A sample of creative writing

She trekked through the nearly empty airport with her head lilted back like a drunkard at the waining hours of the night. Although sober, she did little to change this perception because, indeed, she felt drunk. She was drunk with the dose of exhaustion and anxiety that sat heavy in her stomach and coursed thickly through her veins. Her eyelids half shut, masked the haunted and empty eyes of a woman who for too long had used every last shred of energy to stand up straight, despite the emotional weight she carried in her body, so that to others she seemed strong and her actions effortless.

But in this abandoned airport, at one a.m., walking with the gait of a drunk, she relished in a rare moment to let her authentic exhaustion show without filter. For a minute, she was able to release her burden as she rolled back her eyes, tilted her head and shuffled her feet amongst the trickle of other tired strangers. In the revealing and harsh light of the midnight airport, she reveled in this quick and uncommon form of theatrics that perhaps was not all theatrical.

February

  • IICC student leader retreat
  • one year of engagement
  • bought our wedding rings
  • cabin weekend ❤
  • catering and cake tasting
  • got our wedding certificate
  • got into UMD and UGA
  • visited Maryland
  • finished comps
  • finished two weekend classes

September 18: Twenty Four

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Today is my last day as a twenty-four-year-old.

Tomorrow, I am a quarter of a century old.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love birthdays. I love celebrating other people’s special birthdays, and I also enjoy the love you feel on your own day. But also, ever since I was 14-years-old, I’ve always been hyper aware of the concept of “getting older.” In fact, I remember crying when I turned 16 because I was terrified at the thought of growing up and being a “grown up.” It’s a little silly to think about now, but the thought of being old was a true nightmare for me…

So tomorrow, I’m twenty five. Does that mean that I am a grown up now? And if so, is that so scary anymore?

At twenty four, I made it through my first year of graduate school and the challenges that coincides with going back to school. I also made amazing lifelong friends within my grad school cohort, and I have expanded my understanding of not just higher education, but of other people’s mindsets and views.

At twenty four, I trained for my first half marathon and struggled through the pain of the actual race. I taught myself that willpower is a special thing and a quality that I do, in fact, possess.

At twenty four, I got engaged to the man with whom I will spend the rest of my life. My dream came true! We made it successfully and happily through another year of long distance and we starting to plan our marriage and our future together. I couldn’t have asked for a better year with Eric.

At twenty four, I learned what it means to take on the responsibility of another life when I finally took the plunge and got a dog. Sanford has taught me how to be accountable and mindful of another life other than mine own; this has been extremely challenging and tiring at times. But he’s also brought me more joy that I can describe through words.

At twenty four, I made a decision that will affect the rest of my life; I committed to going straight through school and obtaining my PhD before I turn thirty.

At twenty four, I jumped into a waterfall

At twenty four, I went to my first music festival.

At twenty four, I learned what having a “trigger” really means.

At twenty four, I struggled to balance both my life and my work.

At twenty four, I traveled, laughed, read. I connected with old friends and built up relationships with new. I loved my fiance with my whole heart and prioritized adventures with him every weekend. We sang, danced, hiked, and loved our way through twenty four. But I also struggled. I struggled hard. I took responsibility for grown up things like paying an arm and leg for tuition, keeping up with my health, and interacting with professionals even in the face of conflict.

At twenty four, I felt like I had successfully “grown up.” I felt as though this is what being an adult was supposed to be like–hard, fun, a mess on some weeks, and a well oiled machine the next. I made mistakes, but took ownership for them. I tried, failed, and learned from it. I grew up.

So needless to say, it’s a little bittersweet to say goodbye to twenty four and all the incredible things accomplished through the year. But twenty five, oh, twenty five. To be married, to graduate from Vanderbilt, to start school back in my doctoral program (to be accepted into a doctoral program), to start a life with my husband, to hopefully be closer to friends and family, to study, to teach, to grow and learn and succeed.

There’s so much to look forward to, so many more challenges to overcome, so many more opportunities to love my friends and family. And I’m happy to report that from this side of my youth, being a grown up doesn’t seem so scary anymore.

Because I know I can handle it.

And that would make fearful sixteen-year-old Alyson pretty damn proud.

August 25: Succulents

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On September 4, I will have successfully raised my baby puppy for four months. From an eight week old who didn’t know he had a tail, let alone a name… to the sharp little nugget that knows how to play dead and wait for a signal before going out the door, Sanford the golden-doodle has grown and matured exponentially in a short period time. I’m pretty proud of the accomplishment of getting through the summer with a small fluffy baby. It took a ton of self sacrifice, discipline and a boatload of patience, but he’s alive and healthy and I’ve made it out (mostly) sane.

In contrast, I bought a bowl of succulents about 8 weeks ago. The common knowledge is that its near impossible to kill these sturdy little plants. Give them some water and sunlight and let them do their thing. Plus, they’re so dang cute. Alas, I have managed to kill not one… not two… but almost all of the entire bowl. But, it’s not my fault, they’re just not as loud or needy or whiny or fluffy, or cuddly or cute. It’s a lot harder to remember to care for something that doesn’t follow you around like a shadow… Or maybe if they pestered me when they needed water, they’d find their existence much more fruitful.

It’s funny because common advice says that you should have a fish or a plant to effectively raise first before getting a puppy. Sounds like solid scaffolding of responsibility. But perhaps it takes more than just simplicity to drive me to succeed? Perhaps I need a little more inspiration.

All I know is that it seems pretty ironic that I’ve been able to keep a complex little puppy alive all summer, yet failed to take care of a sturdy little plant…

August 21: Sunshine and Freedom

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Yesterday I took the GRE. No, I SURVIVED the GRE. There’s nothing that makes you feel more incompetent than a standardized test. Until you take said test and get back some pretty exciting scores. Nothing amazing, but certainly high enough to be accepted back to the University of Georgia to study for my PhD. And with the completion of that nightmare of a test, I am feeling more free and optimistic than I have in a long time…

It sure doesn’t hurt my upbeat mood that the weather is the definition of perfection today. Nashville has blessed us with a sunny, dry, breezy, 78 degree almost-Fall day and there’s not a soul in the city that can complain about it. And with my newfound freedom (take that, GRE study book and the hours I spent hunched over it), today has been nothing short of pleasant.

  • Relaxing morning in the office
  • Thai food for lunch
  • Walk around Radnor Lake
  • Patio-chillin’ at Frothy Monkey

And to top it all off, my fiance will be heading this way in just a few short hours. Long distance may be a challenge for many reasons, but nothing will every beat the feeling of anticipating of seeing your significant other after several days apart.

I think the reason I want to take inventory of all the great feelings and thoughts regarding today is to remind myself that even though today is great, tomorrow may not be, tonight might even not be. And while that sentiment may seem to be a super downer, I take it as a challenge to seize every little opportunity to acknowledge happy moments–to sit in them and revel in them–before they are gone.

This too shall pass. It’s always been a favorite phrase of mine: a reminder that the bad times will pass; but so too will the happy moments. There’s nothing we can do other than seize each one.

Seek

The other day, a close friend of mine explained that she didn’t quite believe in new years resolutions (why wait until a certain day of a year to promise to be a better person by making a list of somewhat unrealistic goals, and then beat yourself up when you do not reach it?). Instead, she explained, we should have a certain word or phrase each year that reminds us and urges us to just be the best version of ourselves everyday. I fell in love with this idea of a word–a word to root you in being better; a word that gives you the freedom to grow how you choose, but still grounds you in improvement. And I’ve spent the past several day reflecting on what word would resonate the most with me for 2015.

So what is it that I truly  I hope to accomplish in 2015?

I want to seek out knowledge about the world around me.

I intend to seek opportunities that make me or the world a better person.

I hope to seek out the best in people.

I only wish to seek out experiences of love, kindness, service, and authenticity

I will go and seek new adventures (adventure IS out there).

Lastly, I can seek for balance and decisions that are healthy and good for me.

. . .

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So, the word I choose to guide me through 2015 is SEEK. I love that his word is active and simple and can be applied to almost any situation or decision. And since 2015 is going to be a year of major decisions–where to apply to doctoral programs, what summer in internship to pursue, and how to spend my second year of graduate school–I know that I will be doing a lot of soul searching and seeking what is best for myself and others.

. . .

I hope you all have a wonderful NYE, however you are choosing to celebrate, but I also hope that you give yourself some time in the next couple days to reflect (if you do truly wish to become brighter and greater in 2015)! Remember that you have the power each day to get out of bed and be a better version of yourself–that’s an immensely positive and empowering feeling! As we each embark on the journey to take on 2015 as our best selves each and every day, let me ask you: what will your guiding word be?

Sharpening My Crayons

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A winter night is characteristically still and quiet. All except for me, who settles into bed each night over winter break, buzzing with subdued energy. As I shift around in the covers to find the perfect spot to rest and relax, my mind is awake, aware of myself and my thoughts and actions throughout the years. While it may be time for others to shut off their minds and go to sleep, bed time to me is a time to reflect and reconnect with the person who’s the most important in my life… me.

I’m specifically thankful this winter break that I’ve had time (that oh-so-elusive time) to reflect on myself and my growth and to ask myself how am I and who am I. As I’ve laid down in bed each night, I let myself settle into my own skin. I allow my mind wander through past mistakes, triumphs and desires; I permit myself to explore the parts of me I keep hidden away. I run my hands over the parts of my soul that are dusty from being ignored. And the as the pieces fall into place and I can imagine myself as a whole human, complete with faults and dreams and nuances and joy, I revel in her presence. Ah, there I am. Alyson, it’s nice to see you again.

Once upon a time, I didn’t have to search for the parts of me hidden away, because there were none. I was unabashedly myself, almost to a fault. Growing up and especially through the high school years, there was no side of me that I didn’t show, no emotion that I was afraid to spotlight. That innocent and full sense of confidence (or perhaps sheer lack to self knowledge) wasn’t to last forever though, and it was destroyed in my 20th year when a fallout with a dear friend and love left me emotionally raw and starkly aware of how others responded to me. I heard the whispers and felt the stares and the judgements followed me like shadows across the campus. I was hurt, alone, and, for the first time in my life, I hated myself and distrusted myself to make decisions that were good for me. And so throughout that year, parts of my broken soul retreated into myself in order to have time to heal and become anew…

The only problem is that this whole and full and confident Alyson never really re-emerged

Throughout the years, I have developed a metaphor about the type of people in the world around me. We are all boxes of crayons. Some of us have more colors than others; some are the 64 count box of crayons–feeling more intense and radiant joys of the world, but also the deeper and darker blues of distraught and sadness. There are also the 8 count boxes–those of us who feel and know what we need, and are more than happy to carry on that way forever. These 8 ct. boxes are no less or better than the 64, they simply don’t need to take the time to worry about the spectrum of life and living, of pain and joy and of the connections between us all. And since about halfway through college, I have been the 64 count box of crayons pretended to only have eight colors. I choose carefully which of my colors to show to the world: the hardworking-red, the confident-when-you-meet-me yellow; the only-slightly-shy blue; the perfectionist purple. The other hues are tucked away inside myself, only available to the select few I have trusted throughout the years: the anxious alyson, the manipulative alyson, the weird-as-heck alyson, the self-hatred, the jealous, the confident, the silly, the real alyson farzad. It’s been for my own self preservation, but not necessarily for my benefit.

Sometimes I lose sight of myself behind the day-to-day actions of school, work and relationships. I lose sight of the whole and complete person beneath the mundane tasks of each day. When meeting new people, like those great folks at graduate school, I worry that I come off as boring or inauthentic because I know that there is so much of myself that I am holding back. But each night these past few weeks, as I crawl into bed and visit my entire box of crayons, I don’t hate the feel of my skin or the thoughts in my mind. And a tiny voice in the back of my mind starts to nag me, “perhaps I can afford to start showing all I have to offer, as vulnerable as that may make me. Perhaps it is time to try.”

“You can’t be all the things…”

In light of my previous post, I was reminded of a blog post I read last month that gave me some peace of mind in light of my anxiety over life’s tradeoffs… Some of my favorite quotes from this sweet little blog are posted below, but I suggest you read over the entire entry, linked at the bottom.

“I want to be the person who gets called at two in the morning. I want to be the one who shows up at the door with coffee and a heart that is just ready and amped for whatever truth you want to let sit square in the middle of the kitchen table. I want to take people as they are. I want to hold people as they come.”

. . .

““You can’t be all the things,” she answered. “We all want to be all the things and we just cannot be.””

. . .

“That’s where I am in this present moment: figuring out what it looks like to not be all the things— to not be everything to everyone. To just be something to a few. To remember to call that few. And cheer that few on. And finally resolve the debate in my mind that has always told me that, to be valuable, you must sink your teeth into quantity.”

. . .

http://hannahbrencher.com/2014/11/11/you-cant-be-all-the-things/

To Live a Full Life

[Quick Life Update (It’s be FOOOOREVER since I last posted): I’ve finished my first semester of graduate school at Vanderbilt University–complete with great grades, the makings of beautiful friendships, and with the guidance and support of my amazing goofball, Eric. I am now home and sitting under the soft lights of my christmas tree, finally giving myself much needed time to write, reflect and retreat back to my center.]

Life is positively precious and your time in it is not guaranteed. In case you weren’t already aware, youth is also fleeting. As I grapple with the definite amount of time I have on this beautiful earth, I find myself wanting the most out of everything I do. Graduate school has been no different….

Vanderbilt has opened a complete new world of possibilities to me this past semester. Professional experiences, personal growth, social expansion–all just a fingertip lengths away at all times–has left me reeling. A familiar anxiety settled over me like a thin blanket, heavy enough to notice but not large enough to warrant much thought or complaint. Tonight, I finally had the chance to take a long critical look at that anxiety and recognized it for what it was… A younger version on myself would call it “FOMO” or “The Fear Of Missing Out.” However, my semi-grown up self would call this sensation a heightened sense of escaping time correlated with the amount of experiences I want to behold.

In essence, I want so badly to live every positive or growing experience and to live a full life, that the escaping time and the tradeoffs that are being made are making my stomach churn. I want to do everything in a limited amount of time. It’s impossible, yet the anxiety of each daily compromise stalks me like a shadow, always there. My inner dialogue is so back and forth and sounds a lot like…

“By choosing to go to the coffee shop, I give up the opportunity to see that lecture. By getting dinner with my new friends, I give up a chance to catch up with old. By choosing to study student affairs, I cannot study policy. By choosing chocolate, I give up vanilla”

I wish I were kidding about how each miniature decision gives me at least a second of pause. It seems silly, but I truly believe that each daily decision helps shape your path and your story… I just want that story to reflect who I am.  Perhaps if I understood myself and my goals a bit better, I would breathe easier with each decision. Then, I could be sure I am making minimal tradeoffs and selecting the path that best suits me.

In a perfect world–one where I lived up to my values and the person I want to be–I would choose certain actions and things over other options and not have any anxiety because I was confident in myself. And if I were the woman I know I want to be, I would choose…

  • responsibility over triviality
  • close groups of friends over large parties
  • coffee shops over time at home
  • music over silence
  • activities over laziness
  • family over all else
  • outdoors versus in
  • beer over wine 😉
  • reading over social media
  • selflessness over self
  • self discovery over compliance
  • goofiness over seriousness

So as a promise to myself, I will try my hardest to take my next steps forward (regardless of what those are) with these decisions in mind. Just as a needle on a compass points north, I will my values and my interests to point my daily decisions and guide me down the path into the real adult life I am embarking on.

“All that I am is motivated by just two needs, two thoughts, two yearnings: the ferocious desire to live a full life and the consistent curiosity to figure out what that even means.”

How to Be Goal Centered (And Successfully Achieve Those Goals)

Why Goals? Why Now?

In this fast paced world (and with my even faster paced mind/inner dialogue), the creation and follow through of specific personal goals is the one of the few thing that grounds me to reality. In fact, you will hardly ever see me without a task list for the daily, weekly and monthly to-do’s. I am constantly jotting down places/people/things I want to explore, see, and even become more like. My iPhone is constantly updated with favorite quotes, bucket lists and more. I’m a well-oiled machine of productivity, self-exploration, and awareness.

But I wasn’t always this way. 

It’s been a multi-year (about 23 years, to be exact) journey to becoming a proficient goal-oriented person.  As someone who used to wander aimlessly through daily life (happy as can be, but still without a direction), I can attest to the peace of mind and soul that goal creation and completion brings my daily life. Perhaps you are reading this and although you’ve always understood why goals are important, you haven’t been able to successfully implement your goals. Perhaps you aren’t even convinced that setting goals are necessary–who has time to reflect and create something as arbitrary as “life goals” when there are deadlines to meet and people to see? Trust me, I get it because I have felt both sentiments in the past; but, now that I have become a goal-centered person, I haven’t been happier with myself and my life.

If you are not as goal-centered as you could be, I have written this post as a launching point that you might find helpful. You can start writing goals today. The process listed below allowed me to create goals that are NOT ONLY achievable and exciting, but ALSO genuine to the type of person I truly want to be. I hope you find it just as successful for you.

The Process

1. Create a list of your values

2. Create a list of things you want to be an “expert” on, or focus on.

3. *MOST IMPORTANT STEP* create goals that reflect the previous two lists.

There is a certain magic behind creating goals that reflect what you value and who you want to be, which makes all three steps crucial to successful goal-setting. Step 3 of this process can be as flexible as making weekly goals, seasonal goals, yearly goals and life goals. The trick is…. make sure your goals align with who you really are. You would be awed by how effortless what you strive for can be accomplished when it is actually something you intrinsically care for.

Year after year, do you find yourself making a goal to lose 10 pounds, yet year after year you forget to plan gym time in your schedule or make a healthy living style a part of your daily life? Chances are that “personal aesthetics” are not part of your values or who you want to be, and so you naturally prioritize more important things. 

Want to hike the Appalachian Trail, but the love for the outdoors isn’t one of the things you DEEPLY value? Then it’s not going to happen.

Perhaps you really want to be a well-versed reader, but your “to-read” list is a lot longer than your “have read” list. Take a critical look to see if reading is core to who you really are/want to be.

(*NOTE: the pursuit of who you are and will become definitely falls higher on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Please realize that where you are in life has a lot to do with whether you can reach goals such as “read 50 books a year.” This may be harder to do when you’re working 2 jobs to make ends meet. Your list of values and what you want to focus on can shift according to how stable your life is.)

We don’t just want to create goals, we want to COMPLETE them. But I’m going to push it one step further. We don’t just want to complete goals, we want our goals to help complete WHO we are. By making sure goals are aligned with your core, you can be a more productive, genuine and centered self. 

“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”
― Albert Einstein

Personal Testimony

Here’s an example of goal creation I used for my “summer goal list.” (*NOTE: I had 8 weeks off this summer between finishing teaching and starting grad school, but I believe all goals can be met, regardless of time constraints.) 

List of my values:

  1. Inclusiveness
  2. Service
  3. Sense of family
  4. Friendship
  5. Positivity
  6. Empathy

Things I want to be focus on/be an expert about:

  1. Volunteering
  2. Outdoors/Active Lifestyle
  3. Puppies
  4. Books
  5. Travel
  6. Leadership
  7. Personal health/development (mental, academic, spiritual, etc)

LASTLY, Goals (to complete over the summer) that reflect who I am/want to be:

  1. Run my first 5k
  2. Run my first 5 mile race
  3. Register for an outdoors activity club
  4. Visit NYC for the first time (which also included visiting a long distance friend)
  5. See the ocean
  6. Donate clothes and shoes to Goodwill
  7. Read 10 books (fiction or non-fiction)
  8. Create photo album of my college years
  9. Write at least 10 handwritten letters of thoughts and thanks
  10. Run at least two times a week, every week
  11. Volunteer at least 12 hours
  12. Prepare for grad school (student affairs)
  13. Spend 4 out of the 8 weeks of summer with family

Happily, each of these goals were met(!!!), some of them were met more than once (saw two oceans, registered for a 10k, etc). And more importantly, each of these 12 goals can be tied back to at least one item on the previous two lists, which made them easy to follow through with. Remember my 30 by 30 list? I bet each of the items on my list can be connected back to my values or things I want to live my life for.

In Conclusion

We can all go through life without a clear set of goals, and still be happy. I did it for the majority of my life. But when goal-setting becomes a part of your life (and not just that thing you think about every now and then), you will realize that not only are you happy, but you are also growing yourself into a whole person who has a direction and a motive. Connect your goals to who you are (or want to be), and happiness will grow in light of that connection.

Who are you?

Who do you want to be?

What do you want out of life?

Why?

 ―Unknown

Remember, that life continues to shape you and change you, and you should make time to reflect on your inner growth whenever possible. Will I constantly re-evaluate my interests and passions? Yes. For the rest of my life? Yes. Just like I will constantly be writing and re-writing goals to complete and dreams to follow. Because when what you do matches who you are and who you want to be, none of this goal setting is a chore or work; it becomes a part of life–your life. And this life is too short to waste on not knowing what you want to create out of it.