"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Day in the Life of a College Student (AKA: MY 100TH POST!!!)

This post was inspired by Maggie Stiefvator's post on A Day in the Life of an Author. You should go read it, because it's very funny and entertaining.  :)

December 6, 2013. It is the Friday before finals week. It is also 4 degrees outside.

My day begins at 7:00am when I have pry myself out of bed, and climb, half delirious, down from the top bunk because my phone decided to take leap of faith and fall onto the floor, and the alarm has been ringing for a good five minutes. (Sorry, roomie...) After crawling around in the half-dark and silencing it, I immediately get back into bed and sleep until 8:30.

At this point my roommate is already up, dressed, and gone to breakfast, so I figure it's time for me to do the same. The showers this morning are luke-warm, which is very disappointing. Back in my room, I put on as many layers as I can, open my Coe e-mail, and do a five-minute Facebook check. Evidently it's snowing in Oklahoma and even a couple places in Texas. Here everything is impossibly blue skies and crisp, nose-numbing wind. I close Facebook, and remind myself that the weather reports predict snow on Sunday, which will also be a cozy 25 degrees! I have tea and trail mix for breakfast because I'm a real college kid.

At 10:50 am I bundle up some more in a coat, hat, and gloves and head to my first class, a freshman year seminar on the Harlem Renaissance. I practice the speech I have to make about the blues singer Bessie Smith quietly as I walk, and my breath makes clouds in front of my face. FYS moves quickly, I don't completely mess up my presentation, and we even get out a couple of minutes early. I make it to the caf before the lunch rush, have grilled chicken, french fries, and salad, and sit down with some friends from FYS. We chat about Jimmy Fallon, reality TV, and cafeteria pizza. The best part about this particular lunch is that they have a sugar cookie decorating station set up near the door, complete with cookies in holiday themed shapes. I eat star and stocking shaped cookies with green and pink frosting and of course, sprinkles.

After lunch I walk to the mailroom and am surprised to find out I have a package waiting for me! It's from Davidson, North Carolina which is where my aunt lives. As if sugar cookies in a the caf weren't good enough, this definitely becomes the best part of my day. I hug the package to my chest as I brave the freezing walk (now it's up to 16 degrees!) back to my dorm where (as is the custom whenever I get a package) I drop everything and immediately spend the next ten minutes trying to get it open. Luckily the gift inside makes up for any of the previous struggle. It turns out to be a big, warm, well-worn sweatshirt that belonged to my Uncle Stephen before he passed away in October. With it is an impossibly kind note from my Aunt, telling me he would want me to have it. For a while I just sit there, sweatshirt heavy in my lap, feeling so full of love and gratitude that I can't really move.  It's funny how even the simplest acts of kindness can catch you completely off guard, and to know that a relative hundreds of miles away took time out of her day to send me something that belonged to my uncle makes me feel so incredibly lucky. Who knows how long I sit there, but after a while I get up and try on the sweatshirt. It's a perfect fit.

My literature class was canceled today, so at 2 pm I head towards Film Music. Since it's our second-to-last day of class, a plate of chocolate chip cookies and other sweets greets us at the door. I watch as my peers give presentations on a composer of their choice (I presented yesterday), and as usual we talk about Disney movies, especially The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which I realize is a much more nuanced film than I originally thought. After class I spend some time writing this blog post and grab a few sheets of stationary before heading out for my shift in the Writing Center at 4.

I find the Writing Center dressed in christmas lights, and the front desk is graced by this lovely calendar, which reminds me just how close we are to Winter Break.

I spend the first half of my shift writing a thank-you note to my Aunt Elizabeth, and drawing a blueprint of my new house for a friend. Then I finally settle down to work on revising the Literature paper that is due Monday. When I finally resurface from the world that is Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star, and the dark, messy labyrinth that is my paper, it is 4:56 pm and already dark outside. Oh, winter. I don't think I'll ever get used to you.

I eat a dinner in the caf with Katie and Ella and then head over to the new study rooms in the science building to work on a radio show project for FYS. We get some work done and then head over to Ella's room to watch True Blood. We also go on a failed mission to get smoothies. At 12:30 am I head back to my dorm room, fall into bed, and sleep really, really well. And that's a day in the life of a college student.

Well, if you've made it this far, I commend you! As much as I hate to make this post any longer than it already is, I just want to take few minutes to acknowledge that this is officially my 100TH BLOG POST!!!! YAY!!! :D

I started this blog at the end of my sophomore year of high school. I've grown so much since then, in ways I probably haven't even realized yet. This blog has gone through many stages. It has suffered neglect, overactivity, and its fair share of half-formed ideas and unplanned, unguided tangents. But one thing it has always been is mine. It is a place for me to share my thoughts and connect with other people with similar dreams. It is driven by my love of the written word and my attempts to make sense of life's many intricacies. Blogging is something I think I will always come back to, even if I disappear for long stretches at a time. So, before I completely lose however many of you are still with me, here's to another 100 posts: may they thoughtful, creative, and always interesting.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Reading Recap + Cheese

The past couple of months have been very book-filled, and you guys, they are all SO GOOD! I don't have time to give each one it's own review so here instead is a sampling of my thoughts about all of them. Think of it like a cheese tasting (I like cheese, okay?) ...but in book form!

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

If this book were a type of cheese, it would be smoked gouda. Smooth, sophisticated, with an aged, smoky feel and each bite (chapter) is full of surprises. This is a non-fiction book that reads like a novel. From the very first page you are completely immersed in the world of horse racing in the 1930's. If that doesn't peak your interest, know that I was somewhat skeptical myself, especially since I'd already seen the movie, and therefore pretty much knew the story to begin with. What I didn't expect was that I could fall in love with these characters (who were also, like, real people) all over again. The racing scenes in this book are so suspenseful that I found myself wanting to jump up and down from excitement, and the parts that weren't edge-of-your-seat exciting were fascinating and filled with things I never would have known otherwise. There is at least a decade of research in this book, but it is all seamlessly woven into the narrative. If you have even a passing interest in history, or want to learn about a time that is at once completely different and markedly similar to our own, pick up this book. You won't regret it.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

This book is like brie. It's melty and warm and light and soft. The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake tells the story of a young girl who discovers that she can taste other people's emotions in food. This causes a lot of problems when she discovers that her mother is not as happy as she'd always assumed, and that her brother is even less so. This book is beautiful and sad and lovely all at the same time. The subtle magic of this story is that the presence of the impossible brings about very real emotions and makes the portrait of this family seem so real that it is as if you have lived with them your entire life. My favorite character by far is George. It takes a lot to make me swoon over a book character, but George is definitely swoon-worthy, right up there with Wes from The Truth About Forever and Geric from The Goose Girl. I guess what I love about this book is that despite the magical elements, the emotions, relationships, and actions ring true. My only gripe with this book is that there were a couple places where the author dropped pretty important story threads, and didn't exactly tie them up in the end. Still the absolutely beautiful descriptions of food and emotions, and the very real way in which the characters think and act, make this one of my favorite reads of 2013. (A million thanks to my friend Indigo, who recommended it!)

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin

If you've read my Letters to October, you may have seen an e-mail I sent to my friend about this book right after finishing it. Truthfully, I still don't exactly know what to make of it, which is why I'm calling this one bleu cheese: surprising, sometimes delicious, sometimes not, and it usually depends on the context (salad? sandwich? pizza?). The first thing that you should know about this book, as that you NEVER know what is real and what isn't. Mara wakes up in the hospital after an accident that kills her two best friends, and things just get crazier from there, with hallucinations and deaths and ghosts. I read most of this book in one sitting, eyes glued to the page, physically unable to put it down because I had to know if what was happening was...actually happening. And then THE ENDING. OH GOD.
Truthfully, my opinion of this book has cooled significantly since I finished reading it. Now that I've given it some space, I see the problems with it: the cliche bad-boy love interest, and the narrator who is not quite as deep or interesting as I first thought she was. But there is still that nagging voice in the back of my head. The one that whispers, "But, Laura, don't you want to know what happens next?" And if I'm honest with myself, I know I do. I might have to pick up the sequel to this one, if only to calm my insatiable curiosity.

Imaginary Girls by Nova Ren Suma

And here, finally, is a book that I can't possibly assign a food to, no matter how strange or delicious. First let me say that I had very high expectations for this one. I've been following this author's blog  for some time and looking for this book ever since. It is REALLY hard to find. But, low and behold, the Cedar Rapids Public Library had it, so of course I had to check it out.
The main character, Chloe, has a bond with her older sister Ruby that goes beyond normal sisterhood. During a night out at the mysterious reservoir (which, according to Ruby, contains the remnants of a flooded town), Chloe stumbles across a dead body floating in its middle. This becomes a catalyst for a number of strange events that point towards a not-so-pleasant truth about Chloe's sister. If that sounds like a vague synopsis, that's because this book is not easy to explain. It is told entirely from Chloe's perspective, who lives her life, if not in the shadow of her sister, then at least orbiting her, taking every cue and impulse from Ruby. It becomes apparent, too, that Chloe is the closest anyone has ever gotten to Ruby. I really enjoyed Chloe as a narrator, and I thought that there was something unique and ephemeral about Suma's prose style. Reading this book is like stepping into a dark, beautiful dream, in which everything, as ordinary as it may first appear, has the potential to morph into something much more sinister. I love the way the creepy moments in this book (and there are quite a few of them), are countered by the seemingly benign: teenagers riding in cars, having lime popsicles for dinner, buying a new pair of sunglasses. In the end, I'm still not really sure what to think of this book. I am still vaguely confused about some aspects of the plot, and there are some supernatural elements that weren't fully explained. All I know is that Imaginary Girls is unlike anything I've ever read, and only time will tell if it ends up staying that way.

So these are the books I've been devoting my time to. I hope you enjoyed this sampling, and I will be sure to keep you up-to-date on the other books on my list. As much I enjoyed writing this post, I still enjoy doing full length reviews of books, and will probably not do many more book-to-cheese comparisons in the future. But for now, the all important question: What books have you been reading lately?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Right Now & Someday Soon

Things that have made me happy recently:
Snow (hint: It snowed today!).
Discovering the band Kodaline (their new album is absolute perfection). 
Planning crazy amazing travel adventures with my friends that may or may not happen ever. 
Learning French songs on the piano. 
Centering the type of this blog post, just because.
Drinking chai tea lattes, obviously. 
Eating pancakes with the people I first met when I visited Coe.
Writing birthday cards and mailing them.
Planning my reading itinerary weeks in advance (i.e. "This is the book I'm going to read over Christmas break!").
That moment when you finally finish a paper.
Successful writing center conferences.
Getting text messages from people I haven't talked to in a while.

Things I'm looking forward to:
Seeing my family and my dog and my friends (in two weeks!).
Walking into my new house for the first time.
Doing stereotypically holiday-ish things.
Having more time to read.
Deciding what book to read on the plane ride home (because I take strange pleasure from that ritual).
Somehow getting my hands on Bellman and Black, the new Diane Setterfield novel.
Having 50,000 words written at the end of November (It's happening folks, somehow, it's happening).
Study abroad in London & Florence (long term excitement for that one).
Baking cookies.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Farewell, October

October. Where did you go? It feels like I let you slip through my fingers, like when I was little and I cupped my hands under the faucet and it seemed no matter how hard I pressed my fingers together there was always a gap for the water to escape through. I suppose I'm sad to leave you. Or are you leaving me? This last week has been a whirlwind of stress and laughter and activity, and today really doesn't feel like a new beginning, not like October 1st felt at all. That's not to say I'm not looking forward to November, or Nanowrimo, or Thanksgiving. I just feel like I let you slip away, October. Like I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I guess this will have to do.

As far as months go, you were probably one of my busiest.  I explored Cedar Rapids and Chicago. I wrote at least four papers. I probably drank half my weight in Chai tea and apple cider. I read three books. I had many interesting conversations, a couple of writing center conferences, and lots of laughs. I carved a pumpkin, flew to North Carolina, and planned several short stories. Despite a few stressful days, you were a good month, October. Best of all I have a record of you. Even if I end up doing this project next year, you will always be special, because you were first.

It's funny, today the leaves on the trees around campus really decided to show their colors. I can't tell if you were only a precursor to fall, October, or if this is this is nature's last burst of flame before winter sets in. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. Maybe next year I will be able to read you better. Farewell, October. Until we meet again.

Song of the day: You Are Goodbye by Holly Conlan


Songs that aren't in the playlist because Spotify is stupid:
Trying to Be Found by Snow Mantled Love
Build Me a Boat to Nowhere by Hunter & Wolfe
The Ground by Orla Gartland
Nothing Stays the Same by Luke Sital-Singh

That's all for now! Keep your eye on my Nanowrimo progress in the box underneath the typewriter in the left side bar. Participating in Nanowrimo? Add me as a writing buddy! 

Other than that, have a great November!

Letter #31

Dear October,
        It is super late and I am sitting here in my dorm room, listening to the song of the day on repeat and marveling at life in general. I started my day with the generosity of friends. A few nights ago a classmate and I were talking about how much we missed our dogs at home. When she found out her mother was going to visit and bring their dog, she invited me to join them for some good old fashioned animal time. So I spent my morning with a lovely dog and lovely people. I forgot how much I crave the unwavering energy and enthusiasm  that dogs bring with them to every interaction. It’s just so contagious! The middle of my day was spent studying for my Sociology test, which I think I aced, by the way. After dinner I had a shift in the writing center, and I did my first ever English-as-a-second-language conference. I’m not sure how much help I was, but it was definitely a learning experience. The rest of the evening was spent eating candy in my friend’s room, freaking out (and laughing hysterically) while watching Children of the Corn. There is one scene where the main character is running full speed from the creepy children with a knife wound in his chest, and in the process runs into a pole that slows him down more than the knife wound does. That cracked us up big time. Afterwards we followed Netflix’s suggestion and watched a TV show for pre-teens about a mermaid cult and a guy who turns into a half-merman by falling into a magical pool. We spent most of it trying to figure out if their accents were Australian or New Zealand-ish (?), and examining the sexual tension between the half-merman guy and his best friend.
…So that’s what I did with my Halloween, October. It was an all around good time.
I can’t believe you are almost over. (Actually, you are, since it’s after midnight now.) If there’s anything I’ve learned from this project is that so much can change day to day, and most of the time we don't even notice. I’m not going to pretend I’m a different person than I was at the beginning of the month, but these last few days have felt like I’m on the cusp of change. This project has taught me that life is more than just a procession of moments. It’s thoughts and inside jokes and chances taken and opportunities missed. Each part affects the rest. It’s like a giant puzzle that we will never find all the pieces to, but if we take a few moments to step away from it we can almost make out an image.
At the same time, there’s something to be said for just…living. Experiencing. Feeling. Like the artist in today’s song of the day. You know immediately where his heart is. It is wholly, passionately, impossibly invested in the music, the moment, life. Oh dear life. You’ve been good to me.


Song of the day: Nothing Stays the Same by Luke Sital-Singh

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Letter #30

Dear October,
       You were rainy, and cold in some parts. It’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day of October. Or Halloween, for that matter. I don’t have any definite plans yet, but I’m sure that will change. Right now I’m sitting in the lobby on the 9th floor of the tallest dorm on campus, listening to Kodaline and Ingrid Michaelson and Jukebox the Ghost while studying with friends. These are the nights I like best, when I get to be surrounded by friends, and we get to study and listen to music and laugh for no reason. If there’s anything I’ve learned from Letters to October it’s that my best days are the ones spent with other people. The friends I’ve met here have been wonderfully kind, funny, and thoughtful. Spending time with them can make any day better, and actually, it just has.


Song of the Day: Everybody by Ingrid Michaelson 

Letter #29

Dear October,
        Today was a lazy day. It probably shouldn’t have been quite as lazy as it was. I took a cliché picture. I did a little bit of work. I listened to a lot of Kodaline, which is quickly becoming my new favorite band. Two songs of the day today for, you know, variety. That is all.


Songs of the day:
Big Bad World by Kodaline
The Ground by Orla Gartland

Letter #26 + 27 + 28

Photo by Barbara Mills

Dear October,
       The past few days have been, well, hectic. To say the least. They’ve been stressful and sad but also rejuvenating and enlightening and inspiring. The 26th of October, especially. It seems strange to lump it next to the 27th and 28th because they pale in comparison, but I’ll do my best to give each day its due.

October 26:
You dawned clear, cold, and sunny. You were the day of Uncle Stephen’s memorial service. My parents, grandmother and I ate warmed-up ciche for breakfast in the house next door to my aunt’s, who’s owner had moved out for a couple of days so that we could be nearby. We spent some time with the rest of the family and then got a ride to downtown Davidson, where we walked around, visiting some of the places Uncle Stephen would have undoubtedly shown us if he’d been there. I had Chai tea at Summit coffee shop, where my aunt’s band plays every so often. Of course the bookstore was a must, and we couldn’t leave without buying something. My dad was excited to discover a copy of Looking for Alaska by John Green, and I picked up a collection of short stories by Alice Munro. Other hidden gems included a yarn shop with a tiny record store upstairs, and a cute breakfast place that was closed when we walked by, but I think someone told us it was one of my uncle’s favorite places. Later we walked over to the Presbyterian church on the Davidson College campus for the service. Since we were family we sat in the first couple of pews, but I wish I could have stood in a corner, marveling at the sheer magnitude of the crowd that attended: neighbors, friends, business associates, middle and high school students Stephen had mentored. I suppose it’s no surprise; he made friends wherever her went. The words shared during the service were beautiful and kind, people remembering all of the things Stephen had done for them, how he made them a better person, just by being around. It made me realize how rare it is to find someone like that, and how sad it is when the world loses them. Last was a beautiful rendition of “Amazing Grace,” played on the guitar by the pastor himself.
Music seemed to be the theme of the day. Later that night friends gathered at my aunt’s house for cocktails and music, just like Stephen would have wanted. It could have been a somber occasion. We could have felt sorry for ourselves, shared tears and stories from the hardest moments, but instead the atmosphere was light. It was a celebration. Old friends caught up on current events and my aunt’s very large and very talented band played for hours. Music permeated every corner of the room. During the more popular songs the entire party broke out in song, and for a moment we all embodied Stephen’s spirit. There we were, surrounded by friends and family, our hearts beating in time with the music, our voices raised, completely lost in the moment. We were living life to fullest, just like he had.

 October 27:
Just like that my time in North Carolina came to an end. My aunt drove us to the airport and I spent the rest of the day traveling. For some reason it was harder saying goodbye to my parents this time. I’d been preparing not to see them until Thanksgiving, and suddenly I got to spend time with them for a few days. But for some reason, this brief contact made the prospect of waiting another month before seeing them again worse than before. After a long, tiring flight I finally arrived in Cedar Rapids.
I’m not sure which felt more unreal: being back on campus, or the fact that just that morning I had been in the impossibly beautiful town of Davidson, NC. Even though I had studying to do I went straight to bed and slept until dinner. I joined my friends for dinner and tried to get back into the college mindset. Slowly, my brief trip slipped deeper into memory, and I started looking ahead again. Paper due Wednesday. Soc test Thursday. This next week is not going to be easy, but I’ll make it through. And I still have Thanksgiving to look forward to.

October 28:
I got so much work done today! There really is no feeling like checking everything off of your to-do list. Let’s hope this productivity lasts...

Several songs for several days:
Stubborn Love by The Lumineers
Awake my Soul by Mumford and Sons

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Letter #25

Dear October,
        I am in Davidson, North Carolina. This is truly an amazing place. I had always heard it was picturesque, but I had NO idea how beautiful it would be. In sad times like these, natural beauty can feel like a knife in the heart., as if the world is laughing at your pain. At the same time, what better place to celebrate a person’s life than in a place where life is so abundant? More than just the scenery, though, the people have been the most incredible part of this whole ordeal. Countless friends and neighbors came and went from my Aunt’s house, paying their respects, reminding us all how many people Stephen touched. The whole reason my mom, dad, and I can stay so close to my aunt’s house is because her next door neighbor volunteered to vacate it for incoming family. Today my father and Uncle Brent took a walk around the neighborhood. On two separate occasions people who happened to be walking their dog or standing in their driveway approached them and asked, “You’re the Mills brothers, right?” and then proceeded to give condolences and offers of support. This place, this community is so caring and strong. As cheesy as it sounds, my faith in humanity has been restored. The world is full of incredibly generous people who understand both the grief and the celebration of life that is inherent in situations like these. I know that, together, we will all find the best way to carry on the legacy of Stephen Mills.


Song of the day: Give a Little Love by Noah and the Whale

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Letter #24

Dear October,
        I lost a family member today. I only saw him once or twice a year, but his visits were always memorable. He was the kind of person who genuinely cared about whatever you were interested in, and he made an effort to make sure everyone around him felt included. He was full of boundless energy and joy. My heart goes out to the rest of my family, and I’m thankful that I have the chance to be with them for the next couple of days, with what little support I can offer. Above is a one of my favorite family photographs. Uncle Stephen, your generosity, courage, and love of life will never be forgotten.


Song of the day: Sacred Heart by The Civil Wars

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Letter #23

You can see into the basement of the library from the outside!

Dear October,
        Today I wrote letters. A lot of letters. If you are a friend and you gave me your address, expect a letter. (And if not, send me your address so we can keep in touch!). I finished my work early today so I spent about thirty minutes in the Coe College library, waiting for a book to catch my eye. What I stumbled upon was a “complete” volume of letters from Kurt Vonnegut to friends, family, publishers, librarians, you name it. To say the least, it was fascinating. Letters are such a unique art form. Even as I say that I want to laugh at myself. To the people of the past letters were as basic to communication as text message and e-mail are today, so calling them an art form feels somewhat absurd. At the same time, I read some of Vonnegut’s letters and think, how can they not be? So many of them are beautiful. Simplistic. Profound. Witty. There is a letter in the book where he describes his time as prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany. This would become one of the focal points of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse Five. Just, wow. I read the letters of people who have gone before me and I feel like I am collecting some sort of ancient wisdom. I feel as though it were written just for me. This is another absurdity, I know, but that doesn’t change the power that letters have over me. They are like personal windows into not only the lives of the people writing them, but the time period, the social etiquette, popular culture.
Today, so much of our communication is based on instant gratification. They are all what’s-up? and where-are-you-now? and this-is-this-funny-thing-I-saw. Most of the texts I sent today were immensely inconsequential. Things like, “Where are you?” and “Want to eat?” I can’t help wondering what kind of wisdom anyone in the future would get out of reading them. And truth be told, the letters I wrote aren’t much better. I just talk about my classes, my friends, my job in the writing center. It’s hard to see them as art. But they are meaningful. Maybe even more so now than before the internet. Now, letters are rare. They have this kind of novelty aspect to them that makes receiving them even more exciting.  And even if their contents are ordinary, the act of writing them is special. I don’t really know where I’m going with this except that I’m learning to appreciate things whose gratification is a little less instant. And that I’d really like to have a bunch of my letters in a book someday. If anyone is still reading them. They’d a million times more interesting than my text messages, anyway.


Bonus Material! (These are some of my favorite letters I've ever read, from the website Letters of Note):
Kurt Vonnegut's Letter (mentioned above)
From Ken Kesey to friends after his son's death (Warning: This one makes me cry every time)

Song of the day: Build Me a Boat to Nowhere by Hunter & Wolfe

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Letter #22

Took this leaving the library late. So spooky!

Dear October,
        Today was a long, tiring day. I spent most of it doing homework: revising essays, studying for my sociology exam next week, and reading for Lit class. There were some highlights though. Things like chatting with a friend about where we could go if we could go anywhere. (I’m starting to get my heart set on the study abroad program that lets you spend a semester in London and Florence.) I’m currently trying to take control of my Youtube addiction, which I’ve finally admitted is getting out of hand, and am kind of failing at it, but I will persevere! Also I live tweeted watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind with my film music class. My classmates’ commentary was hilarious. So I guess if you want to check that out, go for it. That’s really all I have for you today. Oh, also October, the snow today was kind of pathetic. Maybe you should up your game a bit. (Except maybe not. I don’t want fall to be over just yet).


Song of the day: Basket by Dan Mangan

Monday, October 21, 2013

Letter #21

Dear October,
        Today has been one of those days that swings from good, to bad, and then back to good again. Some days, you just need a tally system:

-At 12am this morning I got to celebrate the start of my friend’s 19th birthday!
-Got some amazing Halloween cards and a beautiful  hand painted post card from family members today. Who knew they even made Halloween cards? And they’re actually really well done. I don’t know if you can tell from the picture, but that’s Snoopy on a pumpkin with a typewriter! (My family knows me too well.) And the inside of the card with the bat on it says, “Wish we could be hanging out together!” Oh, the puns! Thanks Nana :)
-We’re reading a really fascinating book for Lit class. It’s The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector. It’s really cool so far because the narrator is a writer who’s talking about a character that he’s created, so it’s kind of got this weird meta-fiction thing going on. Lispector herself was a Jewish writer who emigrated from the Ukraine to Brazil in her teens, and became one of the most influential Portuguese writers. So that’s.. just wow. So excited for the rest of this book, and to learn more about the author.
-The heat in our dorm finally started working!
-Omg! According to my phone there’s a chance of SNOW tomorrow! Also rain, but .. SNOW!

-I overslept this morning and rolled out bed ten minutes before my 11am class. That’s almost half of my day, gone.
-I have three or four writing assignments due at the start of next week. I’ve been trying to get an early start, but I’m really bad at working when I feel overwhelmed.
-I’m most productive in the library, but for some reason they insist on keeping the air conditioning on full blast even when it’s thirty-something degrees outside. WHY?!

So it looks like the good triumphed over the bad today, but the bad definitely contributed the most to my mood. In times like these, the best I can do is listen to some calming music, power through another bite-sized piece of homework, and trust that tomorrow will be better.


ps. Oh yeah! And if you’re doing Nanowrimo this year, check out my post about it and add me as a writing buddy!  Seriously, that would make my day.

Song of the day: Trying To Be Found by Snow Mantled Love

Letter #18 + 19 + 20

Dear October,
         Sorry about the relative silence this weekend. As you know, I went to Chicago for a Writing Center conference. It was a blast! Myself and about thirty other consultants sat in on all kinds of sessions and workshops about writing centers. It felt strange to be kind of the odd one out, since Coe’s writing center has about twice the amount staff as most other writing centers, and all of our consultants are undergraduates, which is not the norm. One of the things that the stuck with me the most was something that the Keynote speaker said in an otherwise unremarkable speech. He said that learning was “High risk, high reward.” I don’t know, something just clicked when he said that. For so long, my education has been grade-centered. I would study hard for tests, but for the most part the information wouldn’t stick. This can be a hard mindset to get out of. When your whole world has been centered around getting the grade so you can pass the class so you can get into a good college etc, the wonder that used to be associated with education in elementary school quickly fade into the background. This time, I’m not going to let myself fall into that trap. Learning is too important to lose sight of it because I’m too focused on getting from assignment to assignment. I love the idea that education is “high risk.” It makes it sound like an adventure, like I’m trekking into a jungle and I don’t know what I might find there. And the thing is, that’s true. You have to be willing to brave the unknown, to sacrifice things you’d rather be doing, to dedicate yourself. Because the rewards, while they seem impossibly long term, are also extremely high. I think that is the single most important thing I got out of the conference, and it came from one sentence of a speech that was fraught with poorly written metaphors. Still there were other things I learned, too, which luckily, I wrote down. Here’s a sampling:
“It can be good to remember that books, grammar, and writing are not knowledge in themselves; they are only symbols.”
“When conferencing with a student writer, explore your discomfort, and use it as a jumping off point for connecting with others.”
“Resist clinging to one definition of “a good essay,” because this can change depending on the context.”
The other highlights of the conference were running around downtown Chicago in the middle of the night, eating delicious tiramisu at the keynote luncheon, and playing word games in a fifteen passenger van for much longer than expected because the driver we were following got lost multiple times.
I spent the following two days after the conference catching up on homework and hanging out with friends. Yesterday I went to Sunday dinner in the writing center and had homemade minestrone made by the director, Dr. Bob. Yum. I think I’ll stop this here, before I start waxing poetic about food. I guess I’m hungry?


Several songs for several days:
Empire by Jukebox the Ghost
Shake it Out by Florence + The Machine

My Plans for Nanowrimo 2013!

Hello friends! I am taking a quick break from Letters to October (don't worry, I'm going to catch up, I promise!) to tell you about my plans for Nanowrimo 2013. For those who don't know, Nanowrimo stands for National Novel Writing Month, where the goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The traditional month for novel writing is November, but the organization has several other months set up for noveling as well. Now that we're all on the same page, here's what you need to know about my participation in Nanowrimo this year:

1. I will be attempting the full 50,000 words, but not in novel form. My plan is to write a series of short stories instead of going for a single story. I have always been bad at seeing even the shortest of stories through to their end, and I am really trying to get out of the habit of abandoning them halfway. I think Laini Taylor says this best in one of my favorite essays on writing:
"Sitting down to the work is the start, but there's more. SARK talked about developing a "habit of completion" and this is a VERY important habit! For me, there's no feeling like finishing something! Getting through a first draft! Typing "the end" at the end! It's the embodiment of the satisfaction of crossing items off a list once you've accomplished them. Completion is a habit well worth the agony of developing. And I think, like any habit, it gets easier. It gets, you know, habitual. The more things you finish, the more you know you can do it -- and not onlycan but will. I'm hoping that this grows continually easier throughout my writing life, that my habits will imprint themselves deeper and deeper."
That's what I'm aiming for with Nanowrimo this year: forming a habit of completion. As Ms. Taylor so aptly points out, it's not going to be easy, but since when has Nanowrimo EVER been easy?

2. It's impossible to know how many short stories I will have at the end of November. The most important thing to me is that they are complete first drafts, so that I have smaller chunks to work with when I start revising in December. Ideally, I'd like to be able to send the revised versions to literary magazines, but that is a little too far in the future to really think about at this point. 

3. According to the Nanowrimo forums, I'm classified as a "rebel", since I am writing a series of unconnected shorts rather than a novel. If you are planning to do something non-traditional this November, I highly recommend you check them out! Remember: November is an arbitrary month chosen by the Office of Letters and Light for noveling purposes, but you should use it in the way that you think is most productive for you as a writer!

4. And, if you're planning on participating in Nanowrimo at all, feel free to add me as a writing buddy!

Finally, if you're looking for daily inspiration during Nanowrimo, check out these two Youtubers, who are both doing daily videos throughout November:

1. Katytastic: Super fun/energetic, experienced, VERY motivational, and hilarious. 

2. Abbythemuggle: Talented videographer, novice Nano-er, makes personal, relatable videos that have such a great atmosphere!

Well, that's all for now! You may not be hearing from me very much during November, but I would love to hear about your thoughts/experiences with Nanowrimo. Oh! And keep your eye out for the rest of Letters to October! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Letter #17

Dear October,
        It is after midnight (so technically, the 18th) and I am at a Holiday Inn in Chicago with the Coe College writing center.  We are here for a conference hosted by the Writing Centers of the Midwest, which I did not know was an organization that even existed until I learned about the conference. We left Coe at 4pm and arrived at our destination at 11:30…so needless to say there was much traffic, detours, and pit stops. At one point we turned around in a Lowe’s parking lot and the drivers insisted on stopping at every stop sign in the lot, even though it was completely empty. I had Subway for dinner. Even though we were all somewhat delirious upon stumbling out of the vans in front of the Holiday Inn, it was all worth it. Tomorrow is our first day of the conference, and I promise to give you a much better recap then. For now, enjoy looking at the amazing sunset over the Mississippi River!


Song of the day: "This Could All Be Yours" by Guster

Letter #16

Dear October,
         Don’t you love the smell of warm air? I’m serious. Today I walked into the writing center and I could tell that they had switched over from air conditioning to heating. There’s just something about the smell of warm air on a cold day, that slightly toasted warmth that just surrounds you as you walk through the door and you can feel the cold seeping out of your fingers. It's that special kind of heat that takes the place of the cold, and you look down at your hands as though feeling them for the first time.


Song of the day: "Your Apartment" by Jenny Owen Youngs

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Letter #15

Aren't we cute? 
Dear October,
        I can’t believe we’ve reached the halfway point. Like, seriously. How did this happen? It feels like just the other day that I was embarking on this project, and now hear we are, with fewer letters to write than have already been written. It looks like you won’t be letting off on the chilly weather for the rest of this week, but that’s ok. It feels like winter in Texas, and it makes me think of home. It’s funny how so many little things can trigger memories. Like today I watched To Kill A Mockingbird with my film music class. Sitting in the dark auditorium, with the flawless black and white playing out on the big screen, I was flooded with memories of my dad reading To Kill a Mockingbird to me when I was far too young to understand it, and of humming along to the soundtrack whenever he played it on our record player. Eating breakfast in the caf sometimes makes me think of Sunday morning breakfasts, and  the smell of eggs and sausage and occasionally biscuits wafting in from the kitchen while we watched CBS Sunday Morning.  Or the other day, when looking at the picture of Cassie on my bulletin board, I suddenly remembered that I owned a dog, and how much I missed her funny half-ecstatic half-nervous greetings whenever I would walk through the front door. And waking up to an alarm just isn’t the same as being dragged out of bed at 7:30 by my mother, telling me to stop wasting my day and to come see the beautiful light filling the sunroom.
Since moving 2,000 miles away from home, I haven’t had the surge of homesickness that I was expecting. I imagined it would hit me like a wave in the first couple of weeks, causing me to call home every night, before dissipating and leaving to go prey on some other unsuspecting freshman. But that’s not how it is at all. Instead, it creeps up on me when I least expect it, in movies we have to watch for class, and the smell of breakfast, and in those early morning hours when my eyelids feel like weights but there’s my mother’s voice in my head, telling me not to waste a single moment.


ps. Friends, if you’re reading this, I miss you too! Hope you all are doing well, and don’t hesitate to touch base once in a while if you need to talk! (I'm trying to make more of an effort to keep in touch with you, as well. If you haven't heard from me very much, don't worry, the radio waves won't stay silent for long!) Also: If you have my address, I love getting mail! I’m so subtle, I know. :P

Song of the day: "Rivers and Roads" by The Head and the Heart

Monday, October 14, 2013

Letter #14

Dear October,
       14. I’ve always liked that number. Even before I turned 14 (and for a couple years after) I made all of the characters in my stories that age. If you were human, you would have just passed the threshold of teenagerdom. You would be a freshman in high school. I’d like to imagine you always wearing purple turtlenecks and mini skirts, doodling in a moleskin notebook, wearing your hair long because you like it when it blows behind you in the wind. You might want to wear tights with that mini skirt because you were cold today, October! Wind chill aside, you were a lovely day and you tempted me to get a pumpkin spice latte from the pub, which made my afternoon that much better.
So, I know you’re wondering. Why the picture of my cluttered desk? I’ve been thinking a lot lately about life’s tendency towards the chaotic. As much we preach time management and organization, the perfectly scheduled life is unattainable, and in most respects undesirable (It would be pretty monotonous, for one). I don’t think we should throw up our hands and let chaos take over, but I do think it’s okay to have a messy desk once in a while, as long as it doesn’t hinder our ability to get any work done. Like anything, it’s a balance, and one I’m still trying to figure out. As I face a chaotic week of trying to get stuff done before my Chicago trip, I find myself longing for order and stability, which means getting my desk back to a state of at least relative cleanliness. Still, there’s something beautiful about a workspace in the moment. It is the embodiment of our humanness, and the way our lives will always bleed out at the edges, never staying inside the lines.


Song of the day: "The Catbird Seat" by Darlingside