The Impulse for Home

What I have to say today will be something I know I’ve said before.

When I was in college I was obsessed with the idea of home. I wrote about it on here a lot: home, friendship, and the weather. In fact, my fixation became so obvious by the end that the poem my dad wrote for my twenty-second birthday was simply called “Homing.” “Our daughter’s always leaving to return– / Her warmest heart is longing after home– / For home she’s made, and for her home she’ll yearn,” ran the refrain.

And then I came home. I lived in my parents’ house for a year, and now I’m in my own place about a mile away. I’ve stopped thinking about home as much, and I’ve certainly stopped writing about. I’m here, right? I don’t need to miss it.

Except sometimes late at night, when I’m not sleeping (which I’m often not), I get homesick. I become keenly aware that I am not where I really long to be, that I live in a place that is shattered, alongside people who, like myself, are bruised and bent from birth. I am more aware of the reality of sin than I’ve ever been before, and sometimes on those nights, even safe in my own bed, I can hear it oozing through the floorboards and pounding in my veins, until I am nearly deaf with the sound. It makes me sick for the land I have yet to lay eyes on, the land where this is set right.

But though I haven’t laid eyes on that final country yet, I do know its taste. It comes to me, and to you, in flickering part-pictures. You find it in conversation with the people who are the gentlest, in the handwriting of someone you love, in some combination of colors, in a very full room or a very empty one, in five-part harmony, in a single voice which speaks a single word. You blink and it’s gone, but for a moment you were Home and now the air is full of its lingering wonder and tang. That’s no accident.

I am trying to be more conscious about bottling these moments to save, not because I think they will cure my late-night homesickness, but because I am greedy to have heavenly truth here on earth. I want what those visions will teach me.

Two weeks ago, while sitting in my second period class, I wrote this:

The sun is out, and this makes me feel as if I am standing up straighter. Like its beams are strings attached to my spine and my chin that tug up, up, up. I feel soft and melted on the inside, as if all those things that weighted me are dribbling away and soon I will float away like a balloon, swinging unsteadily, joyfully, from my ropes of light as more of my forgotten cares drip off my dangling toes.

So that is how I feel. I am grateful, and gratitude smells like rosemary.

That rosemary-sunshine-gratitude is what we’re made for. The rest is shadows.

Sunlight Palace

I’m about to begin a little poetry unit with my sophomores, and I’m excited. As I’ve been planning, I’ve been reminded how important a good image is to a poem. Poetry all begins with taking your words and using them to build an image so clear and sharp that its corners could cut you open and make you bleed.

And this has got me feeling wistful. As I have sunk more deeply into this mid-twenties stage of life, I struggle to find things I can write about on this blog. I want to write the bright and the bold and the strong and the poetry, but the things in my present, though mostly oh-so-good, are often too fragile and complex to be splashed onto the page of some public forum. And the future, of course, is only a whisper.

So what is left to me is the past.

At the bottom of my parent’s backyard there is a fence that belongs to their backdoor neighbors. But before that fence was there, there was a great big tangle of trees, some of which were fallen. We played there in the summer, and the soft mulberries layering the ground stained our feet such a deep and lasting purple that I think the soles of mine remained patchy crimson well into my teen years. Beams of light played through sheer green leaves, and my sister named the place Sunlight Palace. When you are small, everything seems big.

Sunlight Palace had different rooms. There was a main living room, in front, with a long bough stretching across like a couch that everyone could sit on. There was a main bedroom, which was exclusively the province of “the big girls” (none of whom were me.) There was a “Martin Luther King Jr.” room, named by me because it had a bunch of branches that stood straight up, like they were standing for what was right, and there was a spacious kitchen which no-one was allowed into after the first week or two because it was suspected of harboring poison ivy. My own favorite spot was the trampoline, a horizontal branch about a foot off the ground which was pleasantly springy. Pooh would have called it a good thinking spot, and I was a child who did a lot of thinking.

We invited our friends over with the sole purpose of playing in Sunlight Palace all afternoon. It was sometimes a main party attraction. Its shifting light and shadow oversaw unending games of Orphan, and dozens of petty circular arguments, all easily and happily resolved by magnanimous promises that “next time you can be the baby.” We hiked for miles upon miles, back and forth at the bottom of my mother’s garden. We feasted on violets and mulberries, and chewed up mint leaves in lieu of brushing our teeth. We cunningly lived off the land, all in sight of our safe bedroom window and my dad washing dishes at the kitchen sink.

We stopped playing there eventually. You always do. But I still remember the pang I felt when, sometime around late elementary school, new neighbors moved in, cleared out the brush, and built a tall, flat fence. Everything looked shallow and short. The pain was near to what I felt a few years later when my mom unexpectedly put my favorite reading armchair out by the curb for the trash truck. I perhaps had not really known other people could actually touch these things, let alone cart them off to a distant city dump. I thought that I held them like treasures in the palm of my own hand. I am nearly twenty-five and it hurts a little even now to admit: perhaps Sunlight Palace was never really ours. Perhaps it was just borrowed for a while, when we had most want of it.

So even the past is not mine. I only held it for a while. Because this place is not home; I am not Home yet.

Without a Place

Last month, I read an essay by a woman named Jennifer Trafton, and in it she described “the feeling of being the Picassoesque face in every crowd…You would like me, surely, if only my left ear were not hanging crookedly off the end of my tongue.” The essay made me cry.

I was raised by parents who were academics and who were Christians. They had PhDs from the University of Chicago and now taught British literature at a state university, and every Sunday morning we brought along hymnals and sang “Fairest Lord Jesus” and “Holy, Holy, Holy” on the way to church in the minivan. In a world where the evangelical mind was a scandal, and universities were ever busier building ivory towers of Babel, they, and therefore we, were impossibilities. Yet there we sat after dinner each night, reading aloud everything from Corrie Ten Boom to Thackeray to Yeats to the Psalms.

And so I was always acutely aware I was like no one around me. From the time I was about six I understood that I was my own little untethered island, floating through the strange seas of the wide world. My friends listened to Adventures in Odyssey and went to the beach every summer and spring and watched the Disney Channel and had things like Gushers and individually packaged Pringles in their snacks. I read multiple books a day and swung on a swing my dad had made and took long walks when my mom kicked me out of the house for reading too much and ate home-grown dried tomatoes off the racks of my mother’s dehydrator. Through sticky North Carolina summers, we went without air conditioning and lived with windows open to the breeze, and in winter we heated our house with a wood stove. Once, while standing in my kitchen, a friend who had been to my house dozens of times told me that it seemed strange that my family owned something so modern and practical as a microwave.

I felt displaced. I was made of some other metal than all those around me, softer, with an odd sheen, and I knew the differences went far beyond my family. I remember as a child spending afternoons wandering round and round my backyard looking for a place that could be only mine, that felt just right. I climbed trees and I crawled under bushes and no place fit. I was the wrong shape for all of them. Later when I first began to write stories in earnest, I always stuck consciously to fairy tales. I felt so unsure of and baffled by the world around me, that I didn’t think I could muster it onto the page. I did not belong to it, and it did not belong to me.

I don’t think a day has gone by when I have not felt too small or too large, too old or too young, too much or too little. I was loved and am loved, and I have never once doubted that, but in every group, I feel like the token, though I’m never sure what I’m meant to be a token of–the one who reads and dreams and cries and digs her heels in? The one-of-these-things-is-not-like-the-other girl?

When I was young I resisted my differences: I wished my parents had named me Sarah, like everybody else, and when the other fifth grade girls chatted about their manicures and asked me if I was going to get one too, I said ‘maybe,’ knowing as I said it that it was a lie. But by the time I hit middle school, I had decided to make peace with my awkwardly glinting differences, to learn to love them. I began to cling to them, in fact, sometimes at the cost of relationships with other people. I was shy and stubborn and defensive. (I am still shy and stubborn and defensive, but sometimes I am a little better at hiding it.) I cowered beneath the banner of myself. In fact, there were seasons and places in my life when, for my own comfort, I consistently translated “I am different than you” into “I am better than you.” I thought that superiority would ward off loneliness and fear. (It didn’t. It just made me bitter.)

Around the time I was seventeen or eighteen, though, I gradually began to get a little better at friendship. I started to actually listen, and wait, and wade slowly through the waters of the people around me. And I found, over the course of months and years, that many people who to me had seemed as if they fit so well, were actually covering their own strangely shaped hearts with their hands, and covertly glancing at the world around them with incredulity. I began to carry a quietly blossoming sense of awe as I encountered others. I wasn’t the oddity. We all were.

I know now that the misfit feeling comes from different sources and is more tangible for some than others. For some it’s characterized by real, crushing sorrow or sin which has marked them like Cain, for others by differences in race or culture or ability or interest or by unhappy and broken families and relationships. For many of us though, it’s just a vague feeling that one is some complex and malfunctioning prototype abandoned in a warehouse full of unlike objects.

None of this seems joyful or purposeful and yet I remain awed. I’m not certain why. Perhaps it is because I know our loneliness has the potential to teach us compassion and kindness. Perhaps it is because I know we were not abandoned in the warehouse after all, and that God has a plan for all us billions of impossibilities. Or perhaps it is because I know that God came to seek and save the lost and call little Zacchaeus out of the tree where he clung. I am overwhelmed by the largeness and the strangeness of such original Love.

seated-woman-in-garden

Houses in Detroit

This entry should be entirely in pictures, but instead, it is entirely in words. I’m sorry. I’ve failed you. Words are all I have.

On Monday, while making the long drive back from Minnesota, my parents and I stopped and stayed the night with my mom’s younger brother in Detroit. Last summer he bought a house there in a neighborhood called La Salle Gardens. It’s a two story, four-bedroom Tudor with a big, open attic, and stained glass in the dining room, and a beautiful carved bannister on the stairs, and a basement that has two bathrooms, a bar, and pool table which maybe used to be a speakeasy. He paid $20,000 for it.

I don’t know a lot about Detroit. I’m very willing to admit that I haven’t really done my research. I know that they make cars there, and that there were race riots in the sixties, and then everything got dangerous and over a million people left (I don’t know which happened first) and now everyone in the country seems to feel scared and sad and bitter about Detroit. And I know that before my uncle even closed the sale of his house, someone came in and stole all the copper pipes.

At some indeterminate point during my freshman year of college, when, as a dorm dweller, I was in the throes of a bit of a house-obsession, I had stumbled across this website: http://www.100abandonedhouses.com/. What the photographer had captured was cold and crumbling and beautiful and lonely. I returned over and over to stare at the houses, all of which seemed to whisper, in their hundred different voices, I once was.

And then, five years later, on Monday, there I was in Detroit. We were there for less than twenty hours, some of which necessarily involved sleeping, but we walked and we drove and we walked again, and I saw those houses. In my uncle’s neighborhood, children played in the street, ramming into one another happily with their bikes, older siblings bossing and cajoling the younger ones. Houses in good repair and houses still clearly stuck in tough times sat next to houses marked for demolition, and houses with their whole back ends fallen in which were probably still years from the top of the city’s demo list. My dad said the neighborhoods were like a mouth full of broken teeth.

We walked and I stared at the houses. I know so little about architecture that I don’t have the vocabulary to describe what I loved about them. (So much for “words are all I have.”) Most of them were big, some of them huge. Every window and door seemed to be broken or boarded or barred. Some had box air conditioners spilling out of them. There were pillars and many-paned glass windows, and yards full of weeds that looked older than me, and generous front stoops, and turrets with overgrown trees leaning into them, and sloping slate roofs, and stone facades with bullet wounds, and gingerbread molding, and gables that sagged like sleeping eyes, and intricate brickwork, and worn steps adorned with enormous concrete fleurs-de-lis and lions, brought in to urge tired houses on to former glory. We walked and we looked and every time my mom said, “Oh, it’s so sad,” I found myself saying, “Oh, it’s so pretty.”

People who saw us from their porches or their cars looked and waved at the gawking white people with friendly confusion, like we were desert animals wandered into the tundra. One lady named Addie Tyson, age ninety-one, stopped us and talked almost non-stop for twenty minutes, mostly about how proud she was to live in the house she lived in, and then wanted to give me a hug, largely, I think, motivated by her surprise that I was twenty-four, and not fifteen, like she had thought. We walked on and saw several pit bulls, one happily roaming free.

Even before this very brief visit I had talked about my fascination with Detroit and the strange appeal the shattered houses held for me, but I am not built to be an urban homesteader. I am white and single and female, and while I know this doesn’t entirely preclude me, the fact that I am easily frightened, less than usually resourceful, and more than usually uncomfortable even in the safest of cities probably does. Detroit is dangerous. It is no longer the murder capital of the United States (Hooray, Chicago!), but there is still a bullet hole in one of my uncle’s front windows. Many other houses have them too. And though with a few more years of teaching I could probably afford to buy a house there out-of-pocket, the work to be done in most of them is enormous. A few of the doors in my uncle’s house are salvaged from other places. And when we left on Monday, there were holes in the living room ceiling and the upstairs bathroom floor, all on the docket to be repaired in the coming weeks.

But even if I don’t go to Detroit, there is something to be learned. (There is always something to be learned.) There is something that Kevin Bauman’s 100 Abandoned Houses project did not capture, or at least which I could not capture from it. His photos show individual houses, alone in their desolation. But when I stood in front of those houses and rode down rows of them, they cast a different spell on me. They sat all pressed up against one another in their various architectural styles and their levels of decay and repair, and they reminded me of people. I don’t just mean that as a some lightweight personification. I know houses don’t have immortal souls, but they reminded me of you and me and him and her all added on next to one another, side by side in our memories and our oddities and our destruction and our hope and our waiting.

Monday evening, as we drove around neighborhoods full of slightly-dilapidated mansions and long-abandoned houses with trees grown up through them, my dad marveled at such devastation existing so close to such wealth. But I looked into their eyes and I could not be surprised. Those houses were tired and wounded, some with their guts ripped out. Made of dust, they looked ready for resurrection.

On Flying

We are two weeks out from the start of school, and I am beginning to get nervous. There is so much to do and think of and plan and write down, not to mention all the time I obviously need to spend worrying about the things I can’t control. Of course, back-to-school nerves are probably one of the more common feelings in the world. There’s a newness and a freshness to that first day that can never compare to the first of January. It’s all short haircuts and tans and deeper voices and words that move faster than they did before and smiles that aren’t yet tired.

But sooner than we expect, all of the gloss and new-clothes smell will wear away and we will be left with those Mondays where our greatest accomplishment is getting out of bed in the morning. I am content in the understanding that some days, even some weeks, 6:43 am may be my proudest moment, so long as I remember that as I stand bleary-eyed in front of a mirror and march into school with a heavy bag on my shoulder, so much above and beyond me is being fulfilled and achieved.

As a child I didn’t necessarily believe I could fly, but neither did I quite believe that I couldn’t. I understood that as far as physics were concerned if I climbed up onto a roof, and took a running leap with my arms outstretched, that the air would not catch me. The ground would catch me, along with all my broken bones. And yet I was fairly sure that the business of soaring and dipping and twisting through the trees and into the clouds didn’t just concern physics. It made a sort of inherent sense to me that though my arms didn’t look or behave like wings (and in fact looked and behaved very much like arms) that didn’t mean they couldn’t actually be wings underneath. If, you know, some day…I did decide to try… I had an eager, soft little heart that loved the air and the heights better than the bruising, itching ground.

Last week we went on a family vacation and the cabin we stayed in had a swing. I swung on it only once, the day we got there, and just a couple minutes on it resurrected a whole hearty body of forgotten loves which I had allowed to be buried by a host of teenage and adult fears of  indeterminate origin. I remembered that swinging is one of the few physical activities that I have never thought makes me look foolish, I remembered my starved appetite for the wind in my ears and my clothes, and I remembered the pure, unexamined desired to get close and into the center of the blue sky. I realized I had never really changed my mind. I am twenty-three and am not quite convinced that I can’t fly.

I‘ll be very clear with you, I have been grumpy today: I was sullen with my sister and got more upset than perhaps was justifiable over a car insurance meeting that went too long. (I almost kicked the cat.) But I want so much to remember that there is a sky. I want to lay my fear down on the concrete curb and look up to see if it might be a good day for flying. I want to be able to remember that swing at 6:43 am in February. I want to be able to set aside my cynicism (just a grown-up brand of fear), and feel the wind from my Lord’s treasuries. The hope in my seven-year-old eyes gazing out into the sky from our backyard swing is no less real than the heavy fears of February. In fact, it might be real-er.

The Here and Now

All through college I heard so much about the importance of place, of the dirt beneath your feet, of opening your eyes as wide as they’ll go and looking watchfully at the walls and horizons which surround you. And now I’m back in Greensboro, probably for good. Back in the muggy air that hugs me, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, getting up each morning and driving to the place I could drive to in my sleep. I love security, so in my eyes, all of this is very good.

But time is place too, in a sense. A place I can’t return to. I lie in bed at night, and remember that there is no big sister on the other side of the room to keep me awake talking endlessly about her day. I now meet friends for drinks on the same corner to which I used to walk to pick up ginger ale when my mom had the flu.

During teacher workweek at Caldwell, I sat in almost the exact same spot in the lunchroom where I used to pour chocolate milk all over my pizza to impress the other second graders. My new desk is in the back corner of a classroom which I routinely bathed with tears over Geometry and Precalc. And I remember standing up near the whiteboard there during play practice one day and teaching ourselves how to use chopsticks, with whiteboard markers. I can look out the doorway into the hall and see the locker I stood next to hyperventilating when my friend was rushed to the hospital at the end of one school day.

The room I teach in is the same one in which, during my freshman year, I used to sit in the back corner during class, with a messy spiral notebook, the smudged pencil which was the beginning of my first novella. When I stand to face my students I stand in almost the exact spot where, on the night of my senior prank we put a little tub of baby chicks. I remember curling up on the hard floor with my sweater a few yards away and trying to sleep, while they cheeped softly for hours.

Sometimes I feel a little like Ebenezer Scrooge standing and watching the jumbled ghosts of my past. Don’t take the metaphor too hard, though. Because while those shadows play there are very real people in front of me with their own, quite solid pencils and spiral notebooks in their hands. And behind me there are completely tangible whiteboard markers that I really ought to be using.

And so I teach and I think about the shadows and the reality and the way this reality will soon fade into shadows. And then I think about the great reality, which is this: God is faithful. God is faithful to have brought me back to place in which I cannot ignore His perpetual goodness to me. I grew up in here and every corner is marked and scuffed by my fears and aches. I look at them and I see Him. In the memories of my hardheadedness, I see His patience, of my cruelty, His sacrifice, of my pains, no matter how small, His abundant and overflowing grace. I see His faithfulness in each place and each time, in each here and each now.

And so tomorrow, I continue to teach history. Not my history, thank God, but His. Always His.

 

 

Suspension

Until recently I was so ready to go. I kept saying “I’m so ready.” “Graduation is so soon.” But now it’s hit. Yesterday in 20th century (last Friday of classes, last day of dressing-up-just-because) Messer mentioned in his typical Messer fashion how for the last few days we were just going to quietly spend some time with Gilead, the last novel on our list. He also said it was to be a gift for the graduating seniors. For most of us that two o’clock hour this Wednesday will be our very last class.

So like I said, it’s hit, it’s come. It feels as if someone has run a thread through my little heart and is holding it gently over some little canyon. When my heart becomes too heavy, I think the thread might break. I suppose my best bet is to figure how to live with a heart suspended in the breeze like that, a heart that feels every little motion, every change in the weather. I will not mind when the thread breaks, but I’ll keep my eyes wide open till it does.

Tonight Laura and I’ll go to Greek Sing, and I’ll sit and watch and I’ll love it as wholeheartedly and inexplicably as I always I have. I’ll write my last little paper on writing as vocation. I’ll give my honors presentation and go to Dr. Brown’s house for dinner and make food for our last Quad party. I’ll pay attention to the way familiar feet descend stairs, to which stones are missing on the bridge and to where the rain puddles on either end of it. I’ll pay attention to the deep, deep green of the grass here that I’ve never gotten over and never will, to the way we crouch to check our little mailboxes, and to the way the sun (when it comes) draws us all outside, hungry, as if light is the stickiest, sweetest thing. I’ll pay attention to the silence in the chapel at midday, to the ready laughter of a room of full of English majors, and to the slow way we all move in line, waiting for communion come Sunday night.

I’ll hug people and I’ll write things down, and then the thread will break with the weight of it all and I’ll go home.

Community

I am home for a whole week of break. Yesterday afternoon I took a walk with my dad and it was sunny and balmy. This afternoon I took a walk with my mom and it was bitter and rainy. (No reflection on respective parents, I’m sure.) My plans for this week include seeing people I love, doing a very small amount of homework, applying for a couple more jobs, writing things which are not my novel, and reading about Christianity and fiction. Also a lot of sleep.

This is a funny place to be, in my last semester. I feel like I’m teetering on the edge of the world, and that in May I’ll fall into it head-long for the first time, but of course that is silly. I’ve been in the world all along. I was born into it.

I am frightened about next year’s changes, though. I am not worried about a job or a home or a car (though I’m sure I ought to be sometimes.) Instead, I am rather predictably worried about being lonely. I am terrified to step out of the tight knit little college atmosphere, well-insulated with people who love me deep and well, into a looser sort of place where, though I will have support, there will not always be a hand to hold within arm’s length, or a smiling face directly when I look over my shoulder.

In college, I have gratefully stumbled into friendships with interesting, valuable, layered people. I’ve become an aficionado of the one-on-one friendship, of the tea date, of laughter and the well-placed, comfortable bit of sass. I have collected friends who don’t mind my camping out on their couches when they’re not home, who remember my aunts and cousins though they’ve never met them, who dutifully read this little blog.

I love these people dearly and I intend to absolutely hold onto them for quite a long time, but I am realizing more and more that what I will need when I graduate (and what I have perhaps missed, sometimes rather keenly, throughout college) is community. A common group with common loves.

Dr. Messer asked me the other day if I had any friends or peers who were as invested in writing as I was—people I could really get into it with. I don’t and I never really have. It is also true that, though it takes more courage than I would like to admit to say so, I still find it much easier to write about my God than to talk about Him with friends. It is not that they don’t love Him too, but that we’ve been shy to build our friendships on Him, shy to say His name.

I am indeed shy to write this because I am not ready to step away from the people I consider to be my best friends. I do not intend to ever be ready. I will always love them as I do now, except someday hopefully a little better. I am, however, longing for this community of which I still maintain only the vaguest idea.

I sent out the second draft of my novel to quite a few people last week, and that has, unexpectedly, (though why I wouldn’t expect it, I have no idea) been quite a start. For the first time all these people have the opportunity to read the pages onto which I’ve strained my pale little soul for the last two semesters. It makes me wonder how it would be to sit down and wholesale read the draft of someone else’s novel, someone else’s carefully strung words. How it would be to sit down and say, what do you think a Christian novel might be in the twenty-first century? Do you think it can exist? Do you think you or I might write one? Perhaps we ought to pray and then begin.

How to Write a Novel (Part I)

-Be frightened underclassman.

-Decide to write novel so that will be person worth speaking to at parties and also to change world and self.

-Excitedly produce short prologue out of thin air.

-Realize have, as usual, given main characters awful names.

-Keep names out of cussedness.

-Hope am good enough writer to become famous anyway.

-Settle in gleefully for months of planning.

-Begin with one outline-ish word document.

-Assign pretentious title from Hopkins.

-Spend summer filling awkward orange notebook with disconnected paragraphs, most written by Tolkien, not self.

-Use special pen.

-Never mention to anyone.

-Make lists of books for character (not self) to read.

-Allow word document to spawn eighteen runty chapter babies.

-Eat M&M’s.

-Eventually mention to one friend, then two, then three.

-Refer to as “my story.”

-Become overwhelmed when friends speak confidently of future B&N author cardboard cutouts.

-Feel weird.

-Search internet for pictures which look like characters.

-Discover no one looks like characters.

-Wonder if characters are too ugly or too pretty or just too fictional.

-Encouraged by crazies of NaNoWriMo, write twenty actual pages in one year.

-Hide away in princess lounge to do so, usually wearing pajama pants and fuzzy blanket as cape.

-Pretend am doing something respectable and normal like biology.

-Feel covert and important.

-Watch Mad Men to inspire self.

-Realize have given self five seventeen year old boys to write about.

-Question own decision making skills.

-Tell more people.

-Continue to shyly use word “story.”

-Have brilliant idea to do independent study!

-Realize will have to begin saying word “novel” for clarity.

-Use “novel” in conversation, usually whispering and doing awkward side-eye to gage reaction.

-Promise to put new friends in as characters “just crossing the street or something.”

-Regret decision.

-Write syllabus for following semester, brazenly assigning self one hundred whole pages.

-Become horrified by others’ unconditional confidence in abilities.

-Decide everyone is possibly mentally deficient (including self, for trying.)

-While home for summer, read Thomas Wolfe for inspiration.

-Hate Thomas Wolfe.

-Continue to read Thomas Wolfe.

-Write another actual chapter.

-Regret hundred-page decision.

-Consider sending pathetic email to independent study professor.

-Give chapters to mother.

-Wait.

-Re-read Mennyms books and weep.

-Receive chapters back from mother, covered in red and “don’t be discouraged.”

-Take twelve deep breaths.

-Revise some.

-In first independent study meeting, when professor cheerfully asks about current progress, begin crying.

-Realize am safe from professor ever asking same question again.

-Continue to be terrified.

-Discover deadlines excellent for forcing courage.

-Create whole bookmarks folder of encouragement websites for writing.

-Become surprised by usefulness of internet.

-Put one word after another.

-Become suspicious when professor unequivocally likes new chapters.

-Wonder nervously if professor actually knows about novels.

-Begin to adjust to own use of word “novel.”

-Struggle, however, to adjust to friends’ use of word “book.”

-Become surprised by continual question, “What’s it about, or can I know?”

-Wonder if world, including own English professor’s wife, believe am hording magical personal secrets.

-Become embarrassed by own inability to summarize plot.

-Wish plot was full of magical personal secrets.

-Tell sassy close friend entire plot in detail.

-Allow friend to give character fatal illness.

-Refuse to allow friend to change first name of main protagonist.

-Become less afraid.

-Turn in self-assigned pages approximately 30 hours late on regular basis.

-Decide sleep is good reward for writing.

-Discover if keep self up writing too long, head will refuse to stop writing, even in bed.

-Decide writing will have to be its own reward.

-Send uncomfortable chapter to friend to avoid asking questions of delightfully awkward professor.

-Become pleased with own cleverness.

-Begin writing acknowledgements page.

-Go, go, go.

-Insert unplanned chapter in act of great daring.

-Decide to use as senior honor’s project so will never have to let go of baby.

-Become sloppy.

-Consolidate chapters into document called “A Draft for Word Count and Ego.”

-Long for revision.

-Dream about revision.

-Wish could time travel to next semester when am revising.

-Become alarmed by professor’s comments about narrative point of view.

-Wonder if POV is even important.

-Wonder what POV even is.

-Become reckless.

-Send apologetic late night emails to professor for incoherence of narrative.

-Drink Earl Grey.

-Cry nonsensically loud tears of joy.

-Nearly finish draft before bed.

-Wake up in elation.

-Actually finish draft!

-Post well-planned facebook status.

-Perform deeply private happy dance.

-Raise ire of entire TLC by printing 144 pages immediately before classtime.

-Use massive stapler.

-Carry around printed draft like newborn child.

-Become terrified by others’ eagerness to hold it.

-Email draft to family. (Change “Ego” to “Encouragement.”)

-Sit in bath planning eradication and merging of certain minor characters.

-Refuse to type or write single word in interest of “letting story breathe.”

-Read portions of draft aloud to self while roommate is away.

-Stab maliciously at embarrassing portions with finger.

-Send impossibly patient independent study professor messy thank you note.

-Consider studying for finals.

-Consider beginning new project.

-Continue instead to mentally smother current project with affection and abuse.

(TO BE CONTINUED)

An Open Letter to My Best Friend

Dear Karen,

In less than two weeks you graduate from college. And while I’m still baffled at how you managed to turn three changes of major into a degree in only seven semesters, I am so proud of you. I’m proud of you for letting your patience be stretched, for crossing the Mississippi, for keeping lists of books and movies, for knowing a whole different language, for quickly moving from dislike of avocadoes to a long, loyal infatuation with them, for being brave, for following your passionate love of purple wherever it leads you, and for always, always reaching out to those around you.

This January you’re going to Haiti for just a bit, and in the fall you are most likely headed to Hungary to teach English, but for the spring and summer, you will be at home, working and reading and waiting in the in-between. In the spirit of Mandy and Nancy’s detective notebook in days of yore, here are some things to do:

-Watch The Graduate exactly once and learn from Ben’s mistakes.

-Make at least two new friends.

-Visit me.

-Read all the Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

-Forget about being edgy. Remember about being kind.

-Make a t-shirt quilt.

-Use the word “wretched” when you feel angsty. It will make everything funnier.

-Re-read The Hiding Place as many times as necessary.

-Take your parents out for ice cream.

-Get that haircut you were wanting.

-Take walks in my neighborhood and hang out with my family.

-Give thanks.

-Buy dishes.

-Go hiking with me.

-Do that much-needed reconnaissance on Ballinger.

-Remember that the amount of frustration you feel when people don’t call or text or love you back is miniscule compared to how much of Jesus’ love you have yet to encounter.

-Don’t treat the next few months like waiting. Treat them like a worthwhile part of your life that God has actual, important plans for.

Last week I showed up at your front door to get you and watched as you chased your old Chocolate-puppy down the block in the rain, alternately expressing your awful anger at him and offering him cheese. I couldn’t stop laughing. Actually, I still can’t. Sorry for letting him out. But thanks for being the best person I know to be grumpy with.

For the record, you are also one of my favorite people to be happy with, to drive with, to talk on the phone with, to plan with, to buy dinner for. And even if we never get to realize together the dreams of going to England, or solving a grand mystery, or driving cross-country, or finally finding that fourth grade picture of us in our matching American flag bathing suits, please remember that I love you, Ka-ren. I’ve probably said that to you multiple times a week since middle school, often out of habit, but it’s always, always true. Thanks for the years of voicemails.

LYLAS forever and forever, no matter how bad my handwriting gets,

Alice

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I loved this day. This was a great day.