On Stories, Women, and Gratitude

Hello again.
It’s been a while. I wish I could say I stopped posting because life was sunshine and rainbows and no intense uphill climbs or downhill falls, that none of my worries came to pass and that I’ve been so busy smiling that I didn’t have time to write.
Sadly, not the case.
I stopped posting because, for a while, it was just too difficult to put things into words. The past year has been hard. It’s been so, so hard. But this is the time of year when I’m supposed to be thankful. And while there is so much— so much— that I am grateful for, including life-bettering friends and life-changing experiences and life-altering shifts in perspective, I think that I’m going to pause and be thankful for something else, too.
When things get difficult, I tend to pick up books and bury myself between the pages. I’m a lot like most bookish introverts that way— I’d rather lose myself in another world for a little while, preferably one more difficult and dangerous than mine, which makes all my problems seem so small. Or maybe one lighter and fluffier, which provides comfort the same way hot cocoa and a fleece blanket or a sunny day might do. I’ve always been like that— books have been my friends as much as people have been, over the years. But lately, my tastes in stories have been changing a bit. Maybe it’s just that I’m not seventeen anymore, but I think mostly it’s that the world around me doesn’t look at all like it did when I was seventeen. I used to seek out anything with words that could make me feel something, even if it was a shitty YA romance or a dry history book about a subject I didn’t care about. I used to read classics for the sake of reading classics. Somehow they all held my interest.
Now… I don’t know that I meant to grow more discerning. I think some of it just seems frivolous. Pointless. Empty. Not all of it, of course, and I still lean pretty hard on some stories I first came across three or four years ago. But I’ve noticed that I tend to seek out stories of a different sort now. I look for female protagonists. People who fight for justice in a world that won’t provide it. Stories about a vision for what the world should be, and how to fight those who would see all that is beautiful in it destroyed. I seek out stories about women who fight the odds. I find books that seem to wrap up everything in a nice little bow, and then show exactly how much chaos and destruction seethe underneath, ready to reappear as soon as the bow starts coming untied. I still appreciate a good love story— I do— but it seems I’ve lost patience for the stories with low stakes. I used to find them comforting, now I mostly find them unrealistic.
The trends in my reading habits match up with some trends in publishing, too. I was talking to my mom about that a few weeks ago. Books like The Handmaid’s Tale or Red Rising or the His Dark Materials series were all written in an era when the worst hadn’t happened yet. Now, we not only have something to fear, but we have a painful approximate knowledge of what the realization of our fears will look like. My mom’s the one who pointed out that if The Handmaid’s Tale is “this is what could happen, and you should fear it,” then Testaments is “the worst has already happened, here is how you fight it.” Red Rising was an adventure, a lark, something that played too easily with violence and brutality, because we were unfamiliar with it as a society. Iron Gold, but perhaps more so Dark Age, tells the stories of what happens when none of the neat, clean endings or peaceful possibilities work out. The bloody, gritty writing is less shocking, and possibly even less rampant, because there is so much more awareness written between the lines. (I could make the same comment for the recent follow-up novel for The Darkest Minds, but more on that later). As for His Dark Materials, the original three books might have been controversial, but they were always far more of a children’s adventure story that was comfortable with moral gray zones and mature philosophical ramblings than they were an outright political commentary. The follow-up trilogy, The Book of Dust, is far more explicit in its commentary regarding the insidious nature of power-hungry, paranoid, blind politics— and the scope of the world, in which all of the natural laws are turned on their heads and all of the characters must struggle with doing terrible things, hoping that the ends will eventually justify the means for their chosen side. Protagonists and antagonists blur.
My point is that the current age of literature reflects the current age in which we live.
I am not the only person I know who has had a rough year. In fact, mine was downright easy in comparison to what I know others are dealing with.
The world is changing, I am growing far more familiar with tragedy than I would like, and hopelessness seems to abound. I’d like to say that it’s because I’m twenty years old and leaving the world of childhood behind and this is just maturity and the real world kicking in— and I’m sure that is partially the case— but I am all to aware that the world didn’t look like this ten years ago. And I’ve known that the world was turning uglier day by day since before I turned eighteen. So no, I don’t think it’s just “growing up.”
But I didn’t start writing this post to talk about politics and pain and barely-suppressed rage. Instead, I want to talk about gratitude.
As with much in my life, I have survived this year in part due to books. Not just books, but the role models I’ve found within their pages. And if I’m going to issue gratitude for anything, then it may as well be for them— the media I’ve been consuming (books, plays, television, movies, music), and the powerful women who have inspired me to keep going. So without further ado, here are the stories and a number of women who have gotten me through 2019.
(I should note that I did not include rereads or rewatches. There are other stories that have given me strength for many years, but these are specific to my here and my now).
Lyra Silvertongue, The Book of Dust. I read The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass years ago, when I was probably too young for them. I adored all three books. They were complex, the world was detailed, and the protagonist was interesting but imperfect. I didn’t pay much attention to the politics until I was in the process of reading the follow-up series, which not only explores that world further, but mutilates it, rips it apart, and leaves the characters to pick up the pieces. And frankly, part of what I love about this series is that these characters are all allowed to be imperfect, and deeply so. No one is allowed to be entirely certain that what they are doing is the Right Thing. Lyra in particular has grown from the initial series, and while she’s stronger in some ways, she’s also far, far less surefooted and as a result has lost much of her grounding, and it hurts her. She’s not unbreakable; in fact, she’s a little bit broken. But unlike when she was a child, the fight she engages in becomes wholly her choice. For me, the discovery of La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth came at the perfect time. I desperately needed a dialogue on what happens when good shrinks and evil becomes organized, and the importance of seeking wonder and imagination regardless— and I got one.
Annalise Keating, How to Get Away with Murder. I almost didn’t put her on this list. The show itself is a bit gruesome and not terribly realistic, but it is Annalise’s story that remains utterly compelling. Mostly, the scene in front of the Supreme Court, in which she demands a better world. That, and the amount of determination, courage, and grit that she possesses. Like most of my favorite characters, she is deeply flawed, and it’s what makes her human— which makes it okay if I am human, too. She is flawed and ambitious and unapologetic, and I needed her desperately.
Sara Bareilles, Amidst the Chaos. This album has gotten me through this year like nothing else. It’s all about beauty in tragedy, determination to go forwards, and staying true to oneself despite all the heartbreak. More than that, it’s about not forgetting the good memories of the past, even as the present rages on. This album has been a touchstone for me, and I’m not kidding when I say it’s gotten me through some nights when I just wanted to cry and punch things until I fell asleep.
Kat, The Starless Sea. No, I’m not just putting this on the list because I really love Erin Morgenstern and I was unbelievably excited for the release of this book. It’s Kat, specifically. She’s a reader, but more than that she’s a creator. She’s loyal. She’s a good friend in every way that counts, but more than that, she is the embodiment of what it means to really love a good story enough to keep it going past its end. I’ve struggled with writer’s block more this year than ever before in my life— I’ve had so much difficulty articulating how I feel about the world. I needed a Kat, and I got her in book form, and it was enough to bring the inspiration back.
Zu, The Darkest Legacy. I did not expect this book to hit me as hard as it did. At all. I read The Darkest Minds, the whole trilogy, in high school— I vividly remember bringing Never Fade with me on a college tour and reading it in my hotel bed. At the time, the books were fun, and not a whole lot more. It was a story about kids with superpowers, adults who don’t trust them, bad things happen but the good guys win. The Darkest Legacy sums up exactly what I mean when I say that the neat pretty bows that get tied up are anything but neat, because of everything still lurking underneath. Policy changes or one single victory do not fix the rot in the woodwork, and there will always be another battle to fight. I have never associated political commentary or a sense of true, realistic urgency with a YA book, let alone something that I read and discarded in high school. But this… It made me afraid, full of knowledge of exactly how much horror this world is capable of dealing out. But more than that, it made me the kind of angry that makes me want to start a revolution. I needed that urgency, and I needed proof that other people were angry and afraid, too.
Sabrina Mahfouz, A History of Water in the Middle East. This play was one of the stranger theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. Among other things, it made me think— about women’s stories around the world, about international policy, about colonialism, about how I do or do not fit into any of the different machinations around the world. Mostly it made me think about identity, and about strength, and what that means. I needed something to open my sense of the world I live in— not some fantasy or some strange world in which everything bad has already happened, but this world, where it is still happening, and we have a chance to stop and think and fix it.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, justice of the United States Supreme Court. Not a fictional character. Just a strong, powerful individual. She is survivor. She has been through so, so much. And yet she remains fair, composed, proud. At a time when I as a Jewish woman feel unsafe in America, she is a lifeline.
Elizabeth Warren, democratic candidate for President. Also not fictional. Just a woman brave enough to stand up and decide that she deserves something, because she has done the work and she knows what she is about. She has her own #metoo story and refuses to be cowed. In a time when I have been struggling to feel anything but hopeless and helpless in terms of representation in politics, Elizabeth Warren has been, if nothing else, a reason to care.
Captain Marvel. I’m not going to go into this, actually— I wrote a whole post about it not long ago. I’ll link it here.
The Good Place. I am not going to pretend that I haven’t leaned on this show like a lifeline on bad days. This, and Brooklyn 99. Because yes, I have needed reminders of goodness— simple, important, goodness. Friendships are important, frequently life changing. Things don’t stay bad forever. There isn’t always an “answer.” There is always, always a reason to keep trying. People change over time. As my mom likes to say (and if it isn’t clear by now, my mom is on that list of amazing women for whom I am unendingly thankful)— in the en, everything will be okay. If it isn’t okay, it’s not the end.
Hadestown. This musical might deserve its own post, eventually. It’s… I’m not sure I have the words for why it has been so important to me, of late. I think it comes down to the recurring line that “it’s a sad song, but we sing it anyway.” This show is about life, even in death. It’s about love, even when it’s doomed. And it’s about telling the story, so that we don’t forget. It’s about difficult journeys, and the lengths that two people can go to for one another. It’s an unflinching look at corruption and pain and suffering, seen through the lens of capitalism. It’s unexpectedly dark and undeniably beautiful and it is the perfect reminder of what hope can do in the face of stagnant oppression. Again, something I have desperately needed of late.

These are not, of course, the only stories I have absorbed this year or the only women I have admired. But right now, with less than two months left in 2019, these are the works and the people that I am so thankful to have discovered or learned more about, that have kept me afloat in this harsh and ever-shifting world. If I have been reading more war stories of late, then it is because I am drawing strength from their pages in order to go fight the battles of my own reality.
This year has not been easy. This world, right now, is not easy. But these stories, these women, these bits of truth in a world that likes to cloud it out; they have all made it less difficult to bear. And I am grateful, from the bottom of my heart.

 

To the Daughter I May Never Have, A Letter You Will Never Read

I do not know how to raise a child in this America. Moreover, I do not know how to raise a girl from fetus— or heartbeat— to woman in this America.

As of right now, I am not pregnant.
I am not a mother.
I do not know how to be either of those things.

I do not know if I will have wanted you.
I do not know if I will have had the ability to plan the circumstances of your existence.

You will have friends who— or perhaps you yourself— will be brought into this world as a result of violence. There is no therapy in place for the trauma of that— for eighteen years of unwanted, for eighteen years of pain, for the infinity of the repercussions.

Your body is a footnote in the legislature of your time. The men who wrote it will likely be dead by the time you are of age to vote, their wealth safely in the hands of their sons.

I do not know how to explain to you that once, we believed we were free.
I do not know how to explain that we must constantly fight.

I will teach you to carry your keys between the fingers that make up your fists.
I will teach you to use your words, because lashing out hurts both of you— bruised hands, kickback, shoulder sprains— but words can have a lasting impact, in the press, in history books, on the Congress courtroom floor.
I will explain to you how each level of the government works, so that it is instilled in you so deeply that the mechanisms of how to make a change make perfect sense.

You are likely to be unsafe. You are Jewish by my blood. You are woman by your birth. You are a threat to the very establishment that holds this America in its thrall. You are unsafe, and you will grow anyway. You will be the climbing wisteria branches and the tall sunflowers, choking out those who would try to cut you down. You will suck the nutrients from the earth in order to grow tall. You will have to take what you want. You will have to stand your ground.

You will not understand, at first, that you are different. That your rights are diminished, that you have been given an unfair place behind the starting line, that you have to finish ahead for your finish to be counted at all. You will learn, and it will be the world who teaches you that. Not I.

Perhaps you will discover that you like girls. Perhaps you will not consider yourself a girl. I want to say that I will love you regardless, in spite of, and because of the decisions you will make. I want to. I do.
But I worry that I will not know how to love you.

I worry that you will come about because of fear.
I worry that if I do not want you, in your embryonic state, the size and shape of a squashed cherry tomato but perhaps with a bleeding beating heart, I will have no choice but to have you. I worry that I will resent you.

I do not know how to explain to you that there are people in the world who will hate you because of what you are, what body parts you are born with, what blood runs in your veins, what you choose to say and how you choose to say it. They will insult you. They will try to hurt you. There will be days when you are too exhausted and broken and battered to believe that you will rise up again. And you will.

I do not know how to explain to you that I will not be able to shield you.
I do not know what horrors may come next.
I will have to explain the Holocaust. I worry that I will explain it while we live in its revival.

I wonder if there will be days when I am too exhausted from fighting to teach you how.
I wonder if I fight all the time, will you only learn how to fight, and never to love?
I think sometimes it would be better if you never happen. I think sometimes that it would be cruel, to bear you to term, to allow you to breathe in the toxic air of this planet whose ruination seems so imminent.

None of it is your fault. But I wonder that they care about your life when it is not yours, and not mine before, during, or after you.
How can I explain that you are only a body to them, to be used and perhaps loved, but still thrown away when your political purpose has either failed or served?

They will want you to serve.

If I have you, am I succumbing to serving their ends myself?
Or will you be the Revolution, my pushback against their ways, and you the master’s tool to dismantle the master’s house?

The world is large and sometimes beautiful, but also small and cramped and dark, full of the same pitfalls again and again.

I am wrapped up in claustrophobic city walls.

I do not want you born inside of them.

I do not want you born of hate.

Perhaps I do not want you.
But will I have a choice?

Triumphs in Representation: Why I Cried My Eyes Out at Captain Marvel

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It’s been pointed out to me by a number of people— friends, boyfriend, parents— that it can be hard to keep up with the sheer amount of media I consume. Some of you may remember that time I read 371 books in 365 days. When I’m not reading, I’m watching or writing or listening. It’s not that I’m tuned in to media 24/7, but I’d rather spend my free time absorbing something interesting than playing a game on my phone until my eyes glaze over. And it’s not even that I’m constantly reading or watching or whatever— it’s partially that I started so young, back when there was proper free time, that it would be difficult for anyone my age to catch up. To this day, my parents own one television. I’ve never complained about that fact— it meant that I was watching the TV or movies that they wanted to watch, and so I was exposed to Buffy, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, and Orphan Black. The result? I was never a child of the Disney TV generation. I have never seen Spongebob. I don’t understand the appeal of Hannah Montana. I completely missed High School Musical until I was almost out of high school myself. I don’t understand half the pop culture jokes that my peers throw around. And I don’t mind.

Because in that time, I was mostly watching sci-fi and superhero movies, and when that wasn’t the case, I was outside or reading a book. Lots of books. I was lucky— I liked to read, I had an older brother who also liked to read and who had a bookshelf full of tomes I could borrow, and on top of that a school with a well-equipped library and librarians who didn’t mind special-ordering new releases for me. More than that, conversations with my mom when we were driving somewhere mostly went like this:

Me: oooooo a toy store can we go?
Mom: Maybe another time.
Me: what about Krispy Kreme? I want a snack.
Mom: I packed you trail mix and we have plenty of food at home.
Me: What about the bookst–
Mom: Yes of course! I’ll pull over there now.

The stuff I was reading wasn’t all good. Some was— and was better than I probably thought it was at the time. Some kept me busy, when I had been reading fast and needed something challenging but the things that were more challenging contained language and plots that I wasn’t ready for yet. I read Redwall, and almost ALL of the Warriors books (yes, the ones about cats). I read the Magic Treehouse books for a little bit, but switched over to the Secrets of Droon books after only a few volumes. I somehow skipped over Diary of a Wimpy Kid entirely but read the whole How to Train Your Dragon series. I’m pretty sure that I’ve read everything Scott Westerfeld, Gail Carson Levine, and Shannon Hale have ever published. I’ve read a lot of books that I’m only now discovering not everyone else has encountered. I thought it was normal— most of my friends at the time were reading similar books, I was borrowing from my parents and brother, and I went to some small schools. It’s only now that I realize not everyone found Tamora Pierce. Not everyone found themselves in Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Hardly anyone seems to have read the Septimus Heap books, and almost no one has read the Land of Elyon books or Chasing Vermeer. The Secrets of Droon series doesn’t even ring a bell for most people. And now, almost everyone I know is too old to read them. They’ve passed the age at which those books are magic and personality-shaping and mindset-crafting. To this day, when I encounter people who have read some of these books, it’s an instant friendship— because we were all shaped at young ages by these characters who have helped to make us whole. We have shared stories in common, and that’s enough to forge a commonality and an understanding between us. I’ve made friends on different continents and in different age groups all of of “oh, you’ve read The Name of the Wind?” Or “Yes, I read Fangirl and Eleanor and Park, too.” One particularly instant friendship was Cornelia Funke’s Dragon Rider, followed by a realization of a simultaneous love of Brandon Sanderson’s work. Another was the result of The Egypt Game, and yet another the result of Alanna the Lioness. Half the time, I still depend on books to recommend people rather than the other way around.

The truly crazy thing to me, though, is how few of the characters I’ve read about I’ve ever truly been able to relate to. A lot of main characters were men. Most of the hero-type characters who got secret identities and cool armor were men. A lot of female characters needed princes or heroes or warriors to save them. Going back, I’ve noticed a lot of mansplaining and helpless damsels.

I’m grateful for the heroes and the role models I did have. I will never hesitate to celebrate them with every chance I get.

Anne Shirley has always been my soul-character— relatable in every way, and I read the books at the exact right time, right when i needed a fictional friend, right when I needed someone to read about who I felt would truly understand me. I still rely on Lucy Maud Montgomery’s writing when I feel like I need a friend. Between that and the Little House series, I had fictional female role models who had tempers and sometimes lost them, who could be ladies but also run around and get dirt on their noses, who understood the point of puffed sleeves and flower crowns and imaginary friends but who could also disappear into a fat book or a baking frenzy. 

I read the All of a Kind Family books over and over again, because here were girls who were Jewish and about my age.

I read the Nancy Drew books, and again, it was something— a girl with friends, with a boyfriend who is there but who doesn’t overshadow, and she solves problems with her brain, by flirting if she wants to, who has a cool car and two best friends.

Of course I had Hermione Granger. I had various iterations of “the smart girl,” “the cool girl,” “the girl who’s friends with fairies,” or “the girl who could do magic.” I had all of the girls from the fairy-tale retellings that I now study for a career, the girls who were smarter or braver or just plain ballsier and more feminist than the ones we see in the Disney movies and the original stories.

I found representation in some books, a representation partially crafted by my own mind and my own ability to see myself in characters. I reread those books hundreds of thousands of times. I still have my first copy of Anne of Green Gables, even though I think half the pages are falling out. I’ve re-watched Green Gables Fables and the series with Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie more times than I can count. I found the “me” that I needed to see between the pages of books.

But I never found her in anything resembling a larger-than-life capacity.

I grew up on comic books, and to this day Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat is my favorite Marvel comics character. Not because I want to walk through walls (though that’d be pretty cool). Not because she has a cool dragon (though that’d be awesome). Instead, it’s because she’s Jewish, she’s a girl, she goes through a lot, people she cares about have bad things happen to them, and in the end she’s okay. She’s better than okay— she’s strong, she takes no crap from anyone, and she saves the world by herself, without anyone else stepping in to save the day. She was the first comic book character I could ever fully relate to. Before I found the X-Men comics, I’d only ever really read the Fantastic Four. And I’m sorry, but there’s no world in which I relate to Sue Storm, whose power is literally to become invisible, and who never has a storyline independent of a man. Kitty Pryde changed that for me— I could see myself in her, in a way that I hadn’t found in comics before.  But she was still between the pages of a comic, and when the movies came around, the best character in them was pushed to the sidelines, and now people don’t know who I’m talking about besides “oh, that kid Ellen Page played that one time.”

I don’t think I even realized that anything was missing— to me, that was just how things were. Quake only existed on TV. Mockingbird never got to come into her own powers outside of the books. Jean Grey was there but she was crazy and also kind of dead. Sue Storm was… well, exactly who she was in the comics. Even Wonder Woman spun around in her pretty skirts and after telling us she wouldn’t, ended up falling in love. Beautiful as it was to see the Amazons, half of them didn’t have names and those who did died. Outside of comics, I got to see Princess Leia become General Leia, but I never got to see how it happened. 

I had no reason to expect anything more, because nothing more had ever been given.

Last night, I went to go see Captain Marvel, and something fundamentally changed. For the first time in my life, I saw a role model on a big screen that I wish I could have had as a little kid. I saw a girl who pushed too hard, who ran too fast, who flipped heels-over-head over the handlebars of her bicycle. Just. Like. Me. I saw a girl who jumped, trusting that the air would catch her, only to go crashing to the ground. And I saw her pick herself up again, time and time again. I saw a girl who wore leather jackets and sang her heart out without anyone commenting on her appearance or her hair or her weight. I saw a girl who constantly reached for more, climbing higher even though she might fall, pushing harder even when it hurt. I saw a woman figure out who she was, through friendships. I saw her get proved wrong and right a hundred times over, and come through it with humility and strength on the other end. I saw a woman with friendships that meant something, and the friends were just as strong, just as individual, and just as powerful, all in different ways. I saw a woman fly. 

Sitting in a dark movie theater, both hands wrapped around my boyfriend’s arm (probably squeezing so tightly that it hurt, sorry), tears started leaking out of the corners of my eyes. I don’t think I even noticed it happening until my entire face was hot and my nose stuffy. There’s a sequence that I won’t spoil for those who haven’t seen it yet, and it’s not even a plot point, there’s no dialogue, there’s nothing but a fundamental truth that is central to who I am and I don’t think I even realized it until I watched it on the screen.

Much as I wish I could have had that experience as a child, I’m glad I got to see it now. I’m glad it happened. I waited for it so long— without even knowing what I was waiting for— that when it finally happened, it was like I could finally put a weight down, and then pick it up, ready to carry it with the all the strength I could muster.

The movie ended, and I wanted to fly. I wanted to jump higher, push harder, throw myself at a wall until the wall gave up and I was on the other side. I wanted to write. I wanted to read. I wanted to revisit every literary hero I’ve ever had and tell them that this is possible. I wanted to call up every female friend I have and tell them to go see this film. I felt me. I felt more me than I have in since I was a kid who didn’t know what limits were.

Representation matters. It matters like it did when I found the All of a Kind family and realized that characters didn’t have to be Christian, they could be Jewish like me. It matters like it did when I found X-Men and realized that those Jewish girls could have superpowers and didn’t have to take anything from anyone— they could phase the whole world in and out of existence if they wanted to. It matters like it did every single time I found a character or an experience that made me feel seen. It matters like it does every single day when I scroll through news headlines, searching for proof that I can do something that matters, too. It matters like it does when I watch the same video over and over of Keri Strugg’s one-footed landing at the Olympics, or read the stories about people I know, who have gotten hurt and gotten back up again. It matters because it has always mattered, and it will be important until we all have a way to tell our stories, to be seen, to show the full force of human willpower and strength in all its forms.

Captain Marvel was an infusion of inspiration that I didn’t know I needed. It’s one thing to say “I want a superhero movie about a woman,” or “oh, a woman could totally be the hero of that story.” It’s something completely different to see it happen on a massive screen, in a packed theater, knowing that this is a revelation that is sweeping the country and maybe the globe. Women are strong. Women are powerful. Women can climb higher, can reach for more, can be headstrong and explosive and full forces of nature the likes of which have yet to be seen, and on top of it can be humble and kind and human, all of which are an entirely different kind of strength. I don’t know if I ever expected to truly see this happen. I can only imagine what it must be like for people of my parents’ generation or older, who grew up on some of the same stories as I did, who have gone decades more than I have without this kind of revelation.

Stories are powerful. Seeing ourselves reflected in the media we consume makes us feel like we’re powerful, too.

In all the media I’ve consumed in the twenty years I’ve been alive, this one is in the running for things that have mattered most.

This is not the conclusion to a battle for inclusion or representation.  I can only hope that is the beginning. The beginning of reaching for more, because now we see that more is possible— more can be ours.

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Photo credits: thewrap.com, marvel.com

An unexpected note: this is my 100th post on this blog. Something seems fitting that it’s about this.

On the Subject of Ducks and Doing Too Much

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Photo by Rachel Xiao on Pexels.com

It’s not easy to get your ducks all in a row, but once they’re there, they look really good. A nice matched set. Unfortunately, the thing about ducks is that they have minds of their own and aren’t always well-behaved, so sometimes they go off wandering, at which point you’re left with two choices: you can either chase them down, which will take time and energy but you will have your neat row of ducks again, but it also carries with it the risk that the ones who didn’t go off wandering will do so while you’re chasing the ones who did. Or, alternately, you can sit there guarding the ones that didn’t run off, so you still have a row of relatively well-behaved ducks, just not quite as many as you had before. Either of these options are acceptable, so long as you still have ducks and don’t mind continuing to corral them until you can finally somehow get them to a pond. Eventually, you may feel a little bit desperate, but you still have to keep trying.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I came up with this description when I was having a very, very not good day, probably around the beginning of this semester, maybe towards the middle of finals week last semester. Either way, the ducks were decidedly off wandering, and I was wasting way more energy than I would have liked trying to chase them all down.

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Photo by Brandon Montrone on Pexels.com

The fact remains— eventually, the ducks will get to a pond. They might not be the ducks you started out with, but you will have some. And maybe trying to put them all in a row for now is not the best use of time— finding them in the first place is. After all, ducks aren’t really meant to be in rows.

Resolutions

It’s a little late for New Years resolutions now, given that we’re already more than halfway done with January (we’re more than halfway through with January- what??). But that’s not going to stop me from coming up with and posting some of my goals for the next semester, maybe the next year. All in all, it’s pretty simple. I like the idea of resolutions. I like the idea of writing down ways to make myself— and my quality of life— a little better. I also really appreciate my parents’ take on this, which I’m pretty sure I’ve blogged about before: Burning and planting. For every good thing you choose to take with you into the next year, you choose one not-so-good thing to leave behind. So, without further ado:

I’m burning the like-seeking, popularity-wanting middle school side that sometimes emerges. I’m planting comfort in myself, my body, and my art and words. I am myself, and I have to be comfortable with that— I can’t rely on others for my own validation. First and foremost, that has to come from me. I’m planting, in part, my ambition that’s always been there. I want to nurture it, to grow, to really take flight in the way that I know I can.
I’m planting the part of me that somehow finds the willpower to keep going, despite the exhaustion, despite the twelve different types of “I can’t” that consistently flash through my head. But I’m trying my hardest to burn the anxiety and insecurity that frequently either gets in my way or appears as a byproduct of the same events that make me push so hard.
Not to be too Kondo-esque about all of this, but I’m planting the seeds of what has already brought me joy. And the things I’m burning aren’t just going away— there’s a reason we plant things, too. The future grows out of the past. We can’t learn from mistakes if we just let the mistakes blow away in the wind. Not all of my burnings and plantings will stick— I can’t guarantee that I’ll tame my anxiety this year, or that I’ll consistently be mindful of where I am and what I’m doing. I’m sure I’ll end up binge-watching a mediocre show full of pretty people while eating chip after chip, neglecting my homework and then waking up exhausted the next day. But my point is that I will be aware. I will keep working, because I know what makes me happy, I want to be happy, and most of all, I am reminding myself that I deserve to be happy.
Whatever your goals are, so do you. Just do your best— don’t give up. Resolutions aren’t goals, as far as I’m concerned. They’re decisions. I am deciding to be happy. I am deciding to aim for confidence and ambition and mindfulness.

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Transformation and Gratitude

 

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Two weeks ago, I packed a small suitcase and a purse, got on a plane, and flew halfway across the world with twenty-eight strangers.

Now, I write this from an airplane, watching a country I didn’t even realize I’d fallen in love with disappear under the clouds and into the distance as I fly back home. 

Two weeks ago, I knew that I was doing something a little bit crazy. I knew that I didn’t know anyone, and that I was flying to a country where I’d never been, where I didn’t speak the language all that well, and where I was one of the youngest members of the group. I knew I was in for not a lot of sleep, and I knew that I was about to embark on some kind of adventure. 

Two weeks ago, I had no idea what I was in for. 

In the space of fifteen days, those twenty-five strangers have become a family. From that group, I have gained colleagues and peers, friends, a true community.

Israel has gone from a distant spot on the map, the center of decades of political rhetoric, to centuries of history whose remains and continuations I have seen and lived and breathed, to a place of beauty and wonder and a constant tug to one day come back. 

I have been breathless with amazement, awestruck nearly every other second, and left with a catch in my throat and tears in my eyes more times than I can count. 

I have climbed the mountain where an entire city chose death over slavery. I have slept under more stars than I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I have placed my hands in the dirt and helped uncover the history of a civilization long lost. I have climbed tels, stood on the stone walls of civilizations long gone. I have walked through an entire history of my people, and I have formed friendships and memories that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Falafel in the flea market at Jaffa, where we took our first group picture and learned each other’s names. 

Tel Megiddo, where history became tangible, where we truly realized just how ancient and sacred the ground we stood on might be. 

The sun over Bet She’An, as we walked a Roman road and stood in the center of an ancient theater. 

Ein Zivan, where a dog stole one shoe but all of our hearts, where we ate at large tables all together, where we danced without self-consciousness, where we stopped being strangers and started turning into friends.  

The Banyas, where our staff members started to become people, separate identities from the trip organizer logos on their shirts. 

Khirbet Kaiyafeh, where we walked nearly a mile in order to hear the stories that so few know, where we could stand inside of the walls discussed in biblical words. 

The City of David and the Temple Mount, the Kotel and the rooftops of Jerusalem, where history and reality blur together so closely that they can hardly be distinguished.

The halls of Hebrew University, where we sat in lectures and laughed and learned, where we drank university coffee and had our hands cramp up from too many notes just like any other student’s would. 

Usha, where we brushed and dug and sieved, drank sage and hyssop tea, and found ourselves drenched and filthy but laughing all the way as a downpour seemed to target our group specifically. 

Our bus, which we covered in mud, rode barefoot, grew territorial over our seats, had conversations about life, the universe, and everything, translated Hebrew into English, and slept more than any of us did in any of the hotels we were actually at. 

Tzfat, where everything is tkhelet, and where my soul lit up like I’d never felt before. 

A quiet cafe in Jerusalem, where we ate sweet potato fries and talked about dogs until 2018 came to an end. 

Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl, where we remembered nearly a century of bravery and loss. 

A campfire, where we sang and ate bamba and strange marshmallows, where we drank some of the best tea I’ve ever had, where we wore ponchos and blankets that made us colorful and bright and only a little bit less cold than we were before. 

The path up Masada, where we shivered and shook in the dark until we found ourselves walking with arms around each other, walking in lockstep, through the darkness, wind whipping our faces and sand scratching into our skin, until we reached the top and found ourselves breathless, full of adrenaline, and dumbstruck with the tangible history of our roots and the beauty of the vast empty view.

A park designed for children, where we ran for the swings, laughing with abandon.

A cold, windy market street where we huddled together for warmth, shivering and smiling in equal measure. 

Two shabbats, where I learned about others and myself, found answers to questions with which I’ve struggled for nearly two decades. 

The tiny hotel basement where we began to say goodbye. 

And finally an airport, where we played Words With Friends, in a massive, cross-group tournament, trying our hardest not to miss each other before we left the ground. 

This trip has changed my life. 

I feel like I’ve been dreaming, and I don’t know how much I want to wake up. Tomorrow, I go back to my life— to books and to classes, to a cold over-chlorinated pool, to the art department I love so dearly. I’ll be returning to grocery shopping and dollars, no more street food and shekels. Lights that turn on without a strange buzzing flicker, showers with curtains and doors that actually close, tea and coffee that isn’t instant or eighty percent milk.  City lights and no mountains to speak of. My family. The friends back home who have become like family. 

I want to go home, and it’s time. 

But the life that I’ve lived feels so mundane. 

I want the magic of these fourteen days to last forever.

But if I have learned anything over the past two weeks, it is this: 

Listening to others and making actions count makes magic out of nothing. 

So I’ll keep my eyes open for the mountains. 

I’ll listen to new voices and try to broaden my worldview when and where I can.

I’ll refuse to say goodbye, because it isn’t— it’s a see you later, it’s a we’ll talk soon. 

And most importantly, I’ll remember to say thank you as much and as often as I can. 

Thank you to the friends who made these two weeks unforgettable. 

Thank you to the world whose natural beauty never fails to stop my heart for just half a second every time. 

Thank you to my history, which is steeped into my roots, good and bad, with its thoroughly tangled discourse.

Thank you to the country I grew up in, and thank you to the one where I’ve been told all my life I’d belong. 

Thank you to the mountains. Thank you to the cities. Thank you to the people, the books, and the rain. 

Thank you, thank you, thank you, shouted from rooftops and walltops and the bottoms of valleys.

I’m saying shalom, but I don’t think I mean goodbye. 

Shalom, be at peace. 

Shalom, hello. 

 

 

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5 Years, and an Update

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According to WordPress’s analytics system, today marks 5 years from the day I started Memories on a Page. That number is completely crazy to me, because on the one hand, 5 years is not that long a period of time. It’s not even a relative second compared to the number of years it takes for something like a human to evolve.

Five years ago, my favorite authors definitely  included Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. I  loved Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. I had just started to get really into Joss Whedon. I wasn’t a big coffee drinker yet, but that was mostly because I lacked the funds and equipment with which to buy or make coffee regularly. I liked baking, and was just starting to figure out some more complex recipes. Not that much has changed, really. Well, I started drinking more coffee, of higher quality.

On the other hand:

Five years ago, I had just started high school. Five years ago, everyone I knew was still obsessed with Divergent and the Hunger Games, and Vampire Academy was just starting to catch on. I don’t remember what I was reading, but it might have been by Sarah J. Maas (okay, that’s also still very much me). Five years ago, I hadn’t quit policy debate. Five years ago, I hadn’t even thought about college except knowing I would be an English major (hah), let alone ended up in the place I am now. Five years ago was my first NaNoWriMo ever. Five years ago, I could not conceive of a world larger than my middle school and high school, and those were already pretty darn huge to me. I had not yet gone through some of the longest, most stressful experiences yet. I had also not yet encountered people who would grow to be some of the best friends in the world. I thought I knew everything. Turns out, I’ll never stop learning.

I am still me from five years ago, but I am a stronger, older, hopefully improved me. Thinking about just how much has happened in five years honestly hurts my brain a little bit, and I’m not entirely sure what to say.

What I do know is that I should say this to all of you: thank you for sticking around and checking back here, even though I update sporadically at best. Thank you for the support. Thank you for reading my books. Thank you for looking at my art. Thank you for reading the ramblings of a strange girl who has always liked books and tea better than most people.

Apparently this is the time of year when I get restless and feel the creative itch to do something new. It doesn’t matter if I’ve just finished NaNoWriMo and I’m horribly sleep deprived, it doesn’t matter if I’m in the middle of finals week, I always seem to find myself trying out something creative at the beginning of December. Once year, I baked seven kinds of holiday cookies in three days, two batches of each kind. Another, I started learning calligraphy. Five years ago today, I started this blog. And this year, it seems I am starting something new once again.

I have just opened up two shops for my art, one on RedBubble (shop name MaxxeRiann) and one on Society6 (shop name inkandpaperx).

https://society6.com/inkandpaperx

https://www.redbubble.com/people/MaxxeRiann/shop?asc=u

Feel free to check them out. I would love your support.

Five years is a long time. I think I am going to go read some Rothfuss or some Tolkien, drink some tea, and reflect on just how much some things have changed— and how grateful I am for a number of the ones that have stayed the same. A lot has happened in five years, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

 

What’s Up?

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Hey everyone,

Long time, no write, I guess. I’ve been thinking about re-vamping the memoriesonapage site. The URL isn’t going to change, and I don’t know if much about the layout will. But I’ve been thinking about using it to make a platform for… well, people like me, I guess. Who do too much, who love what they do. Who write a lot of words, do a lot of yoga, and still have to drink ten cups of tea to keep up.

So what’s been going on? I’ve been doing way too much, as usual. I got into college. I’m doing a triple major. I’ve gotten really into yoga. I’ve been working hard at the writing.

Light of the Oceans will be coming out soon.

The sequel to Touchstones should follow shortly after that.

I’ve submitted short stories to some magazines. Last year, one of them won a contest.
I’m still me. I still drink way too much tea and read too many books. I’m still (probably unhealthily obsessed) with the fall and winter months.

I moved to New Jersey for school; I guess that’s new— I actually get winters now.

More news to follow soon…
Things to expect:

– links to my online portfolio, where some of my writing and artwork are probably going to start appearing more frequently

– links to my book (s! Plural! I am very excited about this!)

– anxiety management tips— basically “how to do too much without completely falling apart”

– articles on my adventures traveling the world

– writing tips, prompts, and motivational quotes

– bullet journal things, if any of you have any interest in that

– possibly, POSSIBLY some merch related to my writing and my art… we’ll have to wait and see about that one

– more regularly scheduled content! I think my hiatus from the internet may actually be over

– i don’t know yet— if any of you have any ideas, feel free to leave that in the comments below.

Memoriam


Hello, Internet.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. A lot has happened. Namely, an election and an inauguration. And right around the time that those happened, I disappeared from this blog.

So why am I back?

It’s simple. I feel that I have held my tongue long enough. I have kept quiet about so many political issues. I have restrained myself to private group chats and one-on-one conversations. No one explicitly told me to sit back and shut up, but nevertheless, that is what I did. I have felt, in a word, silenced.

I am breaking that silence now. I’m not going to rant about policies or politics. Instead, I am going to tell you a story.

Around this time last year, I visited St. Louis with my family. We drove around the city, to every place my grandmother could remember having lived. We—my dad, my mom, my brother, my Grampa, and I—listened to my Grammy as she openly discussed her childhood with me.

We ended our day at the local cemetery, where much of our family is buried. We walked amongst the headstones, and my brother and I listened for what felt like hours to stories of family members we’d never met.

“She would have loved your writing.”

“You look just like him.”

“He was such a character.”

I’ve never met most of this side of my family, and I only dimly recognized most of the names etched into the stones. But there was a sense of connectivity binding us all together, a family both living and dead, strong enough that I felt an urge to pick up a stray rock and lay it atop the nearest grave marker. My brother did the same.

When we left the cemetery that day, I remember not knowing how to feel. I had gained so many stories, whole aspects to my family that had previously gone unexplained. And I felt some kind of loss, too, at the knowledge that I only had stories through which I could meet these people.

That cemetery was vandalized earlier this week. I was sitting at my kitchen table doing homework when I heard my father, usually so mild-mannered and polite, exclaim, “Shit.” with the kind of tone that can’t be mistaken for anything but disaster.

My head snapped up and I turned towards him, half afraid to ask what had happened, what was wrong. When he told me, something inside of me crumpled up into a little ball and hasn’t unfurled since.

My family’s headstones look to be okay, though we don’t know for sure yet. But the blow struck close enough to home to leave me reeling. I’m still reeling.

Names and stories and maybe a couple of photographs. That’s all the living have, to remember the dead.

By vandalizing the names, by destroying the places we go to tell the stories, a crime far greater than scrawling graffiti on a rock is committed. It’s the destruction of a memory, of history. It’s the attempted erasure of our ability to connect with our past.

I have kept quiet, publicly, at least, about a lot. But I cannot remain silent about this. Several of my Facebook friends—classmates, people I know personally—insist that anti-Semitism is gone and over with, that America-now is not a place of danger. I read comments and post to that effect every time I log onto social media in search of cute puppy pictures or stop-motion animation food-preparation videos. I scrolled through at least twenty of those sorts of posts the other night, as my dad sat in the other room on the phone with every family member we could think of to call.

The world is many things, but it is not yet a safe place. Anti-Semitism is not only very real and a very present threat, but it has dealt a blow to my family and to my community that cannot be un-felt, cannot be ignored. but I am not writing to rail against the world and its injustices.

Instead, I write to ask you—yes, you—to take a look around you, to see the incredible diverse world we live in.

This is not a time to turn our backs on one another. This is not a time to take out our anger. This is the time to stand together. Being divided helps no one.

Times are tough, but so are we. And the only way to make any change is to unite.

 

A Tribute

david-bowie-06In the past week, this world suffered the loss of two great, influential, unsilenceable voices, at the same age and from the same disease, within days of each other. But I’m not here to write an obituary. Goodbye is not something I want to say.

Obviously, the men themselves are gone, and that alone is an indescribable loss, one that shook more than one country with each headline that appeared. But with each of those headlines came a resurgence of their greatest and their lesser-known works, and with that came a brief reemergence of their presences, as the globe grieved.

I couldn’t tell you what David Bowie liked to eat for breakfast, but I can tell you this story.

At the school I attended for eleven years, we had chickens. Lots of them. There was one bird in particular that we called the Bowie Chicken, because it had a massive head of fluffy white feathers and a skinny long body. Other chickens pecked at it and shut it out of the coop because it was a different breed, and eventually its life was in danger for being in the close vicinity of the rest of them. so it left, and found a new nesting spot. We all thought that the Bowie Chicken was dead, but then a week later, someone found it perfectly fine, living in a new space, a chicken that had literlaly crossed a road, totally unconcerned with anything other than food, shelter, and whatever other thoughts run through a typical avian brain. So we built it a new coop, across the road, big enough for only one. And so it lived on (until its untimely end at what we assume was a coyote attack).

This story probably seems like some kind of allegory with morals at the end of it, but I’m really just telling a story about a chicken.alanrickman

I can’t tell you Alan Rickman’s favorite color, but I can inform you that I hear his voice whenever I come across the words “always,” and “obviously,” in writing. JK Rowling wrote the words, but he breathed life into them. One time, I wrote a one-act play and named a character Alan, purely because I kept hearing Rickman’s voice in my head every time the character spoke.

These stories probably seem totally unconnected, and maybe they are. But here’s why I’m telling them:

These are the stories that won’t make any sense in 20 years. David Bowie won’t be a go-to for the kids born in the next 10 years. The “Harry Potter generation” is largely grown up. I’m at the tail end of that group, and with every iteration of a movie or an illustrated body of work, or theme park, or even newly published fanfictions, the character of Severus Snape changes drastically, until Rickman’s portrayal is only remembered as “the original,” and then maybe not even that.

In 5 years, Love Actually may be considered a cult classic, and shortly after that, it may be wholly obsolete.

Harry Potter opened up a whole new world of kids’ lit—notice how quickly Twilight and the Hunger Games followed in its wake, as the YA-that-wasn’t-just-for-kids. Tis is great. It means that kids now have access to a much, much larger selection of books and worlds and make-believe than I had access to. But with that, the next generation of kids will never know the wonder of everyone reading Harry Potter, of an entire generation across the globe, all united in the fact that we were waiting for the next installment. There was a time when every year came with something new, either book or movie, and we all got together at midnight to see its release, often dressed in full costume.

The next generation of kids isn’t going to know that. Their understanding of characters like Severus Snape is going to be drawn from a much larger base of pictures and probably portrayals than mine was. And so Alan Rickman’s portrayal fades away.

David Bowie was already not really considered as prominent a figure for my generation as the one before. But I was raised on my parents’ favorites as much as my own and my friends’ tastes. And so of course he figured into the equation. But I haven’t run into a single kid under the age of twelve who has watched Labyrinth. Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale are known for the Dark Knight now, which means that no one knows they ever did the Prestige, and we live in a world where a Tesla is a car first, scientist second, movie character never.

And so David Bowie is left behind as well.

If/When I have kids, I’ll tell them about Bowie and Rickman. I’ll be met with blank stares. I’ll show them pictures and articles and videos, and they’ll get a vague idea of what made these two men so important to me, but it won’t quite be the same to them.

It can’t be, because that’s how pop culture and generational icons work.

It’s how I feel about certain movies and TV shows, and rarely books but sometimes those, too, yes. Just barely old enough that I can’t connect to it, because it’s of-its-time in a way that I never can be, so I can be literate in the subject but it’ll never be truly mine.

It’s not a study in which I can be educated, the way that books or Alfred Hitchcock might be, or the whole genre of film noir. It’s ICONS, who will be remembered as such.

I have always been on the very young end of those who could fully appreciate Rickman and Bowie, but I it doesn’t change the fact that I could appreciate them.

I think I always viewed them as kind of immortal. I’m not sure why, it probably had something to do with only ever having seen them on a screen.

But now.

Now they’re gone, and we’ve said goodbye, and the continuation of their legacies and we have witnessed the resurgence of memories surrounding them. But it won’t be the same. It’ll never be the same.

So this is my promise. The next generation of humans on this earth may never understand why, but I’ll do my best. I’ll read them Harry Potter until they’re impatient to read ahead on their own, and that’s when they’ll be ready do exactly that. They’ll watch the Labyrinth. I might even tell them the chicken story, once they’ve seen enough that it’ll make sense.

I’ll leave things out. I’ll fall short. I may not even realize I’ve done so until it’s irreparable.

But I will have given them a taste, an inkling, a small glimmer of understanding. I’ll never be able to impart my experience in full, which is good because this way they build their own experiences, which is likely as it should be. But perhaps this way, the legacies can live on.

Gone but not forgotten, indeed.
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