Rogue

Erika Davenport had been trekking along an unmarked logging road for miles now. The hills between the valley and the coast had a deeply reverent place in her heart, hopelessly and gloriously tangled. The deep green and mossy brown of the flora, the misty hush that cradled every centimeter of the cold, soft soil.

So soon after her mother’s passing, more than ever, she needed this place to be her refuge. But to learn the government’s rumored gestating ground for human weaponry research lived here too, her grief twisted into a sharp black knot in her chest and she couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Empetrum. 44º15’01” N 123º49’28”W

The name and coordinates were all the Conxence knew so far. Unfortunately, it was all the information the head and second-in-command were content with for the time being.

“Your energies are better spent here,” the former had said. Rann wasn’t a mean person, but his directness was often frustrating. He had everything mapped out. When he looked at her, she felt he were looking into her brain and trying to map her out too. “There are probably dozens of similar labs hidden around. No sense stomping off into the woods after one federal stain with so little information. ”

“The facility’s gotta be highly secure,” the second-in-command added, in that soft and earnest way of his. Kepler was a young man but an old soul, who had succeeded to his mother’s position in their ragtag resistance movement upon her abduction by the state. “It’s too much of a risk. We should wait a bit, concentrate on more pressing concerns until we have more information.”

Erika couldn’t be the only one that cared about this. In that moment, she couldn’t help but look at the common scar both men bore: A large hole cut into the cartilage of the right ear. Rann’s was gnarled and partially closed. Kepler had refined the edges of his with an open silver tunnel gauge. The brand of troublemakers, bestowed by law enforcement to anyone arrested under political circumstances.

“Drop it,” Rann said. “You’re not even combat trained yet.”

“Please,” Kepler said, trying to smooth it over. He was always trying to smooth everything over. “I know this is important to you, but just give it time. I’m sure it will show up again, and we’ll be better prepared to deal with it.”

Rann was a control freak and Kepler was a worrywart. With pressure tightening, no one was sure what they were up against, what was festering under the surface. Any new development could be too late. The sheer possibility that human weaponry was becoming a variable was outrageous. But she believed it, and they couldn’t deny the government would keep its secrets unless someone dug them up.

Erika stepped around a large mud puddle in the road. The frogs were out, chirping in the misty stillness. The air smelled so good here. She double checked her GPS. She was on track, moving closer. Soon she would have to take it much slower, leave the path and skirt a circle around the spot, moving slowly forward until she caught a glimpse.

At the very least, Erika needed to see what this abomination of a facility looked like.

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A/N: I realized I haven’t posted any fiction in a while! Been hard at work on the comics train, developing my work, getting ready to graduate and whatnot.

This is an excerpt from The Bioroboticist, which I’m currently working on in prose and comics form. If all goes well, I’ll launch it as a webcomic later this year.

Click here for more information!

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Loneliness is Very Hard to Talk About

Though I do try.

Even though my voice sounds selfish and juvenile in my own ears.

Wanting others to know they aren’t alone, because half the time I feel like no one is telling me that. Should I even need to be told? I am afraid to speak, because underlying a desire to help is that constant dull ache for a savior of my own. Trembling hands reaching out in the dark.

Afraid to be recognized for the cry for help that it is.

“Notice me. I’m sad.” A constant drip drip dripping of water behind others’ cascade of more serious concerns.

Notice me. I’m sad.

I worry this pain has worn me for so long that is all people know of me. In my work, in my personal life. Just a constant, heavy stream of black hole emotions and dripping water.

Neediness is like mildew, and I fear if people can smell loneliness on me, they will avoid me and my cavernous desperation, and then I will finally drown.

I feel like it’s my fault. That somehow, I deserve this for being weak, or lazy, or scared.

For not having the capacity in the thick of relationship wounds, school pressures, and estrangement in an unfamiliar place, to overcome the social walls of clique-y international classmates and grad school’s weak incentive to make friends.

I keep thinking if I had somehow been better, stronger, braver. If I could have faked it just a little bit harder.

Maybe I wouldn’t be in this position.

Maybe I wouldn’t be so broken, trapped under this endless, deafening weight until my deeply buried foundation began to crack.

Loneliness is a pattern, and for me it is tied overwhelmingly to location and circumstance. Locked by tight class schedules and tight finances into a predictable weekly rollercoaster of expensive stubborn positivity followed by a hard fall. On those nights, the sense of alienation is so deafening I come so close to screaming in the force of it. Anything to push back. However futile…

It’s all I can do not to buy the next plane ticket home and never come back.

Even though I know it’s not true, all I can feel on those nights is that no one can hear. No one can see me, as I find a quiet place to shed my tears and hope my whispered prayers are not the last gasps of a broken, dying heart.

The next morning, I wake up, brew coffee, drag myself to my desk. And in the quiet, I breathe, and I work.

My work is still life-giving in many ways, but these last few years I have watched it become equally a means of self-medication and self-harm. With nothing to bury my head, my time, my energies in, the awareness of that endless, brutal isolation creeps in.

Though I have since tried tried to branch out, the walls are too thick, and now I just set a timer. T-minus eight more weeks. Eight more cycles of standing up and breaking down. Of carving out a timorous, impatient day of rest to let my injured hands heal and weather the storm of when my emotions can’t pretend anymore.

I worry I don’t have it in me. I have been holding out for a very long time.

One cannot reach out to heal from an empty glass, and one day I will not be so empty. My reserves are dry, and I am working, praying in the vacuous in-between, eager to finally transition to a season of filling.

Sometimes seeing the light at the end of tunnel makes the tunnel itself more unbearable.

And I am afraid the darkness is all you will see.

Loneliness is so common, but it is so difficult to talk about.

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A/N: I’ve been going back and forth on whether to write about this for a while, but after a rough week grappling with these feelings like crazy, I ultimately decided it could be useful. I hope it is, since I know for a fact I’m not the only one who deals with this.

Giving these things a name and a face helps me stay in control of them. I’ve been checking in with myself a lot lately, making sure I’m not letting them push me into despair. Even though this time is very difficult, I know it’s only temporary.

Things will get better. We just have to hold on.

Burnout

A little girl is staring up at me. Her eyes are big and blue. She has heavy brown bangs and buckteeth.

She’s clutching 40 pages of a story she wrote and typed out herself.

That girl looks back at me when I catch my reflection in the mirror. I feel her waiting. The depths of that naive, full-throttle eagerness, throbbing in my head.

Somewhere deep, now.

As I sit at my desk, terrified, trying to convince myself I’m all right and on track, I feel the tug at my sleeve.

“Why are you stopping?” she asks. “Are you going to give up? Is that what happens to our story, in the end?”

She thought she’d grow up to be tough and brave. Hoping for something like a downright prodigy, a blazing success story.

But right now, she just has me. Trying. Choking on an intoxicating mix of burnout and intimidation.

It’s windy on the cliff’s edge, even if it’s somewhere I desperately want to be.

I’ve curled up into a ball. It’s not time to jump yet, with every possibility of turning back. And 8-year-old me is not understanding.

She’s angry and scared that I’ve even thought of turning back.

How dare you be finite, she screams. How dare you be weak and fragile.

Why are you like this? Why are you weaker than I was before? Why are you so old and tired within so few years? Why does your breath stick in your throat and your hands tremble when faced with everything you’ve ever wanted? It’s so close now. It’s yours to reach out and take hold of. So why do you sit there, useless and blank?

I thought you wanted this.

Could I have been wrong?

Could we have been wrong…

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A/N: I’m leaving for San Francisco in a few days. Burnout is still in full swing. I’m as overwhelmed by the prospect of picking back up as I was weeks ago, but now I must be busy and keep my appointments.

 

 

2017 in Review

2017 was a year of story pitches and new beginnings, and a lot of work winding up to launch my career, which I’ll be completing in the first half of 2018. On a personal level, it’s been a year of recovery, of waiting, of wondering. With so much change flickering on a new and untapped horizon, I’ve found sleep and rest in general difficult these last few weeks.

After the end of 2017, when I think about reviewing the year, I find I want more to stitch it together with the previous two, as part of a season that was filled with struggle and mistakes, guilt and disorientation, and attempts to figure out what to do with the messiness of attempted but impossible irreconcilability, in both relationship and worldview.

I got to sit down with one of my closest friends on New Years’ Eve and catch up, which ended up with me spilling my guts about the last few years and trying to make sense of it all. I’ve been trying to figure out how to unpack it ever sense.

When I decided to go to art school, I had no idea what I was in for. In fact, the rigorous academic schedule has been the easiest part. A preface before I continue: I’m going to start talking a lot about church. I grew up in a conservative American Christian tradition, and the sum of body shaming, cognitive dissonance, and gated-community politics led to a massive falling out between us, from which I wasn’t sure my spiritual life would ever recover.

On the surface, my 2.5-year stint in California was a lot of art school, a lot of anxiety and loneliness and frantic efforts to adjust, along with a couple less-than-ideal roommate relationships that left me dysfunctional and out-of-sorts. Despite a lot of struggle and heartache in the midst of all this, I’ve never felt I wasn’t supposed to continue on this trajectory of art school. A lot of good has come as far as career preparation and maturation as a person, though it’s been an onerous deal every step of the way.

I have six months left of my program. I am at once more excited than ever to see what’s next, but also a little unsure of who I am.

I guess that means somewhere in the last few years, I lost myself and found it again.

Talking with my friend on New Year’s Eve, I ended up bringing up a lot about my sophomore year in undergrad, which I suppose is where all this began. That year, I developed a passion for illustration, wrote the novel I plan to launch my career on. (The Bioroboticist), and had the most spiritually gratifying year to date. God was sitting me down and getting me to start uncovering deeply ingrained lies I’d believed about myself; we were in frequent communication, and He saw me through a flurry of academically-induced meltdowns. I was deciding to let go of what I considered a safe, predictable route, and instead planning to take my longstanding love of storytelling to full professional priority.

One would think, after all that, my faith would be stronger than ever.

But what followed was a feeling that I should take a break from my constant attempts at unrealistic regimens and spiritual self-guilt. Included with this was easing up the pressure to conduct a daily Bible study time, and when I asked God if it was really ok, He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.” (We were in closer communication those days.)

The following year was blissful. Free of guilt and obligation. I filled my electives with art classes instead of athletic training ones for my original plan of physical therapy. I finished The Bioroboticist and started on another book, and practiced drawing with obsessive focus.

As the distance between me and the way I had always done faith grew, I began to tease apart sources of shame and fear that had been explained away and buried deep. I began to see where the church culture I grew up in was toxic, and where I had sustained burns by it. Where it ran contrary to the compassion it preached and clung to fear and resentment over organic, human empathy.

By my senior year of undergrad, I was burnt out, betrayed, confused, and up to my ears in physical dysphoria (the latter from sexism and purity culture, as you might have guessed). Everything stung. Everything felt fake and at once too bitter and too saccharine.

I wasn’t angry with God. I’ve never been angry with Him. After years of trying to understand and justify the broken areas of American Evangelicalism, I started seeing and calling those parts for what they were.

“Don’t go outside the walls,” it had said. “It’s dangerous and destructive and evil out there. Stay in here, where it’s safe. Where we love you.”

But I saw it wasn’t safe inside either. Inside was teaching me to fear and demonize others, to fear and hate myself. It had given me a foundation to pursue compassion and grace, to heal, to live. And the more those latter qualities drove me to push into civil justice issues to try to understand, the more I saw the dissonance.

I couldn’t breathe inside those walls. So I left.

I learned early on I’m not good at pretending to be what I’m not. I’ve always struggled with belonging. And I’ve long wondered why, if my core use is to evangelize, why God suffused me with this compulsive need to create stories that were not overtly Christian.

I saw it as indulgent at best, idolatrous at worst. A side hobby to something more proper.

As I moved straight to California after undergrad to start my education in illustration, a part of me felt I’d finally succumbed to making my work my religion. And the cultural institution which had burned me so much, was also where I had learned to connect with God. When my faith in American Christianity crumbled, I no longer knew how to connect with Him. Everything felt wrong and indulgent, so I sought to just be, to keep waiting. To try to honor Him by working hard to hone my gifts. To find what this demanding need to create had to say.

The years I spent in California have been some of the darkest of my life. I felt trapped, and that first year, especially, I was the most anxious and depressed and angry I’ve ever been. I had my first run-in with mental illness in my roommate, with whom I had been friends for a few years prior. We tried to fix what was wrong, but they couldn’t meet me halfway. For lack of experience, I had no idea how to handle communication failure, and I had no immunity against the fallout. We waited until the school year ended and got out of each other’s lives. It took me a very long time to process that first year.

My political views changed drastically. From the outside, I watched the culture I grew up in clutch a victim complex close to its chest, idolize power and control and safety in a system that benefitted them most, declare the world black and white and demonize the rest, demonize me for trying to account for its complexity.

I saw the end of all my ropes. I saw what I become when I am severely off balance and hopelessly empty. That understanding branded itself in the back of my mind, and I always saw its afterimage. A steady, constant fear, a looming ultimatum. I tend to be a stubbornly self-assured person, but that year, 2016 part 2, and far into 2017 saw me feeling more like a liability than an asset.

My next roommate situation was cramped and I put up with more than I should have in the name of not causing trouble. (Which caused trouble.) A lot of good things were happening at school, but I had stopped fully recognizing myself as a person.

I had previously enjoyed a healthy sense of community in undergrad, but it was extremely difficult to make friends in art school. I spent a lot of time alone, too much even for me. (I am very introverted.) I started caving in on myself even while trying to climb back out of a pit of anxiety, depression, and exhaustion I’d been digging, and learning to overwork myself to make deadlines and keep my sense of self afloat.

In many ways, my work was a lifeline. I still considered myself a person of faith, but old me would have likely considered my work to be in full blown idolatry territory.

Yet my efforts continued to be fruitful. I was pushing to be as true to myself as I could, and my work was well received.

I’m a little astounded that I could be struggling so much personally and spiritually, yet have something that was totally competing with any other sense of balance in my life to be so—blessed.

New Year’s Eve 2017, I sat on the end of my friend’s bed, recounting this one time sophomore year of undergrad—roughly 5 years ago now—when I was so paranoid my work was competing with my faith and that God was going to ask me to give it up. He asked me, then, “What if I did ask you to give it up? What would you do?” I took a week to answer, but my reply was ultimately. “I would.”

God didn’t make me give it up. He never asked me about it again.

At that, my friend paused.

“Sara,” she said, astounded, earnest, “that’s what saved you.”

I sat there staring at her for a while, trying to figure out if I was going to cry or laugh or try to deny it all.

This thing that’s been with me my whole life, pushing, competing, propelling me forward; simultaneously something through which I reach out for connection, and something notorious for being socially alienating (I spend a ton of time working), has all along been a connection point to the divine.

Little by little, I’ve been identifying the broken supports the last few years have uncovered, and repairing them with trembling hands. Little by little, I’m learning to forgive as well as fight. I am intimidated to find out what their repair may mean.

I’m starting to see what all this desert season was for. What God had in mind when He said, “It’s ok. Just trust me.”

On the edge of sending my work out into the world, realizing a deep, consuming childhood dream, all these disjointed, confusing pieces have been starting to orient into a readable chapter.

Even when I was most estranged, most confused and unsure if I would ever end up talking to God again the way I used to, I believed that if God puts a desire in your heart, He will honor it. I see now there’s more to it. You must honor it too. You must be willing to surrender it, so that the desire becomes a tool of clarity, and not a mad, toxic scramble for meaning and worth.

Because deep down, the Creator of the world made us human. As a creative human, I’m frequently guilty of putting my work first and my personhood second. Over the last few years, I’ve hardly wanted to deal with my own weak, needy, frightened, exhausted self. I have tried to improve and heal her, but I also attempted to drown her out along the way. The work was somehow positive, but the person was wounded and scared and I didn’t understand what she had to say for herself.

I felt I was somehow weathering punishment, or at least consequences, for walking away. I felt California was my sort of reckoning, a fieldtrip to see how not-nice the world was so I could come crawling back. But I see now that all this struggle actually had a bigger point, a point very closely tied both to my work, and my personhood, and I feel I’ll start to see that purpose soon.

I am unspeakably humbled and awestruck by it all.

As I move forward into another year, a single verse from my childhood keeps coming up in my mind.

Taste and see that the Lord is good,

blessed are those who take refuge in Him

Psalm 34:11

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A/N: I’d love to revive this blog. It’s on my 2018 Goals list. My year will be consumed with a bunch of comics and life things as I graduate art school and move back up to Oregon, so we’ll see. I think I put too much pressure on this space. Need to go with the flow!

Favorite Books 2017

Fiction:

This One Summer, Mariko and Jillian Tamaki

Not Drunk Enough, Tess Stone

The Illustrated Man, Ray Bradbury

Nemesis, Isaac Asimov

City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett

Doctor Sleep, Stephen King

On Writing, Stephen King

Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood

 

Nonfiction:

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans

My Name is Hope: Anxiety, Depression, and Life After Melancholy, John Mark Comer

 

Favorite Songs 2017

The entire Worlds album by Porter Robinson

“Shelter,” Porter Robinson and Madeon

“Waving through a Window,” Ben Platt (from “Dear Evan Hansen”)

“Event Horizon,” I Am Waiting For You Last Summer

“Formed by Glaciers,” Kubbi

“Alienation,” Morning Parade

“Because,” Yoko Kanno

“Liar,” The Arcadian Wild

“Your Heart is a Weapon,” POP ETC

“Car Radio,” Twenty One Pilots

All the windows are open

in our bedroom on the fifth floor. The sharp steeple of a church peeks out between stepping stone roofs of apartment buildings. I can see the upper terrace of a restaurant, twinkle lights strung in the rafters. Most things are closed at this hour, but there are lights in windows, low and yellow in the hushed and misty air.

In the dull, punctuated dark of a bedroom shared with three other people, I lie on top of the covers and look out on the crowded, cooperative landscape.

And I feel lucky to have this view, even if it’s just for a little while.

I’ve been presented with a lot of pieces,

and I’m eager to build.

But lately has been the details of building. The messiness of the process.

And not the glorified messiness either.

The exhausted days, the not good enough days. The critiques that are hard to listen to. The frustration of setbacks in the shadow of heavily looming deadlines. Everything taking longer than expected, much longer than I’m certain I can handle.

Hanging onto the hope and love of the craft in the midst of it. Clinging to the good habits as much as I can, using every bit of inspiration when it happens to swing around.

Sometimes it’s a delicate balancing act. Other times its a wild careening from one side to the other.

The things we desire most deeply are what we must fight hardest for. And they are found one step, one word, one line at a time.

 

Overextension

The stress dreams have swung around again. Things in my personal life have been difficult, and there’s been a lot of feeling like I don’t have much ground to stand on.

Yesterday, while I was trying to sort through the bad taste the latest dream had left on my waking life, my mom came in from watching the news in the other room and said there were a lot of shootings across the country happening that day. Several landed in San Francisco, where I live and go to school most of the year. Politics-related and targeting republicans in one instance, supposedly. Terrorists giving all decent, loving people of all colors and religions and political opinions a really, really bad name.

My heart is so heavy.

I pray the majority of said decent, loving people would know that the insanity of these hate fires doesn’t represent the whole.

The Internet helps us stay connected, but it spreads us so frightfully thin. Thinner than we were designed for, perhaps.

Something to stay mindful of.

It’s so easy for our news apps and social media to shove catastrophe in our face at all times, silently, imperceptibly accusing us of being horrible, selfish people for being unable to hold it all. In the face of so much going on in the world today, it’s so easy to let it fill you with so much outrage and fear and despair that you forget the old lady next door makes cookies on Tuesdays, or that your friend and his husband want to go on a hike with you, or that your parents are overjoyed to have you home from school for a little while. That strangers on the crowded bus readily squish and move over to let you wade through and dismount at your stop. That if you ask someone on the street for directions, they’ll do their best to help.

I know it feels like the world is falling to pieces.

Please please please do not let fear hold your heart.

 

I’m good at pursing goals, not people.

I thought I could find them by pursuing my dreams–tangible, logical. And if I was smart enough, kind enough, safe enough, they would want to stay.

Every week I work until I break down. Every week I have to step back and accept I am not invincible.

Every week I face the fear of how fragile my measure of worth is. How often I fall short.

I’ve seen how cold, how jagged and empty I can be.

I am an automaton bolted to a desk, trying to fashion a human heart of paper and ink.

I watch my peers find each other, stay for each other, connect and commit in ways I have never known. Ways I have always tried to earn, but which always push me further away from that picture.

Half of me is married to my work, while the other half asks, “Aren’t I good enough yet?”

Not yet is forever the answer.

Not yet not yet not yet.

Which is just a nice way of saying no.

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A/N: Some angst and uncertainty from a little bit ago, before a recent academic turning point which I’ll have to write about soon!

I swing left but I’m not going to bite your head off…

I wish I could speak for everyone, but we’re human and humans are stupid and like to fight. We each like to think our sides are the vision of the future and in reality we do some good but we’re also both really lame.

A few weeks ago, I looked up a bunch of recent political cartoons on a whim, to see what passive aggression each side was flinging at the other. What I gathered:

Liberals are stupid, limp-wristed crybabies.

Conservatives are bigoted, narrow-minded hypocrites.

By this point, I’ve weeded my Facebook feed of the political zinger memes that just hurt their targets and negatively rile up those that agree with the sting. I’m not interested in alienating people like that.

As a young person, I inevitably don’t have a lot of chill. Yet as a storyteller, I am constantly looking for ways to connect and harmonize, to soothe and encourage, to assure people they deserve to exist peacefully on this earth.

Growing up, I watched how people who wanted exactly what I wanted—to live in peace and be a force for good—were shunned because they didn’t fit the mold that was prescribed for them. A mold that didn’t really fit me, either.

I am terrified of hurting people by trying to hand someone such a mold. Elitism disguised as piety.

Instead, I want to help people find the courage to learn what their own shape is. How they can be flawed and have room to grow, but can be worthy and good, too. How they best personally fit in the spiritual-physical scheme of things and let them grow at their own pace.

The world needs all types. All types of people, all types of viewpoints. I appreciate the conservative lean toward a strong moral foundation and personal responsibility. This is the environment I grew up in. It had it’s drawbacks, but my religious upbringing ultimately brought me to the things I hold closest to my heart, such as the conviction of compassion and courage I always strive for in my work and in my life as a human being. However, I swing more liberal politically because of that desire to help people find their own unique paths to wellness, since the world is a neverending explosion of hues and shades and I’ve found the conservative end of the spectrum a little too prescribed black and white for me to move as freely as I need to.

A guiding quote for me, in the midst of reaching adulthood and coming to terms with the full intensity of a broken world, navigating concepts of race, privilege, economics, propaganda and bias, trying to repair a faith with singed edges while the group I used to hail from accuses me and everyone like me (good ole’ stereotypes) of being stupid precious snowflakes, is this:

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. (Louis C. K.)

And I feel like, the least I can do, is listen to those I don’t understand. Set aside my own ego and amplify the voices of the silenced instead of demonizing them for being problematic to my own convenience. Personal accountability and an open ear, that’s what I strive for when I turn my face to the biting winds of politics.

The two zones, if you will, are complementary. “Liberal” is impassioned and energetic and pushing forward a mile a minute—which runs the risk of spiraling out of control. “Conservative” is sturdy and quiet (generally)—which runs the risk of planting too deep and refusing to move. Push and pull, movement and stability. We need both to check the other. Not assign “evil” to one and applaud yourself for being the epitome of good sense.

Fear disguises itself as common sense, as safety, as dignity. It plays into self-preservation and easy justification. It attaches itself to your pride, draws out your wrath and envy as claws to protect its root and increase its hold. It is noisy and insistent, and highly infectious. It tells you you look stupid or naive or problematic for standing up to it. It will coax you into anger, into closed doors and isolation and inactivity. It will try to exhaust you.

It’s easy to entertain, but it will drown you if it can. It will smother everything good and giving in you to benign, bitter charcoal; to convenience, apathy, destructive anger, to division, to silence.

So quit demonizing each other. No more pompous hand wavin’ “Just sayin’!” tones and tactics (see also: Facebook politics). It’s cheap negativity. Striking a dog, gluing glitter on a leech and declaring it useful. Who has time or energy for that?

Instead, take up your compassion, your courage, your ability to count to ten and take a breath. Bring your ears and leave your stingers and bear traps at the door. Look to your loved ones as allies, not enemies, even when you don’t agree on everything. Go outside, make new friends, admire a dog, call your parents.

The world can be a bleak, cruel, divisive place, but not absolutely every bit of it is out to get you. Find the good, grab ahold, amplify it.

We each bring something unique to the table and we need each other.