Monthly Archives: October 2012

in which I surrive a hurricane

Hello, hello, posting from the eye of the storm here!

Alright, not the eye anymore. Never the eye ever really, compared to what’s going on in other parts of the country. But Boston was certainly hurricane-adjacent yesterday, and I definitely survived to blog about it!

This is the obligatory I survived Hurricane Sandy post. Not only did I make it out the other side, but my area of the world got off fairly easy. We didn’t lose power. No damage, other than the large tree that fell down in our yard and very narrowly missed my bedroom window. No major issues at all. Not that it was fun listening to wind so strong it sounded like a train accident outside your window all day. But we are still here, unbroken.

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I spent a day inside being alternately anxiety-ridden and fascinated by a storm the scale of which I’d never seen before, watching the new season of Downton Abbey, and lamenting the fact that I was woefully unprepared for this hurricane and didn’t have any diet coke in the house. But I got the day off from work and school and an extension on a paper I hadn’t written.

So it isn’t all bad news.

But I know that things back here in the east are pretty messed up. From the sound of it, a lot of places are in shambles. Even here, the evidence of the storm is everywhere. The standard “how are you?” greeting today has been replaced with a “how did you survive the hurricane?” There are people here without power, with trees on their houses, with flood waters in their front rooms. I am grateful I am not one of them, and I am thinking about them and wishing there was something I could do.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a classmate who was in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. We talked about her experience, and I asked her about the general atmosphere there. She said that yes, things were rough, but that the news organizations chose only to focus on the bad things that happened. She said that Katrina brought out not only looters and murderers, but also an influx of people helping each other and reaching out. Let’s hope that Sandy does the same. Tragedies and extreme circumstances reveal either the worst or the best in people. In coming days, we need to do everything we can to support the recovery effort and make sure that we are the best.

Because really, we’re all trying to put things back together as best we can.

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in which I get books signed

I haven’t been a great blogger recently. You may or may not have noticed.

The hard truth of the matter is that all I do is write anymore. I write for work. I write for school. I write for fun. So when I finally have a spare moment to myself to just unwind, the absolutely last thing I want to do is more writing. Even if it is fun writing for the blog.

But anyways, that’s my explanation for my dwindling posts. I think this once or twice a week thing is going to become the status quo rather than the once or twice a day like it was this past summer1.

So now that we’ve talked about writing, let’s talk about the second thing I do: reading.

As previously discussed, I read a lot of books. The only number that rivals the amount of books I read is the amount of books I buy. Really, I have a problem. My problem stems primarily from the fact that I love going to see authors speak, and I love going to the book signings that follow them. Mostly because authors are my rockstars, and everybody loves meeting rockstars.

Boston is totally boss when it comes to hosting author events. I’ve gotten to meet some awesome people since I arrived.

Observe, a photo montage for emphasis.

Terry Pratchett…

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Shannon Hale and Avi…

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Maggie Steivater…

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Lemony Snicket…

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Maureen Johson and Robin Wasserman…

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Michael Chabon…

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Libba Bray…

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Really, the awesomeness is overwhelming2. Also pardon my hair in….well, all these photos.

My collection of signed books accumulated since my arrival is both alarming and comical. I think it may have to do with the fact that when I first arrived in Boston, I didn’t have any friends. I felt very lonely, and, as I am anti-social by nature, I didn’t think I was going to make friends quickly. So I overcompensated by buying myself friends – books! Books are awesome friends. They make you laugh, let you cry on their shoulder, they tell great stories, they go everywhere with you. They even listen to your problems, if you feel like telling a book your problems. Which, yeah, I’ve done. Sometimes I think if I had to pick between having books and having friends, I’d pick books3.

I am already known as a bit of a signed book hoarder among people in my program. And when other book people are telling you you have a problem, you know it’s really serious. When my friends asked me just how many books I’d gotten signed in Boston, I couldn’t count, so I decided to take an informational picture instead. Because a picture is worth the thousands of words that are contained within these signed books.

Observe, the glory of my signed books4:

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And this isn’t actually even all of them. I forgot I have Fingerprints of You in my bag, because I’m currently in the middle of it.

But the point still stands; that, friends, is a lot of books.

I came to Boston with one box full of books that barely filled up a shelf and a half. I was sort of depressed when I discovered this. It made me feel empty and alone. Now I no longer have enough shelf space to contain my books. Lucky I’m moving next week5.

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  1. I exaggerate. But not by much.
  2. If you do not know who these people are, go immediately to your local library and put them all on hold…I mean their books on hold, not actually them. Though if you find a way to reserve Lemony Snicket, let me know. I’d love to just carry him around in my pocket saying hilarious things for two weeks with the option to renew, so long as there weren’t too many holds.
  3. So long as I could keep a few actual friends around. Because there are a few things books can’t give you…can’t think of any, but I’m sure there’s a reason it’s more acceptable to hang out with people instead of books.
  4. And their best friend, my second great love, diet coke. I thought about sticking my copy of either Jane Eyre or Crime and Punishment in here just to see if anyone called me on it.
  5. To be continued….
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in which i explore haunted Boston

A large portion of my teenage years were spent traversing the dusty street of a reconstructed pioneer village in Salt Lake City called This is the Place Heritage Park, where I worked as a blacksmith, a school teacher, a gold miner, and general tour guide of old buildings. TITP and I had a good run, and I learned a lot of valuable skills1 there which are all now listed under the “special skills” section of my resume.

I owe TITP many things: my love of history, my slightly whacked psychosis that results from doing a lot of growing up in a different century, and the legend of the last prince of Latvia, for starters. I also owe TITP my enduring fascination with and steadfast belief in ghosts2.

There are many things about this world that I do not understand, and have no desire to. I, like Sherlock Holmes, subscribe to the belief that life is infinitely stranger than the mind of man can invent. The existence of ghosts is one of those things that I will never understand, never have concrete proof for or answers about, and that’s okay – I don’t need to.

Last night, I went ghost hunting in Boston with a group of friends from the YSA. I think I was the only one among them who didn’t make fun of the whole thing. They all went to hear a few scary stories that they could then dismiss as Halloween-y nonsense. I went totally on board with all the stories about the hanging tree and the Boston strangler, and I left with a solid conviction never to set foot on the Boston Common after 2 am.

Boston, as I should have known, is lousy with not just ghosts, but also ridiculously creepy things, like a book made out of human skin and the largest collection of unmarked graves in the country. It has the world’s most haunted hoteland a huge cemetery where puritans and witches are buried. And the ghost stories are fantastic. There’s a banshee in the Common, a Red Coat in the T stop, a murdered French ambassador that creeps on girls in the crypt of King’s Chapel, and the old friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne who still hangs out in their old reading room and whose ghost caused Hawthorne to make the only joke of his long-winded career. Really, it’s gloriously spooky. The perfect setting for the days leading up to Halloween4.

I believe in ghosts because I want to. It doesn’t have to do with proof, or those pictures with orbs. I just enjoy believing that there are things in this world that cannot be understood, things that are fantastic and paranormal and downright creepy. And, in the end, like most beliefs, religious or otherwise, who cares if they’re true? I think that anything that gives people some sort of happiness or comfort or thrill, even if it doesn’t end up being true, should be indulged.

  1. Among them: Stilt walking, forge welding, candle making, pumpkin growing, and old-school laundry.
  2. I should explain. Most people, after working for an extended period of time in the historic houses here, had an encounter with something otherworldly. After listening to accounts from so many incredibly intelligent people who I have a great deal of respect for recount their own ghost stories with white faces, as well as a few of my own first-hand encounters, it really becomes impossible to believe that there isn’t something going on.
  3. It’s Stephen King’s favorite place to stay, which should tell you something about it
  4. It’s also worth noting that, prior to the ghost hunt, I finally got my bowl of New England clam chowder (so good) and saw the fantastic play War Horse. Yesterday was exceptionally good.
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in which I am taught about fish and monkeys

A Meeting at MIT

a sarcastic conversation in one-act by Mackenzi Lee

Assistant Boss: …and one of the other offices wants us to hire them a photographer.
Boss: (looks at me) Alright, I’m about to teach you a life lesson, intern.
Me: I love a good life lesson.
Boss: Ready?
Me: I was born ready.
Boss: We made up a saying here, so you’ve probably never heard it before.
Me: Okay.
Boss: It’s about fish. (pause) Write that down.
Me: (writes down “fish”) Okay.
Boss: Around here, we say that you can give someone a fish, and they will not be hungry for a day.
Me: Okay.
Boss: But you can teach them to fish, and they will never be hungry again…because they will know how to fish.
Me: I’m right there with ya.
Boss: Have you ever heard that expression before?
Me: It’s vaguely familiar.
Boss: But then sometimes when you teach someone to fish, then they get a monkey on their back. And then their monkey gets passed to you.
Me: I thought we were talking about fish.
Boss: Monkeys now, try to keep up. Now intern, when someone has a problem, it’s like they’re carrying a monkey around on their back, and then when you get involved in their problem, it’s like they have passed you the monkey.
Me: I don’t see the problem with carrying a monkey.
Boss: It’s a heavy monkey.
Me: Oh.
Boss: Write that down.
Me: (Writes down “heavy monkey”) Okay.
Boss: So when people try to hand you a monkey, you gotta learn to monkey block them.
Me: Okay.
Boss: And you have to do the hand gesture. (Holds arms in a cross-shape in front of his chest)
Me: Okay.
Boss: MONKEY BLOCK!
Me: I’m learning so many life lessons today. About both office dynamics and wildlife.
Boss: We’re basically Animal Planet around here.

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in which I depend upon the kindness of strangers

Today, a miracle occurred.

Okay, maybe not a miracle. But at least a bizarrely weird coincidence that was hinged upon a stranger’s kindness.

This morning started out kind of ominous and Monday-ish for me. No hot water in the shower. Then the power randomly shut off while I was drying my hair. No breakfast food, because I fail at planning ahead. Late for the bus, as per ush.

But then, a miracle occurred.

Rewind back to last Wednesday, when somewhere between my front door and MIT, I lost my favorite button off my bag1 – the one from Maureen Johnson that says “YA Saves.” I was pretty distraught over this. Well, as distraught as one normally gets about a button off a bag. But I’m pretty attached to my button collection. I had a moment of silence, lamented the new hole on my bag, and then moved on, but I kept noticing all weekend how empty the front of my bag looked.

Fast forward back to Monday again.

So there I was on this awful Monday morning, rushing to the bus through the forest behind my house. I was looking down at my iPod, when suddenly there was a glint of sunlight on plastic from my left. Not a typical forest sort of light. I looked up.

And there, pinned to a tree, was my YA Saves button.

Some kind stranger saved my YA Saves button. And now, we have been reunited.

I love that sometimes people are really nice, and kind to people they don’t know. If I saw a YA Saves button on a forest path, I would have thought, “Too bad that person will never see their button again.” And I probably would have stepped on it.

But not this person – this person pinned the button to a tree so that one day, we would be reunited.

Sometimes, people are awesome.

Another good example of this – the other day on the train, a woman leaned over and asked me where she should get off to get to the airport. I said I didn’t know, because I don’t2. Suddenly the guy next to me chimed in – “Get off at Park Street and take the silver line.” “Ride it all the way to the end,” said someone else down the row. “Or you can ride to Downtown Crossing,” said someone else all the way down the row. “But then you have to walk, which will be tricky because there are no street signs in Boston.” “Because the trains are so much better,” said someone else. Then we all had a laugh at the expense of the MBTA.

I was amazed and touched by how everyone in the row had looked up from their books, taken out their headphones, and gone out of their way to give this woman really precise directions to the airport that probably took a lot of the stress out of her flight. The same way I was touched and amazed by how someone saw my YA Saves button and took time to pin it to a tree, and then no one else took it.

So thank you to that kind forest-dwelling stranger in Lexington3. At last, my button collection is complete again.

  1. By button, I like a pin button. Not like the things they sew on eyes in Coraline.
  2. Because really, who the hell can figure out mass transit here?
  3. Perhaps you are a fairy, or a helpful gnome
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in which I steal a trunk of star-stuff

It would be impossible for me to pick one thing from this weekend to document on my blog. Because basically it was just a big old heap of awesome from start to finish.

This weekend, I went to New York City1 for a number of reasons, none of which were particularly pressing at the time I decided to go, but in the end, they all ended up being infinitely important to my current mental well-being.

First of all, I met Terry Pratchett, who I believe is in the top ten greatest writers of the last fifty years. He is a living legend. A literary giant. A satirical genius. Meeting him and hearing his advice on being a writer was refreshing because he approached it with the same degree of honesty with which he approaches all the topics in his novels: he told me to write often, read the best books, and do not let anyone give me writing advice, because writing is a personal process that is different for everyone. He also said the trick to being a really good writer is not caring what anyone else thinks, just write what you want to write, and own it. I wanted to hug him for saying this, but he’s kind of old and I didn’t want to break him. Also I’m fairly certain if I tried to touch him, one of his posse would have shouted, “NO TOUCHING!”

(This part of the story of my weekend that really has nothing to do with the rest, it was just really exciting and I wanted to get it out there.)

Then I saw a show…actually, let’s move unchronologically2 here. On an equally unrelated note but still an awesome one worth mentioning, I met up with a lovely friend of mine, who we will call Ariel for multiple reasons, who lives in Hell’s Kitchen. We had a much fancier dinner than I am accustomed to – you know, the kind where they arrange your food all artsy like on the plate. It was French Thai. Really, I didn’t know what to do with myself in such a high-class place3. Ariel is a very fascinating person to me. She is Bohemian in the best kind of way, where every conversation I have with her could be a Camus novel. I think Ariel and I are in similar places in our lives, and it was refreshing to talk to someone honest and artistic about how uncomfortable that place can be.

Anyways, on to the good stuff! Over the course of the weekend, I saw two beautiful shows. First, Cyrano de Bergerac, which is in constant competition with The Seagull and Hamlet for the title of my favorite play ever4. It is an old favorite – the kind of show I know I will always enjoy.

Saturday night I saw a new show with Ariel called Peter and the Star-Catcher. I did not know much about this show, other than once a long time ago reading the novel it’s based on. I was delighted and surprised to find that it was incredibly inventive and unexpected, and it touched me in a very unique way. And it was also exactly what I needed to see this weekend.

There is a line in the show I picked out where Peter says, “Things are only worth what you’re willing to give up for them.” I immediately wrote it down on my Playbill. Because it got me thinking about the things I do most in life, the things I associated pleasure with. I think about the Facebook, and the YouTube, and I think about Diet Coke, and my cell phone, and my favorite pair of boots. Then I think about things that I sometimes think of as a chore – relationships with people, maintaining contact with family, even writing sometimes. Things that get pushed to the back burner of my life in favor of these daily trivialities. But when I think about it in the context of Peter’s line, it made me think about what is really important in my life. Who is really important?

Similarly, I read a book a week ago called Will Grayson, Will Grayson, where one of the characters is talking about the unnecessary importance we place on romantic love and who wants to do who and whatnot. The character says, “You know what’s really important? Who would you die for.” Peter and the Star-Catcher encapsulates this idea perfectly. Weirdly enough, I think Cyrano does too. Because, at the end of the day, our lives are not going to be about how many facebook friends we had or how many hours we spent on mass transit5. Life’s about who you would save. Who is the last person we are going to want to say goodbye to, when our day comes? Who would we run into battle for? When you know you have one hour left, whose convent do you walk to to say goodbye? Who are we willing to trade a trunk full of star-stuff for6?

And that is your deep thought for the day, coming at you from the bus on the way back to Lexington. It is late, and I am worn out from my impossibly awesome weekend, so this may not be the most coherent thing I have ever written, but it’s what I’m thinking about right now. I know I do a lot of existentially-fraught posts, but I am a twenty-century twenty-something. According to Lena Dunham, I am allowed to be angsty and pseudo-intellectual.

And if you don’t like it, you can leave.

 

  1. Again. I need to stop doing this – it’s destroying my bank account.
  2. Not a real word.
  3. High class being a relative term – their menus came in recycled CD cases.
  4. Cyrano and I have the sort of relationship where I know exactly what line he is going to say that will set me off, and then I will dissolve into a useless puddle of tears for the rest of the show. It happens every damn time. And it’s always the same line. “I told her everything – it’s you she loves!” *Cue hysterics*
  5. Two and a half on Wednesday, just to get home, not that I’m counting or bitter. Man, I have got to get out of Lexington.
  6. If you miss these references, it is because they are very specific to the two aforementioned plays.
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in which I compare myself to a centaur

If I had a nickel for every time I was told that being a student was the best time of your life, I would have enough nickels to have paid in full for those very expensive best years1.

And yes, I am the first to admit, being a student is great. Being a grad student is better. You immerse yourself in something you are passionate about, study it, improve yourself and expand your knowledge about it. You surround yourself with people who push you, and compete with you, and make you better.

But at my age, being a student also presents some difficulties. Namely, limbo.

Now what I mean by limbo is that, as a student, I exist in a state where I occupy two spheres. A piece of me still lives in childhood, in the way of life I have always known, namely relative comfort and financial stability where I could afford to spend my limited funds exclusively on social engagements. But another piece of me has slipped out of that world, and trespassed across the borderlands into adulthood, where suddenly nobody is giving me food or a place to live.

And really, it’s not that one is better than another, or even that one is easier2.

What bothers me is where I am right now – stuck in a weird half-way point that is simultaneously neither of them, and also both.

Some examples:

  • I’m tired of calling my parents to ask their permission before commit to an apartment, but I’m glad they’re there to go over things when the landlord emails me the lease.
  • I’m tired of my parents going over my debit card statements, but when they offer to give me some financial support, I don’t say no.
  • I’m tired of tired of working jobs that aren’t my profession, but I don’t feel ready to commit to a real, full-time job yet.
  • I’m tired of sitting in classrooms learning about the work I’m someday going to be doing, but I’m terrified of the day when I’m actually doing that work with the possibility of real failure at it.

So as you can see, limbo is a state of perpetual dissatisfaction.

Right now, I have virtually no money, yet I am participating in a lifestyle3 that requires spending a great deal of it. That lifestyle dictates I live in an expensive city, and that I pay a lot for my education with money I do not have. I have a good job, but at 20 hours a week, I’m not exactly rolling in the dough. You see? My life is one giant contradiction.

Sometimes, I feel like I am shouldering the burdens of both an adult and adolescence. My weight feels twice as heavy because not only do I have to do things like pay bills and file my taxes, I have to learn how to pay bills and file my taxes, all the while trying to swallow the feeling that I am too young to be worrying about paying bills and filing my taxes. It’s not just the weight of a new responsibility, but it is the pressure of having to learn and have it perfect without practice.

Which makes me wonder – all those days in public high school, when I spent hours of district-required credits getting dodge balls thrown at my face or learning how to balance a chemical equation, where was the class where they teach you how to not freak out the first time somebody hands you a lease? Where was the class about learning to grocery shop in a way that didn’t end in overpaying for milk and then throwing it out a week later because you can’t drink it that fast? Or what to do when you’re living with crazy people who eat your ginger snaps, or what to do when the money runs out, or how to keep yourself on task at work when no one’s looking over your shoulder. Why the hell was I wasting space in my brain on syntax and differential equations4 when there were so many scarier things I needed to be learning about?

This is not meant to be a poor little rich girl post5. I appreciate my middle class upbringing, and the support my parents are giving me to help me get where I want to be. All I’m saying is that there are some days – many of them – when I resent the duality of my current state in life. I do not want to be half child, half adult – I don’t care which I am, I just want to be something, and know what I am. It’s like being a centaur – half of two things, but neither of them. And nobody likes a centaur6. I do not want to be half student, half professional. Half reliant, half self-sufficient. I want to stop walking the line between dependence and independence and stop feeling like a fraud in both worlds.

I am tired of being aspiring. I want to be.

  1. I’m not sure how the government feels about paying off student loans in nickels. Hold on, let me get back to you on that.
  2. It always bothered me as a kid when adults said kids have it easy, because really they don’t. Maybe they don’t worry about mortgages and debt, but they have other problems that in their world are just as earth shattering. As a writer of children’s lit, it should be no surprise that I subscribe to this category of thought.
  3. By which I mean grad school.
  4. That’s a thing, right?
  5. Only two of those words describe me, and they are not ‘little’ or ‘rich.’
  6. Speaking of things that are half animal half human, once at NPR during a table read for Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the staff indulged in probably a good hour of discussion about the reverse mermaid, which they named the fishtop. They were all hysterical by the end of this. And I just remember sitting at the end of the table, thinking, “These people are the finest of American media.”
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in which New York is demystified

In case you missed it, I was in New York City last weekend for KidLitCon, a really awesome event of children’s lit bloggers, authors, and wannabes. Last post, I sort of talked about the children’s lit community and how beautiful and awesome it feels to be a part of it. Today, I’d like to talk about New York.

The last time I was in New York City, I was seventeen. Five days off my graduation. Two weeks off my first break up. Three months away from college, and constantly at odds with my parents1. And I was hell-bent on being an actress. I thought acting was my calling. You know how people talk about that stupid romantic ideal of having a calling? Yeah, I definitely thought the theater was mine. And maybe it was – I still love the theater. I always will.

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the MT, seventeen-year-old me (rocking some questionable sunglasses and a killer raincoat) and one-half of the parents.

But I was certain that there was nothing in the world that could fulfill me the way acting did, and in my mind, an integral part of being an actress was living in New York. I wanted to be there so badly. I wanted to leave high school behind me and leap into the real world, certain I would be just as big there as I had been in Midvale Utah. I had my Plan, and I had no intention to deviate from that Plan. No way I was going to do anything but follow my Plan.

My Plan went like this:

  1. Go to New York
  2. Get an agent
  3. Land a big part
  4. Go to premier2
  5. Live dreams in happiness forever with no financial struggles

Easy Peasy.

New York was the first big city I ever visited. I thought it was exciting – the lights, the crowds, the clinically insane that roamed the streets smelling like vomit and urine. That was city life, right? So what if you have to clutch your bag and carry mace? I refused to be overwhelmed by New York because I was determined to prove to myself that this was what I wanted3.

Four years later, I returned to New York, brain full of the memories of the awesome times I had in New York the year I turned seventeen. My brain totally forgot to remind me about all the terrible stuff about the city that it had repressed in a desperate desire to prove to myself that I could make it in the Big Apple. This time, I saw everything ugly about it that I had overlooked when I was seventeen. New York felt predatory. It felt mean in a way no other city I have visited has.

The illusion of New York shattered. The city of dreams that I had been certain called me from its gold-paved streets was just a movie in my mind, just like my now dilapidated dreams of stardom and the theater.

New York lost its magic for me this past weekend, which made me a little sad. Granted, it was probably a much starker contrast just because of the nature of my memories versus reality, along with the dying dreams I had once associated with the city. I think how I felt about the city the two different times I went is very reflective of who I am now and who I was then.Then I was itching for somewhere to belong, so I tried to force myself into a place I didn’t fit, like trying to stick a piece of a jigsaw puzzle in the wrong hole. Now, I’m slowly starting to find it.

It’s not that I don’t like New York anymore, I still think it’s an insanely exciting place, but some of the magic had rubbed off. This is probably some psychological commentary on my current mental state – if you wish to analyze me in comments, I’m more than willing to stretch out on the couch. But I just thought it was an interesting observation. After all the other places I’ve visited, places that I felt were beautiful and welcoming from the moment I arrived, the streets of New York felt dark and cold. And I knew that my frail seventeen-year-old dreams wouldn’t have survived there.

Good thing I found new dreams. Better dreams. Seriously. So much better4.

  1. I’d just like to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to my parents for being such a terror in high school. Seriously, I was a little sh*t for the better part of three years. Yes, I was seventeen. But I still wish I could take it all back.
  2. Raise your hand if you get this movie reference.
  3. Talking myself into thinking this was what I wanted was the story of most of my short career as an actress.
  4. Not to say that those of you who aspire to a career in the theater are somehow stupid – I still think theater is one of the greatest things about being alive. But it wasn’t my dream. I know that now. If it’s yours, I commend you. You’re a lot braver than I am.
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