied.

It was an old endearment between the two of us, one we started not long after Smith first told me he loved me. Like his kiss and the soft timber of his voice, it comforted me. I didn’t feel entirely at ease, but I felt a lot better.

Smith wrapped his other hand around the back of mine, and I did the same to his with my free hand. 

“Thanks,” I said. “I’ve been wondering how much force it would take for me to accidentally rip off the armrest. And whether that would that get me arrested by the Air Marshal.”

Chuckling, Smith said, “They’d probably just fine you and ban you for life.”

“That’s a risk I’m willing to take then.” I stuck my tongue out at Smith.

His plan was working. Despite the occasional rumble of turbulence, I felt more at ease. Damn that sexy son of a bitch.

“The plane ride to Sydney was rough,” he continued. “One of the worst I’ve ever experienced. I was so worried about you, but you were so brave. Yes, you were scared, but you never once cried.”

“I yelped when the plane dropped, though.”

“You did, but so did other people. Even the flight attendants seemed scared. But as quickly as the turbulence began, it was over, and the rest of the flight was fine.

“I can’t say how long this will last, but right now, it’s just little bumps. Even if it gets worse, we’ll still be okay, I promise.”

I smiled. “I thought you were going to distract me.”

Once again, Smith chuckled. God, I loved that sound.

“I’m getting there,” he said, giving my hand a squeeze. His face turned serious. “I would give you everything in this world if I could. When you’re happy, I’m happy. I never want you to feel unloved or that you’re not important, because you are the only person in the world I would give up everything for. Whenever you cry, I am genuinely hurt, because I feel like I’ve let you down.”

“You could never let me down,” I said. “Even when we fight, I know it’s just our emotions getting the best of us.”

Smith nodded, his face still somber. “Every time we fight, it rips my heart to pieces. We never mean it, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less. I only want you to be happy, and I know that I’m not always able to do that, especially when I act selfish. But that’s why I go overboard making things up to you afterward. I don’t just want you to be happy, I need you to be happy.

I wanted to pull Smith’s hand to my lips, to kiss it and clasp it against my cheek. Instead, I said, “Even when we fight, I never think that you want to hurt or punish me. We just sometimes let our emotions get the better of us. Whenever we do, I just want us to get back to normal as quickly as possible so we can go back to being happy.”

“Me, too. When you’re happy, you glow. Everyone around you is impacted. I’ve seen even the most dour people start to smile when you’re there.

“And you make me feel like I am the only man alive. I don’t know if you realize it, but you have smiles that you only show to me.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Really. You have a shy grin where you suck in the left side of your mouth. In the morning, you have this soft, sleepy smile. But my favorite is the smile you give me whenever I kiss you. It’s big and bright and absolutely beautiful. Even the one you’re giving me right now is special.”

Smith pulled his eyes away and glanced down at our hands. When he looked back at me, his eyes glimmered in the dim light. “I sometimes struggle to wrap my head around the fact that I found someone who loves me unconditionally, someone who I’d fight for in order to keep safe, someone who makes me feel like the most important man in the world. 

“In the beginning, I couldn’t understand why you wanted anything to do with me. I nearly got you arrested and expelled, but every day, when I stopped by your room to pick you up, you were not only there, but you were so happy to see me. You’re still happy to see me, even after all these years.”

“And I’ll never stop,” I whispered, letting my fingers dance across the back of his hand.

“Our honeymoon was special because it meant a month of adventures. I loved exploring with you. You’re the perfect partner because you have this deep curiosity, and everything fills you with awe. That’s another one of your special smiles, by the way.”

Exploring the world with my best friend is one of my favorite activities. It doesn’t matter whether we’re on another continent or one town over, being with Smith has meant that I’ve done things I never would have otherwise. From the day that he and I went off in search of the bomb that never existed, I have never been happier. With any luck, we’d get to spend the next fifty years chasing adventure together.

“But as much as we explored, we also spent so much time alone with one another. I’ll be honest, I loved that even more. The beach house in New Zealand was my favorite. We were all by ourselves in the middle of nowhere, and some days, we never left the bed. Other days, we did, but we didn’t venture very far.”

My face reddened and my stomach did barrel rolls thinking of those wonderful days. Smith noticed and brushed his fingers against my cheek. His skin sent electricity through my body. How much longer until we arrived in London?

“We should go back to that beach house some winter,” I whispered, my voice suddenly hoarse.

Smith winked, and my stomach fluttered once again. 

“I think we can make that happen,” he said.

A few minutes ticked past as Smith and I stared at one another. I wished we were alone, because I wanted so badly to curl up in his arms and feel the energy from his body pouring into mine. It wasn’t until I met Smith that I understood what need was. I needed his touch, his words, his love. Without it, I felt incomplete. Smith truly was my soulmate.

“How do you feel?” Smith asked at last.

“Better,” I said. “I’d kiss you if I could.”

Smith gave me his crooked grin, and before I realized what was happening, he leaned forward, pressing his lips to mine. The acrobats in my stomach went wild, and goosebumps raced across my skin. I cupped Smith’s cheek in my left hand and disappeared in that perfect moment. 

I had fallen in love with Smith nearly fifteen years earlier, and every day, I only loved him more. He knew exactly how to make me smile, to make me feel safe and loved. I wasn’t sure what I’d do without him, but I was glad I didn’t have to worry about that.

“Have I ever told you that you’re perfect?” I asked, leaning in for one more kiss.

Mexico: An opportunity of a lifetime

 

This past week, I had an opportunity to take part in a study abroad program as part of my doctorate coursework. Instead of taking a class on policy (snooze), I had the option to take a course about designing experiential learning activities, specifically community-based global learning through a study abroad in Bucerías, Mexico.

Honestly, I couldn’t pass up the chance. I studied in London as part of my bachelor’s degree, and it was such an incredible experience. This experience fits in perfectly with my dissertation topic, which will study the impact of student-led experiential learning activities on the students’ leadership development. And even though it meant that I would travel to a foreign country to meet up with 11 other students I didn’t know, I leapt at the chance.

Over the course of the experience, we partnered with Human Connections, an organization that showcases Bucerías through responsible tourism. Throughout the week, we visited with the company’s various partners, who taught us about their lives and their work. (Honestly, if you ever find yourself in Puerto Vallarta, take a tour with Human Connections. You’ll learn so much and gain so much appreciation for crafters who make a living from their work.)

In addition to meeting with the partners, we visited San Pancho, a small coastal village, and entreamigos, an incredible community non-profit. We also traveled to Sayulita, another coastal village to visit the Galeria Tanana, to learn more about the Huichol people and their artwork. We also were fortunate enough to visit Puerto Vallarta and Centro Universitario de la Costa to learn more about higher education in Mexico and SETAC, an LGBTQ+ center.

I’ve been back for nearly 24 hours, but I am still processing the experience. It means a lot to me to have had the opportunity to learn more about Bucerías and the incredible people who work so hard there. While I took many pictures of my trip, which you can see below, I did not take photos of them. I didn’t feel it would be fair to showcase the people and their stories in any way that could be construed as exploitative.

In addition, I am grateful to have gotten to know my professors better and met some great doctoral and master’s students from Northern Illinois University. I spent so much time with them, especially the doctoral students, and I am grateful for all that I learned from them.

Now that the experience is over, I have two papers left to write for the class, one of which is a reflection about my time in Mexico. Maybe then, I’ll be able to express myself more coherently. For now, enjoy these photos of Puerto Vallarta, Bucerías, San Pancho, and Saylita, as well as the Pacific Ocean.

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March Reads

As this blog focuses a lot on my books and my writing, I think it is only fitting to give some recognition to the books I’m reading that serve both as entertainment and inspiration to my writing.

Of course, as I have been focusing so much on writing this year, my reading has suffered a bit. I normally set a challenge to read 60 books each year, and normally, I have no problem meeting that goal. This year, however, I’m behind schedule. Like really behind. Like eight books behind schedule.

Fortunately, I did manage to finish two books in March, not counting the textbook I read for class. I thought I would share them with you as a chance for you to share your thoughts if you have read one or both of them. I would love to hear your thoughts on these, as well as other books you think I should read.

Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas
One of my students lent me her copy of this book, which is the first in a series. I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard good things going into it, so I was not all that excited to pick it up. But in fairness to my student, I wanted to give it a try. Overall, it’s a decent book.

My biggest issue is that the main character is such an egotistical brat who knows she is beautiful and does not understand why people are not falling for her. In other words, she’s not the most likable protagonist.

What this book does have going for it, though, is a Battle Royale-esque competition to see who will be the king’s new hero, some interesting fantasy elements, and a murder mystery. Fortunately, they were enough to keep me reading even though I wanted to smack the main character silly.

Overall, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Unlike the previous book, this was a book I looked forward to reading. Other than reading his story arc in the Black Panther comics, I had not read Coates before. I am really glad I did.

Written as a letter to his son, Between the World and Me serves to share Coates experiences as a Black man in an America that is defined by whiteness. It’s an America where Black lives and experiences are not equal to those of white people, as shown through the violence we see play out day after day.

I would say that this is required reading for anyone who wants to grow in their ally-ship, understand their privilege, and work toward equity. America is not kind to people of color, most especially those who are Black, and works such as this serve as a reminder that the fight is ongoing. I look forward to reading more by Coates, as well as others who write about race and its impact.

Overall, I’d give this 5 out of 5.

The Engagement

Last week, I found myself stuck on the novel, so I decided to write something that’s been sitting in my head for a while. This is part of the Last Breath universe, though it is definitely a much happier tale. Since I don’t have a book where this belongs, I thought I’d share this short story with you all. It will give you a glimpse of these two characters I’ve come to know so well.

So, without further ado, I present “The Engagement.”

 

Stepping out of the cab, Smith walked up to Kath, who stood in awe of the building before her. A soft, warm San Antonio breeze tousled her long, brown curls. Smith slid his hand into Kath’s. Squeezing it, she turned to him and said, “I can see why you love this place. It’s beautiful.”

Before them stood a Spanish-style mansion beyond a lush green lawn lined with palm trees and perfectly trimmed bushes. To their right, flagstones led to a large koi pond covered in lily pads. The McNay Art Museum looked like heaven on earth. And with it being the day before Thanksgiving, Smith and Kath appeared to have the place to themselves.

Overwhelmed by the beauty of the place, Kath let Smith guide her, first to the koi pond where she marveled over the large fish. Smith stood back, watching his girlfriend’s unfettered joy. Ever since her surgery over the summer, Kath had seemed so subdued. The weight of losing her chance to have children brought about a melancholy that dug in as time passed. Grief had stolen the bubble out of the beautiful woman, but now, he saw her former spark.

“We haven’t even gone inside, and I already know I love it here,” Kath said, turning to Smith. “How did you ever find this place?”

“My parents brought me one summer. Later, I tried running away so I could live here.”

“I would have, too.”

“Ready to go inside?”

Kath squeezed Smith’s hand again and nodded. “But be warned, I may never leave.”

“I’ll be right here with you.”

Leaning over, Kath kissed Smith’s cheek. The act was bold for Kath, but Smith didn’t mind, not when he saw the light in her emerald eyes. He found her beautiful everyday, but today, she was stunning. Her forest green sundress brought out her eyes, and her porcelain skin glowed. What few people milled around the grounds turned to watch Kath pass. Smith couldn’t help but beam with pride.

Hand in hand they entered the museum. Kath, in her good-natured charm, smiled and greeted the docents. Smith grinned. He was, without a doubt, the luckiest man on the planet, and if things went as planned, it would be a day Kath never forgot.

The east wing housed a collection of Monet paintings. Kath loved impressionists, Monet above all. Once, when they visited Kath’s parents over winter break, they took the train down to New York City to see at Degas exhibit at the Met, and Kath floated around for days afterward. Today, she stood in front of one of the water lily paintings, one hand on her chest, her mouth parted in wonder.

They spent close to an hour looking at the paintings, although Smith spent most of that time watching Kath. He had picked the perfect place to ask her to marry him, but they hadn’t yet reached where he wanted to propose. 

Smith guided Kath through the building, letting her marvel over the art and the architecture. For a moment, his thoughts turned wistful. Imagining Kath as a toddler, her eyes filled with delight and wonder, Smith couldn’t help but see the daughter they’d never have. As the thought hit him, he gripped her hand tight out of reflex. She saw his flash of pain, her face crumpling.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered.

The one thing Smith could never do with Kath was lie. Not that she could see through him. He just couldn’t willingly hurt her. But he couldn’t spoil this perfect moment.

Kath saved him from the decision.

“Is it hard to be here? Because of your parents?”

Not committing to the lie, Smith shrugged. “It’s nothing.”

Smith walked on, leading Kath into a narrow hall lined with dark walnut paneling. On their right, a wooden sculpture of a man stole Kath’s attention, stopping her. She fawned over the tiny beads of stubble on his cheeks and the neat crescents of his fingernails.

The man wore weariness in his delicate but detailed features. Smith understood the pain and exhaustion in the man’s eyes. He had seen it time after time in Kath’s eyes as she battled the pain of endometriosis. All the times when Smith could do nothing more than hold her in his arms and whisper that things would be okay.

As Kath stared at the sculpture, Smith let go of her hand and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. As she always did, she leaned against his body and slid an arm around his waist, hooking a finger through one of his belt loops. Pulling her gaze away, Kath kissed Smith on the cheek once again.

“Thank you,” she said.

“For what?”

“All of this. I never knew this place existed until today, and now, I never want to leave. Thank you for sharing it with me.”

“You’re welcome,” he said, returning the kiss.

They continued wandering through the museum until they emerged in an enclosed courtyard. Smith led Kath to a bench under a towering cluster of palm trees. As he sat, Smith pulled the ring from his pocket, closing it in his fist. They sat in silence for a few minutes as Kath’s gaze took in the lush greenery growing around them.

“It’s like I’ve been transported to the setting of a fantasy novel. It’s too beautiful for words.”

Smith smiled and angled his body toward Kath’s. Taking a deep breath, he pushed his glasses up his nose. Smith grabbed Kath’s hand, and as he spoke, kept his gaze on her long, delicate fingers. He had rehearsed the words, repeating them each night while he laid in bed watching his love as she slept.

“Four years ago, I met and fell in love with my best friend. Love was something I thought only others experienced, but you swept in like a whirlwind, throwing my life into disarray in the best possible way. I couldn’t help but fall in love with you.

“I know I haven’t always been the best boyfriend, but the fact that you gave me a second chance means more to me than you will ever know. You taught me how to love. If you let me, I’ll never stop showing you how much you mean to me.”

Pulling his eyes up to Kath’s, he saw the promise of tears, but the smile stretched across her trembling lips spurred him on. Opening his hand, Smith held up the blue diamond encircled by tiny flecks of diamonds on a white-gold band.

“Will you marry me?”

The first tear fell as Kath nodded. “Yes, yes! Of course!”

Before he could slide the ring onto her finger, Kath threw herself into Smith’s arms, kissing him on the lips before hugging him. He held her tight, face buried in her hair. She smelled of sunshine and love and happiness. In a word, she smelled like home.

Bad Times Are Tough…

Balancing school and work and writing has been a big part of my life for nearly a year now. For the most part, I’m able to balance all three as separate aspects of my life, although I do admit to focusing a bit more on writing than on school. As much as I love getting my doctorate and the immense feeling of accomplishment knowing that I’m doing something no other member of my family has come close to, freeing the stories living in my head just feels so much more rewarding right now.

But for the past few weeks, I found myself pulling away from all writing. Not to say that I haven’t written anything, but I procrastinated on two papers for class, waiting until the day each were due. With The New Years Eve Murders, my current work in progress, I would write a little bit here or there, but nothing substantial.

However, as much as I love to be lazy, I didn’t procrastinate out of exhaustion or general malaise. There was a real reason why I’ve been pulling away from writing, one I had kept to myself until last night. It’s a hurdle that I need to move past, because at this point, there is nothing holding me back.

For pretty much my entire education, writing had been my thing. I joke that I have a B.A. in B.S., because I can write a mean research paper. I won an award for my journalism; I was named Outstanding English Graduate. During my master’s program, I was regularly praised for my papers. Even with my doctorate, I had gotten compliments.

And then I took my higher ed law class.

For the first time in my entire writing and education career, I came across that one teacher, who no matter what I did, just did not like my writing style. That was hard. Of course, while taking this class, I started querying, and while I haven’t sent many query letters out (right now I’m at a whopping four), I received two rejections. The rejections, themselves, didn’t hurt. But when paired with a teacher who I couldn’t connect with on any level, I started feeling like a failure.

Who am I kidding, I still feel like a failure.

I know I’m not a failure. I know I’m a good writer, but right now, my brain is trying awfully hard to feel sorry for itself. As a result, my imposter syndrome has been on overdrive.

This feeling won’t last, and honestly, I just keep quoting King Falls A.M. when I feel myself getting too down. As the awesome Ben Arnold sang in A King Falls Christmas, “Bad times are tough, but not tougher than me.”

I will get through this. I will believe in my writing again.

 

Bat Times are Tough
Wallpaper courtesy of https://skylarkevanson.tumblr.com/post/155884814364/i-made-a-couple-of-king-falls-am-phone

Aren’t Brains the Best?

If you’ve read through some of my postings, you know that I have been battling anxiety, depression, and insecurity for a long time. I try my best to mask what’s happening by using humor, because people seem to care more for the people who can make them laugh than the one who is always complaining about the things that are wrong.

Today, I thought I was doing pretty well. I woke up with a plan to do exactly two things today: post on my class discussion board and work on my query letter. I posted, and I opened the file to start my letter, but in both cases, insecurity took hold.

I’m pretty certain that what I wrote to my classmates is complete garbage. They’re the experts in higher education. I’m just someone who has worked in the field for 15 years and hasn’t paid any attention to anything other than my job.

With the query letter, it doesn’t matter that I’ve written a novel. It doesn’t matter that I have a pretty decent way with words. Lots of people can write; it doesn’t mean that they’re all good at it. And by they, I mean me.

I’ve dealt with imposter syndrome for a very long time. I know that I have done a lot of good things in my life, but my brain doesn’t always believe that I’m meant to be here. It doesn’t matter that I have two degrees and am a year and half out from my third. Nor does it matter that I’ve been writing both professionally and personally for basically my entire life. It doesn’t matter that I’ve worked my butt off to get to where I am today, not when I have a defective brain.

Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Know the movie Red Dawn? I was so convinced that the Soviet Union was going to invade the U.S. in the mid-eighties that I freaked out any time a plane flew overhead. I had acid reflux in kindergarten, because of my recurring nightmares about having to fight off Russians in my great-grandmother’s backyard. In retrospect, a repetitive dream in which I – a child – used a rusty machete to fight off Russians with machine guns is quite hilarious. But it’s also my reality.

As I grew older, and the USSR broke up, my anxieties shifted. In high school, as I spent winter breaks and weekends babysitting my cousin’s toddler, I would lie in bed imagining someone breaking into her house. I had an escape plan for every scenario my overly stimulated brain could imagine.  As a result, the lack of sleep caught up to me, and I wound up getting physically sick.

My anxiety and imposter syndrome are best friends. They hang out together and wait until I have a decent amount of confidence before attacking. I swear, their favorite activity is destroying anything positive I have built up. Which is why I’m typing this today.

I know I am not alone when it comes to imposter syndrome and anxiety. I don’t even have a surefire way to power through when they set in. I just liken them to walking. Put one foot in front of the other and repeat until you’ve gotten to your destination. Or in this case, typing one word after another until the words form a completed narrative.

What I write doesn’t have to be great right now. The simple act of getting the words on the page will be a huge accomplishment. Then, when I’m feeling like the word FAKE is no longer hanging over my head blinking like a neon sign, I’ll worry about how good or bad things are. If not, the bad feelings win. And I can’t afford to let that happen. I know that I have fought incredibly hard to get to where I am today. I can’t let a case of imposter syndrome keep me from achieving goals I’ve had my entire life.

So, enough whinging. Time to start fighting back.

 

Last Breath

After working on this novel off and on for nearly nine years, it’s nice to see things finally coming together. I finished Last Breath about seven years ago, but fear kept me from doing much more than editing it every now and thing. Last summer, though, that changed when I stopped caring about fear and rejection and decided to immerse myself back into the world of my private detectives, prepping this bad boy to go out into the world.

At the end of July, I started rewriting the entire thing by hand. It took a few months, but I added a completely new section and fine-tuned the original story. I may be a bit biased, but I think this final version is a pretty decent piece of fiction.

So what’s it about? Here’s my blurb:

Last Breath follows the Smiths, a pair of private detectives who have been called in to consult with the Boulder County Sheriffs Department on a gruesome murder by a sadistic serial killer. Nicknamed The Dripper, the killer savages women before tying them up a drowning them in mountain lakes near Boulder. As the Smiths investigate, Kath Smith finds herself haunted by the case, but is she simply afraid of what she’s seen, or is she about to become a victim herself?

Losing myself in the world of the Smiths, I not only finished this piece, but I also have planned at least two more adventures from them. Book two, tentatively called The New Year’s Eve Murders, is already underway, although I’ve taken some time off for my last two rounds of edits to Last Breath. My hope is to wrap that bad boy up some time this year.

Next up, I plan to start the querying process, which is crazy. I admit that I’m a bit terrified, but I’m much more confident about my writing and this book, making me feel better about jumping off into this whole publishing abyss. But if I never try, there I’ll never know for sure whether others will every get to experience this world I love so much.

So, here goes nothing.

I’m Baaaaaaack!

That’s right! I might be working full time, taking classes toward my doctorate and living it up as a married woman, but I decided that there simply isn’t enough going on in my life, so I should start writing once more.

When do I sleep? I’ll let you know once that finally happens.

But seriously, I’m actually writing because I finally decided to do something with my life…besides being a college administrator, student, and wife. I decided that it was time to do something with that manuscript I finished back in 2012. No longer would it collect dust.

Nope, I decided that it was time to take a serious look at it and try my hand at publishing it (and by it, I mean Last Breath, the official title of my novel). So, I dug it out of my Dropbox in late July and spent the following four months rewriting it (by hand, because I never do things the easy way). Since then, I’ve edited it twice, and I’m in the process of wrapping up a third, and hopefully final, edit before sending it off to a professional for feedback.

I’ve wanted to be an author basically since I learned to read. And for way too long, I let my imposter syndrome get the best of me. But now, I’m serious. Not only am I looking to publish Last Breath, but I’m also actively trying to build my brand as a writer. As a result, you’ll notice a lot of changes coming your way in the weeks and months to come.

You’ll see me using this site much more often than I have, but not just for the hilarious stories of falling down or being mistaken for pregnant when I just need to go on a diet. I’m going to be giving regular updates on the whole shebang and including fun things for those of you who want to stick around and see this thing through.

It’s my hope that you do stick around, and if you’re finding me for the first time, feel free to look through the archives and have a good laugh. I don’t mind.

It’s Not If, It’s When

Back in the fall of 2011, not long after I had become a Building Emergency Leader (BEL) at Johnson County Community College, I attended an active shooter training led by a former FBI agent. He started by immediately killing any lightheartedness in the room by saying that campus shooting happening at JCCC would not be a case of if but of when. Trust me, I quickly began to wonder what I had gotten myself into when I agreed to become a BEL.

Ever since Columbine, school shootings had been a serious fear of mine, and I have had students who had left me wondering if they were capable of committing murder because of certain behaviors they had exhibited to their peers, faculty or staff. As a college employee, I work in the very setting where these incidents can and do occur. Every time I hear about a school shooting, regardless of whether it’s K-12 or college, it cuts me to the core. Even fictional stories about school shootings – Gus Van Sant’s Elephant or Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin for example – give me nightmares.

Today, those nightmares partially came true.

I had gone down to my boss’ office to catch her up on a meeting she had missed and something that had happened in our office earlier. On my way out of her office, I grabbed a large package that had come in and hopped in the elevator for the third floor. I’ll tell you now, nothing seemed out of the ordinary right away. I passed a girl in the quiet lounge who was buying something out of the vending machine. The hall was otherwise empty, but at 3 p.m. on a Thursday, which is pretty normal.

When I got to my office, the door was locked. Honestly, I thought we were once again having problems where the door was locking itself – it happened several times earlier this week – so I thumped on the window since I was carrying a giant box and couldn’t easily grab my keys. Aaron, my Student Involvement Ambassador, had been walking away from the door and turned back. I could tell that I surprised him, but I didn’t understand why. When he explained, well, that’s when panic mode set in.

Aaron stated that a police officer carrying a shotgun had just stopped in asking if they had seen a woman carrying a shotgun. When Aaron said no, the officer said that he was going to lock Aaron and the other staff members in the office.

I had just missed this happening, and when I knocked on the window, I scared the crap out of the people in the office. Of course, the manager in me kicked in. I told Aaron to call over and tell the staff to close the Lounge and Campus Center, which had already been done (my staff is awesome). I then grabbed my BEL radio and called my boss to see if she had heard anything.

Over the next few minutes, my boss and I were frantically trying to figure out whether the situation was a drill or legitimate lockdown situation. I am so thankful I’m a BEL because the notification that we were on lockdown came across the radio before the text and email notifications were sent out.

After that, it was a waiting game, and we wound up waiting for nearly four hours as the JCCC police, Overland Park Police and SWAT and the Johnson County Sheriff Department searched our campus for the woman with the gun. We got a few text notifications, but honestly, Twitter was our best source of information. I sat in my office, my heart in my throat, trying my best to put on a brave face for the five students who were hiding in my conference room watching the local news over the internet. We’d trade news back and forth, jumping at every single thump we heard.

I will say that I am so thankful that I had Aaron in the office. His experience as a former Marine was invaluable as he would reassure me after every thump and bump that it wasn’t a gunshot but a door shutting or the AC kicking on or whatever it was. He kept my sanity in check. I don’t know what I would have done without him.

Eventually, around 6:30 p.m., we heard the police evacuating the Student Lounge and Campus Center. That was the greatest sound ever, because we knew we were next. But the minutes between evacuating those rooms and ours stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. We knew that they had to sweep each room to ensure that no one remained and that the woman with the gun wasn’t hiding anywhere, but we just wanted to run for the safety of our cars so we could rush to the safety of our homes so bad. Not to mention every single one of us had to use the bathroom so badly. But the police soon came to our rescue.

But my job wasn’t done quite yet. The police had already cleared the first and second floors on the COM, but they had missed my boss’ office and the Campus Ledger staff, so I had to speak to the police to tell them where to go. I can now cross “Spoke to a man carrying an assault rifle” off my bucket list.” :-/

While I was out of the building, I still wasn’t quite done. As I went to leave campus, I had to stop and open my trunk to prove that I did not have a gun or a person in my trunk. While I was standing at the back of my car with a police officer, we hear a loud crash. Some gawker on the main road wound up rear-ending the car in front of him. At that point, the officer was definitely done with me. And I was glad to be done with work.

Today was a day that I hope to never repeat. I cannot say if it was a false report or what, but I am very thankful that we did not have an active-shooter situation. I don’t understand why anyone would ever choose to react in such a manner, hurting innocent people. I’m glad it did not happen today. I’m proud of my staff for how well they handled themselves, and I’m proud of the students who hung out with me in my office, all of whom maintained their composure so well in a very stressful and frightening time.

I’m just so glad to be at home where I got to hug Jeff really tight. I thank all of my friends and family for checking in on me throughout the afternoon and evening. I’m happy to report that I am safe and alive, and trust me, I will hug you all so much when I see you.