Beef Jerky in a Ball Gown: Telling Better Stories

On this day last year, I was still deciding what I wanted my “word” to be. How could I wrap up everything I wanted to be and do into one simple word? It seemed like an impossible task. I eventually picked ADVENTURE to guide me through the year. It was an element lacking in my life, one that I wanted more of. So I deemed 2015 “The Year of Adventure.” More saying yes to what scared me. More taking chances. More exploring.

And less of everything else.

While the year brought with it heartache, frustration and a few harsh lessons, it also indulged me with more “being in the moment”-ness. From a last-minute “why the hell not” trip to Bogotá to hiking through a spooky jungle in Costa Rica to hanging out with a bunch of Misfits in Fargo to dressing like a DC Comics supervillain at my first (and only) ComicCon to releasing 75% of my client load, I did stuff this year that scared the pants off of me. My heart was constantly on the verge of leaping out of my chest. I began to look at the world with glittery-eyed anticipation.

And that is a life of adventure.

When I look back on 2015, three important lessons keep popping up. Because I believe that we are here on this earth to learn, learn, learn, perhaps one of my insights might help you on your journey:

Cut yourself some freaking slack

I’ve written about my struggle with BSS in previous posts. Blank Screen Syndrome is paralyzing in its power to make a writer feel entirely worthless while encouraging blatant procrastination. It’s a vicious cycle. Stare at the screen —> Freak out because you don’t know what to write —> Feel like shit —> Watch mashup videos instead.

When it hits, I spiral into a black hole of self-loathing and begin questioning everything in my path.

“I can’t think of anything interesting to write about” turns into “You are a lousy writer.”

“What if this isn’t good enough?” turns into “It will never be good enough. Never. Never. NEVER. Give up now.”

“No one is going to read this” turns into “Of course they won’t. It’s like something you would pull out of the bottom of the garbage disposal. You suck.”

The thing is, we’re hurtling through space together on this giant rock. Occasionally, it’s a shitty ride. Most of the time, it’s fucking awesome. And we’re all just doing our best. When people begin to question their worth, I’ll be the first to offer up compassion. Yet putting that comforting arm around my own shoulder is a task that once seemed impossible.

In 2015, I learned that I am a good writer. Sometimes I can even say it aloud. Once I bust through the initial paralysis of Blank Screen Syndrome and begin typing that shitty first draft, words begin to flow. I realize I’m not out there with a chisel and hammer carving deep thoughts into hard stone. My work is allowed to morph.

In 2015, I learned to take a step back when things get rough and look at my situation from a distanced perspective. I view my struggle through the lens of a cultural anthropologist. What kind of objective notes would she take? (She would never write “LOSER” and underline it heavily (twice) while rolling her eyes.) She’d merely scribble what she observed and flip the page in anticipation of what the subject will do next.

She’d observe life happening.

Tell people what you want

2015 was a stretch year for Audacious Muse. Most of it was quite uncomfortable because it involved diving into difficult conversations. Looking back, I almost always came out the other side unscathed and full of renewed hope

I let got of almost all of my clients at the end of the third quarter because the work I was doing wasn’t resonating with the writer’s path I wanted to be on. I found myself waking up each morning dejected because I didn’t want to do the work any longer but felt trapped by people’s expectations. I could see the path laid out in front of me and it was beginning to resemble the plodding life I experienced as a cubicle-dweller for over a decade.

So I had the conversation with my clients, the one where you lower the boom and steel yourself for an icy response. I told them about my realignment. I told them about my passions. I told them about my dreams. And you know what? They agreed with me. They were fucking inspired by my courage. They wanted to see me thrive.


The world is full of goodness. Speak up when you want a slice of it.

Don’t be a slave to social media/your phone/a filtered life

Social media is a miracle. It also blows.

And thus began my “losing my shit” love/hate relationship with all things social media in 2015.

I used to be that hunched over girl, head constantly buried in her phone, checking feeds every 30 minutes or so. Facebook first. Then Twitter. Then Instagram. Then LinkedIn. Then Medium. I’d scroll through each one until I’d caught up to where I previously left off.

The thing about social media is that it’s the perfect way to procrastinate doing any actual creating of your own. It’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking that social media counts as work. “I’m making connections and absorbing information,” I’d tell myself to ease the guilt. Down the rabbit hole I’d go, starting with a post about penguins wearing sweaters and ending up on a website selling sequined pants.

Being on social media all the time made me feel… bad. Bad about myself. Bad about my work. Bad about procrastinating instead of creating. I realized that I didn’t want to feel bad any longer. I didn’t want to keep measuring myself against other people’s filtered lives.

So here’s what I did:

1. I removed the Facebook app from my phone. I unfollowed every business page in order to clean up my feed. I unfriended every person that I did not personally know. I left every Facebook group that was a surface-skimming time suck.

2. I disabled all notifications on my phone. I set up an app called Moment that tracks how much time I spend on my phone each day.

3. I did a shit load of journaling about the filters and illusions of social media. I realized that what I took away from each post collectively put me in a negative mindset by the end of each day. Over time, I learned to appreciate beautiful social media photos without wanting to smash my fist into my phone. I read about what goes on behind the scenes of popular social media accounts. Guess what? Those images that look so effortless and cool? They take hours to capture and a team of people with mad filtering skills to create.

•   •   •

This year, my theme is “Beef Jerky in a Ball Gown.” It’s a kooky phrase I stole from Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. What it means is embracing both the tough and tender sides of oneself. I refer to it as a merging of grace + gumption.

Grace has always been a beautiful, yet misunderstood, word. People often think of it as a required benevolence, a leniency. I see it more as a personal tenderness. A permission to let go of what no longer works… and doing it without pretense or expectation. More calm, less judgment.

Gumption reminds me of the tattoo I have on my wrist that reads “Fuoco Nelle Vene” (“Fire in the Veins” in Italian). I choose to live my 2016 with measured tenacity, working hard, playing hard and loving hard along the way. It’s about not letting a year “happen” to me but instead “happening” to a year.

Grace + Gumption is a strange juxtaposition. It’s yin and yang. Chocolate-covered bacon. Darth Vader donating blood. Beef jerky in a ball gown. A merging of opposites that, when combined, create sheer awesomeness.

It’s about telling authentic stories and not trying to polish them to death, but instead keeping a bit of the grit and reality intact. It’s about capturing the breathtaking bits of humanity and showing them to the world in a better way.

It’s about barefaced brilliance.

•   •   •

How do you want your 2016 to unfold?

Perhaps you have a phrase. Or that one perfect kickass word that no one has ever thought of. Hell… maybe you have 17 words. Or no words at all. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Right now, you have 365 days ahead of you… all blank pages… to fill with whatever you want.

Time to make each one count.

7 comments leave a reply
  • January 14, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    I relate to so much of this, Maisie (minus the adventure – must remedy). Can’t wait to hear how your year goes!


    • January 18, 2016 at 1:26 pm

      Thanks, Beth! Purposely adding more adventure to life has been a gamechanger. (And it fuels the fire for stuff to write about!) 🙂


  • January 14, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    Nice one! I used to, accidentally, do yearly themes as well. It always kind of happened, like the year I taught fear to fear me 🙂 (this works better in German, because it’s a word play).

    This year I haven’t thought about it all that much (yet?). But, I assume, I will be busy taking swan dives again. Lots of scary motherfucking swan dives. 😀


    • January 18, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Jump, girl, jump! (And I love the whole “teaching fear a lesson” theme). Fuck yeah.


  • January 14, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    This year I think my phrase will be Exclusive Excellence- meaning instead of trying to do ALL.


  • January 14, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    This year I think my phrase will be Exclusive Excellence- meaning instead of trying to do ALL. OF. THE. THINGS. I will only take on a few things and do them ridiculously well. Great post!


    • January 18, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      Suzi! Thank you so much for the comment. I love your phrase. 🙂 Sounds like your year will be a “if it’s not a Fuck Yeah then it’s a Hell No.”*

      (*stolen from the indomitable Paul Jarvis)


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