Tag Archives: on the road

in which i visit an imagined place

My first night in Geneva, I was lying in a stranger’s bedroom, reading Mary Shelley on my phone, and hovering on the edges of a panic attack. Golden light from the streetlamps filtered in through the open window. Somewhere down the road, the tram bell rang.

Maybe I should explain.

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First of all, in spite of how it sounds, I was not having a one-night-stand with a handsome Swiss cheesemaker. I was in a stranger’s bedroom because Marx and I were doing Switzerland cheap, so we were staying with a woman who we found on a couch surfing website. She was an environmentalist, spoke little English, and offered us a variety of extravagant teas1.

I was reading History of a Six Weeks Tour by Mary Shelley on my phone because I have so far only been able to find it online, and this was our first real wifi in a while. The book is a compilation of letters written between Mary Shelley, her husband, and their friends while the pair was living abroad, including in Geneva, which is where she wrote Frankenstein.

Which is why we were in Geneva. Oh yes, the panic. My novel—the one that comes out next year, and is a reimagining of Frankenstein, if you’re new here—is set there.

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So here I was, in a stranger’s bedroom, trying to fall asleep reading, waiting for morning so I could walk through a place that had up until this moment only existed in my head.

Visiting Geneva felt like coming to an imagined place, like Narnia or Gondor, or visiting my own thoughts. Geneva was the first place I had ever written about that I hadn’t visited. Sure, I spent hours on Google maps, read books—of both the historical and the vacation-prep variety—along with every travel blog and photo essay and newspaper article about Geneva I could find.

But I hadn’t been there. And being there is something totally different.

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I’m a very setting-heavy writer. The word that most frequently gets tossed around to describe my writing is atmospheric, and I am one-hundred percent okay with that. I love travel. I love place. I’ve had whole novels spring out of places I’ve visited2. But atmosphere is more than just streets and geography and place names. It’s a feeling, and that’s why I love traveling—to feel a place.

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So what if I got out in Geneva and realized that I got had got that feeling wrong? As soon as I visited, there would be a right and wrong answer to what I had written. Maybe this was a terrible mistake, I thought. I almost woke Marx up right then and asked her if we could maybe just hang out at the airport for the next three days until our flight left. I’m a rational human being.

But I didn’t. The next morning, we woke up and set out to explore Geneva.

Mary Shelley did not like Geneva. When you read her letters, she goes on and on about how much she loves the countryside, and the Alps, and even the wildlife3, but when she writes about Geneva itself, she sounds sort of grumbly and unhappy. She thought the buildings were too high, too ugly. She hated that the guards at the city gates couldn’t be bribed into letting you into the city past ten pm. “There is nothing… in [Geneva],” she writes, “that can repay you for the trouble of walking over its rough stones.”

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On the afternoon of our first day in the city, I left Marx by a fountain on the edge of the old town and went wandering on my own, thinking about what Mary had written, and what I had written, and the things we had both imagined happening on these streets, and mostly how much I liked Geneva. I liked the rough cobblestones and the hills. I liked the silt-colored buildings that made the streets into hallways. I liked the fountains, and the window boxes, and the wind off the lake. I liked the sound of people speaking French. I liked the Alps in the distance, and the foothills, and the vineyards that climbed up them.

Screw you, Mary Shelley. I liked Geneva.

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So I walked the streets of Mary’s book, and my book–the one big thing we shared–and thought about what we didn’t share, and the filters though which we saw this city. There’s the space between us–both the time, and the distance, and places we’d come from. The experiences we’d had. Who we were and where we were and what we were doing there and why. All the things we’d done and the things we hadn’t and all the things that made this city different for the pair of us.

This city existed in both of our heads. It was both of our imagined places4.

 

  1. We declined.
  2. Including large parts of this novel, which came from my Christmas market trip with Magwitch two years ago.
  3. One of my favorite lines from the letters is, Did I tell you there are wolves among these mountains? Someday I plan to analyze the crap out of that line, and make it into some poetic metaphor that hipsters will Photoshop overtop of their filtered Instagram landscapes.
  4. Also we found this steampunk carousel and I loved it and it didn’t fit anywhere in the post, so I’m just going to stick it here instead. DSC_1127
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in which I travel to Switzerland

Hullo, I have returned! Did you miss me? Or maybe the more appropriate question should be, did you notice I was gone?

If you follow me on any other social media or know me at all in real life, you will recall that I spent that last few weeks of blissful Alpine joy in Switzerland.

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My long-suffering roommate Marx and I wanted to celebrate the completion of our respective graduate degrees, and Marx had some well-placed connections to free lodging there so we ended up spending a couple of weeks traveling from one end of the country to the other.

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Switzerland is great, my friends—natural, rustic beauty like you can’t process and everything’s so freaking quaint it looks like Disneyland, but real!—but more than that, traveling is great. I haven’t been on a trip like this, with just me and a passport and a backpack—since I lived in England. And it reminded me how utterly sensational it is to go somewhere new and experience new places and people who don’t speak the same language as you or share the same culture or life experiences or view from their backdoor.

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I chose this picture with me in it just to prove I did not Google “Gorgeous pictures of Switzerland” and then paste them here.

Travel wrap up blogs are always the hardest for me to write. Mostly because traveling is a tremendous experience. It fills you up and overwhelms you with the vastness of everything. There should be a million things to say, but instead I sit down to write and all I can think to say about Switzerland is the same things I was saying while I was there, which can mostly be summarized as “HOLY CRAP LOOK AT THOSE MOUNTAINS. LOOK AT MORE MOUNTAINS! AND THAT COW IS WEARING A BELL!”

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So Switzerland. It was sensational. We saw Zurich, Lucerne, Berne, Gruyere, Schynige Platte, Lauterbrunnen, Murren, Montreux, Laussane, Geneva1, and a host of other peaks, valleys, and scenic overlooks in between. Lots of hiking. Lots of train and cable car and cogwheel railroad riding. Lots of cheese and chocolate eating. Lots of ogling the Alps and meandering through countryside and struggling to process the beauty and listening to the cows jingle like wind chimes.

And now we return to reality2.

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  1. Stay tuned for a coming photo essay/sort of normal essay/basically a blog post about Geneva, which is the city where my novel is set and where Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, the book upon which mine is based.
  2. Sorry for all the pictures3.
  3. I am not sorry.
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in which some big things happen

I’ve had this post saved in my drafts for about a week labeled “Things I Should Probably Talk About.” Because I am often really good at writing about the weird little stories of no consequence that happen to me, but not always great at hitting the big things, and these last few weeks were chock full of big things.

So here are a few that I felt were worth talking about:

Big Thing #1: I finished my MFA!

Two weeks ago last Friday, I donned a funny looking hat, a wrinkled robe1 and a shroudy hoodish thing that made me feel a bit like a sorcerer, piled into a bus with four thousand of my closest friends and drove to the Bank of America Pavilion which, it turns out, is a terrible place to host anything when it is even remotely cold, and oh man, was it cold. Rainy and grey and the wind off the water was merciless. At one point, the girl I was sitting next to and I realized we could actually see our breath. In May. It was a cold, cold place to be forced to sit still on uncomfortable folding chairs for two hours while name after endless name was read off.

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But in spite of sounding very negative about the whole affair, it was a good time. Graduation ceremonies are a bit silly if you think about them too hard, mostly because of all the pomp and circumstance, but every time I’ve gone to one, I’ve had a genuine moment of pride and coolness when I got to walk up on stage, hear my name read, and get the little fake diploma. So overall the day was enjoyable. And my lovely family came in from Utah for the occasion, so I got to be with them. And, true to our usual classy selves, while everyone else went out to nice fancy dinners afterwards at places with multiple forks and cloth napkins, we went to my favorite eccentric diner and ordered a cookie sheet of onion rings.

So I’m now a master. I expect you all to refer to me as such from now on.

Big Thing #2: We went to Maine!

After a day of graduation and another of doing Boston things3, my family and I packed up our rental car and drove up to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we spent a very enjoyable week doing enjoyable and Maine-ish things, like hiking in Acadia, riding on boats, and tearing apart lobsters with our bare hands2. Maine was lovely and quiet and not anywhere near as cold as graduation, so we spent our time overdressed and marveling at how easy it was to breathe when the hiking trails are level and at a low elevation4.

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Maine was impossibly lovely, and after a rather arduous two years of graduate school, I really enjoyed a week of doing little to nothing that required any brain power5.

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Big Thing #3: I got a new job!

Okay, job is a relative term. It is an internship. But not just any internship. My dream internship, an internship I have been chasing and applying for over and over basically since I got to Boston. At last, they either got sick of reading my resume or decided I was actually maybe worth considering, because they hired me. I am over the moon about this news, and I feel really lucky to be putting my children’s lit knowledge to use so quickly after graduating from school.

And speaking of children’s lit things…

Big Thing #4: The PEN-New England Susan Bloom Discovery Award Night!

So as you may remember, a few months ago I went nuts with excitement over being one of the winners of the PEN-New England Susan Bloom Children’s Book Discovery Award. Last week, there was an official awards ceremony, at which I was invited to read from my winning manuscript. And guys, it was amazing. I polled some friends who came to see if it was actually really that awesome or if I was biased because I was one of the guests of honor, but the general consensus seemed to be that it was genuinely awesome. It was amazing to be surrounded by so many people who were enthusiastic about children’s literature and me as a writer and my possible contribution to the field.

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Myself, Rebecca, and Pamela, this year’s three discoveries.

Everyone deserves the experience of being shepherded around a room full of witty, intelligent people who all tell you how much they love the art you are creating and the things you are doing, which was basically what the whole night was for me. Everyone also deserves the chance to be introduced by someone you really admire and hear them say nice things about your work, which I was also lucky enough to have happen when Lois Lowry introduced me and my manuscript. I did my best to not freak out when this happened.

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Miss Lowry and myself

After Lois’s very generous introduction, parts of which I am considering getting tattooed on my forehead, I got to read from my manuscript6. I am pleased to report that I did not lose my place, drop a page, say “Ingolstadt7” wrong, or pronounce “Frankenstein” the way they do in Young Frankenstein, which I was worried might happen since the MT and I spent the whole week in Maine quoting Young Frankenstein in honor of my impending reading. Then there was a lovely Q&A, where I got to talk very fast8 about Mary Shelley and how cool she was and about the Danny Boyle production of Frankenstein that inspired the whole thing9. And then I ate cookies and talked to more amazing people and showed off my Frankenstein tights and basically just had an amazing night. It was a fairly once in a lifetime experience that I will treasure and carry with me as a badge of courage as I go forward with my writing career.

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Rebecca, Susan (form whom the award is named), Cathie (head of the Simmons program) and me.

And those are the big things worth noting that have happened over the past few weeks. It’s been rather eventful here at Chateau de Lee, and I have enjoyed very much having a few weeks of good news and fun things. I’m bracing myself for real life to set back in again.

 

  1. Because some genius had the idea of making our gowns eco-friendly by crafting them out of recycled plastic bottles, meaning they couldn’t be ironed or else they would melt. To which I say, “A plague upon environmentalism!”
  2. The MT and I got very into naming the lobsters we met/ate. Or maybe that was just me and the MT indulged me. Whatever the case, over the course of the trip we met/ate Aloysius, Randall, Gob the Lob, Buster Bluth (because he was missing a claw), katniss, and Hannibal (because, it turns out, lobsters are cannibals).
  3. Such as treason, living free or dying, and protesting intolerable acts.
  4. Upon completing a particular hike, we were greeted by a sign boasting that we were now 520 feet above sea level. The Utahans, who live their lives at four thousand feet above sea level, were unimpressed.
  5. Though this doing nothing was interrupted by some strange and unexpected distractions, when I shall discuss in big thing number 3…
  6. This is the post modern revisionist steampunk Frankenstein book I have talked about a little bit here. In case you were wondering.
  7. Far and away the hardest and most German word in the manuscript.
  8. “Fast” meaning both briefly and at break neck speed, which I often do when I am nervous or excited, and I was definitely both.
  9. I also very nearly got set up on a date with Benedict Cumberbatch. Really.
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in which I hike Angel’s Landing

You may remember that a few months ago I came to the end of my 101 in 1001 list. The 101 in 1001 is a list I made about three years ago of 101 things I wanted to do or accomplish in the next 1001 days. It’s a bucket list for people who fear commitment and/or buckets.

Upon finishing my 101 in 1001 list, I sat down and made another one, because the only thing I like more than self-reflection is lists. On this list, I wrote “Hike Angel’s Landing.”

What is Angel’s Landing, you may ask? Angel’s Landing is a legen1dary trail in Zions National Park that offers a startling rise in elevation, a precariously narrow trail that involves scrambling on narrow red rock fins, and what I had been told was a very worthwhile view.

I completely forgot I put this hike on my 101 in 1001 list until my family arrived in Zions National Park last week and were discussing trails we could take. It was my dad who mentioned Angel’s Landing, and I said I had always wanted to and they should do it with me. Cajoled, may be the best word. I cajoled my family into hiking it with me.

And the fools followed me blindly.

We were not prepared for Angel’s Landing.

We moseyed over to the trail head about ten in the morning and were greeted by a sign warning that since 2004, six people have died on the trail. We shrugged that off. “They must have been stupid, or hiking in a blizzard, or died from a lightning strike or a random but vicious squirrel attack,” we thought. Surely no trail would claim the lives of innocent hikers who brought proper hydration and sturdy shoes. And so we began casually climbing with no notion of what waited for us on the last mile of the trail.

This. This is what waited for us:

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Yes, that is a trail. A trail they let any old moron hike on.

Friends, I consider myself a pretty good hiker, but this trail was hard. And steep. And involved rock scrambling and chain holding and clinging to slick rock canyon walls like a gecko. I also consider myself pretty fearless, and while I wouldn’t say I was afraid on this trail, I was, shall we say, very aware of my own mortality as I peered over the edge at the thousand-foot fall waiting for me if I miss stepped2.

But the view at the top…not to wax poetic, but this was a super ultra mega awesome view.

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However, much like the rest of the trail, the ledge on which you soak in said view is both narrow and thousands of feet off the ground, so my dad’s parent instincts came out in full force as we walked along it. He kept a tight hold on the MT and my collars, resulting in us ending up like those leashed children at Disney World that keep scrambling for a better look only to be jerked backwards by anxious parents. The anxiety was merited. It was a long way to fall.

By the time we reached the bottom and were again by the “six people have died” sign, we had an entirely different attitude. As we walked away, my dad murmured under his breath, “Only six3?”

But Angel’s Landing has been hiked. It has been conquered. It has been crossed off the 101 and 1001 list.

  1. Wait for it.
  2. Hiking is significantly less fun when you’re pondering your own mortality the whole time.
  3. It is a remarkable low figure when you consider how many college-aged boys riding a spring break high and trying to show off for their friends hike it. Also boy scouts.
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in which I take a trip

This past week was very likely the last spring break I am ever going to have. In a little over a month I will become a master and my seventeen years of school will end1. And in the real world, you don’t really get a spring break.

So the family decided to do something proper to mark this rite of passage, namely head down to southern Utah for as close as we ever come to doing a road trip2. It was really a thoroughly marvelous vacation. I turned my brain and my internet off for six days and basked in natural beauty and sunshine, both a far cry from the polar vortex of a city I’m currently living in.

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Southern Utah is very special to me. We used to go there a lot when I was a kid, and I never feel so connected to my heritage as when I’m down among the red rock canyons. I love it so much I even set my ill-fated Mormon hook-handed zombie hunter novel down there (you remember that monstrosity, don’t you?). It feels strangely spiritual to me, like a sacred and secret place, though it’s hardly either of those things. 

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I will perhaps have other stories from this trip to share later in the week, but right now I’m am trying to recover from turning my brain off for six days and get everything in order before it all starts back up again tomorrow. So while you’re waiting, enjoy the view.

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  1. NO! NO! NO! PANIC PANIC PANIC!
  2. None of us are particularly fond of cars, small spaces, or spending long periods of time in small spaces with each other.
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in which I have a perfect weekend

Oh look, I have a blog!

I forgot I have a blog. As you might have noticed. Because it’s been a while since I posted.

The weeks since the return to Boston have been good but busy, hence the lack of blogging. I started school, started a new job, started working on my thesis1 with my advisor, celebrated a birthday, went to an epic twenties murder mystery party for said birthday.

And then this past weekend, I went to New York.

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The New York trip has been in the works for a while. It was originally meant to include a bunch of Simmons friends, but one by one they dropped out, like we were touring Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. In the end, it was just me and a friend of mine who I don’t think has appeared on the blog before, so let’s call her Milton.

Milton and I went to New York this weekend with an agenda that included various children’s lit shenanigans. So I knew it was going to be great.  I did not realize it was going to be the Most Perfect Weekend Ever.

Here are the three reasons my weekend in New York was the Most Perfect Weekend Ever:

1. The Children’s Literature

The primary reason behind this trip was going to the New York Public Library exhibit on children’s literature. Which was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. Not only were the artifacts on display super gorgeous2, Milton and I kept geeking out about beautiful the exhibit itself was. You could tell it was created with a lot of love and care by people who really love children’s books. There was a tower of banned books, a recreation of the room from Goodnight Moon, and even a giant wild thing!

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We also got to attend the Brooklyn Book Festival, which is the largest literary festival in New York and one of the largest in the US. It was amazing. We got to hear amazing authors talk, including David Levithan, Meg Cabot, Lauren Myracle, Katherine Applegate, and Jasper Fforde. Of course, I got to bulk up my signed books collection and just sort of bask in the awesomeness of so many awesome and creative people in the same place.

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2. The Theater

I saw two shows this weekend. First was Once, which has been playing for a while but I hadn’t seen until this weekend. I…liked it with reservations. It had some issues, but overall was still a beautiful and moving theatrical experience. I had very good seats that were purchased for much cheaper because they were last minute, and, as I do almost every time I’m at a show of that caliber, I just felt lucky to be there.

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Then Milton and I saw Matilda, which I have been waiting to see for years, ever since it opened at the RSC just after I left England. I am an avid fan of the novel on which it is based, and just a great lover of Roald Dahl in general. This musical was made for me. Tickets right now are bleeding expensive and hard to come by, so this took a bit of planning ahead of time to see3. And in spite of that, we were still in the nethermost regions of the topmost balcony. It sort of felt like watching the show from a low-flying airplane. But none of the mattered because OMG MATILDA!

I have seen a lot of theater over the course of my life. Matilda is easily in my top five4. Maybe top three. Just absolutely the most beautiful theatrical experience ever. I was definitely predisposed to like this show as it is a fusion of the two things I love most in the world, theater and children’s literature5. But seriously, it was just sensational. Blew my mind. Loved every minute.

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3. The Perfect Timing

Something about this weekend just made everything go right. Little things, like me coming out of the subway right at the same time as Ariel, with whom I was again lodging, so I didn’t have to wander around Brooklyn in the dark. Having the exact right amount of money on my metrocard. The fact that twice Milton and I had very specific cravings and they both manifested within minutes6. Weird things like that just went right. It’s amazing for a trip to go off without a hitch, and this one actually went off better than that. It didn’t just go as anticipated, it went better.

It was also perfectly timed because the last month has been sort of rough. Starting the new job has been hard and exhausting, working on my thesis has been hard and exhausting, working on the other project with my agent has been emotionally draining, and just moving in general and readjusting to Boston has left me beat. I really needed a win this weekend. I really needed a perfect weekend.

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  1. Which one minute is giving me writer’s high and the next makes me want to Sherlock-style throw myself off a building.
  2. Secret Garden manuscript pages! PL Travers’s umbrella! Original illustrations from Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland!
  3. And a small nest egg.
  4. Hamlet at the National Theater, Pippin at ART, Eastland at LookingGlass, and Romeo and Juliet at the RSC. If you were interested.
  5. And it even falls in that weirdly specific category of children’s lit and theater I like, which is dark whimsy.
  6. Number One: “I want frozen yogurt…oh look, there’s a woman handing out coupons for Orange Leaf.” Number two: “I want Panera French onion soup…oh look, there’s a Panera on the next block.”
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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 I visit the bard

Hello! I am back! You probably didn’t even notice I was gone because I am a master of the scheduled blog post.

Where was I, you may ask? Oh, just my favorite place in the entire world. Cedar City, Utah, home of the Utah Shakespearean Festival and pure awesome.

The story of my family and the Utah Shakespearean Festival began in 2002, when we packed up in our Subaru for the first time and made the trek. I was 11 and the MT was 8. Younger than most people start being serious theater goers, but my parents have always taken the approach of exposing us to great things earlier than most. I saw my first Shakespeare play that summer, As You Like It, in the closest existing replica to Shakespeare’s Globe outside of London. And it was magic. I fell in love with Shakespeare there on that warm July evening and, in many ways, the theater too.

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Since then, Cedar Ciy has been my home away from home, the only sure fixture of every summer where we can really get away from it all. It is our best week as a family, a week of glorious theater and lively intellectual discussion surrounding the Bard and his better and lesser known works. It was also the sight of the best days of my high school years, when my theater department competed in the national high school Shakespeare competition1 annual held there.

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a rare family photo in front of the super large banners that hang on the outside of the theater.

I love the USF. I really can’t emphasize this enough. I love the plays they do. I love the seminars they do. I love the infuriatingly pretentious discussions about the plays and the seminars that is had daily at the pine grove. I love sitting on the wet grass and watching the pre-show while reading our souvenir program and talking about the actors’ previous roles like some people would discuss stats on a baseball card2. I love watching the sky and worrying about rain driving the outdoor shows inside, which it never does3. I love the giant banners with photos from the shows, I love the canyon wind that whips the stage, I love the gold leafing in the Randall theater balcony. I love the giant tree in the Adams courtyard and the woodcarver that words underneath it. I love the statue of Shakespeare in the lobby. I love the field where we used to rehearse before the Shakespeare competition (see first picture in this post). I love trying on masks with the MT in the gift shoppe. I love that they spell it gift shoppe. I love the uncomfortable seats in the Adams Theater balcony, the overpriced cream cheese tarts we always buy at intermission. I love being too shy to talk to the actors we spot around the festival grounds and feeling like we’ve just had a celebrity siting.

Most of all, I love the way this small community in southern Utah all comes together every year to make some damn fine Shakespeare.

This is the second summer in a row that I didn’t think attending the Shakespeare Festival was going to happen for me, but it did, and I feel so lucky to have gone again4. I love, love, love the Utah Shakespearean Festival, and the gift they gave little 11 year old me of beautiful, exciting theater that has been inspiring me ever since, and continues to inspire me every day.

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  1. Performing at the USF with my high school team is what I still think of as my Patronus Moment, or if dementors ever attacked me and I had to conjure a Patronus, running down to collect our first prize trophy is the happy moment I would think of.
  2. The MT and I are a bit possessive of the people who work at the festival. We have our favorites, our least favorites, our outrages and excitement over casting. It’s a very niche sort of nerd.
  3. Last year, we had the privilege of seeing a sensational production of Titus Andronius on the outdoor stage. We were apprehensive all day that a storm was going to break and force the show indoors, but instead of rain, we just got lightning and thunder, meaning that during the most climactic moments of Shakespeare’s darkest show, the sky was full of lightning. It’s the sort of magic you can’t pay for or plan.
  4. This year, I felt like I needed to go because of one particular play we saw: Peter and the Star-Catcher. Remember how I saw this play a few months ago in New York? Well I saw it again in Cedar City5 and had one of the most emotional reactions to a play I’ve ever had. It is a beautiful play in its own right, but it was one of those strange and serene coincidences where a certain piece of art comes to you right when you need it, and it changes you6.
  5. I realize it isn’t Shakespeare. They don’t just do Shakespeare.
  6. Not a joke, I am tearing up just thinking about it. It may be years before I can think about Peter and the Starcatcher without tearing up.
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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 travel down the Rhine

Do you remember the scene in Titanic where Leonardo DiCaprio is invited to have dinner with the rich people and even though he is dressed up in his little tuxedo and has his hair combed all fancy, he so clearly does not belong amongst them?

Well that was me. The entire time I was in Europe1.

It was awesome.

When my benefactor Magwitch first approached me with the proposition of a Rhine river trip over Christmas, I didn’t register just how fancy we were going to be traveling. I knew Magwitch is well off and liked to travel in some degree of luxury, but I guess I didn’t register just how stark the contrast of this maids-and-caviar lifestyle would be to the microwave meals and public transport I left back in Boston. It was also extremely different from my previous Europe travels, since I previously traversed the continent with only a backpack and a frequent hosteler card. Needless to say, I felt a little out of place. In the best way possible. The guilt-free living way outside your means way.

Our trip was a river cruise of the Christmas markets of Europe. The boat departed from Switzerland, then climbed northward through the Alsace region of France, into and through Germany, and then finished in the Netherlands. The Rhine, in winter, is blanketed in mist, like the moorish setting of a Gothic Victorian novel. Our skies were mostly grey, and there was a brief misty rain on occasion, but overall, the weather was just the right sort of gloomy. With the Christmas spirit on top of the wintry weather, it was delightful.

I have dozens of stories from the trip, but I will refrain from sharing them all for fear or boring you with excessive word count. Here are some pictures and anecdotes for your enjoyment/jealousy.

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The Christmas markets that lined the Rhine were a whole new level of Christmasyness for me. I have never experienced this level of decoration before. Half-timbered houses draped in holly, garlands, ribbons, bows. Plus the random assorted teddy bear and marionettes strung in the windows.

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After a few days of going from Switzerland to France to Germany and back to France, I was so confused what country I was in and what language was being spoke that, when a woman in a shop handed me my change, I said, “Gracias,” without even thinking, and then walked away.

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The Christmas markets all sell gluhwein, which is wasil mixed with wine. It is also alcoholic, meaning I did not partake. However, Magwitch heard through the grapevine that some stands sold non-alcoholic gluhwein. Excited, I inquired at the next market, only to learn that non-alocholic gluhwein is called “kinderpunch.” Which was humiliating. Also delicious.

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I climbed every hill, castle, and bell tower I could. I love views.

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I rode these cable cars from the city Koblenz across the Rhine River to a mountain top fortress. Unfortunately, I know nothing about said fortress, because all of the signs once we got there were in German.

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The above clock is my new favorite clock of all time. The pendulum is attached to the man’s eyes, so as the clock ticks, the eyes move back and forth. It is hella creepy/awesome.

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I was in Cologne on December 21, aka the day the Mayans said the world was going to end. It obviously did not, but I had a genuine moment of panic where I heard an unidentified crash, felt the bridge beneath me begin to shake (as a result of a passing train, though I did not know that then) and thought the world was actually ending.

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One of our better tours included a tour guide who told us “That cathedral there includes a very famous statue of Karl Marx.” Where we all started muttering about how weird it is that a church would have a statue of Karl Marx. The tour guide quickly amended, “Sorry, not Karl Marx—it’s Martin Luther.”

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We saw a team of folk dancers perform in Nijmegen. They performed several dances from all over the world, then ended with a “traditional folk dance from North America”:  Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.

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Also, the entire crew of the boat was eastern European, which made it feel vaguely like the ship was manned by vampires.

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It’s Magwitch and me!

I really love Europe so much. I love the antiquity of it, the feel of cobblestones under your feet. I love eating in restaurants that are older than my country. I love seeing art by masters that was created before the printing press and has outlasted the memories of the people who created it and the ideals that they praised. I love cathedral spires silhouetted against grey skies, the smell of baguettes and macaroons, and the way the weak sunlight catches the canals. I love meeting new people, and hearing new stories, and seeing the way life moves in a sphere that is not my own.

This world is beautiful and amazing. I am constantly reminded how grateful I am to be a part of it.

  1. This really was me. Especially the part where he takes an uncouthly large bite of roll.
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