rise up and hear the bells.

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I am going to talk about Robin Williams, but this is not about Robin Williams.

As a celebrity death, his has affected me far more than any of the others. I have no claim on him—I’ve never met him; I’ve never even seen him from afar at a restaurant or in an airport. I am not feeling even a tenth of the pain that his family is feeling right now, but I do feel pain. Not only because his films were a big part of my childhood, but also because I looked up to him as a person. As much as he was suffering inside, he seems to have been the kind of man who was so determined to make everyone else around him feel loved and happy and important. That is the kind of person I want to be. I want to be the kind of person who just wants to make others feel happy, even for a moment. That is the entire reason I write. Because some day, some girl could pick up one of the books that I will eventually publish, and it could inspire her to get out in the world, to become a Big Damn Hero that she never previously thought she could be. I don’t need to inspire millions of people; but just that one girl with my book clutched to her chest? That would be enough for me.

After any celebrity dies, people begin to memorialize. People Tweet and post Facebook statuses, Tumblr explodes with gifsets and photos celebrating the lives and careers of these people. Right after hearing about Robin Williams’s death, I logged onto Tumblr and one of the first things I saw on my dash was a gifset from the Dead Poet’s Society. It was at the end of the movie, when all of the boys stand on their desks and said, “O Captain, my Captain,” to him while he’s leaving. And just like that, I found myself crying. Because the enormity of the situation hit me. This man, whom I have long since considered immortal, was gone. But this wasn’t just about him.

After a celebrity dies, you also inevitably get that one person—the one who does The Noble Thing and posts a Facebook status or makes a Tweet saying something to the effect of, Instead of just posting something on Facebook or Tweeting about it, why don’t you go out and actually show the people you care about that you love them? Before, I might have agreed with this wholeheartedly. I’d have fist-pumped in the air and said, “Yeah!” at my screen. But I don’t think I agree with that anymore. I disagree with it because it posits the way we react to a death as an either/or situation, and it isn’t. Just because I have posted a Facebook status containing the first four lines of a poem with which Robin Williams is often associated does not mean I haven’t looked at where my mother sits across from me in the living room and told her, “Mom, I love you.” It doesn’t mean I didn’t call my boyfriend and say, a little desperately, “You know that I love you, right? You have to know that.” These Facebook statuses, these Tweets, they are all a memorialization of a life. And if anything, they remind us of the enormity of what happens when a person dies.

This is the world confronting humanity’s mortality. I never have trouble confronting my own mortality—in a way, I feel like Death and I have an understanding that is the opposite of the Dickinson poem “Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” Death won’t be stopping for me; I’ll stop for him when I’m ready, and not before, and I have a lot I need to do yet. And he gets that, so he trots along behind me, never able to catch up, and he’s okay with waiting until I’m old and hobbling and finally slow down to wait for him so he can help me limp along. You’ve got a lot of time left, he says, and I’m willing to give it to you. Because what was it that Markus Zusak wrote in The Book Thief? Ah, yes. I am haunted by humans. If you haven’t read that book, you should. That version of Death is probably my favorite in anything I’ve ever read.

I’ve gotten away from myself. But while I never have trouble confronting my own mortality, I seem to have trouble confronting other peoples’. There are people you just start to think of as immortal, and then when something happens to shatter that illusion, you’re left standing there among the broken shards and wondering how you’re supposed to piece your world back together with this information. It happened to me with both of my grandfathers. And let me tell you, it breaks you in unspeakable ways to watch a person become less of themselves.

Posting a Facebook status or Tweeting about my sorrow regarding Robin Williams’s death does not mean I haven’t gone out to show the people in my life how important to me they are. If anything, I post something to reach out to other people who might benefit from this. Because it calls attention to his death, which calls attention to how he died, and I can only hope—desperately, fervently—that at least one person who is considering taking their own life will see the outpouring of love and grief generated for a person who thought suicide was their only way out. Maybe it will remind them that they are loved. Maybe it will encourage them to seek help because people do care out there. I can only hope so. All I can do is reach out to my loved ones and remind them—over and over and over again—that I love them. I love them so deeply and so fully and I want the best for them and I will do anything for them.

And you. Even if I have never met you, I love you. Even if you are just one of the numbers that pops up on my screen to inform me that another person has looked at my blog, I love you. You are worthwhile and beautiful and special and so, so important. Your life is worth living.

It boils down to this. This is not an either/or situation. Life is not an either/or situation. Grief is certainly not an either/or situation. Do not presume to know how I go about my life because I am choosing to mourn the loss of a man whose impact on humanity went far beyond the movies he made. I am grieving for the loss of a person who touched the lives of so many, including my own, and in doing so I am also making damn sure that the people I love know how much I care about them.

Please. Never be afraid to tell someone that something is wrong, and never be afraid to talk to someone if you feel lost or scared or like this life isn’t worth it anymore. I can promise you that it is. There may not be millions of people around the world who know who you are, but you are not invisible and you are not unimportant. It is amazing how important to the world that you are.

you are exactly where you are supposed to be.

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It’s been almost two months, and I still haven’t written about moving. It’s not for lack of trying–I’ve started countless drafts, but somewhere along the line I’ve lost the thread of them or I get too mawkish and can’t go on. I keep waiting for divine inspiration to come down and bonk me on the head. I sit here, staring at the blinking cursor, waiting for something to enter my brain. It’s usually not this hard. I had just about given up even thinking about writing about moving when my divine inspiration finally came.

It’s fitting that the impetus to finally say what I need to say came from a chocolate wrapper. We keep a plastic container of Dove dark chocolates sitting on the wall unit in the dining room. Occasionally my mom or I will grab one as we pass by. Sometimes I go there deliberately, seeking wisdom. Sometimes the wrappers deliver, but oftentimes they do not. So while I was making my evening tea a few days ago, I wandered into the dining room while the water boiled and got myself a piece of chocolate. I opened the wrapper and popped the chocolate in my mouth and then smoothed out the foil while I chewed, just to see what Dove had to say this time. Usually it’s something cute, like “Love every moment,” and I’ve seen them all a hundred times. Except for this one. I have never seen this wrapper before. So when I unfolded it and laid it on the counter, my water finished boiling and I just stood there in my kitchen, chocolate melting on my tongue, and stared at the wrapper.

You are exactly where you are supposed to be.

It felt like a punch to the gut. I whipped out my phone, snapped a picture, then threw out the wrapper and made my tea. But its message wouldn’t leave me, even days later. I stood on my front steps with my mom, squinting into the wind and wondering when the storm was going to start. I am exactly where I am supposed to be, I thought. It’s become my mantra. I say it over and over again to myself in moments of self-doubt. I said it when I got out of bed for work this morning. I dug back through my memories and said it to the girl who cried herself to sleep the first night she moved back into the house, her hair tangled and her eyes red. I’m saying it to myself now, sitting at my desk across from the giant mirror that takes up the whole wall. My reflection smiles at me a little after I say it, whispering it into my mug. It’s this that I have been waiting two months to hear, this exact statement, and I want to make signs of it and paste it all around the city.

You are exactly where you are supposed to be.

Moving is hard. The television lies about moving. It would have you believe that your life fits neatly into cardboard boxes and banker’s bins, stacking neatly on top of one another in the back of the truck. They’re never too heavy to move, and everything fits neatly inside. But moving isn’t like that at all. Moving is messy. Boxes and bins overflow, you cram things into bags and pray they don’t spill over before you get to your destination. Just hang in there, you whisper as you stuff it into the trunk. Please please please just hang in there until we get there. You find things you thought you’d lost, you lose things you swore you had seconds ago. You look around and wonder how you fit everything into your tiny little space, and then you wonder how you’re ever going to find another tiny little space to hold you ever again.

On the day that I left my apartment behind, I wheeled my suitcase through the door and turned to look back one last time. The door clicked closed behind me. I held the key in my hand so tightly that my knuckles were white and I could feel it digging into my skin. Can I just keep this? I thought. Just let me keep this one place. But I didn’t unlock the door again. I said my goodbyes to my apartment and wheeled my suitcase to the elevator. I returned my key. I tried to smile. I put my belongings in the car and climbed in the passenger seat and tried to fight back tears as my dad pulled away from the curb.

It’s not yours anymore, I told myself. You’re going home.

Unless you’re going to some form of graduate school, graduation means looking for a job. I didn’t know where I was going to end up–New York, Chicago, home in Philadelphia–and I didn’t even know where I wanted to end up. I finally was hired for a part-time job, and it’s a good job, and I’m grateful to have it. I don’t know how long I’ll be here–a few more months, a year, I don’t know–but I know that I have been questioning–like everyone does, especially people in my age group–whether or not I was making the right decisions. Friends of mine were moving to LA to try to jumpstart their film careers. People I know who also wanted to go into publishing were moving to New York. The person closest to my heart was going to another country to go to medical school. Friends of mine have their plans all mapped out–where they’re going, what they’re doing–and I’m just sort of schlepping through. I can’t complain, I know. I’m luckier than most. I like my job, and I love the people with whom I work. But sometimes my old friend Existential Crisis comes knocking on my door, and then I’m sitting in the dark, clutching my covers to my chest and wondering, What the hell am I doing?

Living in my parents’ house saves me a ton of money, and I’m grateful. They do so much for me. But it’s starting to chafe, and I’m starting to wonder if maybe I just hadn’t tried hard enough to get a job somewhere else. I was beginning to wonder if I’d just settled, and if there is one thing I do not want to be, it’s a girl who settles. I think the most terrifying thing that could happen to me would be to look around at my life in fifteen or twenty years and realize that I don’t want to be there–that I settled for something because I thought it was all that I had. So the worry started to creep in, that I was doing the wrong thing, that I was in the wrong place.

And then I ate a piece of chocolate.

I want to pin my chocolate wrapper to the hearts of everyone reading this blog. I want to buy every single billboard in the world and paint it on them. I want to say it to someone in an airport waiting room. You are exactly where you are supposed to be. I felt almost like God was patting me on the head, smiling down at me with knowing eyes. It’s all right, little one, He’s saying. You’re on your way. This is just a stepping stone. You may not see it, but I know where you’re going, I know what you can and will do. You will shake mountains and uproot trees. You are a force of nature, and I am so, so proud to call you my child.

So take a deep breath. Your future is out there somewhere, and you’re on your way to it. And as for right now?

You are exactly where you are supposed to be.

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you’re enough.

tumblr_n2ykunhLoR1r4jcajo5_500She’s sitting in the driver’s seat of her car, her hands curled around the steering wheel so hard that her knuckles are white. She’s crying big, fat tears, shaking with the force of them, and I let her cry, let her get it out, because it’s better than trying to stop it. If there’s anything we’ve learned over the past eight years, she and I, it’s that sometimes you just really need a good cry. I sit patiently and listen to the commercials on the radio and wait for her to keep going, wait for her to continue the conversation that started as these conversations always start: I need to talk to him. But I don’t know what to say.

I wish I had all of the answers to life. I wish, when my friends came looking to me for advice, I could pull out a giant handbook or flip through an intensely organized mental rolodex. Ah, yes, I’d say, nodding over an index card with notes scribbled on either side. Yes, I know exactly what to do. But really, I have no idea what I’m doing. The secret, though, is knowing that no one does. But just because I don’t know what I’m doing and probably never will doesn’t mean that I don’t know at least some things. What I’ve come to realize about these kinds of conversations–I don’t know how to talk to him or I’m afraid to tell him this, because what will he think?–all stem from this idea that we’re somehow not enough of something. We’re not good enough or smart enough or pretty enough to handle the situation. It’s terrible enough that the outside world imposes these ideas on us (and who came up with them, really?), but it’s even worse when we start doing it to ourselves.

That’s the terrible thing about living in the kind of world that makes you feel guilty for your choices, no matter what they are. The kind of place where people don’t respect your choices and your decisions and keep trying to change your mind. You don’t really mean that, do you? They always put it back on you, like they’re doing you a favor by having you reconsider your convictions. That way it’s your idea, not theirs, not really, and they’ve just helped you see the light. They’re telling you that what you are, the way that you think, isn’t good enough for them, and that’s really toxic. Because eventually it bleeds into your own way of thinking. You second guess yourself, you’re afraid of your own thoughts even in the privacy of your own head. You’re now not enough for yourself–but you don’t even know what it is that would make you enough. So you start looking for it in other people, waiting for that affirmation, waiting for someone to tell you, Hey, you’re perfect. Of course, you’re not perfect–no one is perfect, and that’s the beautiful thing. Life would be so boring if we were all perfect. We’re perfect in our imperfections, and I wish that that is what people were telling us.

I wish I could go back in time and meet my younger self. I’d take her by the shoulders and look in her eyes and tell her the one thing that she so desperately needed to hear. You are enough, I’d say, tears in my eyes. My God, look at you–you’re beautiful and wonderful and you are so much more than enough. And maybe she would believe me then or maybe she wouldn’t. But I like to think that there would be a time when she was feeling down on herself–when she was stuck on homework or was tired or things just weren’t going her way–that she would sit down on the edge of her bed, feeling like she wasn’t enough of something–smart enough, pretty enough, talented enough–and she’d remember what I said. Because I want her to understand that if someone is trying to change the way you think, the way you go about your life, they don’t want you–they want the you that they’ve created. And suddenly your complete identity is changed and you stand looking at yourself in the mirror thinking, “Who am I?” I don’t want her to define herself in terms of what other people think she should be. I don’t want anyone to define themselves that way.

My friend is still crying in the driver’s seat of her car, but she’s calming down enough for me to reach over and put my hand on her shoulder. I can’t go back and talk to my younger self, can’t tell her all of the things she needed to hear. But this girl, the one whose eyes are red and whose car has seen more than its fair share of breakdowns–I can help her. It’s going to be okay, I tell her, no matter what happens. You’re enough, you will always be enough, and you deserve someone who makes that clear.

I posted a reminder to all of my Tumblr followers last night that they, exactly as they are, are enough. Some of them thanked me and told me that it was exactly what they needed to hear. And so I’m saying it now to all of you:

You are enough. You are so much more than enough. You are wonderful and important, and you should never let anyone tell you otherwise.

you’ve never been good at leaving.

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Dear You,

You’ve never been very good at leaving.

You left your job yesterday. Do you remember?

You sat at your desk in the office for your three-hour shift for the last time. You brought in a cake for everyone, smiled, laughed, joked with them while your boss signed your last timesheet. You told everyone several times how much it meant to you, working there, how you didn’t think you’d ever find a job you loved quite as much. You meant it. They told you how much they’d miss you, begged you to keep in touch, and then they gave you a present. You said goodbye and blinked back tears. You held it together until you dropped off your timesheet and walked out the door for the last time.

It hurt. It still does.

Today was your last day of classes. You sat through your three-hour editing class and both wanted to get out and didn’t. You were scared. It’s been almost two hours since you got home and you’re still scared. The professor asked you and the other seniors to give advice to the underclasswomen (there were no men in your editing class), and you wanted to tell them so many things.

It goes faster than you think, you said.

It was the easiest thing to say, but also the most poignant. Because suddenly here you were—here I am—at the end of it all and you’re wondering just how on earth you got here so quickly. You’re packing up bins to send back home, and you’re avoiding the bookstore bag on the floor that has your cap and gown. You don’t want to look at it. You try not to think about moving, or getting a job, but somehow it’s always there when you least expect it, waiting for you like a monster under your bed. You drink more tea.

You wish you’d given those kids some more advice today, but you’d have talked for the entire three hours. I can’t help but wonder, though, if you need some advice yourself. Because you’ve never been good at leaving, but you always have to. I wish I could speak to you face-to-face, know your side of the conversation. It’s not fair that you get to know both my side and yours, and all I have is this word processor with its white page and blinking cursor. But I just want to tell you a few things.

  • Don’t be so afraid. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, to try something new, to get out of your comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to something you want to do. Don’t be afraid to say “no” and stick to your guns. Don’t be afraid to write that novel. Don’t be afraid to stop looking at your feet when you walk.
  • Be positive. It’s so much healthier than being negative all the time. I learned this the hard way—I’m sure you remember. Get upset when something or someone wrongs you, but don’t hold a grudge. It’s not worth it.
  • Be in love with yourself. You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else, and life is so much easier when you’re comfortable in your own skin. You’re interesting and smart and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • It goes faster than you think. Don’t take anything for granted, because tomorrow it could be four years from now and you find yourself sitting around your apartment thinking, Where the hell did the time go?

We’ve really never been much good at leaving, have we? But maybe we don’t need to be. Maybe we just need to be good at staying. Walking out of the office yesterday, I realized (and so did you) that I was leaving a part of myself behind. They’ll remember me there. They were sad to see me go. I promised to keep in touch with them, and I will, because part of me will always belong to that job, the one that helped me see what I want to do and where I want to be.

Don’t be afraid to leave a bit of yourself behind. The people with whom you leave it will keep it safe for you.

You’ve never been good at leaving. But maybe you don’t have to be.

Love,

Me

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Dear You,

For some reason, train rides make me nostalgic. Or maybe “nostalgic” is the wrong word. Can you be nostalgic for something that hasn’t yet happened?

I walked around New York yesterday, strolling along Broadway as I made my way to the New Amsterdam theater. It was raining, and I was hunched under an umbrella, my arm linked with his, telling myself to stand up straight, lift my chin. But it’s hard to look confident when you’re trying to stay dry, even when you’re wearing a red dress and what Connor calls your step on a man’s heart shoes. (Some lovely young woman told her boyfriend that she liked them as I walked by, and I stood a little straighter after that, despite the rain.) Even as I hunched, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d be walking the same route a year from now. Walking from my apartment or from shopping or lunch with an old friend.

I stood at a light and peeked out from under the umbrella and thought, Will this be home?

There’s a spot just outside of New York that looks like something out of Silent Hill. Do you know the place? I looked up from my homework and out the window at this surprisingly bleak landscape, the sky gray and rain pelting the train windows. I couldn’t look away from it until the train had passed it by, but even as I turned back to my assignment, I was thinking about it—the wild grass, the empty building.

And I was thinking about you.

I thought about you riding the train to or from New York, leaving to visit family and friends or returning home after a weekend spent away. I read Kipling, and I wondered what you would be reading. Would you be reading some other canonical great? Would you be reading Kipling? Or would you be reading some undiscovered author’s masterpiece, making pencil marks in the margins and working with your mouth scrunch to one side like I do when I’m thinking hard about something? Is that where you are right now, reading this? I imagine you on a train, the windows flecked with rain, the sky just beginning to darken, taking a quick break from reading to reread old letters I wrote to you. You’ll be wearing your step on a man’s heart shoes, because everyone needs a pair, and I hope they’re the same ones, but maybe they’re different now. You’ll prop your chin on your hand and read my letters and smile.

Oh, honey, you’ll think, I wish I could tell you it will all work out. I wish I could show you everything you get to be.

I’ve never wanted to live in New York, but you know that. I grew up in Philadelphia, a city with wonders all its own, but we both know I’m no city girl. I’ve always dreamed of wide spaces, of sitting on porches and drinking lemonade out of mason jars. But I know to get there, we both need to make some sacrifices. For me, it means applying to big city places, places that scare me and thrill me at the same time. Places I think I’d tire of quickly, because they’re places where you can do nothing slowly. And for you—for you, it means following through the plans I’ve already made. It means big city apartments and piles of manuscripts—some your own, most not. It’ll mean long nights and lots of tea and some ol’ fashioned blood, sweat, and tears. But we can do all of these things. We just need to work together.

You start walking. I’ll walk, too. I’ll meet you somewhere in the middle for tea and biscotti and we’ll laugh at each other, at ourselves. I’ll bring the tea if you bring the biscotti.

 

Love,
Me

PS—Wear your step on a man’s heart shoes. I’ll be wearing mine.

Mary Shelley was a Sci Fi Geek

This is a bit different from my usual fare, but it’s something I feel needs to be said.

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I’ve wanted to angrily write a long post about things that happen in my Victorian Action Heroes class for a while now. Yes, this is long. No, I am not sorry. And no, it’s not going under a Read More. This needs to be said.

My professor is a well-read, erudite man who very accepting of everyone’s reading background. That’s very refreshing for a literature professor, especially because I often encounter writing and/or literature professors who have a very elitist view of literature. I can’t say, however, that I feel refreshed regarding the views of my classmates. Most of them are seniors, like me, and some of them speak as if they’ve been tenured professors for decades. But it’s not their elevated speech patterns that get on my nerves. It’s their extreme prejudice against forms of literature.

The literature we’ve read so far includes The League of Extraordinary GentlemenDraculaThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, some Conan Doyle (both Sherlock Holmes short stories and The Lost World), and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. On the first day of class, my professor informed us that we would also be exploring some genre fiction, including steampunk, which he admitted was a genre that he was only beginning to explore. He asked if any of us were familiar with the genre, and I found that I was the only one in the room nodding. I could tell that this immediately marked me in my classmates’ minds as that girl–the one who reads subpar literature. I could tell it would be a long semester.

In class, people are constantly talking about how they “don’t like science fiction.” Someone also said that they “only read old science fiction.” There’s this inherent bias against science fiction because it’s considered somehow less worthy of praise than literary fiction. But it seems no one, no matter who I ask, can tell me just what, exactly, constitutes literary fiction. When they do come up with an answer, they never jive with one another, and I’m no closer to understanding than I was before. There’s this inherent bias against genre fiction, like it’s the enemy. As if it’s something disgusting to be scraped off the bottom of our shoes.

I understand not particularly liking genre fiction. There are certainly genres that I’m not a big fan of reading, but that’s my personal opinion. What happens, however, is that people who think that genre fiction deserves to have us bite our thumbs at it also think that it’s acceptable to mock or debase the author of genre fiction just because it’s genre fiction. I saw a comic the other day, on Tumblr, that had “proper fiction” snarking about science fiction, which was wearing a jetpack. The comic was clearly meant to place science fiction in an elevated light–literally, for the person who represented science fiction was hovering above the “proper fiction” people, thanks to aforementioned jetpack. But this comic made me incredibly angry, because all it did was reinforce the stereotype that science fiction isn’t “proper fiction.” What does that even mean? What constitutes “proper fiction?”

Sometimes, when I’m so exhausted with their elitism and their blatant prejudice against anything they consider isn’t “good” fiction, I ask them to explain themselves. Most of the time, I get answers like I do when I ask them to explain what makes literary fiction. Other times, I get answers like, “The classics,” or, my favorite, “Well, this [brandishing a book we're reading for class].”

They’ll tell me that Dracula and Frankenstein are proper fiction. But Dracula and Frankenstein and Jekyll & Hyde are all examples of genre fiction–of science fiction. It’s offensive, especially because they hold these writers up to the pinnacle of literary greatness, but then when authors now like Cherie Priest or George R. R. Martin are writing fiction in the same genre (I’m including fantasy in the science fiction umbrella here because most people do), it immediately becomes something worth turning up your nose at. They’ll watch Game of Thrones obsessively, but the second you mention the possibility of actually reading A Song of Ice and Fire, they balk and say, “Oh, no, I would never read fantasy,” in a way that makes it clear that the science fiction or fantasy genre is beneath them. I don’t understand.

do understand not enjoying science fiction or fantasy, and I would never speak out against someone for not reading a genre if they don’t like it. But I am galled by the amount of times a science fiction or fantasy author’s work is put down simply for the fact that it is science fiction or fantasy. The writer is immediately written off–for being unoriginal, for being lazy, for being somehow less intellectual than a writer of literary fiction. I think this is extremely offensive.

When did science fiction become a genre at which to turn up your nose? What happened from Mary Shelley to now? Mary Shelley was a science fiction author. Frankenstein is a work of science fiction. Why is that acceptable, but science fiction of today is not? There are good and bad books in every genre. Just because something falls under the umbrella of “literary fiction” doesn’t make it a great book. There are plenty of literary fiction books that I don’t enjoy because I find the writing to be not quite as good as, say, something written by Patrick Rothfuss. I’m tired of this elitism permeating my classroom.

To round off my diatribe, we were discussing dystopian fiction re: H. G. Wells’s The Invisible Man. We were talking about the dystopian genre as a whole, how it came to be, and how books like 1984 and The Hunger Games handle dystopia. And then a girl raised her hand and said something that was so repulsive to me I had to restrain myself from leaping across the table and strangling her. She said:

“Yeah, I think that past dystopian fiction like 1984 was definitely all about the social commentary and the situation, but I think that more modern dystopian fiction, which is pretty much written for a young adult audience, is simply a mise-en-scene within which to situate a romance plot.”

She was so clearly talking about The Hunger Games, and it made me so angry. God forbid a writer–especially a woman writer–include a romance narrative within the context of her novel, because that’s all it will be boiled down to. Forget the fact that in 1984, Julia and Winston engage in a sexual relationship–fall in love–in order to overthrow the corrupt government. Then, it’s okay, but when Suzanne Collins shows the romance in The Hunger Games as the only way these poor kids can cope with the horror of what they’re going through in these Games. I was so angry that I couldn’t bring it upon myself to answer her, but I stewed silently for the rest of the class, and I don’t know that I’ll ever forgive her that comment. This is what people think of science fiction and/or fantasy literature these days. They see it not as a critique or as anything else other than a different landscape in which to situation a romance narrative. I could rip my hair out. I want to fling Cherie Priest at her, who writes wonderful novels that could, yes, be considered somewhat dystopian. The Clockwork Century series itself may or may not be a dystopia, but the Seattle featured in the novels after the Boneshaker attack is definitely a dystopia. And her novels aren’t romance narratives. In fact, the one time I can distinctly point to a romance, it happens between two tangential characters. Even when the novel is narrated through the eyes of Cly, the romance he has going on with Briar Wilkes doesn’t intrude on the plot at all.

The elitism surrounding literature needs to stop. Stop making people feel bad for what they read. Stop making extremely intelligent and intellectual people feel as if they’ve had their brains wiped clean and like they know nothing. Stop claiming some kind of high ground because you think Junot Diaz is better than John Green or because you don’t like reading science fiction and fantasy. You’re not better than me, and I’m not better than you. Stop positing yourself as better than someone else simply based on the books they enjoy reading. You’re not being intellectual, you’re being offensive.

this is what it is to be on the cusp of something.

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Three girls sit on a screened-in porch, each curled up on their respective piece of wicker furniture. Mosquitoes ping against the screened sides and cicadas hum in the distance. Half-drunk glasses of wine rest on end tables, and a bowl of eggless cookie dough sits perched on the wicker coffee table beside a pile of letters. It’s the perfect August evening; it’s hot but not oppressive, and there is an easy familiarity about them as they sit talking. It is late, but there is no indication that they are tired. They toss back their heads and laugh between scoops of cookie dough.

They do this every year, this getting together to read the letters they’ve written each other over the past year. This is nothing new for them, and yet it feels different this year. It isn’t just the fact that they’re beginning their final year of college or that they’re drinking wine instead of water. They are typically separate entities, but something about this night has turned them into one being. They are not separated into Live, Love, and Laugh but instead become tangled together into the mess that is Friendship. The wine they drink is sticky and sweet, and the letters they read are by turns poignant, hilarious, embarrassing.

The air is electrically charged that night. Something shifted in the air the moment they stepped onto the porch. They can’t help but feel it; it is infectious. There is a feeling of momentousness to everything.

We watched each other fall in love that night—with ourselves, with men, with our friendship. But most of all, we fell in love with living.

This is what it is to be on the cusp of something—something new and exciting and terrifying all at once. They cannot see the future; they do not know what the year will bring. They cannot see the joy to come, nor can they see the heartbreak. They do not know that the winter will lead to road trips on the coldest day of the year. They cannot see themselves standing in a hotel room, surrounded by bags and contemplating the heater. If they could see that future, they could have saved themselves some embarrassment and frozen toes.

They don’t see the interviews, the nights when ice cream will be their best friend, the endless cups of tea, or the long walks back from the library in the cold. But they feel them. The future hums in their very marrow, hums even more loudly than the cicadas and the crickets. They are not quite real this night; they exist in a kind of limbo between the future and the past. They are in a lingering present where they can, just for a moment, rest and feel the electricity of life around them.

In another few hours, the sun will rise. The rosy fingers of dawn will begin to light the sky and bring a new day. The outside world will call, pull them back. But for now, they enjoy the night. They sip their wine. They live. They laugh. They love.

that’s the thing about pain. it demands to be felt.

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She’s sitting on my bed, surrounded by little piles of crumpled, tear-soaked tissues. Her face is in her hands, but I can still hear the muffled agony issuing from her mouth. I clutch harder at my mug of tea and try to think of something to say, but I know it’s better if I don’t say anything. I believe in crying, even when it’s embarrassing. A good cry is good for the soul—way better than chicken soup.

“I knew he would say no,” she says into her palms. “I knew. But it still hurts so much.” She picks her tearstained head up and looks at me, blinking to get me into focus. “Why does it hurt so much?”

I wish I knew what to say. I’m a wordsmith who never has the right words when she needs them. When they really count. I shrug my shoulders. The only words that come to mind are words that don’t belong to me.

“Because the only way out is through.”

I don’t have the words to say to her to make it better. I only have what I know to be the truth. Not the truth spoon-fed to you by television and chick flicks and most YA books, but the truth that can only come from experience. The truth that comes with being the one sitting on the bed, surrounded by a moat of tissues, from screaming into pillows and crying yourself to sleep at night. From looking in the mirror at your red, tearstained face and wondering if this is what it will always feel like. (The answer is no, it will get better, but you never believe that at the time.)

It’s the truth you find at the bottom of a pint of ice cream at three in the morning. The truth you find when your tears have run dry and you find yourself smiling at something on the street without thinking about it. And it’s a hard truth, one of the worst we have to teach ourselves.

Why is it that the truth that it gets better is the hardest to face?

I leave her to herself for a while and walk over to the mirror on the bathroom door. I look at myself, standing in my oversized sweater and jeans, clutching my mug of tea like it has all of the answers. I see her in my eyes, the ghost of the girl I used to be. The girl who looked in the mirror and saw herself and never thought things would get better. The girl who felt like a gnarled, twisted crone inside. Who didn’t believe in crying or piles of tissues or heart-to-hearts. Who pretended that pain didn’t demand to be felt, that if she just ignored it, it would be fine and it would go away.

On the other side of the room, she’s started picking up her discarded tissues, stashing them in her fists to throw them out all at once. I go over and notice that she’s stopped crying. She’s sniffling, but only a little, and she looks up at me as I come over.

“It’s going to be okay,” I tell her, if only for something to say. “I promise.”

She nods and runs a hand through her hair. She takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” she says. “I know.”

I smile.

She smiles back.

It’s a start.

a letter to my future self.

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Dear You,

I’m sitting on my bed in the apartment. I’ve just pulled brownies out of the oven (it’s our Christmas party tonight), and I’m trying to make myself pack because tomorrow, I go home for Christmas break. I think that if I start packing, it’ll really hit me, and I’ll be a puddle of emotion, so I’m writing you instead. I don’t know if you need this, but I do.

What’s frightening about packing is that I’m very aware that this is the last Christmas break I’ll be packing for. That I’ve just completed my penultimate semester. That there are only a few more months to go before it’s all over and suddenly I’m you, six months or six years into the future and wondering just how I got there. I crawled into bed last night and wept. I’m not ready to leave. I don’t know if I’ll ever be.

Packing, you see, is just the first step. After packing comes looking for jobs, for internships, thinking about that scary thing called the Future. And I don’t know where you are right now. My hindsight is twenty-twenty, but foresight is a gift I don’t have. You could be sitting in a New York coffee shop, drinking tea while you scribble notes into the margins of a manuscript; you could be sitting in the armchair of your parents’ house, rediscovering this entry as you peruse the internet; you could be in a downtown apartment of your own, curled up on the couch with your laptop and taking a quick break from that grueling task we call editing. And you’ll be reading this and laughing. Laughing at me for being so afraid when everything was going to work out fine.

Or you could be reading this and still feel that fear. Still not know where you’re going or what you’re doing or what’s going to happen. You could be staring at an empty suitcase, like I am, dreading filling it because you know what it means. You could be on a train or in an airport terminal, on your way to an interview for a job you’re not even sure if you want but it’s something. Maybe you wear red lipstick now. Maybe you finally learned how to do eyeliner on your top lid (and if you did, can you please teach me? With the wing and everything?).

I don’t know where you are. But I know where I am. I’m at a place where what I do controls where you are. And because I owe it to you to do the best thing for you, because, damn it, you work hard and you deserve a little luck now and again, I’m going to make sure you get wherever it is you’re meant to go. Even if it means scary empty suitcases that need filling or red lipstick or airport terminals. Even if it means swallowing that knot in my throat right now and pushing through everything. Even if it means I end up crawling in to bed tonight and weeping again. It will all be worth it, because it means I’ve done something that makes your life better.

I hope I’ve done it. And if I haven’t, it just means I’m still trying. Hang in there. I always come through.

Good luck out there. And nice job with the eyeliner.

I have packing to do.

Best,
Me

here’s the thing.

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The three of us sat perched on barstools, laughing in the way that we did when we knew the conversation was turning serious. We sipped at our drinks and looked around at each other. We had traded sticky diner booths for barstools, traded glasses of water for rum and Coke, a vodka cranberry, and a beer (that one was mine), but we were still the same people we had been for the past seven years. We were still Live, Laugh, and Love. We’d just grown up a little.

“I thought you agreed you had to tell him how you felt,” I said.

Live sipped at her rum and Coke and gave us a doe-eyed expression. We stared back at her over our respective glasses. “I did,” she conceded. “Until I got back to school.”

That was the thing, we’d discovered about growing up. The living, the loving, and the laughing—they were not necessarily separate entities but things that somehow ended up all smushed together when you reached that looming precipice of adulthood. There was loving to be had in the living, and there was living to be had in the loving, and there was laughter to be had in both. The big issue was getting ourselves there, when we were still young enough to cling to the cusp of un-adulthood and pretend like we hadn’t turned twenty-one months ago and that we weren’t sitting on barstools. Like everything wasn’t changing within the year. It was so much easier to pretend that if we ignored it, it would all just go away, even when we were smart enough to know that that wasn’t the case. So here we were, forcing ourselves to have one of those Adult Conversations that were coming more and more frequent these days.

Love made a noise that sounded like a snore. “Oh come on,” she said. She had to set her drink down for this. She liked to talk with her hands. “You cannot chicken out about this.”

“Here’s the thing,” I said. Wasn’t that how all of these conversations always started? Here’s the thing. The part when I’m gonna ‘splain it to you, Lucy. Or, maybe better yet, the part where you’re gonna ‘splain it to me, ‘cause I’m having some trouble wrapping my head around the fact that you can stay teetering in limbo and be happy there. “Here’s the thing. You could go on not saying anything; you could graduate never saying anything. And then we could be here—at this bar or another—sitting on barstools like these, two years from now, and you’ll have never moved on with your life because you still have that what if of him in your mind.”

“Even if,” Love added, after a fortifying swig of her vodka cranberry, “you haven’t spoken to him recently and even if you might find out he’s seeing someone or engaged or—God forbid—married. It’s like that movie.” She snapped her fingers at me, a gesture for help. “That one where the kid skips school.” She has trouble remembering things that aren’t predominantly romantic in plot.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” I supplied.

“Right! Yes. It’s like that says. Life moves pretty fast and all of that.”

Live looked between the two of us, sucking on her straw even though all the remained in the glass was ice. “But what if it doesn’t work?”

Love shook her head, curls bobbing. “You’re missing the point. There’s no ‘work’ or ‘doesn’t work.’ There just is. We’re not saying it’s going to be easy,” she added. “It could hurt.”

“And it might suck,” I added. “But you’re the better for having tried.”

Because here’s the thing about life. Living isn’t always going to be easy.

It could hurt.

And it might suck.

But you’re still always better for having tried. For leaning too much one way or the other and not always being trapped in limbo forever. For throwing caution to the wind and leaping off the cliff into the abyss below, with the hope that something, somewhere along the way, will catch you or break your fall. For understanding the Live, Laugh, and Love are not mutually exclusive directives and that they, more often than not, complete each other. That one cannot really be fully achieved without the other two. That you need to just sometimes get out there and do the thing that scares you most because even if it doesn’t go as you planned, that’s okay. It just means something better is waiting for you.

Because here’s the thing.

Life is messy. Love is messy. And Laughter finds you along the road, sometimes in the most unexpected places. But they’re all better experienced together, when the Living and the Loving and the Laughing become entangled in one giant mess, one twisted and knotted ball of yarn so you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins.

Because here’s the thing: having someone to lean on when things get really messy always helps.