Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Let It Go

I have never been a pack rat. I don’t collect things or keep things that have no use. I have never been one with regrets, the past is in the past and I don’t let it weigh me down. And yet, this year, I have learned three very powerful words:

Let it go.

If you can fix it, do. If you can change it, do. If you can’t, let it go.

I like to have themes in my year. In 2012, I said “Enjoy the process.” And in 2013, I planned to use “Never be afraid of hard work.”

But, magically, a new theme emerged right when I needed it most. I didn’t plan for the phrase of 2013 to be Let It Go, but it was.

My older sister has changed her phone number, refuses to speak to us, and is very possibly in an abusive relationship. Yet I cannot help her.

Let it go.

My Nana’s long battle with pulmonary fibrosis finally ended and she died peacefully at home surrounded by family. Except me. I was 5000 miles away.

Let it go.

My seven year journey for a PhD ended with the words I dreamed of hearing, “Congratulations, Dr. Whitener.” That struggle is over.

Let it go.

When the weight of life threatened to suffocate me into inaction, pity, grief, guilt, the words came, “Let it go.”

Thank you, 2013, for delivering such a powerful mantra. Thank you for giving me the courage to move on.

Monday, December 16, 2013

They Just Keep Moving the Line

I’ve been toying with an idea for several months now. It would be a series of essays written as letters to my favorite Pulitzer Prize winning writer. When we met nearly two years ago, he and I had an interesting conversation about empathy.

My idea is to pick up the debate we were having and explain myself. It’s almost one of those, “What I should have said,” series. Kind of like every unrequited love poem ever written.

As I was describing the idea to a writer friend not too long ago he responded very candidly,

“Who would read that?”

He had a point. There are two ways to address this so I’ll do so as if this blog allowed you to Choose Your Own Adventure. To see the topic addressed as, “If no one reads it, is it worth writing?” Click Here. To read the topic addressed as, “Shouldn’t we all want to explore the topic of empathy?” Click Here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Angels on High

My cousin Ethan is tall enough that on Friday as we decorated our Papa’s Christmas tree, he was able to reach the top to affix the angel.

Papa’s angel is a happy sprite, a white dress, brown yarn hair, rounded plastic cheeks and a tight but friendly smile. I’m sure Nana bought her at Big Lots or Dollar General or something. 

I can’t remember having seen her before, having noticed her before, but I know there’s always been an angel on top of that tree.

My parents’ tree had an angel mom bought at Dart Drug in Salisbury, Maryland during their first or second Christmas season.  I remember thinking that angel was beautiful. We were not allowed to touch her; Dad would put her on top of the tree after we’d finished decorating.

The angel on mine and Charlie’s tree is a CVS purchase; she wears stiff gold wraps that make her look as if some heavenly wind is holding her aloft. She still has some sparkles left and she attaches to the tree with the wire twist tie that once held her upright in her box.

After helping Mama with her tree, Hollie visited Little Papa and reported that his tree has a star on top. A star! She was amazed. She didn’t know trees could be topped with stars.

It’s one of the many changes over the last year: Little Papa has his own tree at his own house, Aunt Lesli refuses to speak to her sisters, and Big Papa’s Christmas decorations were unpacked and assembled by his grandchildren, without Nana.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Have Faith

So much happened in October that I hope to spend November bringing you all up to speed. Here’s one story from last month:

I had the privilege of hearing my friend Anna Courie speak. She has published a book, Christ Walk, which is a spiritual approach to physical fitness. You can read more about it here.

Anna and I met in college. We had some common friends and have often been at the same weddings and football tailgates. Anna was one of the visitors we had in our June family experience the result of which was realizing how much we are loved.
Nana's Hibiscus - photo by KDW

Anna’s speaking engagement was part of my local writer’s group’s Christian Writers’ Showcase, an event I originally declined to assist with because Christian writing is not my genre. I did end up speaking on self-editing, giving a basic English professor’s take on preparing your work for publication. Also, I recruited Anna.

In all the years Anna and I have known one another, I have never heard the story of how she became a Christian, nor heard her experience of being rendered deaf by an illness when she was very young. She shared both during her talk on Saturday and I found myself moved by her story.

I also felt a slight envy toward Anna’s conviction in her faith. She felt wrapped in it, strengthened by it, meant to be part of it and meant to have it as part of her. I thought about the intellectuality with which I approach my faith and felt a small regret that I didn’t have a passionate, acute-transformation story like hers.

Then I wrote this down on the paper I had in my lap:
God is the source of life.
God is the source of love.
God is the ground of being.
And I remembered my faith story. I remembered the moment in which I first came to my faith.

Friday, October 11, 2013

3 Things Business Can Teach the Government

I know we’re all sick of the government shut down. Mostly I’m sick of how painful they’ve tried to make it for us, regular people. Who does that to their customers?

Which makes me wonder about a few of the operating policies of the government. Businesses don't take revenue for granted, don't treat their customers poorly, and don't let their employees refuse service; at least, not if they want to stay in business.

Friday, October 4, 2013

What I’ve Learned in Kindergarten

Charlie and I stayed up too late last night watching DVR’d shows and enjoying each other’s company and a second bottle of wine. 

This morning I didn’t even try to get up at my usual 5 a.m. I set my alarm for 6. Then I turned it off and climbed back in bed. But when I glanced at the clock at 6:50 I heard this phrase in my head:

“It’s not for you. It’s for Hollie. Get her off to a good start this morning.”

A month ago, on the first day of kindergarten, I walked past the lady with box of Kleenex and held Hollie’s hand all the way to her classroom. When it was time to leave I knelt beside her said, “Kindergarten isn’t for grown-ups,” and kissed her goodbye.

Friday, August 23, 2013

What's Up, Doc?

I watched my Facebook feed like election results last Thursday night. The Likes and Comments kept rolling in. My status read:

Life on Clemson Road is about life in transition and this is one of the biggest for me. It’s the achievement of a life-long goal. It’s the completion of a seven year process. It’s the terminal degree for anyone who studies business. There isn’t anything higher. 

During my defense call which happened last Thursday night, one of my committee members said, “What will you do now?”

That’s easy: build my business. Be the very best at everything I do. Continue to work hard. 
Show my daughter what it looks like to Lean In.

My father-in-law might call it “Fudd” but it’s the furthest thing from a pudgy 1940’s cartoon character. I made a promise to Charlie and I fulfilled it. I promised myself and I met it. I am truly accomplished.

And a little surprised by the sound of it said aloud. Like when I got married and changed my name.

Kasie Whitener, PhD.

Forever now I’ll have that Fudd. That demarcation that says, “She’s not afraid of hard work.”

In Six Tires, No Plan, his biography and the story of Discount Tire Company, Bruce Halle, author of The Dream as we are living it, says,

“Once you get your education and get your degree, that’s yours. No one can take that from you. Some things in life in the future might go bad and you could lose a lot, or most, or all of your worldy possessions, but no one is ever going to take that college degree from you, that education. It’s there. It’s yours forever,” (p.52).

Charlie read me that passage on Friday night, after we’d spent the day sort of thinking about what does the PhD completion really mean for us? For our family?

Really, it means we’re not afraid of hard work. We’re not afraid of working together to achieve anything we set out to achieve. It’s a significant milestone not just for me, but for Charlie who has been supporting this effort for the better part of our 12 year marriage.

It’s more than a piece of paper or letters behind my name. It’s the outward and visible sign of a certain character, knowledge, and ability. And even though it’s only on my business card, like our wedding bands, it’s a commitment to one another, a tie that binds us.

When I wrote about milestones I meant this was one. I graduated high school 18 years ago and have spent 13 of those 18 years in higher education. Four in undergrad at Clemson University. Two and a half at Winthrop University for a master’s degree. Seven at Capella University for this PhD. 

And now I get to work for roughly 30 more years at this, the terminal degree rate. I haven’t won the lottery. In fact, I’ll be picking up student loan payments in about 6 months. I don’t get to stop working. 

I have to work even harder. I have higher expectations than ever.

These days, though, I’m not going to feel crushed under the weight of them. I’m going to remind myself what fulfillment feels like. I’m going to ask myself what Daniel Pink calls interrogative preparation, “Is this the right thing for me to be doing?” I’m going to decide to live up to my own expectations and surpass others’ expectations of me.

Okay. Enough about all that. Time to get back to work.

Thanks to those of you who supported me all this time. You know who you are but you could leave a comment, if you’d like the internet to know it, too!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Measuring Progress

The process of becoming a PhD is measured in milestones. These are certain achievements that document the progress I’ve made since choosing my committee members (Fall 2008) through total dissertation completion (Summer 2013). 

I have been in milestone 10 – committee approval – for about six months. I confessed my response to a particular committee member’s remarks by describing myself as a petulant child.

Last weekend, another member suggested changes that would require significant sentence-level editing. On Tuesday I just glued myself to the laptop and did it. Five hours of editing later, I’m ready to try for milestone 11.

Milestones help us in two significant ways.

First, they articulate where we’ve been by naming that place, tagging the memory. We use milestones like anniversaries and birthdays in this way. Events help us put regular days in context. For a while we referred to things as happening “before 9/11” or “after 9/11.”

During football season we use the game weekends to define the calendar. “That’s Florida State weekend,” or “That’s after homecoming.”

Milestones give us names to help distinguish one day or date from another. For example, Charlie and I have been married 12 years. When I think of year six, I’m not sure, exactly, when that was.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Don't Say You Didn't Try

I swam in high school. When I decided to go to Clemson University I asked my swim coach if he thought I was good enough to swim there. He said no.

In 1995 I was swimming eight times a week but for all that work, I'd only dropped three seconds off my 100 butterfly. I'd seen myself get stronger and faster but I'd need to drop four more seconds to make the team at Clemson, my coach said. Four seconds seemed impossible.

So I finished the high school season and the summer season and when I went to Clemson in August I joined the crew team.

Say it was a chance to do something new.

A couple of people to whom I've told that story said they would have responded differently. 

My friend Rob, a 1997 Naval Academy graduate, said, "See, that's when I would have worked my ass off to prove him wrong."

Just the other day a woman I'd only just met, a nurse and mom of three, a part-time tri-athlete who said things like, "I just want to do something," when describing her workouts, agreed with Rob. She said she'd work extra hard to prove my old swim coach wrong. Then she said her daughter was the same way and it was very frustrating for her.

And I thought, "How does Hollie react when she's told she can't do something?"

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Gaining Perspective

This morning I worried about paying myself, paying my bills, earning more clients, finishing my dissertation, getting some classes to teach, establishing credibility, and whether I should bother trying to publish my fiction at all.

This morning someone I know is sitting in the waiting room while her sister has surgery for cancer. Right now. She’s there, waiting, right now.

When I reminded myself of what she’s going through, I felt a new but familiar kind of space.


When I reminded myself that nothing is permanent and every moment is a gift,

When I reminded myself that there are people on this planet living separate but equally important lives,

When I reminded myself to get over myself, I felt space.

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Life Well Built

At the beginning of the month I wanted a transformation. I wanted things to be different and by different I meant better. I wanted to be better.

I spend a lot of time wanting that.

I’m a continuous improvement junky and I’m always looking for jump starts, challenges, commitments I can make that will make me better. So at the beginning of June, in search of a transformation, I began the 30X30 challenge hosted by my friend Khara. I signed up for the 30 day Blogathon hosted by Michelle Rafter. I also put myself back in the pool.

Thirty days to transform. Go!

It’s Day 24 and Khara wants us to write about a mistake we’ve made. I made a mistake by planning a transformation.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In Which She Used a Snake, a Blogger, an iPhone, and Finally Rain

Yesterday after reading this great piece by Ollin Morales on the Courage to Create blog I did what a dutiful blog reader does: I shared it. (hint hint)
I shared it because it talks about technology and how our addiction to it has dehumanized us in many ways. He said technology may make things easier and more accessible, it may fill our lives with information and data but it does not provide knowledge.
Daisy @ Reedy River photo by KDW
I agreed with Ollin so much that I shared his post (another hint) and really tried to take his message to heart. Deep, spiritual, fulfilling knowledge like the origin of the soul and the irreplaceability of true friendship cannot be found through technology.

I agreed.

Then I pulled up the Map My Run app on my iPhone, stuck my earbuds in, chose a podcast from the HBR library and set out for a run.

Under Armored and plugged in, I let my high tech running shoes strike pavement and I ran.

The first podcast was about motivation and the guests had written an article about two distinct types of motivation. They called the types promotional and preventional.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

She's five, reluctantly, on her birthday

We are in Brando, racing down the interstate, and my daughter says, “Mom, spell grass.”

“G-R-A-S-S,” I say.
Photo by KDW 2013

“Spell flower.”

“F-L-O-W-E-R,” I say.

“Spell cloud.”


“Spell iPod.”

It’s Hollie Bear’s birthday. That’s right, a full year since I wrote this.

I can’t believe it.

There’s a song Hollie and I think of as our song in which the lyrics say, “If you only knew how long I had waited for someone to come along and change my life the way you’ve done.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Wrong Love Song

Are you the one Bruno Mars regrets?

When he sings, “I hope he buys you flowers, and holds your hand, gives you all his hours, when he has the chance,” is he wishing he hadn’t taken you for granted?

Bruno croons that he was wrong and that he knows it’s probably too late to apologize for his mistakes.

He says the loss of you haunts him every time he closes his eyes.

And the problem with that is:

We all want to be you.

We all think we are that girl. In so many break ups we just know that boy doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s going to regret leaving me.

Someday, like Mariah said, the one you gave away will be the only one you’re wishing for.

And then Bruno agrees: he does wish for her, for me, for you.

It doesn’t matter if you’re twelve and suffering your first rejection as I was when Mariah told me that there would be a time when that boy would be cold and lonely but I wouldn’t need his love anymore.

Or if you’re 19 and Alanis Morissette tells you he’ll feel it when you scratch your nails down someone else’s back.

Or Natalie Merchant suggests sometimes when he makes love to her he might say your name.

We all want to be the one that got away.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Building a Life

I am looking for a transformation.

Girls on the Run -- Kalamazoo

Anyone who’s been to Clemson Road before knows I am a change junky. I crave it. I used to travel frequently which satisfied it but now I can feel myself, daily, taking stock of my surroundings, evaluating my circumstances, and seeking transformation.

I could start a new fitness challenge.

I could paint Hollie’s bedroom.

I could go get a real job.

I’ve agreed to participate in the 2013 WordCount Blogathon. It means blogging every day for 30 days. Get ready, subscribers, a blitz is coming! I agreed to it because I think even this blog needs a transformation.

For over a year now I’ve been writing about Life on Clemson Road, an incredible journey from our old cushy life in the Upstate to our new home, new jobs, new friends, in Columbia. I’ve written about visiting my Nana every week and I wrote about her passing. I’ve written about what I’ve found on the internet and how it made me feel. I’ve written about what I know how to do and whether anyone will or should hire me to do it.

I’ve alluded to but haven’t exactly written about my older sister and I’ve mentioned but haven’t dwelled on some challenges I’ve had with fitness and body image.

I have tried to be honest about myself while motivational about what I’m doing here.

“There are three ways to build a life,” 
I told Charlie yesterday. “What you are, what you do, and what you have.”

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Blogging on the Fly?

I've gotten an ap for my iPhone that is letting me blog while I sit in the waiting room at a salon. I'm geeking out about it.

Now I can monologue to myself (like i do when texting my sister) without her just ignoring me!

Now I can "work" from anywhere. Two of my other jobs allow this but now the Blogger "job" does, too!

Now I can write and write and write my brilliant stuff while I wait at the table for friends to arrive at lunch or Charlie to return from the men's room.

Now it looks like I'm talking to someone via text or sending important emails from my phone but really I'm just babbling into a blog post.

What a wonderful world! Blogging on the fly could become my new habit. Especially since beginning June 1 I'll be blogging every day. It's a challenge I joined, it's 30 days only, and it's meant to transform my blog.

Step 1: make it easier to post. Check!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Say Goodbye Without Regret

On the day they buried my Nana I sat on an ocean view balcony six stories above the beach on Maui’s west side. The birds chattered like a sanctuary and the waves lapped the coast with the rush and throb of constant motion. 

A gigantic palm tree stretched higher than my perch and shimmied in the ocean breeze. Its fronds rustled like feather wind chimes. 

Ocean View Balcony, Maui, KDW May 2013
It’s not exactly foreign in Maui. It is America displaced: English language signage and inflated prices on canned soda framed by hibiscus and coconuts and scented like sunscreen. Everyone drowsy with vacation and paradise and syrupy Mai Tais.

Maui isn’t home. Palm trees are not Palmettos and pineapples don’t really go with everything. It is what you expect, which is comforting.

Maui is exactly what you expect.

The last time I was this far away was 2007. I was in Manila where the tidy western office parks were occasionally swept by a wretched stench off the river and everything instantly turned thick and dirty.

Friday, May 3, 2013

I Drink & I Cuss & I'm Okay

When I graduated Clemson I borrowed my friend Elena’s cap. It had a paw and crossed oars which represented her well. I was a crew team drop out so I taped a sign over it that said, “Sponsored by Budweiser.” 

It fit. I’d just completed 124 days in a row of having at least one alcoholic beverage at Tiger Town Tavern.

Yes. I’m a drinker. And unapologetic about it.

But at 22, graduating university, knowing the true things about me, in this order, were: I’m a drinker, I love Charlie, I’m a writer, and my family’s a big hot mess, I removed the sign before the processional.

My father told me to. He said professors who were considering me for graduate school may not think it was funny.

Fuck that. 

Wish I could have said that then.

My favorite part of Erika Napoletano’s brand is her vocabulary.

She cusses a lot.

And I love it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Making Connections that Matter

For the fifth time in two weeks I walked into a room of strangers. I’ve been networking. It’s the hard work of introducing myself to as many people as possible, spurting the same 30 word/30 second bio and hoping the person’s face lights up.
The Kasie-Makes-a-Living-Being-Kasie Networking Tour began two weeks ago with a series of Chamber of Commerce events.

I went to the council meeting, then the business at Midday meeting, then the new Chamber member orientation meeting, then the breakfast at Sunrise meeting.

I also went to the ITPSC luncheon, a Tech After 5 event, the ASTD Chapter Meeting, and made a gallant effort to attend the Social Media Club of Columbia’s Thursday night meeting in the Vista. But, come on, people, the corner of Park and Gervais at 7 p.m. on a Thursday? 
I would have needed 90 minutes to find parking. I bailed.

Anyway, this week I went to an open mic poetry reading at the Red Door Tavern on State Street. I was invited by my Columbia Writers’ Alliance buddy John Starino.

The headlining poet was Dayna Smith. It all felt very theatre, very improv-y at first and I expected some quaintness to the readings. It was anything but quaint.

Dayna Smith’s poetry was charged with defiance and anger and frustration. She let her passion free and I imagined it galloping through the room like the black smoky horses of Jude Law’s Boogeyman nightmares.

She was breathtaking.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lesson Learned

The most important lesson from my childhood that I want my daughter to learn is this:

“Be yourself. If people don’t like you for who you are, that’s their problem.”

Today I read this post on LinkedIn that suggested being yourself is indulgent and unprofessional. The writer’s words were “Express your individuality on your own time.”

The writer claimed that “just being me” is a bad thing.

Meeting Your Characters IRL

This post originally appeared on the Columbia II Writers Workshop blog. It's revived here because I think this audience would appreciate...