Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This is NOT a review of Home

Last week I took my daughter to see the movie HOME. We had seen the previews months ago and right away I recognized it as the film adaptation of the book THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEKDAY by Adam Rex that she and I had listened to about six months ago. I love when I can point out to her the movies that came from books she and I read together. She gets excited, and I dread the day when she might not care as much.

The previews looked hilarious, which was not surprising because there was a lot of humor in the book. The month the movie came out she requested that we listen to it again and we enjoyed it just as much the second time around.

There were lots of things I loved about the book. Even though it's about aliens and planets, the fantasy is light and there are so many current cultural references that even those of us who are not into fantastical stories can follow along. There was action and tender moments, and a lot of social issues were addressed in a subtle, yet memorable way. My absolute favorite thing about the book was that the protagonist was a mixed girl with curly hair. Although I don't recall the author stating that her hair was curly, I always imagined her hair like mine the moment I found out she was mixed. Curly haired, brown heroes are rare, so I was stoked that she was coming to the Big Screen.

The movie was funny, entertaining, and had the tenderness of the book. There were many references that only readers of the book would understand and my daughter and I kept pointing them out and smiling like we were in on a private joke. But, the plot was  vastly different than the book.

I won't spoil the book or the movie by getting into the plot. But it made me wonder how the author feels about the changes. When I write a story, I put so much into it. I spend days, weeks, even years making it the best it can possibly be. There's research and emotion in every character, scene and story arc. In the process I grow to love it in a way that is intimate, like a family member I birthed. I have cried while writing scenes and I have smiled at the feelings my writing elicits in me. For the most part, I want to share my story with others in any way I can. This got me wondering how I would feel if I put so much into a book and then a film production team took bits and pieces and made it into their own story.

On the surface, one can think, Who cares as long as you're paid well for your idea? But, is money enough? Can it pacify the feeling that something I cared about so deeply for so long was sliced and diced into something entirely different? I'm not saying that's what happened to Adam Rex, or any other author whose novel was turned into a movie. Maybe he had a hand in all the deviations and it was an opportunity to showcase a story he had in his heart that happened to star the same characters as the published novel. Maybe it was a way to try different ideas that his editor had vetoed in the book version. I have no idea. I hope that is the case. But if it isn't, I left the theater wondering what price can we put on the art of our hearts, even if it means that it will appeal to greater masses than its original form? If I ever got to see my characters come to life, how much of my vision would I have to compromise to get there? If my story is no longer recognizable, can I still love it just as much?

I have no idea and am very far from having to face these questions. Luckily for me, many have faced this before me and if I'm lucky enough to go down the same path, I will definitely be calling for advice from those authors who paved the way before me. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Being Inspired

As a writer, many things inspire my writing. I see and hear things through my character, or through the lens of the world I am creating in my story and incorporate them to enrich my writing. That in itself excites me. However, what really gets my heart racing and my mind spinning is when I'm inspired to be a better person overall.

In that respect, I am the luckiest woman on the planet because I get to lead an organization full of women who inspire me on a regular basis. As the executive director of Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines, I got to take an idea and turn it into a life-altering program that has the potential to become so much more.
Class of 2015
Latina Leadership Initiative of Greater Des Moines (LLI) began as the idea of a group of people, many of them Latinas, who saw a gross lack of leadership development training opportunities for Latinas, particularly young Latinas who were just starting their careers. There are dozens of leadership programs across Iowa, but young Latinas are rarely recruited, nominated or selected to be a part of them. This group decided to do something to change that. 

They tossed around a lot of ideas, such as a leadership conference, and a mentoring program, but felt that the need was greater than what those efforts alone could address. They thought bigger and came up with a ten-week leadership development course that blends Latino culture, gender and leadership with a local spin that recognizing the gaps in resources and needs of our community. 

What amazes me most is that the founders weren't experts in creating a varied and unique curriculum that addressed these areas, but they researched and developed one. They had never arranged leadership development classes, but they did so for this cause because they believed it in so much. They were all very busy with their careers, families, and volunteer commitments, but they made time for this. They were not wealthy but they dug into their own finances when needed to move LLI from idea to reality. 
LLI Founders - Phenomenal, visionary, giving women
The idea began as a discussion in 2011. They created the curriculum, sketched out how the leadership development training sessions would play out, secured a location to host ten sessions, and hired me in 2012. I began a heavy publicity and recruitment push and by the summer of 2013 we were selecting the inaugural class. The first class graduated in 2014, just before the new class was selected. The second cohort is graduating this month, even as applications are open for the Class of 2016.

It has been a whirlwind getting this program off the ground, but it has been an awe-inspiring ride, and the best part has been the women I have the honor of working with - both in organizing the program, and participants.

The first group of applications were amazing. They had Masters degrees from Stanford, multiple awards, and hours of volunteer service to their communities. I remember thinking, "Where have these incredible Latinas been hiding? Why haven't other leadership development programs discovered them?"

But more than their impressive histories, resumes and recommendations, these young Latinas were hungry to improve their lives and that of their families. They weren't satisfied with the successes they had, they wanted to do more, and be more. They had goals that were lofty, but they knew that with the right network of support and nurturing they could surpass those goals. That's where LLI came in.
Class of 2014
LLI not only provided them with a circle of support, a mentor and training, but coming together and getting to know other Latinas like themselves was probably the biggest gift LLI gave them. I get why that has become like gold to the participants. 

As a young Latina who started her career in Des Moines, I remember feeling the isolation of being the only one: only woman at the meeting, only young professional in my office, only person of color at my company, only bilingual employee, etc. I could go days without seeing anyone who looked or spoke like me, who ate the foods I most enjoyed, who lived with the pull of two cultures. On top of that, I was always the unofficial spokesperson for all Latinos. That's a lot of pressure on a 22 year old, and above all it's unfair and degrading. I had no one who could relate to what I faced everyday. I wish I had a group like LLI to turn to.

Even though these women give up six hours of their Saturday to come to LLI sessions, it is more than a learning experience. It is a sigh of relief. When they come together among their peers they can speak in any of the languages of their heart without the fear of being reprimanded to speak English. They don't have to answer questions about their customs and traditions. Instead they can share their love for things that non-Latinos have a hard time understanding. They can make fun of the parts of their shared experience that are ridiculous without the fear of offending someone who has never been the only one. It is a freeing and empowering experience just being in that environment. 

As a bonus, they learn about the elements of their culture that attribute to their leadership abilities, parts of them they should showcase rather than hide. They meet and learn from Latinas who have come before them to pave the way so that programs like LLI can exist. They practice skills that will take them to the next level of their careers. Their mentors offer advice, guidance and cheer them on.

If it sounds like the participants get a lot out of the program, it pales in comparison to what I get out of being a part of it. 

For starters, I see my own drive and spirit in each of them. They remind me that I have it in me to do more and be more and it pushes me to live up to that. They develop a love and admiration for each other that reminds me to appreciate the strong women in my life. Their enthusiasm for working with their communities reignites my resolve to do the same. Their energy moves me to give everything my all - both within and beyond LLI. Their appreciation of the program helps keep me committed to how important this program is, even as I go nuts trying to find ways to keep it funded. When they come together to do things like organize an alumni association, and create scholarships for Latinas who will come after them, it touches my heart that they want to leave a legacy that expands well beyond their years. 

Latina Leadership Initiative is by far the most rewarding job I have ever done. I can't imagine another that can compare. It is one of the many beautiful things that I am grateful for in my life and that makes me excited for the future. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Living Like Potter

Most books I read are contemporary fiction or memoirs. Occasionally I like to step away from those genres and try something different. Before pursuing a graduate degree in writing for children and young adults I never had an interest in reading Harry Potter. But after my first semester when I heard so many references to it, I decided I should read the books. I wanted to better understand how one author - one series - turned thousands on to reading, and influenced so many of my grad school peers to write for children. This post is not a review of those books in any way. I definitely recommend them, but that's beside the point. What sticks out in my mind are the subtle ways the books address life lessons that I think about often.

When I recall Harry Potter, two things immediately come to mind: friends and death.

Both of which have been huge in my life, especially in the last few years, so perhaps that is why they stuck out to me so vividly as I read the books. I'm sure if you ask my daughter, who read the books with me, she might have other themes she remembers from the books, but for me, these two were most outstanding.

At the core of the books is a friendship between Harry, Hermione and Ron. They come from very different backgrounds, they have different goals in life. They are of different genders and abilities. Yet, they share a desire to abolish evil and do so by sticking together and helping one another. Those are the kinds of friends everyone wants. I am lucky beyond measure to have such friends in my life. Granted, we've never had to face a Basilisk, but we've faced scary times: divorce, sick children, lay-offs, out-of-state moves, infertility, near-death experiences, overbearing parents and in-laws, cancer scares, death, and the ups and downs of every day life as adults. 

Like Harry and his gang, we haven't always liked each other, at times we've gone months without speaking, and there were times when we weren't as close as we'd like to be. But those things did not end the love we have for each other as friends. We did not hold grudges or deny one another support when needed. Friendship comes with ebbs and flows and when you have true friends in your life you love them despite time, distance, and adult tantrums. They become the family you choose, those you admire, support, emulate and cheer on, just like the kids in the Harry Potter series.

The older I get, the more I see how valuable and rare friendships are. They are a lifeline for me. I don't know who I would be without my friends. They keep me grounded, motivate me, and are who I turn to in the absence of my ultimate BFF. At Harry Potter's age I had no idea about the importance of genuine friends. I was fickle, as are most eleven year olds, and imagined that I would always have friends, even if the quality of those relationships was questionable. The more I meet adults who tell me of their loneliness and lack of close friends, the more I hold mine in deeper esteem. It is amazing that a child in a book knew the value of friendship in a way that took me decades to learn. But then again, Harry Potter was written by an adult so perhaps J.K. Rowling had already learned that lesson in her own life and was hoping to pass it on to younger generations.

Lots of children's books feature dead parents so in that respect, Harry Potter isn't unique. What struck me was how much death there is throughout the series. What was missing was a true depiction of grief, but perhaps that's a post for another time. Several characters die, many times multiple characters in one book. Rowling did not merely add peripheral characters to later kill them off. She killed characters that were near and dear to Harry and his friends. She killed characters that her readers had grown to love. That was brave and honest of her because that is how life really is. Even for children, death does not discriminate. They lose distant relatives they've never met, along with beloved pets, siblings, best friends and parents. 

Because of this fact, I chose to have a children's message at Warren's funeral. Many people thanked me for it. They said they had a hard time figuring out how to explain death to their kids and the children's message helped. Many of them had never taken their children to a funeral before, but I made it clear that children were welcome at this one. How could they not be? They were a huge part of Warren's life - from foster children he had cared for, to the nieces and nephews he adored - and their loss needed to be addressed. I was glad that his death could open the kids' eyes to loss in whatever way they internalized it. Some asked Ariana what it was like to lose her dad. Others showed enormous expressions of compassion and love towards our loss, even if they didn't fully understand the magnitude of what we were going through. They understood, at their core, that we were hurting and wanted to offer comfort in the form of hugs, pictures they drew,  and some even cried with us.  

In the books, almost every death comes at the hands of something evil and is incredibly unfair to Harry and the other characters. I could relate to how they felt. Characters were ripped away by Dementors, selfish acts of those in power, and an antagonist who feared death more than anything in the world. Lord Valdemort took those closest to Harry. The Lord took the person closest to me. Now before you send me hate mail for comparing a villain to Christ, hold on a second. The only thing they share is the name "Lord". I do not consider the Lord evil by any means. In fact, this is leading in the opposite direction of that so bear with me and keep an open mind.

To be clear, I'm not going to lie and say that I am not still angry that God took Warren. I may never get over that anger. But, like Harry, I would much rather focus on the good that's left in my life. What Harry got with his parents and what I got with Warren was true, infinite love. That is a gift from God. I realize that. It is what reassures me that no matter how hurt I am by what happened, I know that I have not been abandoned by God. Harry never mentions God, but he thrives on love. The love he feels for his family and friends motivates him to fight evil. It makes him brave at times when most would cower in fear and run away, instead of doing what they know to be right in the face of something horrifying.

That is very much what widowhood is like. Facing every day without your other half is scary on many levels. The doubts that you can't live up to what your loved one would want for you, the despair that you will never be loved again, the worry that you can't make it on your own - these are the internal demons I deal with on a sometimes hourly basis. I have to be brave and fight those thoughts with facts and faith several times a day. It's not much different than some of the trials the kids in the book had to face in order to keep evil away from their lives. Sometimes they succeeded, sometimes someone died. 

Despite the use of magic wands, helpful elves, and powerful spells the kids lost several loved ones. They could not create a perfect world. Doing what was right, overcoming fears, and their love for each other could not spare them from death or pain. That's a heck of a lesson for anyone to learn, and I especially love that Rowling trusted children enough to make it part of the lesson from the very first book. She wrote what needed to be written and death is something that all kids will have to face at some point. It will never be fair, and they will always feel powerless against it, even as adults. But, what Harry Potter taught me is that even in the face of that injustice, there can be love and it's best to surround yourself with love to overcome the pain of loss.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Learning as I Go

Like any other profession, there are types of writers. Zadie Smith, an English author of White Teeth, The Autograph Man and On Beauty among other novels, summarizes the types I most relate to in an article on
"I want to offer you a pair of ugly terms for two breeds of novelist: the Macro Planner and the Micro Manager."
Smith defines a Macro Planner as a writer who writes with the help of copious amounts of notes, and makes all kinds of drastic changes as she goes along, sometimes adding to the beginning, or the end to complete the book piece by piece. A Micro Manager starts at the beginning and writes until the end, the story coming together as it unfolds, in chronological order.

Before going to graduate school I was a Micro Manager. I started my story at the beginning and worked until the end. I made sure that every sentence, every character and scene was exactly as I wanted before moving on. I could take days on the first few chapters. Mostly I did that because I wanted the beginning to be perfect, but also because I didn't always know what was going to happen next so I'd tinker with what I knew before tackling what I hadn't yet figured out. Many times I was writing with no time constraints, except when I wrote Life Books for foster kids, or wrote to enter a writing contest. I had all the time in the world to slug along, perfecting as I went.

That's the approach I took when I started graduate school. My first packet was short stories because I had a 30 day window to get the writing done and I knew I could crank out some short stories from beginning to end. I wasn't so sure about starting a novel in that time. I sat and wrote from opening line to THE END. I made some edits here and there, but pretty much wrote sequentially. 

The feedback I got back from my advisor surprised me. She asked me where my story started. I looked the document I sent her. It was clearly marked with a page 1. Don't stories start on the first page? Of course, I couldn't respond with that. I was stumped. I thought I had this perfect opening line that I couldn't let go of, so I resisted addressing her question. I looked and saw  the "1" indicating page 1 at the bottom right of the first page. I moved the page number to the center of the page and increased the font so my advisor could see it better. I worked on the other parts of her feedback and turned it in again. Her question about the beginning persisted. She gave me more reasons why she felt that my beginning wasn't really the start of the character's story. I didn't get that sometimes the story starts at a different place than page one. In order not to fail out of graduate school within the first two months, I tried something I had never done before. I added to the beginning of my story as I reworked the end. 

It felt completely uncomfortable for me, especially because by this time, I knew where and how I wanted my story to end - or so I thought. That was until my advisor challenged me to turn my short story into a novel. She loved the character, saw potential in the plot, and wanted me try something out of my comfort zone. Being the pleaser that I am, I told her that of course I would try it. I hoped it would distract her from questioning the start of the story. Boy, was I wrong about that. As the story unfolded into a longer one, she was more convinced than ever that I needed to start my story at a different point. 

What ended up happening was that I wrote a novel from the middle out. I wrote scenes and fit them in where they made sense. I trudged along towards the ending, while getting to know my characters and better understanding what drove her, which added to the beginning of the story. I created obstacles and raised the stakes in the middle.

Making these changes helped me understand that the story had to start at a point where all those elements of the story would begin to matter to the reader. There had to be more than a compelling opening line that I thought was the perfect "hook" to make readers curious enough to read on. I had to expect and deliver more substance in the beginning so readers were eager to get to the heart of the story.

Writing in this Macro Planner style turned out to be more fun than I had imagined. It freed me to think about all parts of my story, to fantasize about what could be. I didn't feel tied to getting to the end in a linear way. Instead I created and deleted characters, I put my MC in situations that were borderline ridiculous but taught me about her resolve. I learned how to see the world I was creating through her eyes. It was a total deviation from how I always thought stories should be written, and I was surprised that a Type A personality like myself could write in that piecemeal sort of way. 

There is no wrong or right way to write a story. Some writers like Smith, are staunchly one type of writer. It works for her. It is part of her process to go from point A to B until she gets to Z. I understand and still use that method on occasion. But, it excites me to know that if I think of a kick-ass scene I can spill it to paper and decide where it fits later. I can play with it the way my advisor always believed I could, even though the thought freaked me out at first.

Now I know that the beginning of my story isn't necessarily the first line. I have to start the story somewhere, but that doesn't mean I can't change it as the plot develops, and that's OK. The important thing is that I know this about myself as a writer and can cater to it. It allows me to offer myself creative freedoms when needed, and make the story the best it can be, the best it deserves to be. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Fit Body, Fit Mind

Baby fat - my lifelong
Before becoming a widow,  I considered myself active and healthy. I did Zumba a few nights a week, I took my dog and my daughter to a local park as often as weather allowed. We regularly went swimming and played racquetball as a family. Warren and I enjoyed going salsa dancing whenever we could find a sitter. I was careful to cook balanced meals, and made sure we always had fresh fruits and veggies in the house.

After Warren died, I lost all interest in taking care of my body. I didn't see the point. Warren had a clean bill of health and that didn't prolong his life. He never smoked, only drank socially, kept active, and had a rich spiritual life. All indicators would point to a long and healthy life, but that's not what he got. When the adrenaline of final arrangements had worn off and everyone had gone home to move on with their lives, my energy level was at an all-time low. What was even more warped, was my mind. I truly didn't care what happened to me, and keeping my body healthy was not a priority at all. The care I had taken before seemed like a waste of time when I could just as easily drop dead, too.

Fat with a fanny pack
I was a chubby kid. I started worrying about my weight around age 8. I hated being fat. For the most part, when I wasn't reading or playing Barbies, I was active. I rode my bike, roller skates and scooter from sun up to sun down. I played a mean game of freeze tag and cops and robbers with the neighbors. I didn't understand why I was so overweight because I wasn't one of those kids who hated gym class. I was on a tumbling squad. I played basketball in elementary and high school. I danced. But the bulge was always my steady sidekick. It wore on me to the point that I made a comment about preferring death over being a fat teen. I was 11. That put my mom on high alert. She took me to a nutritionist and changed the way she cooked and served food. The whole family got a food make-over. In sixth grade I spent hours working out to Richard Simmons's Sweatin' to the Oldies before school. By the end of seventh grade I had dropped some pounds. I was making wiser food and portion choices. It felt good to be smaller.

Chunky, but not horrendous
The sad thing is, that looking back at my childhood photos, I wasn't as fat as I thought I was. When I think back on my childhood I envision a HUGE little girl who could be mistaken for a Mack Truck. I look at the pictures and it saddens me to see that while I was certainly larger than average, I was far from the obese monstrosity that is imprinted in my memory. What is even sadder is that my twisted perception of self came in large part from comments and comparisons from those I was closest to. Questions like, "Are you going to eat all that?" and comments like, "You shouldn't wear that, it shows your chichos" (that means fat rolls), and being called "Gordita" as a term of endearment. Sorry, but calling me "little fat girl", no matter who said it or how gently it was said, did not make me feel endeared in any way. It reinforced my ill feelings about myself and my body.

In high school I would wake up at 5:30AM to work out before school. In college I was terrified of gaining the famed "Freshman Fifteen" so I walked everywhere even after I bought a car, and I swapped accounting notes for personal training hours from a sports medicine major in my class. I lived off-campus for most of college and cooked a batch of veggie stir-fry for dinner nearly every night. I stayed away from the plethora of free pizza and late night Gyro runs. I carried baggies of roasted soy beans and drank protein shakes for breakfast. I was the smallest I'd ever been. On the surface it looked like I was keeping fit in a healthy way.

The truth was much more disturbing. I severely restricted my calories. I was conscious of every morsel I ate and often didn't let anything sit in my stomach for more than 15 minutes. My roommate often threatened to call my mom and tell her what I was doing. I was 300+ miles from home. I knew her threats were empty and there would be no consequences for my actions. Of course, I was wrong.

Emaciated, wearing a
bandanna as a shirt
One night before Christmas break I went to a movie with a friend. I hadn't eaten more than 500 calories in four days. I passed out on my way back from the bathroom. I woke up to smelling salts and felt so weak that he had to carry me to the car. It scared the crap out of me. I knew I was killing myself to be thin. As soon as I got back from break (where I didn't tell anyone at home what happened or what I was doing to myself), I found an eating disorder support group on campus. I read everything I could about how to get better. The hardest part wasn't controlling my eating and purging habit, it was changing my thought process. I was less than 125 pounds but whenever I looked in the mirror I saw that fat 8 year old staring back at me and I hated her.

Gradually I kicked the habits. But I had a long way to go and I was getting there alone. One or two friends knew what I was going through, but most did not. Those who knew worried about me, but what could they do? By the time I was out of college and on my own, I was only throwing up about four times a week and while I was still careful about what I ate, I ate more reasonably. I didn't panic when the calorie count got higher than 300 per meal.

Then I started dating Warren. He was so smart and ambitious. He was kind and thoughtful. He told me how much he valued me, admired me, and wanted to make me happy. How could this man love me more than I loved myself? Being loved like that helped tremendously as I struggled to accept myself as I was. It might have saved my life.

It was nerve-wrecking, but I found the courage to tell Warren what I had been doing to myself and how much I was struggling to be healthy. He wasn't repulsed or disappointed. His look of concern is stamped in my memory forever. I remember him holding me close as I trembled telling him more details than I had shared with anyone. There was no judgement in his voice when he asked what he could do to help me get better. Knowing I wasn't facing it alone anymore was the relief of the century. I promised him that I would never allow myself to self-harm that way again.

It has been a battle, but I have kept that promise. I hope to never break it.

When he died, my old friend the toilet bowl whispered to me to let it all out; reminded me how good it felt to be empty - that I needed to release all the sadness and pain like I did so many years earlier. I stood over my friend, toothbrush poised to gag myself into reprieve. But I didn't do it. I couldn't.

But at the same time, I didn't go back to being active and eating healthy. I did the opposite. As I stated earlier, I didn't care about proper nutrition or taking care of my body. I ate what I had conditioned myself to avoid or only eat in moderation. I didn't set foot in a gym, I didn't take the dog for walks or go on bike rides with my daughter.

After about a year and a half of this unhealthy pattern, a fellow widow and an incident at school turned me around.

The incident: In grad school I had to go up four flights of steep stairs to get to my workshop. When I got to the classroom I was so out of breath that I prayed to God that the faculty member who sat next to me wouldn't talk to me because I knew it would be a while before I could breathe normally enough to speak. That prayer wasn't answered and I sounded like an asthmatic chain-smoker after a marathon. I was mortified and felt terrible that I had allowed myself to get so out of shape.

My friend and fellow Grief Warrior had started seeing a personal trainer and her energy and overall demeanor had done a 360. She was much more positive and seemed to have turned a corner that I wanted to emulate. I asked her to share her secret. She told me about her trainer. She talked about it like a woman in love. I wasn't sure about it, so I asked her more questions. A few weeks later she gifted me a session with her trainer. I hesitated two months before using it. After the incident at school, I got back and made an appointment. I am so thankful for her generosity and intuition. I wish I had done it sooner, but then again, perhaps the timing was just right for what I needed at the time.

The first few sessions were brutal. I couldn't remember sweating that hard my entire life. She expected me to lift weights that made me dizzy, and to do so for multiple sets. I didn't understand how my friend could be in love with this torture. But, I wanted that buzz so I bought my own personal training package and kept at it. I knew I needed a firm and knowing hand to get me out of my funk, and my trainer had that, plus an understanding heart. She was patient and persistent. From day one I felt that she cared about my health and I did not want to let her down. If she thought I could crank out one more set, then I was going to do it. My friend joined me for joint sessions and we pounded bags, did an insane number of planks and lifted weights that sculpted muscles in places I forgot I had. It was an excruciating hour that I looked forward to as much as I dreaded. The companionship and activity became the highlight of my day. A month in I was hooked on the high of making my body stronger.

It wasn't just my body that was changing. My mind was getting healthier, too. I became addicted to the endorphins that surged through me after a workout session. I wanted to do better by my body. I wanted my moods to be tolerable. I wanted to care again.

Personal training isn't cheap. It's an investment. Not only monetary, but that session can sometimes feel like the longest hour of your life. If I was putting that much time and money into working out, I wanted to match the efforts with my food intake. I decided to cut simple carbs. If there are any Puerto Ricans reading this, you know that we survive on rice, platanos and bread. This transition was hard my mother. I was saying no to comfort food she thought I needed. In the morning I replaced pan con cafecito with kale and pineapple smoothies. I made arugula salads and chicken breasts instead of arroz con pollo, and I refused to eat anything but fruit after 8PM.

After a few months, the weights weren't as challenging and the sessions didn't feel as long. I was becoming physically stronger but better yet, I wasn't living in the fog I had been under. I was seeing life through a different lens. I was starting to realize how much there was to live for. In a way, it felt like I was honoring Warren by acknowledging that I was alive. He wouldn't have wanted me to feel dead inside and I was tired of feeling like I died along with him.

I am renewed when I workout. I love being stronger and not getting winded. I look forward to running 5Ks. When thinking of things to do with my friends and daughter, I try to come up with things that will get us moving. I've tried (and love) new forms of being active, like aerial fitness where I hang from fabric that dangles from the ceiling.

When I do these things I feel proud that I have chosen a healthier path. Sure, it's still possible that I can follow in Warren's footsteps and meet an early death. But at least for the time I have on earth I know that I am doing exactly as he would want me to - taking care of myself the way he wanted to take care of me. It's not always easy and some days I really want a Krispie Kreme doughnut for breakfast, but I know that it won't be as fulfilling as doing something good for my body.

The change inside has been as powerful as the change in my physique. On days that I workout I am calmer, sleep better, cry less. My moods are completely turned around for the better after a good sweat session. Having energy again reminds me that I have a lot to live for. If Warren were here, he would certainly tell me to take care of myself so I can fulfill all the dreams he is no longer able to pursue. That is a grand reason to keep sweating it out.

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