Ranée

Solace

It’s been a while since I’ve taken a walk in the nature preserve near my neighborhood, so today, I did just that. There was no one along the length of the paved path when I arrived and the rays of sunlight shone through the trees like a beacon.

I decided to take the pond trail loop this time, wondering if there’d actually be a pond now. There was no one else on that path either, at least, no human, and as I strolled along, the only sound apart from my footfalls and the crunch of dead leaves beneath my shoes was the occasional gust of chill wind rustling through the trees. Less often, I heard the chirp or call of birds.

I’d been walking for maybe ten minutes when off to my right, a little ways off the trail, I noticed a sign that warned: Danger! You are no longer on the path. Turn back! Part of me was tempted to venture into that forbidden territory, but today didn’t seem like a good day to get lost, so I smiled to myself and kept to the path. Some water had collected in the depression among the leaf-covered ground, after all, I saw, when I neared the pond site, though not much; its depth was surely no more than a few feet at most.

I walked on, past fallen trunks, a tree whose twisted branches looked as though they were clawing at the earth, and a tangle of leaves and vines that had grown into a beautiful natural arch. The leaves of the arch had a bluish tinge to them in the light that I found quite lovely and I thought of Alice stumbling through that archway into her magical world.

A bit father along, some logs had formed what were almost small steps and as I neared them, I heard a rabbit whom I’d apparently frightened scurry away through the brush. When I left the trail, the sight of the leaves fluttering slowly down to the ground so captivated me that I stopped to film them.

As I emerged from the tree-lined path, I saw that the sky was a brilliant, clear blue with only a few wisps of cloud. A lone woolly worm crawled across the asphalt in front of me and a bronze-colored object caught my eye. I’m not sure what the sparkly copper-colored object was, but I decided to leave it where I’d found it; it wasn’t mine to keep.

On my way back to my car, I passed other nature-lovers now who smiled or nodded, some exchanging a greeting or wave with me. Kindred souls, I knew, who also took solace in the wild beauty of this magical place. I spied another, smaller arch, this one a single vine, before I heard the shouts of children come to ride their bikes teasing their mother who balanced on the curb. I could feel the spell breaking.

As I neared the parking lot, I glanced down to see that some leaves had left star-shaped imprints on the sidewalk—shooting stars, I thought, smiling. I walked to my car and noticed the crude words my son had written in the condensation on the dirty windows a day earlier showing clearly and sighed. I should probably wash my car.

On Writing

The Writing’s on the Wall

Or, as the case may be, in the song, in a perfectly brewed cup of chamomile tea, in your dreams . . . Literally, anywhere.

A while back, the topic of discussion for Paper Cuts, our monthly writers’ group, was inspiration. Our conversation got me thinking about ways to maximize or play to your different sources of inspiration. I’ve put together a short list below, but since, as I’ve noted above, inspiration can come from almost anywhere or anything, feel free to note your specific sources in the comments and I’ll suggest some ways to make that work for you and your writing. Note that all of these are also good tactics for battling the beast known as “writer’s block.” However, keep in mind that your triggers shouldn’t be a distraction from your writing; if you find that you’re spending too much time setting the mood and not enough actually getting down to business, then your source of “inspiration” is really just a procrastination strategy and you should let it go.

  • Music. If, like me, you’re inspired by music, then why not listen to music while writing? Put on a record, create playlists to accompany your work, or just allow some ambient music to play in the background. Going to a concert, orchestra, symphony, or other musical event is another way to tap into your source.
  • Atmosphere. If you find that there’s a certain type of atmosphere that’s conducive to your writing, then create that environment for yourself or seek out that ideal writing space (library, coffee shop, etc.). If you need a cup of coffee or tea in your favorite mug, a glass of bourbon, candles, certain smells, a particular writing implement, absolute quiet, a blanket, whatever it may be to get you ready to write, then make it happen.
  • Dreams. If you’ve ever woke up from a dream thinking, “That would make a great/weird/cool story,” or if you often find yourself getting ideas from dreams you’ve had, then try keeping a dream journal. As soon as you wake up, jot down all of the details you can remember from any dreams you’ve had so that you can use those notes to generate future content.
  • Nature. I often find that going for a walk in my favorite nature preserve/park stirs up new ideas and images for me. If you’re also inspired by nature, then do your writing outdoors or choose a spot facing a window with a view. If, like me, you’ve got a particular place with which you feel a connection, then go spend some time there and see what comes up for you.
  • Images. Put up pictures or artwork in the space where you write so that those visual cues are prominently displayed where you can see them as you work. Alternatively, go to a museum or art gallery or watch a film that you find inspiring.
  • The Zone. If you’re inspired when in “the zone,” then try meditating on your project before getting to work to help you get into that highly creative space and tap into your subconscious. You can also do some automatic writing to see what ideas flow up from beneath the surface.

Again, these are just a few strategies that come to mind for me. I welcome your thoughts to build upon this list.

On Writing

Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

Anxiety and focus issues are some serious super creeps known to plague writers. If you’re haunted by such ghouls, then you may find yourself spending a lot of time staring at the horror that is a blank page or screen or over-preparing for the battle instead of heeding the call to action (i.e., getting caught up in things like researching, outlining, or character sketches instead of writing the actual story). You might sit down to write and have every intention of doing so, but some nasty little troll has other ideas and you end up chasing it in an endless time loop of distractions like checking social media, texting a friend, surfing the web, or drawing pictures that have nothing to do with your writing project. If any of that sounds familiar, then I empathize, fellow ink-slinger, because, unfortunately, I know all too well what’s it like to battle those Big Bads. Here are a few tips I’ve collated from my own experience in the fight.

Break It Up

If you struggle to stay focused (and I wouldn’t be shocked if the majority of people do given that the average attention span is a matter of seconds), then try building in more shorter writing intervals with breaks in between instead of fewer extended sessions.  If your goal is to write a certain number of words or pages per day, you certainly don’t have to write them all in one go.  Breaks will allow your brain to hit the reset button and hopefully you’ll be able to approach a project with renewed focus. If your brain is rested, it can also come up with fresh ideas.

Go Dark

If you’ve been staring at a blank page or screen, then try going dark. Turn off the computer screen and type away, even if you’re just banging out a string of nonsense letters, or close your eyes, pick up your pen, and do some automatic writing (ie, writing whatever comes into your mind). This is a fantastic way of unlocking your subconscious mind and letting it roam free as well as experimenting with letting go period. I realize that for someone with anxiety, that may sound terrifying; you need structure, you have to have a plan! There’s nothing wrong with an outline or plan, but you have to allow at least some room for flexibility because the creative process is by its very nature free-flowing. Start by trying just a few minutes of being like water; see how it goes. You might be surprised by what comes up when you do. I’ve found that this tactic often leads to some of my best ideas/work.

Daydream

If you’re losing interest in what you’re working on, then instead of forcing yourself to plow away at it, why not embrace the boredom? Boredom actually sparks creativity, so go ahead: imagine a place or that you’re some other person and let your mind wander, do a “what if?” exercise, or write in your journal. Sometimes distraction can actually be a good thing.

Get Reacquainted With Your Muse

Maybe you’re stuck for ideas because you’ve lost sight of your purpose. What was it that inspired you to write this project in the first place? Thinking about that, reminding yourself how you feel about that person/place/thing and why you wanted to write about it might be just the thing to spark renewed interest.

Work on Something Else

If you’re stuck sorting things out with a particular project or have lost interest, then work on something else for a while. It’s OK to take a break (as long as it’s not permanent or you don’t completely trash what you’ve been working on). Working on something different will get your creativity going again and might just help you figure out where to pick up the thread with your other project.

These are just a few ideas to try if you get stuck. Ultimately, you’ll need to explore what’s driving your anxiety or focus issues in the first place. What’s the root cause? Once you figure that out, you have a responsibility to yourself to take the necessary steps to manage it. If you can’t do that on your own, that’s OK; Buffy was the Slayer and she had a Watcher (well, two at one point) and the Scooby Gang helping her fight the Big Bad every week. We’re not superheroes, so we’ll likely need a lot more back-up to win the fight.

On Writing

Every Day I Write the Book

"Sometimes you have to go on when you don't feel like it and sometimes you're doing good work when it feels like all you're managing is to shovel shit from a sitting position."
— Stephen King, On Writing

The two biggest things that seem to stop writers from actually writing are lack of time and “writer’s block.” The only way you beat those things is by picking up a shovel, but that’s often easier said than done.

Regarding lack of time, it’s a reality that many writers don’t have the luxury of just sitting at home and scribbling or typing all day because they’ve got a different job that actually pays the bills. When you spend 8 to 12 hours a day working your “day” job, not to mention family and other obligations you may have, finding time to devote to your craft can certainly be difficult. That doesn’t mean that you can’t do it. If you feel called to write, if it’s in your blood to tell a story, then you have to make time for it even if you devote only 30 minutes a day to doing so. Examine your schedule and habits. Be flexible. Could you write on your lunch break or in the waiting room of the doctor’s office or while you’re waiting to drop off/pick up the kids? Think about how much time you spend on social media every day; is that time that could be better spent writing? Writing is just like any other job—you have to put in the time and effort in order to see results. If you carve out the time to do it regularly, then it’ll become a habit. Ideas will start coming to you like little sparks and those sparks of inspiration will ultimately fuel your creative fire.

Aside from a lack of time, one of the most common complaints I hear from writers is that they either have a lack of motivation to actually sit down and write or they’re just not sure where to begin when they do. This so-called writer’s block is really fear or anxiety and the only way you’re going to conquer that fear is by—you guessed it, facing it (find some suggestions on how to do that here).

Are you overly concerned about correctness? Holding yourself to an unrealistic standard of magically getting it right on the first pass? If that’s the case, then you have to find ways to turn off your inner critic/editor because creativity is unrestrained. If you can’t do that, you’ll find yourself constantly getting stuck on things that don’t matter at the moment, never finish a project, and never be happy with what you write. Unfortunately, many writers tend to forget that the creative process is just that—a process. For perfectionists or those who have worked as editors, it can be particularly hard to just pick up the shovel and get to work. As someone who has made a living editing other people’s writing, I get it; I struggled with that for a long time. You get so concerned with fixing things that you forget that this is only your first draft. You don’t have to get anything right at this point. In fact, you can make a complete mess of things and that’s totally OK because you have that awesome gift called revision. You can take all the time you want to improve things later. For now, just accept that you’re going to be wading through a whole lot of shit.

What if you’re just not feeling it? Well, then consider what inspires you. Whether it’s something you need to do or an atmosphere you need to create, make it happen. There are going to be some days, however, when you do all those little rituals that get you in the mood to write and you still don’t feel like doing it. Those are the times when it’s most important to hold yourself accountable and do it anyway. Write something, anything, even if you’re just writing what you think about a particular scene or part, making notes to yourself, interviewing a character, or writing something else entirely. If you keep at it for long enough, you’ll spark an idea and that little a-ha moment is all you need. The point is, you’re not going to get there if you never pick up the shovel and get to work. Like Andy Dufresne, you’ve got to crawl through the river of shit in order to come out clean on the other side. If you’re finding it hard to trust that process and need someone to help you, I’m here.

On Writing, Ranée

Spark

The creative spark runs in my family.  My father has it.  My mother has it.  I have it too.

My father’s surname means distaff or spindle, the part of a spinning wheel that holds the thread.  Like that ancestor long ago who first bore the name, Dad is a weaver.  Not of cloth but of stories.  He’s woven a great tree of life from our family genealogy, an entire tapestry that connects our families to every other one in the small rural area of southwestern Pennsylvania where we grew up.  Back in college, he wrote poems and when my brother and I were kids, he told us a whole series of stories about a character named Grouchy Grump who had a pet skunk called Odie Colognie (a play on eau de cologne).  At some point in every one of those stories, we’d hear the line “Out popped the black and white tail.”  We would wait for it and every time I heard it, I’d squeal and laugh.

My mother’s surname was the German equivalent of farmer and like her grandfather who was one, Mom has nurtured things to grow.  As a girl, she had all sorts of animals as pets—everything from horses to a skunk—and growing up, we always had a dog or a cat or both.  Dad created worlds with words, but she created them with her hands, landscaping in the yard, planting beautiful trees and flowers, and creating a little fairyland complete with a small pond in the back yard.

That spark of creating lives in me, their daughter.  The best way I can think of to describe what happens to me when I write or get an idea for writing is indeed a spark or, as Emily of Bright Moon called it, “the flash.”  It can happen at any moment anywhere, so I’ve learned to carry a notebook and pen with me at all times.  Sometimes I wake up with a sentence or two in my head or I’m out walking and something strikes me and I get an image.  Sometimes it’s a few lines of dialogue.  It comes just like that—a sudden flash of inspiration, like a spark igniting a tiny flame.  And there are moments when I’m writing that the act becomes sort of unconscious.  Fellow writers know what I’m talking about—those times when you give yourself over to the craft, let yourself become so immersed in the world you’re creating that the words just flow out and when you come out of your little trancelike state, you look back at what you’ve written and go “wrote that?”  For me, those moments have always been the ones that produced my best writing.

But you need to feed a fire if it’s to burn steadily and grow.  That requires time, something I’ve lacked until relatively recently.

I’ve had several stops and starts on the way to fully embracing my gift.  When I was a kid, my best play time was spent using my imagination like when my brother and I sat in mom’s hooded dryer chairs, put the hoods down over our heads, and pretended we were astronauts on a space mission.  I started writing my own stories when I was in junior high.  I was a rather morbid, reclusive, and contemplative teenager who dwelt a bit too much on death and “dark” stuff (think Raven from Teen Titans).  I begged to have my room painted black but had to settle for black bedding and a black rug.  Obsessed as I was with the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, most of my stories were bloody tales of horror.  I lacked confidence, though, and didn’t think that I could “make it” as a writer.  Who, I thought, would want to read the garbage that I write?  That sort of self-disparaging remark is the hallmark of someone who doesn’t believe in herself.

That lack of belief in myself prompted me to study psychology in college instead of English, but it was my English courses where I came alive.  I wrote a novella about a vampire plagued by all the pain of his life and the absence of God.  It was an expression of my own emotional torment.  I asked one of my professors to read it and although she didn’t care for the subject matter, she told me “I think you should be writing professionally.”  Those words were all I needed to stop lying to myself about becoming a psychologist (shit, I didn’t want to spend my days listening to other people’s problems; they unloaded on me all the time anyway!).  I changed my major to English the summer before my senior year and ended up having to go an extra semester to fulfill all of the requirements.  All I had needed to do for the psych degree was take a bio psych course, write my thesis, and do an internship, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t for me, so I switched and never looked back.

I submitted my work for a creative writing fiction course and got accepted.  It was the one thing that got me through a very tough time—writing and sharing stories.  I got valuable feedback from the professor who called me a “master revisionist” and praised me for telling a story almost entirely with dialogue.  But I stalled after that.  I submitted some stories to indie publishers, but gave up after a few rejections.  Self-doubt had got me again.

I worked some boring retail jobs for a while, but although I liked helping people find something they liked, I hated having to push stuff on them that they didn’t want.  My first full-time job was working for a bully patent attorney in a technical writing position.  When I say bully, that’s putting it mildly.  I’m talking about a man who belittled staff, paged them over the intercom to phone his extension and when they didn’t immediately do it, paged them repeatedly until they did (up to seven times in a row for the poor older woman who worked as the receptionist).  Stories circulated around the office about how he had abused employees in the past, causing someone to have a nervous breakdown, and punching a pregnant woman.

After that nightmare ended, I was at a loss as to what to do next, so applied to grad schools.  I got accepted into Kent State’s English program, so moved to Ohio to earn a master’s in English with a concentration in literature and writing.  It’s a really useless degree, I have to say.  I didn’t need it for any of the work that I did subsequently, nor did it give me an edge over other candidates.  It was just a couple of letters after my name if I wanted to show off and put them there.  I didn’t and don’t.  While there, I had a fellowship and taught some introductory composition courses, teaching expository writing to college freshmen, which I continued to do as an adjunct faculty member for a year after I graduated.  The class was a required course so the students didn’t really want to be there.  Neither did I most of the time, but there were a few students who actually enjoyed my classes and one in particular whom I remember.  I don’t recall his name, but I can picture him just as clearly as if he were standing in front of me now—a white guy with dirty blond hair under a backwards cap, round brown eyes, and an ugly purple bruise across his broken nose from a rugby injury.  He stood there in front of my desk on the last day of class, the last student to leave, and thanked me, said he’d really liked my class, and extended his fist for a fist bump, but it wasn’t me or the class he’d really liked, it was the encouragement I’d given him.  I’d had the class read High Fidelity, one of my favorite books, and he’d written a heartfelt thank-you for me in the style of the opening about how I wasn’t up there with all the other teachers who’d influenced him only to flip it and say that I’d been one of the best.  It meant a lot to me that I’d seen something in him that others hadn’t, that I’d made a difference for him as some of my teachers had for me.  Students like him and interactions like that made me love teaching and helping others with their writing.

That was one of the highlights of my two years at Kent State; that, discovering the poems of Carol Ann Duffy (primarily her fantastic book The World’s Wife), and meeting my mentor.  Ironically, the creative writing course I took there wasn’t helpful because the only valuable feedback on writing came from the teacher and as always, we didn’t receive any guidance about how to actually get one’s work published.

After KSU, I wrote less and less because I moved to the DC Metro area for a job working at a strange little publisher of dead journals, another messed-up anxiety-inducing situation.  I tried doing National Novel Writing Month a couple of times, but I found that I didn’t have time to write.  Work consumed most of my time and then family life took up the rest.  It stayed that way for over a decade.  Every now and again I would find something calling me back to writing and I’d pick up a pen or sit down at the computer to bang out some personal or creative work and I’d realize once more just how much I needed that spark.  It filled a void in me.  It was something that I loved and thought I couldn’t have or had to give up.

Back in 2016, I changed jobs in the name of self-care.  I took a position that was a step down from my current role career-wise but paid a higher salary and offered me a substantial amount of flexibility and freedom.  I didn’t have to go into the office every day; instead, I could work at home if I chose.  I could set my schedule around my son’s so that I could be there to get him on the bus in the morning, was close enough that if something was going on at his school I could easily be there, I could get him off the bus in the afternoons, and I would be able to take time off when he had sick days or snow days.

I really didn’t start taking advantage of this freedom for myself until a couple of years ago.  I met a couple of fellow writers and started workshopping with one of them and coaching the other.  I enjoyed that experience so much.  It was, as always, like rediscovering a part of myself that had been missing.  I decided that if writing was important to me, then I needed to make time for filling that void (along with a lot of other things that I needed to do for me).  Now a portion of every day is devoted to writing, whether it’s personal journal writing, writing this blog, or jotting down notes and inspiration for fiction stories.

My current job is ending in December and I see this as the perfect opportunity to finally embrace my gift.  I can have a career doing something that I love.  I’ve decided that I want to use my skills to help others with their writing.  Embracing my passion and becoming my own boss will not just bring me financial wealth, it will bring me even more in the way of emotional and personal wealth because I’ll be doing it for my soul.  It will be the combination of the creative gifts my parents passed to me—the love of storytelling, the craft, and the impetus to grow something that I love, the act.

The spark is my calling.  It’s time I heed it.

Ranée

Heroes

As a girl, all of my heroes were make-believe ones.  I idolized them for things like strength, courage, independence, leadership, kindness, empathy, their sense of right and wrong.

One of my favorite superheroes has always been Rogue for a number of reasons.  She was one of the strongest of all the X-Men.  She had the ability to absorb the energy of others, but she was unable to control that power.  If she touched someone or held onto them for too long, she could take their very life force and put them in a coma (à la how she took Ms. Marvel’s powers).  This led to her being somewhat of a loner; she suffered much emotional pain and pushed others away because she feared she would hurt them. Despite that, Rogue managed to find love with fellow X-Man Gambit and eventually learned to control her powers, not the reverse.  That growth, I think, was her real strength.

My biggest girlhood hero was without a doubt Princess Leia.  From the time I first discovered Star Wars, I wanted to be like her.  She was fiercely independent, stood up for a cause she believed in, was able to lead and inspire others, was brave in the face of danger, but she was also kind.  The moment of the Star Wars saga that most impressed me about Leia was not when she showed some skill with the Force or fought off stormtroopers, but when she suffered her greatest loss.  When Tarkin blows up her home planet, killing everyone she loves in an instant, he does it because he wants to cause her pain, but she refuses to react to the incident and instead shows the utmost fortitude.  That must have been the worst moment of her life, but she didn’t let him see her cry or rage; that takes some serious guts.  I imagine that when she allowed herself to grieve later in private, it was immense, but there was no way she was going to give Tarkin and Vader the satisfaction.

In grad school, I discovered what has come to be my favorite poem, Carol Ann Duffy’s “Little Red-Cap.”  It’s a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale where Red ultimately saves herself from the Wolf, becoming her own hero in a sense. She initially believes that the Wolf has all the answers, that she can only have access to poetry through him, but it’s when she is alone that she finds true poetry.  She realizes that she doesn’t need the wolf, that what she sought was within her all along.  The poem ends with the beautiful line “Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.”  That brave, triumphant girl was also my hero for she was a survivor who would write her own story.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s become easier for me to find things that I admire in the women that I actually know and to see them as heroes as well.  So far, my biggest real-life hero has been my advisor and mentor from my grad school days at Kent, Professor Teresa N. Washington.  She displayed some of the same traits that I saw in my make-believe heroes of old, traits that I still admire in others and that I now strive to emulate.

When Teresa came to campus to interview for a position in the English program, she gave a presentation and Q&A about her work, which I attended.  One of the other professors in the department was incredibly disrespectful and insulting in her criticism.  I was appalled by this other woman’s negative comments and behavior and couldn’t help noting the contrast between her and Teresa who sat calmly, keeping her cool, projecting a quiet strength, while someone else attacked not only her work but her beliefs.  How easy it would’ve been for her to snipe back at her, but I never saw even a twinge of annoyance in her face.  She amazed me.

She showed that same strength when the racism in the course that I took with her reached its peak.  She, the professor, was the only African American person in that classroom and she was trying to open some ignorant people’s eyes and they didn’t like it.  The negative atmosphere in the classroom built over the course of the semester until it became a terribly palpable force.  I could feel the hatred around me so much it made me literally sick to my stomach.  I felt my skin crawling and prickling from the force of all that negative energy and I wanted to run from the room.  It was one of the ugliest things I’ve ever felt and I knew instinctively that it was coming from the people around me and that it was directed at Teresa.  If it made me feel that way, I thought, then what must she, its target, have felt?  God, the strength of composure that woman possessed!  She didn’t react, didn’t raise her voice or break down.  She just looked at us and said, “I’m not going to talk today,” and instead said she was going to let us watch a video that we could talk about if we wished, answer some questions afterward that we would hand in, then she turned on a movie and left the room. What happened next was a free-for-all slamming of her and as we watched a beautifully moving scene of an African American man walking on water, I heard a guy to my right say, “Why are we watching this?” and the woman next to me, who had said she wanted to teach African American literature, say in reply, “They always like to show stuff like this.”

The words set me off.  I couldn’t sit there and let those people say such rotten things about a woman for whom I had great respect and who didn’t deserve that sort of treatment and I did not possess the grace of my mentor.  For the life of me, I cannot remember what I said that day, but whatever it was, I was shaking afterward and the woman who’d made the ignorant comment in the first place came to my office the next day to apologize because I had been so upset by the conversation.  All I said to her was, “I’m not the one you should be apologizing to.”

Teresa ended up scrapping her lesson for The Salt Eaters that semester as well, just gave up, didn’t teach anything.  I was disappointed, but understood why she’d done it.  When I met with her for one of my advisory sessions after the semester had ended, she told me that the night before the class, the author’s spirit had spoken to her, told her that she shouldn’t do it because “they don’t deserve it.”  Add wisdom to her list of admirable traits.

Teresa showed something else that I greatly admired and that is forgiveness.  She told me that some of the students from the class had later come to her to apologize and she, being the figure of grace that she was, didn’t throw anything back at them or shun them, but instead chose to help them find another way to be. She said she was grateful for their willingness to change.  Another “wow” moment for me because when someone has disrespected me or injured me, I have wanted more than anything to tell them to fuck off.  And I have done that many times.  But it’s much harder and takes far more strength and composure not to react but instead to realize that whatever rotten thing someone did or said to you isn’t really about you at all, but about them.  Maybe they’re hurting just like you were, so while I’m a proponent of calling people on their meanness, I don’t think we need to be mean to them in return.  When we do, I guess we’re kind of like Rogue, holding onto Ms. Marvel for too long and taking all of their stuff into ourselves.

Lately, I’ve realized something.  All those stories of heroic women I’ve loved so much and all the ones that I’ve been trying to write for years about strong women who are able to get themselves out of bad situations and take back their lives are my own.  Like Little Red-Cap, I was lost in the woods for a very long time, living through and for others, allowing them to guide me because I didn’t believe in myself or my dreams, and I became tangled in the thorns of depression and anxiety as a result, so much so that I couldn’t find a way out.  It takes years to find the courage to slay those wolves, but I did it.  Now my goal is to be like the heroes that I’ve known, to be strong like them, yes, but more importantly, to grow and learn like they did, to help others, and to demonstrate grace.  By doing so, I hope to become something that I never thought I would be—my own hero.