Tag Archives: on growing up

in which I smell like an adult woman

When I was in high school, I had an iconic woman in my life who worked with our high school drama department. I thought she was basically greatest person on earth1. She frightened me a little the first time I met her, as all people worth knowing do, and she was smart, practical, a little sassy, and always looked like a million bucks. Seriously, immaculate. And, as a result of her doing a lot of costume work for us that put me in close proximity to her as she pinned up dresses and tunics and once a weird giraffe costume, I knew for a fact that she also smelled great. Like seriously the best smelling person I’d ever met. I finally asked her what her secret was. How do you go through life with such an amazing aroma wafting off you?

Perfume, she told me. My idol wore perfume. This blew my mind in a way it should not have, and I thought to myself, Successful iconic women must wear perfume. In that moment, the two became inexplicably intertwined.

I should preface this by explaining that I was raised by a low-maintenance woman whose idea of getting dressed up was putting on mascara and matching socks, so normal woman things like wearing makeup and nail polish and pulling hairs out of your eyebrows never occurred to me as things people did. Perfume was not a word in my vocabulary until this day I realized maybe people did not naturally smell amazing, but actually had some help2.

“It’s Dolce and Gabbana Light Blue,” my idol told me, and I nodded like I knew perfume came in more than one kind before just that moment.

So the next time my mom took me to the department store to buy jeans3 I snuck over to the cosmetics section. It was a frightening place—all those makeup counters and giant faces printed on display stands and strange beauty devices that looked like medieval torture implements and women in black with very intense painted-on eyes. But I forged through this strange land, located that little blue box4 of Dolce and Gabbana perfume with every intention to buy it and smell as beautiful as my idol.

Except I didn’t realize until that moment that perfume was expensive. That one bottle was more money than I was spending on anything as a teenager. More money than I spent on my prom dress. Probably more money than I’d spent all year combined. I gingerly put the bottle back and resigned myself to giving up that dream of smelling like a beautiful, successful adult woman.

But then I put a squirt from the tester bottle on my wrist and sniffed. It smelled so good, and I just wanted it, in a way I had never wanted anything that wasn’t books or theater tickets. The smell that to me was growing up and being something, someone worth looking up to. Being someone I could admire and be proud of.

So right then and there, I made a vow. I would come back for this perfume when I had done something worth smelling that good.

I don’t remember how many times since then I have snuck into department stores to spritz myself with testers and then run away before anyone figured out I wasn’t going to buy it, or how many knock off bottles of this perfume I purchased at sketchy European markets, or when the vow I made morphed into “I will buy this perfume with the money from my first book advance.” But somewhere along the way, I promised myself that with the money from my first book sale, whenever that came or however much it was, I would buy myself a bottle of this grown up, successful woman perfume.

Friday night, Marx and I went to Macy’s.

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There it is! The little blue box, and inside that box is a little blue bottle! And in spite of the fact that I look like I am going to eat it, I did not5! It is mine and I am wearing it now and even though it still seems like an exorbitant amount to pay for a bottle of perfume the size of my fist, it feels like a weird milestone. In book life, and adult life, and smelling-good life6. One step closer to being like the people I admire.

  1. She’s still pretty high on my list.
  2. I’m guessing this is about the point in the story where you are starting to wonder to yourself, “Where’s this going, Kenz?” Hang in there.
  3. I cannot emphasize how low maintenance we are.
  4. Most magical things come in blue boxes.
  5. Though if it tastes as good as it smells, I would.
  6. Yes, I am wearing it right now and yes, I do keep smelling myself. And I smell GREAT.
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in which a friend visits

When you move around a lot, there are lots of people who come into your life, and then when you leave, they sort of drift out of your life without much consequence. Being apart is too hard, or too far, or you change and become too different to like each other as much in the present moment as you did in the past.

And then there are the people that stick with you. That no matter how far apart you are, it never gets too hard.

For me, this person is 14.

14 and I met in seventh grade health class1. The random seating chart set off a chain of events that shaped a good portion of my life. We were friends all through middle school. Took the same classes in high school2. We did theater things together. We went to our first school dance in the same group. We were roommates in college, tested out papers and outfits and flirty texts before we sent them to our crushes on each other.

And then I went to Chicago. Then Boston. And then 14 went to Norway. Then back to Salt Lake. And after spending almost every day together for years and years and years, suddenly we were far apart.

But with 14, the distance didn’t matter so much like it did with other friends. Sure, it sucked to have to synch our time zones for a phone call or to not be able to invite her to do crazy stuff with me. And yes, I missed her, but I never felt like we lost anything because we were far apart.

Last week, 14 came to visit me in Boston. As my mom pointed out, it was the first time the two of us have been around each other for an extended period of time since we graduated from college. There was lots of potential for things to go wrong. What if in our time apart we had both grown into different people that weren’t compatible anymore and we didn’t realize that until she was off the plane?

But it just felt like picking up right where we left off. Like nothing had changed3.

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14 and I are really different, but that’s never really mattered. Being friends with her has always been so easy. And that’s how friendship should be.

Here’s wishing you all a friend like 14.

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  1. 14 is the only good thing I got out of seventh grade health class.
  2. And often sat by each other often because we both have end of the alphabet last names
  3. Except we were exploring Boston instead of Salt Lake, and Boston is awesome. Though we could have done without the freezing rain that plagued the city all week. However, we still did some really awesome things. Like getting enlisted in the War of 1812 Navy. Here we are on board in our bunks:

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in which I am grateful

Today, I am grateful for….

Diet coke
An apartment with both a washing machine and a dishwasher
Children’s literature
Goodreads
Sweaters
Instant yeast
Jayne Cobb
Steampunk
My fox hat
Frankenstein
Panera French onion soup
The Matilda the Musical soundtrack
The autosave function on Microsoft Word
Netflix
Where the Wild Things Are
Boston
Wellies
Twitter
Good books
Redvines
Benedict Cumberbatch
Fan art
Living three blocks from a library
My R2D2 iPhone case
Gifs
Friends I adore, family I miss, and the chance to study and write things that I am passionate about 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. From my couch to yours.

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in which the MT goes to college

When I was twelve years old, my birthday present was new paint, furniture, and carpet in my bedroom. After we cleared all the old furniture out and my dad painted, we had one day between the installation of the carpet and the moving in of the new furniture. And I had an empty, empty room.

So the MT and I did what any two kids would do. We took our Star Wars action figures, separated them between good guys and bad guys on opposite sides of the room, and had the Epic Action Figure Battle of the Century.

It was our longest Star Wars game ever, which is saying a lot. We played for hours. I think my parents actually consented to delay moving in the furniture so we could keep playing1.And towards the end of it all, I remember lying on the floor in the center of the room, me with Anakin and the MT with Yoda, listening to our voices echo against the empty walls and come back to us. And the MT said, “Can we do this forever?”

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Look at the little MT and the little Mackenzi Lee.This is probably the cutest we ever were. Also the last time we touched each other.

But we didn’t. The next morning, the new furniture got moved in. The Star Wars game ended. And we didn’t play with the action figures too much after that. I got older, and pretty soon the MT did too. We put the action figures in the basement, and we grew up.

This past week, the MT and I were driving around Cottonwood Heights doing some last minute shopping to prelude her move to Logan, Utah, where she’s going to be starting college on Monday. We were talking about dumb stuff2. But as we drove down Fort Union, I looked over her and all I wanted to say was, “Can we do this forever?”

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The MT is my only sister. There really hasn’t been a time when we weren’t close. For the past eighteen years, I have never been in our house without her. Even when I’ve gone away, I could always count on her being there when I came back, sprawled in the green Lazy boy, sketching with her big blue headphones and her grunge band t-shirts. She would look up at me and say, “Oh, you’re here.” And then go back to her drawing like I’d never left.

But on Saturday, the MT packed her life in our Subaru, and she drove to Logan. And in all likelihood, the MT and I will never be in the same place at the same time again for a summer or a year. The most we’ll have is spotty weeks of vacation and Christmas. We’ll grow up, we’ll move away, we’ll have our own lives separate from each other.

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This was a while ago. The MT was still a blonde. And those sunglasses died years ago.

It’s very rare in life that we know something is the last time. We don’t know the last time we’re going to see someone or the last time we’re ever going to visit a place. Usually things just disappear without warning. But last week, I was so acutely aware of the fact that the MT and I were living out the last days of our lives thus far.

I was pretty blue about it on Sunday. I kept saying things like, “If the MT were here…”

But I realized sad is the wrong thing to be. Sad is a waste of time, and totally misplaced. Because there are so many amazing and cool things that are about to happen to the MT, and too me too, I suppose, and this is just a step on the path towards them. And it’s funny how sometimes you can’t imagine things changing, but as soon as they do, you can’t imagine ever going back to how they were before. Mostly because it’s just time to be different.

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So here’s to the MT. Here’s to all the things she’s done and a whole new set of adventures ahead of her. Here’s to the things she’ll learn and the people she’ll meet, to the totally wonderful things that will happen to her and the really sucky things too, and to how she’ll deal with them—with grace and courage and kindness. I know she will, because she’s my sister, the only person I know as well as myself, and I know that she is extraordinary.

I don’t always know what to believe in, but I know I believe in her.

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Our relationship in a picture.

Good luck at college, MT. And whatever you do, be good or be good at it.

  1. My dad joined us at one point to be all the bad guys, and pulled what is maybe the sneakiest move in the history of Star Wars action figures. He took this random snowman figure from our doll house and sent him as a representative from the bad guys to parlay with the MT and my good guys. As the snowman walked across no man’s land, he said, “Don’t hurt me! I’m just a snowman!” So the MT and I called a cease fire. Then the snowman whipped out a machine gun and massacred us. Nefarious.
  2. We mostly we communicate in Doctor Who quotes and trivia.
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in which the virtues of mountains and wildflowers are extolled

As a girl from Utah, it will come as no surprise that I basically grew up in the mountains. Between skiing, hiking, and living thirty feet from the canyon, there were few weeks throughout my childhood and adolescence that didn’t involve time spent in the mountains.

But the problem with growing up so near something extraordinary is that from a very early age, you grow accustomed to the ordinariness of it. By the time I was an age at which I could appreciate the beauty of the mountains, they hardly felt remarkable anymore. Just another familiar part of a familiar landscape.

It took leaving and coming back for me to understand how utterly magnificent the walls of the Salt Lake valley are. I remember just before I left for Chicago, the MT and I were walking to 7-11 for Diet Coke and I kept staring up at the mountains that rim our house and asking stupid rhetorical questions like, “Have those mountains always been there? Have they always been that big? Have they always been that jaw-droppingly gorgeous!?”

When I am away from Salt Lake, there are very few things I pine for, but Holy Mary do I miss the mountains.

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Last night, the family took a trek up Little Cottonwood Canyon to our favorite ski resort, now absent of snow but instead spilling over with wildflowers. The green hillsides were splashed with yellow and puple and red like streaks of vibrant paint across a canvas. It’s unbelievable, really, like a painting or a movie or something you travel the world to see, not something you find half an hour from your house.

On our way back down the mountain, it started to rain, a light sprinkle accompanied by grumbling thunder and flexing grey clouds, and as far as I could see, the world was so bright and new and petrichor. It just made me happy.

We get lots of letters at the Friend from children expressing their gratitude for the beauty of the world and its creations, but there are few moments in my own life when I am able to recognize this as deftly as they do. I spent the first eighteen years of my life so badly wanting to be anywhere else but where I was that I totally missed the fact that where I was was somewhere extraordinary and beautiful. I went halfway around the world to find the same sort of sense of wonder that I fond in my own backyard last night. I wish I could go back in time and tell seventeen-year-old me to just look around, because anywhere can be beautiful. And someday, seventeen-year-old Mackenzi Lee, you are going to miss the mountains1.

 

  1. The Utah Tourism Board should be paying me for this post. Alas.

 

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in which I share the best news in a while

I have been sitting on this news for a while, but I kept holding off posting it because somehow putting it on the blog makes it real, and I didn’t want to jinx it. But the papers have been signed, revisions undertaken, and lots of happy dancing performed, so I guess it’s pretty official, and I should tell the story.

This is a story I didn’t think I’d be telling for a long time. Someday, yes, but not this summer, or even this year, and certainly not today.

But here I am, telling it.

This is the story of how I signed with a literary agent.

A note for the non-publishing crowd:
An agent is an author’s representative to the publisher. It is really, really tricky to get traditionally published without an agent these days. Unfortunately, it can also be really, really tricky to sign with an agent. It takes time, patience, and a lot of anxiety. Having an agent does not guarantee you publication, and signing with an agent does not mean I am getting published. But it does mean that, in the words of the great Neil Gaiman, I am walking towards the mountain. Getting closer.

In order to tell this story, I have to tell the story of me as a writer. It begins not so long ago, in the year 2005…

I wrote my first novel when I was fourteen, because I have always been a precocious overachiever. It was written in mad frenzies of writing throughout my ninth grade year, mostly on our Windows 95 computer with the screechy dial up internet. When I finished, I read it over only once to move around a few commas and revel in my own genius. I knew nothing about getting published, but I read somewhere that you need an agent first. Since this was the days before the internet was really a thing, I checked out the ninety-pound Writer’s Market book from the library, wrote down a lot of addresses in my composition book, and then I snail mailed out my query letters1 to publishers and agents. For good reasons, no one was interested.  Shortly after that, I discovered the theater, and writing fell of the radar in favor of a different artistic outlet. I spent a few years writing nothing but terrible poetry that mostly stemmed from unrequited crushes and break ups.

a photo I took in Riga, Latvia, where book #2 was set

Fast forward to my freshman year of college. I wrote my second novel2 on the upper floors of the Utah State University library with raspberry Italian soda and snow beating down the windows. When I finished, I did no revision and gave almost no thought to genre, though I recognize now I was essentially writing a young adult novel with adult characters. I wrote my query and sent it out as a romance novel with no understanding of what that meant3. No agent wanted anything to do with it, and I retired the manuscript after only twenty-five rejections.

Hamlet played a large part in book #3

Two years later, I found myself in the same library, but this time four floors below in the coffee shop, and it was fall. I had just returned from my study abroad in England and I was wildly unhappy in small-town Utah after the excitement of Europe. So in spite of being in possession of a schedule that was essentially suicidal, I used every free moment I had to write a middle grade novel. When I finished, I did some light revision for about a month and then blitzqueried. I got one partial request, which quickly turned into a rejection. That was it. Fifty rejections without a bite later, I abandoned it4.

I know my rejection is nothing compared to some people’s, but it wore me down, especially when all I seemed to read was stories about writers who sent ten queries and ended up with nine offers of representation. The only thing that kept me going was that I knew I was getting better. Every project was better than the last, and I felt like I was getting closer to something publishable.

I learned a lot about the publishing industry that year. I did a lot of reading. I read about revising, and about how some authors throw out almost the entire first draft. I started reading other writer’s blogs, and saturated myself with young adult literature. I wrote a lot, most of it terrible and unusable. I read more books. I applied for my MFA, and committed myself to the world of children’s literature and the decision to be a writer. I realized that even though it felt like I had done a lot of work on the other projects, it wasn’t the sort of work I needed to be doing. I had gotten better, but I wasn’t there yet.

Then, in January, I started what I knew in my gut was the best thing I had ever written. I wrote it in the USU library coffee shop between classes with snow howling outside the windows. Sometimes I kept writing just to postpone the cold walk home. I shortened my work hours so I could write more. I drank a lot of diet coke, and spent a lot of late nights staring at my computer screen, gave up the few social activities I had in favor of writing. And then I finished it, and I wrote it all over again. I rewrote this book for over a year5. I revised and revised and revised. I deleted about eighty percent of the first draft6 and rewrote it. Then I revamped the plot, deleted all that I had revised, and revised again. I did research. I workshopped it with my Simmons class. I wrote and I wrote and I rewrote and I rewrote7.

my lovely Venice! Home of book #4.

And then, in March, I decided the manuscript was as finished as I could make it. And like the Scottish king of old, I screwed my courage to the sticking place, and I queried.

This time, I had very different results. I sent about thirty queries, and ended up with fifteen agents interested in reading the manuscript.

And then a few weeks ago, I got an offer.

Which leads me to my big announcement: I am officially an agented writer! As of very shortly ago, I am signed with Rebecca Podos at the Rees Literary Agency, and I could not be happier.

Really. I’ve read all this stuff about when you find an agent, it should be like falling in love—you just know when it’s right. And with Rebecca, I just knew. We had an amazing phone call where she started listing things she loved about my manuscript and I started writing “OMG” in bold letters all over my note-taking paper because she was pulling lines and thoughts and ideas out of my manuscript that I couldn’t believe she picked up on after one reading. She just got my book.

I could not be more excited to be working with her. I could not feel luckier. I still smile every time I think about it, and I’m so excited for whatever is coming next. Who knows what that will be. There’s probably more heartbreak and more rejection down the road, but for now, I am just holding on to this feeling. This awesome.

 

  1. Pitch letters, if you don’t speak publishing.
  2. Which also stemmed from an unrequited crush and a break up, ironically.
  3. This would have been the most chaste romance novel in the history of romance novels. There was like one kiss and a lot of unrequited pining. Which also summarizes my high school years pretty well.
  4. I still love this project dearly, though I recognize it needs an absurd amount of work. Someday I would like to revive it.
  5. With a brief two-month hiatus while I was in Chicago.
  6. Not all at the same time, thank goodness.
  7. It should be noted that each of these different stages was accompanied by intense periods of self-doubt and crippling anxiety.
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in which I accomplish 101 things in 1001 days

Right  now, I am sitting out on my porch in the sunshine, listening to She & Him’s new CD, drinking lemonade in my pajamas.

Look at me. With all this free time. Blogging without guilt. It is a beautiful thing.

In all the excitement of the last month (finals, bombings, and what have you) I forgot to talk about something mildly cool in my life. So backtrack with me for a moment.

A little under three years ago, I started a project called 101 in 1001. This was where I sat down and made a list of 101 things I wanted to do in the next 1001 days. Some of them were silly. Some of them were serious. Some of them were travel related, since I had just found out I was about to jet set off to Europe for a year. Lots of them were theater related. Some of them were weird and random. But there they were, 101 things I wanted to do.

My 1001 days ended on April 14 of this year. I did not accomplish everything on my list (partially because some of the things were really stupid and others were impossible, for financial reasons or other), but I’m proud of what I did accomplish. It’s a weird list though. It makes me aware of just how much I’ve changed since I wrote it and how different my priorities are. And it’s weird to look back and think about where and who I was 1001 days ago, before I had done any of these things, and how that version of me doesn’t exist anymore.

But I like me better now. A lot of these things made me much more awesome than I was before.

So here is my list! The things in bold are the things I did accomplish. I took off a few that were rather personal, so as not to make anyone feel uncomfortable, so if you count them, you’ll realize there’s not 101. I also added commentary and photos to a few. Because that’s more fun.

Mackenzi Lee’s 101 in 1001

Bake a pie
Read Gone with the Wind
Direct a play

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this play! Coriolanus! Aw Coriolanus….

Visit the Bronte home
Read the complete works of Shakespeare
Pay my own rent
Go to Paris

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tiny, but it’s me!

Read the Book of Mormon
Visit three new statesMassachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut
Watch an Academy Award-winning film
Swim in the Mediterranean – I waded. I’m not really a swimmer. 
Apply to grad school – I am shocked I had enough foresight to put this on my list 1001 days ago. Back when I had no direction.
Volunteer for a cause I believe in
Vote
Plant a gardenwhen I worked at This is the Place Heritage Park, which feels like lifetimes ago rather than just 1001 days ago, I planted a vegetable garden, which yielded watermelon, gourds, and beets. I had to leave for England before most stuff was ripe, but I harvested and ate the watermelon anyways. It was not ready. But it still tasted like victory, because I had grown it and it was not dead.
Write a novel
Buy red high heels (and wear them somewhere)
Go to Italy

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Not sure why Italy got preferential treatment on this list.

Fly a kite on the beach
Get a new and different hair cut
Go on a date with a man with facial hair you may remember this story
Go to a Kate Nash concert
Go to a She & Him concert
Go to a castle

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one of many. But Conwy was my favorite!

Drive on a motorcycle/scooter – while I did not technically do the driving, a friend of mine gave me a lift through Logan a few days before I graduated      
See “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” live ah, three years ago Mackenzi. Little do you know that one day, you will not only see Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me live, but you will be part of creating it.

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can you spot my name? Of course you can, because it’s fifteen letters longer than everyone else’s.

Buy a reliable messenger bag Duluth Packs. Seriously.
Make a friend at a coffee shop I’m not totally sure why this ended up on the list. Probably because I was kind of in my hippie phase, and I thought hanging out at coffee shops was hip. Either way, my antisocialness won on this one. 
Ride in a hot air balloon – I obviously had no sense of how much this cost before I added it to the list
Do service outside of the US – When I wrote this (again in my hippie phase) I was envisioning Peace Corps or something. But instead, I did service while I was living in England. I’m counting that. 
Drink a pina colada  virgin pina colada. I didn’t know what alcohol was when I made this list.

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Go backpacking
Read a book in a day – yeah, I’ve only done this ninety-five times since starting grad school
Enter a poetry slam – alas, I am shy and my poetry is terrible
Go to a temple outside of the US
Learn 3 guitar songs – lol nope. 
Attend a ballet
See an iconic movie – Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I had never seen it until last year. It’s now one of my favorites.
Go to a pub
Go to a midnight showing of a movie
Go on a road trip – Scotland! Lake District! Wales! Woo!
Buy a whole outfit in one shot
Take a great photo and frame it – Special thanks to 14 on this one.
Go boating  – I’m gonna go ahead and count kayaking down the Chicago River and cruising down the Rhine
Go to a classy party
Enter a photo contest – luckily I did not write “win a photo contest”
Buy a crèche
Sew a dress
Spend a day at the Louvre

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this photo could technically also be proof of the “new and different haircut” item on the list. Because have you seen my hair now?

Go on a cruise
Be in a Shakespeare play
Learn to change a tire
Write a song – I was going to do this after I learned the guitar. 
Kiss in the rain
Be in a musical – Jane Eyre woo!

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that’s me. Lighting Rochester’s house on fire. As one does.

Climb a tree
Visit Stratford Upon Avon
See a Royal Shakespeare Company show

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or four

Pay for someone else at the drive through
Buy a vintage bike – this was nixed when I realized how bad I am at biking.
Take a dance class
Draw a chalk mural

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though I did not draw the Tree of Life in the corner. I’m not that religious.

Sleep outside (without a tent)
Build a snowman
Meet a celebrity

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Authors count. This guy especially counts.

Go to a fashion show
Have a garden party
Start a blog
Go to an amusement park
Write to someone I admire/who influenced me
Learn to do the splits – ha. right. 
Do something that scares me – every time I sit down to write, I accomplish this
Read a Sherlock Holmes book – and to think I put this even before I was obsessed with Sherlock
Graduate from college

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I realize this proves nothing. But I did graduate.

Learn how to properly apply eyeliner – this was long overdue three years ago
Go a month without facebook
Visit the Peter Pan statue in Kensington Garden
Overcome my diet coke addiction – I have actually done this! In the last month! And I am REALLY proud of myself.
Make a film – this film!
Get a short story published
Cook a whole dinner by myself
See a Broadway play

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among a few others.

Get a job
Go to a national park I have never visited before
Go to a film festival
Go horseback riding
Live abroad
Choose a career path
Visit ten countries – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Estonia, Latvia, Turkey, Greece…did I miss any?
Sing karaoke
 Ride a train
Read 100 books – ha. Yes. I did this.  
Lose 15 pounds
Move out

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in which I complete the first half of my degree

As of yesterday, I have completed my second semester of grad school.

I turned in my last paper. Gave my last presentation. And walked out of Simmons College half a master.

I feel like this:

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happy giff

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I thought about crunching the numbers and doing some big final wrap up of how many books I read, how many papers I wrote, how many pens I chewed to pieces over the course of the year.

But after all those books, papers, and pens, I am understandably burnt out.

So no to the number crunching. Just me saying that I have completed my first year of grad school, and I am now going to take a well-deserved few days to read whatever I want1, watch some TV, and eat celebratory frozen yogurt2.

Here’s me saying I am done. And I promise I will be more interesting when the blisters on my fingers from excessive typing heal.

  1. Speaking of books I’m reading, I just finished the Leviathan trilogy by Scott Westerfeld and OH MY GOSH I AM OBSESSED. They are outstanding pieces of fiction with one of the greatest heroines in YA and one of the most engaging and creative premises of all time. READ THEM.
  2. I had a cold this week—my first cold in three years. Fortunately it was extremely mild, but I did end up with a nasty sore throat for the last three days. This has resulted in me making five trips to the frozen yogurt shop across the street from my house in the last three days. And the same clerk has been working every time. He finally asked me if I wanted a frequent buyer card. I said no and ran away.
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in which things disappear

Sometimes people say perfectly ordinary things in perfectly ordinary settings that get stuck in your head like a song, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get them out.

This is the story of one of those things.

In my criticism class last term, we talked about many books, including The Snowman—this beautiful picture book that I remember from my childhood. For those of you who haven’t read it1, it’s a story about a boy who builds a snowman that comes to life, and they have all sorts of grand adventures during the night. But then the next morning, the boy wakes up ready to have more fun only to find that the snowman has melted. As snowmen are want to do.

So there we were, discussing The Snowman, when a girl sitting next to me spoke very vehemently about how much she had disliked this book as a child. Naturally, most of us were shocked, because it’s basically a perfect book, and so we asked her why. And what she said, which I will paraphrase here, still sometimes rings around in my head like a siren song.

“I hated the idea that beautiful things have to end.”

She actually teared up when she said it. I might have too. In the middle of criticism class, of all places2. But ever since then, this idea has been stuck in my head, and I keep thinking about it. Beautiful things have to end. It’s sort of haunting regardless, just the way she said it, but there’s been something bothering me lately that makes it more applicable to the immediate context of my life.

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In the not so distant past, someone who was really important to me totally screwed me over. Which sounds a little coarse, but really, there’s no more tasteful or honest way to say that, because that’s what happened. It wasn’t something I could have prevented or changed or done anything to avoid—someone I loved made a decision to throw me under the bus, and I just had to lay there and get squished.

On the night that said screwing over occurred, I drove to meet up with this person. We talked for a bit, I may or may not have cussed him out3, and we parted knowing that we would probably never see or speak to each other again. And as I drove home, I remember thinking how strange and sucky it was to have someone who on one side of that car ride had for a long time been one of the most important people in my life. And then on the way home—barely two hours later—he was gone, just like that, so quickly that I almost couldn’t comprehend it. There, not there. It was reverse Casablanca—the end of a beautiful friendship. And something that for a long time had been a rare and beautiful thing in my life was gone.

And thus is the treachery of beautiful things.

In the great words of the Great Gatsby, “You can’t repeat the past.” You cannot return to Louisville and marry your teenage dream in your parent’s living room like the last five years never happened4. You cannot go back to visit the beautiful things of the past. Because the world moves on, and things get lost and left behind. And for a while, everybody walks around with empty pieces of themselves where their snowmen and their friendships used to be. Hopefully we find better things to fill the holes with.

 

  1. Even if you have read this book, you technically haven’t read it, because it has no words.
  2. It should be noted that this is not the only time that happened. A few weeks earlier I had teared up in that same criticism class over a discussion of the aforementioned Code Name Verity. Have you read it yet? You should read it. It will make you cry. And if it doesn’t, there’s something wrong with you. No pressure.
  3. I did.
  4. This is not from personal experience. This is a very specific Fitzgerald reference. If you worked that out on your own, I will give you a prize.
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in which I lead a barricade revolution

So you might have heard about this new movie that’s out right now. It’s about Wolverine and a prostitute and a lot of people who are so sad all they can do is sing their emotions.

Brace yourselves, because I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on you here: That movie is actually based on a Broadway musical.

I know. I KNOW. And that Broadway musical is actually based on a book, too, but that’s one level deeper into this movie-inception than I want to go.

So this musical called Les Miserableshas always been one of my very, very favorites. I can recite literally every word of the score. Even the weird bits in the middle where they’re sing-talking. Call me a cliché, but I really passionately love this show and everything it espouses.

The first time I saw Les Miserables, I was about ten years old, because I was raised by parents who believed in exposing us early to things that were way beyond our maturity level1. I actually remember the production fairly well, or, more accurately, I remember how it made me feel. I remember saying to my dad at intermission, “This is so great! It looks like everybody’s going to end up happy.” And he snorted and said, “Just wait.” I remember crying at the end. Then the lights came up and there was the MT, four years younger than me, sobbing her little heart out. Theater gets you where you live.

But the thing I remember most about this production is Eponine. Not the actress—I don’t actually remember a thing about her. But the character. At ten, I had yet to experience my first unrequited love, the quest that makes Eponine the everywoman2. But there was something about her that I related to at a very basic level—even at ten years old, I understood this idea of wanting impossible things. And ever since then, I have latched onto Eponine. When I was in my theater days and people would ask me what my “dream role” was3, I always said Eponine. Though I have the musical talent of a goldfish, I was dying to stand on stage in my oversized trench coat, belting On My Own. I did it plenty of times alone in my bedroom, for practice4.  For me, Eponine was always my girl because she was so relatable. In the scope of the play, it can be hard to relate to prostitutes and escaped convicts, but there is something so simple about what Eponine wants that we all understand it: she just wants the man she loves to love her back. And I loved her for that.

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Eponine and Marius done by the incredible Tealin, whose art you should really check out (and can do so, by clicking on the image)

Then last summer I went with my family to see Les Miserables at our very favorite place, the Utah Shakespearean Festival. I was excited, ready to cheer for my emotional doppelganger, Eponine.

But Eponine came on stage…and she sang all the same songs she usually sang. And did the same things she always does. And died the way she always does. Because this is a play, and things don’t really change much. But I didn’t feel it. It wasn’t the actress—she was splendid. And it wasn’t Eponine. It was me. Because I wasn’t interested in Eponine anymore. I was absolutely fixated on Enjolras.

This is the moment where you all say, “Who!?”

Enjolras is Marius’s best friend and leader of the doomed barricade revolution. The guy in the gold sparkly vest5. Enjolras, a character whose name I didn’t know until probably my fifth viewing of the show and didn’t know how to pronounce for several more after that6, was suddenly so much more interesting than Eponine, or anyone on stage for that matter. Because he didn’t just pine like Eponine does. He didn’t sulk in the background and sing about how sad he was. He took control of his own life, and the lives of the people around him who were floating along with their fates. He charged forward. He thrust the flag in the air from atop the barricade. He is a rebel with a cause.

And just like that, Eponine was gone, and there was Enjolras.

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This is Enjolras. Aside from being awesome, he has great hair.

I had a similar experience with Jane Eyre, which remains my all-time favorite book. When I read it for the first time as a junior in high school, I thought it was so romantic. Rich, handsome man falls for plain, poor girl because she is intelligent and witty. The greatest love story ever told, in my little sixteen year old brain. And I still think that part of it is great. But as I read Jane Eyre for the ninety third time recently, I started to see things about it that my mind had glossed over in the past. Like the fact that Rochester basically mentally abuses Jane for the entire novel, and lies to her, and asks her to compromise all her moral standards for him. And at first she says no, but then she says yes. Which I’m really not okay with. And though I still value Jane for its literary merit and realize we have to read it as a novel of its time, I’ve lost a bit of my attraction to the story of a woman who gives herself so easily and so completely to a man.

What am I saying? I’m saying that we are never aware of ourselves growing up and growing old. We can’t see it happen—one morning, we just look in the mirror and wonder who the person staring back at us is. And so for me, the greatest indicator of my own descent into adulthood comes in the form of the evolution of my tastes. And I’m happy with my choices if they have led me to be attracted to characters in literature who do not compromise, and who move actively in the direction of their own dreams. It makes me think that maybe, I too, have a shot at doing something awesome. Either that, or I will die at a barricade. Which is actually a pretty epic way to go.     

 

  1. Almost every swear word I know, I learned from Les Miserables. That’s parenting for ya.
  2. I’m fairly certain even women in stable, committed relationships frequently say, “I am just like Eponine!”
  3. No one actually asked that much. I just sort of volunteered this information a lot.
  4. This happened last night.
  5. And, in this production, totally awesome gauntlets.
  6. In spite of what my dad thinks, it’s not En-Rolls.
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