life

#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!

——

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.

——

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

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!

Fandom, Fanfiction, and Fangirling.

 

When the last Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, came out in July of 2011, a community of readers and movie-goers simultaneously mourned the end of the series and celebrated the very existence of the series. For days before the London premiere, fans of the series gathered in Trafalgar Square and the surrounding areas, enduring rain and poor attitudes for even a single glimpse of Harry Potter Queen J.K. Rowling and the cast of the film.

There was little to gain from attending the premiere aside from memories, experience, and, for the lucky few, an autograph or two. Fans dressed in homemade and store-bought Hogwarts robes, wielded wands, ate Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, read and reread the books, watched and re-watched the films, and enjoyed the company of others who were just as dedicated to the books, movies, and wizarding world. For a few days, people who spoke a common language (spells) and held common interests (he-who-must-not-be-named needed to die, duh) were together. Common ground is a powerful thing.

Even those who were not in London were able to get in on the action. Worldwide, fans tuned in to live online broadcasts, posted their excitement and worries on messaging boards and chatrooms, did everything else the London-goers did, but with testy Internet connections and crowded feeds instead of a downpour and crowded streets. Children, students, employees, parents, and people from every other age group and walk of life were represented by IP addresses, screen names, and handles. World wide web (i.e. wizarding world web), indeed.

Somehow, the memories, the experience, the chance to mourn and celebrate collectively, was enough to make attending the premiere (virtually or physically) totally worth it. By the end of the day, every fan could understand what Neville Longbottom meant when he said “Yeah, we lost Harry tonight. But he’s still with us.”

That day? Those feelings? The experience? That is what fandom is for the fans within it, and it extends far beyond the world of Harry Potter.

Scientifically, or perhaps linguistically, fandom has been defined by Princeton and Merriam-Webster (for who knows what reason) as a noun referring to a subculture of people who share a common interest or attitude of being a fan. Socially, fandom is much more than a definition, it is, as Hannah Carter of Fandom Wanderers puts it, “an amazing thing, with amazing power” that incorporates and affects innumerable people in a broad span of places.

“I’m just really active in the fandom.”
“What the fuck is ‘the fandom’?” (Rainbow Rowell)

In a way, the fandom and their activities often break or breach the “fourth wall” of art, literature, and film. The fourth wall, which is typically referenced only in relation to film, theater, and television, is the figurative division between performers and their audience. As Aja Romano of The Daily Dot states in the article “The Crumbling of the Fourth Wall: Why Fandom Shouldn’t Hide Anymore,” this wall is supposed to insulate performers from the harsh judgment and sometimes real-life repercussions of a performance.

In all honesty though, the fourth wall doesn’t insulate anyone.

In all honesty, the fourth wall doesn’t exist. At least, not while fandom thrives.

Fans and the fandom overall are a dominating force. The reaction of fans, not critics or reporters, can make or break a film in the short and long-term.

For example, The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes (2013) was a box office flop and, as a result, production for the second film has (reportedly) been put on hold indefinitely. Critics felt that TMI had the same ingredients as seemingly every other fantasy franchise, but, perhaps more importantly, book fans weren’t ready to become franchise fans. The Mortal Instruments film was, in all honesty, the product of a toxic mix of improper casting, faulty plot lines, and boring scene arrangements. The numbers didn’t turn out at the box office; the fandom didn’t approve. But, it’s possible that future fans will.

Psycho (1960), The Shining (1980), and Fight Club (1999) were famously poorly reviewed by critics when they first came out in theaters. But, in the long run, all three became cult classics with active fandoms that are still more than happy to cosplay Crazy Jack and Marla Singer. While one-shot films have decidedly smaller fandoms than those of franchises, their fans can still hold their own. Critics serve a purpose, sure, but in the end it is not their word that guarantees or destroys the potential for a film’s success, it is the fan reaction.

The fans, the fandom is important. It or they are the make it or break it factor.

Fans participate in their given fandom(s) in a myriad of ways. Creation of fan art, literature, and music, along with blogging, cosplay, and conventions are quite common. However, writing and reading fanfiction seems to be one of the most popular methods of participation.

Fanfiction.net was launched in October 1998 is currently the largest and most popular fanfiction website in the world with over 2.2 million registered users reading and posting stories in more than 30 languages. The majority of fanfics (i.e. fanfiction stories) posted on fanfiction.net deal with the characters and worlds of books, including Harry Potter, Twilight, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians. 

“The whole point of fanfiction is that you get to play inside somebody else’s universe. Rewrite the rules. Or bend them. The story doesn’t have to end. You can stay in this world, this world you love, as long as you want, as long as you keep thinking of new stories” (Rainbow Rowell, Fangirl).  

In fanfiction, the sky is the limit. Writers can correct wrongs, give minor characters a moment, and even create backstories for the canonically one-dimensional. There are non-canon and alternate universe (AU) fics where major features of a work are altered, and there are canon fics where details are the same and the story explores the grey space before, between, and after books. There are crossover fics (i.e. two books/series meshed together), slash fics (i.e. fics wherein characters of the same sex are romantically linked), and limes/lemons (i.e. explicit fics), as well as the self-explanatory angst fics, sad fics, bad fics, and dark fics.

In the realm of fanfiction, there are people to answer to. There are fans of fans and fandoms of fandoms, if you will. There are beta readers, commenters, voters, bloggers, readers, writers, co-writers, writing buddies, forum friends, and chat pals…it’s a whole community, a whole world that coexists with that of the original creator and their creation. It is a whole community that actively demolishes, or disproves, the fourth wall.

“There are other people on the Internet. It’s awesome. You get all the benefits of ‘other people’ without the body odor and the eye contact” (Rainbow Rowell).  

Fanfiction is but one feature in the subculture that is fandom, but it is an important one. It is a medium wherein Luke Skywalker can be unrelated to Princess Leia, Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape can have the redemption they deserve, Rose can be the Doctor’s forever companion (*intergalactic swoon*), Bella can end up with non-sparkly Jacob, and Kirk and Spock can get to together in every way (*wink wink*). It is a medium wherein anything is possible for anyone. It is a medium wherein people can discover over people through the things they love and cherish.

That’s what makes fandom and all it involves somehow significant and worthwhile: the people within it.

Often when people talk about fandom, they forget that the word references genuine, real people and a state of being. It’s easy to cast the fangirls aside, especially when there are minorities that take fandom to the extreme (e.g. Bieber fans cutting themselves and shaving their heads in his name, threatening Kim Kardashian “for him,” taking over Twitter and ridiculing those within other fandoms, etc). But, we can’t forget and we can’t let anyone else forget because people, no matter who they or what they love, are important.

“You’re not a book person. And now you’re not an internet person? What does that leave you?” (Rainbow Rowell)

The fandom world isn’t just online, and it isn’t something that pales in comparison to “real life.” It’s the seasoning, the spice on top of a piping hot serving of life–fandom is something extra, something wonderful, something worth exploring. It is an unbreakable bond with people all over the globe, it is passion that can turn to positive action, and it is an identity that is as real and significant to fans as their last name or hometown.

Fandom is a bit like family.

It is crazy and trying. It requires devotion and inspires bravery. It is a part of us and we a part of it even when we are not actively participating. It acts as a support system and maintains accountability. It is a voice and a channel for ideas and concerns. It works to unite the divergent and incites the discovery of common ground.

Don’t make fun of fangirls; they’re incredibly brave to throw themselves into something with no promise of tangible returns. Don’t dismiss fanfiction; it is proof of passion, of dedication, of skill. Don’t demean fandom; this subculture has a purpose that is in no way sub par.

Fandom is a force.

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.

Thank You for Teaching Me to Learn.

When you graduate from university several things happen at once.

First, you realize that it all went by–primary, secondary, university–much faster than you thought when you were 5 years old and dreaming of going to “big kid school” with a grown-up backpack and fancy pens of your very own.

Second, you start to miss things that don’t make sense like the person with the cool jacket that you never got to know, laying on the concrete while waiting for your ride, and the feeling the first day of your last semester.

Third, you suddenly don’t know what to do next, not really.

When you’re a month out of university and you aren’t starting graduate school until you’re moved across the country, you start to look back because the future is too uncertain to contemplate. You start to wonder what you did right and what you did wrong. You start to see what the grey area of your education contains.

That’s where I am today. I’m floating, weightless, in the grey area between what I did and didn’t do to get to where I am today, and for some reason one phrase keeps coming back to me: “thank you.”

Obviously I’m thankful for having graduated, especially without any debt, but there’s something, or rather a collection of someones, that I’m also thankful for–the teachers and professors that helped me get to this point. This post is dedicated to them and all the “thank you’s” I should have said before now.

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“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. It might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit (John Steinbeck).”

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Mrs. Thornton,

You were the first teacher I ever had. You were the image that I had, from fall of 1999 onward, of what a dedicated teacher was, and every other educational figure was internally scored on a scale based on you. You taught me to write beautifully in cursive, read books like they are going out of style, and create anything and everything whenever possible. You were the last teacher who ever had to tell me to stop chatting with my friends and the first to tell me that not talking to my friends during class didn’t mean I should ever let anyone stop me outside of it. You awarded me a trophy for “citizenship” and taught me to sing Spanish. It is because of you that I have penmanship that others still compliment and bookshelves full of journeys I can take at any moment, as well as a voice and a desire to learn and create, that no one can ever stifle. Thank you.

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Ms. (who may now be Mrs.) Nawrocki,

You were the youngest teacher at the school that year and still relatively new to that all-girls Catholic convent school, just like me. You encouraged me to read, even when it meant that I spent all three breaks each day sitting at a picnic table with my face buried in pages. You coaxed me into making friends, even when I was ready to stay off to the side and prepare for the next class. You made me talk things out with those friends, even when we made each other cry at recess because none of us knew how to handle multiple friendships. And, when I wasn’t in your class or grade level anymore, you still said “hello” in the courtyard and asked about my family. When everything else made me feel like a misplaced and awkward child–and even as you interviewed me for your thesis–you made me feel better, normal. Thank you.

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Ms. Person,

When I walked into your class the first day of sophomore year, I was exhausted, nervous, and more than a little skittish. So, all in all, it was a pretty normal day for me. Throughout the fall of 2008 semester, I don’t think I said more than 10 words that didn’t relate to presentations and other assignments, but you taught me so much about writing and the world of nonfiction. Then, the spring semester happened, we talked about my book reviewing, and suddenly I was applying to be on the yearbook staff and being grouped with the students that were doing the same. Everything seems to have passed in a whirlwind after that: I was writing in styles that I didn’t even know how to do before you, I was using a camera that you put in my hands, and I was learning to love a school that you made me see differently. It’s because of you that I learned to enjoy the microcosm of society that is high school and I didn’t simply retreat into my neon-sock-wearing, review-writing, antisocial, pessimistic, sophomoric self. You helped me grow into myself and truly appreciate those around me; you’re a large part of the reason I see and love the world the way I do. I sincerely hope that I know you for many years to come. Thank you.

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Mrs. Ramirez,

I think that everyone, at some point, has that teacher that they desperately want to impress for reasons that they don’t even understand. For me, that teacher was you. I walked into your class with my heart set on enjoying my best subject and I was hoping against all hope that I would have a teacher that loved English and writing instead of merely teaching either subject. You did. To my 16/17 year-old self, who thought about everything in terms of lyrics, you personified the notion of a “heart so big it hurts like hell.” Feeling and caring positively exuded from you, and your assignments made me care and feel too, and that was an incredibly scary thing for a teenager. Sometimes I would put off your weekly essays just because I was scared that I would feel too little or too much and my writing abilities just wouldn’t be able to match the emotions and ideas I was supposed to convey. You made me tiptoe a careful line between comfortably loving writing on my own and the abrupt realization that there was a lot about the literary world that I had left to explore. It’s because of that I realized there is no end in sight when you love something, there is only the passion of the process. Thank you.

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Dr. Dumas,

The first day of class, you admitted that students and other professors called you Doctor Doom. You told us that your British Literature II course would be hard and that people typically failed or just barely passed. I think your speech was supposed to scare us, but I don’t remember being scared. As the weeks ticked on, you threatened us with bad grades, put us in our place with hard questions, and generally tried to personify Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. It was exciting because you truly made me work for my grades. You made me run across campus to buy a test scoring sheet and defile a textbook by making notes in the margins. You made me discuss the works we read and admit my opinions before others could give theirs. You made me speak out when you saw my nose crinkle up at other students’ comments. You made me live up to my choice of a front row seat, and you didn’t allow me to be an insignificant 17-year-old among 21-year-olds. I usually hated any grade below an A, but I was incredibly proud of the B I got in your class because it was by the cramps of my hand and sweat of my brow that I earned it. When I dropped off my final paper at your office, I had never felt more accomplished. Thank you.

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Professor Bayless,

If I had to point out a teacher or professor that I would most like to emulate, I would point to you. It’s not because I adored your lesson plans or got to know you personally, but because you love the material you teach. When I was in your courses, there wasn’t a single day that I felt as if you didn’t want to be there or that you resented what you were doing. Despite teaching being your job and a job being necessary to pay for all aspects of life, you didn’t seem to resent it like some professors do. Yet, you also didn’t settle and allow your job to become your life. When you spoke about your poetry, your wife, and the degree in creative writing that you got in spite of societal protestations, I couldn’t help but to feel encouraged in my own endeavors. If nothing else, your brand of optimism and insight was contagious. While I was only lucky enough to be able to take two fine arts courses during my degree, those two courses and you forever changed the way I look at art. You may not have taught me the quote, but you taught me the lesson: “Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul” (Oscar Wilde). Thank you.

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Dr. Redmon,

For a while, I felt as if you were my only professor. That is to say, how often does a student have the same professor as their advisor and for two or three classes for three semesters in a row? But, I think the feeling spawned from more than just the frequency of our interactions–your courses contained such poignant material that I couldn’t help but to think about the courses even when I wasn’t in them. You taught me about literature and films in such a way that the lessons resonated outside of the classroom and discussion boards. You taught me how one discussion or one piece of material can transcend that physical experience or existence. When I completed the assignments for your class, I felt like I was doing so much more. As I wrote about religious, historical, and literary modes of early American literature, simulation in films, and the sexualization of female characters, you made me realize putting pen to paper or fingers to keys was only the first step in changing life and society. You made me see how vital my education is to the world I live in and that, despite frequent dismissals of an English degree, skill with words and the ability to see beyond the obvious may be precisely what makes life worthwhile. Thank you.

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Goodbye, Year of Dedication. Hello, Year of Exploration.

Exactly one year ago, I said goodbye to the “Year of Discovery” and hello to the “Year of Dedication.” Now it’s time to say hello to the “Year of Exploration” and all the wonderful things that it will inevitably bring.

This time last year I was having trouble dedicating myself to one thing and it was a big concern. I knew that my interests were broad and, in a definitive way, I wanted to do, be, and see a million things, people, and places. But, I also thought that having diversified interests was a fault that would hold me back in life, that desiring anything and everything was equivalent to a failing grade on the transcript of my life.

I was obviously very wrong. Actually, no, that’s an understatement.

I was wrong to the nth degree.

You see, they say that variety is the spice of life…and apparently that’s not just an idealistic idiom used to dress up and explain away chronic indecisiveness. I know, I know: duh. Cut me some slack though, I’m generally a contradictory mix of a realist and pessimist frequently operating under the pretty guise of an optimist–easy acceptance of social proverbs isn’t exactly my thing.

Essentially, what this means is that, at 20 years old and with a bachelor’s degree in English, it’s just now occurring to me that a turn of a phrase can be (gasp) more than regurgitated words. My year-long goal of being dedicated to one thing was inherently flawed because it is perfectly alright to be dedicated to a myriad of things. Interests can and do coexist, so it is effectively unnatural to choose just one.

Since I didn’t pick one thing and stick to it over these past 365 days, I suppose you could say that I failed in my New Year’s resolution, technically speaking. However, if I’m being optimistic, I suppose I subconsciously realized how absolutely unachievable my goal was and refused to attempt to complete it. Yeah, we’re going to go with that; it sounds better than admitting my own stupidity. 

I stand by half of my resolution though because, in it, I invited “thirteen tremendous things” to happen and, wouldn’t you know it, at least thirteen wonderful things did happen. Life is stressful and crazy, but is there anything to truly complain about when, in the past 365 days, I’ve graduated from college, developed a new love for classic literature, and learned to cook?

So, as we all say

goodbye-2013-welcome2014

I’ll also be saying hello to a year of exploration and embracing diversity in my experiences, interests, people, and places. And, hopefully, along the way, at least fourteen wonderful things will happen. I mean, wouldn’t it be delightful if, as the years counted up, so too did the wonderful happenings within them? (Hmm, maybe this optimism thing isn’t just a guise…)

Here’s to a year of exploring whatever there is to be found and dedicating myself to anything that strikes my fancy. I’m sure there will be lots to experience with an upcoming cross-country move, starting my master’s degree, writing a young adult novel, and so many more little projects in the works, and I honestly cannot wait.

Happy New Year, everyone, I hope that each and every one of you have a sublime 2014.

 ∞∞∞