Transformation and Gratitude



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. 





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).

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.


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.

Top reads of 2015: my year in books

Some of you may remember, at the beginning of 2015, I talked a little about a challenge that I was doing—to read 365 books in 365 days. As of today, I have read 372 books, and, being the generally opinionated person that I am, of course I have favorites.

Disclaimer: These books are not all of my favorites from 2015. In fact, some of them probably don’t make my top 20 of 2015 list. This post is mostly here so that you all can see some of what I’ve been reading, and maybe pick up one or two of these books in the near future. I also tried to vary the genres, so there’s something for everyone here.

  1. Traveling
    Honestly, whenever I was traveling somewhere, I did more writing than reading. But as it happens, some books are simply made for reading while on the move.-Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour, by Morgan Matson. It’s a book about a road trip! It’s perfect for reading while in the car, preferably while going somewhere fairly far away.
    – Two Years, Eight Months, and Twenty-Eight Nights, by Salman Rushdie. This adaptation of the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights feels kind of like Salman Rushdie read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and decided that the jinni had sort of gotten short shrifted, so he wrote this.
    these were the books that made me want to pick up and do something, or at the very least, gave me new role models.- Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. Anyone who has known me for more than 5 seconds is fully aware of my all-consuming Hamilton obsession. But also the book is great.
    – Notorious RBG, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik – if Ruth Bader Ginsburg had not already been my idol, this book would have convinced me. If I do a quarter in my lifetime of what she accomplished in hers, then I will consider my life a good one. 
    – Between the World and Me, 
    by Ta-Nehisi Coates —Coates not only points out what the issues are, but frames them with gorgeous prose, in the form of a letter to his son. It is rare that a book leaves me completely speechless, but somehow this one did exactly that.

    (Side note: all three of these are about real people, who solved/solve problems using words and writing and communication, rather than through violence. In my opinion, everyone should read these three books)

  2. New Favorite Authors
    these are authors whose work I had not read before 2015, but now I’ve read the majority of their stuff if not all of it, and I’m pretty sure I’d pick up anything they wrote. The four most prominent:- Paolo Bacigalupi—This guy writes really dark fiction, that is in a lot of ways the sci-fi take on John McPhee (mentioned later in this list). The idea being: When humans wage war on nature, nature always wins. My favorite of his is The Windup Girl, although The Water Knife is what initially drew me to his work.
    -Victoria Schwab—also known as VE Schwab when it comes to her books intended for an older audience. If you’re looking for wacko fantasy adventures with a definite twist, her stuff is for you. I think my two favorites are Vicious and A Darker Shade of Magic. 
    – Jonathan Safran Foer—I had heard this guy’s name quite a bit before I ever picked up one of his books. I adored Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (and yes, I liked Everything is Illuminated quite a lot, too). Also, he’s married to Nicole Krauss. If you’ve read any of her stuff, then you’ll understand why I find it important to note that.
    – Julia Alvarez— I picked up In the Time of the Butterflies hoping for some insight into the history of censorship and constantly shifting governments which led to the repression of literary movements in the Dominican Republic. I ended up falling in love with the story, and the people, and when I finished In the Name of Salomé, I realized that I will read anything this woman writes.
  1. Recommended to me
    All of these were recommended to me I am not going to say much about any of these, because any explanation would give away spoilers, but if you have found any of your literary tastes aligning with mine, please, please, please pick up one of these books.– The Bone People, by Keri Hulme
    – A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry
    – Nimona, by Noelle Stevenson
  1. No one’s heard of
    These are the books whose titles, when I try to name drop, result in questioning looks of bafflement.
    – The Gracekeepers, by Kirsty Logan. The Night Circus– meets- Station Eleven in a lot of ways, mixed with an unearthly kind of beauty and sadness that I can’t quite describe. 
    – The Girl With All the Gifts, 
    by M.R. Carey. It’s a painful reminder of the limits of human nature. Also Joss Whedon blurbed it.
    – All God’s Dangers: the Life of Nate Shaw,
     by Ned Cobb and Theodore Rosengarten.  Nonfiction, written down as the man told it. Reading it feels like having a conversation.
  2. Chosen because author
    These are what I call my “auto-read authors.” I liked them before this challenge, I read more of their work during it, and I certainly plan to continue reading their work after.
    Neil Gaiman: Sandman: Overture (if you think I’m cheating by naming a comic, then fine I also read Trigger Warning and that’s up there in my favorite-short-story-collections list). I waited years for this book, and now that I’ve read it, of course it ended up on this list.
    Brandon Sanderson: Mistborn: the Well of Ascension, and also warped, twisty fantasy with odd twists and turns and loveable characters… what’s not to like?
    Barbara Kingsolver: I’ve read a lot of Kingsolver’s work, and while nothing has topped The Poisonwood Bible, my favorite of hers that I read this year was Flight Behavior. 
  3. Chosen because cover
    You know how you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover? Yeah, well, I kind of did exactly that here.
    – Uprooted, by Naomi Novik. I went in knowing absolutely nothing about this book other than “highly regarded,” and “dragon.” Dragon was a little misleading, but it totally deserves the “highly regarded.”
    – I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (Y’all. This book. I CANNOT SPEAK ENOUGH ABOUT HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS BOOK.)
    – Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. If you like fantasy and Charles Dickens, or Thomas Hardy, meet the marriage of the three.
  4. My biggest ship
    Yeah, I can’t always restrain the inner fangirl. Warning: Possible spoilers may be present here.
    – Celaena/Sam, from the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas
    – Lila/Tarver, from These Broken Stars, by Amie Kaufman and Meghan Spooner
    – Cecil/Carlos, from Welcome to Night Vale, by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink. Yes, it’s a podcast. Yep, also a book. Cecil and Carlos are perfection.
    – CHAZ/RAFFY, from On the Jellicoe Road. Or possibly Jude/Narnie. Honestly, any of the relationships. Anything to do with this book.
  5. Despite the reputation
    despite the high-minded literacy of many of my reading choices, I’m afraid I’m also a hormonal teenage girl. So, yes, there are pieces of sappy YA fluffiness on this list, and I do really enjoy them, they’re not guilty pleasure books, okay please don’t judge me. I’m not going to show covers because, well, you’d judge me far too much.- The Ruby Circle (Bloodlines), by Richelle Mead. Ignore the stupid covers and the word “vampire” in any summary. Vampire Academy was good, despite the covers and the remarkably off-putting title, and Richelle Mead is some kind of storytelling sorceress.
    – Rebel Belle/actually pretty much anything by Rachel Hawkins… if you’re looking for some light reading, full of quippy lines and the occasional oddball randomness, Rachel Hawkins is my go-to.
    – the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Once again, ignore the covers, pretend it doesn’t say “alien.” It’s actually good, I swear.
    – Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins. I don’t care how fluffy and unrealistic everything about this book happens to be, it gave me the warm fuzzies, and continues to do so every time I reread it. Therefore, I shall keep rereading it.
  6. Made me cry
    My mother can attest to the fact that at least two of these left me sobbing at 2am, because I stayed up late to finish reading, and then I turned back to the beginning and started reading them all over again. Because of the risk of spoilers, I can’t tell you why I love them so much. Just read them, please.- On the Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta (again)
    – I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson (again)
    – Winger and Stand-Off, by Andrew Smith
    – The Museum of Extraordinary Things, by Alice Hoffman
  7. Left me delighted
    When I was reading these books, I kept ending up with this dumb little smile that wouldn’t go away. With the exception of one, I won’t say why, because if you read them, you deserve to figure out all of the little “Easter eggs” by yourself.- Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
    – Welcome to Night Vale, 
    by Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink (again)
    – Carry On, 
    by Rainbow Rowell

    – Wintersmith, 
    by Terry Pratchett. (I should point out that Wintersmith is actually a re-read, because I did go back and read through all of the Discworld books when Sir Terry Pratchett died, without counting them as part of my 365 goal. Wintersmith is my favorite Discworld book, and while it did feel like reuniting with old friends, I also cried at least once)
  8. It grew on me
    I did not start out expecting to like any of these, but on finishing them, I realized that I… did. Evolution, I suppose.- Shadow & Bone kicks of the Grisha trilogy, by Leigh Bardugo. Book 1? Not so great. Book 3? Abso-flipping-lutely fantastic, and it led to Six of Crows, which actually might make my top 20 of 2015 list.
    – Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. I hated pretty much everything about book 1, but for some reason I kept going… and I’m very glad I did, because book 3 might be one of the best conclusions to a YA trilogy I’ve read in a long time.
    – Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. I didn’t like the first couple chapters of this book, but somehow I finished the book clutching it to my chest, thoroughly upset because the library wanted it back?
  9. Best transport to a Different Time/Place
    Reading is often all about the escapism.- Red Rising, by Pierce Brown (Space. A really, really scary version of space.)
    – Annals of the Former World, by John McPhee (the current state of the Earth)
    – The Cornerstone, by Zoë Oldenbourg. (13th century France)
    – Sandman: Overture, by Neil Gaiman (again). (Dreams. Stars. Upside down, twisty versions of reality)
  10. Best narration
    These books are all excellent, but I can say with zero reservations whatsoever that for ALL of them, the narration is a significant part of what made them fantastic in the first place. Unfortunately, if I tell you why, I risk spoiling a lot.

– Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn
– The Martian, by Andy Weir
– Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire

  1. Best Endings
    These are the books whose endings felt resolved. Complete. Obviously, I can’t say much here because SPOILERS. But oh, the satisfaction. These were the books that I spent ages clutching desperately, wishing I didn’t have to let go, because it felt so perfect. Then I turned around and started reading the same story all over again, just so I didn’t have to leave.- Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley
    – Winger 
    and Stand-Off, by Andrew Smith (again)
    – On the Jellicoe Road
    , by Melina Marchetta (again)

Happy new year, everyone!
(all image creds to Goodreads)

Stress is the worst, but here’s how I learned to deal with it


Last year, as most of you probably know, I was a bit of a mess. School and extracurricular activities had completely taken over my life, and I felt like I was drowning in stuff that would never get done. It took me a fairly long while to really feel any better than ambivalent about going back to school—I was terrified that this year would turn out no better than last year, that there was no space left for improvement. Well, I was wrong. I’ve made it through a semester of junior year, which is supposed to be the most stressful time in high school. I won’t lie—it’s tough. But last year was worse.

Here’s the deal with the worst experiences ever, though. Most of us will do anything to prevent them from happening again.

As a result, I spent some quality time thinking about stress, and how I, personally, process and react to it.

So, without further ado, here are what I consider to be the 4 best methods I found for dealing with the massive stress overload that is junior year.

  1. Running
    It’s no secret on this blog that I run. A lot. There’s something about being active, and getting away—mentally and physically—from the work on my desk. Even if not everything gets done, I can say that I ran 5 miles that day. I can take an hour, hit the trails, and when I come back, everything seems a little more manageable. This one might not work so well for people who don’t like running, but… for me, running isn’t just a way of getting in exercise. It’s a form of meditation, a chance to get out of my head and stop overthinking everything. I can just be, me with the nature and the music that is inevitably playing a little too loudly through my headphones, and when I get home, I generally have achy legs, a raging dehydration headache, and a sense that I have done something that day—which is worth a lot, when it seems like it’s impossible to get anything done. Plus, exercise endorphins help to relax you and get a better night’s sleep, out of pure exhaustion if nothing else.
  2. Baking
    On the surface, this looks like it’s just adding another thing to do, in an already over-packed schedule, and it’s timed and messy and easy to screw up… but I don’t see it that way. Yes, I get covered in flour and usually manage to get dough or batter up to my elbows, which proves to be quite difficult to clean off. Yes, it is timed, and it’s occasionally a bit nerve-wracking when you have to check the oven a million times in a five-minute span because at first everything looks undercooked, but if you leave it in too long it gets burnt. And yes, I do it anyway. Baking rarely takes any longer than an hour or two. Like running, it makes me feel like I’ve actually done something enjoyable that day. I get to follow instructions, with visible (and edible!) proof that I’ve done it right, which is one of my eternal frustrations with school—I never know how well I have or haven’t done, until I get something back with a number on it. Baking grants me that level of instant gratification, and because the instructions do often require some level of focus, it allows me to not think about everything else that I have to do. It lets me get outside of my own head a little bit. Plus, I get cookies or muffins or banana bread.
    (I should point out that finals week mostly means my house smells like cookies and bananas for the whole week straight, and we didn’t have space for all the baked goods. Unavoidable hazard, I suppose?)
    And I was able to bring in cookies during finals week, for my stressed-out friends and classmates, which was nice, and still have leftovers, which are currently in my freezer.
  1. Journaling
    Like running, I doubt that this one will surprise anyone who has read this blog for a while, or who knows me in person. I’ve been carrying around small journals since I was little, though I only got serious about writing every day when I was thirteen or so. That need to write—not just fiction, but also poetry, and my own thoughts, even early blog post drafts—has waxed and waned, but has always been present, and lately it’s taken the form of regular journaling, essentially a continuous freewrite on the subject of what happened that day. It’s unbelievably helpful for thinking through the events of the day, processing it and de-stressing from it at the same time. It’s a nice way to end the day, especially if I can think of any good things that happened during the day, which I might otherwise forget in favor of stressing out over pointless details. In addition to journaling, I’ve also been keeping an obsessively organized planner, instead of the computer calendar I used to use. I don’t know—something about the act of writing down plans, and checking items off with their little checkboxes, is really relaxing and it makes me feel much better organized and more accomplished.
  2. Sleep
    I cannot emphasize this enough. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. It’s okay if not everything gets done. Sleep is the foundation of good health, both mental and physical. There is no point in pulling an all-nighter to finish a project, if the work is going to be shoddy and not very well thought-out. It might seem like the work is up to par, but trust me. If it happens after 2 am on a regular basis, chances are, the work is not my best. This is probably the biggest difference between this year and last year—I’ve started prioritizing sleep over assignments, and… it’s actually kind of miraculous. The assignments don’t all get done, but my teachers understand. My grades have gone up (reducing a major point of stress right there). The world doesn’t stop spinning if I don’t finish a minor science lab. I haven’t (knock on wood) gotten sick this year.
    Obviously, I’m not advocating for everyone to suddenly slack off on all their work. But I am saying that every once in a while, it’s okay to not be perfect, if it means getting a decent night’s sleep out of it.

Through these four actions, I’ve gotten back to enjoying school. I no longer feel like I’m drowning in more work than I can handle. Junior year is tough, but so far it’s been doable. I certainly wouldn’t repeat what I went through last year, but I’m glad that I learned what I did from the experience.