"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

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Essentials for the Traveling Creative

While this post has the word "essentials" in the title, this is really just a list of creativity-related items I plan to take with me on my semester abroad. If it were possible, I would probably take every notebook I own (I have a bit of an addiction), but unfortunately I have limited room in my suitcase.

1. Pocket Moleskine + Mini Pen Set: Both of these items fit neatly into my purse, and they are a huge help when it comes to staying creative on the go. In the past I've used my pocket notebooks for all manner of things, from to-do lists to short story ideas. On this trip I'd really like to break free from the rigidity of the lined notebooks I've used in the past and try to include sketches, poetry, and thoughts from the places that I visit. I plan to write sideways, upside-down, and in spirals. I plan to fill every page with doodles and words, and to really get in the habit of using my notebook as a catch-all for random thoughts I have while traveling.

2. My Favorite Notebook: My uncle gave me this beautiful Rhodia notebook in 2012 and I've been slowly filling it ever since. I have a strange habit of saving certain notebooks for special occasions, and that's definitely the case with this one. I bring it with me on all my trips and try to write at least one entry for each one. This notebook as seen Iowa City, West Texas, New York, Paris, and soon, London and Florence. While my pocket notebook will be for fragmented thoughts and observations, this notebook will function as a journal where I reflect more deeply on my experiences.

3. Shared Travel Journal: Since my friend and I both went abroad this year, we are documenting our adventures in separate travel journals and then swapping them at the end of our travels. While I'm not nearly as prolific in mine as she is in hers (she filled one journal in the space of 12 very exciting days), I'm looking forward to sharing my adventures with her in this journal.

4. Watercolor Supplies: While this watercolor set and notebook looks bulky, I'm very attached to it. The actual set is probably 20+ years old and I inherited it from my mom. I could probably go out and buy a smaller set, and maybe even a smaller notebook, but why not work with what you have? Doing watercolor sketches is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. It makes you look closely at your surroundings, and grounds you in a place much more than just snapping a photograph would.

5. Laptop: This one is pretty self-explanatory. I will need it for school work, updating this blog, and any other writing I do while studying abroad. I'm hoping to keep up with my creative writing projects while I'm there, probably through a website called 750words.com, where you write at least 750 words a day and it tracks your progress.

6. iPhone (not pictured above): The iPhone 6s, which I was lucky enough to receive for Christmas, has an amazing camera. I thought about bringing along a point-and-shoot, but I realized that it would just be another thing I'd have to carry batteries and a charging chord for, and so I decided against it. Besides, I know I will be posting to Instagram as much as I can.

I hope you enjoyed this peek into my suitcase! How do you stay creative while traveling?

London and Florence Countdown:
Days until departure: 3 days
Excitement to Anxiety Ratio: 80:20

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Creation Over Consumption

Yesterday I had one of those afternoons where I click on something and then I blink and two hours have passed. Waking up from one of these internet trances is always a bit disconcerting. I usually feel pretty good about my internet use, mainly because I spend most of my time reading enriching articles or watching videos where people think critically about books, media, and art. But in consuming other people's thoughts for two hours on autopilot, without noticing my own thoughts or even my own body, I realized just how much more time I spend consuming rather than creating online.

I would bet that this is a pretty common phenomenon. It's a lot easier to consume other people's creations than to create your own. I often find myself inspired after seeing the things other people create, but I've begun to realize how rarely that inspiration is acted on, and even more rarely is it actually turned into a completed project.

Maybe this shouldn't bother me as much as it does, but after a year of watching inspiring youtube videos, consuming thousands of aesthetically pleasing Instagram photos, and reading countless blog posts (half of which were about "how to be productive"), I'm getting fed up with this habit of always consuming and never creating.

That's not to say that I believe all consumption is bad. Creativity doesn't happen in a vacuum, as they say. But creativity also doesn't happen if you spend your time wishing it away. I've let myself become used to the ache of seeing something that inspires me and then letting that inspiration go to waste because "I'm scared" or "I don't have time." I'm tired of wrapping myself in a warm blanket of excuses.

That's why 2016 is going to be a year of creation over consumption. I'm going to follow my creative urges wherever they may lead. I'm going to fight the moon-like pull of all the other creative people doing creative things and instead start focusing on adding my own voice to the crowd.

That being said, I don't really have a concrete plan for getting past my consumption addiction (yet). It's easy to daydream about creating - that's a big part of what all of this consumption has facilitated: a lot of daydreaming. I'm not short on ideas. In fact I'm practically drowning in them. It's just a matter of picking one. Finding the nearest tool. And starting.

London & Florence Countdown:
Days until departure: 6
Excitement to Anxiety Ratio: 75:25

Monday, December 7, 2015

Announcement: I'm Doing a Thing!

BIG announcement, folks! In less than a month, I will be on a plane to Florence, Italy! I will be splitting my semester between Florence and London, on a study abroad program through ACM (Associated Colleges of the Midwest).

Why London and Florence? Well besides the fact that this program combines two beautiful, historic cities into one semester long experience, these places are basically the epicenter of my two loves: literature and art history. London is steeped in centuries of literary tradition, from Charles Dickens to Zadie Smith, and Florence is, of course, the birthplace of the Renaissance.

As a way to get this series started, I thought I'd share some of my goals for my time abroad:

Cultivate Curiosity: I strive to be one of those people that has an insatiable curiosity and who knows how to ask the right questions. Curiosity is a valuable asset because it gives you permission to be a newbie wherever you go. What's more, it's difficult to pass value judgements on things when you are curious about them. What better place to practice this habit of asking questions than when in a new place, experiencing a new culture, and meeting new people?

Make new friends: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but no less important. I'll be living, traveling, and going to class with people from different midwestern colleges, as well as living with a host family in Florence, who I'm hoping I can form a close bond with.

Become more independent: Travel is something I want to do a lot of in my lifetime, and this will be the least structured of my travels so far. While I'll have a support system of professors, administrators, and my host family, I'll still be responsible for travel between Florence and London, as well as planning any weekend or day trips I want to do on my own. Right now, the idea of even getting from the airport our meeting place in Florence is daunting, so hopefully this feeling of independence comes quickly!

Immerse myself in history and culture: This is a big one. One of my favorite things about European cities is that their history is constantly on display, from architecture to urban planning to museums. When I went to Paris with a class last semester, I felt like I only scratched the surface of Parisian history and culture, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity to dive deep in each city, and compare my experiences.

Practice reflection: My mother is always telling me to write things down before I forget them, and this experience is something I know I want to remember. While abroad, I plan to cultivate a habit of capturing moments, wether in a travel journal, this blog, or letters to friends and family. I worry that I'll spend too much time capturing and not enough time experiencing, but my goal is strike a balance between the two. During times of immense upheaval and change, reflection is one of the few things that keeps me sane.

Needless to say, I will be keeping you updated on all of the preparation and my experiences abroad right here on The Blank Page. Just click on "Travel" in the categories section to see all the updates. I'll be attempting to post once or twice a week, though (fair warning) that may be sporadic at first, what with finals coming up. I hope you'll stick around for the ride!

Days until departure: 25
Excitement to Anxiety Ratio: 85:15

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The First Snowfall

Last night we had the first snowfall of the year here in Iowa. According to my Minnesota friends, getting more than a dusting of snow during the first snowfall is pretty rare. But there you have it. Last night is snowed for several hours, and this morning I woke up to one of my favorite sights, a sparkling, pristine blanket of white against a bright blue sky.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a winter person. My favorite season is unabashedly summer. This year, though, the coming of snow has filled me with unexpected joy. Today, on the cold, slippery walk to my favorite coffee shop, I marveled at the way the sinking sun (it was only 3:30, and it already had that golden tint of late evening) makes the white snow glow with a warm brilliance. But there was one moment that absolutely took my breath away.

The snow around the base of a tree was completely covered in bright yellow leaves. It was as if the tree had been startled by the coming of winter, tossed its branches up in defeat, and dropped all of its leaves at once. There was a sense of abandon, a shock of color, a gift to the landscape. I was struck by both the randomness and the beauty of it all.

It only took a moment to appreciate it. I stopped. I marveled. I took a few pictures. And then I continued my trudge to the coffee shop. (It was cold). But I have a feeling that the image will stay with my for a long time. Not just because I have pictures of it. That helps, of course, but those photos will slip into the backlog of my photo feed just as easily as the pictures I took of last year's snowfall. There's something metaphorical about it, all of that color against the blank snow, and I haven't quite figured out what it is yet. You could say that I'm just looking for meaning where there is none, but you could say that about anything. I believe that there are pockets of wonder everywhere, and they are different for different people. I might find reverence in a startled tree; someone else might find it on a bustling city street.

I suppose I could impose some sort of meaning onto it. Maybe it struck me because it makes me think of the change I so desperately crave. Maybe it signifies rebirth or death, redemption even. Maybe we are too quick to assign meaning to things. Our reaction to beauty, nature, art, tragedy, doesn't need any modifiers. We don't have to tease out the reason behind feeling something. We just have to feel it.

I wrote this with the intention of understanding my reaction to this moment- why I find it funny and sad all at the same time. Why, when I think about it, I get that ache in my chest that happens whenever I see something beautiful. But then again, beauty doesn't need an explanation, and feelings don't need modifiers. The best we can do is cling to those moments, pull them out again when we need to be reminded that there are still some things we can't explain, and to find some strange comfort in the chaos.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Five Books I Want to Read Before 2016

It's November, which conjures up images of chilly, rainy afternoons spent huddled under blankets with a good book and hot beverage of your choice. The reality, in my case anyway, involves being hunched over a computer trying to draft a research paper, but a girl can dream, right? I've read a total of ten books this year (not my best, but I've been busy!), so I thought I would try to round that out to 15 by the end of 2015. Here are the books I want to check off my list by the end of the year:

1. How to Be Both by Ali Smith

Currently in the middle of this and really enjoying it. Ali Smith is an author that has been recommended over and over again by some of my favorite book reviewers on Youtube (click here and here), and I finally picked up one of her books. Her style is very unique and fluid, so much so that I found myself wanting to read her prose out loud. The book itself is split into two sections: one is narrated by a teenager trying to cope with the loss of her mother, and centers around a trip they took to Italy before she died, while the other follows a 15th century Renaissance painter. Which section comes first depends on which copy of the book you have, because it was printed in two editions and the story can be experienced in either direction. Really cool stuff!

2. Fly Trap by Frances Hardinge

This is the sequel to what is bound to be one of my favorite books of 2015, Fly By Night. Set in a fascinating world where books have been banned and all printed material has to be approved by a guild called the Stationers, Fly By Night follows a young girl who takes to the open road with a con man named Eponymous Clent and a rabble-rousing goose. Sounds great, right? It is. Frances Hardinge is one of the few authors I've discovered who made me immediately want to go look up everything she's ever written. Luckily, she has quite a few titles to her name, and they all look amazing. I haven't even read the synopsis of Fly Trap; any excuse to be back in the world of Fly By Night is enough for me.

3. The Subtle Knife by Phillip Pullman

I finished The Golden Compass, the first book in the His Dark Materials series in January of this year, so it seems fitting that I would end 2015 with the second book in the series. While it took me FOREVER to get into The Golden Compass, the second half of the book blew me away, and after months of pestering by my friend Maddie, I'm committed to finishing this series. I'll probably be reading this (and hopefully the third book, too, if I can get around to it) in December, when Jen Campbell is hosting a read-a-long of the entire trilogy. The richly drawn, steam-punk/fantasy setting of these books make it the absolute PERFECT series to read around Christmastime.

4. The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy

This is a non-fiction book that explores the spirit and history of the beautiful city of Florence. It has great reviews on Goodreads, and I have a very special reason for being interested in Florence, which (if you didn't already know) I'll be officially revealing on The Blank Page in a couple of weeks!

5. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Perfect for gloomy November nights when the wind is howling around the corners of my nine-story dormitory, Burial Rites tells the story of the last person to be executed in Iceland. Agnes Magnusdottir is convicted of the murder of her former master and sent to an isolated family farm to await execution. I started reading this book late last year but never got around to finishing it before I had to return it to the library. It's not the most pleasant read: the landscape (like the story itself) is sparse, desolate, and grim, but I'm going to trust the many Goodreads reviewers who say it's worth it in the end. I tend to lean towards historical fiction which takes a somewhat romantic look at what life was really like in whatever period it's set, and this book is definitely a break from that romanticism. I'll let you know what I think!

Bonus Material!
This list was SO hard narrow down to just five books, so here's a few others I'm particularly excited about but may not get to before Jan 1st:
So We Read On: How the Great Gatsby Came to Be and Why it Endures by Maureen Corrigan
The Sweetness at the Bottom the Pie by Alan Bradley
Girl Waits with Gun by Mary Stewart
Uprooted by Niomi Novik

Hope you enjoyed, and I'd love to know what books you want to finish before 2016!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Writing: An Evolution

I've never really been one to dwell on the past. I find it easy to conceptualize the new year ahead of me, but hard to remember what exactly happened in the past year. Because of this I tend not to read my old writing, unless I'm digging for an unfinished story that I can turn into something new. Lately I've been inspired by Crystal Moody of The Year of Creative Habits. Crystal is really good at talking about her process, and teasing out the seemingly inscrutable path of her own creativity.

I've been feeling more confident about my writing lately, and for the first time in a while I feel like I'm seeing real progress. My sentences, while still a bit long and flowery, are finally getting some variety thrown into the mix. While I'm still unsure about plot and pacing in a lot of ways, actually finishing stories has really helped me understand the nuts and bolts of creating a story. It's kind of a strange feeling, seeing yourself improve without knowing exactly how it happened.

Understanding my own progress is exactly what I'm going to try and do today. Hopefully my own triumphs and struggles can be of interest/usefulness to anyone else who, like me, isn't sure how they ended up where they are.

the early years
I've been writing for basically as long as I can remember. It probably began in ernest in the third grade, when a representative from Writers in the Schools came to our classroom every week and gave us writing prompts. That year I wrote a poem about the lamp on my bedside table (yes, really). I don't have the original on my computer, but I still remember the line that sparked the poem: "When it is day, my little yellow lamp is as peaceful as a pearl white swan floating on a clear blue lake." I was a big fan of similes. And adjectives.
It might seem like overkill to start at the beginning like this, but I'm trying to figure out how my writing has evolved, so I might as well give myself a point of reference.

high school
I'm counting middle school as "the early years" because what good writing really comes out of middle school, anyway? One of the oldest documents on my computer is a poem I wrote during freshman year of high school. It exists, somewhere, on the website of a independent publisher I can't remember the name of because I placed in one of their contests. Here's an excerpt:

The News
I watched the news last night
the blue light from our TV
making pockets of shadows
dance across the walls.
The anchorwoman, skin pulled tight
over wide cheekbones, hair plastered
into submissive curls
tells us a story, with the words
"Deadly Tornado" quivering over her
shoulder in front of a fake New York skyline.

It ends with the lines:

I get tired of listening to them.
I click the remote, the screen goes black,
and finally my world is silent.

Like most of my early writing, it has some interesting word choice and details, but otherwise the strokes are too broad, and I end on a classically teenager-y note, just wanting "silence."

Around this time I was also toying with a new story about a girl who lives next to a strange (aka magical) subdivision that no one is allowed in. I give you the opening lines of "Into Suburbia":

Emma sat cross-legged on the blue lawn chair in front of her house, her legs bent uncomfortably between the rough plastic arm rests. This was how she and Marcus spent most of their summers, underneath the minimal shade of the scrawny tree in Emma’s front yard, lulled into a half-sleep by boredom and heat. They sat like this for another half hour before Marcus sat up abruptly from his spot in the grass next to the lawn chair and extended a pale white arm.
“Here comes another one,” he whispered. They watched in silence as the beat up Chevrolet rolled down their street. It was going slow, as if the driver was searching for an address, and as it passed they saw it was driven by an middle aged woman, her hair done up in old fashioned curlers as if she were going to a Halloween party dressed as a grandmother. The two watched in silence as the car rolled towards the end of the street and stopped. The thing blocking its path was not a tree or a culdisac, but a huge wrought iron gate separating Emma’s neighborhood from some sort of gated community. She’d lived on this street her entire life and she’d never seen anyone pass through those gates. The woman in Chevrolet didn’t bother to get out of her car to inspect the gates, like some people did. Instead, she backed up and used the nearest driveway to turn around. Marcus and Emma exchanged glances.
“I don’t know what you expect, Emma,” Marcus said, standing up and stretching. “Every summer we spend hours out here in the heat, watching cars, and not one of them has ever gone through that gate.” Emma smiled. This was Marcus’s usual argument.

This is the first idea I had that was even remotely large enough to be a novel, and I actually made it through 16,000 words of it during Camp Nanowrimo one year. I have yet to re-read those 16,000 words...

My proudest achievement in high school is probably the following story. I wrote the first draft in a single sitting, something which rarely happens to this day. Here are the opening lines:

The call of a train whistle echoes through the night. The sound is mournful, alone. It seeps into the hollow place in my heart and stays there for a long time, vibrating. This is when it’s the hardest. I’m surrounded by darkness in the room with the blue walls and the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. John put them there for me, saying they would help me stay calm if I woke up in the middle of the night. But he forgot that stars fade, and right now they’re so dim I can barely make them out. I close my eyes, listening to his gentle breathing next to me. How can he sleep so peacefully? I wake at the slightest rustle of the curtains, the pat of the neighbor’s cat as he walks along the edge of the roof, the sound of a train in the night. 

Woah! Look at that! Sentence variety! This is also probably the first time I strung three dependent clauses together without separating the last one with an "and." (See that last sentence) Somehow, this one little quirk stuck with me, and now I catch myself using it constantly, probably a little too much. 

I've written quite a lot in college. Every workshop class I've taken is different, so it's hard to know exactly where my writing stands. I think it's on the upswing though.

I've been struggling with another possible novel idea, and this time the backdrop is a Neverland-esque summer camp.

They called it the summer house. No one knew what it’s purpose was before it became the summer house, or even who had lived in it before the campers arrived. What they did know was that one June day in the summer of their thirteenth year, they awoke in hanging beds on a screen-in porch with light pressing like honey against the backs of their eyelids, and no memory of how they had gotten there. 

There I go with those long sentences again... 

My poetry's gotten better since high school, but upon reading the two poems side by side, I realize that I'm not getting loose enough with my language. My poems still read a bit too much like prose, and I'd like to experiment more. Here's the stanza I'm most proud of:

Last night I dreamt of flying
over distant hills. They were blue,
perfectly pristine, and I had the strange
urge to dive downward, half
expecting the land to part like
water and envelope me.

Below is an excerpt from a recent piece of flash fiction. It could just be because it's fresh, but I saw something in this piece that made me think that maybe I've been improving, and prompted me to go back and look at my past work.

Her body is a taught string when he enters the room. They are at the house of someone she doesn’t know, someone richer than they are, and the mirror in the bathroom makes her feel small, like she’s standing in front of a waterfall. But she doesn’t have the coherency of thought to think about waterfalls now because when he looks in her direction her whole body vibrates. She wonders if the other guests notice it. They look at her strangely, and she looks back at them like a frightened deer. 

There's something about this that just feels right: right amount of sentence variety, right amount of simile and metaphor. 

the takeaway
This post is already too long for it's own good, but here are some things I learned from this exercise:

1. You can learn way more than you think you can from your old writing. I can still remember how I felt about "The News" when I finished writing it, and now I look at those last lines and cringe. Comparing it to my new poetry, though, I didn't see as much improvement as I expected. 
2. Progress is always slow, and it's almost always invisible until you go looking for it. 
3. I'm still moderately interested in some of the stories I started when I was younger. With a little work, I think some of them could be expanded. 
4. Stories, for me, always begin with language. There's usually an idea behind the language, but the ones that I end up finishing have a kind of momentum (a voice, maybe?) that drives the story forward.

At first I was scared to write this post. Putting your work, especially your old, far-from-perfect work, out there is hard. I'm trying to come at it from a place of objectivity, so that we can look at it together. This exercise isn't just for me. It's for anyone who is unsure if they're on the right path. Writing isn't as straightforward as some other disciplines. There are no benchmarks to quantify success, and even the term "good writing" is up for interpretation. Every person's path is different, but sometimes it's nice to know that we're all plodding along, reaching our own milestones, making our own tracks in the snow. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Quote of the Day: Empathy

"All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life. Where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it." - Miranda July

When I was little I loved staying at my friend's houses. I saw it as a glimpse into their every-day lives, what it was like to be a part of their family, what daily customs they took part in that were foreign to me. Now, I hardly have to think twice about that curiosity. I can't help listening to the interesting conversation in the next booth over at a restaurant, or wondering what the person sitting alone on a park bench is thinking about.

What I love about this quote is that in just two sentences Miranda July taps into so many aspects of human empathy and curiosity. It's both empathetic and reflective. It makes you want to look at the person across from you on the subway and wonder, "how are they making it through life?"

Somehow, though, she manages to make it less about our own nosy tendencies, and more about the possibilities for empathy. The tender line "Where do they put their body, hour by hour" doesn't connote eavesdropping on the subway. I find it reminiscent of the Annie Dillard quote, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." It's about looking at the minute in order to understand the big picture, the overall arc of our lives. And then there's that last piece, "how do they cope inside of it." She's not asking what you had for lunch today, who you're going to meet for dinner tonight. She's not even asking what you're thinking. She's asking about how you experience the world. She's seeking out that thin thread that leads to whatever it is that makes you who you are, all tangled up in your experiences and your thoughts and the things you believe to be true.

I think that we can seek empathy wherever we are. I think that curiosity, while it can seem shallow at first glance, creates a ripple affect where the questions we ask lead us to a more well-rounded answer. Someone once said that you can't hate something you're curious about. I love that.

Too often I find myself stopping at that first rush of curiosity. I'll feel a question coming on at an event, or when I'm listening to someone tell a story, and I'll write my questions off as silly, or not worth asking. I'm careless with my curiosity, and so I don't give myself as many opportunities for empathy. These are words that are easy to throw around so much that they lose their meaning (I'm well aware of that), but Miranda July has the right idea in breaking them down into smaller pieces. Empathy starts with asking questions and really listening to the answers. It starts with a single person in a single body in a single hour. We should all begin by marveling at the little things.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Letter to October #30

Dear October,
      I've been thinking a lot about advice lately. I think I have this notion that someday, the right piece of advice will come along at just the right moment, and when I hear it everything will change. I'll admit: I'm a bit of a self help junkie. I've probably read the same recycled advice over and over again in various forms, from the mouths of hundreds of different people. What makes me think that any one notion can be the catalyst for turning my life around? From a young age we are fed these stories of lightbulb moments, and life-changing realizations, but do those moments really exist, or do we only hear that "life-changing advice" at the moment when, consciously or not, we have somehow already decided to make a change? Can an idea really push us to act on something?
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of ideas. There's nothing I love more than having an idea I thought I understood presented to me in a new way. I sometimes wonder if the same old advice I've read hundreds of times actually sticks with me, but today I stumbled across an old e-mail I'd written, where I gave this advice to a friend: "Everything counts, no matter how badly it turns out, no matter how long you waited to start, no matter what perfect picture you have of it in your head, and how far from it the reality turned out to be." I let myself get defeated over little things, and yet all along I was somehow carrying this idea around, that the results don't have to be perfect, on time, or even complete to be valuable, especially when it's only yourself you're accountable to. (Obviously, I don't want to cut myself too much slack when it comes to creative habits and projects, but I often let little failures get in the way of the big picture.) I feel like this speaks to the slipperiness of ideas, and it makes me wonder what else I've forgotten, and how much of my own advice I don't actually put into action.


Song of the Day: Skin by BOY

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Letter to October #29

Dear October,
      Today I wrote a letter to a girl who lives on the other side of the globe. Our lives could not be more seemingly disconnected, and yet we both like art and podcasts and it turns out she has killer taste in music. Even though it was technically the internet that made being pen pals possible, I still think the real hero here is words on paper. There's a care that goes into a hand-written letter that just can't be translated into a text message. There's a gravity that comes with knowing that a small cluster of paper traveled thousands of miles to appear, like magic, in your mailbox. While waiting two weeks for a response isn't ideal, it makes the slow, ongoing conversation that much more special.
       In this world of lightning fast connection, I think we can learn a lot from letters. In a world of over-sharing, they ask us to curate, choosing only the most meaningful aspects of our lives to share with others. They ask us to reflect and to question, and most of all, to appreciate. Sometimes I wait months for a response to one of my letters. Occasionally I find myself feeling annoyed at the delay, wondering what's taking them so long to reply. The minute I see a letter in my mailbox, though, any annoyance I felt dissipates like smoke. The only emotion I have room for is joy.  Even the best text messages I've received haven't been able to rival that feeling. Write someone a letter. It's good for your soul.


Song of the Day: Next Year by Two Door Cinema Club

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Letter to October #28

Dear October,
       I've always struggled with habits. The deceptively simple act of doing something day in and day out is difficult for my flighty mind to latch on to. As I've mentioned before, I love the idea of routine. I love the simplicity of it. I crave morning tea and contemplative walks and a protected time and space for my writing. I could give you lots of excuses for why I stopped writing to you, October. I could tell you that I've been meaning to write for the past week, but every time I open my computer I feel guilty for all the days I've missed, which for some reason makes me want to write even less. I've learned that relaying excuses rarely fixes the problem. The only remedy is showing up, which is what I'm attempting to do. A little late.

I suppose a bit of catching up is in order. October, you've been both cruel and wonderful. The past couple of weeks has played off of my insecurities. For a few days, I felt completely worthless for no real reason besides disappointment in something I was putting too much of my identity into. I've been stressed beyond belief, but also humbler, more grateful, and more determined. Thanks in part to a lovely visit from my boyfriend, I'm back on stable ground. That doesn't mean things are quite where I want them to be, though. Far from it. I feel disorganized, restless, and just as scared as ever. I'm trying to be braver, to push myself in areas that I've been holding back in. I want to write more, make new friends, find some sort of community. I've been toying with a new project, standing at the edge of everything I'm comfortable with creatively, and considering diving in.

Meanwhile you've been cooling down, October, releasing some of your warmth to November's icy fingers, and today you were downright frigid. In true Iowa fashion, the wind almost nocked me off of my feet coming out of my dorm. I've decided to take it as a sign. Not a sign that things will be miraculously better. Not a sign that I'll finally stop procrastinating and write a novel/short story collection/cookbook. Just a sign of change. A sign of commitment, even the flimsiest sort. I'm starting  with a renewed resolution to post a sentence a day on the Tumblr I stared with my friend. The original goal was for me to post my favorite sentence from whatever I'd written that day, and for her to post a page from her sketchbook. Our performance at these tasks has been sporadic at best, but I'm still proud of it. I'm not promising perfection - in fact I know I'll probably fail at some point. But what I'm going to attempt to avoid is a not posting anything because I feel guilty for falling behind. Progress is progress, even if it's a little late.


Song of the Day: When the Nights Get Long by Jukebox the Ghost

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Letter to October #12

Dear October,
       Today you were blustery and bright. I was restless and a little stressed. We keep our window open and the wind knocks the papers off my desk. It's a little strange, coming back to an empty room with papers flung about as if someone had tossed them into the air. My life feels a little like that right now. Scattered by unseen forces, and I'm scrambling to pick up the pieces. The strange thing is, there's beauty in the mess, and beauty in stooping over again and again to collect the parts of my life that matter to me. Every day I rearrange them on my desk, I stack them in piles, finish some things, throw other things away. I try to weigh them down with something, but then the wind comes back and they scatter again.
It smells like fall now, and I don't mean that it smells like the maple syrup from the Quaker Oats factory (though sometimes it smells like that, too). So October, you're magic, and I just have to remember to breathe it all in.


ps. I just watched Frances Ha on Netflix, and I recommend it to every twenty-something who's ever dreamed of becoming an artist, who's ever dealt with loneliness, who's ever felt like they were floating and couldn't find their bearings. Just the right amount of realism and whimsy.

Song of the Day: Two Birds by Rachel Sermanni

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Letter to October #11

Dear October,
      Today, my mind is on other things. It's difficult to reflect every day, to try to cull what you've learned in the past 24 hours. Today my thoughts are filled with everything I have to do tomorrow and the day after that. I got to talk to my best friend today, which was lovely, of course. I went on a rushed, mad dash through an art museum because we got there right before closing time. I thought a lot about what I needed to get done, and didn't get very much of it actually finished. I have some good things on the horizon, October, it's just a matter of figuring how to get all this other stuff out of the way so I can enjoy it when it comes. I await the day when I can write one of these letters an proudly proclaim that I was productive, that I managed to get things done while still having time for fun things. Who knows, maybe that day will be tomorrow. But right now, I'm playing catch up for all the things I was blissfully unaware of yesterday. So it goes.


Song of the Day: Ballad of Oregon by River City Extension

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Letter to October #10

Dear October,
       Sometimes I have these seemingly unremarkable days, where I learn a new song on my mandolin, or read a book for several hours, or just chill. Most of the time I regret this at the end of the day. I chastise myself for hardly leaving my dorm room, for not talking to more people, for not doing something "productive." But tonight this feeling of gratitude washed over me. For a few, fleeting moments, everything I experienced today felt like a miracle. I can type in the name of practically any song into Google and find the chords to it. If I don't remember how to play a chord on the mandolin I can find a diagram for it. There's a stack of books in my room that I can keep for up to six weeks, for free. When I get tired of reading, I go onto Youtube. I watch Jen Campbell, a writer and bookseller, talk about the project she's doing where she is writing 100 poems in 48 hours to raise money for a charity called The Book Bus. I am amazed at the scope of information that is available to us with just a single click, twenty-four hours a day. I am amazed that such a simple, quiet day can make me feel this way. Not every day has to be amazing. Not every day has to be exciting or new or even interesting. There's something to be said for stillness and quiet appreciation. It sounds cliche, and it's actually a lot harder than it sounds. To be grateful, you have to give up your preconceived notions, the complaints you cling to, fall back on. Being grateful is, like anything worthwhile, an act of courage.
So anyway, here I am. Computer on my lap, blankets around me, listening to my favorite evening playlist. There are a lot of directions this day could have gone. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.


Song of the Day: Early Morning Riser by The Weepies (This song just makes me happy)

Letter to October #9

Dear October,
       Some questions:

1. Why does watching five episodes of television in a row make me feel worn out? Isn't it supposed to *not* require thought and effort?
2. Why do we avoid the things we most want?
3. How did pumpkin spice take over the world?
4. How do YOU feel about pumpkin spice, October? It seems like you'd be the definitive authority on the matter.
5. What makes language demand to be read aloud? I'm reading How to be Both by Ali Smith, and I find myself mouthing the words under my breath. It's like a compulsion- her words just flow. 
6. If I spend all of my time and energy consuming other people's creative work, what time is left over for me to do my own?
7. Is there a threshold for consuming other people's work? Is there a point where we just raise our hands and call "Enough!"? Maybe there is merit in consuming less so that we can listen to our own voices for a little while.
8. Is the internet making us kinder?
9. Why are we obsessed with kid geniuses and child prodigies? Why does being talented faster have any more merit than achieving incredible things at 90 years old?
10. How the heck did it get to be midnight already?

Lots of things happening in my brain today.


Song of the day: Keep Your Head Up by Ben Howard

Bonus material!
Some of the things that lead me to these questions:
1. This fantastic interview with Fran Lebowitz on the Bullseye podcast
2. The most recent episode of Radiolab (not directly related to the above questions, but listen to it and it will make you question your reality. Also it's just a really good story)
3. This entire pumpkin spice tag on The Consumerist
4. The first 80 pages of How to be Both  by Ali Smith (That's how far I've gotten; can't comment on the rest of it yet :))

Friday, October 9, 2015

Letters to October #7 + 8

I'll stop taking cliche sky pictures when the sky stops being beautiful

Dear October,
      (This one is extra long and rambly because I missed yesterday!) When I was little I thought adulthood involved two things: routines and coffee shops. Now that I'm 20 years old (verging on 21 oh my god), let's take a closer look at these, shall we?

As a kid I was obsessed with routines. I made up elaborate daily schedules for my toys. I had a tiny plastic bear that I imagined practiced his electric guitar at 5am every morning, much to the consternation of his neighbors. I distinctly remember excitedly suggesting that my parents alternate the days on which they read me bedtime stories. My mom would read to me on one day, then the next day would be my dad's turn, etc. Upon hearing my innovative and time-saving idea, my parents smiled and said something like, "It's more interesting if we mix things up a bit." Part of my love of routines stemmed from the fact that I thought that's what adulthood was like. Adulthood meant structuring your day any way you liked, and that to me meant doing the same thing at the same time every day. It wasn't the monotony that attracted me (shocking, I know); it was the simplicity. I loved the idea of living a simple life, full of simple pleasures. Enjoying breakfast in a light-filled kitchen. Taking long walks with my dog through the forest that I imagined surrounding my little cottage. I would be a regular at a diner where I would eat pie every afternoon.
So. How does my strange little fantasy hold up? While I still value the idea of routines, and try, futilely, to cobble together some kind of relaxing morning routine, my picture of an ideal life has changed drastically. Now, I value change and movement just as much as I value time management. I want to travel. I want to experience new things, live in several different cities, and most of all, I no longer crave the so called "simplicity" of rigorously structured days. Maybe when I'm retired and living in the idyllic town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, or some hamlet in the wild hills of Ireland, I will be ready to embrace my childlike longing for sameness. I must admit, eating pie every afternoon doesn't sound bad at all.

Coffee Shops
If there's one thing that came to my young mind when I pondered the mysteries of adulthood, it was coffee shops. Coffee shops, in no uncertain terms, symbolized freedom. I imagined my adult self meeting up with my adult best friend at a coffee shop in New York City (don't ask me how this relates to my vision of simplicity and the cottage in the woods), where we would have wild creative notions and sketch award-winning ideas onto napkins. I thought adults spent the majority of their time in coffee shops. I thought that this was how most people got work done. And all of this boundless creativity was fueled by a marvelous black drink that I hadn't quite developed a taste for yet. (Though I started drinking coffee much earlier than most kids).
Today, coffee shops still hold a special kind of magic. The most ordinary of days can be made interesting by a good conversation in a coffee shop. It seemed fitting that the first place I drove to without my mom in the passenger seat after I'd gotten my licensee was my local coffee shop. Even for a fleeting moment, my vision of adulthood was a little bit true. Now, I'm fascinated by the societal and creative context of coffee shops: how we use them, what role they play in society, and why they've inspired so many great minds. While I know that adulthood (and independence) doesn't consist solely of afternoons spent in coffee shops, I think my younger self would be happy to know that a visit the coffee shop across the street from campus weekly (lets be real: several times a week). It's nice to know I've lived up to my younger self's expectations, even in the tiniest way possible.

These are my jumbled thoughts on adulthood. In addition to pondering my past self and her unrealistic (and frankly bizarre) expectations, I finished reading the fabulous Fly By Night by Frances Hardinge and started reading How to Be Both by Ali Smith. It's giving me a lot to think about, and I absolutely adore being immersed in words. That's one thing that's never changed.


Song of the day: Clay and Cast Iron by Darlingside (from their new album!)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Letter to October #6

Dear October,
      I've been thinking a lot about the difference between the person we are when we're alone and the person we are when we are when we're around other people. If we're lucky, the difference isn't very noticeable, maybe only to ourselves. But more often then not, I find myself shifting ever so slightly to better fit the space that the person I'm with occupies. The essentials of my personality are always there, but the nuances are different. I do this without even thinking about it. I think we all do.
Lately I've been seeing the word "authentic" thrown around on social media and in real life. It's one of those words that is practically meaningless when it's used alone. You can only be authentic in relation to something that's fake. There's no one true way to be authentic, because authenticity is something that, by definition, just exists, free from all outside influence. To be honest, I'm not sure true authenticity exists, at least not in people. People can be genuine. They can have good intentions, and a strong moral compass, and a unique personality. But true authenticity? What does that even mean? How do we dig into the core of our being to find it? And if we stuck to it, how many people would we alienate in the process?
To me, being genuine is the act of reaching for authenticity. It's a word that, while still context specific, is much easier for me to wrap my head around. To be genuine is to know yourself and present as much of yourself to the world as you can. Genuineness allows for mistakes and variation, while, authenticity feels fixed, as if your personality were a gemstone that could be examined under a magnifying glass.
At this point I could probably wax poetic about the impossibility of two very similar words having completely different connotations in my head. I find it amazing that I can even articulate the differences, however clumsily. But it's getting late, October, so I'll leave you with a question instead. I wonder how you act around the other months- if you ever put flowers in your hair to impress May, or paint the leaves with frost to get on December's good side. I wonder if you are jealous of July's swagger, or March's temper, or September's mildness. I wonder if you ever lie on your back in the grass and stare up at the sky and search for your authentic self. I wonder, for the millionth time, if you can see your own beauty.


Song of the Day: Featherstone by The Paper Kites

Monday, October 5, 2015

Letter to October #5

Dear October,
       Here are some thoughts I've had today:

1. Red velvet cake and cream cheese icing is always a good idea
2. How come I always have more homework than I think I do? Is there a psychological reason for that?
3. Some songs make me feel full to bursting and some make me feel this strange, hollow ache for faraway places. I think there's value in both feelings.
4. Does every plant have a specific smell, or just things like grass and pine trees?

That's all I've got for you today, October. (No photo because I forgot! Sorry!)


Song of the day: Honey Jars by Bryan John Appleby

Letter to October #4

Dear October,
      I  write to you with a weird mix of emotions. On the one hand today was a great day. It was the perfect mix of quiet, solitary activities and time spent in the company of friends. I got to read the book I raved about in my last letter, and I got to go out for donuts (a food I've been craving since the end of summer) and hang out with a bunch of wonderful people. Days like these always leave me feeling a little bittersweet though. I think it's melancholy for other days that weren't as good, the ones where I was stressed out or lazy or caught in an endless Youtube spiral. And I realize that the less-than-stellar days outnumber the great ones. That's not to say the other days are bad, or even that I didn't enjoy them while they were happening. They just pale in comparison.
Being the idealist that I am, this dissatisfaction usually leads to a feeling of clarity and determination. Tomorrow I will start with a clean slate. I'll make sure my great days outnumber my mediocre ones. But change, inevitably, is a stubborn, fickle beast. Our bodies give way again and again to the path of least resistance. Besides, how do I turn a vague feeling of restlessness into lasting change?
There's a piece of advice from Jad Abumrad (host of the Radiolab podcast), where he says, "Continue to reinvent. Keep things moving and changing and always a little bit out of reach." One could argue that that's how 20-somethings feel all the time - everything is just a little bit out of reach - but I think it goes deeper than that. Jad isn't just saying "follow your dreams" or "keep moving forward." He's saying that we have to fight what's comfortable. We have to push ourselves to break from the path of least resistance. If I can master this, I think maybe that melancholy that washes over me at the end of a really great day will go quiet. That's my working hypothesis, anyway.
This is all too easy to write about from my bed on a Sunday night. That's usually when my mind formulates plans that tomorrow's body won't act on. But it's worth it, I think, to appreciate the good days and the mediocre days for what they are. Because as Annie Dillard wisely said, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."


Song of the day: When I Grow Up by First Aid Kit (Original by Fever Ray)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Letter to October #3

Dear October,
       Today I feel completely, irrevocably under the spell of a book. Even as I take a break to write this, I can feel its presence next to me, willing me to pick it up and disappear into the story again. The book is Fly by Night by Frances Hardinge, and in the 200 pages that I've read so far, I can safely say that it has reminded me why I love reading. More specifically, it brought me back to the reading experiences that seemed so much more common when I was a child, where a story sucks you in so completely that during the time that you are reading it your life takes on strange new characteristics. You notice new things. You find yourself thinking about the characters as if they were friends with which you have frequent, urgent correspondence. They tell you tales of their adventures while you worry and fret over them, waiting for the next moment when you can sit down and hear about the newest development in their lives.
Today I spent the afternoon with street urchins and con men, in snow white carriages dappled with pearls, on barges and floating coffee houses. The world of Fly by Night is one of numerous deities, guilds, societies, and a lore all of its own. It's complicated and occasionally confusing, but I was so entranced that this hardly bothered me. As the warmth of the blankets lulled me into sleep, the world of the book shifted, ghostlike, into my dreams. I woke up from my nap slightly disoriented, unsure when exactly I'd stopped reading.
Before this book, I'd been in a bit of a reading slump. I moved mindlessly from book to book, finding pockets of enjoyment here and there, but failing to find a story I could truly immerse myself in. I had gotten so caught up in the language and pace of adult books that I was taken completely by surprise by the smooth magic of children's literature. How easy it was to get completely wrapped up in the world! How easy to fall in love with the characters! Why isn't every reading experience like this one? Why do I put up with anything less? Of course, I am also of the belief that reading experiences should be varied, and that you should expand your horizons and read out of your comfort zone. I believe that all books can teach you something: at worst, about your likes and dislikes, your capacity for boredom, and at best, about your passions and your vulnerabilities; a good book exposes the cracks in your world view.
People are always talking about the transformative power of books, but you don't truly understand this until you experience it, again and again. Stories can warp time. They can re-wire thought processes. They can consume and they can dispel. I had forgotten. I was happy, October, to be reminded.


Song of the Day: Harry's Wondrous World by John Williams

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Letter to October #2

Dear October,
       It is 2am and this morning (I suppose I should say yesterday morning) feels far away. I went to my only class for the day, and then spent a couple hours with my mandolin. I'm trying to learn, but it's far too easy to get stuck playing the only six chords I know rather than trying to learn new songs. Still, the instrument is starting to feel comfortable in my hands. Every time I pick it up I find it slightly easier to get the sound I want. Baby steps, as they say.

In the evening, my friends and I made a late-night trip to IHOP. We sat in plastic booths and drank coffee and hot chocolate and ate stacks of pancakes in the warm yellow light. On the drive home we sang along loudly to classical music under a gigantic moon. As per usual, we watched a quirky movie on Netflix and laughed until we cried.

That was my day, October. My only regret: I didn't get a picture of my blueberry pancakes.


Song of the Day: Clementine by Sarah Jaffe

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Letter to October #1

Dear October,
       I'm trying to fall back in love with you, with Autumn. To be quite honest, I just don't feel like watching the world slip slowly into rust-colored decay this year. Summer still looms large in my memory. I'm haunted by luxuriously long evenings and blistering afternoons. I'm not ready to give up iced coffee mornings and orange sherbet clouds and the way the sun turns newly mowed lawns into a sea of impossible green. Life at school is a lot quieter this year, mainly because my friends are a bit more scattered, and while I feel more in control of my studies, I feel less in control of my social life. Isn't that so like life? As soon as one peice falls into place, another unravels. That's not to say I'm unhappy, October. Restless is a better word.

At times like these, I do two things. First, I turn towards the things that always bring me comfort. I just put a bunch of books on hold at the library. They're mostly middle grade books, full of childlike wonder and magic. One is the sequel to The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, a book that is the equivalent of being dropped in an autumn-themed Alice in Wonderland. The next thing I do is take a few, tiny steps out of my comfort zone. September kept whispering adventure in my ear, and most of the time I ignored her. I don't know what you have in store for me October, but don't worry. I'm not going to do the same to you.


Song of the Day: A Proper Polish Welcome by Torres (Couldn't pass up this beautiful, nighttime, outdoor serenade)

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Photo by Indigo

Making: A lot!
-A slow, atmospheric music video to the song Artifact 3 by Ryan Teague
-A 6' by 9' canvas mural that's going to brighten up our patio
-A joint Tumblr with my friend, where we share our daily progress on our respective creative habits. Me with my favorite sentence from the day's writing, Indigo with the newest page from her sketchbook. (Our most recent post can be seen in the sidebar!)
-My first couple articles for the Houston Chronicle, where I'm lucky enough to be volunteering this summer
-Savory popcorn via Alisa Burke

-A bunch of future blog posts, including:
    -More recap posts about my trip to Paris
    -An update on my creative bucket list
    -Maybe some book reviews...
-A dessert cookbook based around my summer creative writing club, Words for Dessert

Pondering: What the words "growth" and "change" mean to me. It feels like I have a million plates in the air right now, but it also feels like this summer and all the creative stuff I'm doing might be a transformative experience.

Reading: The Girl Who Slept with God by Val Brelinski

Watching: I watch movies more than I watch TV shows, so here's some of the best films I've seen  recently:

Love and Mercy
This is the story of Brian Wilson, lead singer and main innovator behind The Beach Boys. Sometimes  films just come out of nowhere and completely blow you away. This was one of them. It is a beautiful, suspenseful, and heartbreaking look not only at Brian Wilson's life but his creative process as well. Also the sound design/soundtrack is absolutely superb.

Testament of Youth
Based on the memoir of Vera Brittan, this is the story of an extraordinary woman and her efforts to make sense of the relentless brutality of WWI. It's a tremendously sad story, but there are moments of beauty throughout. One of my favorite things about it was how close all of the cinematography felt. There were very few wide shots, and when they were used it was for a specific and powerful effect.

Listening: to Darlingside's new single, on repeat. It's that good. (Also, their new album comes out in September!)

-Iced coffee with breakfast
-Stepping into the air conditioning after being out in the heat and humidity
-Long afternoon photo shoots with my best friend
-Driving at night with the windows rolled down, music blasting
-Sunrises and sunsets
-New dresses

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Paris Recap: From a Writer's Notebook

 I've been doing a lot of reflecting lately. Some of it is required for my May Term: typing up my Paris journals, trying to fit my experiences into concise paragraphs. Some of it is personal: A letter-writing project my friend and I are embarking in our year apart (she's studying abroad next semester, I'm studying abroad in the spring). Either way, there are times I wish I could bottle memories rather than sifting them through my brain and onto the page. Understanding events in your life takes perspective, which often requires distance and time. The problem is, the longer I wait, the fuzzier the memories become. Over the past few days I've been re-reading everything I wrote in Paris: journal entires, notes, lists, and observations. I'll be sharing my thoughts on other aspects of Paris here in the coming weeks (I promise), but for now I want to share with you some of the things I wrote while I was abroad.

My Favorite Things About Paris: (an ongoing list that I added to throughout the trip)
- Little French children in a adorable outfits
- Accordion players on the Metro
- Old man on a scooter in a maroon colored pinstripe suit and rainbow socks
- Colorful doors that lead to secret places
- Gigantic roses (seriously, though)

On Shakespeare and Company:
I am sitting in the reading room of Shakespeare and Company. The window is open and jazz music wafts in from below. The floor is a mess of hexagonal tiles and the room itself, not to mention the whole building, feels a little like it could topple at any moment. A white cat doses on one of the only unoccupied chairs. In the hallways just outside of the reading room there is a cubby hole where people can leave notes. This place feels timeless, or rather like it makes time stand still. You walk into the bookstore and you have entered a world where the only thing that matters is the written word, where words are literally holding up the walls. It is a bit dingy, crowded, and cramped, but I would expect nothing less. For being in the center of a major tourist district, it still feels remarkably isolated. As I write this the bells of Notre Dame are ringing...

On Versailles:
My first impression of Versailles, similar to most people, was the gold. Gold detailing is everywhere, and not just in the Hall of Mirrors. The gold on the front of the building is almost blinding, which seems only fitting considering Louis XIV was known as the "Sun King." The next thing I noticed was the lushness of the fabrics. Everything is so ornate, and every single surface is covered. I found it really interesting how none of the rooms were fully private spaces. Even the bedrooms were places where people could gather, with only a railing separating the king's bed from the rest of the room. My favorite part of Versailles, and the part that put the whole rest of the chateau in perspective, was the Grand Trianon and Marie Antoinette's hamlet. Both of these spaces felt completely different from the palace. They were quieter and smaller, with less abundance of gold and ornate decoration. They were still beautiful spaces fit for royalty, but I felt like I could breath there. If the chateau in the 18th century was anywhere near as crowded as the modern-day palace crawling with tourists, I know that the Grand Trianon and the hamlet would have been a welcome change from all the suffocating grandeur of Versailles.

On Paris in general:
My favorite places in Paris are the quiet ones: the old roman arena, the churches, the little courtyards I stumble across, the reading room in Shakespeare and Company. Even in a bustling city it is so comforting to know that around every corner is the possibility of seeing a church or a garden that I can slip into. It is as if the whole city is built around these contemplative spaces, and they are inviting you to sit and ponder or read or draw. When I see someone bent over their phone in a Paris garden it breaks my heart. 

A poem I wrote for class. I'll probably end up revising it, but here it is in its original state, as it was scribbled in my notebook:

Ode to an Old Man in Rainbow Socks

Paris is the old man in rainbow socks
that I saw weaving between traffic on a scooter
perfectly at ease in the ever-changing geometry
of the street. His pinstripe suit, the color of wine,
is perfect and unwrinkled.
On the metro I examine the feet of strangers
ankles bare or woolen, bumpy or smooth.
We are in a submarine and the old man
is a maroon fish, his helmet glittering like a single eye.

At 5pm the light slants, as though the city
were a glass of water, tilted and held up to the sun.
Blink, and the light shatters on the stone
floor of the cathedral.
Blink, and the city smells of rain and roses.
The sun warms your neck but you hair is already drenched.
Blink, and the man in the rainbow socks kicks off
from the pavement, a whirl of color at his feet.

Blink, and the city is itself again --
the smell of cigarettes
your bag digging into your shoulder
your hair damp with rain

Friday, May 8, 2015

Vignettes from the Recent Past, Pictures from Today


More often than not, Cedar Rapids feels like one big strip mall. Most of the green spaces are hemmed in by concrete. The city smells different depending on what flavor of cereal the Quaker Oats factory is churning out, and on sunny Saturdays the streets fill with motorcycles. Sometimes, though, I find things I never expect. Across the river from downtown there is an amphitheater that plays the sounds of Canada Geese over loud speakers every fifteen minutes. Nearby is a sculpture made out of recycled glass that creates a fun-house mirror effect when you stand underneath it. Every time I feel like everything has become homogenous, I find a random stretch of road made out bricks or a charming, vine covered building. While I occasionally wish I'd gone to school in place closer to nature (usually while scrolling through Instagram), Cedar Rapids is teaching me that everything can be interesting, if you let it. 


After a long winter, sunny days are a shock to the system. Yesterday, our first official day of summer, my friends and I laid in the grass and took selfies. Somehow we had gone the whole year without getting a single picture of the four of us together. The moment was both sublime and melancholy: one of my friends is transferring to another school, and another is going to be abroad next semester. As I watch the graduation tents go up on the quad, I can't help feeling that quintessential stirring that accompanies every step into the unknown. In just a few days time I'll be on a plane headed for Paris. I'm both excited and stressed, and meanwhile summer has me intoxicated with heady feelings of freedom. Every day for the past few days, the clouds roll in around 4pm. The wind picks up. The temperature drops. The rain falls at an angle, with a force that stings bare skin. Everything is motion. Summer is here, and the world is all a-flutter. 


Every day I see pictures of places I want to live someday. The impossibly green pastures of Ireland. The deep, dark conifers of the Northwest. Blue sky stretching above West Texas like a drum. It makes me want to speed up time, run faster, do more. What's lost in the gap between here and there? Every day I face the delusion that I should be somewhere else, when really this is the only place I can be, and the only place I am. I am reminded of this every time I see a familiar face, or double over laughing at something a friend has said. I am reminded on late night pancake runs and Sunday morning conversations with my roommates. Every time the wanderlust catches hold, it's the people that keep me grounded. This is my little place in this big, messy world. I'm not going to waste my time wishing it was somewhere else.