Remembering

A Bedtime Story

The air in my room is a little too still, so I crack the window and let the cool November night sing me to sleep. I bury my eyelashes in a soft pillowcase and wish for sleep to come quickly, just this once, a nightly ritual. It doesn’t, as has been the case all week. Despite the restlessness, my eyes are thankful for the rest the nighttime lends. Out the window I can hear cars pass on a highway a few blocks out, a murmur that blends with the breeze.

Clearly, distinctively, the sound of a train interrupts the rhythmic rustling of my body as I kick the sheets away, then pull them back.

I am a little girl again, burying my eyelashes in a soft pillowcase that smells of home, in a blue-walled sanctuary with soccer trophies on a bookshelf across from my bed. A train keeps me awake as it calls in the distance, warning the road of its presence. It’s strange how close it sounds, but it’s not close at all.

I know exactly how long it would take me to pedal there. It’s a long ride, one that takes me around Dead Man’s Curve, down the shaded street with speed bumps every ten yards, past the house with the mean horse, the sometimes-sweet goats, the streets named after flowers, and all the way down the big hill, the really big one with train tracks at the bottom. It’s not close. It’s a long ride, one I’m not allowed to make alone.

And in this new city, far from the room with the blue walls and a bookshelf now empty of childhood trophies, I’m having trouble remembering where I’ve passed a single set of train tracks, where a train could be running close enough I can hear it so clearly, so distinctively, warning the road of its presence.

Maybe it calls to me from the other side of the highway, where I only wander when I’m a little sad and a little lost. Maybe it’s a few blocks out, in a part of this city that remains more foreign to me than the rest. Maybe it’s far from me, past a set of streets named after flowers, at the bottom of a very big hill, a long bike ride away, one I’m still not quite old enough to make alone.

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Random, Reflection

The Evolution of an Ever-Evolving Young Writer

What I’m about to tell you comes as a shock to me, even as I have been watching the numbers tick closer and closer the past few months. It has stared me down as my posts became farther in between saying, “Is this all you’ve got?” like a friend who’s trying to motivate me to do something, reach something, but unfortunately is disguised as a mean twelve-year-old waiting to point and laugh at me when I trip over my feet playing kickball. I’m being dramatic, but this post is cause for drama because it is, in fact, my 900th post! I admit, that’s an unreasonably large number. But it’s true, folks: post number 900.

Post numero uno went a little something like this: “I begin this blog, today, September 7, 2009 with many goals and aspirations in mind, most which will not most likely be achieved; however, one must dream. Today marks the tenth day of my senior year in highschool. I’m beginning this blog hoping to document the fabulous year ahead of me; the growth, the ideas, the thoughts, the experiences…” And here I am, a few years and, apparently, 900 posts later about to graduate from college and begin a master’s program in journalism.  I wouldn’t have believed you if you had told eighteen-year-old me that this writing space would become what it is now, that I would spend an entire year posting every single day, that I would create a place to relate to strangers and friends and strangers who became friends, and maybe most importantly, create a reference to document and reflect on the ways I would grow as a writer and a human being.

So to mark this ridiculous milestone, I’d like to write a little about what has happened over the past three and a half years that has kept me here and kept me writing.

Bloggers constantly balance the work of not taking themselves too seriously and convincing others to take them seriously. Lets face it, there are a lot of people writing blogs that aren’t saying much of anything. Maybe I was one of those as a naive teenager who’s grown into a slightly less naive young adult, constantly trying to figure out what she’s doing here. And that’s okay, I think, because that was precisely the point from the beginning. But the way I came to blogging was strange. I wasn’t looking to inform exactly, but merely to contribute my own voice to this digital space that was inviting me. In the short-lived flourishing days of Xanga and Myspace, I taught myself little bits of HTML and wrote diary-style entries about my life. And from there, a dialogue opened with friends, and each of these platforms was another way to communicate, to reach out; the same way I wrote notes I passed in class, then left AOL away messages, then emailed and messaged and texted and tweeted and blogged and instagrammed and did everything I could, and do now more than ever. I would do whatever I could to capture a instance, a moment, a feeling, anything and everything.

I don’t have an objective understanding of what this means for my generation, as I’m a product of it, still completely wrapped in this unavoidable mess of social media that often has me aching to cut myself off and to simplify. But the web of social media is neither completely bad or completely good, so I keep spinning, happy for the conveniences it offers me.

While my writing was certainly diary-like, it’s important to recognize that I wasn’t writing in a diary at all; I was writing somewhere in the digital space where anyone could read it. And as I’ve learned in every English class since 5th grade, writing has to be constantly aware of its audience. So I wrote and still write to an undefined You, a group of human beings (presumably) who materialize only insomuch as View Counts, Likes, and Comments. And unlike writing in a diary, my writing took on the potential to say something to someone, which was meaningful even if no one was reading it. It was the potential that mattered.

But what has come of all of this is a love for writing, a love that developed over the years not only in countless writing workshops and late nights writing and revising papers and stories and poems, but also 3 AM post-concert write-ups and thunderstorm-induced posts which were not-so-cryptically about love when I had no idea what it meant, and loneliness and fear and all of the things that keep me awake at night and teach me that being a writer has nothing to do with A+ papers.

All this to say, thanks for sticking with me. Thanks for being patient and caring enough to give this young writer a chance to be young and frivolous and mess up over and over again and figure out what it means to be a not only a writer, but a human being.

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Read, Relevant

Re-reading, Re-writing, Relevant

I didn’t want to come here today and write about her on the anniversary of her death. It’s too easy, too predictable.
But here I am.

I write about Lily all the time, in poems and stories and little notes scribbled in the pages at the back of my calendar. I’ve been living in a world where Lily lives and dies over and over in drafting an essay for my nonfiction workshop, which has been difficult and helpful and altogether frustrating most days. I make myself confront her death all the time in writing because it seems to be the only way I know how to begin dealing and continue to deal with the reality of a world where my friend lived and no longer does.

For just a moment, let’s have an honest conversation about living and dying, one that isn’t blurred by promises of faith and religion, which I understand is an impossible request of me for some of you. But let’s try, okay? Sometimes I wish I had some profound sense of understanding regarding her death. I think that making sense of her death would bring about some kind of peace and closure. But I’m not sold that it’s closure that I want, and I may just be coming to this understanding as I type these words here, so forgive the disjointedness of this post.

What does closure even offer us, or better yet, what do we think it offers us? Does it make it easier to go about our lives without this person, those people? Do we think it’ll bring about normalcy, will it bring back the easiness of our lives before grief and loss? Even two years after her death, I’m not sure I want the easiness, not because I think closure means forgetting or anything like that. There’s something vital that comes with the unsettledness, something that I hope will challenge me to be a little more alive every day for the rest of my life. Right now, I think that the reality of life can be horrifyingly tragic simply because it is defined by mortality. But it is also precious, beautiful, and significant for exactly those reasons.

I don’t know.

Every day, Lily manages to teach me how to live. She pushes me to work harder, to string words together more beautifully and gracefully. She teaches me to say “I love you” when I mean it, and “I’m sorry” when my pride would otherwise keep me from doing so. I don’t have any words for where I think she is and I don’t know how to answer when Victoria asks me if I ever feel her. I don’t know the answer to that.

But sometimes, when the leaves on the trees turn to copper and orange, the same colors of the sunset she took a picture of in Lima before she died, I like to think of her telling me she hears me through the wind that blows chimes hanging from trees in that sad garden where artificial flowers grow next to her red shoes. And I suppose that’s enough for now.

“I know a planet where there is a certain red-faced gentleman. He has never smelled a flower. He has never looked at a star. He has never loved any one. He has never done anything in his life but add up figures. And all day he says over and over, just like you: ‘I am busy with matters of consequence!’ And that makes him swell up with pride. But he is not a man — he is a mushroom!”

“A what?”

“A mushroom!”

The little prince was now white with rage.

“The flowers have been growing thorns for millions of years. For millions of years the sheep have been eating them just the same. And is it not a matter of consequence to try to understand why the flowers go to so much trouble to grow thorns which are never of any use to them? Is the warfare between the sheep and the flowers not important? Is this not of more consequence than a fat red-faced gentleman’s sums? And if I know — I, myself — one flower which is unique in the world, which grows nowhere but on my planet, but which one little sheep can destroy in a single bite some morning, without even noticing what he is doing — Oh! You think that is not important!”

His face turned from white to red as he continued:

“If some one loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there…’ But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened… And you think that is not important!”

He could not say anything more. His words were choked by sobbing.

The night had fallen. I had let my tools drop from my hands. Of what moment now was my hammer, my bolt, or thirst, or death? On one star, one planet, my planet, the Earth, there was a little prince to be comforted. I took him in my arms, and rocked him. I said to him:

“The flower that you love is not in danger. I will draw you a muzzle for your sheep. I will draw you a railing to put around your flower. I will — “

I did not know what to say to him. I felt awkward and blundering. I did not know how I could reach him, where I could overtake him and go on hand in hand with him once more.

It is such a secret place, the land of tears.

The Little Prince

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Reflection, Relevant

Pep Talk for the In-betweens

Let’s talk about the in-betweens for a moment. About the not yet, not quite, might be, may be, could be, would be, and should be. Let’s talk about the space in between love and not love, and forever and never was at all. Let’s talk about what you might be one day. I’m not sure what that is exactly, but I know you’re not there yet. Maybe you’ll be an artist, an explorer, a lover, or something more than this human-in-training, this intern in life. Unfortunately I can’t tell you when you’ll make it, and I certainly can’t guarantee you ever will, but I guess you’ll have to trust that you’ll know if for sure once you get there, you’ll feel it. Or maybe things will change enough that it’ll be clear. Maybe you’ll wear a ring on your left hand and the women at your Thursday book club will talk about how they feel guilty for hating their monster children sometimes, but never in those words. Then you’ll know. Or maybe your job will pay you more than minimum wage and you’ll use that money to buy life insurance and throw pillows. Congratulations, you adult, you. But, more likely, you continue to wonder when you’ll get somewhere else. I wish I could tell you for sure. Unfortunately, you might just have to learn to take yourself seriously and hope the universe follows suit. You might have to value yourself as a human being with potential, and you just might have to demand others do the same. You might have to make your own rules and roll with the punches when they don’t work out. And chances are they won’t because life is unpredictable and messy, and that’s precisely what you love most about it. If all of this living and breathing was simply working towards an end, I think it’d be pretty grim. But it’s not; it’s a brilliant adventure, one that’s full of clichés but the world doesn’t cross them out in red ink. So don’t trade your dreams for certainty. Call it love after it fails. Make the art that you love. Never stop learning.

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Relevant

On Growing Up and Contradictions

An artist named Noah Kalina created a video in which he pieced together 4,514 photographs of himself, one he took each day for over twelve years. The result is an impressive physical documentation of the passing of time. The changes in clothing, the cycles of hairstyles, the way we were defined once as someone’s granddaughter, someone’s sister, someone’s lover, the trends and fads we move through and move past, the people that appear as shadows passing in the background, the spaces we live, and even the way our eyes once sat slightly higher on our faces goes unnoticed until we see a photograph of us from years before and it hits us that time passed without us thinking about it. It passes both quickly and slowly enough for us to forget we were ever someone else.

I spent at least three weeks of that summer packing up my life to move into my first college dorm. I spent thirteen years creating that room, the one with walls painted the perfect shade of blue, somewhere between sky blue and the classic Crayola crayon blue. The room with blue walls that were incidentally covered with thumbtacks and double-stick tape lining the corners of posters of indie bands, fashion magazine cutouts, and photographs that climbed from the floor to the ceiling. It was in that space that I created a sanctuary, the ultimate judgment-free zone, a space where it was okay to fall in and out of love, a space to mistakenly mix paint colors on a canvas, to squeak my way through impossible études on my violin, to write in journals no one would ever read. It was a space to escape to, a space to hide in, a space to both live and learn. It was there that I grew up. And as I packed up that room with the perfect blue walls, among the old notes that had been written and passed between friends that read “LOL” a few too many times than I’d like to admit, I found a familiar birthday card wrapped in a familiar pink envelope. Without opening it I knew what it was and who had written it. The envelope had appeared in my mailbox on my seventeenth birthday and it would be the last card I would receive scribbled in his faint black handwriting: “Love, Papa.”

Two and a half years later, I was sitting in a booth with a stack of books in front of me. A lukewarm cup of coffee separated from the cream I had poured into it earlier. My pen rested on the table and a paper eagerly awaited existence. In a college town like the one I lived, the perfect place to study was hard to find. The fluorescent lights of the library were harsh and uninviting and the coffee shops were saturated with twenty-somethings that seemed to enjoy flirting with the baristas and complaining about hangovers more than cracking open a book. So I searched until I found my spot, the perfect spot in a small restaurant, where coffee refills were cheap and power outlets were abundant, but all I really needed was a quiet table tucked in the corner. I glanced up from the English paper I was successfully failing to write and saw an old man pulling out the chair of a table near mine. We exchanged smiles. He held a small plate with a scone or a bagel, and in his other hand a cup of coffee. His hands were a little shaky until the porcelain mug found its place on the table. I had only one of four grandparents left, and my grandmother looked ten years younger than she actually was all my life, so I had no frame of reference for how old the man could have been. In the two years I worked in a retirement home during high school, I never asked one of our residents how old he or she was. Certain questions are simply inappropriate. The old man opened his newspaper and folded it in half to sit flat on the table in front of him.

In that moment I imagined the circumstances that had brought him there alone. I imagined the framed photographs that may have sat on his mantle, on his walls, on his bedside table, of curls and smiles and eyes that twinkled. Past tense. I imagined a life, a full life, one with many faces, ten times as many faces as I had seen, enough to fit in four of my own lifetimes. I imagined my own grandfather, his old brown Volvo and his even older brown coat that smelled of cigars my entire life. I imagined how he spent his mornings that year and a half he lived without my grandmother before he himself died. I imagined the spaces that he occupied and the newspapers that piled up in his car and the house on Curlew Street that must have been too quiet.

***

Adults seem to speak in clichés, saying things like “life is a series of letting-go moments,” and “time flies,” and “kids grow up so fast.” The world will do its best to remind us that one day we will be on our own, cut off from the safety and security of our childhood bedrooms and bicycle helmets with butterfly stickers. Growing up, they’ll prepare us to be independent, to have careers and make mortgage payments and drive ourselves to the doctor’s office when we get sick. We know about those things. We accept them as inevitable because growing up is messy.

We spend the first fifteen years of our lives blowing out the same number of candles as years we’ve been alive, an annual celebration of time and of course life, but most importantly, a passing life. We’re eager for each birthday partially because of presents and parties with cupcakes and balloons, or even simply the attention that the day brings. But more so, I think, we anticipated birthdays because of what it meant to be older. Ten years meant double digits, thirteen brought the ever-awaited “teenager” status, sixteen brought car keys, and seventeen meant rated-R movies. But no birthday seemed to top the one birthday many twenty-one-year-olds don’t remember the next day. I’m not sure when we stopped celebrating and I’m not sure what changed. All I know is that we lost this yearning to age as, well, we got older. You never hear an adult respond if someone (god forbid) asks her age with, “I’m forty seven and a half!” with the excitement that an eight-and-a-half year old does. We don’t like to think about the fact that time is passing and our bodies are aging and the fact that our hair is turning gray any more than our driver’s licenses remind us. And aging becomes more of a dreaded acceptance of time running out and missed opportunities than a celebration of life. Birthdays become something to fear as they point to an end. But maybe it only seems that way when you’re young.

The old man read his paper for twenty minutes before a woman around his same age joined him with a similar cup of coffee and a plate with a scone, or maybe it was a bagel. She took a section of the paper and they sat quietly together. My grandfather has been dead for almost three years. My dad looks more and more like him with each birthday that comes in and blows away. And I’m nowhere closer to understanding how time both changes everything and nothing at all, nor how clocks seem to have hands that spin backwards and forwards, both counting and counting down.

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