I Am a Work in Progress, and So Are We All

Sometimes, I look around, and I don’t understand how I could be the same person I was back then. But then I look at myself and go “Oh, that’s how I got here. Okay.”

I read so much about characters in books who go through some seriously extreme character development, and by the end of the series, are completely unrecognizable from who they were at the beginning. I used to think that that was an exaggeration, but these days I’m not so sure.

Three years ago, I thought that I would be doing policy debate for my entire high school career. I was planning to go to the Emory debate camp, I was on a team with my best friends, and I was ranked the third middle school speaker in the state.

I quit debate two years ago, and have not regretted that decision even once.

I was equally convinced that I would continue with the same sports I was doing at the time, and theater as well. In 8th grade, I was involved in some capacity with every drama production my school had. I ran cross country, and I was a springboard diver. That was what I did, and it was what I was convinced that I would do no matter what. I think I knew, even then, that I would eventually have to give some of it up. But I didn’t know how much of it, or even when that would need to happen. Today? I haven’t had anything to with theater, for any of my high school experience. I still love watching a show, but I have no patience at all for all of the drama that comes with, well, drama. I still love running, but I’m much more comfortable running ten miles than I am running three, and I quit cross country this year so that I can run half marathons. As for diving… Well, I’ve quit that one several times, each one “for good.” But this time… I think it’ll stick. I’m not diving, I’m not coaching. But I am still managing a team. I still love the sport, there’s no doubt about that. But I no longer love being a competitor.
That, I think, is the main difference. Being the best is no longer my main drive. These days, I don’t much care whether I end up with the top spot on the podium. I care about doing my best. My main competitor is myself. “Personal best,” those are the words I care about, if I have to care about a label on one of my performances at all.

Three years ago… Honestly, sometimes I think everything has changed.

I didn’t care then, about how I looked, aside from learning the basics of makeup and how to straighten my hair. Now, I poke and prod at myself in the mirror, wondering what a normal body shape is, and forcing myself to remember that airbrushed models look nothing like that in real life.
I would never have qualified myself as an artist then. I wrote poetry, all the time, and sometimes stories. Sometimes, the stories were long, and it was three years ago that I wrote my first attempt at a novel (I gave up about a hundred pages in). Now, I’ve published one novel and I’m working on another. I have job at an art museum, and I have committed to a project involving art-based-on-books which will be presented at a Decatur library before this year is out.

I’m still friends with most of the people I knew three years ago. But I’m friends with so many people I didn’t even know existed before. My best friends range from people I’ve known since preschool to people I met on day one of freshman year, and even to people who I was convinced I hated for a long time.

I can trace some of the changes in who I am back to specific events. Specific moments when I decided, “yes, this is who I am.”

But there are some changes I can’t figure out.

Some of those are simple, like my enjoyment of coffee. I don’t know when I started drinking it, but I did, and now I really enjoy it. Some would say I rely on it.

I don’t know when I became friends with some people I know. We hated each other, and now we don’t.

Barnes and Noble became my favorite study spot.

I started wearing high heels on a more regular basis, and makeup nearly every day to school.

Few of these changes are really who I am. But they are all a part of me. And all of them would completely shock the three-years-ago me.

Three years isn’t that much time.

But eighth grade seems simultaneously like yesterday and like forever ago, and sophomore year of college is both a single step in front of me, and so far away I can’t even fathom everything that could occur between now and then.

That’s part of the thought process behind the name of this blog—This is how I feel right now. In a few years, that will be a memory. But it will be a memory on a record. I will be able to look back at what I wrote, and remember the person I was when I wrote it.

As a person, I am constantly a work in progress. And isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?

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I Keep Forgetting About Laura Ingalls Wilder, and I’m Not Sure Why

I’ve written a lot about the influential books and characters in my life. But I think that I’ve forgotten about some. It’s weird—I devoted huge portions of my life to these books, and to these characters, but when I think hard about it, they drift out of my head completely.

I think part of me definitely wants to impress my audience, and so tries to talk more about the more “adult” books; the classics and the adult fantasy. But then later, I remember:

There are others that have influenced me enormously over the years that I stop and think about from time to time. Books that I don’t have to reread in order to be able to quote, or to correctly name all of the main characters.

They’re not necessarily high literature, though some of them might be. But they did all play their parts in defining who I was at the time, and as a result, defining who I am now.

The first would have to be the Warriors series, by Erin Hunter. Not only did I read way too many of these books (there are about a thousand of them, all in various series that all sort of interconnect and really do tell the same story over and over again), but I also spent endless hours with my friends acting out the storyline. To make this even more ridiculous, the books are about cats. A cat society in the woods. With politics. And quests. It’s absurd, and yet… I still feel nostalgic for these stories, and these characters. I reminisce about those days when I’m hanging out with people. Somehow, these books became important to me, even after I stopped reading them. I don’t even own a copy of any of them anymore, but I still think about them on a fairly frequent basis.

The next is also fairly obvious if you know me. I’m talking the glory that was the Rainbow Magic series. I had a thing about fairies when I was younger. I still have a thing about fairies now—even if my tendencies have shifted to the whole dark-fae-scary-adult-magic side of things than the light-happy-glitter-and-sparkles-magic side. But these books were all about the latter. They, too, had very similar storylines from book to book. And I really, really liked them. I went back and reread them recently, actually, because the girl I used to babysit had a fixation with them.

But they’re nothing compared to the Pixie Tricks series. This being, the series that sparked the fascination with not-all-fairies-are-good. Also the series that led to my fascination with miniature people and bubbles, though those two both went away fairly quickly. Oh well. These books did have repetitive storylines, in a sense, but not really, because they each had their quirks that made them quite separate. It was a fantastically empowering series for six-year-old me, and also strongly supported the idea that girls and guys could be friends, and still save the world, while being clever, and relying on wits instead of on magic. It was spectacular. I still uphold the idea that this book series is beyond phenomenal, and every kid should give it a try.

And then you get the series that really got me into high fantasy. Redwall. Oh, Redwall. It’s SO SO SO SO good. Rodents with swords and smarts and ridiculously awesome food. And magic mouse prophecies. They defend the world, and they don’t give a crap about traditional gender roles when it comes to the crazy combat-y stuff. And the writing is wonderful. And the riddles are witty. I love this series. I still reread this series. Not very many people have read it, which is why I don’t talk about it much. But it’s absolutely still one of my favorite series to this day. And it is the series that, along with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Hobbit got me into the world of high fantasy.

Of course, I also have to say something about the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. It was good. It was. AND THEN THEY WENT AND MADE A MOVIE OUT OF IT AND I CANNOT ACTUALLY ADMIT TO THE WORLD THAT I ENJOYED THE BOOKS ANYMORE. This is why I don’t trust movie adaptations, okay???

There are other books that probably belong on this list, too. Bone. Blue Jasmine. Deltora Quest. Septimus Heap. The Moorchild. Tintin. Gooney Bird Greene. American Girl Dolls (aka the beginning of my interest in historical fiction).

It’s the strangest combination of books and characters… pretty much ever. And that’s nowhere near the end of it. I could continue listing books for a LONG while. But no one wants to read a 4,000 word long post. So I’m cutting it short.

But there is one crown jewel to this.

The entire Little House series. I will not call it Little House on the Prairie. That is the stupid TV show. And also the first book is Little House in the Big Woods. GOSH PEOPLE. GET IT RIGHT.

But this series.

For one thing, it was the series that got me ridiculously interested in sewing and crocheting, and that lasted for a good long while. I still occasionally pick up some yarn and make something. It was the series that made me really, really invested in wearing long skirts and also a bonnet for a good long while. And I love this series. It was my first indicator that someone could just grow up and be an author, that not all authors were… I don’t know what my preconception of authors was. But this changed it. And it contained so many good messages about people, and the fact that it was a true story, just…. Gah. I love it.

But I never talk about it. I talk a lot about Anne of Green Gables. I talk a lot about Little Women. But I never seem to talk about this.

And I have no idea why.

What Does it Mean to Be Social?

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image creds to Wordograms

I’m a fairly outgoing person. Always have been. I’m reasonably friendly. I like people. I like hanging out with people.

Pretty much anyone who knows me knows this.
I’m also an introvert. Not  as many people know that, probably as a result of the aforementioned outgoing-ness. I’m good at communicating. I don’t shy away from activities like debate (I competed for 4 years!) which basically just consist of competitive talking.

I’m also a teenager of the current millennium, and a lot of my communication happens online. Texting, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter. Those things.

I work four days a week, in a capacity that involves talking to people. Being friendly and personable. This past week was especially busy even beyond that, but not inordinately so—I had a long phone conversation with a friend who lives a few states away. I had lunch with someone last weekend. I went to the mall after work with a friend. I went to a party this weekend. I would have been hanging out with a few people today, as well, but too many people had last-minute cancellations, so instead I had another long conversation with a close friend who moved last year. Time zones make it difficult to manage this, but we make it work anyway.

I am social. Undeniably so. Yet I am told that I have a tendency to isolate myself. To “cocoon” in my room with books and notebooks and my laptop.

butterfly-in-cocoon

(Do I look like that?) creds to National Geographic)

And I have to wonder. What does it mean to be social, in this day and age where I can hide away and communicate only via technology—but I don’t?

And why do people think that I have a tendency to isolate when I am almost always talking to someone while I’m online, or going and doing things with people?

I’ve always considered myself a very social person, though I do often need a break from said social activities.

I recharge by being alone, but I am not and have never been a loner.

So I have to ask: why do people—people who know me, people who have raised me and stood by me for more than sixteen years— assume this not to be the case?

Is it a fear that my social life will be absorbed entirely by the internet?

I get the idea that it’s because I have the ability to be near-silent while I’m reading or writing, and then, because it is a huge part of my life, and it is something that I enjoy doing, I talk about them a lot. Much more than I do the parts of my life that consist of human interactions.

I also often don’t talk about real-life interactions because, well, they’re real life, human interactions, and those are personal, and I can have a good time with someone without needing to talk about it.

Sometimes I just want that experience to be between me and the person I shared it with.

Sometimes it’s just, you know, two friends out having fun, and none of what we do even makes sense to anyone who isn’t us.

But because, proportionally, I talk about that part of my life less, it seems like it’s nonexistent.

So where does that fit with people’s perceptions of me? How does that gel with my perception of myself?

I’m still the person I’ve always been.

I still like people. And it… doesn’t feel great to know that the people closest to me don’t see any of that.

I ask if they think I’m antisocial. They say that no, they know I’m not.

But then they tell me to get out of the house more often, and to make sure that I’m socializing with more people, because they don’t want me hiding myself away in a cloud of self-isolation.

It’s a double-standard, one that I fear is created by my generation’s dependency on technology for communication, and then exacerbated by my own strange combination of “outgoing+introvert=???”

I’m still as social as I’ve ever been. But I don’t know what that means anymore.

fishoutofwater

creds to characterstudy’s website

I’m Probably Never Going to Find the Perfect Cup of Coffee, and Other Random Thoughts

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(image creds to Joel Deitch, photographer)

1. I kind of hate having a lot of down-time.

I learned this recently. I’ve always had a tendency to overschedule myself—it very nearly led to my complete academic downfall last semester. So, you’d think that I would enjoy a chance to relax.

I’m also an introvert; you’d think that I would appreciate a chance to lay low and not really deal with the outside world. Apparently not.

That’s not to say that I don’t love a good sleep-in day. Or that I don’t enjoy some good time to myself. But apparently, I get restless. And bored. Easily.

Two days into my summer break, I had already started scheduling myself for the next two weeks. And reading. And writing. It seems that I don’t mind occupying my time with low-key, fun projects, but there has to be a project. I hate doing nothing. I don’t think I quite realized how much until this summer.

2. Traveling on foot is actually quite enjoyable.

There is a passage from a book called the Looking Glass Wars, by Frank Beddor, in which the main character states her preference for walking, instead of riding in carriages, because there is so much that is easy to miss if you’re moving past it too fast. I’ve been realizing the truth of this more often lately, partially because I’ve been walking places more, and partially because I’ve been adding more mileage to my runs, when I go out for a jog (I’m up to about 7 miles per run, these days).

When you’re in a car, you miss the odd graffiti that appears on the sidewalks and then is gone the next day.

You miss the overflowing flower gardens in their last few weeks of spring glory.

You miss the couples walking along, fingers intertwined so loosely and naturally that you’d never guess, if you weren’t walking along at the same pace.

3. Taking the plunge and joining a social media site feels weird.

So, I finally did it. I joined Reddit. And yes, my soul is still intact.

I joined it for the purpose of participating in a few of the AMAs (Ask-Me-Anythings) that several of my favorite authors are doing this month. But here’s the thing: I’ve spent the past four, maybe even five, years rolling my eyes at all of my friends who use Reddit (and they’re probably looking at this post and laughing at me, and I don’t even want to think about the grief they’re going to give me later). Yet now, I have joined it. And it feels… weird. I’m not used to the interface yet. I don’t really know my way around it, the way I do Facebook and WordPress and Goodreads.

I went through this about a year ago, with Tumblr. But I never actually got used to Tumblr. I stopped using it, less than a month after I made an account. I don’t think I remember my password now. I have friends who LOVE LOVE LOVE Tumblr, and are complete addicts, much like Reddit. But… I never really was. Which makes me wonder: will the same thing happen on Reddit? Will I do the exact same thing with Twitter or Instagram, or whatever social media platforms I’ve casually been not using, or even ignoring, for the past I-don’t-even-know-how-long?

I don’t know. All I do know is that right now, it feels… Weird.

4. I will probably never find the perfect cup of iced coffee.

Okay, I should probably explain this one, given that it’s the titular Random Thought, and all. I’ve been searching for the best possible cup of iced coffee for quite a while, ever since I figured out that some coffee is better hot, and others are better cold, and some are quite good when flavored while others are really kind of nasty. And I still haven’t found it.

Chik-fil-a’s vanilla iced coffee comes close. But then, so does Coffee Bianco’s iced latte. And, not gonna lie, I will go for some Starbucks most of the time, because hey, it’s convenient. But I still haven’t found anything that’s cheap, convenient, tastes good, and isn’t loaded with sugar. And I’m kind of giving up, here. I love hot coffee. Coffee Bianco does the best cup of it I’ve ever found, outside of my own house and coffee machine. But I can’t find a perfect cup of iced coffee. Which made me start thinking.

What is perfection? How do I even define it? I could go by the factors I listed above, but then I have to wonder, is it better when it’s enjoyed with other people? At a certain time of day? In certain weather? I don’t know. Perfection is subjective, especially when it comes to food. And that’s what makes me so certain that I am never going to find it, but it’s also what pushes me to keep looking. (and yeah. As much as I love coffee, in this case, it is in fact a metaphor). my iced coffee

Top 10 Influential Books

Disclaimer: this is not a list of my top 10 favorites, perse. For one thing, I’m not capable of making a list of my top 10 favorite books. I’ve tried. That said, I’ve made a top 25 list before, and I’m pretty sure that most of these ended up on there.

Another disclaimer: I sort of divided this up into life lessons, and so there are some of them that do have two books with them. Sorry not sorry I can’t make a 10 book list…

Another disclaimer: these are books that have influenced me and my life as of RIGHT NOW. TODAY. It is a constantly changing list which will probably be very different than it is today. But here goes:

Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson.

I can receive all the judgement in the world for this being at the top of this list, but hey: it’s a book about creativity, and the power of the… not pencil. Crayon. Writing instrument. Well, now the alliteration’s gone. Oh well.
Harold and the Purple Crayon taught me a surprising lot of lessons about creativity and the ability to dream big– lessons that still apply today.

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

If you know me, then you know that this book had to be on this list. I still relate to Anne on so many levels. This was not the first book with a main character who I could look up to, but it was the first book that I could look at the main character and say “Oh, hey, that’s basically me and she’s reacting in these situations the way that I would.”
This book taught me so much about adversity and dealing with it, and also about the power of patience, and the power of words. It’s a story where hard work usually pays off and sometimes doesn’t, and where it’s okay to outgrow grudges and to forgive people.

The School Story, by Andrew Clements

Okay, I know this one is pretty predictable. If you know my reading habits, you knew Andrew Clements would be on here. If you know anything about my writing habits, you probably knew that it would be this one.Most people, in second or third grade, read books as adventure stories, or as ways to find information. Given a story about a girl who writes a book and then gets it professionally published with the help of her best friend, my guess is that they would read it, write a quick book report for a smiley-face sticker on the classroom “reading wall” (was my school the only one that had these?) and then forget about it.I, on the other hand, took it as a how-to manual.

The Foretelling, by Alice Hoffman

I’ve never met anyone else who has even heard of this book.  It deals a lot with the idea of “people against nature” vs. the idea of “people with nature,” and definitely taught me a lot of lessons along that front. But the main lesson fro this book is rooted in gender identity, and in challenging or reversing gender roles.

I read this book when I was almost certainly too young for it, but it’s stuck with me ever since. It taught me to challenge difficulties thrown in my way, and these are the books that taught me to challenge gender roles and societal norms in a way that I never had before

Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine

Like Andrew Clements, Gail Carson Levine’s work defined an awful lot of my childhood. Her books were my first experience with retelling fairy tales, and with beautiful writing, where the prose is there not just for telling the story, but also to be beautiful in and of itself.

I was tempted to put Dave at Night on this list, instead, just on the basis of the above.
But I didn’t. Because Fairest taught me so much about myself and about other people, about how looks only really matter as much as we think they do, and about how you can fight your internal demons, and about how strengths can sing out way louder and stronger than insecurities. This book has so many positive messages, especially for younger girls who are just entering the realm of “girl drama.” 

Pictures of Hollis Woods

This book… I don’t have a lot of words to describe this book. It was my first-ever experience with nontraditional storytelling, and with a jumpy timeline, which is probably a large part of what led to my current adoration of books like

I’ll Give You the Sun, by Jandy Nelson, or Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. This book may have also been my first experience with a bildungsroman. It taught me that people make mistakes, and that sometimes, crap happens and you just have to deal with it, and it’s hard but it’s not impossible, as long as you turn around and face it head-on. More than anything, it taught me the importance of retaining creativity, and of trusting the heart.

The Golden Compasses trilogy (YES THAT IS ITS ORIGINAL TITLE) aka His Dark Materials

This trilogy was without a doubt my first experience with existentialism.
The first book, I read like a story. It was just a story. It was a story that made me think a lot, and I liked that, and it was a smart story. But it was just a story.
the second book… I got confused several times. I started to realize that some things were allegories for other things. I started to understand literary parallels.
The third book was the most intense reading experience I had ever had.
These books made me question a lot of things about the world we live in, things that I had never had reason to question before. They also put a lot of things in perspective– I might have ten hours’ worth of homework, but hey, at least I’m not dealing with the world-in-peril-and-no-one-knows-about-it issues that these characters are.
This series made me stretch my brain in ways I never had before, and I’m thankful for that. In a lot of ways, this was the first series that helped me envision multiple worlds, coexisting, which probably led to my writing about several of those worlds that I then envisioned.

The Chosen, by Chaim Potok
I read this book in middle school, because I needed to read something Jewish. I was reluctant to even start it, and I dawdled my way through several chapters, annoyed that I had to do extra work for a Hebrew School that I’d only spent one year at, anyway. And then I finished the book, and I was left staring at my empty hands, wishing I could keep going. This book is still one of my all-time favorites, and I still go back and reread it probably about five times a year. This book was one of the first to make me think about religion at all, and it was absolutely the first to ever make me think about what Judaism means to me– not what it means to the rest of the world, not what it means to celebrate holidays, not what it means to be a part of that global community. What it means to me, on a basic, “what-do-I-believe” level. I still struggle with understanding what I believe, and with understanding how that gels with the people I’m friends with and what they believe.

I think I encountered this book at the exact right time in my life to be able to appreciate it in full, and I hope I never let go of that– I don’t mind the idea that I’m always questioning, as long as I have some basic central knowledge to go back to. This book solidified so much of that basic central knowledge, at a time when I didn’t even know I needed or wanted to be thinking about it.

La Sombra del Viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

If you’ve taken a Spanish class with me in the last four years, or if you’ve talked with me about international literature, or about books in general, then you probably knew this one was coming.
This was not the first book I had ever read in a foreign language, but it is certainly my favorite of those I have read. I LOVE THIS STORY, in English and in Spanish. It was my first experience with grown-up parallel plots, and also one of my first encounters with romance stories. I fell in love with the city, with the characters, with the story… and of course, I fell even more in love with the books.
I fell in love with a city by proxy. Powerful writing? I think this book defines it.
I taught myself extra Spanish just so that I could read this book in its original language. There’s a sort of dualism inherent there that I’m not sure I would have– or even could have– understood without doing that.

And finally, book 10. The book that I rant and rave about and push into everyone else’s hands because it’s so freaking good. The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern

This book has probably influenced my own writing more than any other book ever has. This remains one of the most poignant love stories I’ve ever read– not just love for another person, but love for a place, love for experience. This book helped me to understand how shared experience really can change a life, can tie people together forever without those people even realizing it’s happening.
This book taught me about nontraditional endings, and the idea of creating your own destiny; the idea of changing fate.
I adore this book.
(I suspect it also contributed to a factor that some love and some hate about my writing– the food descriptions. oh well)

Many of you are probably surprised at the books that did not make their way onto this list. I really wanted to include several that did not get on here– there are many, many books that have influenced me in a lot of ways, and there’s no way that I can really narrow it down to only ten. or eleven, which is what it actually is.

You may notice that there is no Twilight. There is nothing written by John Green. There is no Junie B. Jones, and there is no Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This is important. In fact, the absence of these titles matters almost more than the titles themselves would if they were on the list at all. These are the books that forced me to defend my own opinions, even when everyone else LOVED them. I learned, through my unpopular opinions on these books, to stand by my stance on a subject, and that’s something that I’m proud of to this day.

“I Think I’m Too Old to Date Gabriel Witter” and Other Insanities of Growing Up

There are four fictional characters who, when combined, essentially sum up my ideal significant other.

These characters are: Gabriel Witter (from Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley), Simmon (from The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss), Chaz Santangelo (from On the Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta), and Jaime Beaufort-Stuart from (Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein).

I was discussing this with my mom yesterday, since Where Things Come Back is one of her favorite books as well.

And that’s when I realized: I am older than Gabriel Witter.

I am not even six months younger than Chaz Santangelo.

I’ve always read about characters who are older than me. It was part of being a pretty advanced reader for a third- or fourth- grader, and having a brother six years older. I read books meant for middle schoolers. Then, I read books meant for high schoolers. The main characters in these books were mostly somewhere between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. So, naturally, I looked up to people between the ages of thirteen and seventeen.

These are characters who I have always viewed as “older,” or more mature—partially because of the circumstances their novels put them in, but… not really.

For a long time, it seemed like sixteen was simply the age when everything big happens.

Now that I’m here, and have been for a while? I’m not so sure I agree.

I’m the same age as Katniss and Tris, and six months younger than Hazel. I’m older than June and Day. It’s ridiculous.

I started reflecting on it, and…

It turns out there are very few fantasy characters that I grew up with who I can still look up to, and still relate to, from the point where my life is today.

I’m older than every single Penderwick sister.

I’m older than the majority of the characters in the Septimus Heap books.

I’m the same age as Aria, from Under the Never Sky.

And if I’m going by societal standards, I’m too old to date most of my old literary crushes.

Of course, there are also the characters that age with the series. Alanna the Lioness is still fully present in the books when she’s much older than the young teen she is at the beginning of her series, and she makes cameos in two other series as well, with a lot of renown a future mapped out for her. Phedre nó Delaunay… well, book three of her series is set ten years after book two, and she matures/ages emotionally throughout the series, and then book four is set several more years after the first three, soooo safe to say she’s not going anywhere (although if I’m being honest, Phedre’s not exactly a role model. Oh well).

These are not the only characters who age. Of course there are others. Look no further than Harry Potter to tell you that.

But my point is, these are characters I grew up with. And it feels really, really weird to be older than they were in those books, and to realize that when I reread them, I can’t relate to them anymore.

It makes me wonder. Will I, in four years, go back and reread words about Gabriel Witter, only to think about him and the rest of his cast of characters as little kids? Will I reread Jellicoe Road, only to discover that each character seems woefully juvenile?

And what will I think of the characters who are four or five years older than I currently am? Will they remain accurate portrayals of people I could look up to? Or will they seem… empty? Unrealistic?

It’s a terrifying moment of clarity when you realize that you’re older than your role models, and they are not going to continue aging.

I hate saying that I don’t know something.

But when it comes to this, it’s sort of the only real response.

Know what makes you happy: Some thoughts on awareness

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It’s eating disorder awareness month. So, in the last few days of the month, I am writing.

No, I don’t have an eating disorder. But honestly, that probably makes it all the more important that I do stand up as an advocate for a healthier outlook on something.

I cannot personally relate to the topic of an eating disorder. However, I am writing about something I can relate to, something that is related, but not the same. Emotional self-awareness.

Everyone has days when they can find nothing to smile about. When they feel like the world is falling apart.

And to them, it really might feel like the world is crashing down around them.

Others might try and find ways to cheer them up, by using the same things that make them smile.

But often, it doesn’t work.

The simple truth is: Everyone has something that can make them smile, no matter what. The trick is finding it. The reason why it’s different for everyone? Everyone is different.

I asked several people I know what makes them smile.

The answers were incredibly diverse. One person said that a cute animal always does the trick. Someone else said that lame puns work for them.
I think that my favorite of these was also the fastest reply I got.

“If anyone else smiles at me. I smile back, and smiling makes me feel better. It’s reflexive.”

I find it to be incredibly important that we all know what affects us in a positive way. If you have never taken the time to identify something that can lift your spirits,then every time you’re feeling down, you’ll end up using the guess-and-check method to try and help yourself out.

It’s not healthy.

Before I started asking this question, I hadn’t put much thought into it, myself.

And I realized that that’s probably part of the reason it’s so easy to send me into an emotional tailspin, every time I get stressed out.

I’m a perfectionist. I like everything to be working smoothly, every time. And when it’s not… I spiral. I am more than capable of taking a mild annoyance and then mentally turning it into THE END OF THE WORLD OH GOD OH GOD WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE. And I’m not the only person I know who does that. In fact, I’m friends with a whole lot of people who do that exact thing to themselves.
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We’ve all gotten really good at pulling each other up out of the messes we create, which is why the one thing that can always help me calm down and just think fora minute, instead of panicking is a friend. It can be a little message icon on my phone. It can be a Snapchat. Sometimes it’s a two-hour long therapeutic talk over Skype or over the phone, if I haven’t seen the friend in a long time. I’ve called people for this one, and I’ve been called. I’ve stayed up past midnight to help out a friend when she was freaking out, thanks to a large time-zone difference, and I’ve done it more than once. I won’t drop everything to pick up the phone, but for some people, I will drop a lot of things.

And, because of the way that m   y friends and I help I asked another question as a follow-up to the first one. I asked what they do to cheer up someone who they don’t know. If they saw someone crying, or even just looking really miserable, but didn’t know them at all.

Some people told me that they wouldn’t do anything. I can understand that well enough—assuming that someone sitting alone wants to stay alone, or even just needing to be somewhere, and therefore not stopping in the middle of a busy day.

Others told me that they would go and get that person’s friends, if they knew who they were. That was a popular answer.

But there were a few answers that really stood out.

One person told me that he would stop and try to make friends with that person, find something that they had in common so that he could bring humor into the situation.

Someone else said that she would just give them a cookie.

One of my musically-talented friends mentioned that she might serenade them.

Another response was just to run up and hug the person (this particular person also ran up and hugged me, to demonstrate, when I asked him).

It all comes back to awareness.

If we are aware of our own emotions, if we know that we can build up our own confidence to pull ourselves up when we fall down, we can overcome a lot.
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Maybe we can’t overcome disorders or mental health issues.

But we can help ourselves reach the point where we’re a little closer. And maybe we can help other people get there too.

My mom has a rule in life. “Do what makes you happy.”

And she’s right. Happiness is key. I have a slight amendment to that rule: “Know what makes you happy.”

Wallowing in stress, and spiraling, the way that I have done from time to time? That’s not a good thing. But having a way to prevent it before it happens, or a way to help your defeated self to your feet when it’s all over? That very much is.

In the ends it’s important to remember: It might not feel like it, but in the end, it will be okay.

What makes you smile?
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