The freedom to dream (again)

I have 10,000 blog posts in my heart about leaving New York. Wait, you didn't know I'm leaving New York? I wrote a newsletter explaining why. So now this post can jump right into an unintended positive consequence: I feel free again, free to dream big and paint futures for myself in the sky.

IMG_2900Recently, I've been feeling so...stuck. Stagnant. Like I'm treading quicksand, just waiting to disappear. Except I'm not sinking, but I also can't get out.

I've always been a big dreamer. I never really boxed myself into an "ideal" future, because I was constantly painting a new one. I was constantly believing that what was to come would be better than what was.

Not in the sense that I was unhappy; just in the sense that I truly believed things would continue to improve.

As a child, my dreams took the shape of how I would grow into someone so pretty, how all the boys would love me, how I would be famous and rich and successful and happy. I had this one dream, when I was around 11 or so, that by age 14 (incidentally, the age at which I knew I would return to America) I would be tall, slim, with long red hair that my nimble fingers could form into a braid.

When that didn't turn out, I simply turned to a new dream. That's how I was. That's how I am. Dreaming is part of the fabric of my brain. I have this innate sense of how things can and will be ever better.

I've lost that over the past year. Oh, I think I had it, some, for my first year in New York. That was the year that I was in school and working part-time, the year that I spent a lot of time with my friends and did a lot of cool New York things.

The second year, things dwindled. I worked, and that's about it. I worked, watched TV, read books, and slept. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I stopped dreaming. Recently, I've been telling everyone how I feel stuck. I thought the solution was to get a new job, or perhaps win a novel contest, or maybe break into a new publication. I thought the solution was to work harder.

And then, a week ago, everything changed. In quick succession, I quit my job, decided to move away from New York, planned a three-month reset visit to Italy followed by looking for jobs. And I decided that I wouldn't give myself a city, state or even general geographic vicinity in which to look. I wouldn't box myself in. I would pull up my computer and just look for any writing job, anywhere.

The dreams came back. Suddenly I was visualizing myself driving through Seattle; living on the beach in California; writing for a newspaper in Hawaii; dating a country music singer in Nashville; I was able to see myself in all these places, and even better, I was able to imagine myself happy.

I think the trap I fell into over the past year is that I decided I wouldn't be happy if I was anywhere other than New York. But I wasn't happy in New York, mostly because I wasn't really doing anything other than work food service jobs that didn't have any personal fulfillment. It's one thing to not be satisfied in your job but have a social life that fills you with joy. But to have neither? I was so exhausted I couldn't do anything other than work. But I wasn't happy at work. So I just...wasn't happy.

But I was convinced that I wouldn't be happy leaving New York.

Obviously, I haven't left yet, so I don't know if I will be happy anywhere else. I believe I will, though, and that's half the battle.

The thing about dreams is that they really do influence reality. If I allow myself the liberty of believing I could be happy anywhere else, the chances are much higher that I really will be.

So I'm letting my imagination loose. I'm visualizing myself anywhere and everywhere all at once, living a life of adventure like I've always dreamed. I had no idea it would take giving up on one dream to learn to dream again.

It's heartbreaking that I have to leave New York. It feels like I'm betraying not just the city but myself from two years ago. It feels like I've failed; I tried to hack it in New York but wasn't strong enough, couldn't do it.

Those feelings come and choke me and threaten to take away my ability to dream. In those moments, I allow myself to mourn. I let myself be sad about what I'm losing, what I never had. But I'm not going to let them take over.

So what if I failed at living in New York? That's not a real measure of success anyone other than two-years-ago-Karis uses.


I let myself mourn, and then I start to dream. I dream about the adventures I'll have in Italy for three months. I dream about all the jobs that I can apply for now that I'm not limiting myself to one metro area. I dream about all the cool places I could live, the beautiful furniture I could buy, the kitten and puppy I could adopt. I dream about the new friends I'll make and the boys I'll meet and the life I'll build.

And it's good.

It's so good.

New York — it's amazing. But it's not everything. And I think I needed to lose it in order to see that.

Sleeping ~ Instead of Living: a vlog story

Yesterday I published the first full episode of my new vlog series, entitled "Living ~ When You Just Wanna Sleep." Of course, since I'm me, before sharing it with the world, I shared it with a few friends to get their opinions, and they were fans. Which meant the absolute world to me. So, girded with their supportive fortitude, I sallied forth into the world of publishing vlogs! It's a scary world out there, scarier than the world of being painfully open and honest in writing, because in the world of videos, people see your face; they see the way your eyes droop when you're sad, the way that circle of fat around your (my) belly makes you (me) look like a Pillsbury dough boy, the way your hair floofs out of control and has to be tamed, repeatedly, during one 30-second filming...they see all your pores, the literal and metaphorical ones.

It's terrifying, but for someone like me, who thrives on being known intimately, it's also thrilling.

Ever since I was in high school, I had this need, bordering on compulsion, for people to know what was going on behind my eyes. It's fascinating to me, how little we can truly know about someone. They can smile and laugh and inside they're mentally throwing knives and screeching and pulling at their hair and sobbing but all we see is happiness. It's fascinating and more than a little heart-breaking.

And back in high school, my depression was beginning to make me act different, act weird, and I had this intense desire that they should know why.

So in college I began writing about it, and well...the rest is history.



These videos are going to be a monthly installment, and hopefully each one will be better than the last. I'll film bits and pieces and flashes of my life throughout the month — images of myself walking through NYC, myself with friends, myself at home being sad or ultra happy or what have you — and then a narration thread. It's going to be an inside look at depression; at what it's like, really and truly and as unfilteredly as possible, to live with depression.

To live, in short, when you'd rather be sleeping.

This video has a few holes, one of which being that I don't really go into why quitting my job helps my depression, because I've talked so much about my love for pizza-slinging. It's confusing, if you don't know what all happened in the last few weeks.

Basically, it just...became too much. A combination of the management, angry customers and me being overworked conspired to create a fissure in me, one that needed to be soothed by taking a break. And when I went back to wasn't the same. I wasn't in love anymore. I was stressed, having panic attacks in the hours leading up to my shift. I was scared of getting yelled at by any number of people, scared of messing up.

I also lived with a constant fear of losing my job. I can't go too in-depth as to why, but let's just say...the restaurant business is a tough one. For everyone involved, from upper management to lower management to employees to guests. It's fast-paced and high-intensity and it breaks you quickly and easily.

So my mind was filled with a constant rattle of noise, a constant stream of fearful thoughts and confusion and stress and sorrow and BAM! depressive episode.

[Someday maybe I'll tell you guys what triggered it. It's a doozy. And yes — it's work-related.]

So that's some background on why the vlog in general, why the job-quitting, why all of it...

I know not everyone understands my compulsion to share. Let's just say, that it helps me as much as it might help others. And if it does help you, my sharing: tell me! It gives me strength on the days when I fear I'm doing nothing but hurting this world. On the days when my brain is eaten alive by lying zombies which hiss that I'm a cancer on society, I remember messages, comments, emails saying the opposite...and I am comforted.

Thank you for that comfort, dear readers and friends and followers. I'm doing this for you. And also for me. :)

Lessons from publication in Seventeen

Last Friday was a big day for me: I had an article published by a mainstream media outlet. It felt bigger than USA Today, bigger than anything I've done before. Last Friday, I had an article published by Seventeen.

Screen Shot 2015-11-21 at 20.15.00

This was a huge occasion for me, career-wise and as far as personal development goes. The "career-wise" benefit seems like something I hardly need to explain (so I won't), but let's talk a little about personal development.

The article was about a friendship I had that was lost due to my depression. And through writing the article, I was able to finally come to terms with this. I feel like I've been freed from a burden of hatred that I carried around for three years.

And it was arguably the most personal thing I've had published by a mainstream media outlet. Of course I write very personally here on the blog, but that's neither sanctioned nor publicized by editors at big-name magazines. This was. It felt like a stamp of approval from someone in the know, not only of my experiences but also of my writing.

Which feels so good to have. To know that media professionals read what I had to say and liked what I said and how I said it. That feels great.

But I've learned a few lessons that were harder to swallow, as well. As you might notice if you Google me or look on Wikipedia, I'm not famous.The fact that I don't have my own Wikipedia page is a constant source of horror for me. I wrote an essay for class recently about my long-held desire of being famous, and in it I explored all the reasons why I crave fame.

This article did not bring me instant fame. It did not initiate a flood of new Twitter and Facebook followers or indicate the start of the cult of Karis. It had more than 10,000 views (holla), which is nothing to sneeze at (thank you Kiley of Girl-ish for getting that phrase stuck in my head), but none of those 10,000+ people decided that their lives would be better off by following me.

I wrote last week about how I've learned that opportunity is hard to come by. It seems that success as a well-known and regarded writer is the same way. One article in Seventeen will not an award-winning writer make. I still have to work really hard, every day, to improve and receive recognition.

Which isn't necessarily something I'm mad about. I mean, sure, I hate working hard and wish I could just snap my fingers and have a book, bound and covered, at my fingertips. But this isn't a fantasy world we're living in. There is no magic and there are no free passes. There is only hard work and, occasionally, having that hard work pay off.

I'm really excited about where my writing journey will take me. Already it's gone in unexpected places. I did not think that coming to grad school in New York would open the door to publication by Seventeen magazine, but so it was. And already that has opened the door for a possible new writing opportunity that will allow me to share my experiences as well as what God is doing with my life — for a publication that, while not necessarily "mainstream media," does have a Wikipedia page. Which is more than I can say for myself at the moment.

I'm excited about the novel I'm working on for NaNoWriMo. I'm woefully behind, but I'm excited about finishing The Langone Five. And after that, I get to edit My Mom's a Killer and maybe start sending out query letters.

I'm excited about poetry, the art of writing personally yet beautifully.

I'm excited about personal essays, about combining reporting with things I'm passionate about and writing from the heart.

And I'm excited about good, old-fashioned third-person reporting, telling people's stories without letting myself get in the way.

In short, after being published by Seventeen I've learned that yes, writing is where my heart is. Writing is something that makes my soul sing, and I can't wait to continue on the journey, climbing the torturously high ladder to reach success. And maybe, just maybe, I'll get to enjoy the ride.



Life on Lime: a documentary

From right to left: me, Kajsa and Cassie, a.k.a. the crew. Between the three of us, we poured more than 260 hours into the project over the course of the semester. We drove dozens of miles between Wilmore and Lexington, ate countless donuts and ventured forth at 3:30 a.m. for a shoot. There were tears, angry words and threats to drop the class. But in the end, there was a seven-minute documentary about a really awesome revitalization happening in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. It was for a little class called Documentary Filmmaking, a requirement for all Journalism & Digital Storytelling majors at Asbury, and one of the scariest classes any journalism major has ever had to face. Especially those journalism majors with little experience in video and editing. It was a wild ride, to say the least. Cassie and I chose each other and Kajsa on the very first day of class, and from then on we were a team; the three of us against the world, ready to take on any challenge life could throw at us...and there were many. Our very first interview was set for 9 a.m. on a Thursday morning, so Kajsa and I got into my roommate's car and headed for North Lime Coffee & Donuts, only the best donut place in all of Lexington. We had to redo that shoot a few weeks later. Something about a poor background and bad composition. Strike one. We had to redo our second interview as well; this time it was fuzzy, and, again, bad background. Strike two. The way our professor, Greg Bandy, ran the class, was that we had a certain amount of time for pre-production, the planning, researching and setting up of interviews; then we moved to production, when we were supposed to get all of our shooting done (we didn't--strike three. Whoops). Finally, there was a month allotted for post-production, in which we did editing. And also a lot more shooting. The day our second cut was due, every single student in our class gave us the same feedback: MORE B-ROLL. So we got more b-roll. And then we edited. And edited. And pulled our hair out over low audio, shaky b-roll and where to stick that one clip. We giggled over a resemblance of one interviewee to a classmate, and over the iconic, "...and people yelling." We batted around titles, including, "Candace is awesome," and, "Some people talking. Also Candace." (We love'll see why.) In the end, the long hours and hair-pulling out sessions paid off: we turned in a seven-and-a-half minute documentary to our professor. And hey, I think it's not half bad. More importantly, though, I had a great experience figuring out how to plan, shoot and edit a documentary. I think I can safely say it was an unforgettable experience. [vimeo 113935601 w=500 h=281] Life on Lime from Kajsa Swanson on Vimeo.

One final hurrah

I have one more semester left as an undergraduate. One. Just one. So that's weird. In a few more months, this will be me once again:

Add a few bangs, take away the nose cast, and there it is.

And after that? The dream plan involves a summer internship, grad school at one of my dream schools in New York City or Chicago (technically Evanston, but let's call it Chicago just for fun) and then a job.

At this exact moment in time, though, I have no idea what's going to happen. It is possible I won't get an internship. It's possible I won't get into grad school. I'm planning on sending my novel to agents--maybe one of them will like it and we'll sign a contract. By this time next year, I could be an almost-published author. Or maybe once I send my poems and short stories out, someone will accept them.

The point is, anything could happen. The world could shift on its axis and all of my plans could flip flop. For the first time in my life, I'm standing at a true cliff, and I don't know if a bridge will magically appear to the other side, or if I'll have to fling myself into the air and hope for the best. As scared as I am by that prospect, I'm also totally excited. I don't know what is going to happen in the future.

All I know right now is that I'm taking exams next week, going to Italy next Friday, and finishing college in May 2015. These are the certainties--well, as certain as anything can get in this world. I'm very excited, though, that I don't have any definite plans right now.

Don't get me wrong: if some plans came my way, I would snatch them out of the air so fast I can't even think of an apt metaphor for them. In the meantime, I'm choosing to embrace the lack of plans. I'm choosing to live one day at a time. I choose to apply for internships and grad schools. I choose to work on my novels and attempt to get them published, as well as my poems and short stories. I choose to believe that whatever comes is going to be brilliant. And I choose to enjoy this final semester of college.

No matter where I am, I know nothing will be anything like the four years I'll have spent at Asbury. Some experiences will be better; some will be worse; none will be the same. I'm going to embrace every second of this crazy ride and love my friends as wildly as I can. I'm going to live in the moment and, when graduation comes, I'm going to step into the unknown with a smile.

It's going to be great. My words to the future are: "I've got a blank space, baby, and I'll write your name." (I also really love Taylor Swift. I felt like that should be mentioned).

Bring it on.

My first hate mail: how I moved on

Earlier this week, USA Today College published an article I wrote about the Ferguson decision on Monday. It was my 11th article with USA Today College, but the first that received negative comments. As far as "hate mail" goes, it was pretty tame. The first comment claimed my article is "incoherent emotional rambling," while the second one encouraged me to spread the Gospel of Jesus and, according my understanding of it, stop being to arrogant.

I didn't give much thought to the second one, because writing is my attempt to make a difference in the world and I have had many a conversation about it with God. Frankly, I value his thoughts on the matter far more than this man's.

It was the first comment that caused some restlessness as I went to sleep. Was my article really incoherent rambling? A further comment he made was to ask whether evidence had been read. It made me wonder--had I written the article in a flurry of emotions, without giving proper thought to all the evidence? As an aspiring journalist, I want nothing less than to be accused of bad investigation.

I was uncomfortable every time I thought about the comments and the article itself... especially after a conversation with my parents, in which I learned that they, also, disagreed with my positions. Had I really fallen victim to the influence of the mass and published my opinions without making sure they were factually grounded?

I did some more research, reading more articles--not editorials, but articles like this one, which compares and contrasts witness testimony with Darren Wilson's testimony. I read several other articles as well, and came to the conclusion that I would stand by my opinion and not let the negative feedback get me down.

This post is not supposed to be my opinion about Ferguson. If you want that, you can read my USA Today College article, linked above. This post is about dealing with negative feedback. What I could have done when I first read the comments, and what I was inclined to do, was fall over and never write again. Someone disagreed with me; someone thought a piece I wrote was not very good. What if a grad school got ahold of it? What if a future employer saw it and decided he or she didn't want to hire someone who had been accused of "emotional incoherent rambling"? I feared my future was at stake. I should just give up, I thought. Even my parents, my biggest fans, disagreed with me. I had really messed up.

Then I thought about it some more. People disagree with journalists all the time. People accuse them of bias, poor reporting, bad investigation and countless other things all the time. It's one of the dangers of the profession; people will disagree with what you say and try to undermine you, by telling you you're not being a good Christian, you're being emotional or you've fallen victim to the influence of the masses.

As a journalist, it's my job to stay above that. It's my job to be confident in my work and be able to hold my head up and defend what I've written, whether people like it or not. Sometimes I will hold unpopular opinions, and people will hate. That's okay.

The other thing I had to realize is that sometimes they will be right. Sometimes I will mess up. I'm human. We're an exciting, adorable, screwed-up species and we specialize in making mistakes. Others will understand that, and as long as my mistakes remain manageable, unintentional and redeemable, I hope I will be shown grace.

I don't think I messed up with my article this week, but there are those that do. And I can live with that. All it means is that I'm talking about something important, something people care about, and that's a good thing.

So how do you move on from "hate mail"? You embrace it, take the suggestions to heart, and use a filter to get rid of the too-negative. You laugh, talk to someone who supports you (or even someone who doesn't but who can give you good advice) and you pull a Taylor Swift, and shake shake shake it off.


Where dreams become nightmares

I've been writing grad school application essays. I've been begging people to write reference letters and send them to said grad schools as well as various newspapers offering internships. I've been in a constant state of flurry, stress and agony about the future. These are the things I've been dreaming about for the past few years. Getting a great internship somewhere--the New York Times, maybe? A girl can dream--going to grad school, living in New York as a journalist/novelist/world traveler. And with every second that passes I get closer to reality and my dreams start to feel like nightmares.

They haunt me wherever I go. I wake up thinking about grad school; I go to bed wondering if I'll get an internship; as I walk to class, I pretend I'm walking the streets of New York City in a business suit and stylish pumps on my way to my newspaper job. They're dreams that are starting to become nightmares.

I've spent my whole life wanting nothing more than to be a writer. I want to write novels; I want to write articles; I want to write documentaries, memoirs, news segments, poems...I want to put my fingers to the keys and tap until brilliance pours out. I want these things so badly that my heart squeezes inside my chest and I start to shake.

The problem with all these dreams is that real life has a hard time intruding. I have a paper due next Thursday that I have barely thought about because I'm in the middle of writing a novel. I have a documentary to shoot and edit that I can't focus on because I'm sitting on tenterhooks waiting for The New York Times to tell me that dreams come true and I've got an interview. I have a book to read for class that I haven't looked at because my mind is consumed with thoughts of the grad school essays I'm eking out.

I have all these dreams that cloud my thoughts and when I go to sleep at night they become nightmares. The internship turns into a summer working at a discount store barely making minimum wage. Grad school becomes another nine months in Columbia just getting by. My future in New York warps into an unrecognizable slew of years in a Southern village driving my minivan to doctors' appointments and church potlucks.

And there's nothing wrong with those things. To some people, those are the dream. To me, though? They are the nightmare.

I want to be a writer.

I fear I'll be nothing more than a wanna-be writer who has stacks of novel manuscripts that never made their way to an agent, a publisher, an audience.

But I'm not going to let that happen. I will fight. No matter where I end up. If the internship becomes a retail job, I will write my novel. If grad school becomes nine months of a retail job, I will write articles and blog posts and re-apply. If my New York future becomes minivans and church potlucks, I will write stories about them and fight to have them published.

I will not let the nightmares come true. It will be the dreams, and that is that

New November, New Novel

It's November 1st! The day I've been waiting for practically since Nov. 30, 2013. The day I get to start a new novel. 10448609_10152868063464884_7971566235551361068_o

Okay, it's not like I never got to start a novel between Novembers. I did work on two over the summer, in addition to editing the one I wrote last November. BUT this is the month that I get permission to begin, and finish, a novel. I can stay up writing all night without any shame, because hey, it's NaNo.

For those of you who don't know, NaNo is short for NaNoWriMo, which itself is short for National Novel Writing Month. Really it should say International, because it is worldwide, but we'll leave it at that. Basically it's a month when all the writers and aspiring writers commit to writing at least 50,000 words of a novel in 30 days. It's possibly the coolest thing ever.

In addition to giving me permission to write the novel, NaNo gives inspiration and motivation. There are pep talks from author's--today's pep talk from Chuck Wendig was actually so beautiful--as well as virtual write-ins and a local group for every region, which provides a large group of people in your area who are doing the same thing you are.

The best thing, though, is All-Night Write. You gather with all the people in your area and write from 9 p.m. til 9 a.m. It's a ton of fun.

But enough about NaNo itself. This year I'm taking advantage of this month to work on a new novel entitled, "Being Kaitlyn." In essence it's about a twin who thinks everyone loves her twin better than her and so she tries to become her twin. Depending on how I write it, it could get really trippy, really fast...I'm excited to see where it goes.

Since I'm not much of a planner, I can honestly say that I have no idea where this is going or what my characters are going to do. I just found out that one of them is an avid Tumblr user, and another character told me he's in love with my protagonist.

I started writing last night at midnight, and so far I've got over 1,700 words...which means I've met my goal for the day and am, actually, ahead of the game! Holla.

As you're reading this, though, I'm locked in a room taking the GRE, hoping and praying that I do well enough to get into grad school. The only problem with taking the GRE on the same day you start a new novel? Distraction. I swear I'm going to spend the whole time thinking about Kaitlyn, Kristina and Drew, wondering what's going to happen next and where they're going to go.

I'm psyched about this story. Because of that, I'll make you a deal: if enough people comment, either here on Facebook, and ask for it, I will post an excerpt in my next blog post.