"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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Letter #13

Dear October,
         You were such a beautiful, sunny day. I slept in until 10am and read for a couple hours. It’s so nice to be reading another Sarah Dessen book. Her books are like warm, cozy sweaters on winter days. Or more often, like a tall glass of iced tea on a sweltering afternoon. At 3pm a friend and I walked to New Bo. It’s quickly becoming our favorite place in Cedar Rapids. It’s a small little bohemia, only about a block long, and lined with little shops including a coffee shop and a bookstore. This time our visit was targeted towards New Bo City Market, a huge warehouse of a building that has booths for just about any kind of food you could want. We walked around, marveling at the different choices, and after I bought and ate some delicious ice cream as an appetizer, we settled on Caribbean and Chinese, respectively. I had a delicious stew on top of white rice, with a side of plantains, and she had orange chicken. As often happens with food, the meal made me think of home and the little Cuban restaurant we sometimes go to on special occasions. We ate there on the day I received my packet of information about the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio, and on the night of my high school graduation. Even as I was surprised by memories I didn’t even know I had, I was making new ones. We talked about what we would do if we lived in one of the super nice lofts that border New Bohemia, and about our favorite places to eat back home, and about our mutual struggle with decision making. We left New Bo incredibly full and happy, just as the sun stretched its long golden arms sideways through the streets.
Being a Sunday night, downtown was practically a ghost town. It was quite beautiful, and I realized just how nice the architecture is on many of Cedar Rapid’s buildings. Suddenly, out of nowhere, we saw a sea of people walking towards us. We were by far the youngest people on the street; everyone that made up the clump of strangers was a senior citizen. It was such a surreal experience, watching them advance slowly towards us, the light making halos through their thin white hair. My friend and I exchanged glances and then decided to find out the source of the crowd. We changed course and wandered past the people that had spilled out onto the deserted streets, walking in pairs, their arms looped through each other’s. We soon found out that a show at the Paramount Theatre must have just finished, and the only people who go to Sunday matinees are part of an older demographic. Our detour led to other discoveries, too. We found an adorable chocolate shop, window shopped at a furniture store, and walked until we came to the river, big and wide and always there, even though it’s so easy to forget. On the way back to campus we marveled at our discoveries, at this city’s ability to constantly surprise us. Those of you who think of Cedar Rapids solely as “The City of Five Smells,” know this: it has some pretty cool scenery, if you know where to look.


Song of the day:  "Pleasant Valley Sunday" by The Monkees

Letter #12

Dear October,
        I’m sorry I didn’t write you a letter yesterday. I did however write this e-mail to my friend Indigo. Hopefully it will serve as enough of an explanation (Note: If you don’t want to read my crazed, late night ramblings just skip this part and scroll down to the regular post):

I don't know what to do with myself! I just finished reading The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin. And… oh my god. OH. MY. GOD. WHAT JUST HAPPENED? AHHHHHGGGGGHHHHH!

Okay, sorry. Trying to calm down. My brain is swimming. This has never happened to me before. Like, WHAT?! *deep breath*

Basically I can't tell you what I thought of it because I DON'T KNOW WHAT I THOUGHT OF IT! I went to goodreads after finishing it, and I COULD NOT decide whether to give it five stars or two. (I figure if I'm having this reaction it at least deserves two) I guess I'm just writing this to work out my thoughts…but I don't know what my thoughts are!

Okay, here's what I DO know:
3. The romance was soooo "You complete me" (gag) and the love interest had cliche bad-boy-with-a-british-accent-who-also-happens-to-be-super-rich-and-somehow-madly-in-love-with-the-herioine-after-like-three-days? written all over him. (But… I think I liked him anyway? O_O)
4. I'm still not sure I completely buy into the paranormal stuff
5. I'm REALLY trying hard not to give anything away
6. THE ENDING!!!!! NEED SECOND BOOK NOW! (Or do I??? Would I be content breaking it off here? Can I sit through more "You complete me" nonsense to FIND OUT THE ANSWERS TO MY QUESTIONS? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS!)

Basically, I do not know what to do with myself right now. It's after 11pm, I still have not written my letter to October (My brain can only barely spout complete sentences), and my entire evening just DISAPPEARED. I PICKED IT UP (I was already at the halfway point, mind you) AT 7:00 AND WHEN I LOOKED UP IT WAS 10:30. O_O

What should I do? Please send help.*


*She did send help, and it was very helpful. Thanks Indigo!!

So, yeah, I wasn’t exactly in an ideal state of mind (judging by my complete abuse of capslock) to be writing heartfelt letters about my trip to Iowa City yesterday. Luckily, I am today! Here is the letter that The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer unjustly robbed from you:

Going back to Iowa City since spending two weeks there in the summer of 2012 has always been a somewhat surreal experience. Every street corner oozes with memories from those two weeks. It’s tempting to see the city as a time capsule, a place where I can re-live those summer days, and for a while I coveted the delusion that it would always be summer in Iowa City. But this time the wind whipped the sleeves of my jacket and my favorite thrift shop was stocked with tacky Christmas sweaters rather than thin floral dresses.  Once again I was in the city for a literary themed event, the Iowa City Book Festival. I attended some really interesting panels, including one called Fact in Faction and one about the fate of independent bookstores. The latter was very encouraging: Even with Amazon offering books at crazily discounted prices, people still crave the very tangible atmosphere that can only be found in bookstores. Afterwards I spent a full two hours in Prairie Lights, browsing the seemingly endless shelves, and reading the thoughtful notes from employees about their favorite books. I ended up buying a copy of Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, which was prominently on display in several places around the store, so I figured it must be good. I think my favorite part of Prairie Lights is the café. It has a different feel than the rest of the store: hardwood floors instead of carpet, sleek glass counters instead of white wooden shelves, and streaming through the high windows, shafts of yellow light that make the room seem to glow from the inside out. It’s also a place brimming with memories from the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio. I can remember sitting at table near a window, sipping chai tea and typing the last few paragraphs of a short story that would later be workshopped. I remember eating cookies with friends and skimming the interesting (and often hand-bound) publications that crowd the counter on one side of the café. Once I read poetry while sipping coffee by myself and it was perfect. I only spent a few moments in the café yesterday, but it was enough. As much as I want to remember Iowa City for those two weeks that felt like a lifetime, I’m also glad I have the opportunity to make new memories there. All cities are living, breathing, changing entities, with the tendency to move on without us even noticing until it’s too late. Luckily, I’m nearby enough that I can keep tabs on it, and go back for the occasional literary festival.


Song of the day: "Her Hands Were Leaves" by Alexi Murdoch

Friday, October 11, 2013

Letter #11

Dear October,
        Today you were a perfect, blustery fall day. Your morning matched my mood as I frantically ran around campus trying to find a printer that would print my essay for Lit class. As I walked the leaves tumbled down around me and danced through the air so fast I had to squint for fear the wind would blow something into my eyes. The trees on campus are changing noticeably now, their tops crowned by lots of yellow and a little bit of red. Today feels like a poem I’m not sure I can write, but I’m going to try anyway.
Later tonight I get to carve pumpkins, an event that the Student Activities Committee is putting on. It’s been years since I’ve carved a pumpkin, so I got excited as soon as I heard about it. Pumpkin carving always makes me think of Martha Stewart, and Martha Stewart Living is still my guilty pleasure magazine, especially the Halloween edition. I fall every single time for the beautiful pictures of old new England cottages with paper silhouettes of witches in the windows, and of cupcakes decorated to look like spiders, and of black and white streamers twisting above the fireplace like decorations for some monochromatic prom. The places in that magazine, the cottage, the spotless living room, the rustic front porch with the perfectly carved pumpkins on the stairs, always seemed magical to me, like they were the true embodiment of all things Fall. But I know that isn’t true. Fall is in days like today- just chilly enough to warrant a sweater (even though most people didn’t bother), with the wind at your back and leaves spinning around your head. Today the leaves, huge and brittle, crunched under my feet as I walked to class. The pumpkin I carve tonight won’t be a work of art like the ones in Martha Stewart Living, and I don’t even have a rustic front porch to  display it on. But that’s okay, because instead I’ll be back in the cafeteria, surrounded by friends who are hopefully just as inexperienced at pumpkin carving as I am, and it will be the act, the messiness of it all, that counts, and not the idea, this perfectly imagined picture of a season that we get from the glossy pages of magazines. I prefer days like today over that, anyway.


Song of the day: "Little Green" by Joni Mitchell

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Letter #10

Dear October,
       This morning I rolled out of bed at 8:30am to meet with Dr. Bob, the writing center director. It was a mandatory meeting for all first-years, as a way to talk about the writing center and to check up on how we are doing in our first couple months as new consultants. I was beckoned into his cocoon like office, which sort of glows from the inside because of the yellow lamps positioned in different corners of the room. All the walls are covered desk to ceiling in books, which sag on-top of precarious looking shelves. Honestly, I still don’t feel super confident in my skills as a consultant, but this meeting made me feel a lot better than before.  (When I told him this, he looked at me and said, “Well, you have experience talking to people, don’t you?” Me: “Yes.” Dr. Bob: “And you can read, can’t you?” Me: “Yes.” Dr. Bob: “Then you already have the two biggest skills that you need in regards to writing conferences.”) The other thing that this meeting reminded me of was that in a week I will be heading to Chicago with the Writing Center for a conference!  I cannot wait to go on a trip with these amazing people.
After lunch I checked my mail box to discover, not one, but two pieces of mail, one being a lovely postcard from my mother (which I always enjoy getting) and the second being my very first paycheck! *happy dance* As if my day wasn’t already going well, I then received two fantabulous grades in my sociology class, which was just awesome.
But you just wouldn’t let up today, would you? During my shift in the writing center, while I was casually minding my own business (which is difficult since the writing center is practically built for eavesdropping), a senior came up to me and the friend I was sitting with a casually asked, “Hey, did you know there’s a book festival in Iowa City this Saturday?” We both shook our heads. “Do you want to come?” Our answer was an emphatic YES.
Today was full of little surprises, things turning out even better than expected, and new things to look forward to. I’m so grateful that I can be in this place and have the opportunity to explore the things that I love. Oh yeah. And the absolutely perfect sunset was a nice touch, too.


Song of the day: "How The Day Sounds"by Greg Laswell

After you've enjoyed the song for what it is, also check out the quirky but lovable music video.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Letter #9

See the bright spot above the others? That's the moon. 

Dear October,
        There are some days that don’t get better until night falls. I spent most of my day stressing out about different things, none of them very consequential. But now, sitting in the library, eavesdropping on the hushed conversations around me, and (the best part) actually making progress on an essay I have to write for Lit class, things are finally starting to look up. All day I couldn’t figure out what I wanted my letter for today to be about. Sometimes I just know, but today it didn’t become clear until I listened to the song of the day and watched the beautiful fan-made video that goes with it. Something about this song and the warm imagery accompanying it made me feel instantly better. It’s like when you trip and catch yourself at the last minute. Your heart is beating fast, but the ground no longer looks threatening and the world is stable again. Even though I know the path ahead could be full of craggy roots and broken sidewalks, I feel so much more confident about heading out into the dark. So October, "I dare you to close your eyes, and see all the colors in disguise." I welcome whatever you have in store with open arms.


Song of the day: "Yellow Light" by Of Monsters and Men