“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

Don’t Judge a Woman by Her Assless Chaps*

I wrote this post at six a.m. on August 19.

A debate surrounds the famous linguistic study that Eskimos have far more names for snow than non-tundra-surrounded cultures, but true or not, it’s hard to deny that an onlooker can tell a lot about a culture by the words it uses for what they love—and, of course, for what they hate.

I have a friend in Vegas, about whom, if you didn’t know her, you’d make assumptions regarding her life style and behavior. She has a lot of tattoos and several piercings, and a good word to describe her clothing is sparse. (Though, to be fair, given how I personally like to dress plus how fucking hot it is in Vegas, I’m given to dressing sparsely too.) My friend is a stripper, but she also has an art degree and paints murals for corporations and draws dogs and cats (including my long-gone kitty, Ollie) in her spare time as she works on building her career as a painter and an illustrator. She is, in two words, a complex human.

But anyway, per her recent Facebook status, she was on a plane back to Vegas when she got into a fight with a mother who was “talking smack” to her daughter about my friend’s dress and purple lipstick. I’m not sure what exactly was said, but my hunch is that it was something to the effect of:

Now, little Dandelion Eliza, that is what you don’t wear if you want to be a lady.

I don’t really know what parents are naming their children these days, but I thought Dandelion Eliza had a nice ring to it, especially for the day when that child goes to EDC wearing only dandelion pasties on her nipples.

This is baby me, back when I looked like a male version of Little Orphan Annie and didn’t know what stilettos were.

The words that exist to call women nasty nouns (slut, hussy, etc.) are about equal in number—if you’re in the thesaurus section of the bookstore—to the nasty nouns for men (Casanova, womanizer, etc.). The difference, to me at least, is in the connotations of (aka our gut reactions to) these words. And aside from whoremaster and lecher to describe “slutty” men, the male nasty-nouns-that-aren’t are . . . actually sort of pleasant-sounding. Casanova? Romeo? Gallant? Amorist?

A lot better than bimbo, chippy, wench, and tramp, and, of course, the ever-popular fancy woman. That one, as I suspected, first came into use just shy of the Victorian era, when everyone was trying to be superproper when they spoke about their whores—and also because they were too stifled creatively to come up with slore.

This is me now—on my best behavior.
Hi, Mom!

Words aside, when I read my friend’s status update, I felt . . . wronged. I’ve often sat on planes, wearing a short dress and heels, heavy black cat-eyed liner around my lashes, and had some woman pointed me out to her daughter as the kind of woman she shouldn’t grow up to be, simply based on how I was dressed, I would be furious. I’d want to say that if she doesn’t want her daughter to be an educated, well-traveled business owner with tons of friends, a great boyfriend, and a kick-ass relationship with her parents, she’s the meanest mother I’ve ever met.

Men might sometimes slobber over us, figuratively and literally, and shout out such compliments as “Nice tits!” but other women, not men, are women’s biggest enemies.

I wrote a blog last summer about why women shouldn’t be afraid to be sexy, or to want sex, and why women name-calling other women has to stop. Here I am again, not because I’m out of ideas but because I’m impassioned, talking about the same subject, albeit from a different angle.

Believe it or not, although I am in an open relationship, and my boyfriend and I don’t plan to get married, we both want children. At (almost) thirty-two—ack!—I have many friends who are either pregnant or who already have a child or children, and so lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ll approach certain topics when I have my own kiddos, including the topic of this blog.

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My “office” a few weeks ago, plus the sun hitting at a nice angle (Runyon Canyon).

If it were true that our professions and attitudes always rubbed off on our children, Jessica Simpson and Katy Perry (both daughters of ministers) would be nuns, so I’m neither deathly afraid of nor pushing for my unborn children, the children of pickup artists, among other talents (remember: complex humans), becoming Casanovas and harlots.

I also can’t imagine ever, ever pointing out someone like my friend and telling my daughter that the tattooed lady on the plane is the wrong kind of woman to be. But I’m not a mother, and one thing I never like to do is pretend to know how I’ll act in a situation in which I’ve not yet been.

Vegas, as usual, just being fucking weird.

Vegas, as usual, just being totally fucking weird.

But what I hope, then, is this: I hope when I have children, be they boys or girls or someone in between, my guy and I are good role models for how to act as plain old people in general, regardless of gender. I hope we stress confidence, strength of character, bravery, independence, drive, and open-mindedness, and encourage both passion and compassion, empathy, creativity, adventurousness, and innovation.

I’m also okay with encouraging purple lipstick.

But . . . shit. That sounds like a lot of work! Good thing I have an excellent work ethic—even if you wouldn’t think so by my outfits.

*And no, my friend was not wearing assless chaps on a plane. But how fun, right?

“And Meanwhile Time Goes About Its Immemorial Work of Making Everyone Look and Feel Like Shit.”*

Graffiti in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I had another blog before I had this one, and when I think about its personality, I decide it had split-personality disorder: young, inexperienced, I-want-to-be-a-published-author-but-my-life-is-too-boring Kaitlin—and angry, heart-breaking, lunatic, drunk, running-at-five-a.m. Kaitlin. Both, scary enough, make up Kaitlin.

Tonight I read a bunch of old posts, because sometimes for me to wrap my ahead around me now, I have to look at me way back when.

The first me (2009–2011) wanted to quit her job and become a “Starbucks person” (is that what I am now? What the fuck?) and go live in California (Nevada’ll do). She of June 2011 wanted to get another tattoo (check), pierce her nose (check), dye her hair darker (check), and still party until three a.m. (check—or five a.m., as is the case nowadays). I’d mixed skydiving, traveling alone in a foreign country, and visiting San Diego in there, and with an impending move of a friend to SD in August, I’m sure I’ll knock out that third one by the fall.

These items seemed faraway, mere coins tossed into a fountain. I hoped to check them off, but maybe (probably) I thought I never would. Twenty-eight was so old to start, I thought, and now, at almost thirty-two, I’m worried I’m too old to embark on various other ventures I have in mind.

They are, of course, a lot more ambitious and difficult than getting my fucking nose pierced. Kaitlin of 2011 was such a little bitch.

The sun rises over Vegas yet again.

For the past five days I’ve felt a bit out of sorts. People usually follow this phrase with “And I’m not sure why,” but oh, I know why. And I think anyone who says, “And I’m not sure why” sure as hell knows too. You don’t get out of sorts by crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s with hearts.

This past weekend at a Wet Republic pool party I blacked out from drinking for the first time since lunatic drunk Kaitlin was making the rounds circa 2012, and I hurt (and have seemingly alienated) a friend who I haven’t spoken to since Monday. These two events, you might imagine, coincided. I desperately want to text this person a million I’m sorry messages, and the idea has even occurred to me to go over to his apartment and give him a hug and not let go until he forgives me. Kaitlin of 2012, without a doubt, would have done both.

She was crazy. And terribly impatient.

I finished copyediting a children’s book a few days ago, one in which the main character travels back to Ancient Egypt. While there, he must solve a riddle (his life depends on it): “What makes you sad when you’re happy and happy when you’re sad?” He’s a clever kid, and he figures out the answer is: time.

One day back in the summer of 2012, after several months of awesome decisions on my end, a friend called me at work and essentially told me to get my act together. I was being a shitty friend, and I was selfish and rude and irresponsible. I cried in my office, and I remember thinking I didn’t know how I’d redeem myself. I tried to keep her on the phone. If she hung up, I wondered, would she ever speak to me again? I think I might have even considered calling her back once we’d hung up, but I thought better of it.

I sent this text message to someone a few weeks ago. Time clearly hasn’t taught me to stop acting like a twelve-year-old boy.

My feeling isn’t so much that time heals, as the saying loosely goes, but it does alter and it does teach. I’m still very much friends with the girl who torched my ego on the phone back in 2012, but I’m pretty sure that even though she doesn’t think I’m rude or irresponsible anymore, she does think I’m selfish. And that’s fine. Because in the meantime, in addition to helping to mend our friendship, I also accomplished heaps of other things on a bucket list that, until today, I’d forgotten I’d even made.

I feel less out of sorts now than I did on Monday. I hope soon I’ll feel . . . more in sorts—and have my friend back. But, at some point, inevitably, I’m sure I’ll feel whacked out of balance again, and write a post about how 2015 Kaitlin was pedantic and annoying and didn’t write enough in her blog but also grossly, grossly underestimated what ventures—even those both ambitious and difficult—she could take on.

*Martin Amis

“because wherever i sat [ . . . ] i would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”*

this post was begun at four a.m. and finished at six a.m. this morning. i just now woke up in a delirious stupor in order to post it. i will now go back to sleep.

it’s four a.m. in my household, so naturally, all three members of my hippie artist family, and that’s includes me, are awake and prowling around the house and doing random shit. my mom is probably plowing through her fifth library book of the week, and my dad is most likely falling asleep perusing a passage in silas marner or the great gatsby that he’s already read two dozen times. i haven’t shaken my vegas routine, which is go-to-bed-at-six-and-wake-up-at-two-in-the-afternoon, and to have gone from stumbling out into the sunlight from a strip club this past monday morning at a time when my friends on the east coast were commuting to work to, screech, having shopping-cart battles with suburban milfs in trader joe’s this afternoon was some sort of jedi mind fuck, and i wish i could say that this weird restless before-dawn itch were a rare occurrence, but it’s not. i also wish i hadn’t just eaten three bowls of corn chex, a cereal i don’t even like.

the other day, when i told someone i was a writer, this person, a stranger, asked, “so, do you have some crazy weird schedule where you’re up all night and shit?” (the prose wasn’t so eloquent, but i’m fine to let the lack of articulateness go because the conversation took place in a crowded club at two a.m., and big, complicated words are hard to shout over edm. even schedule was a bit of a stretch.)

i answered, “yeah. pretty much.” sometimes we creative folk are predictable. dr. alice weaver flaherty calls my current affliction “the midnight disease,” aka hypergraphia, an intense desire to write, when a person becomes almost manic, compelled to express him- or herself on anything available, even a slip of toilet paper. i simply got out of bed and retrieved my laptop from the kitchen; nonetheless, the compulsion steamrolled all else.

which brings me to the actual purpose of this blog. i’ve wanted to write this post for a few days now, but i didn’t know how to start it. apparently, all i needed to do was drink coffee at eight p.m., sleep-deprive myself, copyedit 150 pages of a middle-grade novel, have a sort of weepy i-miss-you skype chat with my boyfriend (who’s in australia), and eat breakfast cereal that resembles and tastes like miniature cardboard potholders. oh, and research something for a family friend in exchange for her having altered several articles of my clothing (because when you’re an artist, you often pay people like your seamstress and accountant in favors instead of cash—it’s simple: you have none).

help-me-im-poor

 

 

 

 

anyway, a friend of mine, who, come to think of it, i haven’t talked to in a while (hallo!, as they say in the uk), posted a few words on facebook re: robin williams the other day, and i thought they were spot-on (i hope he doesn’t mind i’ve retyped a snippet of them here):

depression is often part of what makes comedians comedians (most of them, anyway). many artists are ticking time bombs. any of them could go at any moment. that’s the other shoe. the art is what keeps the demons away, but sometimes it’s not enough.

tons of people suffer from depression, but artists in particular, whether they be musicians or painters or comics, tend to lean toward the melancholy side of things. it’s been said that low self-esteem and pessimism often fuel success because sufferers of depression work extra, unearthly hard to put themselves in positions in which they are surrounded by so much good and bounty that the sadness melts enough as to be ignored. the mask of laughter or creative self-deprecation through art has helped many a performer battle, but never conquer, depression. i’ve had friends remark to me that they could never imagine that deep down i’m sad, because my exterior is making jokes and smiling and telling stories or running miles and miles. only someone who has the disease truly understands that these actions are vital shields against, instead, staring into the mirror and whispering to your reflection that you’re worthless. or worse.

monstermy mom told me that my great-grandmother once put her head in the oven to “prove a point” to my great-grandfather. ah, genes.

so i’m pretty open about the fact that i suffer from depression, and it’s not because hollywood has made it “cool” to see a therapist, the image of a person lying on a chaise longue (not lounge) with hands folded on his or her abdomen immortalized as being hip. never once, each time i had to explain to a new manager at a new job that every other wednesday i’d be gone for an hour for a “doctor’s appointment,” did i feel remotely cool or hip. i actually felt more like a special brand of loser, one who needed someone else’s aid to keep her emotions in repose. my brief surrender to the serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitor (ssri) celexa felt like a failure, and deciding to forgo the meds was a feat. discovering that running a long distance could fix my negatively charged brain for a day (just one fucking day!) was akin to winning a pulitzer prize.

i hope someday to know what that feels like in actuality, and i beseech whomever or whatever that my stupid fuzzy imbalanced headspace is plagued with ample midnight-disease nights as to fill an award-winning book.

but with regards to robin williams . . . to depression and to suicide . . . i have friends with whom i’ve argued about depression as a disease. people who love me, who know me so well, yet still say things like, i don’t understand why you can’t just be happy. you have so much going for you. you should be able to get over it. some people have real problems. or: suicide is the most selfish act. don’t people think about those they’d leave behind?

when caught in the throes of a depressive episode, the outside world can cease to exist. there is you, and there is pain. you’ve forgotten your defense mechanisms. you can’t bring yourself to sit down and write or go for a run or call a friend and tell funny stories. you’re nearly crippled, clawing at the carpet as if you have the strength to tear up the entire square footage of your room but not the energy to get up and get a glass of water to calm down. the past words from your friends and family, the “call me anytime” offers, seem empty; you don’t want to bother anyone. then, somehow, the gears can begin to move. you get up. you write three pages and feel better. you recite your favorite poem ten times. you eek out a hi text message to a friend. you think about someone you love finding you like that, and the image makes you shudder, nauseates you. an episode has passed. these are the lucky, triumphant moments. sometimes, though, they don’t come. nothing clicks, the hole widens and deepens, and some people slip.

i wish one of the funniest men to have ever lived weren’t dead. his jokes and impressions were markers of my childhood and the childhoods of most of my friends. (side note: two years ago i wrote a blog in which the headline was from hook, and it was another gem written at four a.m.) but i both understand and, more important, empathize with him, he who fought a monster and lost. all i ask is for those who can’t empathize, to sympathize, and accept depression as the disease it is. only acceptance will give us the power to destroy it.

 

*who else? slyvia plath in the bell jar.

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

kaitlin dork

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.'”*

newhaul03

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