Lost Lake

Lost LakeLost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Number of pages: 304
My copy: Kindle edition

Suley, Georgia, is home to Lost Lake Cottages and not much else. Which is why it’s the perfect place for newly-widowed Kate and her eccentric eight-year-old daughter Devin to heal. Kate spent one memorable childhood summer at Lost Lake, had her first almost-kiss at Lost Lake, and met a boy named Wes at Lost Lake. It was a place for dreaming. But Kate doesn’t believe in dreams anymore, and her Aunt Eby, Lost Lake’s owner, wants to sell the place and move on. Lost Lake’s magic is gone. As Kate discovers that time has a way of standing still at Lost Lake can she bring the cottages—and her heart—back to life? Because sometimes the things you love have a funny way of turning up again. And sometimes you never even know they were lost . . . until they are found.

* * *

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my go-to authors for comfort reads. I think everyone who’s ever read any of her books know this. There’s something about her words, the magic realism in her novels that just hits the right spot. So I was very excited when Lost Lake came out, and I couldn’t wait to get lost in this new, magical world crafted by her SAA’s words.

A year after her husband’s death, Kate Pherris wakes up. Her mother-in-law, Cricket, plans to move her and her daughter Devin with her, but Kate didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. When Devin finds a postcard from her Kate’s Aunt Eby from Lost Lake, the mother and daughter drive off to Lost Lake. Eby Pim knew Lost Lake is going bankrupt, and with a heavy heart, she finally decides to sell it. When this news comes out, Eby’s old friends started coming back, to spend one last time in the lake. Eby thinks she made the right decision, but something doesn’t sit well with her. Lost Lake is a place where lost people find themselves, so what happens when they lose it?

I got lost in Lost Lake a few pages in, and I mean that in a good way. There’s the usual magic and beauty in this book. It’s not quite the same as Garden Spells, a bit more similar to The Girl Who Chased the Moon, but still unique in its own way. I really liked the setting. Most of my vacations by the water involve the beach – sun, sand and whatnot. Lakes aren’t too common here in the Philippines (at least, there’s not much of them that I know), so a lake vacation is interesting to me. I loved the old cabins, the lake that seemed like magic, and all the other memories that the cast of characters had in the lake. The history gave the place a lot more personality, and it was so nice to dip into all of it and see how much the place meant to everyone in Suley. I wanted to be there in Lost Lake, too, to witness the magic of the place first hand.

But in a way, I guess I was there, too. True to form, SAA’s words brought me there, too, and it was such a pleasure to be there. Reading this felt like a vacation, the one where I made new friends in the form of the characters in the story. I loved Eby and Kate and Devin, but the people who really shone here were the secondary characters – Lisette, Selma, Buhladeen (I love her name), Wes, the alligator. I loved them in their signature quirkiness, their whimsy and the little magic that they call carried in their own. The thing with SAA novels is that even if there is a little bit of magic, somehow you’d still believe that they were just normal, everyday things. That’s what I love the most about magic realism – how magic is not new, and how it’s all so subtle but it leaves a big mark in the character’s lives.

Lost Lake was good, except maybe compared to the other SAA books, it had a little of a lost quality to it, too. I don’t mean it in a bad way; perhaps there was just too many things to love that I couldn’t really settle into any of them to love them fully. I suppose this isn’t bad, but I had a lot of books for comparison and Lost Lakepales just a little bit in comparison to the others. If you’re new to SAA and you want to dip your toes into her stories, then this may be a good one to start with, and then I would recommend you read her others, too, because trust me: it gets better from there.

Number of dog-eared pages: 37

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

There was so much happiness in the world. It was everywhere. It was free. Eby never understood why some people, people like her family, simply refused to take it.

Magic is what we invent when we want something we think we can’t have.

All the women in their family had sturdy frames. They weren’t meant to break, but most of them did anyway, blown down by that perfect storm called love.

If we measured life in the things that almost happened, we wouldn’t get anywhere.

We are conduits for happiness. Remember that.

You can’t change where you came from, but you can change where you go from here. Just like a book. If you don’t like the ending, you make up a new one.

When your cup is empty, you do not mourn what is gone. Because if you do, you will miss the opportunity to fill it again.

Sometimes, the best endings are the one that surprise you. Sometimes, the best are the ones that have everything happening exactly how you want it to happen. But the absolute perfect endings are when you get a little of both.

Rating:

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Dear Author

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful ThingsTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Publisher: Vintage
Number of pages: 304
My copy: Kindle edition

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills—and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar—the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild—is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion—and absolute honesty—this bookis a balm for everything life throws our way.

* * *

I first heard of Sugar through Hilary, one of my favorite bloggers. She often mentioned stuff she wrote on her posts, and for a moment, I thought that “Sugar” was someone she knew personally, because she often referred to her like she knew her from real life. Then I wandered over to The Rumpus, and found that Sugar was actually an advice columnist. Now I have read several advice columns before – in magazines, while having my hair done in salons, most of the time. I read them, but they’re not really my cup of tea, you know? Not that the people don’t offer sound advice, but I would rather talk to people I know for advice because they know me better.

But Sugar seems like a different story. I mean, read this:

You cannot convince people to love you. This is an absolute rule. No one will ever give you love because you want him or her to give it. Real love moves freely in both directions. Don’t waste your time on anything else.

How beautiful is that? I meant to read more of her posts, but then I got a copy of her Tiny Beautiful Things, a collection of the Dear Sugar columns. Some of my Goodreads friends gave a really high rating for it, so I scanned the first few pages and before I knew it, I couldn’t stop reading. Because this book is possibly one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in the longest time.

The thing about Tiny Beautiful Things is that it is filled with tiny, beautiful things. Cheryl Strayed writes with the right mix of brutal honesty and gentleness in an answer to the people who wrote to her, asking for advice. And these people who wrote these letters are everyday people with everyday problems. Or, some of them may not be everyday problems, but they’re situations that we, perfectly imperfect humans, get into. And I know it’s impossible for one person to truly experience every single thing that these people wrote about, and Sugar doesn’t pretend to do that. What she did instead is meet their problems with her own vulnerability and offer what she has, in hopes of the words finding the their home in the hearts of the people who sought her.

And I think it worked, because I could only count with one hand the letters that were close enough to what happened in my life, and yet Sugar’s answers hit me, resonated in me “like a clanging bell.” The truth that she wrote were truths that I could also use in my own life — and I think other readers could use it, too. Her words on courage and love and compassion were a balm to the soul, and even if she delivers them sometimes with an edge, her love shines through, warm and inviting and healing. No judgments whatsoever. Just the loving truth. And that’s what makes it beautiful.

Tiny Beautiful Things is the kind of book where I wished I had some kind of photographic memory, or at least I could remember each quote with clarity so when I need words for trying times, I know what words to pull to keep me afloat. This is the kind of book that I would reread from the first page to the last, the kind of book I will pick up and flip through randomly and still find something to feed my soul. I loved everything about Tiny Beautiful Things, and I hope in my heart that this book finds its way to the people who need it.

Number of dog-eared pages: 125

Favorite dog-eared quotes (among others, because there’s just. too. many.):

Don’t be strategic or coy. Strategic and coy are for jackasses. Be brave. Be authentic. Practice saying the word “love” to the people you love so when it matters the most to say it, you will.

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams that was built by your own desire to heal.

There is a middle path, but it goes only one direction: towards the light. Your light. The one that goes blink, blink, blink inside your chest when you know what you’re doing is right. Listen to it. Trust it. Let it make you stronger than you are.

Trusting yourself means living out what you already know to be true.

We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your “limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude” is to produce.

The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that.

What’s important is that you make the leap. Jump high and hard with intention and heart.

You will learn a lot about yourself if you stretch in the direction of goodness, of bigness, of kindness, of forgiveness, of emotional bravery. Be a warrior for love.

We have to be as fearless about our bellies as we are with our hearts.

When you set new boundaries there is often strife and sorrow, but your life will be changed for the better.

Forgiveness doesn’t sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up the hill. You have to say I am forgiven again and again until it becomes the story you believe about yourself.

Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.

Rating:

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Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Number of pages: 242
My copy: Kindle edition

Comedy’s fastest-rising star takes to the page in a book of essays, personal anecdotes, and impassioned pleas.

Multi-hyphenate Mindy Kaling is an Emmy-nominated writer, the actress famous for playing the beloved Kelly Kapoor on The Office, and the author of one of Twitter’s most popular and quoted feeds.  She is a keen and witty observer of life, romance, and pop culture, whom the New York Times recently called “an entirely original and of-the-moment” performer and Entertainment Weekly deemed “one of the ten funniest actresses in Hollywood.”

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy shares her observations, fears, and opinions about a wide-ranging list of the topics she thinks about the most: from her favorite types of guys (including Sherlock Holmes, NBA players, Aaron Sorkin characters, and 19th-century fictional hunks) to life in the Office writers’ room to her leisure pursuit of dieting (“I don’t travel, speak other languages, do crafts, or enjoy sports, but I love reading about new diets”) and how much she loves romantic comedies.  Loaded with personal stories and laugh-out-loud philosophies, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a must-read by one of the most original comedic voices working today.

* * *

I’ve seen Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling on blogs since last year, I think, but I didn’t pick it up because I wasn’t a huge fan of memoirs. Plus, I didn’t really know who Mindy Kaling was. I only watched a few episodes of The Office, and not enough about her, and there was only one episode of The Mindy Project that I watched for #romanceclass. For some reason, I started reading more non-fiction books and memoirs this year, and after reading a comment from a friend on Facebook about this book, I finally decided to pick it up. I wasn’t planning to read it immediately, but then I decided to scan through the first pages…then I started laughing. And I was hooked.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? talks about Mindy’s experiences and observations about life — and by that, I meant she talked about a lot of things: from friendships to her parents, to her ethnicity, school, fashion, weight, and her work as a writer. There’s also a bit about romance, Irish exits (so that’s what this means!), and comedies. Not knowing much about Mindy, I thought I’d get bored with it, but I wasn’t even halfway through the book and I couldn’t stop laughing. Her observations and comments were spot-on, and I found myself relating to some of it. Cliche as this may be, reading this book felt like I was just hanging out with Mindy somewhere and I was listening to all her stories about her life so far. Also, laughing very hard, because I imagine she’s a great storyteller and she’d definitely hold the room’s attention. :D

There were just some chapters in the book that I kind of spaced out on, particularly the parts about comedies because I’m not a huge fan of those. But I really liked reading her behind the scenes commentaries on The Office, particularly the bit about Steve Carell. Who would’ve thought? It made me kind of want to watch a bit of The Office, as well as The Mindy Project, if only to get more quotable quotes from her.

And this is me being silly, but a teeny part of me feels ashamed that I didn’t read her books within two days (because she said “This book will take you two days to read. Did you even see the cover? It’s mostly pink.”)…but she would understand, right? Heh. :D Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is a funny and refreshing read, a good in-between books for when you read too much fiction or when you have too much drama in your life, or when you just want to laugh, period. Definitely keeping this on my shelf. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 37

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

For instance, they say the best revenge is living well. I say it’s acid in the face — who will love them now?

But writing about my struggles was actually really fun. Besides, who wants to read about success, anyway? Successful serial murderers, maybe.

Haley and I would talk for hours about which member of ‘N Sync we’d want to marry. After long deliberation, the answer was always J.C. Chasez. Joey Fatone’s last name was going to be “Fat One” no matter how great he was, and even though they didn’t know at their age that Lance Bass was gay outright, they sensed he’d make a better good friend and confidante. As for Justin Timberlake, well, JT was the coolest and hottest, but too flashy, so we couldn’t trust him to be faithful. J.C. Chasez was the smart compromise.

If you’re going to punch someone in the face, your best bet is to punch your best friend.

I simply regard romantic comedies as a subgenre of sci-fi, in which the world created therein has different rules than my regular human world.

When you think a girl looks pretty, say it.

…We are magic to you: you have no idea how we got to look as good as we do.

I think when men hear that women want a commitment, they think it means commitment to a romantic relationship, but that’s not it. It’s a commitment to not floating around anymore. I want a guy who is entrenched in his own life. Entrenched is awesome.

In real life, shouldn’t a wedding be an awesome party you throw with your great pal, in the presence of a bunch of your other friends? A great day, sure, but not the beginning and certainly not the end of your friendship with a person you can’t wait to talk about gardening with for the next forty years.

Rating:

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In Lesbians with Books

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila SalesThis Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
Number of pages: 288
My copy: e-ARC from Netgalley

Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

* * *

I’ve only read one Leila Sales book, Past Perfect, and I had fun with it because it was so, well, fun. I remember really liking the setting and the characters and how it felt like such a good summer read, so I dove into This Song Will Save Your Life with the same expectations: that this will be a light, fun read, a perfect companion for my recent trip.

But…I was wrong.

I was wrong about the light and fun part, actually. I honestly thought This Song Will Save Your Life is about a girl who builds a playlist and all that, and the “saving your life” part was just metaphorical, a symbolism of sorts. Well, it as kind of like that, but I didn’t expect it to be so serious. In a good way, that is. Elise Dembowski is unpopular, but not because she did something. Or maybe she was unpopular because she tries so hard, too hard. But all Elise wanted was to be seen, to have friends, and when her last attempt failed, she gives up (and this was the part that shocked me and told me that this might be different from the previous Leila Sales book I read). Then Elise discovers an underground warehouse party where she meets people who knew nothing about her and calls her their friend. Ellie finds herself spending more time with them, until she gets into the DJ booth and realizes that there was something else to love about her new secret: DJing.

So this book is about Elise and her quest to fit in, a secret club, and DJing. The last two were a bit unexpected, but it was only unexpected because I didn’t read the summary when I got the book; I just requested it because it was Leila Sales (and the cover was pretty). Like I said, I was surprised at how heavy this book felt at the start, at how big Elise’s problems were to her. I didn’t expect that at all, but that development was gripping enough for me to want to find out what happens next.

The book was a bit slow at the start, and again, because I didn’t read the book’s summary, I wasn’t really sure what would happen. I wasn’t sure about the secret party warehouse angle at first, until the other characters grew on me and I wanted to know what would happen to them. The romantic angle made me cringe a little, and you know how when you read something like that that it was doomed from the start, and you’re not sure how to feel if it didn’t end up doomed? I had that feeling in my stomach while I was reading it. The writing was clear and vivid that I could almost feel how it was to be in that party, to dance and sing with other people as Elise changes the music, to be one with the crowd and all that jazz. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t really party.

The other side of Elise’s life really hurt to read, too, and it made the contrast between her day life and her night life really stand out. It made me realize yet again how high school kids can be mean even if they didn’t intend to — how a simple act of ignorance of another person can really break someone, even if you didn’t intend to do that. There was that particularly mean action made for the sake of “postmodern art” that really got to my nerves, but I liked how it was handled in this book, and how in the end, Elise found a reason to like herself more than wishing that other people like her too. And isn’t that the point? That we be convinced of our worth, to know that it has never been tied to someone else?

I was really liked This Song Will Save Your Life, and I think not knowing what it was about when I first read it contributed to how much I liked it overall. I didn’t end the book wanting to be a DJ, nor wanting to find secret warehouse parties, but I did end it feeling a little bit more compassionate for other people and for myself, too. And I think that’s good enough.

Number of dog-eared pages: 8

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

I thought about how my back hurt from standing and my ears rang. But I also thought about how exciting it had been. How powerful I had felt, knowing that I alone had the ability to make people dance, the ability to make them happy.

I’m telling you, never fall for a music man. It only ends in heartbreak.

True, things don’t stay the same forever: couches are replaced, boys leave, you discover a song, your body becomes forever scarred. And with each of these moments you change and change again, your true self spinning, shifting positions-but always at last it returns to you, like a dancer on the floor. Because throughout it all, you are still, always YOU: beautiful and bruised, known and unknowable.

Rating:

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Daring Greatly

daringgreatlyDaring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown
Publisher: Gotham
Number of pages: 260
My copy: Kindle edition

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; . . . who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” —Theodore Roosevelt

Every day we experience the uncertainty, risks, and emotional exposure that define what it means to be vulnerable, or to dare greatly. Whether the arena is a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult family conversation, we must find the courage to walk into vulnerability and engage with our whole hearts.

In Daring Greatly, Dr. Brown challenges everything we think we know about vulnerability. Based on twelve years of research, she argues that vulnerability is not weakness, but rather our clearest path to courage, engagement, and meaningful connection. The book that Dr. Brown’s many fans have been waiting for, Daring Greatly will spark a new spirit of truth—and trust—in our organizations, families, schools, and communities.

* * *

I first heard about Brené Brown from one of my favorite personal blogs, and there I found her TEDx talk on vulnerability and shame. From then on, I was a fan, and I really wanted to read her book that talked more about vulnerability. I considered my 2013 as a year of learning about vulnerability (besides learning how to be brave), and I thought that it was such a mind-blowingly simple thing, this vulnerability. I mean, it’s simple because it’s all in us, but it’s also possibly quite the hardest thing anyone will ever allow themselves to be. But it’s necessary, right?

2013 came and went, and it was a rollercoaster of a year for me. Sometime near the end of the year, I decided that I was going to make Daring Greatly one of the first books I will read in 2014, because the end of 2013 kind of steered me in that direction. So when 2014 rolled around, I opened the book and started reading.

10% in, and I was already learning so much, that I wondered why I didn’t try to read it earlier. I mean, this could have helped me deal with life things back then!

On a serious note, Daring Greatly is a book that dares us to dare greatly. If you’ve watched her TEDx talks, this book is pretty much an expanded edition of what she said there. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is about how we can practice vulnerability and cultivate shame resilience in our everyday lives so we can dare greatly and help others to do the same. Using comprehensive research on shame (the one she talked about on the video — yes, this is me urging you to watch that video), Brené talked about her personal experiences and the results she received from interviews and surveys that shed light on shame and how it is to be the “man in the arena”.

I loved this. Like I said, 10% into the book, I was already nodding and noting and highlighting so many parts, because they rang true. These were the things I was trying to learn myself last year, and the things I tried to practice. These were the things I desired to have with practicing vulnerability. I loved how open and relatable this was, and I could feel that the writing itself was very vulnerable, with the way Brené shared bits of her life and research in the book. And it’s compassionate, too, because even if some parts hit hard — as in, I can’t believe I didn’t do this, I’m so stupid, la la la – she always brings you back to the fact that our mistakes don’t make us. We may make wrong choices, but it doesn’t tell us what we’re worth.

I enjoyed reading this for the most part because it’s not just a self-help book, but also a book packed by research. Brené even talked about her research process at the end of the book, and you she knows what she’s talking about. It’s so refreshing to read this, and find someone openly discussing something that we all want to be (even if sometimes we didn’t think we want it). I really enjoyed the chapters on debunking vulnerability myths, and that chapter she named after Harry Potter. :D (Because when you think about it, shame is like a dementor.) I think I just sort of spaced out with the vulnerability in a corporate setting (which is funny because I should be interested in that given that I live in corporate world). The parenting section was interesting even if I’m not a parent, and you know that these are just the things you want to note for when you have your own kids.

So overall, I really liked this book, and I was glad that I read this to start off my 2014. I really liked Brené’s Final Thoughts in the book, about that guy who was inspired by Brené’s TED talk, and decided to tell the girl he was dating for several months that he loved her. He got rejected.

She told him that she thought he was “awesome” but that she thought they should date other people. When he got back to his apartment after talking to his girlfriend, he told his two roommates what had happened. He said, “They were both hunched over their laptops and without looking up one of them was like ‘What were you thinking, man?’” One of his roommates told him that girls only like guys who are running the other way. He looked at me and said, “I felt pretty stupid at first. For a second I was mad at myself and even a little pissed at you. But then I thought about it and I remembered why I did it. I told my roommates, ‘I was daring greatly, dude.’”

He smiled when he told me, “They stopped typing, looked at me, nodded their heads, and said, ‘Oh. Right on, dude.’”

I truly believe that Brené Brown had it right: Daring greatly is not about winning or losing. It’s about courage. There were many things in Daring Greatly that I wished I had known earlier, but it’s also okay that I learned it now, because I don’t think I would have appreciated its value then. To live an authentic, wholehearted life, we need to dare greatly, over and over again. Even if we fail, because guess what — our failures have nothing on us, because we are enough. :)

I was daring greatly, dude. :)

Number of dog-eared pages: 74

Favorite dog-eared quotes:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability and authenticity…to let ourselves sink into the joyful moments of our lives even though we know that they are fleeting, even though the world tells us not to be too happy lest we invite disaster – that’s an intense form of vulnerability.

The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.

Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Yes, softening into joy is uncomfortable. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s vulnerable. But every time we allow ourselves to lean into joy and give in to those moments, we build resilience and cultivate hope. The joy becomes a part of who we are, and when bad things happen — and they do happen — we are stronger.

“What are the gremlins saying?”

Shame hates having words wrapped around it. If we speak shame, it begins to wither.

Shame resilience is the ability to say, “This hurts. This is disappointing, maybe even devastating. But success and recognition and approval are not values that drive me. My value is courage and I was just courageous. You can move on, shame.”

If you own this story you get to write the ending.

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.

Don’t try to win over the haters; you’re not the jackass whisperer.

Sometimes the bravest and most important thing you can do is just show up.

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