family

Goodbye, Year of Exploration. Hello, Year of Ambition.

For the last three years, I’ve rejected the idea of explicit resolutions and instead made a habit of declaring a single word to embody each new year. There was the year of discovery (2012), the year of dedication (2013), and even the year of exploration (2014). Each year lived up to its name, albeit sometimes in surprising ways that pushed me to my limits and then a bit beyond.

In 2012, I discovered who I was away from my friends, outside of my hometown, and apart from everything that I’d always thought was certain, as well as who I was when I came back. In 2013, I dedicated myself to whatever felt important, including finishing my bachelors degree in English and refining my art. And, in 2014, I explored whatever struck my fancy, even as that led me to travel from coast to coast for months on end and begin a master’s degree in criminal justice. No two years were the same, yet no year was more or less enthralling than any other.

All of that being said, 2014 was pretty intriguing. I spent three months in California, Oregon, and Washington. Then I spent three months in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. That’s not to mention all the states and shores I visited on the way to and from those places. I turned 21 and wasted my newest privilege by drinking a pitifully small volume of alcohol (say “no” to big kablue-nas). I began graduate school and discovered that sometimes the student teaches the professor. I baked foods and treats I couldn’t even pronounce and used ingredients I’d never heard of before.

In short, I explored.

Now it’s time to put all of that behind me, to close the door on 2014’s wild exploration, and step into the year 2015, which already seems daunting and intoxicating.

Over the next 365 days, I’ll be traveling back to South Carolina, the state I know only through my family tree.  I’ll be completing my Masters of Criminal Justice degree, complete with nerve-wracking comprehensive exams. I’ll be leaving my friends and the only place I have ever truly regarded as “home.” I’ll be taking control of my health and defying my genetics. I’ll be taking important steps in my personal and professional lives, striving to achieve success through desire and determination.

All in all, 2015 can and will be nothing less than wild and engrossing, fast-paced and sublime. Thus, in the same vein of thought, I’ve decided to call 2015 the year of ambition. I chose the word ambition to embody or headline this year mostly because I have a strong desire to achieve multiple things this year. I have an end-game in mind and nothing will stop me from reaching it. In addition, I’ve come to realize that being ambitious is just in my nature and that is something to use to my advantage, to accept as a benefit. So, this year will be a journey in accepting ambition as a facet of my nature.

Keeping with tradition, as I jumpstart the New Year, I won’t write down any particular resolutions because, well, it just feels awful when a perfectly composed resolution isn’t fulfilled precisely as it was written. I prefer to stick with matters of certainty, like the inevitable graduation and move, and variety, like the generality of being ambitious in all my endeavors. Along the way, I simply hope that at least 15 marvelous things will happen.

Here’s to a year of purpose and cheers to everyone reading this. I hope that you find precisely what you are looking for in the exciting days ahead. Happy New Year!

Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts: A Book Review.

I’ve read a lot of books about sick people–fiction, nonfiction, the grey space in between–but, I’ve also witnessed sickness. I’ve heard lungs catch and breathes stop. I’ve felt the weakness of atrophying muscles. I’ve seen the red of a central line being removed. You see, sickness is a monster and, for all the knowledge you can have about it, it is facing it first-hand or alongside another that makes the ultimate impact.

When I was selected through Netgalley to read and review Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts, I was prepared for a watered-down version of sickness. Authors often seem too wary of the “delicate and impressionable” minds of young adults to do stories of sickness any justice, and the stories and their readers suffer because of it. In short, I was expecting a pretty inaccurate and mildly insulting portrayal; however, I’m happy to admit that that was not what I found during my reading.

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Within the pages of Zac & Mia, I found something painful and broken, yet altogether believable. It would seem that, despite its packaging as a young adult novel and my own fears of encountering the usual “sick-lit” cliches, this book presents something that someone who knows sickness can read without scoffing. It is undeniably the work of someone who has been touched by sickness, so perhaps it is fitting then that I read all 306 pages of this book while visiting my own mother at UF Health Shands Hospital.

To set the scene, imagine the methodical clicking of a morphine pump, the white-noise hum of a television with the volume turned down low, the low hissing of air blowing through an old grate. Imagine the sharp scent of alcohol and sanitizers, the deceptive flickering of shadows gliding by the bottom of the door, the feel of worn leather sticking to your legs. Imagine bruised skin, shallow breathes, weary eyes, weak limbs, rough speech, painful movements, nurses’ interruptions, doctors’ sighs, and my mothers’ chronic inability to remain conscious.

If nothing else, the stage was set.

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Zac is the quintessential good guy from a farm town who had the bad luck of getting stuck with myeloid leukemia. He knows his odds–55% chance of living five years without relapse–and he knows the odds of his fellow cancer ward residents. What Zac doesn’t know if how to truly communicate with the only other person in the ward who is his age–a moody teenage girl named Mia.

Mia is the ultimate city girl, used to parties, formals, and hundreds of facebook friends; however, she doesn’t know how to deal with osteosarcoma, and she is not so keen to try when ignoring her condition and treatment seems to be going so well. If she’d just listen, she would realize that she has the best odds of them all–90% even on her worst day. But, how can numbers matter when you feel otherwise?

The collision course that Zac and Mia set out upon after their initial meeting is essentially a “slice of life” portrayal of living with and after sickness. There is chemistry and romance, but this is not a love story. There is sickness and poor health, but this is not a scientific depiction. There is hope and, at its heart, this is a brilliant story of survival, desire, and courage. However, the beauty and uniqueness of this story is truly in the details.

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It’s in the uncomfortable and awkward questions that nurses must ask and family will overhear. It’s in the tests that must be done and redone in fear of and preparation for recurrence. It’s in the fragile hope of a mother who does word puzzles by her son’s bedside and brings new patients’ family members’ a cup of tea. It’s in the complicated request of a mother to a doctor to save her girl in spite of everything. It’s in the comfort of an answering knock on the other side of a beige wall. It’s in the fear of impending doom and the struggle to find the will to fight.

It’s in the honesty with which Betts describes sickness. As someone who has watched over their mother from childhood, someone who has acted as a nurse and a doctor and a friend and a daughter, this book resonated in a way that many “sick-lit” novels do not and perhaps cannot. Despite the fact that I am not sick and my mother’s sickness seemingly involves everything except cancer, I found my kindred in Zac, Mia, and their creator. There was a familiarity in the story that was simultaneously upsetting and comforting.

On a scale of one to five, I award this book four stars because it was realistic, honest, and it approached sickness with a level of understanding that I can only compare to the works of Lurlene McDaniel. I could not, in good faith, award this book five stars because (*spoiler alert*) the number of time jumps quickly became annoying and mildly detracted from the movement of the plot, rather than speeding or propelling it along (*spoiler over*). Overall, I felt that it was a well-executed story that delved into sensitive subjects with care and compassion.

I do not agree with the comparisons to John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars or Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park because I feel like that is comparing apples to oranges. Green’s and Rowell’s works are amazing and I enjoyed reading them, truly; however, neither had the sheer authenticity and realism of this book. Perhaps that is something only someone who has been repeatedly touched by sickness can understand and appreciate though, and I do not know that the untouched will recognize or feel its resonance quite so clearly.

I would recommend Zac & Mia to anyone over the age of 14 who is interested in a truthful (yet still fictional) story that does not sugarcoat or glaze over the realities of sickness, mortality, and navigating life’s many plot twists. There are some mentions of topics of a sexual nature and the blunt discussion of death is nothing to dismiss, so I would be wary of allowing younger readers to delve into this novel unless their maturity level is particularly high for their age.

Anyone interested in learning more about A. J. Betts, her experience as a long-term hospital English teacher, her other literary works, and her guiding principles in life, should check out her facebook page, twitterwebsite, TEDx talk (“Why I Collect Shopping Lists”), this radio interview, and this article about “sick-lit.” Although I don’t know her personally, Betts seems like a wonderful person and I cannot wait to see what else she may write in the future. Cheers, readers!

(Disclaimer: I received this book through NetGalley’s Feed Your Readers program for Professional Readers in exchange for an honest review. The review I submitted to Netgalley has been posted here, verbatim.) 

Familial Relativity.

I grew up without a family.
My mother and father will likely read this and admonish me for saying what they consider to be a fallacy. One will likely be deeply disappointed in my life perception and the other will be pushed to the point of anger. Yet, I must admit that I feel no deep remorse, nor detect the foul taste of deceit. To me, what I have declared is true and indisputable.
I grew up without a family.
I can list the names of aunts, uncles, and cousins galore. I can regale a room with tales of two distinct sets of grandparents. I can follow the connecting branches of the delicate family tree my mother has carefully constructed. However, despite all of those actions that I am capable of, I cannot feel any emotional connection to names on paper or the people of my parents’ stories. I have met only a select few of those to whom I am supposedly related.
I grew up without a family.
Over the years, I have gathered a collection of knowledge about the blood from which I am descended. I know that my surname originated in France and spend through England and Scotland. I know that I am not even distantly related to royalty or sovereign people. I know that those who came before me were people of trade and business. I know that these facts have no hold over my future, only over a distant past to which I have no true connection.
I grew up without a family.
The truth of the matter is that blood is a weak and fragile bond. The only family I have ever known is that of a mother who tried her best, a father who gave his all, and a brother who goes at life in his own way. The devotion I feel toward them is not of blood and genetics—it is born of time and experience. In these three people I have faith and love, yet I continue to affirm my previous statement.
I grew up without a family.
Family is a relative term. It refers to biology and science. It refers to ancestors and descendents. It refers to something that is utterly insignificant to me because what I have is so much more. I have something unnamable and distinct: I have three people who have grown with me, and innumerable other people who have helped me grow. Distinctly different when viewed by the common judge, yet equal in importance. Blood does not define those who are important me, although I share blood with three of those who are.
I grew up without a family.
  
I grew up with something better.


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Please feel free to tell me (in the comments) about how you grew up and who has been your true “family.” Have a lovely summer!

Mum’s Ode and Illness

When you grow up with a physically ill family member life can never be defined as simple. From the day that the illness sets in and onward, your life is in constant upheaval. From the outside looking in, it will occasionally seem as though the family is handling all in turn and well at that but, mostly, outsiders will venture the question “how do you do it?” To outsiders, your life is chaos. To outsiders, you are a small group of people that deserve pity and sympathy. To outsiders, you are beyond normal and approaching abnormal. From the day that the illness sets in, you change.

Growing up with an ill mother was something of a lesson–do this, do not do that, behave this way, speak in this manner, and, whatever you do, do not allow anything to overcome you, overcome all else instead. Illness, you see, is the enemy, and all must be done to avoid it. And, at some point along the way, the lessons hit home. At some point, the constant upheaval that is your life begins to feel like the new normal. At some point, you do not remember how things were before.

Illness has this talent. A talent for causing the most unexpected feelings and teaching unforgettable lessons. I love my mother, and my father and brother for that matter. But my mother’s illness has taught me and changed my life more than anything else. That’s the positive side, the happy spin to things. That’s what I need to see in order to get by. We all wear rose colored glasses, and optimism is mine.

Illness, as sickening and weakening as it is, makes us stronger.

The Year of the Dragon: 2012

There are so many events that are meant to happen in this year: Supposedly, the world will end or come to some cataclysmic fall. The first generation of students to have only been educated in the 2000s will graduate from high school. The United States Presidential Election will take place. The 60th year of Queen Elizabeth II will be celebrated in each British land and the Summer Olympics will be held in London, England. This year, however, is no different from the last or the next. It is simply a year, and a leap year at that, with it’s measly one extra day. Yet, each year, people across the national lines will commit to new year resolutions, a practice that I personally commend, if and when the resolutions actually come to fruition. As I see it, what would be the point in resolutions that never became resolute? This being said, I myself have a few simple resolutions that I would like to make and set for all to see. You may peruse my resolutions below, but please feel free to post your own as well. Happy New Year, darlings, may it be a wonderful one for you in spite of the heavy topics that are sure to be addressed throughout 2012. Good luck in each of your own pursuits in this year of the dragon.

  1. Exercise more frequently and achieve the most physically fit state possible for me.
  2. Listen to others as well as to my own conscious.
  3. Finish the short novel that I have begun.
  4. Travel as far as possible and allow my senses to run rampant in each new place.
  5. Feel as often as I think, for too much of either is no good at all.
  6. Find family.
  7. Paint and draw until my ideas run out–art will never come to be if you never begin.
  8. Disappear to a new place and find what I do not even know I am looking for.
  9. To be like a dragon and achieve exactly what I want.

I can’t stand not being able to picture something.



When I was little, and now, my mom told these stories about the hotels her parents owned when she was young-about the beach pavilion, working hard even when she was just a kid, and going through school in her wild way. My dad, has told his own stories about growing up on a farm, working in different trades, and his crazy family. The stories can be happy or sad, and wild or simple, but either way it’s always driven me bonkers to not be able to picture what it was like. So, I have an idea of what I want to do to change that… 

 
Descriptions have never been enough for me; I need to feel like I’m there. I want to know what it felt like…the average day…the little details that we often forget to acknowledge. I want to know the simple things, and I want to feel like I lived then too. Wanting to feel it and picture the past, is actually what led me into art. When I was little, I so terribly wanted to be able to see what was being explained. I needed something to show me what an “Astro Needle,” “Sea Dolphin Hotel,” and “Georgetown Academy” looked like, and then the art exploded from there, into all sorts of mediums.
I know it doesn’t make much sense to explain, and other people probably find it silly. There’s no way for me to write down how intense it feels when you just can’t see something, and you so strongly want to feel it. I’d give anything for my parents to have taken pictures, or somehow saved pieces of the past. It’s the little things that I need to be able to see. Like how a house looked, what a grocery store was like then, and what kind of car someone drove. 
So, I’ve found a project and purpose for myself. I can’t save the past that my parents have forgotten, and I’ll never have lived in the times that my mother worked at a zoo for weeks to earn her own collie puppy, or that my dad was a talented soccer player, but I can save the time I live in now, for the future. I’m already obsessed with photography, so why couldn’t I just work on holding onto now? One day I could have a niece, nephew, son, or daughter who despises the feeling of needing to picture something as much as I do, and they could have my pictures to look at.
Nothing is too mundane for a picture. Every little detail has a story. So why not fill a book with pictures, of everything, of everyone, and hold onto this time? I don’t just want pictures of parties and fun with friends. I want to capture the feeling of average days now, and yes, all those fun things too. I’m sure I’m not making sense, but I think I’m going to like this thing. It’d be lovely if there were someone doing this with me, someone who knew what I was talking about, but who knows. It’s a big project…and as far as I can see, it doesn’t end until I die…so, I’m starting now. Anyone with me?

 

Summer Vacation!

I guess its fair to say that the time since school let out has really gotten away from me. It seems like just yesterday but, its actually been weeks. The first week was boring, the second spent on a family trip, and the third was the beginning of a new volunteer job and ever since, I have been extremely busy.

During all of this I have written several book reviews but, haven’t found the time to post them. Some of the books include: the Pretty Little Liars series (#1, 2,and 3), Shadowland(the Mediator series), Atlas Shrugged, Sierra Jensen series (vol. 1 and 2), Until Tomorrow, I Promise, As you Wish, Lock and Key, How to Be Popular, Jellicoe Road, Prey, You Know You Love Me, nothing But the Truth (and a few white lies), Does My Head Look Big in This?, and This Lullaby. As you can see, I’ve been rather bust. Along with that I have been brainstorming ideas for college scholarship essays and let me tell you, its hard. Thankfully, I love writing, so it makes it a little easier.

Anyway, I’ll post some of those reviews and maybe an essay or two. Write again soon!