Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Bad Case of the Block

This morning I opened the presents under the tree (which included a "certificate" for my parents to pay for my spring break trip to Florida!), went to the beach, played with the kids, and watched a movie. And I came to terms with the fact that the unwelcome present I've been brought this season is a horrible case of writer's block. Remember that time I wrote about writer's block? I wrote that when I didn't really have writer's block. But now I do. And it's super lame. I sit down at the computer to blog, or open my journal to write, or just pull out my legal pad to get some words down, and.... nothing. It's not even my bad writing habits. It's just that my brain is clean out of words right now. I can't explain that.

So I'm off for now. I'll start blogging again when I'm un-blocked. For now I'm going to enjoy Hawaii and read and tan. Perfect.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Apocalypse Survived

If I'm honest, I was a little bit nervous about the impending apocalypse. I left Swat Friday morning to sheets of rain and loud wind, and some part of me believed that the apocalypse was coming. But that's also because I didn't bother to sleep that night, so by the time I got on my plane I'd been up for around 24 hours. So my brain wasn't very happy. When they made me gate check my bag in Philadelphia because there was no room left in the overheads, I may have cried a little bit. Maybe.

But the apocalypse didn't happen, and I'm pretty happy about that. I'm in Hawaii with the fam, and it's great. It's the year that we fly the whole family here, so there's 20 of us. Which is busy and loud, but also kinda wonderful. I'm glad the every-other-Christmas in Hawaii is something we do. It's nice to have whole entire family time. It's important too.

I got to the beach yesterday. The sun was so fabulous. In winter, I don't think I miss the sun so much. Then I come to Hawaii and realize how much I miss it. I'm reading The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides, and I kinda love it. And I'm playing with the kids. And my hair's perpetually salty and enormous, but it's alright. Salt hair don't care.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Mission Accomplished

I made it! I've successfully completed my first semester of college! Wooooo!
Unfortunately, this means that when I come back, I will be getting real grades in my classes, instead of the pass/fail grades I was accustomed to this semester. But it's cool. I can handle it.
In a little over an hour, I'll catch my ride to the airport, board 3 planes, and in 17 hours I'll be in Hawaii! I'm the last one in my family (out of all 20 of us) to get there, but it's okay. Because I'm going to Hawaii. Hello sun, and reading for pleasure, and family time. A whole month off school can't come fast enough.
Sorta. Okay, I've been complaining a lot the past 2 weeks. As I'm sitting here actually thinking about this semester, it's been so good. I've really loved the stuff I have studied. Most days, I derived pleasure from going to class. And though I've only been here a month, I've made some really good friends, who I care about a lot. And I've learned that I'm actually half-decent at being an adult. I've figured a few things out that have made a big difference.
Yes, all things considered, I'm so grateful to have had this semester, and I the next one should be even better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Things I forget

1. Normal sleeping hours. I forget that real adults go to work at 9, so they can't just sleep 3-11. Actually, this has only been aggravated by finals. At this point, I'm pretty much nocturnal  I've been going to sleep between 4 and 5 and getting up around noon. It's chill.

2. Cars. Today I walked to Target for like 3 things I needed to buy before I go to Hawaii. I reached the Pike and felt ridiculous jolted by all the cars going to fast!
2.5. Life before public transport. I get into Philly around once a week, so I take public transport like once a week. I forget what it was like to go where I wanted when I wanted, not dictated by the times of the hourly trains from Swat to Philly.

3. Wet feet. It's still t-shirt weather some days out here. It's funny to think that at home I would be trudging through snow across the quad and living every day with wet feet. I know I'm supposed to miss the snow, but I don't at all. I love my dry feet.

4. Food prayers. For the longest time, I had this compulsion to pray before eating if I was eating in a home. But I've very quickly adjusted to not praying before I eat here, because I never eat in a home environment  So it's good to have adjusted. But it also makes me a little bit sad, because it's a tradition - it's in my roots.
4.5 Thanksgiving prayer. The only moment during Thanksgiving when I was really sad that I wasn't home was when we said prayer over Thanksgiving dinner and it wasn't Lorin praying.

5. TVs. Yesterday I took an extra long studybreak and got a $10-manicure in the ville. It was really funny because they had a TV on the wall and it just looked so big compared to watching Hulu on my 11-inch computer screen.

6. Makeup. I've pretty much given up makeup entirely with finals. It's like my Sophomore year of high school, when I also bailed on makeup for a few months. But right now I can't believe I wore makeup every day this summer. Who has time to spend 10 minutes putting makeup on every morning?

7. Coloring my hair. I've officially quit coloring my hair. It's getting pretty grown out, but that doesn't matter so much. I'm kinda chill with letting it be it's natural color. I used to love coloring my hair every 6-8 weeks, but I don't mind giving it up. It's easier, and more low-key.

8. Busy work. One of my favorite things about college academics is that (almost) everything that's graded is about demonstrating a depth of understanding and analysis instead of proving you are capable of memorizing. Actually, that principle is one of my favorite things about English. Anyway, I don't mind writing all these papers because I think I do actually understand my course material better than I would otherwise.

9. Life before Sriracha. I now put Sriracha on all my food. How did I eat for 18 years without it?

10. Short nails. In May I decided to quit biting my nails and I did it! Breaking a habit like that is a pretty big deal for me. I love my longer nails, and I love painting them, (and I love biting the polish off instead of biting my nails when I get stressed). Why has this not always been a thing?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Work is stooooopid

All I want to do is listen to Les Mis on repeat.
And maybe read a little poetry.
It would be nice to be in Hawaii, too.

I guess I'll just order Chinese instead.

In other news, I got a ticket to see The Colbert Report live in February. Worth skipping two classes to go see it? I think so. Plus I can crash with Kat that night. And the bus ticket was only $10 round trip, so not too shabby at all.

I've checked off 5 things on my master list. Only a religion paper and a religion final stand between me and Hawaii. Come at me religion. I got this.

Friday, December 14, 2012

How I Write a Passing Essay

I've been in essay mode this week. I only have a stats and a religion final. My stats one is tomorrow, but I spent a few hours studying and I'm not too worried (have I mentioned that time I kicked ass and got the class high on the midterm?), and my religion one isn't for a week. However, I do have 4 essays due this week, so that's been keeping me busy. Remember when I wrote this post about the experience of essay writing? Most of it is still true, but after a semester of college writing, I have a follow up. We'll call it "How I Write a Passing Essay" because I'm not quite confident enough to suggest I can do much more than that.

How I Write a Passing Essay

1. Writing myself in.
I can't just sit down at a computer and write away any more than I can get on a treadmill and turn the speed up and run a 5K. I don't care how tired that analogy is, it's true. There has to be a little bit of warming up, some sense of getting going. So I write a little before hand. For me, this happens in two ways. If I'm just starting a paper from scratch, I write myself in via the introduction, which inevitably later needs revising, but it's a good way to get into it. If I'm in the revisions period, I'll write a blog post (this one started as a free write) or I'll journal or free write with a prompt, or just put what's in my mind on the paper. It doesn't really matter what it is, so long as I can get the words in motion before I try to write a paper. 

2. I can't just sit down with a blank document and expect to be able to churn out a paper.
This is something that I'm only recently learning I can't do. My problem is that when I write on a computer, I expect my words and ideas to be coherent and cohesive, which is not the way to get sufficient ideas and material to write a paper with. Lately, I've been loving the hand-written pre-write. I've gotten one of those awesome 8.5 X 13.75 legal pads. So I sit down with that and an extra-fine sharpie (I love the sharpie because it helps me feel reckless and informal, and it's so scrawly, and I even like the fumes for a pre-write) and write down ideas. Usually, there's some sort of rough outline, but sometimes it's just 3 pages of bullet points. And even when there is an outline, it doesn't become the structure for the paper. This is the process of just trying to think about what I can say in the paper.

3. I can't work forever.
I've realized that I tend to write truly fabulous introductions (if I do say so myself) and totally shitty conclusions (no shame in saying it). I think it's because I insist on sitting down and just hammering out a paper, but towards the end I'm tired and brain-shocked. My latest BFF is a google chrome app called "Strict Pomodoro". It works like this: when I start the timer, for 25 minutes all the distracting sites are blocked. I get this message
But then after that 25 minutes, I get 5 minutes of fun time before going back to a 25 minute work-session. I've found that I can last longer and feel more productive and write better stuff when I work in focus bursts like this.

4. Embrace the shitty first draft. 
I will forever love Anne Lamott for making shitty first drafts a thing. There's really no shame in a shitty first draft. Getting ideas on the page is really the most significant part of writing and caring about the quality of a first draft is one sure fire way to kill all my ideas. So I use the word independence 15 times in a first-draft paragraph if it gets me where I need to be. Later I go back and put in synonyms like "autonomous" and make run-on sentences into actual grammer. 

5. Show it to someone else.
This is something I started learning my junior year of high school when I began to my drafts to my teacher for feedback, and I realized that not only was I getting better grades, but I was actually writing better papers! Imagine! Since coming to college, I've been a crack whore at the writing associate program. The first time I went it was out of fear. Before coming to college, I'd been warned (threatened) that although I always got As in high school, I couldn't expect to do so in college. Rather than admit that was true, I went to the WAs with my first paper hoping to do better. It worked! I think getting feedback is important, because there's always at least one or two glaring errors in my paper's arguments and a fresh pair of eyes helps figure that out. I don't think decent papers come out of 12 hours in the library by yourself.

6. Revise.
I learned this one the hard way. On one of my earlier English papers, I turned in a truly bad paper. When my English professor met with me for mid-term assessments, she praised my earliest papers, then added "I haven't finished this one, but I can tell it's rough. So why don't we read it together?" She then commenced to read it aloud to me. It was slighly anguishing because we both knew how bad a paper it was, and we both knew I could do better. By the end of the first page we were both making fun of it and agreed to put it away until I had a real paper to turn in (a real paper, that, for the record, I got an A on). The biggest difference between that paper and my other ones was that I didn't spend any time revising this one. I didn't even print it out or read it aloud! The sad thing was that I didn't do that because I really didn't like the paper and didn't want to spend the time to read it through all the way. Talk about a red flag! So these days, when I'm revising a paper, I think about sitting in my English professor's office and hearing her read the paper aloud. I try to think if it's BS to make fun of or if it's something decent.

7. Takeout Chinese and giving a damn.
This is my final touches point. Takeout Chinese means that I can't write if I'm hungry, and I need to reward myself when I finish. Usually it's cheap takeout Chinese with my friends. (Because anything is better than Sharples). Equally important is caring about the paper. I've realized that English is my best subject because it's the one I'm willing to spend lots of time on. I (usually) am really invested in turning in the best essay I can write, and it makes a big difference. The difference between a paper I care about and one I don't is night and day.

So there we go! Now I'm going to Sharples for midnight breakfast

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Q: How do you not pass your finals?

A: Watch the first episode of Downton Abbey as a one-time study break.

You can't watch just one.

It's 4:30 in the morning. Oh well. YOPFO!

Monday, December 10, 2012

A year ago...

So the ladies over at Harley and Jane had an oddly perfect prompt for me this weekend:


Exactly one year ago today I got into Swarthmore. I reread that blog post for the first time in like 10 months. It made me smile, because I remember how ecstatic I was. I didn't see it coming at all, and it was some big time validation right when I needed it. It was the first step in a big time upward curve of my senior year.

It's funny to be sitting here wrapping up my first semester and studying for finals a year after I found out this was where I'd be going. There are lots of things everyday that make me so glad I'm here, and make me so sure I made the right decision. At the same time, I can't help feeling that I might have been happy anywhere. I think college is a really great time of life and if things had worked out differently I could have still been happy. It makes me feel good to know that things are usually okay.

So who knows where I'll be December 10 of next year. I'm throwing around ideas. I'm thinking this next year is going to be another really wonderful one.

PS.
I crossed off my first box on my things-I-have-to-do-before-I-can-go-to-Hawaii list! One down six to go. I think I'm going to make it.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Quote Sunday

I'm knee deep in essays. I've got four to write this week. This whole exam period thing is hard.

One of the essays is my final essay for my English seminar. I'm writing it about this prose poem that I read in the anthology and that I love. Mostly I love it because it does what I love poetry for doing: finding ways to take what's internal and flip it external, and finding ways to say the things you can't quite outright describe or state.


Marilyn Krysl
BODY

My body is too many children, they are all hungry at once. As I write this one of them bangs my thigh with a doll. I say, Stop that! But my body is headstrong. When it doesn’t get its way it throws a tantrum. One it kicked a wall and broke three toes. In winter it sulks because it can’t fly. And some days it won’t put on its clothes no matter where we’re going. It gets oily and sweats and sits in its mess, breathing, and I have to wash and comb it patiently and sing it little songs, and then it goes to the party

without me. I come later alone. I tell it it’s going to regret all that beaujolais. But my body is defiant, has another glass, and another, gets roaring. The next afternoon I have to phone and apologize. I say, Please excuse my body. There is no excuse for its conduct, but now it regrets the greedy gobbling of hors d’oeuvres, those lies about your gracious wife. Then I march it to the mirror in the bathroom and make myself stern and say sharply, I’m ashamed of you! When are you going to grow up?  And my body hangs its head. But I’m suspicious. Should I trust it?

When we have a dentist appointment my body hangs back. I am cheery. Be brave, I tell it. But my body is nervous, makes excuses. Then I have to say, At your age! This is disgraceful! It starts to sniffle, to grovel, to beg, If only, it says. In the end I drag it to the car. Slam the door and rev the motor. Some day I’ll wash my hands of you, I say.

Then one night it sits down on the bed, strokes the cat. Is anything wrong? The cat jumps off, my body lies down, stares at the ceiling. And now I understand that it is sad. The other body it wants to be loved by has flown off to Bermuda with the redhaired stewardess, and now my body says it wants to die. So I sit down beside it. Wouldn’t you like to go for a walk? I ask. Shall I get you a glass of cold water? Want me to brush your hair? But it turns away. Is it weeping?

It is weeping. Now it’s eyes are red, it’s face splotched, it is ugly. What can I say – it gives me pleasure and grief, and now it is weary, so heavy, its face sags, it doesn’t care about the mirror anymore. It doesn’t care about the public or the politics. It doesn’t love music or admire the plastic arts. It is tired, it has stopped pretending. I will go out quietly and let it sleep.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Schedule (Spring Semester)

Well, I've registered for classes for next semester! I'm taking an extra fifth course, for reasons which will be explained at a later point in time. But I'm really pumped about my classes. I'm taking:

-Hebrew Bible Religion course. I am so excited to learn about this. The professor is one I had this semester, and I think it's going to be a really good course with him. Also, there's 6 people in the class. So that'll be neat. (Too small?)

-First Year Seminar in History called Engendering Culture. It includes John Wayne movies. Enough said.

-Organismal & Population Biology, which I'm sorta dreading. But it's a W credit and a lab credit and a science credit. So with this course I will have successfully fulfilled every single distribution requirement I need to fulfill. So I can just take humanities and social science classes for the next 3 years. Also, I'm pass/failing it, so I only need to get 51% in the course. I can do that.

-Early and Native American Fiction. I'm interested in this, because I've never studied Native American lit, so that will be neat. Also, English majors have to take 3 pre-1880 course, and 3 post-1880 courses. I'm way more inclined toward the post-1880, so I'm taking the pre-1880 ones first. Because I don't want to be a senior taking English classes I don't love. But also, Native American fiction. Yes.

-Poetry workshop. I was so excited to get admitted into one. Creative writing, and especially poetry are good for my little soul. It'll be the most poetry-writing-intensive course I've ever taken. I'm a little nervous, but in a good way.

-Yoga, because bodies are for moving, and I like the way it works in my schedule. It's breaks up my class-intense days. I think that will work well.

So there way these classes fit in my schedule is a little awkward. Mondays and Wednesdays I have classs 9:30-4, then 6-7:30. But I don't have class on Tuesday. And Thursday I only have Bio lab. And Friday I just have 9:30-11:20. We'll see how it works out. I think it will be alright. I think I'm going to like having alternating work-days and class-days. I love college and that I can take such awesome classes. 


PS.
Delta's been temptin me with ads on youtube. Those bastards.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Goals this week

The semester is ending. Hello hail-storm of work. So here are my goals for this week:

1. Eat at least two real meals a day. Ramen can count as a real meal. Fruit snacks cannot. Take a break from working long enough to go get real food.

2. 30 minutes a day of free reading. I don't know when I started doing this, but I've been doing it for a while, and it makes a difference. Having time to free read de-stresses me a lot.

3. Do not let Grumpy Hannah emerge.

4. Work on the big projects due next week and the week after. Do not leave those until the last minute.

5. At 3AM, remember that all the classes are graded pass/fail, so it will all work out okay, and go to bed.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Playing with poetry

I've been reading Gertrude Stein. Specifically, I've been reading "Four Saints in Three Acts". My favorite quote about Gertrude Stein is: The two things you never asked Gertrude, ever, were about her being a lesbian and what her writing meant. Today I wrote a mimic of sorts. I dunno what it is. But I had fun playing with language again. It's been a while. 



good grief good grief
there is no such good

grief no such thing
not
of the trees
of the angels no such thing
of my god         oh my god
oh my god oh my god why

hast thou forsaken
thy sun

sparkling in the snow in the sand
in the sad dark
moon
sad dark pathways
in the sad dark moon

where language fails one
drowned in the sound of the distance
in a damn well-given
in thick

skin thick skin thick
will still will still still will suffer
skin protecting
protecting weak hearts sm
all minds 




PS. For the first time tonight I've been in the library until it closed at 2. Hello end of semester. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Google Poetics

This website is literally the best thing ever created. On the internet. Ever. Beyond being all things awesome, google is a poet. Go figure. Some of them are dumb, but some of them are kind of existential  And some are just silly. 
*   *   *

Day 28: I am thankful for my early Christmas present of an external hard drive, because my teeny tiny hard drive on my teeny tiny computer got all filled up. I guess I've been writing too much poetry.

Day 30: I am thankful for a dorm that is not too hot and not too cold. And for Amazon prime's free 2-day shipping. And for December coming tomorrow. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pathways

I think that anyone who writes notices that there are often trends where for certain periods of time certain imagery, or themes, or words will appear over and over again in the things that you write. Usually, when this happens to me I just write it off as a genius idea I've had that I'm exploring. Like I've had one illuminating moment and I will write about it until I make the words echo the way I feel about this thing. I'm about 90% sure that I am not the only one who does this.

I can't remember who said it - whether it was a teacher or a friend or a famous author I heard speak - but someone once told me about paying attention to trends in my writing, because it usually reflects something going on in your subconscious. And though I'll admit it does sound a wee bit fringy, this has proven true to me several times over.

Lately, the trend in my poetry and scattered attempts at essays has been pathways. Not Robert Frost two-roads-diverged pathways, more trying-to-move-forward and trying-to-move-toward-something pathways. I realize the difference isn't that clear. But it's real! They are different!

Anyway, I hadn't really thought about what this pathway fetish meant, because I never do when things show up in my writing. I was just rolling with it. But tonight, I think I kinda figured it out.

I got oneofthose texts from my friend Chandler earlier tonight. It said: what are you trying to get out of college. Which was random. But my reaction was pretty instant: I'm trying to find my path. I've been thinking about that all night.

One of the best things about this time of life is that it's the only time I get to be really selfish. I get to live on my own but off my parents. My only real responsibility is school, which is a privilege anyway. I don't have a job or a boss or a husband or a family to be responsible to. I get to learn about things I'm passionate about and figure out what I want my path to look like.

I guess that's what I mean by this is not a Robert Frost path. I'm not making a single decision. I'm trying to figure out where I really want to be headed. I don't even care that it's a cliche. It's true. This is the time of my life where I get that luxury. And I've been enjoying it. Some days I don't really know what exactly I'm doing. But I've been following my heard instead of my head for a change. I've been following what feels right for me. And I like where it's taking me.



*   *   *

Day 27: I am grateful for the outlets I have to express myself.
Day 28: This is stupid, but I'm grateful for my iPhone and the 8 billion ways it keeps me in touch will the people I don't get to see everyday anymore. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

In my closet

Winter is setting in. Once the sun goes down, I can see my breath. And walking outside is brutal, because the metal of my earrings gets cold. But not normal cold. It gets so cold that my ears hurt. I guess that's what I get for having so many holes in my ears.

With the onset of winter, all I can think about is cozy. Whenever I go shopping, or open my closet to get clothes for the day, all I want is cozy. After years of uniform, I don't give a damn about pretty. All I want is something soft and warm. Consequently, I have developed a huge affinity for four items in my closet. They make up a funny-looking, but oh so cozy outfit that I pretty much wear whenever I am in my dorm.

First is my giant scarf/wrap. Before going east, I didn't realize how necessary scarfs are. Now I'm wedded to them, and this one is my favorite.
It looks like a normal scarf in the picture, but really it measures 38 x 80 inches. It's almost a blanket. But it works as a scarf. It's ridiculously soft and warm. And when it gets really chilly, I wrap it all the way around my neck twice, so that it gets piled up to my ears.

Next is my patagonia flannel.

This thing is the softest flannel ever. Yes, I look a little bit like a lumber jack, but it's worth it, because I'm also warm. Take that winter. I like that it's thin enough that I can wear it under a sweatshirt and/or a coat, but that it is also warm enough itself to keep me warm when I'm inside.

Next are my lululemon leggings.
Some crazies (like Suri Cruise) like to insist that leggings are not pants. I think those people are batshit. Not only are leggings pants, leggings are the best kinds of pants ever made. They are soft and warm and, most importantly, they are cozy. Especially these ones. If I could afford it, I would buy six more pairs, replace all my other pants with these leggings, and be wearing them at all times. 

Last are my toms botas. Until recently, namely when I bought these, I was not aware that botas were at thing. I'm still not sure they are a thing, because the dictionary tells me that a botas is a leather bottle for wine. Basically a botas is what Hemingway carried around in The Sun Also Rises


Although these shoes are not a leather bottle for wine, they are incredible. There's a thick fleece inside it all. They keep my feet so warm. It's to die for. And they're comfy. And easy to put on, which matters in the mornings when I'm like "11:30 is too damn early for me to get to class." Unlike other toms, they're a real sole, which I appreciate. And I kinda love that they look boyish. 

So there we are. Hannah's guide to being cozy. When other people blog about their clothes, they talk about the pretty outfits. Not this girl. But at least I'm warm!

*   *   *

Day 26: I am really grateful for my classmates. With the end of the semester, classes are starting to get super busy, and I've had several group projects. But each of them has been really fun, because I love the people I get to work with. It's just so much fun to work with people who are excited about what we're doing, who know they have things to contribute, and who take part in what's going on. Lucky lucky me. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Quote Sunday

I'm back home. Well, back at Swat. Which is a great home.

So Thanksgiving.

I think the word I would use would be draining. I had sort of thought about what it would be like, and I thought about a lot of possibilities. What I forgot about was  how much it would make me miss my mom. Recently - past eight months or so - I'd been in a flow where I didn't have to miss my parents very much, where it was there every day, but not really. The hardest part of this weekend was watching that go away. I wish I was more grateful for the really good parts of this weekend. But I just feel knocked down. This weekend has been hard for me.

When I got to Utica, I got off the train a little early, so I sat and waited, and worked on some homework. After about ten minutes, my aunt was in front of me. She said, "I recognized you from behind by your hair." I said something about being a typical blonde from Utah. She said, "No, not that. It's your mom's hair."

There were some of moments like that. Things I do like my mom. Ways I am her daughter. Stories about her. I learned a little more about my mother than I've ever known.

Friday was my mom's 42nd birthday. We had cake.

The hardest part / the highlight of this weekend was seeing a home video that I'd never seen before. I don't actually have any videos of me and my parents, so it really meant a lot to me to get to see it. To see us as a family, and see how much my parents loved me. This video was oven an hour, and chronicled May 1996 when my dad graduated law school, through that summer which included my second birthday and Sam's being born, and into December of that year. It wasn't a nice, neat, put-together movie. It jumped from scene to scene erratically, often mid-sentence or leaving a question unanswered. It kinda reminded me of the first 10 minutes of UP. But I loved it. I loved seeing moments of our life as a little family.

My very favorite part of the video - the part that I went to pieces at - was at the hospital right after Sam is born. I'm sitting in the bed with my mom, who's holding Samuel. We have this kinda sweet dialogue that mothers and toddlers have. Then my mom kisses me on the forehead, the way moms do with little kids to say "I love you." It was just so tender and loving. My mother loved me. I know that. 

Seeing the video, hearing the stories, and being around my mom's family was a good thing to do. I know that if I hadn't done it I would have always regretted it. But now, I’m exhausted. My heart and my mind is wiped out.  I feel like I do after I've been crying for hours, but I haven't cried all that much. Maybe I need a good cry in the shower. All I really want to curl up in a blanket and drink hot chocolate and be held and loved. 

This is a quote that's been on my mind all weekend. I'm not sure where it comes from. It's either from a book or a movie. Or something else that I once crossed paths with.
When it comes to picking somebody else to raise your kids, no one seems right. No one is you. And so you choose someone who is most like you. Someone that will give the kids a taste of their real mom, the mom they lost and never really got to know.
It will always make me sad that I didn't get to know my parents, but I love my family so much. Judy really is a lot like my mom. I'm grateful for that. And I have several second-moms who Judy tells me are really similar to my mom. I'm grateful for them, too. Yesterday on the train home, I was feeling really drained. So once I got to New York, where I had a long time between trains, I called Judy. She and Sam and I talked on the phone for an hour and a half. It wasn't going home for Thanksgiving, but it felt kinda close. I just love them.

*   *   *

Day 23: I am grateful for all my friends who sent me well-wishes for this past weekend. It means a whole lot to me. 
Day 24: I am a horrible person for this, but I am grateful for vindication. Sam got in a teeny tiny accident, which came with a ticket for following too closely. WHO'S THE BAD DRIVER NOW?
Day 25: I am grateful for my Swat friends. I am grateful that yesterday when I got back to campus, I got to sit in my friends' room and talk about everything for 5 hours.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving. I am just so thankful for my family. We're great. And even though it's sad to be cross-country on Thanksgiving, I love them lots. I'm excited to meet then all in Hawaii at Christmas.

The official sibling + the unofficial ones
The four of us

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Train to Utica

Everything I know about my mother fits in a cardboard box. A small one, at that. When I was visiting Kat, we walked 40 blocks up Columbus avenue, and I told her all the things I know about my mom. A best friend is someone who will listen to the stories you need to tell.

I haven't seen my mother's parents in fifteen years. I honestly don't know if I could pick them out of a crowd. I don't know why it's been so long. I don't know why they haven't wanted to be in my life. I don't think I'll ever be able to explain it. But I'm trying not to be angry anymore.

Last month, I realized that if I ever wanted to see them, I'd better do it soon. They're in their eighties. But I felt angry, and tried to convince myself I didn't need to see them. But I realized I did. I realized that if I didn't go see them, if only to learn about my mother, I would always regret it. If I don't ask the two people who know the most about my mother to tell me about her, it would be a huge loss for me.

So I made a phone call. And I asked if I could come visit for Thanksgiving. They said yes.

So today, in eight hours, I am getting on an Amtrak train to Utica, New York. Wish me luck. Or pray for me. Or whatever it is we do when things need to go well.

*   *   *
Day 20: I am thankful for small acts of kindness, like people picking up the pens I drop.
Day 21: I am thankful for good conversations.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pugh Family Cannon

When I was in New York, Kat and I were talking about the concept of a literacy Canon. One of the really nice things about Waterford was that there was a well-established canon. References to The Sound and The Fury or The God of Small Things or Hamlet or The Razor's Edge were always understood. It wasn't pretentious to do so, because we'd all read them, so it was totally okay to bring them up in discussions. Which was rather nice.

But at college - and particularly in freshman courses - there is no canon. We all have different backgrounds, different passions, and we're all studying different things. In some ways, this is really nice. I love that I only take classes I am really interested in, that I can follow what I love. But it also makes it more difficult to have discussions, particularly in-class. Someone will start talking about Nietzsche  and I have to be like "wait, I haven't studied him. Explain more of what you're talking about." Sometimes, people just like to name-drop and prove they're soooooo smart by referencing philosophers in discussions (which is infuriating), but sometimes it's just hard to not have a common canon.

My family has our own little canon. It's not law. Just things that we've all read. It's really Lorin's canon, but it's getting perpetuated through the family. I mean, not all of us have read all of it (Sam hasn't read anything that Lorin didn't read to him when he was little), but most of us have. I guess, Lorin, the boys and I have. And now the grandkids are starting in on the kids' portions.

Our canon primarily consists of:

  • The entire Chronicles of Narnia series - read in chronological order. None of that starting with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe bullshit. This is the series that parents read to their children. Eventually most kids choose to reread on their own. 
  • The Hobbit. Again, it's one that's read to kids. It's a fun read. And I have it in my heart to forgive Tolkein for not bothering to write a single female character. Also, funny enough, the Lord of the Rings trilogy is supplemental material, but definitely doesn't make the list. 
  • The Screwtape Letters. Have you noticed that we love C.S. Lewis?
  • A River Runs Through It - I might add that I'm probably the only one in the family who cried reading this, but it's still an essential. 
  • Honorary Mention: Harry Potter. It doesn't really make the list, but I think it's a good supplement to Chronicles of Narnia. 
  • Honorary Mention: The River Why. It's not quite as essential as A River Runs Through It, but it has definitely been read by lots of us.
*   *   *

Day 18: I am super grateful for the movie Lincoln. I don't even care if that's a dumb thing to be grateful for, because it was incredibly awesome and made me week. 
Day 19: Yesterday, I texted Josh, my eight-year-old cousin, for a while. It was kinda darling. I love that I can hear from my family. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

I'm on holiday.

Guess where I am?  New York City. With Kat. Woooooooooooo.

I got here last night. We hugged and put on warm clothes and immediately headed to Max Brenner, because we are best friends. We sat at the bar and had Italian dark chocolate hot chocolate. It comes in funny-shaped "hug mugs" and is thick like a melted chocolate bar. Basically it was perfect.

There was a Whole Foods next door. We had lunch there. That made me happy because Whole Foods is kind of our thing. Whole Foods lunches with Kat makes the list of top five things I've had a hard time adjusting to living without.

There was a Christmas market at Union Square. We walked around it.  We hung out in Starbucks for a while, and did homework and talked. So natural and normal. You know you've got a real best friend when visiting each other means you just want time to be around each other, not even go on adventures. That's another thing I miss a lot: doing things like sitting at Coffee Garden and talking about the book we just read in English, or doing the reading for history.

This morning also needed to be a homework morning. So Kat got up earlier than me, like she always does, and went to Joe's. A couple hours later I met her there. But I didn't want to work so I watched America's Next Top Model on Hulu while she finished her Russian homework.

We spent the afternoon in Brooklyn, because we were trying to stalk Jonathan Safran Foer. Kat looked up all the places he's known for hanging out. We tried those, but he wasn't there. In the end, though, it was okay, because it was a great day. It was an awesome area of Brooklyn, and we just walked and walked and walked. And went in the little independent shops. Bought a few things, but not too much. Enjoyed that it was perfect fall, chilly, sweater-and-scarf-wearing weather.

Once it got dark, we tried to go to a movie. But all the movies but Twilight were sold out, so we obviously didn't go to a movie. We got really good but overpriced middle eastern food for dinner and more excellent hot chocolate for dessert. Then we walked 40 blocks back to Barnard, because even thought it was far, it was a nice night. And mostly it was nice to walk together.

I love coming to New York to visit Kat because we're good at hanging out together. It's nice that it's still so natural. Nice that right now we're sitting on her bed and she's reading and I'm blogging and it's okay to sit in silence. Nice that we just talk, and catch up on lives. Not catch-up in the "here are the big things that are going on", but more catch up in the way you only can when you've got a while. The little stories and funny details come out. The things that don't matter, but that keep you close. I heart my best friend.

*   *   *

Day 16: I am grateful for damn good chocolate,
Day 17: I am grateful for best friend time, when you get to say all the things that you can't say to anyone else. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Safe Spaces

My friend Winnie and I were talking about what we do when we're stressed and need a space to feel safe. She goes into corners, and kinda tucks her head down. Like the kids who get bullied in movies. I tried it out, but thought that was ridiculous. Then I realized that I hide in my closet. Literally.

To be fair, my closet happens to be the safest space on campus. For one, it's ridiculously warm. I can't explain why it's that warm, but it is. Also, it's big enough to fit in comfortably. Also, all my coats are there, and they're soft. Also, it's dark, which is nice when I need to be all by myself. Also, it feels like Narnia.

Sometimes I still really struggle with not having space to call my own. Since I was little, I've always needed time to be alone, and space to call my own. Basically space where I could be sure I'd be alone. I've more or less adjusted since coming to college, but when I'm feeling too surrounded by people, I go hide in my closet. We're going to pretend that's normal.

*   *   *

Day 13: I am thankful for the poetry workshop that I applied and got into, and that I'll get to write lots of poetry next semester.
Day 14: I am thankful for the sunshine (and no snow) on campus.
Day 15: I am thankful for yesterday's light workload I had that let me have time to blow off everything and read The Hobbit in one sitting.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Something To Remember


As of today, I have blogged every day for a whole year. That's 365 blog posts. I'm not sure what I’ll do now. I don't think I can keep up blogging every day. It's too much time. Since coming to college, and especially since classes have picked up, I’ve had to work really hard to make sure I have a post for every day. I mean, I'll definitely keep blogging - I love blogging – we’ll just have to see where it goes.

Blogging every day for a year has been something incredible for me. And what a year it's been. Definitely the biggest changes of my life. Probably the most defining year too, in all kinds of ways.

This time last year, I was feeling wobbly. I was scared and confused and not sure what was going to happen next. I felt alone and sad. I'd almost lost my fight. I cried a lot, especially at the smallest kindnesses like texts, cards, phone calls, voicemails, and prayers. I wasn't sure I liked myself. I wasn't sure of anything, really. It felt like there were no good alternatives, no ways out. I was fragile. I wanted to run away to Australia

The shit hit the fan.

But guess what. I'm better for it.

Right around August I started realizing how much the last year has made me better. It wasn’t just the hard things, it was the whole cycle of this past year – the ups as much as the downs. It made me better because with some generous help from my friends and family who had my back, stuck with me, and loved me, some awesome therapy, and some serious efforts on my part I got myself on a path that is headed somewhere good. When everything crumbled (or at least it felt like it did) last year I had this incredible opportunity to rebuild myself, to deal with things that had needed dealing with for a long time and to really decide who I was going to be. Sometimes it sucked, often it was hard, but it was so worth it. I'm so grateful for that opportunity. I can honestly say I am. It was worth it.

I look back to a year ago, and I think of the scene at the end of The Hobbit. Bilbo and Gandalf are finally returning to Bilbo's hobbit-hole when Gandalf looks at Bilbo and says, "My dear Bilbo! Something is the matter with you! You are not the hobbit that you were." He means, of course, that over the course of the adventure, Bilbo's grown into an entirely different hobbit. And I feel like that.

I think that, of all the lessons I learned last year, I think the one that means the most to me is that I can always still be me. No matter where I am, what activities I'm doing, who my friends are, or how I'm identifying myself, I can still be me. My me-ness is something valuable and strong and real, and I'm not going to let it go. It’s something I hold to when life starts to feel heavy: I am me.

I suppose that the core of that lesson is that I really like myself. I do. I like that I randomly burst into horrible song and that I do things obsessively – like crafting at 2AM or reading all of Harry Potter or watching an entire season of America’s Next Top Model. I like that I’m often erratic and all over the map, that I’m a little irresponsible and a little wild, but that I can also take charge and get shit done – and done well. I like that I sob over bad movies and good books. I like that I write, that I write a lot, that sometimes I write stuff I’m really proud of. I like that I’m maternal and love taking care of kids, but that it’s also nice to be taken care of. I like that I’ve found a group of friends who I’m very close to and love a whole lot, and I like I’m someone who those friends love back. I like who I am. I feel valuable. And that was something I grew into this past year.

You know, I often feel like the universe favors me above all others. I’m perpetually amazed by how kind the universe is to me. It’s true. It sounds dumb, but I really do feel that way. There are so many things – some meaningful and some trivial – that have happened in my life, and especially in the past year, that I can’t help feeling should not have logically happened. But they were the things that made a difference, and I'm deeply thankful they did happen.

I am a lucky girl. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Take What You Need

So I've recently discovered these Take What You Need posters. It all started with me seeing this image on Pinterest.
I thought it was just so sweet. And kind of lovely. It made me think of days that are darker, and how little things like that make the difference. So I pulled out a piece of paper and some different colored pens and made one. For the things on the slips of paper, I just used the list that I saw on pinterest. And guess what? People took what they needed. In fact, after a few days it looked like this:
So anyway, it seemed like a good project. So I made one for Kat and one for Alex and mailed them each one. It made me happy to make them a present and send it to them. I love those girls.
(Yes, there's a condom on theirs. Because what you don't need is an STD).
I thought about the posters for a while. I wasn't sure why I liked them so much instantly. I think it's a two-fold answer:
First, it's a small act of generosity for someone else. The point isn't that someone can pull something off the poster and get it magically. The point is that you can pull it off and know that someone wishes you well. It's a kind of reminder that you're not entierly alone in the world. Someone else cares enough to make a poster. In fact, I think that was why my initial reaction was so strong. More than anything, the poster and the slip of paper convey a really simple message of love and connectedness.
The second reason I like them is that I think it's a small act of faith. It reminds me of that thing people do, where they write down the miracles they need and hang them around the house. If I'm remembering my young women's lessons correctly, it comes from Mark 11:22-24:
And Jesus answering saith unto them, have faith in God. For verily I say unto you, that whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thous moved, and be thou cast into the sea; and shall not doubt in his heart, but shall believe that those things which he saith shall come to pass, he shall have whatsoever he saith. Therefore I say unto you, whatsoever things ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them. 
It's not the same thing, but it kinda is. It's taking the slip of paper that represents the thing you need and believing it will come. If that makes sense.
I just quoted scripture in a blog post today. I may be a Mormon yet.
So at any rate, I made a poster for myself. Because I need things too. I spent some time deciding what I wanted to put on the slips. Then I put some of my favorite super cliche phrases on it, too. It lives in my closet, and seeing it every morning makes me happy.
It took me a while to generate a list I liked, but here's what I ended up with:
Love. Faith. Patience. Courage. Understanding. Peace. Healing. Beauty. 
Strength. Freedom. Forgiveness. Kindness. Service. Motivation. Hope. Laughter. 
Joy. Gratitude. Vulnerability. Happiness. Calm. Luck. A Prayer. A Break.



*   *   *

Day 12: Today I am grateful for quiet. Real quiet, when even the noise in my head simmers down. When I can listen to my breath. 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Quote Sunday

This week in my religion class we read MLK's last speech, commonly known as the "I've been to the mountaintop" speech. I cannot read this speech without crying, and the video is even worse. It's just so beautiful, and so full of moments that inspire me. I think this one is probably my favorite MLK speech. This time when I read it, the thing that stuck out to me the most was King's analysis of the parable of the Good Samaritan. He talks about the priest and the Levite with great sympathy, giving many reasons they might not have stopped. He talks about being on the road to Jericho himself, and understanding that it was a good setting for this parable because it was so dangerous. And then he says this:
The first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaratin came by, and he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
King fights against the human tendency to be selfish. Earlier in the speech he challenges people to develop a "dangerous unselfishness." It actually reminds me a lot of David Foster Wallace's "This Is Water". I kinda think that the Good Samaratin's second question was "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" Maybe it really is the moments of small decisions that determine a person. I don't know. I think of people I consider to be heroes, and each one of them is exceptional because they have, to certain extents, overcome human nature's deep-seeded selfishness. Which is kinda damning. But I also think that many people fight it. And that fills me with hope, because I know that selfless, good people exist and move through the world, more often quietly than with Nobel Peace Prizes. I just think that's beautiful.

*   *   *


Day 11: Today I am grateful for the moments of fearlessness and the 20 seconds of courage that it takes to start the ball rolling.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Planting

Plant Yourself: A List of Things that Keep Me Grounded
  • Hiding places: I have times when I need to hide and be on my own. When I feel myself slipping into the crowd, or slipping into the person I'm not or worse, the person I don't want to be I hide for a little bit. A little bit of time without any other factors to feel cozy inside myself.
  • Advice: When I get good advice, or someone says something that makes me warm, I write it down, usually in my journal. When I'm struggling with living authentically, I go back to my journals and remember. 
  • Anchors: I believe in personal governing principles and values, and I keep my roots anchored through integrity to them. Doing it 100% of the time, instead of 98 keeps me grounded, because I know where I stand. For me, being grounded has really come to mean I hold to the things I believe, so I'm not a cork bobbing in a stream.
  • Lessons learned: Another function of my journal is helping me with the lessons I've learned. It's a two-part thing; it helps me figure out what I've learned, and gives me a place to write them down. I try really hard to hold tight the lessons I've learned. They're important. They keep me tied to my better self.
  • One day: Thinking about where I can go keeps me grounded. When I want to blow life off or when I want to put something that isn't that valuable in front of something that matters a lot to me, I try to remember that one day I might be somewhere awesome, which is just enough of a push to make me reconsider.
  • Miss Ohio: There's this song called "Look at Miss Ohio" that I heard for the first time years ago, the first time I was at Birch Creek. The chorus goes "I wanna do right, but not right now." Which is so inherently true of me. And I don't want it to be. Remembering to do it right now keeps me grounded in the present, and the importance of doing it now. Because the small decisions really determine where I'm headed. 
  • Gratitude Lists: This is especially applicable this month, but something I've been going at for a while. It started in January, really. I've held to it. I don't make gratitude lists with scheduled regularness, but I do when I need to. Gratitude lists help me avoid getting too wrapped up in life, but more importantly, keep me grounded in the good things.

*   *   *

Day 10: Today I am grateful for small kindnesses from friends and from strangers.

Friday, November 9, 2012

We who live

So I wrote this essay last night for my first-year seminar. Originally, I was just writing a typical, analytical English paper. Then I hit that point - one I hit more often that I really want to admit - where I wasn't sure if I was talking about the characters or myself. At which point I emailed my professor and asked permission to weave in non-fiction. She gave me the go-ahead, and this is what I ended up with. At it's heart is an essay I've been writing, but failing with for a while. Somehow, it kinda fits in here. But I'm not sure how I feel about this essay - it might have been a failed experiment. I think that the braiding failed. But I like the way that nonfiction adds depth to the analysis. I'm not sure. At any rate, I'm glad I got to try it.

We Who Live: Children Who Become Orphans 


This is how I understand what happened when I was three: 
1. Our accident was twenty-nine days before Diana’s. 
2. My first memory is the question I asked my parents after our car rolled over: “what’s happening?” 
3. My first memory is my parents’ silence. 
4. The tombstone is inscribed theirs was a life filled with love for each other and their children, Hannah and Samuel. 
5. Once, when I was rifling through a filling cabinet at home trying to find my passport, I instead found insurance Polaroids taken in a junk-yard of a hopelessly totaled 1995 Toyota Landcruiser – the last red car we owned. 

«–» 

When I read Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, I couldn’t hold my tears in. It elicited in me the reaction that one only gets from the literature that touches at the roots. I’m talking about the literature that resounds with the deeply human element within each of us; the literature that makes us weep as we see ourselves on the page; the literature which makes us unsure if we ought to use a character’s name or our own when discussing it; the literature that teaches us about ourselves and, above all else, about what it means to be human. I found all this in The Golden Gate, and particularly in the exhaustingly accurate description that Seth gives of the complicated, somewhat contradictory emotions that survivors – those who live while someone they loved does not – experience. Seth writes: 

Are the dead, too, defiled by sorrow, 
Remorse, or anguish? We who live 
Clutch at our porous myths to borrow 
Belief to ease us, to forgive 
Those who by dying have bereft us 
Of themselves, of ourselves, and left us 
Prey to this spirit-baffling pain. 
(13.10) 

This affected me so profoundly, because Seth pinpoints the feelings that, perhaps universally, accompany a loss. He describes the anger over the unfairness of the suffering – that only it is the living, helpless to counter it, who feel it – and the anger at the one who died. He perceives the tendencies to cling to beliefs (so often religion) to cope. He understands the loss of self because this “spirit-baffling pain” morphs a person into something unrecognizable. 

But Seth doesn’t just describe those devastating emotions that accompany death, he places them upon a child, five-year old Chuck, who is “the one survivor” of a car accident that kills his parents (13.2). Seth shows Chuck’s suffering in a way that is matched only by another novel written in verse, Elisabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh, which tells the story of Aurora, who loses her mother at the age of four and her father at the age of fourteen. In both instances, the authors portray the emotions of these orphaned children with the delicacy and preciseness that can only be demonstrated through poetry. Whereas in prose, authors are obligated to show and explain things to the reader, in verse authors are able to withhold tangible information that would constrict the reader. Seth and Barrett Browning allow their readers to connect with their characters on intimate levels as the readers work to understand the characters without the authors’ cumbersome explanations. 

Chuck survives the car accident because he is “saved when [his mother] flung herself across / His body” (13.2). Even as a five-year old, Chuck is haunted by the knowledge that he is alive because his mother is dead. Sometimes when he plays, Chuck will “abruptly freeze / And – gasping, sobbing, wheezing, crying – / Relive again his mother’s dying: / The blood, the broken sleep, the scream” (13.5). The poetic form here shows how, as a five-year old, Chuck doesn’t really have the capability of understanding these events. The line breaks are short and interrupting, not spending too much time on any aspect of Chuck’s episodes. The abruptness with which the lines are broken mirrors the abruptness with which Chuck’s parents were killed. It helps the reader understand how quickly it happened for Chuck, how jarring it must feel. Furthermore, the two lists – one of verbs, the other of nouns – show the reader the way the Chuck is processing the changes in his life. He cannot understand the big picture, he can only grasp the basics of what has happened. Additionally, Chuck’s flashbacks are not of his mother, but of a death. Chuck feels a disparity between the mother he loved and the woman he watched die. 

Aurora, too, finds it difficult to mesh together her mother and the person who died. She talks about a distinctness between two mothers, trying to understand which is her mother, “my own mother, leaving her last smile / In her last kiss upon the baby-mouth / My father pushed down on the bed for that - / Or my dead mother, without smile or kiss, / Buried at Florence (9, I, 164 -168). Aurora simply cannot reconcile the warmth of her mother with the harsh absence she left behind. Consequently, she tries to fill her mother’s absence with what her mother left behind. She writes that, “I, a little child, would crouch / For hours upon the floor with knee drawn up, / And gaze” at the “picture of my mother on the wall” (8, I, 37-49). Aurora clings to the portrait as if she will be able to conjure her mother out of it. She tries to replace her mother with the portrait because it’s the only thing she has left that hints of her mother. 

«–» 

Things I have left of my parents: 
1. A Penn Law sweatshirt 
2. A green sleeping bag my dad bought my mom when they got engaged because she wanted to spend money on a nice down sleeping bag instead of a diamond 
3. The gold diamond-less wedding band he bought her anyway 
4. A purple Patagonia fleece I wear in the winter 
5. The yellow raincoat that my mom wears in my favorite picture of her 

«–» 

But the portrait obviously is not her mother, and Aurora still feels motherless. She writes: “I felt a mother-want about the world / And still went seeking like a bleating lamb” (6, I, 40-41). Though she tries to fill the hole, Aurora still feels her mother’s absence as an adult. It’s easy to think that Aurora would outgrow the need for a mother, as children who grow up with living parents do, but Aurora’s needs extend beyond basic mothering. Because she grows up without a mother, Aurora grows up without a sense of belonging. Aurora is criticized harshly by the family she has left, an aunt and a cousin and she has no base to rely on. Were her mother alive, she would be a source of acceptance and of essential-sameness. Aurora would have things in common with her mother. In some way, if that were true, it would give Aurora an excuse for those traits, and give her ease in the criticism she gets for them. 

«–» 

People don’t notice that I have my mom’s hair and blue eyes. Or that I am as deeply maternal as she was. Or that I care about people deeply and quietly, like she would. Instead, they say that I’m truly my father’s daughter. They’ve been saying it for years. I look like him, talk like him, argue like him, think like him, write like him, get in trouble like him (lots of it), and hell, I might even become a lawyer like him. My faults were his faults; his strengths my strengths. 

«–» 

Chuck can’t accept his parents deaths and is perpetually begging to go home. He seems to believe that if he can just get home his whole life will be back to normal. He can’t create a new life for himself without his parents. In fact, when he finally gets to go home, the first thing he says is “Let me in. / It’s my house – and I live here” even though he hasn’t lived there for more than a month (13.6). When he does get inside the house, he “bolts through the door / And shouting in a voice half choking / With fear and dust, “Mom! Mom! Dad! Dad”/ Runs through the rooms as if he’s mad” (13.6). The assertive tone in these lines shows that Chuck fails to process that time has passed. He ignores the dust that’s settled in the house, a signifier of abandonment and of things past. Nonetheless, Chuck is affected by the dust – it makes him cough. Though he tries to deny that time has passed and things have changed, those things have happened and they affect him anyway. He will call for his parents until he goes hoarse, but he won’t get an answer. 

«–» 

Deep inside, I think I’ve always, just a teaspoon, waited for my real parents. I’ve waited for them to come find me – to say they’ve been spies on a mission and they faked their own deaths so that they could save the world. Or that they were in witness protection. Or even that they’re international criminals hiding from the U.N. I’ve just never quite been able to believe that my parents died because a car rolled over. 

«–» 

Chuck’s inability to live life without his parents shows a lack of independence. Similarly, Aurora displays a lack of independence. She introduces herself as “still too young, too young, to sit alone” (1, I, 38). Aurora portrays herself as not quite an adult – not quite strong enough to stand on her own – though she really ought to be. Her repetition of the words “too young” show how deeply she feels this fear of independence. This represents a paradox of independence that these two characters display. When their parents die they, by necessity, become independent, but because they independence is thrust on them, rather than them being able to be eased into it, they don’t quite develop a full sense of independence. 

The only time Chuck finds solace is when a nice neighbor takes him flying in her plane. Once in the air, Chuck “squints down, trying / To make his house out. Then with awe / He points: “That’s it back there. I see it – / With the red flowers. That must be it.” / And he laughs out loud with sudden joy” (13.9). The simplistic language here highlights Chuck’s simplistic attitude. He is happy when he’s not on earth, because in the air that he is removed from trying to recreate a new life. From this perspective of his house he can’t see the dust and he can’t see that his parents aren’t there. This perspective allows him the illusion of his life intact and as it used to be. The red flowers fill him with unexpected joy because they are familiar and comfortable relics of his old life. For Aurora, it’s not red flowers, but the English language, which she only ever heard from her father. She describes being on a boat right after her father died, and how “when I heard my father’s language first / From alien lips which had no kiss for mine / I wept aloud, then laughed, then wept, then wept” (12, I, 255-258). The repetition of the word “wept” interspersed with a contradictory “laughed” shows the intensity of Aurora’s reaction – a reaction somewhat similar to Chuck’s. The authors emphasize the emotional importance of minor details as ways to show children’s fragility. It’ the little things that affect them deeply. The children don’t have a capacity to rationally deal with death so the little things become deeply symbolic of the turmoil of suffering and of joy inside them. 

Though we don’t get to see how Chuck’s story ends, we get to see that Aurora ultimately learns to deal with the loss of her parents through writing. She says early on, “I lived, those days / and wrote because I lived” (32 line 960). To Aurora, living and writing become interchangeable. It is only through writing that Aurora finds life, because writing gives her the medium through which to process her life. In writing, Aurora finds a way to believe that what she has gone through is not meaningless. 

«–» 

All the cells in a body are replaced every seven years. The cells in my body that my parents touched, loved, and cherished have been gone for two cell-replacement cycles. Like the paradox of the ship of Theseus, this leaves me wondering if I can then be their child. The only answer I have is this: writing allows me the briefest moments of feeling like their child. And for whatever reason, that is enough.



*   *   *


Day 9: Today I am grateful for honey. Honey in my tea makes me swoon.