growing up

#DearMe: A Letter to My Teenage Self.

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Dear (Slightly Younger) Mikayla,

When I first saw the idea of writing a letter to you, I found it a bit weird. I mean, I know you and you’re too hard-headed to listen to anyone, even me. But, ultimately, there are numerous things I would love to be able to tell you, wishes and warnings alike.

So, I’m writing.

From my perspective now, I know the truth of the matter is you spend a lot of time wondering what you’re doing wrong. You worry that you’re living just this side of disaster. You stay awake too many nights trying to envision something other than a question-mark future…

Stop. Please.

Everything you’re fretting over now—the friends, the classes, the feelings, the exams, the family members, the applications, the politics—none of it is going to break you. You’re going to be alright, I promise.

Okay, I’ll admit: over the course of the next few years, you’ll truly struggle with who you are and who you want to be. There’s no use worrying though because we still haven’t figured it out in the year 2015 and that’s perfectly okay. Trust me when I say that no one has their whole life figured out at 13, 16, or 21. All that matters is that you’re continuously working on it.

Remember: life isn’t a tightrope walk over a spike-bottomed canyon.

Learn to treat every day like a stroll on the beach–the tides move in and out, but you stay standing. Just enjoy the ebb and flow.

High school will pass over you like a breeze, but sometimes it will feel like hurricane-force winds and there’s really no helping that. That’s what high school is all about–learning how much pain, how much uncertainty, how much knowledge you can stand. Chickadee, high school is about survival and endurance—even when so-and-so stops calling you a friend and what’s-his-name tells you that you’re hard to love, hold tight.

You’re a military brat, you’re made for a fight.

When it comes time for university, go with your gut.  Don’t waste time in places you know you don’t belong and don’t even want to be. Be logical and be honest. The standard university experience isn’t so idyllic and it isn’t for you. Forge your own path and you’ll end up steps ahead. Freshman year, while playing an obligatory Welcome Week name game, you’ll dub yourself Magical Mikayla–make it your goal to be that person.

After university commencement, you’ll take two semesters off. Some days, you are going to swear that it’s a waste of time, that you’re wasting time, but I swear that this opportunity to be a wanderer is precisely what you need right now. Over the course of 8 months, you’ll visit 20 different states and this time, like no other time before, travel will be all you have to focus on, all you live for.

Revel in your experiences. Get caught up in simple pleasures.

In the coming days, when you’re feeling just south of sanity, you’ll remember the feel of west coast rocks and east coast sand, the sound of northwestern rain and southeastern thunderstorms, and the smell of strong coffee and harbor winds mixed together. The places you’ve been before were wonderful, but these are the places you’ll cling to and remember best. These places will resonate.

And, just like that, you’ve caught up to me.

The future is still a masked mark in the hazy distance, as it will always be, but there is an abundance of hope, desire, and ambition. There is an ever-growing collection of wonderful days and a group of delightful people who genuinely care.

There is possibility.

My ultimate wish for you is simply that, on your way from where you are in your time to where I am now in mine, you relish the journey.

With lots of love (…and feeling incredibly strange about signing this),

(Slighty older) Mikayla

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10 (Mostly YA) Books That Changed My Life.

If you’ve been following my blog for even a little while, then you know at least two things about me: I studied English at university and I am the kind of person who will happily lose sleep over characters and plot twists. You see, I’m a lit lover through and through. As such, I owe a lot of what I know and love to the lessens that I’ve learned from printed lines on bound pages, the stories that changed my life.

On that note, here’s to literary game-changers and the marvelous people who create them.

Thank you!

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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

By the time I graduated from kindergarten in 2000, I was a voracious reader and everybody knew it. But, somehow, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which I didn’t read until 2001, feels like the book that started it all for me. It was the book that made me delve into fantasy and science fiction, the book that gave me a fan community to become immersed in, and the book that taught me how to do life. But, more than anything else, this was the book that led to a series of books that transformed my generation and made us all believe in magic.

Each of Rowling’s characters taught me something about people and the lives we all must lead. In Hermione, I learned that intelligence, loyalty, bravery, feminism, and drive can take you far. In Severus, I learned that everyone can change, some causes are worth living and dying for, and a good person is not necessarily a nice person. In Dumbledore, I learned that pursuing the “greater good” sounds lovely in theory but, people will get hurt along the way (i.e. Ariana and Harry). And, in Harry, I learned that love can change everything.

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

I haven’t been able to shut up about The Bar Code Tattoo since I ordered it through a Scholastic sale in 2004 when I was 10 years old. I even read a bit from it in a YouTube video because it was “the first book I could get my hands on.” (I totally didn’t edit out the time it took me to find that book in particular…) I have quite literally been blabbing about this book for years—I even got a tweet back from the author after I mentioned the renewed relevance of the “big brother is watching you” plot line in modern-day America.

Ultimately, in the primary character, Kayla (hey, that’s 71% of my first name), I learned to seek the truth with determination and work to create the life I wish to lead. However, as my introduction to dystopian fiction, Weyn is also responsible for teaching me to be aware of the world I live in, to question how today’s decisions will affect tomorrow’s conditions, and to discover my own identity instead of letting my community define me.

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

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Uglies is a story with many layers. Mostly obviously, there is snazzy technology à la science fiction and a dystopian world with Big Brother government, which is fascinating and terrifying all at once. Underneath all of that though, there is an ongoing discussion of the big problems that plague humans regardless of time and space: personal identity, individual freedom, and conceptions of beauty. You know how English teachers and professors always tell students to “unpack” or “bleed” the text? I could write a 20+ page paper “unpacking” this story. This tale never comes up empty.

Westerfeld said (through the character of David) that “what you do, the way you think, makes you beautiful,” and that statement resonates with me more every day of my life, particularly as I begin to bridge the gap between being a student and a professional. Whenever I question who I am or what I’m doing, I remember that I’m no different from Uglies and the characters within it—there is a whole world inside of me just waiting to be unpacked.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

I grew up with a mother who studied psychology. What this means is that I’ve spent my entire life listening to impromptu psych lectures, as well as having all of my choices and ideas psychoanalyzed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly been interesting—as a child it was awe-inspiring because, well, my mother is undeniably a brilliant woman—but, I didn’t truly understand the concept of psychology until I read I Am the Cheese (and The Chocolate War immediately thereafter) around the beginning of middle school.

The psychological journey of Adam (aka Paul) led me to consider the core differences between people and how our experiences can define the past, present, and the future equally. In Cormier’s story (stories, really) I found perspective. As a result, in Adam’s pursuit of his father, I also became closer to my own mother, gaining a better understanding not just of why she would study psychology, but also why she considered her psychology-related knowledge and experiences to be eternally relevant.

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

In only 383 pages of print, Dessen tackled familial relationships, eating disorders, sexual assault, anger management, high school dynamics, friendship, and so much more. Then, to make the story all the more important, Dessen showcased the metaphorical power of silence and the human inability to quiet the heart. The story doesn’t rely on a grand setting, a large character collection, or even sublime escapades; instead, the author just conveyed what it means to not think or judge, and instead “just listen” to what your heart is saying.

Music wasn’t precisely the point of this book yet, somehow, this book intrinsically altered my relationship with music. Music was just the tipping point of the lessons this book taught though. Through Annabel, I learned that secrets are heavy to hold, truths can be hard to share, and people are not necessarily the “characters” they portray to the rest of the world. Through Owen, I learned that music can be an escape or a channel, depending on which you need, and the truth should be shared, even if you have to “rephrase and redirect” to get your meaning across.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

For most of my sophomore year of high school, I spent every spare second I had in the library or reading a novel in an empty classroom. I carried a veritable library of ARCs in my backpack and I talked publishing with my journalism teacher (who became my yearbook supervisor). In the midst of that odd situation, I discovered the then-newly-published novel Paper Towns by John Green. I loved that book like it bled and breathed, but mostly I loved the world it opened me up to in its fleeting references: Walt Whitman’s poetic skill and the utterly intoxicating “Song of Myself.”

Whitman spent 400 poems trying to define and describe life before ultimately coming to the conclusion that people are large and “contain multitudes.”  In the sage conclusions of a long-dead man and in that time of intense personal growth, Whitman’s words enabled me to be comfortable with being a bit “odd,” living life like a “dance” when the “fit” of change was “whirling me fast.” Not to mention, it was Whitman’s poetic encouragement to explore one’s self that led me to create a blog called “mylifeinverse” or “my life in verse,” despite the fact that I don’t generally write poetry.

The Confessions of St. Augustine by St. Augustine

In this single book, often touted as a building block of the Christian faith, St. Augustine managed to make absolutely everything in life—every experience, every thought, every desire—seem like a mortal sin. More than any other book I’ve ever read, Confessions pissed me off and made me wish for a time machine so that I could go back to ancient times and deliver a punch in the face to the author. It was simply infuriating to see an author turn life overall into something so thoroughly ugly in the name of defending religion and ethics.

Despite all of that, St. Augustine’s Confessions taught me about the manipulative power of religions (not that all religions are manipulative), the diversity of moral and ethical systems, the tedium of entirely introspective and self-deprecatory works, and the ability of authors to make readers feel like they’re being castigated. That being said, this is the only book I have ever thrown away—quite literally, it went into the trash bin—and I don’t even feel guilty about it.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Susan Cain rose to fame as a self-proclaimed “public introvert” who utilized her incredibly astute observations about her own nature to tell the world (in a TED talk) about the superpowers of introverts and bring about positive vibes regarding the more “quiet” portion of the population. Where the majority of self-help and introspective self-analytical literature characterize introversion as something one must compensate for by adopting the seemingly superior characteristics of extroverts, Cain successfully presented introverts and extroverts as separate but equal.

As a young woman just finishing up my undergraduate degree and an undeniable introvert, Quiet spoke to my experiences with and worries about existing in a predominantly extrovert-positive world. I wouldn’t be nearly as confident about the very real and very necessary role I can fill in a work environment—particularly in the extrovert-oriented career field I’m aiming for—if I had not read this book at precisely the time that I did.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Just like The Bar Code Tattoo trilogy and Uglies trilogy, Divergent is the first novel in a dystopian trilogy with a badass female main character and slightly less important, but amusing and often game-changing, minor male characters. There are certainly strong feelings of girl power in Tris’ gradual and hard-fought transformation from the meek and compliant person others want her to be to the curious and brave person she truly is “on the inside.” And, well, what 21-year-old young woman doesn’t need a bit more girl power in her life?

Throughout my life I’ve always been told to “be myself” and “live for me” but, it wasn’t until I read Divergent that I began to understand that who you are can change, whether through sheer force of will or evolutionary circumstances, and you’re no less you for changing. Tris made me excited to transform from what I was as a child and a teenager, by upbringing or some sort of default, and become who I want to be. In that character I found the courage to make myself new while always remembering the past.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

If someone wrote a story about my first year of university, it would read much like Cath’s tale of college confusion, without the lovely (yet delightfully and realistically flawed) boy, twin sister, and supportive roommate. In essence, my first year of university, during which I lived on campus for a semester, was a roller coaster of success and failure, topped with discomfort regarding my degree choice and a complete inability to engage with people my age. It wasn’t the most pleasant experience until I reevaluated the situation, charted a new course, and started (sort of) fresh…just like Cath.

Rainbow Rowell provided me with someone who was comfortingly familiar, who struggled and learned to carry on in the same ways that I did as a new university student. This darling author and her characters validated my love of fan culture and fanfiction, reassuring me that fanfiction is real fiction and there is a beautiful community filled with wonderful people who enjoy being fans just as much as I do. Even more importantly, Cath taught me that, in being my awkward and untraditional self, I’m not losing out on anything but instead finding my own, different adventures.

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If you’re feeling talkative, comment below with the books (YA or otherwise) that have changed your life!

Celebrating the 20-Somethings.

In the movie 13 Going On 30 (2004), a young girl named Jenna laments the woes of being a teenager and longs for the day when she’ll be “thirty, flirty, and thriving.” Of course, in typical movie magic style, Jenna is zapped to the future via glittery wishing dust and a birthday party gone bad, skipping right past her late teens and 20s, and Jenna wakes up as a fabulous and well-established 30-year-old with a career in fashion journalism.

Apparently even 13-year-old movie characters aren’t brave enough to wish for early entry into the maze/minefield that is your 20s…

From what I’ve experienced so far, your 20s are an age of mystery, adventure, and confusion. You’re caught between not knowing what you’re doing and needing to keep doing something. You have a drinking license, freshly printed diploma, and possibility, and sometimes that’s all. In the end, being in your 20s means constantly being on the verge of everything, but with a blindfold on–you have no clue where your life is headed but you cannot stop heading there.

In our 20s, we’re in perpetual motion.

It’s no surprise then that we spend (or waste) a lot of time thinking on, worrying about, getting sick over our life journey. We 20-somethings cannot seem to comprehend the idea of just letting life happen or going with the flow until something clicks and the light bulb pops on. As a result, when we finished our degrees and were thrust out of complete academia, we were filled with questions and completely terrified of making choices:

What do we want to do?

Who do we want to be?

Where do we want to go?

Why is the future so hard to see?

Ugh…

If the Doctor can be confused, I reserve the right to be confused too.

We also spend (or waste) a lot of time mourning, bemoaning, raging about the fact that we cannot answer every question and make every choice. We see missed opportunities and feel like life itself now has fewer opportunities. We see others taking different paths and we assume that means we’ve somehow gotten lost in the woods. We see years laid out before us like paving stones and we don’t know where those years will lead us. In short, we fret.

Yet, at the same time that we’re walking about in darkened rooms and worrying about what comes next, being 20-something means experiencing dozens of wonderful people, places, and events.

We’re at the point where we’re entering relationships that just might last beyond coffee and movie dates. We’re learning that our knowledge and skills are valuable to someone somewhere. We’re taking the time to prove to ourselves that the world isn’t flat by leaving our hometowns and zipping around the globe. We’re meeting new people because we want to, not just because they’re in our neighborhood, class, or club.

We’re branching out and carving our own niches in the world, which is pretty freaking amazing.

And, you know what? We’re pretty freaking amazing.

It’s mystery, adventure, and confusion.

We’re mysterious, adventurous, and confused.

We may not know what we’re doing quite yet, but we’re doing something. The path may be untrodden, but we have the chance to forge it ourselves. Life may be a giant jumble of excitement and uncertainty, but we’re trying to figure it out. We may wish for the TARDIS and a smooth jump forward or back, but our 20s are quite fantastic if we just take the time to recognize them for what they are–a decade of freedom and discovery, growth and change (the good kind).

It’s perfectly acceptable not to have our lives completely put together in our 20s. Rome wasn’t built in a day, Harry Potter didn’t defeat Voldemort with one spell, and Frodo couldn’t have made it to Mordor alone–we’ll get there eventually and there is no need to feel down about our youth along the way.

Clichés exist because some ideas are true and common, which is why I don’t feel silly for saying that we would be crazy to waste our 20s worrying and obsessing about what comes next. Life happens regardless of what you decide or do, and we might as well have some fun along the way. In 13 Going On 30 (2004) Jenna skipped over being a 20-something but, in the end, it was that skip, that lost time, those neglected experiences that made Jenna wish she could go back to being a 13-year-old and give growing up another go.

The Doctor isn’t going to schlep us back to 20 when we turn 30, Hermione Granger doesn’t have a time-turner to volunteer, and Doc Brown and Marty McFly aren’t on their way with a tricked out DeLorean time machine.

It’s up to all of us 20-somethings to make the most of our 20s and not turn our back on the experience out of fear for the future. Your 20s are a crazy era but, someday we will look back and say that “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” we were awesome, we did amazing things, and we don’t regret even a single minute of that adventure. Of course, then we’ll brag about our current and future awesome-ness like the millennials we are and get down with our bad selves to infinity and beyond, though that’s another post entirely…

Be your age, live your life, and know that, even if better days are ahead, these days are pretty great too.

 

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.) 

Accepting My Inner Hermione Granger.

From the very first time I picked up a Harry Potter book, I related to and adored the character of Hermione Granger. She’s intelligent, driven, focused, and dedicated, yet she is also awkward in social situations, fearful of failure, obsessive in her projects, and annoying in her relentless rule-following.

It seems that, for every reason she is likable, she is insufferable. There is a definite yin and yang within her personality. Just as she is someone you think you could be or already are, she is someone you wouldn’t necessarily want to know. Through these contradictions and complexities, Hermione became a stabilizer among characters like proud blood-traitor Ronald Weasley and fearless boy-who-lived Harry Potter.

In essence, Rowling wrote Hermione so profoundly that an intangible character became a finite human being that many of us can see ourselves in.

 

However, despite my genuine love of all things Hermione and continual defense of her necessity in the overall plot, I never before realized how thoroughly I connect with one particular aspect of her personality and practices: her incessant desire to learn, to know, and to understand.

While the boys wonder about the name “Nicholas Flamel,” Hermione pursues his record through the ancient tomes and dusty pages of a library that contains information well beyond her year.

When the pink toad known as Dolores Umbridge removes any trace of learning from Defense Against the Dark Arts curriculum, paving the way for the Dark Lord Voldemort, Hermione incites a desire to learn among her peers and, as a result, a full-fledged rebellion.

After horcrux-deluded Ron abandons she and Harry, Hermione reads and re-reads the only books available to her–Albus Dumbledore’s biography and The Tales of Beedle the Bard–until the next step on the quest becomes apparent.

Greater knowledge, man, it’s worth pursuing. Hermione proves it.

Academia and learning were where Hermione succeeded above all others. (We will just ignore the “Harry and the Half-Blood Prince’s perfectly annotated book” incidents.) Books and cleverness are dominant aspects of who she is and everyone knows it.

At every turn, it was Hermione’s intellect that helped herself, the boys, and her other classmates on their way, no matter how much they grumbled about her studying and hand-raising. Her intelligence and logic were as valuable as Harry’s heroism and Ron’s loyalty, if not more so in certain situations.

The truth of the matter though, is that while Hermione wanted to learn, she also desperately needed to learn. She was a young woman who woke up one day to a new world that, while beautiful and complex, did not wholeheartedly want her to exist within it. As such, Hermione sought to empower herself in the ways that seemed most natural to her: studying and learning.

It wasn’t until last week, amid responding to an email from my new graduate studies advisor, that I realized that I have sought to empower myself in the same ways. Apparently, without realizing it, I’ve become, or quite possibly have always been, a Hermione Granger.

Of course, as moments of clarity are want to be, the whole situation felt a bit absurd at first. If you’ve ever been fitted for glasses and experienced the sudden realization that the world looks different from what your eyes alone have allowed you to see up to that point, then you understand my meaning. It’s the experience of finally seeing the clear image that has always existed before your own blurry eyes.

You see, I’m still on an extended RV trip with my family and I just wanted to have the “graduate advising hold” removed from my account so that I could register for classes later this year. But, being more than 2,000 miles from home means I’m not exactly available to do the whole “don a pretty dress, worry over finding a parking space, search out the office that I’ve somehow never noticed before, smile big, and make small talk” routine with an advisor.

Luckily, the advisor for my graduate program was kind enough to run me through the routine via email, minus all of the typical rigmarole. He began by covering all of the simple yet important details that I will probably forget and relearn at least twice before the semester starts. Then he set in with the questions. What is my educational background? What about professional? Why did I choose this program? Have I taken undergraduate statistics? Am I prepared for graduate school?

Oh. Oh goodness. There is a special kind of anxiety that is reserved for instances of simply not knowing quite how to answer questions. It’s awful and terribly disconcerting to say the very least.

I then found myself writing what quickly became less of an email and more of an unintentionally egotistical essay filled with “buts.”

Yes, I attended these universities, but I attended them in this order. I took these classes, but I studied these subjects in-depth as “a bit of light reading.” I feel this way, but I also feel like this. As I struggled to explain why a person with a B.A. in English would want to delve into criminal justice, why I had already begun to do so, a “but” slid into every too-long-and-too-detailed paragraph. For every stated fact there was some seemingly necessary addendum.

At the same time, every statement about myself felt absurd. I know that graduating two years early and studying extra subjects for fun sound like lies of the kiss-up, trying-to-impress variety. I know that purposely picking a foreign topic to study at the graduate level sounds incredibly ridiculous. Despite knowing those things, both notions are true in terms of who I am and what I’ve done.

Still, who is going to buy my truth when it smells strongly of baloney?

I had to question the entire situation. What do you do when the truth sounds like a series of lies, and you don’t want to lie to make the truth sound truthful? The only conclusion I’ve come to is that you just stop. You stop worrying. You throw caution to the wind. You let the admissions counselor judge you, critique you, and come to some half-arsed conclusion if it makes him feel good. You give up on appealing to others and fitting yourself into expectations, preconceived ideas. Maybe, just maybe, you realize the truth.

You realize that you’re a Hermione Granger, and that’s completely okay. Okay?

It’s perfectly fine to be something that sounds false as long as it isn’t actually. The truth is what matters, plain and simple, not how the truth sounds. Who you are and what you do are worthwhile and essential to a balanced world. There must be a Hermione for every Harry, Ron, Neville, Seamus, Luna, Severus, Minerva, Dumbledore, and so on and so forth.

It’s alright to be the brains, the student, the autodidact. Having knowledge is half the journey to understanding. Just don’t forget that there will always be something you don’t know or understand, and that is why you must keep trying, keep living. Learn, grow, and know as much as you like. Dismiss the “tone of surprise.”

Ron (by way of the wonderful HP Queen Jo) once commented on Hermione, saying her philosophy was “when in doubt, go to the library.” I’m come to realize that I believe and do the same thing because, as a much older man, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, once said, “the scholar and the world” are together in “the love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books.”

If you’re like me, if you’re a Hermione, embrace it. You’ll be glad you did.

Without further adieu, if you ever have to explain who you are, narrowing your whole being into one measly message, do not feel ashamed, fraudulent, or confused. All the words you’ve read will be insufficient to describe you. You’re just a Hermione Granger–one of a large community of insufferable know-it-alls–and there is nothing “just” or “merely” about any of us.

(“Hermione Reads Before Bed” by Lorena Garcia, fan artist)

 

Love, Marriage, and a Baby Carriage–or Not.

Last month, when the blog article 23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged Before You’re 23 went viral, engaged, married, and otherwise committed individuals were quick to take offense. I don’t mean to cause any similar kind of uproar, but I do have something to say and I can only hope it won’t be taken the wrong way.

——

Right now, my Facebook news feed is positively flooded with enthusiastic engagement party invitations, Instagram-worthy pregnancy announcements, and dazzling wedding pictures. I’ve seen enough posts about cakes, dresses, and baby showers on Facebook to make me question whether I’ve somehow mistakenly ended up on Pinterest.

But, despite my genuine happiness and the atrocious squealing sounds that come out of my mouth with each new announcement, I suddenly feel out of place amongst all of these couples and budding families that I used to know so well as individuals.

Statistically, the fact that quite a few of my friends are getting engaged, married, and having children isn’t that unusual.

December is the most popular month for engagements, June is most popular for weddings, and August continually fluctuates between the month with the first and second highest number of births. The United States’ average age of first marriage is 29.8 for men and 26.9 for women, while the average age of women at first birth is 25. Not to mention, ages at first marriage and birth tend to be slightly lower in Southern states–I live in Texas–and my friends are the slightest bit older than myself, spanning from 21 to 30.

By the numbers at least, my attached friends are pretty average, and my unattached friends are destined to be ever-dwindling. As someone who intends to stay single and childless for some time, I’m quickly becoming the odd man out, even among people in their early twenties and, presumably, just getting started in life.

While everyone else–excuse my hyperbole–is getting married or passing on their genetic material, I’m not.

I’m a student, a dreamer, a free spirit with very few ties to keep me in a single place. I have my undergraduate degree, I’m starting my graduate degree in 5 months, and I’m not keen on making any lifelong commitments to other human beings at this point. You’d be hard pressed to even get me to commit to even being a solo puppy parent at this point. My sights are set on conquering advanced coursework, traveling the world, and figuring out what to do with the experience garnered from both. And, I honestly don’t desire a new ring or birth certificate amid all of that.

For me, marriage and my own little family will happen much, much later…if ever.

I understand that:

And:

But, I don’t want any of that yet because my overall view is:

Or become engaged to pie, get married to pie, or give birth to pie, etc, etc, etc…

Relationships are lovely, marriage is a beautiful commitment, and I don’t know a single person who can’t appreciate tiny humans in at least a third-party way. I just personally don’t feel the need for any of it and I certainly lack the want.

So, as much as I love my friends and am happy for them, I cannot truly understand them, and that’s an easily driven wedge when you’re already being driven apart by other aspects of growing up.

I don’t feel superior for not being married or expecting. I’ll freely admit that my choices are no more or less correct/appropriate/right than my friends’ choices to get married or start families. But, our choices do place us in entirely different positions. Our launching pads for life are different from here on out.

The ties that used to bind us together, like common interests and shared responsibilities, have suddenly come loose and we’re drifting in opposite directions, whether we would like to or not.

Given that, when I read “23 Things to Do Instead of Getting Engaged You’re 23,” I could understand where Vanessa of Wander Onwards was coming from when she said that millennials deserve the opportunity to discover themselves. She’s finding herself, but at the same time she’s losing many others, and that’s a difficult position to be in.

I didn’t and still don’t agree with the 23 specific experiences that she recommended having or the way in which she entirely dismissed young couples, but I can understand her motivations. Like me, young commitment isn’t for Vanessa, but she mistakenly applied that notion to all people everywhere. In a way, she’s displaying a bit of ethnocentrism and/or collective narcissism, with uncommitted and meandering young adults as the group that she considers to be “normal” or otherwise socially superior.

The truth of the matter is that there are different strokes for different folks. What is right for me is not right for others, and we all have to trek our own path. As easy as it is to give in and sum up the natural decay of personal relationships as “others making the ‘wrong choices,'” it’s just not true. The moment we cast aside others’ choices is the very same moment that we’re making a wrong choice.

With all of that said, my dear engaged/married/expectant friends, I truly am excited for you and I wish you all the best in absolutely everything. I welcome the inundation of my news feed with your cute pictures and sappy love posts, and I will squeal over the pudgy cheeks of your children and like every photo I see of your wedding ceremony. Please don’t be dismayed by people who will dismiss your choices or lifestyle, but also respect those who make other choices and take different paths from your own.

And, just know that, if we do truly drift apart because of our diverging paths, you will be missed and I’ll always be happy for you.