Love Yourself

Girl on "Wire"

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They said grace and let the soy sauce roll.

Rows of sushi stuffed with salmon and avocado lined the plates in delicate, little rows, ready to be prodded by the chopsticks of girls gone hungry for communion & conversation.

They settled in their chairs, relaxed into the rhythms of one another’s stories. They were old friends, all too familiar with the way that distance could rap on the door frame.

“My girl wire got the best of me... it definitely did this time.” 

She stared down at her plate and looked up for some kind of forgiveness from her friend.

The two turned to laughing. They cleared the air of apologies. It wasn’t too late. No, it was not too late. 

 

One of my best friends and I refer to it as the “girl wire.”

The girl wire is best defined as “the ability to lose one’s footing, balance, and sanity, in a frenzy of obsession over a guy.” It’s a common prince charming syndrome. It’s acting out of emotion, out of carnal “accept me” motives, rather than grounded soul & assurance in your own worth.

It's the abandoning of all the confidence & assurance you've carved into yourself for the approval of another. It's letting that approval dominate your thoughts. Your actions. Alter your beliefs. Making you go back on the person you said you wanted to be all along.

Together, we’ve learned the tightrope walk of balance between being completely smitten over the existence of another beautiful soul and what it means to pack up and move straight into the Valley of Gone, Baby, Gone. A Valley of Straight Up Losing Yourself to Another. Checking the phone incessantly. Finding value in his words. Sizing yourself up by the comments he makes and the breath he bothers to take to speak life into you.  

The feminist that sometimes stirs in me would say this desire to be accepted is engraved in our roots.

The feminist inside of me would banter about young women raised to be praised as “pretty little things.” Raised to be small. Raised to be weak. Raised to be waiting by the door for a savior. Or by the window for a prince. And, when that prince comes, we pour out ourselves like a basin. We swab the decks of that Yesterday Girl to be whatever another person wants out of our Tomorrow.

But the plain old girl inside of me, the one who still doesn’t know if she prefers tea or coffee on a rainy Tuesday, would just say that we are all looking to be loved & accepted, and we are willing to give up a lot of ourselves to get there. 

 

Now I ain’t saying love is a bad thing.

I ain’t saying that falling into the arms of a Somebody who devours your quirks like pancakes on Sunday is a sin. I’m just saying that we is human beings. We is fragile. We is broken. We is never prepared to handle all the parts of someone else; we were never designed to be such holders. 

And. yet. we. try. like. the. dickens.

It’s instinct to throw ourselves into another. It’s hope strung like Christmas lights around the barn that another person could be all the arms we ever needed, all the love we ever prayed for, all the acceptance we gave up on giving ourselves. It’s affirmation & confirmation & admiration & and all the other “ations” we crave to keep us from staring in the mirror and finding just what it might take to go weak-kneed over our own reflections and the life that surges from inside us.

Oh, if we stopped shoving off that power. Oh, if we realized that our hands are so very small for a reason; and that a guy can come along and hold our hands, and kiss our hands, but they cannot hold the whole of us in such little hands. Oh, if we only cut off the “girl wire” and just sank into the skins of a girl on fire. 

Know this: I’m not here to pour poetry out onto your soul. Watering your bones with almond milk syllables will never mean a damn thing if I don’t just simply say, in one single sentence, what I have learnt to be true in all these years: your completion does not rest in another. It’s not lock-and-keyed into the heart of another. Or a 6’3 stature. Or the glow of a screen. Or the sounding of a text.

It’s already stitched inside of you, as beautiful as the dust of a Creation Story that knit you in secret spaces out of spiderweb silk. It’s there, there in the deep of you already, no matter how much sludge & hollow & pain & abuse & resentment has covered it up in all these years.

It never goes away. It never buys the next train ticket out and decides to leave you standing on the platform alone.

You might forget it. You might lose the muscles it takes to believe in it. But everything you have ever needed is already inside of you. It’s sprawling like bucketfuls of wildflowers. It demands a watering can that’s only ever craved your fingers wrapped around its handle.

Your completion does not rest in another. If I know a single thing to be true in this crazy, whimsical life... it’s that. I don't always believe in it but I know it is true. 

Let's talk about lies. And how you still speak them more swiftly than Taylor Swift song lyrics.

I clicked through the document on my desktop anxiously, waiting for that triumphant gust of wind that would knock the power out and leave me by candlelight.

If Loveliness writes chapter books then here she signs her name.

Chapter One.

That boy--though never he may know it--will forever be tethered in my memory beside the moment I rediscovered Loveliness knocking at the door.

Him & all the parts of him. The bright blue high top sneakers. The backpack wedged between his knees. The Red Bull poking out the netted side pocket and the straw jutted in where lips normally purse the sugared sweet. The curls of his black hair pulled back into a ponytail. The dark in his eyes. The ear buds in.

Sitting across from me on a Manhattan-bound 4 train, our Stranger status fell away with toes tapping & lips whispering the lyrics humming into each of our own hearts.

We smiled at each other once.

It was enough to tie him close.

Chapter Two.

A canceled coffee date on Friday morning left the grounds of my day planner barren for the morning hours. As if it had been the plan all week long, I swiped my metro card and headed for the Uptown 4 train, shuffled onto the subway and waited for the buildings & bricking of the Bronx to flood the windows.

I moved away from the Bronx a year-and-a-half ago--bellies of my suitcases packed tight with knits & wellies--feeling like a failure. Feeling like depression got the better of me, like she won.

I moved away thinking that one of the street vendors of the souvenir shops might think to mail me a t-shirt that read, "I Lost my Loveliness in New York City," with a note that scribbled in chalkie Sharpie, "Don't come back. You failed, girl."

That's how it felt. And so I didn't go back. Not to visit. Not to say hello. Thinking stepping on that concrete once again would just remind me that I was never good enough to gain back the Loveliness. That the delicate word that I'd long stapled to tea parties & porcelain dolls could never again be applied to such a ramshackled mess as me. A girl tattered with tears & heartbreak & self hatred could never, ever know a thing of Loveliness. It would never be hers, it would never be hers.

Chapter Three.

Loveliness. I've struggled with it. Like sand that pours through the cracks in the fingers & hands sunk deep in the sandbox, she has escaped me time & time & time again. Just a word--and yet she means something true to me. That I could be worthy. That I could deserve to be standing here today. That me-- my beauty, my voice, the thoughts in my head & the prayers in my folded fingers--might mean something.

That they be delicate. That they be the kind of things that make me matter in this world.

Loveliness. I thought I had lost her. That I'd never get her back. That she'd forever be the kind of word used in melodies & symphonies, sonnets & serenades. But never me.

And I'm learning a hard, swallow-your-spit kind of lesson these days: things don't disappear into the air just because we don't talk of them no longer. Memories don't turn to dust. Old feelings don't retire to rocking chairs in nursing homes in Alabama until their little limbs need oxygen and they turn blue in polka-dotted nightgowns.

Life has never thought to operate in that manner.

We've only just convinced ourselves that if we don't talk about something, if we keep the matter bolted closed, if we just forget it for a little while longer-- then it will be gone. Gone with the wind. Gone for good.

The memory always floods back. Be it a song, a conversation, a quote within a book, a feeling... The issue always unfolds again. We are always reminded eventually, somehow & someway, of the pockets full of pain we've carried and the tears we used to cry, hoping that they might be released and we might be relieved.

We always reach a point where it is time to drop down to both knees and somehow uncover the art of picking up pieces. The art of revisiting.

To finally relearn. & finally discover & rediscover & rerediscover all that we once were before the Hard Time swept in with a handsome grin and a nightmarish lullaby ready to sweep us off the stage like Clara in the Nutcracker.

Chapter Four.

I went back to the Bronx Friday morning.  Fear swelled & heart tender, I went back.

I saw familiar faces. We laughed in too tiny of rooms. I made jokes about my student loans and how I felt like each new one made me feel like a mother just finding out that she had another child in this world. They missed me. I saw it in their eyes. They asked me why it took so long. I said I had some weaving out of junk to do.

They smiled. Saw a new person in me.

I walked away feeling whole. Unshakeable. Like parts of the past weren't hidden chapters any longer. Like I'd picked up pieces. Like I was strong enough for my memories.

Chapter Five.

"I feel lovely just the way that I am," the song trickled up through my ear buds. "Yes, I, I feel lovely just the way that I am."

The boy across from me beat his heel against the subway floor. He kept glancing upward.

I feel lovely, I thought to tell him. The boy across from me with the blue high tops and black hair pulled back into a ponytail. Just like this. Just like this. I feel lovely.

My past is perfect. The darkness is cleared. All the sadness that broke me & all the depression that swept me clean made me who I am. Stronger. Ready. Lovely-- like the first one to ever know the word. Lovely--like it were a living room that we could lounge in for days & days, sipping lemonade & laughing from the belly & thinking to never leave. Lovely, just like that, I thought to tell him.

We never spoke. I formed no sentences. He heard every word.

We smiled at each other once.

It was enough to tie him close.

I'm in a relationship... I thought maybe you should know.

If I took this little "relationship" to the Land of Face & Book, I'd be the first one to break the "Like" button. Mark Zuckerberg would call me personally and say, "Darling, Hannah, do you need me to invent the "Love" button?"

Littlest Lullaby, you go ahead and name it when you’re ready.

Self love is a concept more tangled to me than the mess of Christmas lights now harbored up in my attic for another 300 or so days. I’ve struggled with it. A lot. And every time another letter request comes to sit in my inbox, outlining the tracings of a girl who just doesn’t know how to value herself, I am reminded: I might not be so equipped to write this love letter. Some days I am. Other days, I need it myself.

Step One is always to write to her. To let her know that I am rushing to reach her mailbox. Her fingers. Her hands.

Step Two is to step back and find a way to speak love into my own arms.

Step Three is to write it all down.  

Look up, look up,

For you are the littlest lullaby of New York City.

You are as brilliant as the sound that streams from the Old Man’s saxophone in Central Park.

You, you are as striking as the Sunday Times front-page photo, shot from the lens of a clever journalist who was standing right where he needed to be at midnight. To prop a digital to his eye and snap, snap, snap the Man who wore a uniform that told He’d Been Gone Too Long as he kissed the girl who wore a smile that simply said My Soldier Has Come Home.

You are as alive as the city that surrounds them, as the world sings down to twelve o’ clock and the confetti grabs and tangles in their hair.

You are as precious as the Little Girl with the ALDO shopping bag, the one bigger than her body, slung over her shoulder. She chews the ends of a noisemaker and lays back in her Mama’s Arms, leaving a subway to wonder, Did She Make it To Midnight Last Night? Or did her Little Girl Eyelashes fold into one another, like prayer hands, at 10pm?

You are as delicate as the antique camera the Boy holds in his lap. Stroking the grooves, thinking in Peter Pan fashion, “What magic will I capture on this first day of 2012?”

You are as unstoppable as a Café that holds a Floor that holds a Table that holds Two Chairs that holds Two Dreamers who hold the Power to Change the World deep within them.

And what’s more unstoppable than that Café that holds a Floor that holds a Table that holds Two Chairs that Holds Two Dreamer who hold the Power to Change the World deep within them is that they’ve realized, over Two Coffee Mugs and a Stack of Stationery between them, that they are Unstoppable. And they’ve decided to Never Stop.

You, you are as lovely as a page torn from a book, folded and carried beside Lip Smackers and Wrigley’s gum in the purse of a Lady headed towards 72nd Street. As lovely as the words she Reads & ReReads & ReReReads to herself on the days where it seems God forgot to put the color into the sky. “You your best thing,” she reads. “You your best thing,” she ReReads it again.

And Darling, you matter. You matter in the way that rain to the sunken soils of Africa matters to the Ones who haven’t felt the drops on their sunken shoulders in 17 months.

You matter in the way that the Girl with the rip in her tights and feather in her hair matters to the Boy who hurdles suitcases and becomes a running blob in a photo of the Korean bride as she kisses her fiancé at the top of the stairs in Grand Central Station. And he ruins perfect Save the Date photos just to find His Girl waiting at Track 26 for a southbound train, moving towards Away. He pulls her in by the arms and he tells her he’s made mistakes but this? Well, this would be his Biggest, if he let a train and his own fears rip His Angel away.

You matter in the way that bright lights matter to a City of Insomniacs who came here mostly because the bright lights assure them they, they too, were made to shine and shower light. In Some Way. Some Day.

You matter in the way New York City matters to a girl who has cut and pasted a world of high fashion & beauty how-to’s along her walls, waiting for the day when she won’t just stitch jean pocketbooks in her bedroom. Won’t just scan websites for internship opportunities in Manhattan.

You. You. You.

You are bright as the sun that peeks from behind the buildings-- tall like players who make a life out of jumping up to wrap their Big Hands around the Rims of a Net. To slam-dunk and dangle for a while.

You are bright as the stars that jut through the skyline like the tips of lead pencils poking through black cardstock. The light pours & pours with each poke.

You are something bright, something rare, something I cannot quite name all by myself. As timid as Adam the day he found  a dove and struggled just to name her right.

But it's lovely, whatever you are, it's lovely. So name it when you’re ready.

Littlest Lullaby, you go ahead and name it when you’re ready.

We can plant a box in the middle of town and, on days when we are feeling lovely, we could pour the loveliness in.

Thought I was writing this letter for a girl in Starbucks after I could not help but eavesdrop on her phone conversation... She walked away and I just sat there, staring at the words I wrote to her. The letters jumped from the page.

Turns out I was writing it not just for her but for me, my best friend and a slew of other young women just trying to find their place in this life.

If that's you today, then this letter is yours. 

I’m sorry but I could not help but sit within your phone conversation.

I’ll admit it right now. Up Front. I totally sat somewhere between the iced coffee in front of you and the mess of paperwork surrounding you.

Somewhere between the iPhone to your ear and the Words that Seemed to Shatter Against the Starbucks Window you sat beside.

I stayed and lingered for a while. Hanging off the words you said to someone who should have been better to you.

“You know… I am doing OK.”

A Great Pause.

“It’s just tough… I am going to have to prove myself… I just need to be relevant in some way. The way I was in LA… It’s been hard to be nothing at the end of the day.”

And gosh, I don’t know you, so I guess this is where I wanted the most to break into the conversation and awkwardly make some comment about how much I adore your blouse. The green really fits you.

I don’t really care about the green blouse, I just have a tough time blurting out to strangers that I think the world is better because of them.

And all I really want to say, beyond silk and satin compliments, is that I am in your shoes. That a million of us are in your shoes today. Wanting to feel adequate. Loved. Wondering if we should start jumping on tables and yelling in the middle of the Fresh Produce aisles of Target just so people know we are here. That we exist. That we matter.

You know, if I were a psychologist I might attest that it all traced back to our Little Girl Days…Beside toys & dolls with frilled dresses, we became Girls Who Cared Too Much. Lived Too Little. Tried Too Hard to Win Too Little of Love than the Great Love We Truly Deserved.

If I were a sociologist I would say it stems back the Mean Girls. To the cold shuns of lockers closing & twisted teeth, neon metal filling their mouths, who slur secrets to one another about the way we dress and the hairs on our heads. That’s when we became Slaves, Shackled to What the World Thinks of Us.

And if I were an anthropologist I would say this goes all the way back to Eve…. Even in her fig leaf ensembles, I am so certain if she had been handed a resume, an LSAT study book, a pair of tweezers and a beauty magazine she would have found ways to sit by the water when Adam wasn’t looking, stare into her reflection and whisper out loud, “Be more, Eve. Be more.”

But strip from me the “psych” & “soc” & “anthro” and I am just some Ologist who is dying to tell you that you don’t have to be alone in this. That we can figure out this mess together. Day by day. Even minute by minute if it takes us that long. But we don’t have to go it alone.

I say we, and not you, because already—even if you don’t believe it—I’m determined to not leave you alone in this.

We can get an army going, for I know there are a lot of pretty girls this side of the town who would gather alongside us.

We could plant a box in the middle of town and, on days when we are feeling lovely, we could pour the loveliness in. When you are feeling beautiful, you go ahead and pour into it too. Pass that love to the box for a girl who’s feeling less Lovely & needs a lift the next day. We could seesaw love… back and forth to one another. It could be a beautiful, radical thing that would keep us away from coffee shops that leave us spilling self-worth out from the seams of phone conversations.

We could laugh about this one day over too many glasses of wine. We could cock our heads back and snicker for several hours over the silliness that’s now stitched to the days we called ourselves Worthless. Not Good Enough. Inadequate. Irrelevant.

Snicker, snicker, snicker, I think I’d like to laugh about this one day, to reach a point where I could stand before a mirror and laugh until my head falls off, saying to the girl with brown hair looking back, “How did I ever abandon you? Cut you down? Push you into boxes far too small? 

I love you, and I adore you. I love you, and I adore you.

You are my best friend and I won't forget to remember that… you are my best friend and I wont remember to forget that."

Kaleidoscope Lifetimes: 9/11. We Remember.

I spent precisely 73 minutes, curled up on the tile floor of the New York Library-Bronx Branch, crying yesterday. Book Propped In Front Of Me. Knees Folded. Pages Playing Tear Catchers.

I half expected a librarian to approach me, befuddled by my sinking the library with Titanic-like tears. Ok, maybe not Titanical Tears. But certainly rowboat tears.

"Excuse me, are you alright?" She would've asked. Clearly feeling awkward upon the sight of me.

"Oh, yes... Don't worry," I would've replied. "I do this all the time, no need to be alarmed. I always plant myself in the nonfiction section when I am having a bad day."

I wish I were kidding but we all have quirky ways to remedy our bad days. I am just more open to admitting mine. Something about the nonfiction section of a library holds me at hard times. The Shelves Quake as I envelope myself in stories that are not my own. Stories that remind me the word "Alone" can disintegrate with two steps in nearly any direction. We are not alone. We are not the only ones having tough days. We are striving so hard to be Individuals that we lose track of Sameness. Sameness Matters. Oh yes, it does.

I cried for a silent waltz between Individuality and Sameness bound up together in a hardcover. 1,901 portraits.1,901 Individuals Who Lost their Lives in September 11, 2001.

Mothers. Husbands. Teachers. Students. Fathers. Brokers. Aunts. Business Men. Fiances. Waiters.

All Different Lives. One Common Ending.

A day when Two planes Took To the air. Took down Two Towers. Took Too many.

If our lives look more like a waiting room than a kaleidoscope today then we are doing something wrong. If we are hoping life will begin someday soon then we are wasting time. If we are allowing words inflated with Doubt, Negativity, Hatred and Defeat take the reins in our vocabulary then we need a new dictionary.

Because 2,996 lives never found tomorrow after September 11, 2001. Over 200,000 lives lost the chance for a better life when the Earth Quaked in Haiti this past year. More than 4,000 soldiers gave up any form of a future to fight a war in Iraq. Why? So that we could have the future. Planted in our Hands.

We need only stare at a cover of the New York Times to slap our own wrists with reality: We have been given a gift. Gifts are never required. Nor guaranteed.

A volume full of single stories, each one begging to burst from beneath their byline, reminds me of the great nobility of everyday existence. In riding the 4 Train to work daily, where Doug Jason Irgang met his future bride-to-be after seeing her daily on the commute to work, reading her paper. They were set to be married in December 2001. In the pots of rice and beans cooked by Jorge Velazquez every Saturday for the homeless and hungry of Manhattan. In the spaces between the breaths of Janet Alonso as she called her husband to tell him That The Office Was Filling With Smoke. That She Could Not Breathe. That She Loved Him.

And then the Buildings Broke.

I am reminded on an every day basis that it will never matter which titles we held or the amount of money that our bank accounts digested. The fibers of our existence are counted then accounted for in the hands that we hold. The well intentions we wish. The prayers we send Upward. The compassion we sent Outward. The love we welcome Inward.

I hold a thousand secrets and I cannot share them all. But here's one. Lean in closer. Open your ears: The only promising promise exists in this very moment and what we make of it. Ready. Set. Go.

 

To a woman who leaves a trail of adoration wherever she goes like the glitter upon greeting cards that always ends up on your Fingers. Your Dress. Your Face. Your Notebooks. Your Collar. Your Lap.

Sashay. The word is sashay.

It might be the only word in all of the dictionary brave enough to take on her way of walking.

The only word without knocking knees when it comes to embodying enough potential to describe the poised motion of my mother as she floated from crowd to crowd at her surprise 60th birthday party this past weekend.

Sashaying across the floor as if she were still 22.

I was on the way to the doctor the other day because of chest pain that thankfully was just reflux,” she told the group of nearly 100 guests . “And I am driving and panicking, wondering, ‘Did I tell everyone that I love them? Did I?’ But you are all here tonight and I have chance to tell you now!

My mother is rare in that sense.

In the sense that she is given a party and she uses it as a chance to let others know that she loves them.

In the sense that her own world could be finding ways to crumble and she'll stay wondering if the people around her know themselves loved enough.

She is rare in the sense that she will have you tripping over Piles of Love on your way out to the grocery store; in the sense that you will end up making a list of all the people in your life that need to hear "I love you" today instead of remembering to put the apples in the cart or check granola bars off the list.

She is rare in the sense that she could point out just how many times in a day we may say "I Love You" but that it really pales in comparison to showing it. In order to love, and love really, we sometimes need to ditch the words. Leave the Love Letters Behind and Raise Up Our Hands To Love In Action Like Shadow Figures Upon the Wall. Bring Love Forth With Presence. Awareness. Kindness. Understanding. Loyalty. Patience. Even when we would rather just say three words and move on for the day. Especially when nothing inside of us brews with an inclination to show love to others.

She is rare in the sense that she only needs to move three steps before she is shaking love off through her sway and leaving others absolutely wrapped with her easy companionship. A woman who leaves a trail of adoration wherever she goes like the glitter upon greeting cards that always ends up on your Fingers. Your Dress. Your Face. Your Notebooks. Your Collar. Your Lap.

She is rare in the sense that she only needs 30 seconds or so to prove to you that "to love" is to Love in Color. Love Out Loud. Love in Silence. Love in Motion. Love Regardless. Love Unconditionally.

She’ll make your fingernails ache from loving others.

She’ll make your elbows sore from loving so fully.

And she will give you every reason under her bright, bright sun to believe that you don’t need a holiday or a box of chocolates to begin right now.

 

Happy 60th Birthday Mom.

Short & Sweet. But as I wrote before: it is not so easy to find words confident enough to represent you. After a good deal of coaxing and bribing words out of the crooks of the dictionary I was able to find a few. Regardless, it is already very clear: There are no words when it comes to you and all you have instilled within me.

Love & Miss you already.

 

 

A guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, once wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket.

I spent two years stealing love notes from my brother's bedroom just to admire the handwriting styles of his girlfriend.

I may or may not have contemplated stapling the letters to my trendy Unicorn sweaters of the time and wearing them around with my jacket unzipped. Not to expose any juicy secrets, of course, but  to show people what eloquent handwriting looked like. The kind of stuff Hallmark Illustrators gnaw on for breakfast.

Instead, being the slightly neurotic ten-year-old that I was, I took out my Lisa Frank planner and scheduled a time slot from 4-5p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Handwriting Practice.

Yes, yes. While other girls read Tiger Beat Magazine and gushed over the Backstreet Boys, I holed myself up in my bedroom, unfolding love letters from their paper football form, to master the technique behind a round & full lowercase “a” and the precise swoop of an uppercase “Y”.  The anticipation of one day seeing these same delicate letters parade on my very own book reports and love notes was enough to keep me diligent for two entire years. Close to 300 hours or so of handwriting practice.

I've grown up keeping this notion closer to me than I would my purse on a packed subway car: If we want something then we need to work hard for it. Every Single Day. Every Single Day we carve out time for that Dream of ours. We don’t merely coo at it or coddle it, we bring it into this world. Loud & Rapturous.

I also grew up cursing the God who put a great deal of distance between Point A & Point B.

Why not connect them closer, God? Why not give me what I want right this very moment? It would probably make His Sky High To-Do List much shorter. More manageable.

It would be much easier this way, if we could pick up our deepest desires from the racks of the department store & plop them into a cart.

Chances are, a lot more dreams would live to see their realization if we were able to skip right from Point A to Point B. If Time, Energy, Hard Work, Rejection, Struggle & Discernment were not so adamant in demanding a seat in our Ambition-Covered Wagons.  

I’ve written it before but I still believe that our dreams are very much like infants. We conjure them up in diaries and during long commutes but we have to then step up to be teachers to them. Teach them to Walk, Talk, Sing, Dance, Shake, Shimmy, Move, Be. Understand their weak beginnings. Understand their wobbly legs. Covet the progress. Smile at the Baby Steps.

But the one thing we cannot do if we ever hope to find them as a reality, sitting across from us like a familiar stranger who knows how we take our coffee, is belittle them. Degrade them. Find small boxes to shove them in. Let them collect dust on a shelf within our memory.

You see, one day our dreams being labeled as "unreachable" won't cut it anymore. They will grow stale. They might fall apart. They will tire from us putting “Cannot” and “Should” in front of them in line. And they will slink into a slot just as forgotten as the lone sock, abandoned under the bed and left praying for some sort of companion who understands their wool & texture.

Elizabeth Gilbert, a guru at equipping souls with a Simultaneous Sense of Eating, Praying & Loving, one wrote that we cannot expect to win the lottery if we don’t first buy the ticket. I don’t know about you, but I have some tickets to buy… some dreams stored up inside of me that need to start sending their resumes out to reality.

So here’s to taking some coins, sunk deep from our pockets, and listening to the sounds they make as they clink on the counter.

 “One ticket please,” I say. “Matter of fact, make it ten.”

Here’s to finding Point A together, no matter how opposite our directions are from one another.

Here’s to kicking Struggle & Rejection, Doubt & Animosity, out from the cradle that our dreams slumber in at night.

Here’s to picking back up that piece of chunky purple chalk and writing our dreams out to the world. Fine Handwriting Practice or None.

Here’s to placing Point A down on the map and finding one way today to make a sudden movement.

A Baby Step.

A Crawl.

Even just a shoulder shrug.

On our way.

To Point B.

Dear 2011, We have our Bright Yellow Knickers on and we are coming right at ya....

It would be too simple to cast the blame on my mother for this holiday season's most embarrassing moment. Far Too Simple. So I am opting to blame Venezuela instead.

That's right, Venezuela. I'm not so fooled by you, sitting so smug and innocent right between Brazil & Colombia. You are the very reason that my whole entire family ripped through the wrapping paper at the same exact moment on Christmas morning to find a pair of yellow underwear, as if we were going to match as quaintly as the Duggar Family. It was you, Venezuela. All you!

My new pair of yellow knickers  is proof that if you give my mother "Google" she will unearth some crazy South American superstition to help ring in the New Year more efficiently.

 This year's tradition comes straight from Venezuela where the people of the country wear yellow underwear on New Year's Eve to bring them good luck in the twelve months ahead. Perhaps we think its a bit crazy but we are the ones running around frantically making lists to change our lives at the stroke of midnight. As if our will power and years of habits will suddenly shift on the first of January.

I have never been a big fan when it comes to New Year's. You can string me up with Christmas lights or set me loose in a yard on an Easter Egg Hunt but the old famous anthem of the New Year has always picked a strange cord with me.

1999-2000, now that was bound to be a good New Year. I can still remember putting down my Titanic picture book an hour before midnight, positioning the Y2K hat on my head and sitting before a buffet of crackers and orange juice. Waiting. Waiting for the world toend. I kid you not, I was absolutely giddy over the prospect of the clocks and computers malfunctioning and the world turning to darkness. I even went so far as to bake a Y2K cake for all of my friends. Can you tell that I was extremely popular?

 So back to that Yellow Pair of Knickers...

Many of us will be carrying suitcases full of resolutions into the New Year. Hopefully some of us will decide to leave some baggage behind as well. I claim to not like New Year's Resolutions but I know that come 11:59p.m., while singles at the bars will be searching for a make out fellow for midnight, I will be searching my head for the Resolutions I would like to stick with for at least the first two weeks of January. If I look at the bright side of the New Year, it is a pretty good thing. The chance to start over at the sounding of twelve chimes, the freshness that floats in the air as we all open our new agenda books or take that first run of 2011. The Possibility of Change is always a good thing.

But this year I have decided to carry only one word into the New Year. One single word that I hope will carry me through 365 days and leave me better because of it. Now, I technically get two words because my Yellow Knickers count for Luck. But Luck, she needs a faithful companion. A traveller to snuggle with throughout the Cold Nights of January. The Arrow-Stricken Days of February. The Lucky Mornings of March. The Teary-Eyed Afternoons of April. Luck will need a confidante to share her Memories with in May. Her Juicy Gossip in June. Her Jesterly Jokes in July. Yes, yes, Luck will need a best friend to run through the sprinkler with in August. Sip Sweet Cider with in September. Carve Pumpkins with in October. Keep Carving til November, but this time a Turkey. And Christmas Carol with in December.

And maybe Luck & her buddy will have to part ways at the end of 2011, when the last day crawls to the front of the calendar. Or maybe they will reel in another Friend and form a 2012 Trio.

Picking the word to accompany Luck in the New Year was no easy task. I now know how the Bachelor feels with all those roses. I sorted through Confidence, Craziness & Comfort. I grappled with Resilience, Responsibility & Radiance. I tried on Elation, Ecstasy & Excellence. And I almost picked Laughter. Laughter, you were runner-up. But I settled on Serendipity.

Serendipity will be the Groom to my Luck this year.

Serendipity, one of my favorite words! The act of finding something valuable & delightful when you are not even looking for it. What a grand theme for 2011!

Thankfully the Luck & Serendipity are so compatible by nature, figured that one out without even employing the help of eHarmony. Everyone knows there is a little Luck in Serendipity already. But isn't that the secret to great lovers? My pal Rumi knew it best, that great lovers don't finally meet somewhere, they are in each other all along. Oh, Serendipity & Luck, welcome to sweet, sweet matrimony. My wedding gift to you two love birds is a calendar full of open spaces for you to play & gush & sing all day long.

So my friends, I wish you a wonderful New Year's Celebration. To the singles at the bar, I hope you find the lips of an angel to pucker with at midnight. To the Resolutionaries, I make a great cheerleader. Here's to a year full to the brim of Excitement & Spontaneity. Yellow Knickers. Love. Lessons. & Pearls, Pearls, Pearls. Pearls of Wisdom at every turn.

Now, if you will excuse me I have to introduce a dashing couple, Serendipity & Luck, to a brand New Year and reward my match making skills with a mimosa.

Now it is your turn, what "one word" will you carry into the New Year with you?

P.S. Don't bother looking at the GAP, they don't sell Yellow Knickers. H&M is a safe bet.

One day I will be able to say to my Little Ones: "This is how your Mommy came to write 207 Love Letters to 207 Strangers"

We sat in over-sized Alice chairs admiring the spouts of our teapots, appropriately short and stout, as they poured a sweet elixir into the bottom of our antique cups. We clinked our tea cups together and we made a toast. A Toast to Loneliness, Calluses and Love Letters. Two Months of Loneliness. Two rounded calluses on my writing hand. Two Hundred & Seven Love Letters Written.

Signed. Sealed. Delivered. I'm Yours.

I sat across from my Best Friend this weekend, a girl who has shown me a whole new dimension to what it means to miss someone in the last four months. We entangled the sharing of three cups of tea with dozens of Stories in one of my favorites spots in New York City. I moved my hands with each story, motioning all around me, to show her what I have learned from living in this Big City.

"I think I have learned Loneliness best," I told her.

Learned to greet Loneliness as if it were an old friend. Kiss it on the cheek and allow it to kiss back. Soft & Warm. Somehow Soft & Warm.

I never knew that Loneliness could be such a comforting feeling until it propelled me to write 207 Love Letters.  Thank You, Loneliness, for teaching a lost girl just how to script her Sadness into Love.

As you may remember, two months ago I began writing love letters to strangers on the 4 train. I became quite accustomed to the thrill of writing to strangers and leaving my letters behind as if they were my own personal trail of bread crumbs. Central Park. Grand Central Terminal. A Slew of Diners claiming to have the World's Best Coffee. Through these letters I learned to pour out my heart to perfect strangers as if it were the same fine brew that spouted from my teapot. Leaving Letters Behind. For Some Romeo. Some Juliet. Some Heloise. Some Other Soul Who Needed Words That Day.

But the true gift behind these letters unveiled itself when you became involved. When we all stopped talking about Love Letters and we just started writing them. Asking for Them. Yes, yes, it all began when you pulled up a chair at my Love Letter Tea Party. Sitting Snug Between Ink, Stationary, Loneliness and a Cluster of Forty-Four Cent Stamps.

I never imagined on the day I promised a Snail Mail Love Letter to whoever emailed me their address that I would find my inbox full that night. Full of Requests from All Over the World. From Japan to Utah. From Canada to California. Some with Stories Tied to the request. Some Sad. Some Happy. Some in Desperate Need of a Linkage. Over 200 Love Letter Requests.

"So what are you going to do now?" My mom asked me on the phone that night, knowing that I was already quite overwhelmed by promising a handwritten note.

"I'll start writing," I told her. Because as much energy as it takes to write over 200 full pages of letters, I think it takes a lot more courage to ask a complete stranger to write you a love letter. I sent up a prayer to God for Strong Fingers, Strong Words and a little extra help on the postage, and then I began writing.

Anywhere. Everywhere. Each One Different. Giving me great practice in seeing all the ways one can dress up a single word. Love.

Some days writing Love Letters allowed me to tuck away my own Loneliness. Other days my Loneliness did her own little Macarena all over the stationary. And on the best days, my Loneliness unearthed itself from Behind the Ink & Signatures. Emerging like an extreme makeover contestant, coming out looking Radiant. Looking Like Love.

To all of you who asked for a letter, thank you for giving me the chance to write to you. To shatter the word "stranger" 207 times. That is an absolute dream come true for a girl adores any chance to shed the skin right off of that word. That is the best Christmas Gift I could have ever hoped to receive. You gave my Loneliness a purpose and for that reason I will never regret a single swooping of my cursive.

Many of You wrote your own Love Letters and allowed me to do the honors of sprinkling them all over Manhattan. Thank you for letting me pick the perfect spot. The perfect chance for someone else to hold that letter well & good. A Table in a Cafe. A Shelf of the NYC Library. A Pew in St. Pat's Cathedral.

And a few beautiful souls sent stamps. They supplied the fuel for those Love Letters to do their own globe-trotting. Thank you for those stamps in the mail. For Pulling Out a Faded Book of Liberty Bell Stamps, Sitting Folded & Pristine in Your Wallet, and Handing Them to Me. Trusting I would put them straight to work in the corner of some envelope.

But one person in particular deserves the largest thank you of all. I have never been driven so quickly to try to tame my tears as when a box showed up at my Bronx apartment. Addressed to "As Simple as That".I knelt down in my hallway, and opened the unaddressed package to reveal a Full Box, Bulging with Brand New Toys.

This is to the guy who sent a box full of toys to my class of preschoolers who might not have had Christmas gifts otherwise.

You attached a message that said you were not one for writing love letters. I hope you see that you wrote the very best Love Letter of all.

You taught me with your Gift that we all can write Love Letters. Some with Pencil. Some with Generosity. Some with Ears that Listen. Others with Hands that Hold. One way or another, we all have great potential to send a Love Letter off into this world. To Write Our Lives Into  A Love Letter, with the steps we take and the lives we touch.

I grew up saying that I would one day become a Professional Love Letter Writer and maybe I have finally reached that point. After setting down 207 final points of punctuation, I think I am finally there. And what have I learned from the calluses, the loneliness and the inbox full of requests?

That we are all in need of a Love Letter from time to time. A reminder that we are doing o.k. We are doing just fine. That someone, somewhere is sending us Light & Love. Be it from the Biggest City or the Smallest Town. With the Loudest Voice or the Quietest Whisper. To the One With the Toughest Exterior or the Most Broken Interior.

Turns out the world really does need more Love Letters and it looks like we have only just begun writing them.

Sara Bareilles would not write you a love song but I want to write you a love letter... Seriously.

It really is no wonder why Nicholas Sparks seems to have reserved seating when it comes to the New York Times Best Seller Lists. The man has found a fruit that most cannot ignore and he wrings out the sweet juices in almost all of his books.

The art of letter writing.

Let's be sincere. We love it. We adore it. We absolutely devour this idea of the soldier in his tent at night rereading the letters of his girl back home. Smelling Her Scent Between The Punctuation Points. We tear into a tub of chocolate ice cream as we sigh over the Two Lovers who forge communion in waiting for the post man to arrive.

A college professor of mine once told the class the tale of how she and her husband fell in love. They met one another at a time in their lives where Distance had a cunning plan to keep them apart. But, even being thousands of miles apart, they fell in love. Somewhere Between the Capital Letters and the Paragraph Breaks.

"It was really different during that time. You would spill your heart out onto a page, baring all your secrets and then you would drop it in the mail box," I remember her saying. "The test was in the waiting. Waiting to see what he would say back, waiting to learn more about him with every letter in the mail."

It is not just "mushy gushy" letters. It is any kind of letter where one sits down and dedicates the writing of words and syllables and sentiments with another in mind. I daresay, it is the most beautiful thing in the world.

It is knowing that someone, right next door or Miles Apart, will know themselves loved through just a few paragraphs and a signature at the bottom. Sincerely Yours.

If I have said it once then I need to say it ten more times: The world needs more love letters. More "Thank you for being alive today" letters. More "You are remarkable" and "You light up the world" letters. More "I think you will do great things" kind of letters.

***This is the part of the post where you take both of your hands and you place them on your forehead. Then you say out loud, "Oh no, Hannah. Where are you taking this?" Because, Lord knows, I never stop when idea comes into my head.***

Are you in position? Ok.

I am writing letters to people I have never met. Yes. I am finding it to be the best activity that I have ever taken up. A hobby, if you will call it, that delivers to me a smile every single time I place down a comma or a period.

It began on a train ride home from Manhattan, as most things usually do for me. I was feeling terribly lonely but almost comforted by the fact that everyone around me seemed terribly lonely as well. But instead of letting Loneliness trample all over commute, I pulled out my notepad and began composing a letter. To a person who I had never met. To a person who I can almost guarantee I will never meet.

It is a surreal feeling, to compose a letter to an individual that you have no ties to but at the same time you want the whole wide world for them. I wished them a bright day. A day full of laughter. I told them they were unique & special & really quite smashing. (I might not have used the word 'smashing' but I probably will in the next letter).

Really, we are not told enough, in a genuine noncommercial manner, how brilliant we are. How intriguing and wonderful we are. How much we should be commended for waking up today and deciding to take on the task of being human. It is not an easy task. It is not always fun. But it is wildly worth it. Better that we write all these things down.

And, with an anonymous signature, I left the letter behind on the subway. And on the sink of a bathroom. And on a table in a coffee shop. And scattered all over the place in NYC. Several anonymous love letters. The beginnings to many....

I have always wanted to live my life as a love letter. Why not do it with actual love letters? Who knows where my letters are right at this very moment. If they are sitting in the hands of some of corporate CEO as he sips his morning latte at his favorite coffee shop. Or if one is sitting on the desk of a woman who cleans that same coffee shop every single day to keep her children enrolled in private school. It makes no difference, I just wish for the individuals of this world to know themselves loved. And that means you. Yes, you.

So here is the deal.... If you send me your address, your legitimate "oh my goodness, I have to label an envelope" address then I will write you a letter. You will receive a genuine, handwritten, love letter in the mail. I promise you this. (Don't worry: I am not about to get creepy lovey dovey all over the paper).

Either leave your address below or via email: HannahKaty@live.com

My poor little fingers might regret this promise when they find themselves cramped from all sorts of cursive, but even if I don't know you that well, I think you are quite worth it.

I am attempting to love the whole world and it is harder than I anticipated.

Tears crowd the corner of my eyes as I practice saying it in my head. "I love you," I want to tell him. I want to sit right next to him, hold his hand, and tell him that I love him.

The train lurches forward, I practically lose my balance.

This is 175th street.

The doors sweep open. People push in. People push out.

Stand clear of the closing doors please.

It took a mere five seconds for him to get up and push out of the crowded train, leaving me standing by myself. I didn't get to tell him that I love him.

Most of you won't be phased by the fact that this man was a complete stranger to me, Hands Caked with Filth, Face Hardened by Life. I knew almost instantly that he would return home and probably no one would ask him about his day. Was it hard? Was it long? Why ask the obvious?

And here I am, 5'4 and 120 pounds, attempting to love the whole wide world on a New York City 4 train.

The last time I tried to love strangers was in traffic court, before moving to New York City. I tried my hardest to love the Rude People deeply. The Dirty People instantly. The Arrogant People fully. While others were biting their nails over the ticket they would not get out of paying, I was nervous about the fact that it is so very hard to love all of your neighbors. All seven billion or so of your neighbors.

I wish so furiously that Mother Teresa was still doing her thing in India. I want to ask her: How did you do it Mama T? How did you manage to keep a broken world still spinning off of your love? How did you love the lepers and the sick people?

Well I cannot meet Mother Teresa. But I did meet Lindsay. One of my roommates here, exotic and Californian. And Lindsay has introduced me to a beautiful five-letter word. Her favorite word. And it is really something wonderful to not be told about a word, but to be shown it.

"Agape means that we love a person for what they are. Every person has an infinite mystery within themselves. Agape means that we never confine the person to what we know of them.  To love anyone is to hope in them always."

I officially want to go on a picnic with the person who wrote these words. We would have a great time, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and spreading agape all over one another. And then we would invite the homeless man from the corner to come have some hot chocolate and agape with us, as well.

In all seriousness, Agape is a great concept but terribly hard to practice. We are human beings, it is our innate want and desire to put each other into boxes and duct tape those boxes up with all sorts of labels.

Can we just please stop taping for a day? Take people out of their boxes and allow them to run around? It will probably be very similar to the Cat and the Hat, when Thing 1 and Thing 2 break out their box. But it might be fun. We would learn more about one another. Thing 1 & Thing 2: Agape Pros.

Some may say that giving my year to a volunteer program, splitting my days between the United Nations and my duties as a substitute preschool teacher, is enough. I say, "This is just the beginning to the ways in which I want to rattle this world."

So I put my agape on everything these days. Rest assured, I put my agape on everything.

(I know this is not the proper way to use the word, I just adore misusing words sometimes because it sounds prettier. More writer-ish)

I wish all of you could pack up your day bags and take a field trip to my apartment, situated nicely above an immigration center and attached to a church. But be warned: I would not take you into Manhattan. My stipend is $25 a week. We cannot afford much. But a lack of money makes you realize: we never really needed money to do the work that we came here to do anyway. So you would come, and we would sit on the "stoop" and probably eat animal crackers and share stories. And people would  come right up and talk to us. The Dominicans from across the street would wave. The homeless man from the park would salute at us from across the street and then make his way over.

He carries a whistle and refers to himself as "sargento." He does not speak much English but I listen to his stories, swept up in fluent Spanish and I nod my head. Che Guevara. Fidel Castro. Muy Guapo. We don't need to know another language to hear the stories of others. We just need to open our ears to the Tone in One's Voice, the Look in One's Eyes, the Passion in the Sweeping of One's Story Telling Hands.

People might call me crazy for spending my time conversing with this man, but he is quite endearing and he has so many stories. Better than People Magazine. Better than Cosmopolitan. Seriously, magazines should come here and write some feature articles. This man puts James Franco to shame.

I want to close with saying this, I have gotten swiped up in turning As Simple as That into a blog that is not about me. I have tried to eliminate myself from the picture in so many ways. But what I am doing here this year, serving others and living simply, is worth typing on this page. I do have stories to tell. Stories that I think you might want to hear. Stories that will fit quite nicely on this blog. Stories that will further my only mission for this blog: to show the world that we are not all that different from one another. We are really pretty similar. Me and the sargento in the barber shop? We are one in the same. And it's as as simple as that.

So let the story telling madness begin. Go grab the animal crackers and meet me on my stoop.

'Thank you' is the very best phrase in the world: Sunday Morning Pearls from a Pile of Preschoolers.

It was the first, but the best, green pentagon and red square sandwich that I will ever eat. Blue American Cheese. Yellow Oval Ham...

"Thank you!" I said, after each shape she placed into my hands. A pile toppling over with love.

The little one with lime green glasses that magnified her big brown eyes laughed wildly with every addition to the Colossal Plastic Sandwich.

In that moment, I knew a thing or two as true: 'Thank you' is the very best phrase in the world.

When not dissecting issues of poverty and human trafficking at the UN briefings, I volunteer as a master of wiping noses and the Itsy Bitsy Spider. A substitute preschool teacher.

As we all know by now, I have a huge chunk of my heart carved out to serve as a treasure chest for the pearls of wisdom that come my way. A third to the pearls of wisdom series, I would love nothing more than to show you all what I have gathered from the classrooms filled with three-foot tall gurus and little life coaches wearing Children's Place sweat suits.

'Thank you' is the very best phrase in the world.

Compliment people whenever you can. No one opposes being told that they are pretty & beautiful, or that they look like a princess.

Take time to learn the names of others. Better that you ask twice than to go on not knowing.

Marvel at the world around you and then ask questions. Never stop asking questions. Never demand answers though.Take pleasure in that uncertainty.

Another note on marveling, marvel at the seasons and how they change. How the leaves shimmy out of their summer wear to find a Garb of Golden Colors. Shimmy away from your old self as well. Reinvent yourself, start fresh. Make fall your own personal New Year.

Bring extra smiles in your pocket wherever you go, extend them to whoever is in need today.

Along with bringing smiles, bring a sweater for when the temperature decides to play limbo. You will be grateful when the goosebumps come..

Carve out time to sit with a good book each day, even if you only read a chapter or two. Open your eyes up to the possibility that sits restless on the pages of a bound beauty.

And remember, 'Thank you' is the very best phrase in the world.

Ask people about their favorite color. They won't be expecting it but they will wonder, as they continue their subway commute or writing over a cup of brew, when is the last time that I really thought about the color yellow?

The key to beauty is not a popular shade of lipstick or the best hairdo. Wear laughter, a good smile and an internal glow and the world will wonder how you hold the word "beautiful" so well.

Be good to your friends; save them spots in line, put your arm around them and leave the extra animal crackers for them.

Speaking of animal crackers, take time to bite off the arms and then the legs and then head, as we all did when we were three feet tall. Indulge in the Elephants. Debate: Is it a hippo or a rhino?

High Fives are a universal language. High Fives are a language all of their own.

Grasp onto universal phrases: Please. I love you. Good Job! Thank you.

After all, 'thank you' is the very best phrase in the world.

Once in a while, more the while than the once, treat the world as if it were your playground. Find your own set of monkey bars in this world, whether it be a run on the beach or a night by the fire. Smile inward the whole way through.

As we grow older, we encounter less then person who has forgotten their snack for the day. Find the person who is missing something today: a companion, a hot meal, a loved one. Comfort them.

If you admire someone, tell them. If you miss someone, tell them. Tell them. Tell them. Tell them.

Sometimes we all need a time out. Sit quietly, (hands in the lap is optional) and think about how to reenter the world in a more positive and constructive way.

"No Llores," is a golden phrase, "No tears." No tears.

But of all the phrases, 'thank you' is the very best phrase in the world.

Find the silliness in love & crushes. Giggle over them. Tell them you like their sneakers. Sneak a hand hold before the end of the day.

Make it your mission to find a killer accessory that completes every outfit, whether it be a big white bow or a chunky bangle. Leave people thinking about that one accessory, but moreso, the person who wore it well.

Send gratitude up to heaven for allowing God to let you read these words. Reading is a great privilege. Being able to find meaning between the sewn "A"s and "K"s of this world is a great blessing. One that we too often take for granted.

Never wish a moment away. Fair warning: It won't come tumbling back towards you. It will be lost for good.

Talk about what you love: your mom, your cat, your Dora backpack. Give words and hand motions to whatever you love deeply in this world.

Stick close to the true friends in this world. The ones who run to hug you after a 12-hour separation, the ones who write you letters often and make you wish the word "separation" never existed.

Glow a little bit over your accomplishments. Look back for one reason only: to see how very far you have come. But don't become too prideful. Rejoice in Every Step.

Turn on the music, your favorite song to be precise and sing. Sing loud. Sing softly. Lip sync or scream. Look up the lyrics, even if you know them by heart, and follow them the whole way through. Let your mind ruminate over every word.

Take every encounter to meet new people as if it were a puddle given graciously to you on a rainy day. Jump in it. Laugh over it. Kiss the skies for it.

Speaking of puddles, own a pair of rain boots that speak to you. And actually use those boots, yes, jump in puddles. I repeat, Jump In Puddles.

Realize that you are not too old and you are not too young, you are perfect just the way you are.

And one final thing, remember, no matter if you are 4-years-old or 68, 'thank you' is the very best phrase in the world.

Want to trade pearls on this beautiful fall morning?

Share your own here.

Not every story is a love story. Not every kiss comes with melting capabilities. But let's not rule them out.

She is teaching me how to make wishes on hot tub bubbles in between rounds of singing "Kiss the Girl." "You have to close your eyes and blow hard," she says. Purple popsicle smears the edges of her mouth as she demonstrates, holding up her cupped hands full of quickly dissipating bubbles.

"What do I wish for?"

"Either a princess crown or a princess dress," her words tote a tone of matter-of-factness.

"Well, why not a prince? Maybe I want a prince."

"You cannot wish for a prince. You are not a princess, Hannah. You are just a babysitter."

Ouch.

Audrey is a lover of princesses. Her heart does an enormous tap dance over Sleeping Beauty and Ariel. She has a pair of plastic pumps with the faces of each damsel adorned on the tops of them.

This summer I have gained a sense of sympathy for these princesses. In just three days of babysitting I managed to force an apple down Snow White’s throat seven times. I made Cinderella lose her slipper a good eight times. I will more than likely plop Jasmine down on a magic carpet three more times before the week finds its ending. The sympathy grows as I flip the pages of books with crippled bindings to tell Audrey the same story of Jasmine or Ariel six or seven times a day.

Each time I see her scooping up the romance, the prince and princess riding off into the sunset, the kiss that all little girls hinge their satisfaction on, and then she moves on. Onto the Next Story of the Next Princess with the Next Happy Ending.

One day she will grow up, plastic shoes will no longer fit her and she will gain her first glimpse of a love song that does not come accompanied by squirrels and birds as the percussionists. But I pray she won’t want to write off the fairy tales forever, for lying to her and leading her on.

We only need to look a bit further into the same stories of our childhoods to realize that adversity did exist in each and every one of them. The stories were not solely about love and princes. We just chose not to pay too close attention to this at the time.

My mom and I had an argument about this the other day. And she won. Yes, that is right Mom, you won.

"We are teaching young girls that if you leave a glass slipper behind then some prince will return it, or that some guy is going to save you when you are locked up in a castle. Little girls should be embracing their own happy endings, not relying on a guy to do it for them.” Yes, that would be me turning on my Raging Feminist side at the drop of Cinderella’s name.

"If you forgot Hannah, Cinderella was abused by her step mother and step sister. Snow White ran away from abuse as well, and she loved those little dwarves and they loved her." Touche, Mom. Those princesses did their best for the circumstances they were given, what is the point of criticizing their definition of a happy ending?

I know that at the age of seven I would not want to be lulled to sleep by a storybook about a broken heart and broken dishes leftover from a fight that took place at midnight. I would never want to read about the sound of a car door, how this time the sound was different, it was the sound of Leaving. Who knows, perhaps Snow White found cheating text messages from Prince, maybe he got bored with her and wanted to try out Ariel. For all we know, Jasmine may have fallen out of love with Aladdin but she deemed it better to tell a perfect love story, the one of a street rat meets princess, than to make things messy and make people talk. I don’t know. Either way, I think I like the stories I was made to believe better than a less than magical reality to fill my bedtime story time slot.

Some might say that we are naive to accept promises of “happy ever after”s and kisses that wake us up out of deep spells. But maybe it is best that we learn to believe in this kind of fairy tale magic at a young age, so that we remember to dream. And Believe That Our Dreams Can Come True.

I sometimes must beat down the urge to tell little Audrey that she does not need a prince to make her happy. But then I think about it, maybe she will grow up and pine for a great love story. Maybe that will make her completely happy, and who I am to stop her from that?

Hey Audrey, if you remember anything beyond the fact that my favorite princess is Snow White, remember this from your babysitter when you grow up: Not every story in your life has to be a love story. And trust me, not every occurrence will resemble a fairy tale. Adversity will be important. Hardships, Hard Times and Hard Lessons Learned will be just as essential as that kiss that might one day make your little heart melt.

Just remember to be happy. Have the courage to change a situation if it needs to be changed, whether that means employing the help of a fairy godmother or finding the resilience deep down inside of yourself. If it means running, then You Should Run. If it makes you happy to fall in love, then fall, baby, fall.

Don’t go out in the world to be the next Ariel, Jasmine, or Snow White. Be Audrey. Tell the world of a love story that only Audrey can tell.

Killing Marsha Brady: A few final remarks from my inner perfectionist.

It was not until 3:39a.m. that I realized that I could not and would not write this blog post. I went to sleep early last night, feeling the weight on my shoulders to produce something worthy enough to be read. In translation: I went to sleep beating myself up over the fact that I have not been inspired to write in nearly a week. Instead of "Good night, Hannah" and "Sweet dreams, dreamer," it was more like falling asleep to visions of never being good enough dancing in my head.

I woke up startled and unable to sleep after having a dream about hammers and nails. Renovating a house. Making it look so perfect but then watching it crumble to the ground because of an unsteady foundation. I took the dream as a sign of something, especially since it refused to let me slumber softly for a long while after. And so I sat in my bed at 3:39a.m., eating a soy ice cream sandwich, realizing that I had to let the perfectionist inside of me write part of this post.

Readers, I now introduce to her. But I want to warn you, she is quite perfect (and she knows it).

Make no mistake of it, I am perfect.

I am the life of the party. I get perfect grades. I study hard. I wake up looking perfect. I go to sleep looking even better. I am there for each and every one of my friends, whenever and wherever they need me to be. I drop everything for them. I never think about myself.

I wear perfect clothes. I always match. I never miss a beat when it comes to new fashion trends and the hottest fads. My hair always looks good. My teeth are perfectly aligned. My body is perfectly toned. At the gym I sweat perfect sweat. I smell perfect. Sound perfect. Sing Perfect. Talk Perfectly. And did I mention how smart I am? Because I am SO smart. Perfectly smart, in fact.

People often see me and they comment on my perfection, which, in this case, I simply smile and stay poised. I don't slouch. I don't belch. All guys want to date me. All girls want to be me.

I am always smiling. I am never down. I never cry. Never Ever. I have everything figured out. A 5-year plan. A 10-year plan. I don't hurt feelings. I don't play games with people's hearts. I am the best listener in the world and I give phenomenal advice.

I am perfect.

I used to have a basin of sympathy stored inside of me for Jan Brady. She always shrank ten sizes too small because of Marsha.  She let negativity and green envy overtake her instead of ever taking the time to accept herself. I have a Marsha Brady living inside of me, one who managed to grasp onto the word "perfection" at a fairly young age and then resolved to never let it go. She often wonders what people think of when they look at her and talk to her.

She worries more about THEM than she does about HERSELF.

Yes, she is smart and she is ambitious but she tends to get carried away, to the point where someone should really shut her up and remind her that no one is perfect. No One Is Perfect. Perfect is an illusion, a fantasy, a fairy tale that only graces pages but never people.

The problem with perfectionism, when we give into it, is that it causes us to believe that we were never good enough to begin with. It is like starting far behind the starting point and needing to take drastic measures to catch up. More work. Less sleep. More coffee. Less enjoyment. More exercise. Less Calories. It all is contained in this mask we put on. The Mask We Wear In The Outside World. And that mask does not tolerate mess-ups or mistakes, burdens or hardships.

What would it take for us to spend a single day being completely happy with the way we are right now? What would it take to forget about renovations to our Bodies & Minds & Souls and pay ourselves a few compliments today?

It is pretty morbid on my part to type into Google: How many people die each day? But when I see the search results, the numbers that estimate nearly 150,000, I realize I need to rip the hammer away from the clutched hands of the perfectionist inside of me. If there is anything wrong with my life today, with the way I look or the state that I am in, perhaps a good chunk of those 150,000 people who lost their lives today would love to trade spots with me. And they might do a better job of not criticizing themselves for silly little flaws or things that are beyond our control.

Today I propose we buy one-way train tickets for the Marsha Brady's in our souls.

I would be so quick to just abandon her in a lost & found box but then I fear that some other little girl might find her, ask her to be her best friend and realize (shortly after) the dangers of letting perfectionism take hold. I see a lot of young girls and women who have made a pact with perfectionism and it worries me. I don't want another young girl to find my inner perfectionist sitting in a lost & found box.

And so I will head over to Target to see if I can pick up some attributes to better equip me in dealing with this perfectionist who refuses to take shelter elsewhere: Tolerance. Acceptance. Understanding. Wonder. Awe. Inspiration. Kindness to myself.

Yes, yes, if she won't take the train ticket and go then I will kill my inner Marsha Brady with every inch of kindness that I have.

Any final remarks from your Inner Perfectionist before they get the boot?