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Katrina Willis "Table for Six"
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Ever since I can remember holding a pen, I remember writing. Words are my constant companion, my solace, my connection to humanity. I write because I must, but I also write to share a common experience. If one of my sentences makes you feel like you are not alone in this wide world, then I have done my job. We have so much to share as human beings, don’t we? Thank you for letting me share my words.
The Heart of It All
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The Heart of It All

October 30, 2013 | 09:56 AM

I just returned from ten glorious days in Indianapolis at the Heartland Film Festival. This little October sabbatical is my guilty pleasure -- watching life-altering movies, visiting with old friends (and making new ones), dressing in black tie for a night on the town, eating popcorn until my tongue goes numb.

This year was no different.

But in many ways, it was.

The 2013 movies touched me a little more deeply than in years past. There was "Blood Brother," the story of a man who moved to India to care for children in an AIDS orphanage. "This Is Where We Live" was a narrative about an incredibly difficult life -- one many of us can't even fathom -- and the beauty and humanity that arises from even the most dire situations. "Hide Your Smiling Faces" was a polarizing movie at the festival. Everyone I talked to stood firmly on one side or the other -- love or hate. I stood on the love side, the side where young boys try to make their way through the unsupervised cacophony of a wild childhood while simultaneously coming to terms with the death of a friend. "Life According to Sam" was a documentary about a boy with progeria and the indomitable spirit of his family. (And the special appearance by my next husband, Dave Matthews, didn't hurt my review, either.) "Life Inside Out" taught us how to find what matters in life -- to the tune of a lovely original soundtrack. "Hank and Asha" was a touching exploration of what brings us together and what ultimately divides us. "23 Blast" made me laugh through tears -- my favorite emotion. "Walking the Camino" re-ignited my desire to traverse this 500-mile spiritual odyssey. "Commencement" was a sweet coming-of-age story with moving music by Derik Nelson. And "The Book Thief…" Sigh. Thanks again for that, Markus Zusak. And thank you, Geoffrey Rush and Sophie Nelisse, for being so utterly charming onstage at The Toby.

Art is so important in the way it touches us, makes us see things differently, helps us understand one another. It's not always so simple in real life. Love can be hard, even when our intentions are good. It's messy. We're messy. Human beings are scarred and beautiful and defensive and fearful and self-righteous and afraid and empowered -- every single one of us. We are broken and we break others. We are misunderstood and we misunderstand those we love. As Chris said to me last night, "You write fiction, Katrina, because you get to decide how the story ends. In real life, you don't get that privilege. You can't control what other people think or say or believe. You get to accept things as they come -- or not."

Perhaps one of my greatest lessons over the past ten days happened outside of the movie theatre. It was this: We teach people how to treat us. And if we've accepted being treated in a certain way and ask for that to be altered or re-evaluated mid-stream, it isn't always embraced. But I learned that it's vital to communicate those needs, to attempt to re-adjust a course that's taken an unsettling turn, to be able to say, "Those words and actions are hurtful." I always tell my quiet and introverted Gus, "You must advocate for yourself. I will love and support you until the day I die, but you have to carry that torch for yourself. Speak up. Recognize that you deserve to be treated better -- and then demand it." When I was ready to walk down the aisle 19 years ago, a wise counselor told me, "Don't do anything in your early marriage that you don't want to do for the rest of your life." (And thus, I still don't cook.)

We teach people how to treat us.

Do you know what else I learned?

That John Green is funny and quirky and kind when you stalk him in a bar and profess your undying devotion.

That sitting by a friend in a movie exponentially increases my enjoyment of said movie. And that if I don't go with a friend, I can always make a new one.

That my mom always has my back.

That sometimes, all you need are the words, "I hear you. I see you. I understand." And that it's equally as important to say it back. And to mean it.

That there is nothing -- nothing -- comparable to the feeling of being held in my husband's arms, of being understood and accepted without explanation, of laughing at the dinner table with my quirky kids, of sleeping on sheets that smell of a blend of my perfume and Chris's after-shave, of the quiet conversations that happen in the wee morning hours when I drive my kids to school, of having this blessed gift of family, this sanctuary, this life.

And that popcorn and wine -- while good 99% of the time -- can make us queasy when we indulge in too much.


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