The Buffalo News: My View

Kristen Skeet: I’m happiest living with the bare essentials - 7-25-16

I love to travel. I’ll go just about anywhere, for any reason, as long as it is to somewhere else.

Paradoxically, I’m also a homebody – some might even say a hermit – and a great creature of habit.

Because of this, it took me a long time to realize I enjoy traveling, and especially enjoy traveling alone.

I was 30 years old before I took a trip on my own. Now, I’ve become a happy, nomadic homebody. I stay in the same hotels in the cities I go to and quickly make a home out of my hotel room when I get there. I eat at the same places.

It’s gotten to the point now where I feel more at home in these cities and these hotel rooms than I do in my actual home.

My creativity is bolstered when I am away and, as a writer, unimpeded inspiration is essential to me.

Without the muse, I have nothing.

This morning, as I woke at home, in my own bed, after a weekend away, feeling claustrophobic, lethargic and uninspired, it finally dawned on me why.

When I travel, I take with me only the bare essentials. Enough clothes for the days I will be gone, one pair of flip flips or boots (depending on the season), a toothbrush, toothpaste, hair brush, my vitamins, and my hair products to keep my frizzy mop in check.

Indeed, I do sometimes pack too much for the length of the trip at hand, but it is still only the bare essentials. My entire life for the length of the trip fits into a small roller suitcase, and for the most part, I live out of the suitcase even after I’m home.

While traveling, there is no clutter to impede my inspiration and peace of mind. The reminders of my past that are on display, and tucked in dusty boxes in closets throughout my apartment, do not follow me on my trips.

The heaps of clothing I will never wear, piling up, seemingly ever higher, in every corner of my apartment do not accompany me while I’m away.

I live alone, yet by the weekend my dishwasher is overflowing with dirty dishes I’ve accumulated throughout the week. Even my email inbox is filled to the brim with junk. Every day, 50 or more junk emails pop up in my inbox. I can’t keep up with deleting them anymore.

Everything in my life, actual and digital, is stifled by junk, meaningless junk that I’ve acquired and accumulated over the last decade or so.

So, this weekend, I will purge my life and my apartment of everything but the bare essentials. If it’s not something I would take with me on a trip, or not handmade by my mother or grandmothers, it’s going away.

The Salvation Army will get much better use out of the clothes I’ll never wear than I will by continuing to let them pile up. I don’t need six or eight of every plate, bowl, glass and utensil. Two of each will more than suffice.

I will go through my email and unsubscribe from every junk email and then delete them, although that is probably a lost cause by now. In fact, I think I will just create a new address and use that from here on out.

The thought alone of this upcoming purging has brought me a sense of peace, and I’m grateful. I love to travel, and will continue to do so as often as possible, but it sure would be nice to feel at home, at home, once again.

Click to read previous My View editorial: Obsession with weight is dragging me down

The Buffalo News: My View

Kristen Skeet: My characters appear out of the clear blue - 4-17-17

I’m a writer of fiction, and people often ask me where my stories come from. I’d like to be able to give them a concrete answer, but most of the time, I answer honestly: I really have no idea.

It seems odd for a person who creates stories to say she has no idea where her stories come from, but it’s true. I have a vague understanding, I suppose. I know they come from “out there.”

No, not from outer space (although there are certainly many stories out there, to be sure), but out there in the world we live in: The haggard parents with their arms full of crying children in the airport terminal; the woman with the frown at the gas pump next to mine; the guy with a limp and a paper bagged can of beer on the sidewalk outside my office. They all have a story. We all have a story. Every moment in every life is a story waiting to happen.

I’m a naturally curious person (or maybe just nosy) so I pay attention when I’m out in the world. I take what I see while I’m out there and file it away for future use, sometimes just in my mind, sometimes on paper or computer. I will journal about what I’ve seen, or send myself a text message.

Sometimes, I sit down and tap out a draft story right then and there. The characters in these drafts can hardly be called characters; they have no names, no faces and no back story – yet. But they are the foundation for a story to come.

My hard drive is filled with these drafts, and I revisit them from time to time when I’m feeling less than inspired.

My stories also come from one other source: from my characters, themselves, and they come to me out of the clear blue.  Like a blast of frigid air as you step out of your warm house on a cold, January day, sometimes my established characters will pounce on me without warning, demanding my attention.

I’ll share with you what happened recently to better explain this phenomenon. As I was driving the other morning, I saw a tour bus on the road in the opposite lane. I watched it approach and, as it raced by me, I heard in my head, as clear as if it came from someone sitting in the empty passenger seat, “Oh, look who’s A-OK with how she was raised all of a sudden!”

It was the voice of one of my characters from my first novel, “Down Went Alice: The Diary of Alice Moriarty.” The story is about spoiled rock stars, and this was the voice of the exhausted band manager character, teasing one of the other characters for whining about having to take a tour bus instead of a private jet.

I’ve been working on a sequel to this story, and have been struggling with where to take it. The sight of that tour bus roused him, and my muse, out of hibernation. From that one line, out of the clear blue, I went home that day and wrote an entire chapter.

I know my characters far better than I know anybody out in the real world, myself included. And why wouldn’t I? I created them.

And I welcome their input. But it’s a bit distracting, to be honest.

So, the next time you catch me zoning out and staring off into space when we’re together, please don’t be offended. I’ve likely just been visited by a nagging character, and I’m trying to make sense of what he or she has said. I’ll be back with you soon.

Click to read My View editorial: I’m happiest living with the bare essentials

The Buffalo News: My View

Kristen Skeet: Obsession with weight dragging me down - 10-9-17

I have never been small, but I have always been fit, for the most part. I’ve carried a few extra pounds, but they were in all the right spots, and I carried them well. I’ve generally weighed more than my female peers, too.

I have what my family calls “soccer legs.” We all do. It’s a genetic gift from our ancestors: thick, strong legs. As a soccer player, having soccer legs is a good thing. As a part of the female society in general, it is not.

I can’t remember a time when I haven’t thought, on almost a daily basis, “I wish I could lose 20 pounds.” And that baffles me. Why is that?

I remember a time in junior high, trying on some sort of horrific spandex outfit along with a friend. It was basically spandex biking shorts with a sports bra top. That was the whole outfit.

My friend looked amazing in it. I looked like someone had wrapped a rubber band around an albino ham. My friend had one of those runner’s bodies: Long, thin, svelte. Her body was meant for spandex. I should never even have looked at spandex. And it wasn’t that I was fat.

My body wasn’t even the problem. My problem was me comparing it with my friend’s body.

What is with this endless cycle? Why do we women torture ourselves so much over our weight? Men also have body issues, I understand that, but we women literally torture ourselves in the hopes of becoming thinner. I must be thinner.

For most women, there’s an endless negative thought cycle about how bad we look, naked and clothed, and the constant guilt about eating when there are so many pounds left for us to lose.

And nowadays, I’m more likely to think, “I wish I could lose 50 pounds.” Losing 20 pounds now would get me back to the weight I was five years ago, when I thought I needed to lose 20.

This endless negative thought cycle does have a few valid points. Stuff is jiggling now. That second chin in pictures today wasn’t there five years ago.

What’s going on? My life hasn’t changed that much from five years ago. I’m still active. I love to bike and hike.

Ah, but I also love binge-watching Netflix while shoving down a sub and a bag of chips (and probably a Dr. Pepper). I’ve always loved the sub and the chips and the Dr. Pepper, but the Netflix thing is relatively new, within the last few years. This newfound love of Netflix marathons has converged with me aging into my mid-30s and taking on a stressful new position at work. It has created the perfect storm of subcutaneous belly fat, jowls and a disappearing neck.

But maybe I don’t need to lose 50 pounds. Maybe 20 would suffice. Maybe. But all signs indicate that when I do lose those 20 pounds, I’ll be wishing to lose 20 more. Even if I get back to where I was, it still won’t be good enough. I know me.

And what is the perfect weight anyhow? If I woke up tomorrow morning at this hypothetical weight, would I be happier? Or would I find something else to condemn myself for?

So, what do I do? Hike more, watch Netflix less. Yes. Eat more salads, fewer subs. Sure. But will it matter? I hope so. Because this is exhausting.

I’m going to try to focus on living the healthiest life I can, and not obsess so much about the number on the scale. It’s time. Because that number? It’s a jerk.

Click to read My View editorial: My characters appear out of the clear blue