Turning 30 Part I: New Decade, New Name, Same Girl


This past week was my 30th Birthday. Now, I know the drill. Women are supposed to freak the eff out about their 30th because we’re old or whatever. But if 60 is the new 40, then 30 is the new teenager, right?

To be honest, I am so excited for this new decade. My twenties were a shit show to say the least, but I know that my third decade is going to rock.

My 30th Birthday is a big fucking deal for a couple reasons:

  1. Until about a month and a half ago, I was seriously suicidal. I hadn’t gone more than a couple days without obsessively wanting to die for two years—since the big breakup.

  2. During the aftermath of the aforementioned breakup on my 28th birthday, C made the suggestion that the world would be better without me in it. And you know what, I’m still here.

So, in celebration of the fact that I’m still here, I made a huge deal about this birthday. Like seriously, I was the most extra person that I can imagine. And that’s so awesome.

My thirtieth birthday and the year following are all about reclamation for me. Reclaiming my birthday, reclaiming my joy, reclaiming my life. It’s also all about defining and openness: defining who I am, defining what I want to be, openness to the changes that are coming. I’m trying to take on this next decade with intentionality and openness and I’m so grateful for the friends who are already helping me make this possible.

But the reason for this post is not just that. One thing I’m doing—the biggest thing I’m doing—to celebrate my 30th is to give myself a gift—something that I’ve wanted for a long time.

As a part of this process of reclaiming my life, I’m giving myself a new name.


There is power in a name. In different cultures around the world the act of naming a child is considered sacred. The word chosen for the name and the meaning behind the word are meant to imbue that being with those characteristics.

As a writer, scholar, and recovering philologist, the importance of words in my life cannot be overestimated. My life is dedicated to teaching others how to put words in different orders to communicate more clearly with those around them. I write about words, what they mean in certain orders, how that impacts the world. My faith even involves calling God ο λογος, “the Word.” I’m kind of a word person.

I am blessed to be part of two separate communities that value names as I do. In these communities, names are not just identity markers. The act of re-naming is also connected to taking on a new life. I think of my friends who have become priests or sisters, my friends who are non-binary or transitioning. They each took on these new names at important parts in their lives, showing that this new name symbolizes not only their identity but their choice to make a change, a commitment, a new life.

I’m taking on a new life. It might not involve any vows, but I’m making a promise to myself to love myself, to value myself, and to honor myself. I’m choosing to live. I’m choosing to be honest about who I am, to be authentic and real, to not hide behind my relation to other people. To be known not just as an aunt, a friend, a daughter, but as me—a unique human being with a name that symbolizes who I am and who I want to be.

This isn’t a decision I’ve made suddenly, or without a great deal of thought, or without talking with people I admire and trust. I’ve thought about changing my name since I was a teenager. I have never connected with Kaitlyn. I don’t hate it, it’s just not a name that suits me. I have made peace with Kait for quite a while, but still it’s not me.

The name I have chosen is Aurelia. It’s Latin for “gold.” It was my name in Latin class when I was in high school, so I’m already comfortable with it. Aurelia is a reminder to myself that I have intrinsic value—as scripture would say, we are worth more than finest gold (Is 13:12). I’ve struggled to feel any value in myself for a long time, especially since what happened with C. By calling myself Aurelia, I am reminding myself that I am rare, beautiful, and valuable—regardless of anything else. Gold makes me think also of the sun—of something bright, vibrant, shining. I want to be those things.


The nickname I’ve chosen and that a few close friends are already using for me is Ari. This is a common Jewish name and I love the meaning. It’s Hebrew for lion, old Norse for eagle, and Armenian for brave. I think that all those are qualities I want to embody. And it’s a mostly vowel-based name with only two syllables and super easy to pronounce and remember. Three letters. You can write them on your hand if you can’t remember them at first.

Now, for personal reasons that I don’t want to talk about publicly, I’ve made the decision to change my middle and last names along with my first. I’m happy to talk about this privately, but it’s a decision that I’ve made after a great deal of thought, prayer, and meditation.

For my middle name, I am taking my mother’s middle name, Ann. St. Anne is the mother of Mary, the grandmother of Jesus—a woman who I have always felt closer to than her daughter. Ann is also a form of the Hebrew name Hannah, meaning favor or grace. Hannah is also the first name of my childhood best friend and the last name of my dear friend, Corbin. So, to honor my mother, keep a powerful saint close, and connect with my two best friends—my name is Aurelia Ann.

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

Photo from http://www.sanctuairesquebec.com/en/shrine-of-sainte-anne-de-beaupre

For my last name, I am taking my paternal-paternal great-grandmother’s maiden name, VonTress (some family stories say Tress, some say VonTress). This name still connects me to my family and honors my connection with my father. It reminds me of where I came from, it reminds me of my dad, no student will ever come up with an inappropriate joke using it, and it sounds good after Doctor. It still shows that I belong to my family and, despite my desire otherwise, it still keeps me at the end of the alphabet.

I know this might seem selfish or confusing and I’m sorry if that is the case. I know some people might refuse to use my name, although I hope not. I know some will struggle to remember it at first and that’s okay. I know my true friends would never mean to hurt me by using the wrong name. I hope that everyone will accept this and embrace it as my choice to honor my individuality, my sacredness as a person with the right to define myself.

So, this is it, friends—my new name: Aurelia “Ari” Ann VonTress. Nice to meet you.



Welcome to 2019. It’s only 9 days old, but let me tell you: I’m already loving it so much more than the three years before.

New Year’s Eve has been a time of grief for me these last two years. It was on NYE 2016 that my world turned upside down and NYD 2017 that by best friends abandoned me. So, it’s not really surprising that, given the meaning of New Year’s for me and the fact that I had gotten a little off on my med schedule, I had a minor breakdown this year on NYE. My poor mother was terrified, but I knew that I was really fine. I was crying and shaking, but I knew that this wasn’t me, it was a disease that I hadn’t properly worked with for a couple days. I fell asleep around 8 or 9, knowing that sleep would bring the stability that my limited neuro-transmitters couldn’t provide. When I woke up around 3am on January 1, I celebrated by myself the beginning year that I have decided will be my year.

I think it’s kind of fitting, this less than auspicious beginning to 2019 because I think it’s the story that I’m going to tell myself over and over this year. This disease is not me. This trauma is not me. I’m okay. I’m alive. I’m held in the palm of His hand.


Every year I choose a word for the year. To be honest, as a general practice, I’ve failed at embracing my word in the past. 2017 was obedience and trust, but I failed to obey or trust or even want to be alive at all that year. 2018 was focus, but my main focus became getting well and healing from not one, but two bouts of mono. I tried, but failed. This year will be different, I can tell already. My word is BE and I’ve chosen three subwords: RECLAIMED, TRANFORMED, and CONSISTENT. I’m reclaiming all those pieces of me that I lost during the break up from hell. I’m reclaiming hobbies, friendships, and dreams that I lost. I’m transforming them and my life into the life I want—my best life. The really hard part, the part I’m scared of and know I will struggle with daily, is being consistent. I struggle with consistency, mostly because of my illnesses mentioned above. I want to be a consistent teacher, grader, blogger, artist, friend, etc., but it’s hard. It requires rest and time management and energy. But I know I can do it. I have an accountability system that will hold me to it. (Love you, chicas.)

I have a long list of goals for the year, mostly the same goals from my 30 by 30, which I’ve decided is really 30 by the end of 30, not the beginning, because who knew a year ago that I would have mono? Not me. I’ll probably share some of those goals later this year, but for now I’m focusing on my words.


What are your words for 2019?

30 by 30: Looking towards the future

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So, as you might know, I turned 29 last week. I made a pretty big deal of this birthday because, honestly, it was a big deal. But I’m also thinking about the fact that I’m one year away from 30 and I’m not really where I wanted to be by that landmark year.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what kind of life I want to have and what kind of person I want to be when I hit 30 and I’ve set some goals to get me there.

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1.     Read the Bible all the way through: I mentioned before that I’m doing a bible reading with my friend, B. I’ve really lost a lot of my relationship with God this past year since I stopped going to Incarnation. So, I’m doing this bible reading to bring me back into the faith I love and grow a deeper relationship with God as well as growing closer to my best friend. The reading plan we’re using is from Bibles and Coffee by Jackie Rau, whose stunning Bible art is enough to make me almost consider buying another Bible/owning more than my main Bible. Almost.

2.     Read all of Anzaldua’s Published Works: Okay, yes, this is kind of cheating given that my dissertation is on Gloria Anzaldua, but I also just want to read her because she’s so inspirational and challenging and such a bad ass Xicana that I want to be just like her.

3.     Visit the Anzaldua Archives: Given that the archives are in Austin, Texas, there’s just no reason not to go while I’m still living so close.


4.     Walk 1,000 miles: I used to walk 3-5 miles per day, then I had the bronchitis that would never end. Then, when I adopted G., we used to do 1-3 miles each morning. I’ve definitely gotten out of the practice and want to get back into it because it makes me feel happier, more awake, and makes my body stronger.

5.     Lose 30 lbs/ go down 2 sizes: So, this is like the most American goal ever, right? I have it worded this way because my friend, M., told me I should focus on size instead of weight because muscles weigh more than fat. But honestly, the real goal is to feel stronger and healthier. The last year of depression eating has taken a toll. While I’ve lost weight rather than gained it since all this started, it’s mostly been from being tired/depressed/unable to get out of bed and, therefore, unable to eat—and I feel weaker because of it, even if my clothes are more loose. I need to feel comfortable in my skin again.

6.     Get a tattoo: I’m still working out what I want, but this is the year. I’m one year from 30. I no longer believe the people who said I’d regret it.

7.     Dye my hair lavender: Because I can and I’m one year from the job market. So, last chance for a while.

8.     Learn how to do makeup: Because even though I’m a low-maintenance feminist, I’m also a freaking adult.


9.     Capsule wardrobe with a style that suits me: I’m almost 30. I still have clothing items from high school and college. I really want to find a style that makes me feel myself without being unprofessional. Also, I’m currently living in running leggings and maybe I need to find something else so that I’m no longer wearing athletic wear 100% of the time I’m not teaching. But most of all, I have more clothes than any three people could possibly need and most of them don't make me comfortable. 

10.  Create and stick to morning and evening rituals: I seem to never have time to do the things that actually make me happy, like reading, writing, snuggling Gary, meditating, and creating art. I should be doing these things every day. I’m working on a new daily ritual. I’ll tell you when I figure it out.


11.  Do forgiveness on the people who harmed me: My friend, M., has taught me this method of forgiveness that is really helpful in moving past wounds. I want to do this not only because forgiveness is part of a non-violent and Christ-centered life, but because those people do not deserve to maintain power over me. My anger keeps me connected to them. Let’s sever that connection.

12.  Go through stuff in storage: When I look around my apartment, I am horrified by the amount of stuff I’ve accumulated. When I think about my grandmother’s garage in Missouri, it’s enough to give me nightmares. I can guarantee, if I haven’t seen it in that long, I probably don’t need it. Except the books, but even those are going to be pared down.

13.  Get rid of 300 things: But really, though, if I go through storage, it should be like 3,000.


14.  Find someone to finish my t-shirt quilt and get it done: I’m all about letting go of past projects or finding someone else to do them. This is one thing I don’t want to feel guilty about.

15.  Digitalize and recycle most of my files: Because I have two filing cabinets full that I don’t want to have to move all over the country.


16.  Master budgeting: I’m working on this one hard core and meeting with a financial advisor for help. I want to get control over my debt in a big way.

17.  Interview my dad: I have a long list of questions I’ve been wanting to ask and get recorded. I really need to do this.

18.  Get published: I really want to get something published in an academic journal—especially because my chapter is still on hold while the collection editor is dealing with health issues.


19.  Finish a draft of my dissertation: It might sound insane, but I really think I could have drafts or rough outlines of everything by next January. It would be so good to have this off my shoulders.

20.  Start my own business: More info to come!

21.  Learn how to build my own brand: see above. :)

22.  Master SEO

23.  Increase my blog readership to 500

24.  Make 100 sales on Etsy


25.  Take a trip somewhere fun: I haven’t done this in a long time. It would be nice to go somewhere not for family or a conference.

26.  Do 5 things on my DFW bucket list: I’ve lived in the DFW area for 7 of the last ten years. Why have I still not seen these things?


27.  Visit a TX winery: See above. Also, wine.

28.  Take a cooking class: I’m not a bad cook, but there are things I’d like to learn to do.


29.  Work with G. until he is really well trained and passes the tests: Just because he’s an official service dog doesn’t mean the training should end. I’ve been really lazy with it lately and it’s starting to affect relationships with others, not to mention our relationship. He deserves better guidance.

30.  Enter a calligraphy project into a show: This will, of course, require me to start doing calligraphy again. I deserve to enjoy my hobbies and creating art brings me joy.

So, that’s my list. I think that 29 is going to be the best year yet and I fully intend to get all this done. I deserve a better life and I want to be a better person for the people (and dog) that I love. So, let’s do this thing.


P.S. If you're interested in other goals I have, check out my bucket lists

Unbreakable Willy Women: With Love to our Littlest on your Graduation

It’s finals week and I have a paper due tomorrow (tonight?) that I should be writing, but I’m tired and fried and needing sleep. So, while I wait for the coffee to wear off, I’m reflecting and writing this. And, because it’s late and I’m tired and I’m writing about my family, I’m writing in my own, real, Missouri voice. Read with accent, more as you go along. Last weekend I went home to Missouri for my mom’s graduation. It was an awesome trip and I loved it, even if I did have to drive 24 hours in three days and then come home to research and write 40 pages (still in progress)...

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A Month of Letters: InCoWriMo review

Anyone who follows me on here, or on Facebook and Instagram, knows that I have participated in the International Correspondence Writing Month during the month of February. What this entails is basically writing a letter each day during the month of February. That’s it: just write the letter. 

I decided that this year, I would participate partially because one of my New Year’s goals last year was to write more letters. I did it, but “more” was basically like, “Oh look, I wrote ten letters over the course of twelve months.” So, I decided that 29 letters in 29 days sounded like a good challenge. I wasn’t sure I would make it, but I thought I would try. Well, it turns out that I did it.

He might not be the hero Gotham needs, but he's the stamp I needed for this project! My post person probably thought I was crazy with the amount of letters I was mailing out. 

He might not be the hero Gotham needs, but he's the stamp I needed for this project! My post person probably thought I was crazy with the amount of letters I was mailing out. 

For the entire month of February, I sent out, on average, one letter every day. Sometimes I had to write five or six to make up for missing, but I got it done. Sometimes it was a struggle to think of what to say or who to write to, but over the course of the month I kind of figured it out. At the beginning, some of my cards or letters felt awkward or forced, but I think that by the end they just started to flow.

I have a few tips for people who are interested in participating in the future: 

First of all, the best thing I did was print out a calendar and write down the names of people I wanted to send letters to. Some were birthday cards, some were letters to dear friends, and some were letters to complete strangers that I found on the Pen Addict InCoWriMo list (there’s nothing like writing to other people who will appreciate your love for fountain pens).

Another great tip for finishing InCoWriMo is to promise yourself that the letter doesn’t have to be long. While I can always go on for pages when writing to certain friends (that would be you, Daniel Orazio), sometimes I have a hard time thinking of precisely what to say to family members or older friends who might not really care about what’s going on at UNT or how startlingly beautiful the sky is today. The point is to send a letter, not a novel.

Lastly, if you have trouble thinking of who to write to, check out the organization The World Needs More Love Letters. Each month, they send out a list of people going through a rough time who need to receive love letters. It’s kind of fun sending these strangers messages of hope—and frequently, it brings me peace because I can relate to part of their struggle and it helps to do something. Check it out!

Here are some of the letters I sent out to TWNMLL. 

Here are some of the letters I sent out to TWNMLL. 

All in all, I’m so glad that I participated in InCoWriMo. I’m trying to continue my letter writing, so if you want to be a pen pal, just let me know. If you receive a random letter or card in the mail from me, know it’s not me being weird. I just love writing letters and I think most people love receiving mail. It goes well together. 

An Open Letter to my Dad on His 80th Birthday

Dear Dad,

I don’t know if I have told you this often enough, but you are my hero. It’s not because you’re a soldier or because you used to go to work with barrettes in your hair and glittery stickers on your work shoes or even because you would watch videos and read books (long before the age of YouTube) to learn how to fix my hair in intricate and interesting ways. You are my hero because you were there—all day every day during the summer and every day after school. You weren’t just physically present but emotionally and mentally as well. You never checked out of the Dad job....

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