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Lessons from 2016

Around the end of the year, people generally start thinking about how they want to improve their lives in the upcoming year. As a fan of self improvement, I’ve always sort of enjoyed this process. Which isn’t to say that I’ve always done a good job keeping New Years’ resolutions. But I think whether or not you reach your goals, making them can be valuable.

However, this year I’ve struggled with coming up with 2017 resolutions. To be honest, 2016 has left me sort of exhausted. It’s been a rough year for a number of reasons. It’s also been a busy year for me. I finished my MA, moved to a new state, started a PhD program, taught three different classes, continued my freelance editing business, and wrote or revised seven drafts of different novels.

So I’ve decided my goal for 2017 is actually to slow down a little, smell roses and whatnot. I want to spend less time worrying about things I haven’t done yet and more time appreciating all the good things in my life.

With that in mind, I’m going to end 2016 by reflecting on a few things I’ve learned through this crazy, roller coaster year.

  • It’s never too soon to start being one of the heroes you grew up reading about.
  • We all need to spend more time listening to people who are different from us.
  • You are a good looking human being. If anybody tries to tell you otherwise, that person is a stupid head.
  • Sometimes people will give you conflicting advice, and you just need to do the best you can.img_20161003_1750554
  • If somebody is trying to convince you that something you love is stupid, you should probably just throw glitter in their face and waltz into the sunset because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
  • “I never look back, darling. It distracts from the now.” -Edna Mode, The Incredibles
  • Don’t date anyone who treats you like a side quest. You are a main quest.
  • It doesn’t matter how nice you are. Sometimes people will still be mean to you.
  • Always make sure you have a solid foundation. Especially if you are a Christmas tree.img_2484-2
  • Attacking problems with kindness and positivity is great, but certain problems just need to be kicked in the shins.
  • It’s good to laugh, and it’s good not to take yourself too seriously.
  • There really is a Taylor Swift song for every occasion.
  • You don’t need to be perfect to be worthwhile, and neither do the things you create.
  • The family that wears fake mustaches together stays together.mustache
  • Do the thing you are terrified of. But wear protective gear while doing it.
  • Spend a little time every day encouraging other people.
  • Your emotions are valid and important.
  • You should dance, even if you’re bad at it (and I am really, really, really bad at it).
  • “Just think, while you’ve been getting down and out about the liars and the dirty, dirty cheats of the world, you could have been getting down to THIS. SICK. BEAT.” -Taylor Swift, Shake it Off
  • If you’re stuck, maybe you just need to kick through a door.
  • You can fix just about anything with duct tape. Including the door you just kicked through. And if you use colorful duct tape, it will be extra fabulous. img_20160620_1936149
  • It’s good to know your limitations, but sometimes you should ignore them anyway.
  • “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” -Ms. Frizzle, The Magic School Bus
  • The days when you realize things are worse than you thought they were are also the days where you realize that you’re stronger than you thought you were.
  • You’re doing better than you think you are, so keep it up!
  • It’s gonna be okay.
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Real Gifts

Last year for Christmas, my dad and his siblings all pitched in to get my grandparents a new television. We waited until the very end of the present opening frenzy to give it to them, so all eyes were on my grandma as she broke down in tears.

I remember one of my aunts saying, “Mom, why are you crying? Don’t cry over a tv!”

She did not stop crying. She said, “I can’t help it. We’re just so blessed!”

My grandma is right (she pretty much always is). We’re an incredibly blessed family.

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We all live comfortable lives, and that’s something to be thankful for. But things like new television sets are only the very surface level of what we have to be thankful for.

As my grandma is crying over a tv, I’m looking around the room. I have probably twenty odd cousins there and aunts and uncles and siblings and parents. They’re some of the goofiest people I know (as illustrated by the above attempt at getting a cute picture of grandkids in Christmas pjs). The televisions and things are nice, but these guys are the real gift.

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Looking back, I can’t say I remember too many of the presents I got for Christmas as a child. There was a doll house, a giant teddy bear. A set of play food. And a basketball hoop that I think was maybe more for my dad than for me (though this was before my complete lack of athletic potential had been fully realized).

What I do remember is spending time with family and friends. I remember dipping Christmas chocolates, decorating cookies, and building really ugly gingerbread houses. I remember caroling at nursing homes and going around to see the lights. I remember sledding and building snowmen. I remember cutting out snowflakes and decorating the house.

I no longer play with any of the toys I received as a child (except the doll house because that thing is sick). The presents were nice, but they were temporary.

But the loved ones and the Christmas memories I’ve made with them are still part of my life.

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Christmas is a time of year for family and friends, because they’re a real gift.  And if, like me, you believe in Christ, it’s a time for drawing closer to Him, for He is another real gift. Regardless of whether you believe in Christ, this is a good time of year for developing Christ-like attributes of love, service, forgiveness, and charity.

I hope as you’re shopping for and wrapping the presents this year, you think about the real gifts you’ll be giving to others this year—your time, your attention, and your love.

Thank you all for giving me the gift of your friendship and love, however long I’ve known you. Merry Christmas!

No, You Move

Today I am hurting.

Let me be clear. I wouldn’t go through the trouble of writing a post because I’m disappointed my candidate didn’t win. I come from a family, state, and religion that is predominantly more conservative than I am. I work with people who are predominantly more liberal than I am. I can handle opposing sides and being on the losing side of a debate.

But in the words of Captain America, I don’t like bullies. It doesn’t matter where they come from. And Donald Trump is a bully.

Trump ran a campaign built entirely on hate rhetoric and won. When forced to choose between a woman who mishandled emails and an accused rapist, somehow our country decided that the man who brags about sexual assault would be a better option.

So don’t you dare try to tell me that the legal system protects women against sexual harassment. Don’t tell me that people take rape claims seriously.

Last night as shocked analysts struggled to explain how all our polls could have been so misleading, all I could think is this: The polls were wrong because people didn’t want to admit they were voting for Trump. They knew he was bad. They voted for him anyway.

What’s done is done. But if you knew he was bad and rationalized it away, I ask you this now. What you are going to do to combat the damage he’s done?

If you recognize that he is misogynistic, what will you do to fight misogyny? If you recognize that he’s homophobic, what will you do to fight homophobia? If you recognize that he’s racist, what will you do to fight racism?

I can only control my own actions, but I am promising today to do everything I can to fight for what I believe in.

What I believe in is love and kindness and treating people in a Christ-like way. I believe in offering a helping hand to those in need. I believe in listening to those we disagree with. I believe in empowering people to be good.

I don’t have much. But I have my words and I will use them. To some, this might make me a “nasty” woman.

You haven’t seen nasty yet.

Because I will not shut up. I will keep standing up to bullies and trying to make the world a better place.

We all need to take ownership of our country and our actions. Starting today.

It’s time to start moving forward.

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Avengers X Hamilton

After the success of my Avengers + Taylor Swift post, I decided to pair my favorite heroes with some of my other favorite lyrics. For some reason, these turned way more serious than the T Swift ones.

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Thank you, Rick Walton

The news comes through Facebook. Rick Walton has passed away. This isn’t surprising. Last year Rick was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After an initial surgery, the tumor returned, leaving no more treatment options.

For those of you who don’t know, Rick Walton was the author of over a hundred picture books. He taught writing and publishing courses at BYU. And to me, he was a mentor.

Rick was the first person who made me feel that I could turn my love of words into a career. He taught me that the road to publication is twisted and full of (mostly) fun detours. That it was okay if reaching your dreams took time, as long as you kept writing.

But the most important thing I learned from Rick was not how to get a book published. The most important thing I learned from Rick was how to leave the world a better place than I found it.

Rick was a dreamer. He was always talking about his Next Big Idea. His enthusiasm was contagious, and it made you want to hit the ground running to work on your Next Big Idea.

He was the type of person who believed that we were all better off when we stuck together. He was a builder of community. He was generous and supported everyone within his sizable scope of influence.

A few summers ago I was attending a writing conference (which I was only able to attend thanks to a referral from Rick) where Rick was honored for his efforts. The emcee asked everyone who had been influenced by Rick to stand. Over half the auditorium stood.

That’s the kind of person Rick was, and the kind of person I’d like to be.

On my desk, I have a note from the mother of one of the students I tutor, thanking me for helping her daughter with writing. In my inbox, I have a message from a former editing client telling me that ten literary agents have requested to see her work. I get to spend my days teaching college freshmen that they can, in fact, write and write well.

And I think Rick would be happy that I get to spend all my time putting words on paper and helping others do the same.

Thank you Rick, for helping me believe that I could be a writer. Thank you for teaching me to lift those around me. One day I hope I can say I’ve inspired half as many people as you have.

In the mean time, I’ll just keep writing.

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That Time I Fell in Love

Walking home from school the other day, I realized I was happy. Really happy. Giddy happy. A little bounce in my step happy. I’m practically dancing down the sidewalk to the song stuck in my head (or as I like to think of it, the soundtrack to the movie of my life). Today’s selection is Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and my brain is blasting it at top volume.

I recognize this feeling. This is what it feels like to fall in love.

Before you get too excited, let me clarify that I’m not seeing anybody. I don’t even have somebody I’m trying to date. The romantic feeling taking me over has nothing to do with a boy.

In my mind, I rewind to the girl I was three years ago. That Kyra would hardly recognize or understand the Kyra I am today, the one who’s dancing in the streets.

Three years ago I was suffering from clinical depression. Getting out of bed in the morning was a struggle. Forget about falling in love, I couldn’t feel anything at all. I was completely paralyzed emotionally.

But with time and a lot of love from friends, family, and God, I got better.

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Awhile back there was a trending tag on Twitter called #depressiontaughtme. The stories there are haunting and beautiful. I added my own: Depression taught me empathy.

My depression and the painful recovery process that accompanied it taught me more about suffering than all of my previous life experience combined. I truly believe that this increased perspective has made me a better listener, a better supporter, and a better friend.

What I’ve only recently realized is that my depression has made me a happier person.

Not at the time, certainly. I was anything but happy then. But in the time that’s followed, I’ve felt true joy.

It isn’t that my life is perfect. It’s not, and there are things that I would change if I could. But my life is so much better than it was three years ago that it’s almost impossible for me not to feel happy and grateful.

Because when you spend that much time in the darkness, even a little light feels like it can illuminate your whole world.

This kind of happiness is special because it doesn’t depend on circumstance. It isn’t contingent on getting good grades or having a good hair day or being asked out by your crush.

This kind of happiness is just there and it’s yours for the taking.

It’s there because you now realize that life isn’t so bad even when it’s not great.

It’s there because there are people in the world who love you just the way you are.

It’s there because you finally know that you can do hard things.

It’s there because you’re Kyra Nelson and you deserve to be happy and fall in love.

You get to fall in love with laughter and friendship and hard work. You get to fall in love with meteor showers and red velvet cupcakes and poetry. You get to fall in love with life.

Perhaps most importantly, you get to fall in love with yourself. Just with being yourself and doing all the things you do.

And that’s a pretty special feeling. I think I just might put it in my pocket and save it for a rainy day.

Super Ladies Need Super BFFs

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I’ve been fascinated by super heroes since the Super Friends watching days of my childhood. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that the world of superheroes was a rough place for a girl.

There are so many ways I could talk about the mistreatment of super women, but for the scope of this post I’m only going to discuss one: numbers.

Look at the poster for any of the recent superhero movie posters. You’ll notice that best case scenario, female characters are outnumbered 2:1 and more commonly 5:1.

I didn’t used to be so bothered by this. Sure, it was annoying. But as long as the token female was super cool (I’m looking at you, Black Widow) it was sort of okay. But more and more I find myself dissatisfied with the “token female” approach. I’m starting to see the need for superhero movies and tv shows that pass the Bechdel Test.

To pass the Bechdel Test, the show in question must depict two female characters having a conversation with each other about something other than a man. Off the top of my head, I can only think of three qualifying movies in the entire Marvel franchise (Jane and Darcy in Thor and Thor: The Dark World, Gamora and Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy). Maybe I’ve missed some, but it took me a few minutes to even come up with those. The point is, girl/girl conversation in Marvel are scarce.

But why exactly is this harmful? The first problem with the heavily skewed male ratios of most superhero shows is that they suggest that extraordinary men are a dime a dozen but extraordinary women truly are rare.

This doesn’t even make sense to me, since I struggle to think of any plausible reason men would be more likely to obtain super powers on a statistically significant level. But these skewed ratios are so prevalent that we start to subconsciously accept this idea that men are more likely to be super than women. That’s why the idea of an all male team or almost all male team seems normal to us but the idea of an all or almost all female team seems radical.We can’t even seem to get a female solo movie, forget a whole team of female supers.

Token femaleship also doesn’t allow for a variety personalities, either. What’s even more problematic is that you’ll notice all the token female characters start to look very similar. They all have a certain type of personality, a personality that reflects more stereotypically masculine characteristics. This seems to suggest that female characters can only be strong if they act like men.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with female characters who have more masculine personality traits. But only having strong females with these traits sends the message that women can’t be strong acting like women. They have to act like men to be strong.

We need more diversity in this regard. Give me girls who are super perky, cutesy, quirky, or nurturing and can also beat up bad guys. Don’t send the message that girly is weak. Strong male characters don’t all look and act alike. Strong female characters shouldn’t either.

Furthermore, movies or shows with only one prominent female character do not provide opportunities to show women working together. Steve and Bucky set serious friendship goals. Who’s setting the friendship goals for girls? They exist, but they’re not on the big screen.

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Peggy and Angie: The first female friendship duo I found in the world of live action super heroes.

We need role models to teach girls that female friendships can be powerful. That relationships between girls can be important. That they can accomplish more when they work together.

Let us see how strong we are as a team.

I’ll leave you with a few examples of female friendships that we do have. Let’s see more like these, please. (Bonus points to those that feature POC or body type diversity)

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