“By going the way of your wishes, from one to another, from first to last. It will take you to what you really and truly want.”*

This post was written on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, a day after Loy Krathong. I’m currently in Luang Prabang, Laos.

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When I opened up Facebook on my phone at three a.m. today, a message from the FB team was waiting for me on my news feed. Turns out, since the social media service knows where I am at all times, it Spidey-sensed I was in Thailand, and wished me a happy Loy Krathong.

When you’re drunk and tired and your contact lenses are glued to your eyes, and Facebook wishes you a happy holiday you don’t know, you stare at your phone like a dog stares at humans when they try to speak long complicated sentences to it.

Derp?

So I Googled “Loy Krathong.” On the night of the full moon of the twelfth month of the Thai lunar calendar, Tai cultures (Thai, Laotian, and people from various parts of Myanmar), launch krathong on a river, canal, or pond, and make a wish. Krathong can be anything but is usually a little boatlike basket made of banana leaves and containing incense, a candle, and sometimes a coin. Some folks translate loy krathong to “to float a basket.”

A large part of me wished I’d spent the night launching little banana-leaf baskets onto a river instead of drinking vodka out of a plastic pail more suitable for sand-castle–building children. A smaller part of me now wishes I’d made a Kaitlin-size krathong and floated myself somewhere, just to see where I would go.

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The first time I went to Southeast Asia, I cobbled together vacation days, sick days, and personal days at my nine-to-five in order to take an eighteen-day trip first to Cambodia and then to Thailand. Before I got to each of the six cities I’d crammed into less than three weeks of traveling, I read up on what I should see and how to see what I wanted to see, and when I got there, I was hungry and I was listening. My mouth and ears and heart were open, and my expectations were low. I stayed in hostels. I walked everywhere, maybe even places I shouldn’t have. I talked to people, tourists, locals as best I could. And all I hoped for was that I would figure out a little something about myself and my life, and if I didn’t, I at least went on a kick-ass trip, one I worked hard to take, and one for which I was grateful.

Of course, if you know me, you know I figured out more than just a “little something.”

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So far this trip has been different.

I took a minibus to Ko Pha Ngan’s half moon party my first night on the island, but after that, the farthest I’ve been from my hotel (not a hostel) has been about three-tenths of a mile. I haven’t met anyone I’ve spoken to again following our first meeting. I’ve been working, copyediting, yes, as work doesn’t stop just because I’m in Thailand, but when I have had time, and when I considered venturing out, scared wasn’t the word I’d use to describe how I felt. Reluctant, maybe, or apathetic. Uninspired, for certain. So far I have used paradise as the backdrop for my work, my daily routine, and have all but ignored it, its people, and what it values. Hope. And making wishes.

I’ve always liked the concept of making wishes. The word making implies effort, creation, and I think that wishes are more often silent pleas for the strength to achieve a wish, instead of the wish itself on a platter. I worked on a poetry book recently in which the author said that dreams don’t come true but are made true, and wishes, I think, are fashioned much in the same way as dreams.

Embarking on this trip, I saw it as an opportunity to get a lot of work done, finish my book, and really start creating my business, which is, if I haven’t said, dating advice and coaching for women. I expected—no, more like demanded—that Southeast Asia drop a pat of inspiration and motivation on me (as it had the last time), while I shuffled around the grounds of my hotel, didn’t make a single friend, and vowed that tomorrow, yes, tomorrow, I’d stop making my first question in restaurants, “What is the Wi-Fi?” and then reading on glamour.com about what Reese Witherspoon’s real name is. My mouth and ears and heart have been closed, and I’ve sat like a fat cat, trying to get an entire continent to write my book for me. And I have been, up until now, ungrateful for its unceasing beauty, lack of frivolity, and smiles.

Tomorrow I take a ferry to Ko Samui, where I’ll get on a flight to Bangkok, and then Luang Prabang, Laos, a city known for markets, coffee (ahhh), and quiet, the bars closing early. No full moon parties. No half moon parties. No neon T-shirts with Kanye West sunglasses on them and quotes like Sex with me = free breakfast. I haven’t yet said to myself, Things will be different in Laos, as they will be different only if I make them so.

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On December 2, Todd and I will fly, I from Laos and he from Thailand, to Siem Reap, Cambodia, the country I went into loving and hugging, from which I asked nothing, only to receive everything I didn’t know I needed. And there, I’ll float, my arms open, no expectations, pushing a banana-leaf boat with my wish to the fore, poised to ride the current of an inspiration entirely of my own making.

*From The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

Photos: View of Laos from the plane; full moon party on Ko Pha Ngan; the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 2013; the moon at six a.m. over the Ko Pha Ngan port

“i have to see a thing a thousand times before i see it once.”*

i was telling someone the other day that somehow i’m always surprised to find mistakes, sometimes egregious mistakes, in a book i’ve been working on when i read it a second time. if i could go through a book a third—or even a fourth—time, this would be ideal, but given that it takes already thirty hours (if not longer) to copyedit a three-hundred-page book, this isn’t realistic. it’s especially difficult to spot errors on the first read if the book is enjoyable because i can get caught up in the story. lucky, and unlucky, for me, i am usually assigned good reading.

but when you read something a second time, and those errors seem to spring up as if out of nowhere, you start to 1. hate yourself—

how did i miss that?—

and 2. hate the book—

well, if you had paid any attention to yourself, any attention at all, i wouldn’t have had to find that error in the first place. you stupid, stupid book.

you’re thinking (and my mom actually said, “aw!” at the above as i read this post to her), the book didn’t do anything! it was the—

now you know why i can’t say that word. though i hope to be one myself, i notice the same kinds of errors in my writing, even after i’ve read it ten times. i can be a stupid, stupid book often.

as i was wondering why the hell i didn’t add a period to the end of a punctuation-less sentence—i had clearly fallen asleep for a second—i remembered that i’d brought a specific book to north carolina, my current location, to reread.

in my personal life, i never reread books (with the exceptions of shiloh and the outsiders, both of which i’ve read so many times, the binding has disintegrated). but this book is one i read two years ago, soon after i’d broken up with my ex-boyfriend. like any starry-eyed girl, i saw myself in the main character, who is essentially given two paths: stick with her stable life, the one with the stable intellectual man and comfy flat in england, or choose the less distinguished man, a traveling drunk, a player of both women and snooker, though a professional of only the latter.

while i’ve loved many, many books, this author’s writing is one for which i would do a series of inhumane things to emulate. any writer who uses a word on nearly every page that i either have to look up or work hard to define in context is both my hero and sworn enemy. i’ve been chided by friends when i’ve used a lesser-known, more obscure word in favor of its go-to synonym, even though i do this simply because i like language, and i like playing with it, and one word is always a better choice than another. it just is.

and maybe in some cases the best, and simultaneously easy, way is to pick the dumbass substitute and not its distinguished cousin. because sometimes it’s far better to say fuck and not dress it up. sometimes fuck is what you need and only fuck will get your point across.

so far, the book (the post-birthday world by lionel shriver) is just as well crafted as i remembered, and a few parts, which i’d obviously forgotten, have pulled at the strings again, though i can’t imagine they’re pulling in the same way they did the first time. it’s funny that i am rereading this in the outer banks, a place i haven’t been to since i was nineteen, and which had been, up until that point, where my parents and i went nearly every summer. days that used to be packed with hours of sun-filled beach, aquarium visits, and lots of family togetherness have been replaced with an hour of beach time, freelance work, and general lounging/writing/reading, my dad going off to play tennis or do a jigsaw puzzle with my uncle, and my mom and aunt going to thrift stores.

(the contention of the freelance work, by the way, has not gone unscathed, and seemingly no one can imagine why i’d be doing work on what is supposed to be a vacation. the facts are: i up and quit my job less than a year ago and can’t afford not to work, and i genuinely like working, and when i’m not, i tend to get jittery and crazy, and only more work or a workout will calm me.)

i started thinking—upon my second reading of the sci-fi young adult novel i’m copyediting, revisiting birthday, and failing to re-create the summers of my childhood—just how important it is to reread, or reevaluate or reassess, everything. no one thinks twice about reassessing his or her property value, but, and i’m included in this mix, few people reread relationships of any kind, be they romantic, platonic, business, or familial.

ah, the errors you find on a second read.

it’s always sort of assumed, if you’re in a relationship with someone (any of the four above makes up a relationship), you’re together and that’s it, and it’s only when you have a fight or a falling out that you sit there, a screwed-up pursed-lip look on your face, and wonder where things went wrong. how two people could go from tight-knit to nothing in an hour or a few weeks or years of impassive drifting.

why didn’t i see the signs? is usually the question we pain ourselves with. of course, it’s difficult to step back from a relationship in the middle (or maybe it’s closer to the end than you think) and prod it. the danger is that we will find something wrong.

it’s like when old people don’t want to go to the doctor because they’re afraid the doctor will “find something.” fucking old people! go to the doctor!

anyway.

rereading the same manuscript in a three-week time period, i’ve spotted errors and inconsistencies. and not only those, i’ve spotted chunks i didn’t appreciate the first go-round, lovely phrases or great dialogue i glazed over. and, as i’m rereading birthday, the visceral reactions are plenty, but i doubt that i two years ago received the same emotions and gained the same lessons i am now. the writing may be the same, but i am not.

sometimes, in life as in books, you can get caught up, so caught up in the story that this whirlwind of emotion and passion takes precedence over the events and details themselves and what they truly are, and what they mean, positive or negative. but as humans, once something sets in our minds, it’s hard to imagine it another way. the job that no longer fulfills us. the marriage that isn’t working. the friendship that had begun to fail from nearly the get-go. it was all so good at first—when did it take a wrong turn?

and then sometimes you realize you’ve managed to grow something beautiful in what started as a pile of shit.

when you’ve had a chance to be away from someone or something, you have time to reflect on him, her, or it. i, for one, can’t reflect if i’m not alone. i liken it to being lost yet continuing to stand in the middle of a crowded intersection, rather than pulling yourself into whatever starbucks is closest and reassessing the situation. once you do, you might reread it as positive. or maybe negative. or maybe you simply conclude that you need to keep an eye on it. that you need not forget to reassess.

the greatest danger is to take anything at face value, and purport that value for years—even with things we can’t change. i’m sure, were someone to find a glaring mistake in the post-birthday world, that the publisher would fix it. largely, though, the work will stay unchanged; it is only the reader, therefore, who changes, and thus, the reader’s assessments, emotions, and conclusions associated with the work. the same principle should be applied to relationships . . . to anything, really. we can never expect a thing to remain constant, especially when we are constantly growing.

to grow together is wonderful, and possible (i hope); but to grow apart is not unlikely. and we can avoid the pitfall of surprise at a failed anything if we continuously look at what’s in front of us for what it truly is at that time, and not at any other.

two years ago i rooted for the snooker player. the womanizer. the bad boy. today, despite knowing the ending, and however foolish it makes me, i find myself still hoping for the same.

 

*thomas wolfe in you can’t go home again

“if peeing your pants is cool, consider me miles davis.”*

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this is me at age nine. also, the file name for this photo is “kaitlin dork.”

when i was a kid, i had a serious obsession with being “cool.” i don’t think i even really knew exactly what it meant to be cool, but i at least knew that whatever it was, i was not it. so i did things like buy adidas sambas and umbro shorts (even though i neither played nor liked soccer) because everyone was wearing that crap, i begged my parents for contact lenses, and i brushed out all the curls in my hair (i had/still have a theory that people with straight hair are automatically cooler than people with curly hair). i also wore baggy shirts because i thought having boobs was pretty much the most horrible thing on earth—little did i know that without boobs, the earth would implode—and i acted clownish in class, because, well, that seemed to be the cool thing to do. raising your hand a lot and acting interested was uncool. it was kind of like when lindsay lohan’s character in mean girls starts to fail her math tests on purpose so she doesn’t look like a math dork and so she can get tutored by aaron samuels. aaron. samuels.

anyway, i spent a lot of time analyzing what made cool kids cool (or so i thought) and copying the cool things they did, said, and wore, and doing things like drawing weird shit on my binders with wite-out because that’s what the cool kids did. none of these things made me cool in the slightest. then, strangely enough, someone “cool” (in quotes not because she wasn’t, but because the concept of coolness is sort of ridiculous) became my best friend. i didn’t quite know how i duped her into it—and somehow, eighteen years later, she’s still putting up with me—but around her i felt good about myself, i started to think my boobs were a superpower, and i began to forget about all that “cool” stuff. seventh grade came, as did the spice girls, skater pants, retro seventies attire, and steve madden shoes, and i pooled babysitting money to combine all that late-nineties garbage and make some interesting fashion choices. i stopped having crushes on the same three guys everyone else liked, and developed feelings for the guy who sat in front of me in science class. none of it was on purpose—it all just sort of happened—and i didn’t exactly become cool, but the level to which i gave a shit about being cool began to wane somewhat. since 1996, i think i’ve worked on this without realizing it, though at thirty, while i mostly think little of what others think of me, i am still not quite able to think nothing of it.

my boyfriend has mastered not giving a shit, and sometimes i am amazed, and also uncomfortable, at just how much he doesn’t care. this past weekend, i met his mother and sister for the first time, and we all agreed that we liked his hair shorter, à la six months to a year ago. when he came into the kitchen and i informed him that we collectively decided we preferred his old hairstyle, he shrugged, grabbed a piece of leftover steak out of the fridge, and began eating the cold meat with his hands, only a piece of saran wrap separating him from his food. he is also able to stand what i would consider awkwardly close to a group of people without talking to them or caring if they think he’s standing there like a weirdo, to hear one of his students interact with the group. i, on the other hand, feel jittery and anxious, saying, “what if they think it’s strange that we’re just standing here and not talking or introducing ourselves? should we move farther away? should we talk to them?”

the idea of social pressure is a topic he talks about a lot, and it’s something human beings respond to because they’re essentially programmed to have a response. back in the day when we lived in tiny villages, doing something socially unacceptable would get your ass kicked out in a snap, and that meant you’d not only be shunned by your entire village, but you’d be cut off from shelter, food, water, sex, and community. aka you were dead. so now, even though for most of us this isn’t a life-or-death possibility, we perceive acting outside the norm as a lot worse than it is and believe its consequences to be much more dire. only problem is that while eavesdropping on a conversation might be a little odd, the worst thing that could happen is that the alpha of the group tells you to take a picture or get the fuck out of there, and then you leave. no one took away your nourishment or your nookie. life went on. all’s well.

my problem is that i am what’s known as illogical. i understand the reasons behind various circumstances and situations, yet my visceral gut reaction is to overlook them and go with emotions instead. and that’s pretty much the reason i haven’t blogged since february 5 and why i’ve made zero progress on my book in the last two weeks. i not only allowed what someone said to get to me—i let it consume me.

this person, who is a close friend, told me that my blogs lack emotion, are self-righteous and self-absorbed and phony, and put a vibe out there that i believe that my life and how i live it are paramount, and anyone not following a similar lifestyle is wrong. the thing about those cool kids back in the day was that they didn’t care if anyone thought they were cool. and that’s why they were. and if someone challenged them, the insult or whatever it was rolled off their backs. they were confident, confident in themselves and that whatever was said about them either wasn’t true or didn’t matter, really. i am leaps more confident than i used to be, but what this friend said to me made me wonder if all those things were true. it made me question if other people believed those things too. and if to prove this person right, i stopped writing. i stopped wanting to put myself out there in any way for fear of appearing selfish or holier-than-thou. due to both weather and depression, i didn’t leave my house, lived in my sweatpants and uggs, and probably broke my record for how many days in a row i didn’t wash my hair or put my contact lenses in. i also cried a lot and deactivated my facebook account and ate nothing but clif bars and didn’t talk to anyone except the two people living down the hall, these two beings called mom and dad. even they were probably a bit scared of me, as i resembled a swamp creature more so than i resembled their daughter.

then, last weekend, i was out at a grungy alphabet city bar with a friend and a few of his friends. we were all getting to know one another, and that process usually leads to the invariable question of “what do you do for a living?” and i responded with the truth, of course, which is that i’m a freelancer and i am self-employed. i get the same follow-up questions to this answer all the time, and i got them that night. they include but are not limited to: “what kind of work do you do?” “how do you motivate yourself?” and the best one, “what made you decide to do it?” again, i was honest, and to the last question i answered that i love books and wanted to get back to really working on them in depth; i was tired of living in hoboken and being in new york every day; i was sick of meetings and e-mail and working in an office; and i wanted to be able to travel and work on my writing, something that never got enough attention when i worked at my old job in the city. i didn’t say anything else, but one of the guys i was talking to said:

“wow, way to make us all feel like assholes.”

and i thought to myself, okay, i was asked a question and i answered it honestly, and i don’t remember making a comment about the company i was keeping or anyone else, for that matter.

unfortunately, i did exactly what i shouldn’t have done, and that was to defend myself. i didn’t get worked up about it, but still i insisted that it was a choice that i made on my own, and though it’s fantastic in many ways (flexibility in hours and environment, freedom from “the grind” and commuting and office work), there are a lot of things about it that are far from glamorous, and are actually a little scary. i didn’t go into a lot of details, but i did mention that it’s not all sleeping late and fun, and many of my worries include never knowing if i’ll have enough work, being anxious about the former, dealing with getting paid late, buying my own shitty, bare-bones health insurance (which i usually end up paying for late), having to motivate myself constantly not only to work, but to network, and being away from my social circle, which includes my old coworkers. i wasn’t so much complaining about these things as stating facts, one because i knew what i was getting into when i made the decision, but two because while freelancing is the best decision for me, at least for now, it’s not without its flaws.

i also don’t think, and never have thought, that it’s for everyone. in fact, if everyone became freelancers, our world would fall apart faster than if women suddenly stopped having breasts. the world needs lawyers and teachers and doctors and insurance agents and landscapers and actors and salespeople (and of course pickups artists), but we also need storytellers and writers, those who talk about their lives not because they think they are special or unique but because they think their experiences aren’t. because they think that they’re giving a voice to groups and groups of people who share common goals and experiences, sorrows and joys, however mundane. most human experiences are. but that doesn’t mean they don’t make for good stories.

i’ll probably never completely stop caring about what other people think, especially people about whom i inherently care a lot, and i’ll probably always have the urge to defend myself. logically, i didn’t say anything to that guy in the bar about his life. i didn’t make him feel like an asshole, because no one aside from yourself can make you feel anything. if he was unhappy with his life, he was anyway, and feeling like an asshole had nothing to do with me, someone he just met and hardly knows. i’ll be honest: i’m pretty content with my life as it is now, but i’m not going to pretend it’s all cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudel. i doubt myself, i feel depressed—sometimes very much so—but one of my methods for fighting doubts and sadness is writing. so the worst thing i can do is to let what other people think affect me so negatively that i can’t, and don’t want to, use one of my most important tools for overcoming my fears and worries. i also shouldn’t let it stop me from showering. that’s kind of unfortunate for everyone.

*billy madison

“i’m not going to tell you the story the way it happened. i’m going to tell it the way i remember it.”*

i started this blog last night, and by started i mean that i wrote what kind of storyteller are you? at the top of an otherwise blank word document and then went to sleep. i think i was hoping that while i dreamed, a tale would manifest itself and inspiration would pelt me like an ice storm on a foul winter’s day in new jersey. it sort of did, because when i woke up and took a stroll on facebook, my former company had posted something about it being national storytelling week. it began on february 1, apparently, and i am going to guess that in the shuffle of freelancing four books in a week, working on my story and ghostwriting someone else’s, i was too busy copyediting and proofreading and writing stories to realize i was supposed to be celebrating them. so yay, stories, and all that.

a story is nothing without words, so in honor of the sum and its parts, i’m going to attempt to use the past three days’ worth of words of the day (merriam-webster sends me an e-mail with a new word daily) in this blog. usually i try to memorize and use the word i’m sent on the day of its delivery, but i’ve been really bad about completing this self-appointed task, so this is my punishment. therefore, when you read and suddenly start to think, why the fuck is she talking like that? you’ll realize, ah, she’s using one of those “words of the day.”

there was a guy in my eighth-grade english class who used to do just this sort of thing, except that he committed the same four or five words to memory and then used them all the time, in an abnormally loud voice, as a joke. the words were savvy, myriad, and a few others, and he tried to incorporate them into a sentence every time he was called on, even if the words made no sense in context. it was actually really funny, and although our teacher was probably growing tired of the gag by the end of the year, we all found our peer to be quite simpatico.

without my knowledge, i was in the perfect place last night to bask in the refulgence of national storytelling week. i went to my first toastmasters meeting in the cafeteria of riverview medical center, and if you don’t know (and i didn’t, until last week), toastmasters is a nonprofit organization that helps individuals improve their speaking, communication, and leadership skills. there’s a timekeeper, then someone who counts the number of ahs, ums uhs, likes, you knows, and all those other shitty filler words we all use, and even a grammarian, who picks apart speeches for, well, what else—grammar. i am already envisioning 1). becoming her minion or 2). stealing her job. there’s no right or wrong answer when asked why you’ve decided to join toastmasters, and you don’t have to be in any particular industry to attend a meeting or become a member. i checked it out for a variety of reasons, and i’ll be going back in two weeks.

a few people were scheduled to give speeches to work on various skills, to make them more soigné, if you please, and while we all wrote down our thoughts on tiny perforated slips of paper, one person in particular was assigned to each speaker to serve as an evaluator, i.e. someone who thoroughly critiques and gives feedback post-speech (mid-speech would be kind of cruel). toward the end of the meeting, each evaluator does his or her own five-minute set, essentially, about his or her assigned speech-giver’s speech.

my favorite speech of the night, unequivocally (not a word of the day; i just like this one), was given by an evaluator, a woman who, i believe, isn’t much older than i am and seems to be italian, used emphatic hand gestures, and kept speaking even when the timekeeper raised the red piece of paper indicating that she’d reached the five-minute mark. a few people made jokes about her long-windedness, though i had been more captivated by her speech, “too long” or not, than by any of the others, and i have to believe that everyone else had been too.

when she evaluated her speaker’s speech, she first pointed out the things she liked. the speaker had been comfortable taking the floor, his voice had been loud and clear, and he hadn’t appeared to be nervous. she admitted, however, that to be honest, she didn’t know the speaker and, if she had to give her opinion about him as a person based solely on his speech, she wouldn’t like him very much. she went on to say that his message wasn’t clear; it should be made clear at the beginning, then woven into the story, and then—clap—hammered home at the end. she essentially called his phrasing clichéd (that’s my word, not hers) and at one point she said, “that’s not how people really talk when they’re telling a story. they don’t say, she squeezed my hand and there were tears streaming down her face.”

there are two types of storytellers, she said. there’s the bedtime storyteller. the one who sounds like he or she is reading to a child from a picture book. the words are printed and there for the reciting, the story is theatrical and rehearsed. the listener is conscious of the fact that a story is being told. the story itself is technically sound, topically interesting even, flawless on paper. i’ve read books like this. ones that try so hard, they make spectacles of themselves. they use words like soigné in utter seriousness. i picture these writers sitting in hipster coffee shops on purpose, begging for inspiration, a pocket thesaurus on hand that they consult for every other word.

“gross,” she said.

no, no! backspace, backspace, backspace. let’s dress up that natural dialogue with alliteration and superfluous adverbs!

“that’s positively putrid,” she expounded.

but then there are the storytellers in whose words you lose yourself. if someone taps you on the shoulder in the middle of the story, you act as if you’re being attacked with a tire iron. you fall into rabbit holes, stumble through wardrobes, and pass out, drugged in a field of poppies. you can actually taste an everlasting gobstopper and you think frobscottle and butterbeer are real. you cry when sirius black and dumbledore die, and you cry even more when you find out that snape was a double agent all along because he loved, loved, loved harry’s mother.

when i was a kid, instead of reading to me from a picture book, my dad made up stories ad-lib about lightning bugs who fall in love, frogs who escape swamps and frolic around new york city with a little curly-haired girl named kaitlin, bears called pookies who live in trees, and talking pigs who have adventures around the world and who also, crazily enough, let that same kaitlin girl drive their car at the age of five. instead of a human imaginary friend (or no imaginary friends for those of you who had “real” companions, those of the fleshy variety), my friendship circle consisted of insects, amphibians, and both fuzzy and furless mammals.

in improv comedy, you’re given a word or a topic to say yes to. one of the biggest mistakes you can make in this type of comedy is not to accept the premise (or “reality” of the scene) or to try to be funny.

if someone says, “hey, you can’t come into my store wearing no pants!” you don’t say, “but i am wearing pants. can’t you see my blue jeans?”

you say, “yes, i can. i’m a member of the sanspants denomination of nudism and today is our sabbath.”

and the other person doesn’t respond, “there’s no such thing as sanspants.” he or she says, “oh, you guys again. you’re worse than jehovah’s witnesses.”

and so on.

one of my good friends, who is a comedian and a truly great storyteller, once told me that when he reads my writing, he feels as though he’s sitting next to me and we’re just talking. so i hope that in my book, when i’m drunk, you’re drunk. when i’m alone, you’re alone. when i’m inspired, you’re inspired. and when i’m in love, and i am, so much so, you’re in love too. but if you tell me i’m a bedtime storyteller, i’ll say “yes, and” and accept it. right after i feed your hand to a crocodile and drop a house on your sister. and your little dog, too.

*charles dickens in great expectations

“‘well, i sort of made it up,’ said pooh. ‘it isn’t brain,’ he went on humbly, ‘because you know why, rabbit; but it comes to me sometimes.'”*

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f. scott fitzgerald’s dedication in the great gatsby

for christmas this year, i gave someone what i dubbed the most self-centered gift i could ever possibly give, which was to be chosen as the person to whom i dedicate my book. my book, whether it forever stays a word document on my macbook or becomes stitched, bound, glued, covered, stamped, jacketed (and let’s hope there are some fantastical special effects on said jacket), boxed, shipped, and shelved. i gifted this present by way of an exceedingly long, handwritten letter, and i hoped that the receiver would realize just how important a gift it was, how much of an honor it is to be recognized as someone’s inspiration, or muse. the significance was more than clear to this person, and much appreciated, and i knew i had given the perfect gift, in that it was perfectly suited for this particular recipient.

it’s rare to find a book without a dedication, in fact, and the few times i’ve seen it lacking between the copyright page and first chapter have been memorably in james joyce’s novels and in children’s books that are part of a longstanding series. the author, i would surmise, by book ten knows what he or she is doing and might think handing out a tenth dedication for the same characters and setting takes away from the weight of such a profession of gratitude, as if dedicating a book to someone at that point has become akin to shooting t-shirts out of a cannon at a minor league baseball game.

the idea of dedications, and in particular, the muses that inspire them, had me wondering if muses come about naturally or if we desperately seek them, and either way, do we (and by we i mean creative types of any kind, be they artists, musicians, writers, and the like) need them.

the muses are the nine daughters of zeus and mnemosyne in greek mythology, and are the personification of knowledge and art, notably literature, dance, and music. in history, muses have mostly been the women behind the men, including ladies like zelda fitzgerald, wife of f. scott fitzgerald, and double muse pattie boyd, said to be the inspiration for george harrison’s “something” and eric clapton’s “layla,” “wonderful tonight,” and “bell bottom blues,” four songs which, you know, are just okay.

or beautiful. brilliant. although “wonderful tonight” was my junior high school prom song and has since been ruined for me as a result.

anyway, muses have journeyed down a long and winding road from being just pretty faces with botticelli bodies, and i like to think that things or places can be muses too. if new jersey wasn’t such a swampy, tragic hellhole, would bruce springsteen be bruce springsteen? i think if bruce had been sprouted in someplace sunny and lovely like san diego, he wouldn’t be as gritty, raw, or emotional. he might be, actually, the male version of katy perry.

up until recently, the array of muses i’ve had have consisted of teachers of sorts, beginning with my dad, the original and most powerful, who will never be dethroned, and who has been followed by middle-school teachers and college professors.

during my first semester of college, my rhetoric professor, an older adjunct faculty member who quit her job as a successful lawyer later in life to go into teaching, asked much more of me than any other teacher i’d had before. she assigned a five-minute speech on a controversial topic; the speech could not be memorized but had to be delivered from sparse notes on a few lined cards and needed to be free of movement behind the podium and devoid of ums, likes, uhs, and any other utterances that would add nothing but piffle to the argument.

while it might be hard to imagine that i had trouble speaking in front of people, i used to be one of those folks who would have certainly rather died than stand up in front of one person, let alone twenty-five, and talk about anything, even a topic on which i was an expert. so that fall i sat in the supposedly haunted basement of my dorm for hours, preparing, practicing, and standing behind an invisible podium with my feet shoulder-width apart (a tip from my short story professor that same semester who guaranteed this pose would not lead to swaying, weight-shifting, or any sort of distracting physical behavior like hopping around).

i desperately wanted to impress this woman, this professor, whom i admired for having had the guts to quit a high-paying, cushy job and follow her passion, and i sought, finally, to stop being afraid. after giving the speech and receiving her evaluation, all boxes in the excellent column clearly checked and a bubbled note at the bottom reading you’d make a fantastic lawyer someday, my public speaking fears vanished and have not once reappeared. i’ve googled this professor many times since 2002. i can’t find her, but my gratitude remains eternal nonetheless.

why her, though? i don’t doubt that i had it in me for years to go on a solo mission to get over this fear. i was more than capable. what was it about her? what was it about my fifth-grade english teacher that got me absolutely hooked on properly punctuating sentences and declining verbs, nouns, and adjectives? or my sixth-grade spanish teacher who somehow communicated to me without saying so that spanish, not french (though i really liked my french teacher as well), was the language i must learn, that somehow, even eighteen years later, i would still be using it—to work on spanish children’s books, write letters to the child i sponsor in ecuador, communicate with locals when i travel, or practice the language with my boyfriend, whose father taught it to him. then there’s my sixth-grade english teacher who put a one-sentence mark twain quote on the board about the difference between the right word and the wrong word, the teacher who made me realize that no matter what else i ever did, it would always, always be writing and i.

we creative fools are often a self-loathing bunch, our biggest doubters and critics, even if we’re exceptionally talented. one of my best male friends asked me a few days ago why i love my boyfriend, and one of the first things i said was that he inspires me. he encourages my writing, and he tells anyone who will listen to look out, because one day i’ll have my name slapped on the cover of a bestselling book. i’ve written more in the ten months i’ve known him than i have in ten years, even those few semesters in college when i was so emotional, poetry practically bled out of my fingers. to this my friend said:

“there’s about 2/3 of that first part that i hope you realize is all you and has nothing to do with him and everything to do with you and how awesome kaitlin is, boyfriend, girlfriend, or no.”

it is, to date, one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. but while those qualities have most likely always been there (i mean, i hope they have been—i’m not saying my boyfriend is a magician, jeez), maybe they needed to be mined by the person with just the right ability, strength, and set of tools. and just as i didn’t choose those teachers as muses any more than they chose me, it was them, and no one else, coupled with the kind of chemistry you can’t seek out, manufacture, or wait for, who i needed. if it makes me weak to admit i’ve required, and sometimes continue to require, the push i haven’t quite been able to give myself, then call me as such. i have a feeling that someday, even just to one person, i’ll return the favor.

my boyfriend and i both remember being, on our first date, the wittiest and most clever we’d ever been. and even now, nearly a year later, i’ll often open my mouth and speak, and out something tumbles, to which he’ll say:

“write that down.”

three of the nicest words in succession any writer can hear. i doubt i’ll ever tire of them.

*a. a. milne from the house on pooh corner, in which pooh is inspired to write a song after seeing tigger in the woods

“nothing drives people crazier than seeing someone have a good fucking life.”*

IMG_3856

the lobby at the wynn around 5:30 a.m. because it’s pretty and i’m tired.

this post was written on november 27 on three hours of sleep.

so yesterday i six-degrees-of-kevin-baconed myself via google out of curiosity and to see just what kind of public virtual trail i leave. while a lot of people are afraid of the internet—a fair amount friends and family members weren’t on board with donating to my marathon charity via the web, for example—i’ve given up trying to control it, and instead i’ve embraced it. when facebook first unleashed timeline and nearly everyone i knew groaned about having all content from 2004 and beyond visible to six hundred of their closest friends, i honestly didn’t mind so much. as someone who kept a handwritten diary for thirteen years and the adult version of a diary (the blog or, back in the day, my supercool xanga online journal) for nine, i saw facebook’s timeline as another way to look back on my life and its events, my interactions, and of course, my slightly idiotic musings about mundane occurrences. or grammar. i have no illusions about the fact that i can be an obnoxious over-poster, something i used to feel guilty about in this increasingly me, me, me world, or i guess the i, i, i world of iphone, ipod, ipad, and imac. but i’ve realized that, more than anyone or anything, me is what i know best. so i might as well cover the topic thoroughly.

the web i’ve woven is complex but not too difficult to pull apart with a bit of elbow grease. when facebook changed its default posting audience to public (the company loves doing that sort of thing and not telling you about it) and i didn’t realize it, i posted a blog about why i quit my job to not just my friends, but to everyone. the next day the head of my (former) department told me she liked my blog. we aren’t friends on facebook, and when i asked how she found my post, she said a coworker sent the link to her. i wasn’t friends with him, either. to be honest, the situation alarmed me at the start. then i discovered the status update with the blog post link had been set to public. and then i checked my wordpress stats to see that in two days more than five hundred people had looked at that particular post. my best day previously was a pathetic sixty views. . . . i’ve been keeping all my posts public since.

this increase in transparency comes with a price, i suppose, because if you can find my facebook account, you can most certainly find my blog. the blog links even the most lightweight stalker to my linkedin, instagram, twitter, foursquare, and pinterest pages, all of which contain both my given and surnames. google me and you’ll see that i write for my local community newspaper, raised money for and ran the nyc marathon, and am a member of the new jersey state golf association’s caddie alumni committee (that one is certainly a head-scratcher if you don’t know me).

when i began blogging, my site wasn’t private, but by no means did i publicize it. it wasn’t until july 2012 that i abandoned that blog, and it was almost exactly a year ago that i began linking the new one to facebook and twitter. there was only one reason for that: i wanted, and still want, to write and publish a book—about what else? my favorite topic: me. i know that many of my friends see this as narcissistic and self-promoting, and i’ve often heard, even from people i know well: “you have a blog, huh? you and everyone else.” but i don’t sit here and think, how can i make myself sound good or look good? i’m thinking more along the lines of can i be okay with admitting and detailing a deep personal problem or flaw or emotional issue? and not just launching it into the abyss of the internet or into the in-boxes of my parents and best friends but to my extended family, friends of my parents, former teachers and coworkers, clients, and the like? do my middle-school spanish teacher (hola, señora) and seventy-two-year-old aunt really need to know about my dating life and drunken mishaps?

maybe not. but the beauty of good writing is that it knows no boundaries. anyone from co-eds to grandmas read 50 shades of grey, after all. two of my biggest triumphs, in terms of crossing boundaries, have been 1). when a girl i went to high school with followed me on twitter after having unfriended me, refriended me, and unfriended me a second time on facebook (she’s clearly not a fan), and 2). when a guy who once called me a lying cunt told me my posts were brutally honest and therapeutic for him. when even your enemies can’t help but be interested (or, okay, maybe just nosy) about your life? excuse the hash tag but . . . #winning.

i have written 32,000 words of my book, which, according to the huffington post and amazon, is about halfway to the total word count of brave new world, the median (i haven’t used that word since high school math) of book lengths. the closer i get to writing a pitch and a query letter, researching agents, and approaching my buddies in book publishing, the more holy shit it all becomes. i think about authors like chelsea handler or tucker max and the contents of their books and wonder about their thought processes. did chelsea tell her family to do themselves a solid and not read her book? did tucker max say, hey, mom, unless you like explosive anal sex and graphic details of sushi-and-alcohol-filled vomit, don’t go past the dedication? okay, i’m not that scandalous, but i’m going to include, and have already penned, moments of humiliation as well as incidents that don’t, in any way, paint me in a positive light. in fact, they might even blur the line between hero and villain. thus, the blog: my method to slowly warm myself up to the idea that the world could someday see the raw, unabashed version of me.

the reason i’ve been thinking about this is because recently someone i don’t know somehow stumbled upon my blog and therefore my linkedin page and, i’m guessing, the rest of the social media sites on which i prostitute myself. after getting to know me on the web, this person said that he/she feels sorry for me. (don’t ask how i know any of this; it’s so unbelievably convoluted and ridiculous that i don’t want to get into it). this began my research into my online presence: looking at the public version of my facebook page, googling myself, and seeing just how much i refer one site to the next on each platform, how i weave an intricate series of online stiches. i wanted to see what everyone else sees, if they care to look. and the fear i’ve been having recently, about what it will be like to put an uncensored version of my life in print, about what it is already like and will continue to be like to have a boyfriend with a very public presence and a following that is consistently growing, was overwhelming.

but then, when i took in my online persona (which is, shockingly, akin to my real self, scout’s honor), i realized what a well-rounded little nugget i am. i have a great relationship with my parents, i have a ton of friends, i’m a good writer, i’ve worked for two of the biggest publishers in the world, i started my own business, i’ve traveled alone and often, i’ve run a marathon, and i’m kind of cute in a childlike, garden gnome type of way (not my words). and now, instead of sitting behind a desk, about to call it quits, i’m in las vegas, typing this blog, knowing that i can go for a run in the middle of the day, do my work at three a.m., or hop on a plane, a train, or a bus to meet my boyfriend or my friends in various cities around the country pretty much when i want, depending on the proximity of a mail center (those kiddie books have to get back to new york city somehow).

last night i was in a club in the bellagio, feeling slightly out of state (that’s the pickup artist term for not feeling in the zone or in a place of ease, playfulness, and diversion), and i took a minute to shut my eyes and really concentrate on where i was and what i was doing. the bass thumped in my eardrums, my boyfriend’s arm snaked around my waist, and i thought, i’m lucky. and i’m having more fun than i’ve ever had in my entire life.

sorry for me? hm.

and then i saw this quote from *chuck palahniuk and decided that it needed to be my headline. scroll up, and enjoy.

“the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”*

this week was my first as a full-time freelancer, and honestly, it hasn’t been as much of a challenge as i expected in terms of a transition. i was more anxious thinking about the transition; but now that it’s here, i’ve adapted quite well. i get up, get dressed, get coffee a few blocks away, and start my work. i concentrate for a bit on one project, switch to another, and do some of my writing when i feel as if i’ve earned the privilege (i did that today; i’ve been in starbucks for three and a half hours, and after having checked a first pass of a ya novel for bad breaks, widows, etc., and numbering corresponding manuscript pages—which i despise—i’m giving myself the “break” of writing a post). if that’s not treating yourself, i don’t know what is.

one day this week i even swapped writing and met with a guy i went to high school with who also wants to get published. we are both a tad directionless at the moment, so i think meeting to boost the other’s confidence, if nothing else, is a good thing. of course, while we were sitting in the coffee shop, another classmate’s mother stopped by, and we learned that our fellow alum had just hopped on a plane to asia to start his own business. when former fellow alum’s mom asked us what we were doing, it seemed kind of trite to admit that we were having a powwow about our writing with the hopes of being picked up by an agent and eventually a publisher. but we said so anyway, and she was more than encouraging. even so, i couldn’t help but think we looked like those brooding starbucks people who hunch over their laptops, trying in vain to write the next great american novel.

then i told my friend about nanowrimo (the novel-writing challenge that takes place during national novel-writing month, which is november) and how i want to take part. i had joined the challenge two years ago, but it coincided with the crumbling of my then-relationship, and i abandoned writing for going out and getting drunk (maturity! priorities!). my friend hadn’t heard of it, so i checked the web site to find out more details for him. more than 88,000 people had signed up to attempt to write a novel in one month.

eighty-eight thousand other people want to write a book too?” he said, incredulous, though i was actually surprised that the number wasn’t much higher. for the record, i just checked, and the number is now more than 112,000.

regardless, the figures are sort of . . . devastating. (side note: a friend asked me recently about the words regardless and irregardless, and which is correct. both words are in the dictionary, but irregardless is nonstandard—microsoft word doesn’t even recognize it and has irksomely underlined it with a red squiggle—and was, according to webster’s, probably the portmanteau of some dude who flubbed and put irrespective and regardless together. ask me about word minutia and you shall receive.)

then we talked about how, if you’re a singer or a musician, it’s generally pretty clear if you’re good or if you suck, unless, i suppose, all your family and friends are tone-deaf and your suckdom isn’t apparent until you audition for american idol. or said family and friends are so polite, they don’t want to tell you that your singing or guitar-playing is about as pleasant as listening to two howler monkeys make love (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

writers-block“but with writing,” my friend said, “how do you know?” it’s so subjective. while there are different genres of music, someone like, say, celine dion, is no doubt a good singer. she may not strike someone’s fancy in terms of style or musical genre, but she is unarguably talented. my friend’s writing is choppy and pointed and minimalist, while mine is peppered with figurative language and dialogue and descriptions. i think his stuff is good; he thinks my stuff is too. we’re either both gifted with words or we’re intensely delusional.

last night i asked another friend—strike that; he’s one of my best friends—if he’d been reading my blog. he’s a blunt chap, and he told me no. he said my posts are too long, which translates to: too long to read in one session on the shitter. he said he sometimes reads the titles and then any facebook comments people make. he suggested that i include photos of breasts in my posts as a way to entice him but then reneged on that and admitted he probably wouldn’t read them even then, boobs and all. i began to wonder how i’ve managed to get strangers to read my blog, have people who hardly know me (or who i previously thought didn’t even like me) comment favorably, when i can’t convince one of my oldest and best friends to read my posts.

“i’ll read your book,” he added, to make it all better. “now a book; that’s a big deal.”

i didn’t bother explaining to him that i think of my different writing outlets in the same way i plan to think of my children (my imaginary, not-yet-in-existence children), and that i believe even the smallest, whiniest runt of the bunch is as important and as valuable as the alpha. i don’t play favorites. my book isn’t my baby, the name as to which some writers refer to their novels, and my blog isn’t the black sheep.

anyway, my writer friend said, at one point, that he’s wondered if maybe he should simply shove his writing into a box in the attic and forget about it forever (my words, not his, but that was the gist), work at a job making $60k a year, move to new york, and get on with life.

last night i told my abhorrent best friend that i wouldn’t date a guy who couldn’t spell, that a man who mixed up you’re and your wouldn’t ever be my boyfriend, and he laughed at me for about a minute.

“i need someone who’s good with words. a good orator,” i said.

he laughed some more, this time about the proximity of the word orator to the word oral. okay, i laughed too. all right, i may have also pointed out the proximity.

but as i’ve already likened my book and my blog to my unborn children, words might as well be my circuitry, my innards, and would be about as easy to separate from me as my limbs would be. so, personally, giving up on writing, or being with someone who doesn’t care about it, or about words in general, would wreak havoc on my immune system, my soul. i would have daily regrets about giving it up—or settling for someone who could never understand why continuing to write would be nonnegotiable.

when i said as much to my writer friend (about not giving up the dream of getting published—not about not dating someone who doesn’t know or care about you’re and your, let alone regardless and irregardless), and wouldn’t he feel the same?, he didn’t really respond, but i could tell that he agreed. not long after, we said we’d try to meet weekly to talk about our writing ventures and we’d consider joining a local writers group.

just as we imbalanced running folk need to stick together (my runner friend agreed today that the mount hood 50 ultramarathon seems like just a fantastic idea—“we’d have to start training in january, right?”), the equally imbalanced, pipe-dream-chasing wannabe authors need to as well. i’d say our sanity depends on it, but that wouldn’t fool anyone.

*sylvia plath