Thirteen years ago today, Neil took me on our first date. It was the summer before my freshman year of college, and how was I to know that it was that date and not the prestigious four year institution I was headed to that would change my life?

Today, for me, is a day of gratitude. The last thirteen years have had high highs and low lows, including a bout of homelessness. I woke up this morning to bills waiting for me in my email which I immediately paid without a second thought. I went to the fridge to ponder my breakfast options and had to move things around because after our last shopping trip we’re having a hard time fitting everything nicely in our fridge. Little things like that amaze me. Sadly, I think a lot of you can relate to just how novel an experience those two things are: paying a bill the instant it comes in and having to shuffle food in the fridge to get everything to fit. After a lifetime of food insecurity and automatically tacking the late fee on to bills because I knew the money wouldn’t be in until past the due date, those two things are amazing. And who would have thought that writing would be the key to it all?

This is where the real magic of that first date thirteen years ago comes in. Before writing, I had a successful career in sales. I was good at it, but I felt trapped and like a little part of me was dying. In sales there were good times and bad depending largely on the company I was with and the way they paid out. A great income could disappear with a simple commission restructuring. I left one lucrative position because my ethics wouldn’t allow me to do the things they wanted me to. Sales was what I was good at (I was really just a good listener), but I didn’t love it. Luckily for me, I had a partner who cared much more for me than he did money.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you already know the next part of the story. Neil sat me down and told me he would take care of the bills; all he wanted was for me to write. I’d been writing since I was a child, but I had quickly learned to keep it private. My mother made me feel embarrassed about my writing, and the next time I gained the courage to tell an adult one of my stories, she looked at me like I was a freak. That ended my desire to share what I wrote with anyone. I was around twelve at the time.

I try not to blame the adults in my life for their reactions to my writing. I was raised in an extremely religious home, so the adults in my life didn’t have any clue what to do with a twelve year old who makes up epic stories involving adultery, illegitimate children, and scandal. To them, I was a freak, but to Neil, I was something special. From nearly the beginning of our relationship, he begged me to write. He loves my writing because he knows I love it.

So we struggled through some lean times as I wrote and published, never dreaming that this would ever be a source of income. I eventually took a job with Disney to get out of the house and assuage my guilt over not bringing in an income for the first time in my adult life. Then Measure of Devotion took off. I can still remember where I was sitting at work when I logged into my Amazon account and saw that something amazing was happening.

Neil brought me champagne when he picked me up from my last day at work. To this day, he encourages me to write what I want, what gets me excited. People will love it or hate it, but the most important thing is that it fulfills me. For years I had thought writing was selfish. Neil and I both come from poor families. A responsible adult works at a job they hate in order to pay the bills, right? There’s certainly no place for taking time to write fanciful things. I would have never thought that by doing what I love I’d be able to be both personally fulfilled and financially stable.

Being poor affects you mentally in ways that you can’t even imagine until you’re out of it. After so much food insecurity, it took me years to convince my brain that I didn’t need to eat everything, that there would be more in a few hours and that tomorrow I wouldn’t go hungry. After being homeless, I still do a quick mental evaluation of every city we go to about how hard/easy it would be to be homeless in it should this all go away. And Neil fixes me Velveeta shells and cheese at least once a year because when I was a kid that’s what the “rich kids” ate and we could never afford it, so it somehow feels luxurious even now.

On my thirteenth anniversary, I want to share how important it is to be with the right person. I know writers whose spouses do not support their writing. I don’t understand that, probably because I’ve been lucky enough not to have to live through it. Writing is not the sum total of who I am, but it’s an integral part. It would be the ultimate disservice to myself to spend my life with someone who didn’t love that part of me.

The other thing that I want to share is that the thing you love, the thing that gets you excited, that makes you light up: do that thing. It’s not selfish; it’s self-care. It makes you a better person for your loved ones. Then share that thing with the world. It’s scary. A lot of people won’t like it, most won’t care, but a few people will love seeing it as much as you love doing it. Those people are gold. They are the kindred spirits who make you marvel that among the diverse collection of people on this planet there’s someone you’ll never really know who you’ve made a connection with. Writing is an introverted activity, but publishing my work makes me feel more a part of humanity than anything else I do. It adds a layer of richness to my life I could have never imagined. It has brought people into my life who are friends and inspirations.

So go, do, and share. Relish in that uniquely human feeling of your own insignificance and the simultaneous thrill of being a part of the great fabric of humanity. And maybe when we all feel more a part of this human family, we’ll be a little kinder to each other, we’ll look at the world through a lens of empathy instead of judgement, and the world will be a better place.