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This night is sparkling, don’t you let it go

Last week my best friend Angie came to visit. She’s been going through ish and needed a pick-me-up trip. Our main objective was a Taylor Swift concert in Chicago, but as you can see, we did a lot more than that.

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I don’t really have a cohesive story to tell about Angie’s visit, but there are a few things I wanted to mention:

Fortuitousness. I think there’s a lot to be said for flexibility and adventurousness. Some of my best experiences have come out of wandering, being curious, exploring.

I was reminded of that when Angie and I were driving around a certain neighborhood where I might like to live someday, and we decided to turn down a random street and see if any houses were for sale. We found one, stopped to peek in, and ended up meeting one of the top realtors in the state of Ohio.

Later, in Chicago, we also stumbled upon the gorgeous rooftop lounge of the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel because we were chasing frozen custard from Shake Shack.

You never know where a road might lead you.

Disconnecting to reconnect. This is something I learn over and over again. Someday it will stick. It does cling harder and longer every time.

I love the internet and social media. But I also love — and desperately need — time away from the internet and social media. In spite of missing out on funny tweets, industry news, and the daily happenings of my friends, I am overall happier when I am not plugged in. Instead of taking in the non-stop stream of other people’s thoughts, I am left to listen to myself. My own mind, my heart, and my spirit.

Community and knowledge are important. I don’t want to isolate myself. I don’t want to delete everything. I just want to manage it better.

Taylor Power. I have long enjoyed and admired Taylor Swift. Her new album might not be my favorite overall, but it’s got a lot of great songs, and it’s another solid showing of her musicality, her honesty, her maturity.

At this point, I can’t really be “the Taylor Swift of writing,” and I no longer wish to be. (For the most part anyway, lol.) But when I was sitting in that stadium, listening to her music and to the heartfelt words she shared with us in between songs, I noticed a few things that I want to keep in mind as I move forward in my career.

First, her willingness to be vulnerable. She may not name names (usually) but it’s obvious that her songs draw on deeply personal experiences and feelings. I’m not that bold in my nonfiction, but I want to be.

Second, she seems to have found and embraced “girl power.” The media likes to spotlight her romances, but Taylor herself prefers to talk up the amazing group of female creatives (musicians, writers, actresses, etc.) whom she has befriended. I think it’s a wonderful brand of feminism for her fans to be exposed to, especially the younger ones.

Last, but certainly not least, Taylor knows how to make her fans feel special. Through social media, she is extremely accessible, without relinquishing her privacy. She also goes out of her way to connect with fans, from her “Secret Sessions” and baked goods to surprise scholarship money, or even light-up bracelets and “real talk” at her concerts.

It’s no wonder that Taylor has managed to make millions of people feel like they know her, and in doing so, created a loyal following of fans and friends.

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Taylor and Katy (and me?)

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More than once, I have joked that I wanted to be the Taylor Swift of writing. Meaning that I wanted to become a hot-shot novelist in my teens (and ideally continue to put out hits for the rest of my life). Obviously my teens have come and gone and that didn’t happen. But it’s all good. Maybe I can be the Katy Perry of writing instead?

Recently I watched both Taylor and Katy’s biopic/concert movies, and I came to some realizations:

  1. They work really hard. Yes, they’re doing what they love, and the’ve managed to become rich and famous from it. But that doesn’t take anything away from all the heart, soul, blood, sweat, and tears they put into their music. And in addition to the singing and songwriting, they spend a lot of time designing their concerts, rehearsing and performing and marketing their work, connecting with fans, and making decisions that impact the dozens (if not hundreds) of people in their employ. They are in fact young businesswomen. It’s impressive, humbling, and inspiring.
  2. They have achieved a lot of success at very young ages, but it didn’t happen overnight. Both struggled to be taken seriously, to be allowed to express themselves in the way that they wanted. At one point, Taylor walked away from a good opportunity with a major record label because she believed that she could do better. She ended up taking a chance on a startup, and together they skyrocketed to the top. (Guts!) Katy spent years bouncing between record labels, all of whom knew she was talented but weren’t sure how to market her and thus were reluctant to invest. Despite the frustrations, she always went back to the music, writing songs and playing gigs until finally someone decided to back her all the way — and even handed her the reins. (Perseverance!)
  3. I think part of what appeals to people (certainly to me) about their music is how much of themselves they put into it. Their personal experiences, their emotions, their style. Taylor is infamous for writing about her famous ex-boyfriends, and Katy makes no secret that many of her recent hits are about her the ups and downs of her relationship with Russell Brand. Some people think that’s tacky; I think it’s brave and endearing. I can relate to their excitement, their doubts, their hopes, their heartaches. And it makes their songs stand out from some of the more generic stuff.
  4. As much as I might joke about wanting to be the Taylor or Katy of writing — and as many similarities as there may be between our dreams (artistry, storytelling, entertaining the masses, etc.) — one key difference is that being a pop star usually requires a youthful appeal. They probably have a limited window of opportunity for mainstream success, whereas writers are not judged by the marketability of their faces/bodies, but by the quality marketability of their stories.
  5. At one point, Katy’s sister talks about how people were trying to get Katy to be the next Britney, or the next Avril, or whoever, and how she never wanted to be the next anybody. She wanted to be the first Katy. Good point. I don’t want to be the next JK Rowling, the next Stephenie Meyer, or the next Suzanne Collins. I want to be the first Kristan.
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Excerpt from a letter to my friend Angie

Turning 27 in less than a week. Wow. In a lot of ways it feels like a nothing birthday — I’m not planning anything, not earning/hitting any milestones — but at the same time, it’s another year gone by. Another step away from youth. And a step toward… what? Maybe that’s the thing. Maybe that’s why people don’t like getting older (at least in part). We don’t know what we’re walking toward.

Where in the nebulous future do my hopes and dreams lie? Am I near or far? Only way to know is to keep going.

My comfort is that, for the most part, I’m happy. Content, but not complacent. I enjoy my life, my daily routine, my home — but I’m still striving for more. Trying to find/create professional success. To contribute more to my family and household. To improve my mind, my behavior, my actions.

Maybe it’s too late to be the Taylor Swift of writing. But it’s never too late to be great.

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A letter to myself on my 26th birthday

Dear Me,

So, it’s your birthday. You’re 26 today. Congratulations.

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Me, Age Adorable.

What, you wanted more? Sorry, dude. This isn’t a milestone. You can already smoke (didn’t want to anyway), can already drink (didn’t want to anyway), can already rent a car without paying a premium, and already had your insurance rates reduced (25 = lame). No new perks, plus now you’re closer to 30 than 20. Scary, huh?

Here’s the thing: I know what you wanted. You wanted to be an established author. Heck, you wanted that for your 18th birthday. And your 20th. And pretty much every birthday since you wrote that terrible synopsis and 15 pages for the Scholastic “first novel” competition in high school. You wanted to be the Taylor Swift of books.

But you’re not. Do you want to know why? Because you weren’t willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

Now before you run off to a corner to cry, listen: I don’t say that to be mean. I don’t say that to belittle or discourage you. You do work hard. You are talented. You will make it.

But Taylor Swift? She’s one in a million. She put music before everything. She gave up a normal life in order to pursue her dream. You didn’t.

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Me, Age Ridiculous.

And that’s okay. It’s okay that you went to high school, and worried about grades, and got a college degree, and then a job. It’s okay that you watch a few TV shows, and have a boyfriend and a dog, and take time to travel. It’s okay that sometimes you do the laundry when you’re stuck on a sentence, or that you get nervous/embarrassed when people ask what you do and you have to explain that you’re an unpublished, unagented writer. It’s okay that you like to nap.

Because here’s what this birthday DOES mean:

It means that, at 26, you’ve been writing seriously for almost a decade. In that time, you “finished” your first ever novel (which needs a lot of revision). You experimented with a web series that nearly got published and is now available as an ebook. And soon you’ll be querying your first YA manuscript, which is definitely the best thing you’ve ever written. You’ve been blogging for several years, have made many good online friends, and even went viral once. You’ve gotten work experience, life experience, love experience. You’ve done things on your own terms, and you won’t have any regrets.

(Not that T Swizzle regrets her choices. I’m sure she’s quite happy with her sparkly clothes, bajillion awards, and famous, fodder-for-lyrics boyfriends.)

Rarely do things work out so neatly as JK Rowling’s 1-story-per-school-year structure, but I do feel like each November since middle school, you’ve managed to reflect and to learn something important. If there’s anything I want you to learn from this, your 26th year, it’s to throw your plans out the window. Don’t try to predict what will happen, or put your life on a schedule. Just work hard, have fun, and be kind. If you do that, everything will follow in its own way and its own time.

Love,
You

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