I turned “I can’t” into “I did” (without vomiting)

Three years ago, I sat at a table with a successful, smart, genuine woman at the BlogHer conference. I met many amazing women that weekend but this one said something to me that I’ve held close ever since. Her blog was huge, she was traveling the world sharing her message, and she had a book deal with a major publishing house. She was doing things I never even dared imagine doing. I was still hoping to someday get paid to write (which for the record, I did for the first time, just a month later).

She said, “If something makes me feel scared, that’s how I know I should probably do it.” I’ve been trying my best to embrace the scary ever since.

Which is how, on a random Sunday night, I ended up on stage in front of 200 strangers, under hot lights, with a microphone in my hand, and some words in my head, telling the story of how my attempt to act like the grown-ass 27-year-old woman I was, ended with me crying buckets of tears in the ladies room at work.

Dan and I attended Truth Be Told, Boulder’s bi-monthly story slam, an event where audience members may put their name in a hat (of note, it was an actual hat) for a chance to take the stage and tell a five-minute, true story, without any notes. Afterward, the audience would vote on their favorite.

When we bought tickets, there were two weeks until the slam. Coming up with a story could wait until I’d resolved the pressing issue of finding a sitter.

With one week left, I made a mental note to stop procrastinating. I successfully ignored the mental note for three days. Four days out, I was confident I could repurpose a blog post for my story. But nothing came to mind and I didn’t feel like sifting through the archives. Three days out, an idea I’d never used as blog fodder came to me. All I had to do was write it down and practice a few times. I had plenty of time. Or so I thought.

After you subtract the hours you spend doing necessary life activities —sleeping, eating, bickering with your spouse about stupid shit, asking your kids for the bazillionth time to find their other shoe, picking up the rogue doll shoes waiting to poke sharp holes in your feet, venting about the stress of your life on the phone with your sister, hugging your husband and apologizing for haranguing him about the pile of papers on the credenza, doing laundry, exercising, showering, and reading one more chapter of The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo— two days leaves you exactly four free minutes in which to contemplate the Very Important Matter of Your Entertaining Story Slam Story.

With 48 hours to go, I discovered “just writing it out” was a horrible plan. There was no “just” about it. Like every time I write, demons possessed my fingertips, keeping them turning the genius ideas in my brain into the perfect, beautiful words they were supposed to become. I forced myself to vomit whatever shitty words I could come up with onto the screen and clean it up later.

But dealing with it later became less realistic with every passing hour. (See stresses and time-sucking necessities of my life, above). My first draft was boring, rambling, and well over the five-minute mark. I locked myself in our bedroom, whittled it down and tried it on Dan. We had to stop the timer a few times to field requests for snacks, incident reports regarding serious matters such as “she hit me on purpose!” and “I had it first!”, but eventually I got to the end.

Dan said it had the elements of a good story but needed work; polishing, more details, and more tension.

I hid in our bedroom, set my stopwatch and tried again. I wrapped it up as the clock turned from 4:59 to 5:00. It was within the time limit and not horrible. I made Dan listen again.

“I need more details. More context. Like, why should I care about this?”

Details and context were parts of my story I’d included in the original version and deleted. I cut some pieces out to make room for the discarded nuggets, added them back in, and tried again.

I liked it.

I asked Dan if I could try it again. Dan is many things, but a multi-tasker he is not. At this moment, Lady Bug bounced on his lap while Sweet Pea interrupted us every five seconds to offer insights into her imaginary world. Now I’m pretending my baby is sick and I’m taking her to the doctor. Now I’m pretending I have twin babies. Now lets pretend me and Lady Bug are twins. He made a face like “Are you crazy?”

Once we were alone in the car en route to the show, he was captive. I practiced once more. Dan said it was really good. With twenty minutes until show time, my story was presentable. And with precisely twenty minutes until show time, the idea of putting my name in the hat made me want to puke.

As we handed the ticket taker our tickets, Dan gently shoved me over to the table in the lobby, where I filled out a white slip of paper with my name, my story’s name, and a “fun factoid” about me, and placed it in the hat. Dan has been gently shoving me toward stuff I’m scared of but should definitely do since 2008, starting with learning Excel so I wouldn’t run out of money (again). I’m used to it.

As we took our seats, I officially hoped they would not choose my name.

The 250-seat theater was nearly full. The first storyteller was hilarious. The second was ok. The third was a riot. The fourth blew my mind. The fifth broke my heart. The sixth was me.

As they called my name, Dan gave my hand a squeeze. I whispered, “I’m scared.” Then I stood up and scooted awkwardly across half my row to the aisle and walked down to the stage. I took the microphone and told my story, The Day I Acted Like a Grown-up at Work.

I began just as I’d practiced.

“It was 2007 and I was working as an occupational therapist at the shittiest hospital in the world.”

I kept talking. I kept breathing. I kept my voice from wavering. I paused when the audience laughed. (They laughed!!). At the end, they clapped. I went back to my seat. At intermission, strangers came up to me just to say they liked my story. At the end, we voted. I voted for myself. Dan did, too. Maybe no one else did. I will never know. I don’t care.

Boulder Story Slam

One of the luxuries of being an adult is, to a great extent, you get to control your environment. You can make your environment as comfortable as you want. Which is awesome if you’re talking about creating a tranquil bedroom motif based on the mood board you’ve been Pinterest-ing for six months. But when it comes to actual life… it doesn’t work that way. As far as I’m concerned, comfortable is boring. I don’t want to stop learning and changing and growing just because I’m a grown-up and no one is forcing me into scary situations anymore. I’m not on this earth to lie on a couch with a fleece blanket and a Real World marathon (although that would be nice once in a while). I’m here to stretch myself, to explore my limits, to learn about myself, to explore the unknown and the uncomfortable, to feel the exhilaration of turning “I can’t” into “I did.”

I’m here to try and embrace the experiences that scare me.

My Second TV Appearance (hello maturity, goodbye flippers)

The first time I was on TV, the local news interviewed me in a Stop and Shop parking lot while I used a flipper to clear snow from my windshield during a blizzard. The roads were so bad, I didn’t get home in time to watch the evening news. My disappointment over missing my debut was way out of proportion to the situation.

The second time I was on TV was an entirely different story. I bugged followed up with the producer of Off The Page, a local cable show that interviews Colorado authors, a number of times over email until she scheduled an interview. A few days prior, I started to really think about the kinds of questions she might ask and practice my answers. A few hours prior, still unsure about what to wear, I raced through the racks at Violette like a coked up Supermarket Sweep contestant.

I worried I would look fat on camera. I worried I’d watch three seconds of the interview, cringe at the sound of my own voice, and have to turn it off.

When it aired a couple weeks later, Dan and I watched together. I was relieved to find that it was not cringe-worthy. It was fine. It was better than fine, actually. Except for one thing. I looked old. Up to now, I didn’t know I needed to worry about that.

I told myself maybe it was all in my head. But when I mentioned it to Dan, he agreed.

“You looked distinguished,” he said.

Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing by validating me. Maybe he thought it was a compliment. After all, George Clooney is distinguished and he is quite attractive. And like me, he has Bell’s Palsy. But I do not aspire to look like George Clooney.

“You think I look distinguished.” I spit the last word out like a bitter choke cherry.

“You know who is distinguished?” His smile was eager, optimistic. Was he really going to try and dig himself out of this hole with more nonsense?

“WHO!?” I demanded. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg!? My grandmother? Never mind. I don’t actually want to know who you think is distinguished. Just please stop talking.”

With that, he placed his shovel aside. Hot and sexy have been the only words he’s used to describe my appearance since then. In his defense, he later explained he was trying to use a word that meant both older and sexy.

And there you have it,  the story behind the story. I will never know if my second TV appearance was any better than my first. I do know that despite the ravages of time… or perhaps because of my, ahem, maturity, I said what I meant to say and I had a lot of fun.

Some topics we covered in the interview:

The unique story behind my book, There’s No Room For Fear in a Burley Trailer (see for yourself, here)
The meaning of the title and why the book was almost named You Could Be Homeless.
Why I started blogging
How I decide what to publish on my blog versus what I submit to other websites
My experiments with flash fiction, specifically Mash Stories
The 30-Day writing challenge my friend Susan and I created for ourselves—and the dreaded consequence for failure to comply with the rules.
What to do if you have writer’s block
How writing is like running
Why I’d be a fabulous guest speaker at your group’s next event
Where you can purchase There’s No Room For Fear in a Burley Trailer (Online at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or directly through me. Locally, you can find signed copies at The Mama’hood, Flatirons Running Inc., and Full Cycle).


I am a Recovered Impostor Syndrome Sufferer

When I was a kid, I hated sports. I dreaded gym class. I was picked last for every team. I flinched when anything smaller than a soccer ball came near me. Or not near me. And if we’re being honest, it wasn’t just the smaller balls that gave me panic attacks; dodge balls, volleyballs, and tetherballs terrified me. They still do. Although adulthood affords me the luxury of never being forced to play ball games, it’s hard to fully relax because every so often, Dan tosses me the car keys.

For reasons I will never fully understand, I tried out for lacrosse when I was a freshman in high school. Most people look back the team sports of their youth and recall friendship, laughter, teamwork, and the development of self-esteem and confidence.

I look back on the three seasons I played lacrosse and wonder why I did not quit sooner. It was painful, and not the kind of pain that breaks you down, only to build you back up. Mostly it was just painful in the breaking down way, but I pretended it wasn’t.

I pretended I wasn’t waiting for the coach to give me a  pep talk. I pretended not to silently wonder why all the girls who’d started as beginners like me, figured out how to maneuver gracefully across the field, making assists, scoring points, and generally looking sure of themselves, while I remained awkward and afraid of the ball. I pretended I didn’t mind being on the fringes of the sport that I assumed would make me one of the gang.

I have two distinct memories from my time on the lacrosse team. One was right after a game against our biggest rival. We won and the mood was giddy as we piled into the team van. A hot, fresh bag of McDonald’s fries was being passed around. My arm was extended toward that bag, and just before I plucked a few fries for myself, one of my teammates—the quintessential mean girl—noticed me.

 “Why don’t you save the fries for those of us who actually played?” she asked. It was not so much a question as it was an accusation. 

My stomach dropped as I lowered my hand to my lap. After a beat, the rest of the team continued laughing and recalling the highlights of the game while they polished off the fries, while I sat in silence, alone with my shame.

The other vivid memory I have of lacrosse is coming in second in a timed two-mile run. My teammates and I complained whenever the coach made us run, but secretly, I enjoyed it. With running, there was no ball.There was no stress. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other. Even I could not mess it up.

On that mild spring afternoon, we charged down Blackstone Boulevard and to my shock and delight, I found myself at front of the pack. I nearly killed myself in an attempt to edge out my closest competitor and finished a very close second. When I finished, my legs burned, my lungs were ready to explode, and I was on the verge of puking.

I could not wait to do it again.

When I was 22, I ran my first marathon. By that point, friends and family frequently referred to me as a runner, but it was very important to me that I set them straight. I was not a runner, I would tell them. I just liked to run. That I would I would, in fact, pay money and travel to run for over four hours at a time was actually no indication that I was a bona fide runner, it was just evidence that I enjoyed my hobby. It sounds ridiculous now, but at the time it made perfect sense because I still thought of myself as the un-athletic kid I had always been.

Shortly after I trying a spin class a few years later, I dove headfirst into road biking and triathlons. When I was not working or trolling for guys, I was biking, swimming or running. My friends and I joked we wouldn’t recognize each other if we weren’t wearing a cap and goggles or sunglasses and a helmet. But when I admitted to a friend that I wasn’t sure I “deserved” to use race wheels at an upcoming bike race and he said “But you have the same right to race wheels as any other athlete,” I thought he was crazy. “You think I’m an athlete?” I asked, incredulous. “Why wouldn’t you be?” he asked me. “You are always training for a race.  Sometimes you work out twice a day.” I was flattered but I remained skeptical.

I am a recovered Impostor Syndrome Sufferer

Right before my first sprint triathlon in Lake Murray, SC,  2004. I would end up winning the novice category. I didn’t think I was an athlete (yet).

When I was 28 I did my first IronmanTM triathlon. That’s a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run. I spent the better part of a year training for it. In preparation for it, I crossed the finish of my fifth marathon and I travelled with my bike to a training camp in Spain. I planned every aspect of my life around training for that race.  Yet I scoffed when anyone called me a triathlete. “I do triathlons,” I remember correcting my sister, “but I wouldn’t call myself a triathlete.” She told me I was nuts; and not just because a triathlon was my idea of fun.

I wish I could tell you I realized I was an athlete when I crossed the finish line of that IronmanTM. What I remember about that moment was pure joy, a sense of accomplishment, and the piece of pepperoni pizza I inhaled immediately afterward.

Did I mention the pizza at the finish line?

Best. Pizza. Ever.

I wish there were a specific race or workout that I could look back on and say “That was when I realized I was an athlete.” The unglamorous truth is that over the next few years, I gradually shed that sense of myself as a ball-challenged, athletic failure and finally understood that I was an athlete. That I had, in fact, been an athlete since the day I tried to win that two-mile run in the tenth grade.

I wish I’d figured that out sooner. But upon immersing myself in Impostor Syndrome Research, I realized something kind of epic. It turns out, over the course of my painstakingly slow path to figuring out that I was a legit athlete, I had inadvertently tested nearly every strategy, tip, and trick promising to cure Impostor Syndrome.

I will share more about that soon. For now, feel free to check out my previous posts on Impostor Syndrome here and here.

Are you into this? Do you think your group would enjoy it? I’d love to chat with you about speaking at your next meeting. Feel free to contact me at pam.sinel(at)gmail.com

I beat Impostor Syndrome

I Don’t Care About Star Wars

I don’t care about Star Wars. It’s not because I’m a communist (it sounds ok, in theory), or a feminist (although I am one), or a pacifist (I try to be but I yell too much). It’s just that I’ve never been much of a movie person and I’m not into space or war. Certainly, I have a few movies memorized- like Back To The Future, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Clueless, True Romance, and Reality Bites– but that’s less a function of my love for film (I’d rather read a book), and more a function of having owned them on VHS. Therefore, I watched them more times than any human should ever watch a movie.

My freshman year of college, my dreamy R.A. arranged a dorm outing to see the release of whatever part of Star Wars was released in 1997. I went because everyone else was going. It was as legitimate a motivation as any, as far as my younger self was concerned. I’m sure my warm feelings toward movie popcorn and the R.A. played played a part, too. After the movie, everyone said they loved it. I didn’t say much. I was trying to navigate the murky social stratosphere of college, and instinct told me not to stand out. I spent most of my Friday nights pretending to like cheap beer and drinking way too much of it, in an attempt to get the attention of boys I thought I was supposed to care about.

I wish I could tell my 18 year-old self to forget about Star Wars and stay home. I would have told her not to walk to any frat parties in the freezing cold without a coat (because if you had a coat you had to find a place to put said coat once you got to the party, so we didn’t wear coats to parties, ever). I would have told her to catch up on sleep, read a good book, stop procrastinating the laundry, invite a friend out for frozen yogurt, or go to one of those cool events that always looked interesting in the school paper, but that I never actually attended.

I don't care about star wars

Since I can’t have a chat with my 18 year-old self, I’ve made a list of things I’d rather do than watch the Star Wars movie this time around.

1. Encourage my husband to go. Mentally note this occasion. Do not forget to remind him of it when necessary.

2. Finish our 2014 Family Photo Album. (That’s not a typo.)

3. Sleep. Like go to sleep ridiculously early. (How is it that I so rarely take advantage of something that is both rejuvenating and free?)

4. Read any of the books I have piled on my bookshelf, including

Better Than Before

The Moth (I have been in the middle of this one for over a year. That’s embarrassing.)

To Kill A Mockingbird (I read it in sixth grade, I meant to re-read for book club, and still want to re-read just because.)

Size 12 is Not Fat by Meg Cabot. (Sometimes I just want to read the equivalent of a rom-com.)

Big Magic

Hanson’s Half Marathon Method

5. Vacuum the basement. This one speaks just as much to the sorry state of the basement floor as it does to my ambivalence toward Star Wars.

6. Organize my sock drawer. There is something deeply satisfying about tosssing the orphans and starting fresh with a drawerful of matched pairs.

7. Watch an episode or three of Parenthood while eating popcorn sprinkled generously with nutritional yeast, drinking Good Earth  tea, and wearing flannel pajamas.

8. Write a letter to my pen pal. (Seriously, I have a pen pal. She is awesome. I had an essay about our friendship published in this anthology).

9. Drink a glass of wine or two. Then, send a press release about my book to a few more people. This is more scary than you think. Hence the wine.

10. See Sisters. I don’t understand how a movie about fake stuff can compete with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.



The Lessons I Never Expected Canva to Teach Me

This is not a Canva tutorial.  I muddled my way through Canva, using mostly trial and error, and I have created a total of one hopefully share-able graphic.

Dan is really good at computers. I’m not. Ever since I met him, he’s taken on the role of 24 hour on call technical support person. There is no computer-related matter too small to warrant my seeking his expertise. Even if he doesn’t have the answer, he has a special talent for Googling the exact right question with the exact right phrasing, that I have yet to master.

It is not unusual for women to experience postpartum anxiety. It is my understanding that this anxiety revolves around the baby or some aspect or aspects of motherhood. I, on the other hand, feel fine about the baby. It’s my blog that is making me anxious.

I want to write. I want to submit my writing. I want to journal. I want, I want, I want… Oh yeah, I want to sleep. I want to feel like myself again. I haven’t worked out since before the baby was born (just a few more days till I’m allowed!) and I haven’t been away from the baby for more than a couple of hours, and even then it’s only to go to acupuncture to try and fix my face.

I have zero time for 99.9% of the ‘I wants” because caring for a a newborn and a toddler is no joke. If I were a normal person I would be like, “My blog can wait. Everything can wait. My life is chaos right now.” But no, not me, I have to think of a thousand things I could be doing but am obviously too lazy/lame/undercaffeinated to actually do. Doesn’t matter that I ate my dinner left handed tonight while breastfeeding the baby and intermittently jumping up to get Sweet Pea more honeydew which I just didn’t have an extra hand to cut into toddler-size pieces and I felt bad because the chunks were way too big for her little mouth. Doesn’t matter that the hours between dinner and anywhere between 10 and midnight are a chaotic mess of nursing, bathing, storying, diaper changing, nursing, stuffed-animalling, rocking, bouncing, door cracking (just the right amount), nursing,  burping, nursing, oh yeah did I mention nursing. Somewhere in the middle of the parenting shenanigans I manage to sneak in glass of wine, a coconut popsicle, and a conversation with Dan that is more than an exchange of information about our offspring.

So obviously now is the perfect time in my life to beat myself up about the dearth of Pinterest-ing graphics on my blog and because PicMonkey frustrates me I need to learn to make said graphics on Canva RIGHT. NOW.  After multiple attempts to create such a graphic, each of which lasted a total of 10-15 minutes due to one interruption or another, I got a free 30 minutes today to continue on my mission. When I finally, finally hit “save and publish,” the image that saved to my computer was not the same as the one I saw in Canva.

I wanted to throw my computer. I was ready to give up. I was desperate to call Dan, but he was at work. And once he gets home, there’s hardly time for either of us to take a shower, let alone for him to help me with my stupid (but somehow urgent) Canva graphic. But how much time was I going to invest in this stupid project? I could not deal with the idea of wasting even more of my precious time.

Until I realized it wouldn’t necessarily be a waste because I might actually learn something. The beauty of the baby needing to nurse while I was in the middle of hating Canva and before I completely gave up on it was that I had to step away from the computer. This allowed me some time to let some ideas on possible fixes float into my brain. I’ve always known that it’s important to give your mind time to “marinate” when you’re doing anything creative, but it never occurred to me that problem-solving a computer issue was a creative endeavor. Except duh, of course it is. Not only is Dan a computer genius, he is also one of the most creative problem solvers I know, which is so not a coincidence.

So I futzed around with Canva for a bit and I figured out what the issue was. BY MYSELF. Perhaps my two year old, with her obsession with doing everything BY HERSELF, has been a good influence on me. And just like that, a possibly share-worthy image was created, self-esteem was boosted, and a lesson in perseverance and independence was learned (even if it was at the tender age of 35).