I don’t know what I am and I don’t know where I’m from. I’ve never been particularly good at playing by the rules unless they’re hard earned, hard-fought.

 

In first grade I was moved to multiple classes, and then held back a year because I’d get bored and walk out of the room. By sixth grade I had figured out all the best hiding spots to skip the classes I didn’t like, which later resulted in a year of detention… By high school I was sneaking my parents’ mini van and driving as far as the gas tank would let me.

 

I hated school. Failed creative writing in 11th grade. I never went to college.

 

My family moved every few years. Don’t ask me why because I still don’t have an answer.

 

My mom’s side is cattle ranchers and farmers and soldiers. She grew up a military brat and now she cares for the dying. My grandfather’s Mexican and my grandmother’s family fled the Bolshevik revolution.

 

My daddy’s from Greenville, SC. Five generations, maybe more. Farmers and preachers and railroad men. My daddy’s a Methodist minister who listens to families navigate love, pain and money.

 

The Men fought in both the Great Wars, and the scars and romanticism have been passed down from generation to generation.

 

My brothers are in the Air Force, following in the footsteps of The Men, trying to heal them in the grave, trying to make them proud. Trying to save the world from itself.

 

The Women were ahead of the curve. Leaving home at young ages to work and carve out a life long before women were “allowed” to do those things.

 

Am I Southern? Am I Mexican? Am I a Volga German fleeing a revolution?

 

My entire life I’ve been told I’m none of these and I’ve been told I’m all of these. The world seems to have an opinion about my identity… I’ve grown tired of waiting for permission to claim my own genetics. I think this is the quintessential American struggle, one of the big questions of this generation.

 

In a global world of immigrants, what are any of us?

 

I’m a girl who grew up with all boys in seven different states and multiple ethnic and cultural and regional identities. I don’t know what I am. And I don’t know if I’ll ever know.

 

My childhood was hard. I loved horses and they were my salvation. Horses and my journals. But it would take me a long time to realize I was a writer. There’s no need for the details, but by the time I graduated high school, I had to escape rural Minnesota.

 

I took off to LA. In search of an identity as a woman, as a human. I thought if I became an actress people would love me, and then I could love me.

 

But the streets of LA for a teenage girl are… Hard. And anything hard about my life up to then didn’t compare. I saw a lot. I survived even more. Things that are romantic for men are brutal for women. And in that chaos and pain and fear and manipulation, I earned the rules I would later define my work and my life by. It’s also when I discovered that I was a writer, which, quite literally, saved my life. I do not mean that figuratively. I mean that I would be dead if it wasn’t for writing.

 

Here goes:

 

Rarely do we know what our values are until we’ve crossed the boundary. Only after suffering the consequences, do boundaries have any real meaning.

 

Dignity is everywhere. In the dirtiest, rawest of places, there is depth and beauty and humanity. There are lost souls desperate for and worthy of a voice. And they should be the ones on our stages and screens, not those who already have the microphone.

 

Redemption is the key salvation.

 

Authenticity can only come from a place of humility and empathy. Because only then can we truly listen and feel.

 

We are the product of our circumstances, whether we like it or not. If your children are starving, you’ll do things you wouldn’t do if they had food. How can we make rules or judgments about others if we do not understand their circumstances first?

 

I truly, deeply, unapologetically believe that through Story we can climb inside others’ lives, and quite possibly find understanding, empathy, unity and forgiveness. But we have to have the courage to look at harsh, brutal realities first.

 

This is what I strive to write. This is what I strive to live.