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November 3, 2015

Day By Day, List by List --- Guest Post by E. Katherine Kottaras


How many lists do you make on any given day? Maybe you make a list of all the homework assignments you have to complete each night, what gifts would be perfect for each of your family members as the holiday season approaches or the best pizza restaurants in your town.

If you're HOW TO BE BRAVE author E. Katherine Kottaras --- or the protagonist of her book, Georgia --- you also make lists of things you can do to live your bravest life, ways to experience anything and everything and not let fear get in your way. Below, Katherine explains why lists --- especially bucket lists --- are so important to her, as well as some of the items she has yet to cross off. Read her post below, and be sure to check out HOW TO BE BRAVE, out today!

I am forever making lists. To-do lists, grocery lists, lists of books I’ve read, soundtrack lists for my book as I write, lists of countries I’d like to visit someday. About once a week, I sit down and write a list composed of every single little thing I’m worried about. (This week’s list includes my daughter’s new skateboard, global warming and rising ocean levels, and --- at the very top --- people who Snapchat while driving.)

In HOW TO BE BRAVE, Georgia begins her senior year anxious, her mom having died over the summer. Before her death, her mom commanded her to live differently --- to try everything at least once and to never be ruled by fear. She decides to start really living for the first time and makes a list of 15 ways to be brave --- all the things she’s wanted to do but never had the courage to try.It’s the only way to honor her mom’s dying wish, but it’s not easy. Georgia’s often too embarrassed to go beyond her comfort zone. As Georgia tackles the list, she opens herself up to new experiences but also struggles with the reality of her fears and insecurities.

I wrote Georgia’s story after a particularly difficult period in my life --- my own mom died when my daughter was ten months old. My mom was my best friend, and I lost her at a time when I needed her most, and so I sank deep into my grief. Many mornings, I woke up to the chaos that was my life, and I didn’t know how I was going to go forward. I didn’t know what to do next. And I desperately wanted to wallow. But of course, with a new baby, there was only so far I could go.

So, I focused on my daughter. Part of what saved me was the fact that I made lists: lists of places to take my daughter so we could get out of the house, lists of classes to take, lists of friends to call. And yes: I made a bucket list. At the very top was working through my grief so I could be a healthy mom to my daughter. Second was writing a book.

Life is change and transition and sometimes, chaos. Having lost both my parents (my dad died when I was 17years old), I’ve found this to be especially true during dark times of illness, loss and grief. I have been struck by the fear of moving forward, the fear of another day.

Georgia tries to be brave during a time of such darkness by writing a list, what she calls an “I Want to Live Life List, a Do Everything Be Brave List.” Sociologist, Scott Schaffer, says, "Lists really get to the heart of what it is we need to do to get through another day on this planet." Bucket lists in particular ask to us face our fears and step towards them, one by one. They ask us to be hopeful.

I have come to understand that being brave does not equate to being fearless. I am plenty afraid, and depending on the week, my lists of worries can be long or short. Regardless, I try to live, moment by moment. I try to remember that it is okay to hope for better, to expect better --- that it is okay to move forward, day by day, bullet point by bullet point.


Here are a few things on my Do Everything Be Brave List: 

·         Learn how to roller skate and/or ice skate without using the wall.

·         Ride my bike to yoga. (Bike lanes scare me!)

·         Hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon (and all the way back up, I guess...)

·         Visit every continent (I’ve only been to two.)


Here are a few brave things I've done: 

·         Flown down the largest zip-line in the continental U.S. despite my fear of heights. (and gave                my eight-year old permission to do so as well.)

·         Paddle-boarded during high-wind season in Hawaii.

·         Fallen in love and stayed there for more than 20 years. 

·         Become a writer. I tell my students everyday: it's the scariest thing in the world. 

E. Katherine Kottaras is originally from Chicago, but now she writes and teaches in the Los Angeles area. She holds an M.A. in English from the University of California, Irvine and teaches writing and literature at Pasadena City College. She is at her happiest when she is either 1) at the playground with her husband and daughter and their wonderful community of friends, 2) breathing deeply in a full handstandor 3) writing.

Her debut YA contemporary novel, HOW TO BE BRAVE, is forthcoming from St. Martin’s Press (November 3, 2015). Her second book is tentatively set for a 2016 release.