Because I wished to live deliberately

This morning, I walked down the sidewalk of my favorite street in America.

Home. Main Street, Cleveland, Oklahoma, USA.

I strolled down the sidewalk painted with tiger paws as I waved at friends through storefront windows. South Hill was in the distance — the cross lit up and the giant Stars and Stripes waving in the wind.

Nothing new about that scenery since I live here, except I was walking to work at the Cleveland American.


Some things just make sense, right?

And small-town journalism always makes sense to me.

For at least the last 10 years or so, I have freelanced for my small-town weekly paper in addition to my job in the city. The newspaper’s publisher has tried for several years now to lure me away from the Tulsa World and Channel 6 to give the American a boost full-time.

I always put it off because the timing wasn’t quite right. 

Good thing timing always comes back around.

Processed with Snapseed.

When you have the choice to do anything or go anywhere you want, but you choose comfort and familiarity — that’s not a lack of courage. It’s an abundance of love.

I may be going from 400,000 people reading my words to 4,000, but that doesn’t matter a lick to me. I just want to do something that matters. I don’t say that to take away from any of the other opportunities I have been given over my career, because I truly have had the greatest platforms for amazing companies, and people I love and respect still work at those beacons of journalism.

But sometimes, something is so obvious to your own soul that you have to say a prayer and shout YES.

Working for a wonderful family I consider friends and passing lifelong acquaintances on the sidewalk every day is a huge positive. And for the first time in 20 years, I have weekends off, no swing shifts, and I won’t have to work around the clock during severe weather or while everyone else is enjoying holidays with their families. I will have a 9-5 life and get to spend more time with those I love. I now will be able to put in more time with the nonprofit I founded, blogging and making jewelry. I will get to experience life like folks with “normal” jobs get to do.

Most of all, I get to write stories I want to write, about the people and places that matter the most to me.

No morning pitch meetings in an attempt to be the one small-town story that gets reported in the evening news. No key demographics. No “hot zip codes.” No “Internet gold.” No sweeps. No story limits. No millions of other things on a checklist a day that take away from storytelling, which is what I love to do most.

Now it is just stories – long and short and happy and sad and silly and important. Community journalism is the only place you consistently can get that kind of coverage of a small town.

While they have their own strengths, TV newscasts are only 17 minutes, and big papers can’t cover every town in all 77 counties. It’s impossible.

Community papers are the backbone of the news pyramid. They are the ones documenting history in towns that don’t have stories sexy enough to draw attention from the bigger outfits. But those stories mean everything to the people who reside there and in towns like them.

I’ve freelanced for the American for a decade, stepping in to help when my schedule would allow. I’ve also done so when my schedule didn’t allow because I believed in the product and wanted to lend a hand. But now, it is my goal, as the new associate editor, to take a load off the publisher so he can focus on other areas of running the publication. As the publisher, he has many duties that go unnoticed if you aren’t in the business.

Sheila, Natasja and Caleb will continue offering instrumental support in the roles they have perfected over time. The place wouldn’t run without them. And I will do what I can to help pack the paper with more content every week.

In return, I hope you will see the added news and appreciate the effort by all of us. You can do that by renewing your subscription or picking up a copy at the store on a regular basis, or most of all, advertising your services. All those things ensure that the newspaper — the oldest business in Cleveland — will continue recording history and life as it unfolds in Pawnee County. While other outlets are important supplements that help us all be informed of the state, nation and world, no other entity except the Cleveland American will tell you about matters important to Cleveland, Oklahoma, just like a newspaper has been doing here since 1894.

Like when I worked in the city, I’ll still be writing about the kind of news that makes us cringe when we have to hear it (or when we have to report it). I’ll also keep records at city council meetings and school board meetings, watching your tax dollars at work. But I’ll be helping to make sure you know about the chili supper and the score to the big game. I’ll make sure your kid gets in the paper for making the honor roll and your grandma is mentioned for her 100th birthday. I’ll write features about the lives of people who make up our river valley – the farmers, ranchers, police officers, oil patch hands, nurses, business owners, clerks, mechanics, waitresses, moms, dads, retirees and veterans.

That means so much to me because those people comprise a town full of friends and neighbors I’ve known my entire life.

Those people are home. Those stories are home. And that feels really good.

And believe it or not, after five years in the TV world, it feels really good to have my shellac manicure stained with newspaper ink again, too.

While some might think a cityscape view is pretty unbeatable, I beg to differ. It’s beautiful in its own way, yes. But through my eyes, you can’t beat a small-town newspaper under your arm, walking down tiger paw sidewalks with a view of the cross and flag atop South Hill in Cleveland, America.


Because, like Thoreau, I wish to live deliberately.






We’re all just 16-year-old girls working on loving ourselves

Knock, knock. Real talk.

I chatted with a sweet teenager today who came to me for advice. 

Whenever this happens, I am:

1.)  Shocked anyone would want my advice, and then I start to sweat.
2.)  Terrified of steering someone else’s child in the wrong direction.
3.)  Always end up learning something about myself.

Maybe that’s part of the grand plan. The Big Guy knows I need to hear what comes out of my mouth as much as a 16-year-old girl does, so He’s really sending her to teach me

Maybe we’re all 16-year-old girls inside.

I wholeheartedly believe no one is above learning and growing, even if you are someone a teenager thinks is pretty together.

Newsflash: I am not pretty together. Hardly. More like “ugly together.” I’m stitched together with premium mascara and adequate spellcheck. 

I’m good at navigating the rough spots and good at smiling and good at letting things roll off my back. In other words, I have the uncomfortable pageant wave down when people are watching.

But I’m a mess like the rest.

I get nervous. I’m an extrovert who is intensely private. I second-guess myself. I agonize over my body. I have trust issues. I worry. I have irrational fears.

Quite the catch, eh?

Enter my sweet teenage friend.

“Brandi, I don’t understand boys. I need advice.”

“Sweetie, don’t feel bad because I don’t understand boys and I’m 20 years older than you. And I don’t think they understand us either, so it’s actually a level playing field.”

After deciding that dissecting matters of the heart would require a year-long retreat in the woods, complete with professors, flow charts and a works cited page, she decided to abandon that for a related topic.

“I wish I was more like [name omitted]. She’s always perfect. I’m nothing like her and won’t ever be.”

“Well, that’s good. Because I like her the way she is and I like you the way you are. If there were two of you the same, how would you stand out? You’d be robots. Robots are creepy.”

“[Sigh] I wish I was like you, Brandi.”

Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink.

“An awkward worry wart who only trusts like four living beings and trips on her own feet and dribbles ketchup on herself every time she eats french fries?” I asked.

She was taken aback to find that I had issues as well.

“Whatever. You’re funny and always laughing and pretty and everyone likes you and you have an awesome job and you do lots of things for the community. You’re so confident.”

Blink. Blink. Blink. Blink.

✔️Lame jokes. And 99 percent of the time I’m laughing at something dumb I did because life’s too short to take yourself seriously. [Plus, it’s a better workout than crunches]
✔️Makeup. All the makeup. All the kinds.
✔️Get paid peanuts for intense, stressful work.
✔️Anyone can volunteer in the community. [Do it!]
✔️The confidence honestly is a mirage with more shoreline than the Pacific.

“So, you see, I’m nothing special,” I said.

Light bulb.

“Except, you know what? I am special, and so are you.”

We went into a deeper discussion about how we see ourselves, what our worth is and how we can project the good parts from the inside so people see them on the outside as well.

But here’s the gist of what I told her, and in turn, need tattooed on my own arm. It’s an everyday lesson with which I also struggle.

Whether we are 16 or 38, it is human to have insecurities. We all have them. We all fight them. No one is exempt — not by gender or class or education level.

The difference in being insecure and being secure despite our insecurities is all in the approach. I simply have learned am learning to be empowered by my insecurities instead of letting them imprison me.

Everyone is a work in progress.

We all have moments when we feel “less than” another, which basically is nonsense because we are meant to be an exclusive version of a person. Even if you are a twin, your heart and soul are exclusive editions.

The sooner we realize this, the sooner we understand that comparison is not even possible between people. You can’t rightly compare two or more things if they have different components making them tick.

It’s a false test.

You are meant to be you. You are an exclusive.

So when you feel “less than,” remember that you are “more than” in the eyes of others who are on the outside looking toward you.

Sometimes you are a 38-year-old paradox who is surprised others see past her oddities and focus instead on her positives. Sometimes that 38-year-old has trouble accepting compliments — whether out of modesty or embarrassment or disbelief. 

“You look really great today.”

“Oh, hi. [Me, looking away] Do you like sandwiches? Sandwiches are good.”

Accept that others see you for who you are — not for who you think you aren’t.

The scars and blemishes prove you show up for life. The tears leave stains like train tracks to your heart so the right person can find their way to it. The failures are not anchors to hold you down, but they are weights you can hoist to increase your own strength.

Your life is not supposed to be like anyone else’s life.

Your face is not supposed to look like anyone else’s face.

Your body is not supposed to curve like anyone else’s body.

Your mind is not supposed to function like anyone else’s mind.

You are you. 

Be messy. Be silly. Be forgetful. Be weird. Be unorganized. Be full of faults. But constantly be working to overcome your faults, and have the grace to recognize some things you consider to be faults aren’t faults at all.

They are your fingerprint.

Be proud of your mind. Be beautiful with your deeds. Be merciful with your words. Be a mix of all the things that make up your soul.

Just be you.

When something is considered to be valuable, it isn’t because there are a million replicas. It’s because it is rare and unique and full of character.

Be authentic. Be a collector’s item. Be an enigma. 

Just be you, and watch your relationships with other people and yourself grow.

Then watch your world change like the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy goes from seeing black and white in her otherwise monochromatic life — to bright and vivid wonder.

Only you can color the scenes of your life.

Only you can outmuscle your thoughts and put your insecurities to sleep.

Don’t concentrate on what others have and what you have not. Don’t stay stuck in a daydream about being someone else’s understudy and miss the opening to morph into your own starring role full of color.

Sweet 16 or closing in on 40 — it’s never too late to start embracing yourself.

It’s a great, big place out there. We’re all specks on specks of tiny matter that make up an entire universe on a ball suspended in the atmosphere. That universe, believe it or not, depends on every skill and every quirk of the people inhabiting it.

And it is breathtaking.

So be a beautiful mess. Write your name all over the insecurities and triumphs, click those heels and truly believe that there’s no skin like your own.

Be who you need to be, but be honest about who that is.

Never forget there is a 16-year-old girl out there watching you. And be the someone she needs to take the lead.


Related post: Birthday presence — 37 things I tell myself about life


Birthday Presence: 37 things I tell myself about life

This week marks the passing of 37 years that I have been blessed with breath in my lungs.

I am not one for wanting a big to-do on my birthday. Kind words and thoughtful best wishes are gifts enough. That’s not because I am scared of growing older, nor am I someone who declares to be forever 29.

To me, the value in marking one more year is powerful in a quiet way. I have seen lives end much too young. Becoming wiser, maturing through mistakes and celebrating milestones is not a destiny afforded to all.

So we have to take it. Run with it. Love it. Live it.
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Fighter. Champion. Ironman.

Dear Baby Brother,

You have trained for this moment for seven years. We all have loved you and believed in you for the nearly 25 years since you took your first little breath.

As you prepare this morning for the biggest challenge of your life and to reach a level only the most elite of athletes attain, know these things and meditate on them.

The nervous moments ahead of competition are normal, even for Olympians. It’s OK to have them, just don’t allow them to win over precious space your head. Nervous moments mean you understand the adversities. They mean you not only want to slay the beast, but also that you respect it.

As our man Rocky said: “That’s how winning is done.”

Because you are ready. You are prepared. Say that to yourself as you walk to check in.

“I am ready. My body is ready. My mind is ready. I am prepared. My body is prepared. My mind is prepared.”

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