Stories from middle America

The email grabbed my attention like no coupon ever could.

“You’re eligible for a Klout Perk!” the subject line exclaimed in bold type. I immediately abandoned anything work-related. A quick, breathless scan, and I discovered my perk this time around was a book — I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. (Klout, you know me too well!)

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Crunching my recent social media posts led Klout computers to the correct assumption that I am a reader. Last March I became development director of the Omaha Public Library Foundation and, admittedly, have populated my Facebook and Twitter accounts with updates about my work at the library.

(What can I say? When I’m excited about something, I talk about it. A LOT.)

My days are focused on securing private dollars for the Omaha Public Library system: its twelve branches, patrons, programs, services, and staff. For years I was an Omaha Public Library patron; today, I am one of her biggest champions. Last year our tiny, two-woman staff raised more than $1 million for the library and started a young professionals group of library supporters called the 1877 Society.

Omaha Public Library

All of this activity and online chatter must have told Klout I love the library (and possibly that I could use some other topics to tweet about). Knowing very little about the thriller genre and even less about the author, I accepted Klout’s free gift and eagerly awaited the arrival of my new read.

The book landed with a thud on our front porch. I tore open the thick cardboard envelope and dropped the book near my sewing machine and knitting needles. And there, among so many other colorful pastimes, it sat. Until a few weeks later, when I grew temporarily tired of the comfy, cozy fiction by Debbie Macomber and cracked open I Am Pilgrim.

For the past several months, Pilgrim and I have become quite close. It’s a book not to take lightly, literally. The hardcover edition boasts more than 600 pages.

Having been heavily influenced by the librarians I work with, I first did my research. For example, I learned that Pilgrim is Hayes’ first book. A screenwriter by trade, Hayes is credited for films such as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.

The story unfolds through (fictitious) dark and gritty circumstances surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It mentions Osama bin Laden, of course, but also smartly connects a heinous New York City murder, a super-secret agent, the threat of a smallpox epidemic, an international terrorist, and the suspicious murder of a wealthy American.

Hayes takes us around the globe as one chance encounter, one horrific crime, one unbelievable turn of events leads to something else entirely. Some of the murder scenes (beheadings and the removal of one’s eyes, to name two of the worst) are difficult to stomach, but my curiosity pushed me page after page.

I was mentally and emotionally fatigued upon finishing Pilgrim, but I am certain to read Hayes’ newly released follow-up: The Year of the Locust. But not before I return to something a little lighter first.

Lena Dunham, anyone?

Dogeared is Wendy Townley’s monthly column on COOP, where she writes about all things literary. Sometimes that means the new paperback stuffed in her Vera Bradley bag, sometimes it’s her latest library treasure, and sometimes it’s her own thoughts about this magical thing called writing.

I was doing that thing where you stand in the shower and think about life.

The water washed over my head as I stared at the subway tiles that line my shower walls. I thought about how no matter how hard I scrubbed, they never looked as white as I thought they should.

I thought about how at my recent (and long overdue) hair cut, the stylist informed me that I had been washing my hair wrong for most of my life. A small, seemingly insignificant, correction that made me feel like a child. What a strange feeling that was, to feel like a child when I thought I was an adult.

Like most of my existential shower sessions, I eventually wondered if I was living my days to their potential. I wondered if it’s even possible to recognize that the minutes and hours that add up your days are filled. To know that you’re living a life and not just existing.

I thought about the smallness of who I am and if I wanted to be bigger.


New Year’s Eve 2014 at Omaha Code School

From the first moment I could, I have packed up every empty suitcase and moved. To grad school. To California. To a high-profile job. To everywhere, as long as it was away. Every box I shipped felt big. Every busy street, far from my childhood home, felt important. The moves all felt heavy with the promise of what those lives could be. The lives I would live. The lives I left behind.

How small I felt when I moved to Omaha. Back to Nebraska. Back to where I was born. Back to the lives I left behind. Back.

Somewhere past my first snowfall in four years, past the public transportation, past quitting Facebook in a jealous fit, past the unemployment battle, past the tears I would cry with every mile I ran, I actually started to live. The plotline I had written since childhood suddenly seemed so forced: to live somewhere far away to prove I was worth something. Maybe it was turning 30, maybe it was growing up, maybe it was the place I was supposed to be.

soulnightBenson Soul Society

Whatever the reason, once I got over my expectations, I realized small does not describe my life. I learned to let go of where I wanted my life to lead, and my life felt bigger beyond anything I imagined. Finding your people is the hardest journey. Through finding them, I found my voice and more importantly, myself.

Omaha is the hardest place I’ve ever moved. And if the day ever comes, It will be the hardest place to leave.

I’ll be writing about my future journeys and thoughts on past adventures here on COOP. Expect a lot of appreciation for solid girlfriends, traveling and music. Sometimes I write such items and share my photography over on Exposure. I look forward to sharing my fragmented sentence structure with you.

We start the year with the best of intentions and big plans to make this our best year yet. But as the months go on, our resolve starts to fade. So how do we stay on track?

The first step is to set meaningful goals that help us move toward living our best life possible. Know that success has an individual meaning for each of us. That’s why it’s important to take time to create your definition.

Start by imagining your dream life 10 years from now.

Imagine every detail.

    Where are you?
    Who are you with?
    What does a typical day in your life entail?
    Most importantly, how do you feel?

Maybe just imagine with your eyes closed or take some time to write it down. Remember that 10 years is a long time, so anything is possible. Don’t be afraid to think big and don’t worry about the “how.”

That’s your vision.

Use your vision as the foundation for setting 10-year, five-year and one-year goals. Start with the big picture (10-year goals) and work backwards.

Break big goals down into smaller steps. Be specific — try to use fewer than 15 words. Use affirmative language and present tense: I am, I have, I create. Make your goals measurable and include deadlines.

You could even divide your goals into personal, professional, health or any other categories that help you to clarify where you want to be when.

Got your specific goals in mind? I’ll start:

    10-year goal: I own a facility on a beach for year-round international yoga and coaching retreats.

    Five-year goal: I support my family by getting paid to travel and lead retreats around the world.

    One-year goal: I lead at least one retreat outside of the U.S. by January 2016.

But articulating your goals is only the first step. Follow these simple tips to help stay on track while you’re working toward your success:

    Shift your energy and attention to what you do want. Spend less time worrying about what you don’t want to happen.
    Practice gratitude. Appreciate what you have in this moment and stop focusing so much on what you don’t have.
    Operate from a standpoint of abundance. Instead of assuming the amount of love, success, money, etc., is limited, assume that there’s more than enough for you too.
    Revisit your goals and vision periodically. Check in to make sure you’re moving in the right direction and taking actions in line with achieving your success.
    Share and ask for support. Increase accountability by sharing your dreams with those who love and support you. It never hurts to have a few good cheerleaders. Besides, we’re more likely to do something once we say it out loud.
    Take immediate action. Focus on your one-year goals and do something each week that gets you closer to achieving them.

Happy goal setting! Remember, this is just one method for working toward your own vision of success.

Sending you love and light. Namaste.

Over the last few years, a lot has changed in my life and in my business. And I’ve discovered the only thing that feels right to me is living an intentional and honest life, and sometimes that means it’s messy. I don’t want to be perfect or design perfect spaces. Honestly, those are boring.

Inevitably COOP is starting to reflect those changes.

I don’t want to only share the glossy style posts we see on most lifestyle blogs. I love pretty as much as the next person, but I like the behind-the-scenes adventures more. I don’t want anyone buying filler items for their house, and I don’t want to throw filler junk up on this site. I want to get to the guts of everything. Get underneath the shiny surface and dive into what’s real.

And thanks to Steve Gordon of RDQLUS Creative, who designed the badass rooster logo (dude, I want a T-shirt!), and Eric Downs who revamped our website, I feel like we can communicate this philosophy better.

We’re also adding a couple new regular contributors to the mix.

My best friend Amanda Rucker is a smart, accomplished, and hilarious woman. She’s also my partner-in-crime and adventure. 2015 felt like a time to make this little space on the internet feel more personal. So I persuaded her to help me recap the sometimes ridiculous but mostly wonderful experiences we work hard to make time for in our lives.

If mindfulness is a buzzword right now, there’s good reason for it. A consistent yoga and meditation practice has positively impacted my life more than anything ever has. It’s not weird, everybody. It’s awesome.

Stefanie Monge is a yoga teacher and a bartender. (See, people don’t fit into boxes.) Her approach to zen is really accessible and I never feel intimidated being myself or trying something new in her classes. I’m really looking forward to reading more from her.

Here’s to a new look and some new perspectives!

Photos via Hooton Images.