Monthly Archives: August 2012

in which I reflect on the awesomeness of the summer

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

By Mackenzi Lee


Chicago – until we meet again.

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in which i have a butterbeer with john green. everything else is irrelevant.

“Nerds like us are allowed to be unironically enthusiastic about stuff… Nerds are allowed to love stuff, like jump-up-and-down-in-the-chair-can’t-control-yourself love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘you are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness’.” – John Green

To borrow a phrase from Starkid, this weekend was TOTALLY AWESOME!

You know why? Because I got to attend LeakyCon, which is about as close to actually going to Hogwarts as you can get without magical powers. LeakyCon is a convention for people who love Harry Potter, and who love to share that love with each other. It is a convention for fans, by fans. Meaning that for four days, the Chicago Hilton was a sea of wizard robes and Pizza John t-shirts. And I couldn’t have been happier.

this was a pretty common sight.

Since I am not, per say, a crazy wild Harry Potter fan like most of these people, I primarily attended the literary part of the convention, more my style of nerdiness. Meaning that I got to hear and meet a slew of my favorite authors, including Laini Taylor, Stephanie Perkins, Holly Black, Margaret Stohl, Maureen Johnson, and John Green1. Seriously, this is the royalty of the young adult genre. These people are my rockstars. It was an exceptional and inspirational weekend that made me want to writewritewrite! Their panels were hilarious and delightful, and they were all very sweet about the nerdgirl freak out I had when I met each of them in turn.

Oh, and I also got to meet the girls of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, see the debut of “A Very Potter Senior Year,2” high fived Hank Green, got to see Mary GrandPre’s original cover art, and did yoga with Evanna Lynch.

And then at the end of it all, I had a butterbeer with John Green, and we talked about how much I love his books and how much he loves writing Sherlock fanfiction3. Which is a moment I will be adding to the top ten moments of my life list.

So yeah, not a bad weekend.

John Green with the MT’s drawing of John Green.

This weekend, I was reminded of how not great I am at meeting people I idolize. I got incredibly tongue tied around John, embarrassed myself in front of one of New York’s most important literary agents, and was a hot mess when I met Laini Taylor4. I just have such an admiration of people who are doing the things I want to be doing. The world is full of people who want to do things, including me, so to meet people who are actively leaving their mark upon the world as an artist and creator is an awe-inspiring experience. It makes me want to be an author even more, just for the chance to someday open a bottle of champagne5 with these people, and be one of them, instead of a crazed fan with her nose up against the window of the bar.

this is Stephanie Perkins. She is flawless. That’s me next to her. You probably didn’t notice me, because I’m much less awesome than her.

LeakyCon was awesome for a lot of reasons, but the best part was being around people who are passionately excited about everything. There is a lot of crossover in fandoms, so people who love Harry Potter also tend to love Sherlock, Star Wars, Dr. Who, and everything else that I love. And they don’t hide it. They own who they are, and, as a result, are much more open to everyone else around them. I loved being around people who got Starkid jokes, and understood my Fault in Our Stars t-shirt. I loved being around people who loved that I loved the same things that they did. The love that Harry Potter fans have for their books and their fandoms seeps into the rest of their lives, and they seem to love everything with an unbridled enthusiasm.

Because really, at its heart, that’s what Harry Potter is all about – love.

And man, do I love being around people who know how to love things, no matter what it is that that love is directed towards.

LeakyCon – thank you for a freaking awesome weekend. Maybe I’ll see you next year6.

  1. I will stop talking about John Green when you show me someone more worthy of my adoration!
  2. Complete with Darren Criss
  3. More importantly, Bald John Green/Other John Green slash stories. To!
  4. Me: Oh my gosh…’re Laini….your books are so…’re so… hair…..beautiful…..I love you so much. I just met you and I love you!  Laini: …………..thank you?
  5. Which I would then not drink.
  6. In LONDON! If only….
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in which I bid NPR a fond farewell

You all are familiar with the beloved children’s classic Goodnight Moon, I trust.

Today, I would like to submit to you a derivative manuscript based on that story.

I call it “Goodbye NPR.”

Goodbye NPR, by Mackenzi Lee 

In the great big news room, there was a telephone, and big headphones, and a picture of Carl Kasell, not jumping over the moon. And there were three NPR producers sitting on swivel chairs.

Goodbye room…..

Goodbye big headphones…..


Goodbye editing bluff the listener tape…..

Goodbye tea……


Goodbye creepily life-like portrait of Carl Kasell in my cubicle…..


Goodbye cheapest sodas within a five mile radius….

Goodbye conference calls with the Subway Fugitive….

Goodbye sandwich Mondays…..


Goodbye NPR producers…..

Goodbye every magazine I could ever want…..


Goodbye creepy stairway….

Goodbye WBEZ building…..

Goodbye Navy Pier……


Goodbye NPR.


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in which i emulate Nymphadora Tonks

And now, the trick is to see if I can write a coherent blogpost at 11 pm while watching an episode of Dr. Who. Challenge accepted! 

Approximately two weeks ago, I went to Wicker Park looking like this:


I left Wicker Park looking like this:


No, that isn’t a trick of the light or elaborate photoshop. My hair is pink.

Don’t let my modest and generally mild-mannered nature fool you – it has been a life-long dream to dye my hair pink1. And I figured since I had a job that didn’t care what color my hair was, and since I am young and plucky and just hitting that age where it is no longer acceptable to have pink hair, I knew this would be my last chance before I was left to spend the rest of my life wondering what would have happened if I would have been brave when I had the chance. So, after a lot of deliberation that stretched across several months and multiple time zones, I walked into the salon with the best Yelp reviews and left with a skein of cotton candy where my hair used to be.

Let me explain. One of the people I look up to most in the literary world is a talented woman named Laini Taylor. She is the author of the exquisitely lovely Daughter of Smoke and Bone, as well as the hauntingly beautiful Lips Touch Three Times. Her books make me shiver. The prose is like sun-warmed honey, the characters intriguing and rich, and frankly, the whole experience of reading her books is just delicious.

Ms. Taylor’s books were a big part of what made me decide to pursue a career in children’s literature. In fact, it was shortly after finishing Daughter of Smoke and Bone that I sent in my master’s application. Her work inspired me, and continues to inspire me, and taught me that the integrity of prose and plot does not have to be compromised if you write young adult books.


At the end of this week, I am going to meet Ms. Taylor2. She is speaking at LeakyCon. I am attending LeakyCon. A large part of the reason I am attending LeakyCon is just so that I can meet her. She’s fifty percent, John Green is the other fifty. When I first learned I was going to be in the same room as Ms. Taylor, I wanted to find some way to pay homage to her. And since her trademark is her flaming magenta hair, what better way than to dye my hair pink as well? Though mine is a much dimmer shade: I didn’t want to copy her, just be inspired by her.

And that is the story of why I have pink hair.

Having pink hair was, at first, shocking. Just looking in the mirror was cause for a double take, and I looked in the mirror approximately fifty-five thousand times in the course of my first pink-haired day. And how I felt about it changed every five minutes. For about 48 hours afterward the jump, I waffled between the urge to dye it back to red immediately and absolutely loving it and never wanting to go back.

Having pink hair has meant many big changes in my life. At first, I felt like everyone was staring at me all the time, even though they definitely weren’t. There are so much more obtrusive hairstyles to stare at in Chicago. I got more compliments from strangers about my hair then I’ve ever had before. I also felt like everyone I met had a preconception about me before we ever spoke just based on my hair color. Because, let’s face it, pink hair sort of screams youth in revolt. So when I interact with people now, I feel like I need to make an extra special effort to show that I am nice, normal, and grounded…I just happen to also have pink hair.

Having pink hair also makes it extraordinarily difficult to pick out an outfit. I thought having red hair limited my fashion choices – pink is worse. I wore a red dress yesterday for about twenty minutes before I realized this was the equivalent of white socks with sandals. The pink hair also has messed with my skin tone. As discussed before, my freckles have exploded like popcorn popping on the apricot tree since I arrived in Chicago. The red hair really lent itself to the whole Irish potato farmer look3. The pink does not. Instead of making my freckles look adorable, they instead make my skin look like a tarnish across otherwise porcelain skin.

And yes, I do get occasional disapproving looks from old people. And I do have to endure a slew of “is that your natural hair color” jokes. And it’s only a temporary state – within five days of returning to Salt Lake, I’ll be a ginger again. But for the time being, I love my pink hair. It makes me feel bright and spunky.

And, let’s face it – pink hair is cool4.


  1. And by life-long, I mean almost six months.
  2. Cue internal fangirl freakout.
  3. On an unrelated note, the other day at a store I tried on an adorable dress – it was red with a white Peter Pan collar and cinched waist and pleated skirt. Seriously, so cute….but I did not buy it because I realized that as soon as I have returned to my red hair, I could never wear this dress without being battered by a slew of Little Orphan Annie jokes.
  4. Had to slip that one in before the end of the episode.
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in which I brag about my awesome cookies.


In case you’ve ever doubted my awesomeness, or the awesomeness of the legendary Van Engelenhoven cookies, today they were featured on the “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me” blog. Since this is my last week at “Wait, Wait,” I made them in an attempt to leave a good taste – literally and figuratively – in the mouths of my coworkers. You can read their thoughts here. These Salt Lake City renowned cookies are now NPR approved!

Making cookies away from my mother’s kitchen is always an adventure. This was no exception. But they seemed to be a hit with the staff. So I didn’t mention that I could taste everything that was wrong with them.

Also, you can like Van Engelenhoven Cookies on facebook!

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in which i remember a girl i didn’t know

Late in the summer of her sixteenth year, Esther Earl passed away “after a lengthy battle with human consciousness, a victim of the universe’s need to make and unmake all that is possible.” After six years of fighting a civil war within her own body, she succumbed to thyroid cancer, and left this world a lifetime too soon.

I didn’t know Esther Earl. In many ways, I don’t feel myself worthy to pay tribute to her. So I will not say that she was full of life, or fought hard, or died peacefully – I do not intend to cheapen her memory by compartmentalizing the life of a girl I did not know into a series of lessons for the living. I will not employ any of the clichés that imply her illness was the only thing that she was ever made of.

But I would still like to thank Esther.

Even though I didn’t know her, Esther has had a profound effect on me. She was a large part of the inspiration behind a book that changed my life, and continues to change it almost daily1. I am a better person because of Esther, and though our touch is indirect, I feel her presence just the same.

If Esther was still alive, today would be her eighteenth birthday. And so, for her, her family, and everyone who remembers her, today has been designated as Esther Day.

Esther Day is the creation of John Green and Esther herself. Shortly before she died, John told Esther that he wanted to celebrate her birthday for as long as he was around, and asked how she would like him to do that. John wrote on his tumblr yesterday, “She finally decided she wanted it to be a day that celebrated love in families and among friends. I think of Esther Day as a kind of Valentine’s Day for all the other kinds of love.”

Humans seem to have an insatiable desire to make the dead into monuments for the living. We fill cemeteries and museums in order to make those we have outlived into aspirations for us. We do this because we hope that, when we too pass on, we will be similarly memorialized. We commemorate the dead because we hope that, someday, someone will do the same for us. How terrified we are of being forgotten.

But we have been tricked into fearing the leaving of this world. This life doesn’t want us to stay here.

Esther died too young, and too soon, but her memorial is the sort of thing we can all hope to leave. Not a marble statue, or a plaque, or a street or a wing in a hospital named for her. Instead she left the greatest legacy a person can leave; a chain of people tied together by their love for her, a love which then spreads, like ripples from a skipping stone, to the others in their lives. Though perhaps Esther herself is no longer luminous, she nevertheless remains a conductor of light.

I am not always great at telling people how much I care about them. I usually am as sentimental as a bag of rocks, and I shy away from any cracks of vulnerability in my hard exterior. But today, I am going to tell the people in my life who shine the brightest how much they have illuminated me2. I have been blessed to spend most of my life surrounded by a cast of people who have showered me with praise and adoration disproportionate to my looks and abilities. I have never been short of friends, family, teachers, church leaders, mentors, and even acquaintances who have helped me see the extraordinariness of my own existence. My world bursts with people who believe in me. It would be impossible for me to thank all of them in a single day, but their names are written across my mind today. And, in looking outwards, we inevitably reflect inwards, and understand our own value a little better.

So today, I would like to encourage you all to celebrate Esther Day along with me. Do it in any way you know how.

And above all – don’t forget to be awesome.

For more information about Esther and her family’s This Star Won’t Go Out charity, click here.

For John Green’s reflections on Esther, click here.

For a book that will change your life, click here.

  1. Mostly because I read it. A lot.
  2. Gross cheesy light metaphor! Apologies.
  3. I hope that something in this post comes across with minimal pretentiousness and at least a smidge of eloquence. My thoughts are stars I can’t always fathom into constellations.
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in which Carl Kasell gives me one final hug


Today was the first in a series of goodbyes that are going to be playing out across my last weeks in Chicago.

Which reminds me – goodbyes SUCK!

Tonight was the last live show I will have with “Wait, Wait…Don’t Tell Me.” Next week, the final week of my internship, the show is going on the road to Portland, Maine, and I am staying in Chicago so that I can do normal, ordinary, non-nerdy things1 in the last weekend before I leave Chicago.

So tonight I did a lot of lasts.

I took my last cab with Peter and Eva to the Chase Bank Auditorium. I ate my last delicious catered meal in the greenroom with the panelists2. I had my last diet coke and cupcake in the control room while waiting for the show to start. I spent my last “Who’s Carl This Time?” giggling while Mike and Ian made fun of everyone on stage3.

Last time hearing Peter make an Angry Birds joke when his iPad didn’t work.

Last time hearing “This. Is NPR.”

Last time sneaking out the back during the Q&A.

Last time leaving the Chase Bank auditorium through the terrifying revolving doors.

And yeah, I loved all those things, and I will miss all of those things. But there was one goodbye tonight that, above all, made me want to shrivel up and melt into a puddle of tears.

Tonight, I said goodbye to Carl.

Carl Kasell, NPR legend, is easily one of the kindest and sweetest men I have ever met. He is everything you would hope he would be after listening to his stalwart, resonate tones on the radio for years. He has an air of perpetual sophisticationbut never fails to see the humor in every situation. From the first time I met him, when I was lost and alone and he greeted me with a kiss on the cheek like we were old friends, Carl has never been anything but kind to me. Through these ten weeks of script read thrus and post-show drinks and half-hour voice mail message recordings,  Carl and I bonded.


Today, Carl and I had our last studio session together. I donned the big headphones and Carl positioned himself smartly in front of the microphone. One. Last. Time.

Tonight after the show, we said a very tender goodbye that included a quick succession of big hugs, an invitation to come back and see him anytime, and a kiss from Carl.

Then, we took a picture.

Remember how the first time I met Carl, I shyly asked him for a picture together? It looked like this:


I’m not photogenic on the best of days, and this picture is that day in Bethesda captured in a frame. Kind of awkward, and my expression clearly conveys my thoughts, which went something like this: “I am a little girl in a big city with a bunch of people I don’t know trying to do a job I am totally not qualified to do and I am totally shell shocked and in three different time zones but this is oh my gosh this is Carl Kasell I AM TOUCHING CARL KASELL AND TRYING TO NOT LOOK AS FREAKING EXCITED ABOUT THAT AS I AM!!!”

Awkward, I think is the word.

Tonight, our picture together looked like this:


And that is the best part about my summer in a frame.

Carl – thank you. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you for living up to all my expectations of your awesome.

Until we meet again.

  1. In other words, I’m going to a Harry Potter convention.
  2. I also met Paula Pell, the second half of Scott Adsit on 30 Rock. It has been a very Hornberger summer for me.
  3. We’re equal opportunity mockers.
  4. And trust me, it’s hard to maintain this level of dignity while doing impressions of Kristen Stewart in limerick form.
  5. Still disoriented every time.
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