I’ve moved!

Hey there!

It’s been a while since I’ve used this blog, and that’s because I’ve moved to my own website! Check out the blog page on my site, anniefillenwarth.com, to read more of my thoughts and experiences!

I also now have professional social media accounts! Feel free to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @AnnieFWrites.

And a special thanks to everyone who has followed my writing on this blog in the past. It’s been a joy to connect with you all!

Sending my best wishes for 2019!

Annie

Fear Sucks. Do It Anyway. | Lessons from the New York State Summer Writers Institute

Hello again!

I just returned home from two weeks at the New York State Summer Writers Institute at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.  And what a time it was!  Imagine an alternate universe in which you are given a group of people who all share a common passion with you, and you can spend time with them all day long in a beautiful and calming environment.  And you also get to watch people who pursue your passion professionally do what they do best almost every day of the week.  Essentially, that’s what the Writers Institute was.  It was heaven for writers, complete with workshops, readings, Q & A’s, and more.  And I already miss it.

I learned so much from my time at Skidmore, and I’d love to share it with you!  So here are some of the lessons I learned at the Writers Institute:

1. Debating something means you care.

At Skidmore, I was in the Intermediate Fiction Workshop that met three times a week for two weeks.  During our workshop discussions, it could get pretty heated.  But the important thing to take away from an in-class argument is that if someone is willing to argue over your work (or vice versa), then the piece of writing is worth caring about, worth saving.  It’s actually a pretty awesome feeling when people care enough about your work to debate it.  And when the debate is over, you can put your differences aside, grab dinner with your class, and let the air clear on its own.

2. Listening makes you better at what you do.

Whether it’s in the classroom or in everyday life, listening will lead you to where you need to be.  I learned so much about my own writing strengths and weaknesses from listening to my classmates discuss my work.  And when it comes to inspiration, it’s everywhere if you keep your ears open to it.

3. Getting up early isn’t as terrible as you think it is.

I got up for the dining hall’s breakfast almost every day for the past two weeks, and it left me with so much more time to get done what I needed to.  Does getting up before 9 AM and going to bed before 1 AM make me an adult now?

4. Don’t ever put your wallet down in a store.

Because you will lose it.  And the ladies who work at the Celtic Treasures store will think you’re a moron.

5. Bring enthusiasm to everything you do.

I swear, my Intermediate Fiction class and I were straight-up high on life for two weeks.  We were constantly laughing, swapping stories, and being our strange selves, and I’ve never felt less stressed out.  When you enter a situation with a hopeful and enthusiastic attitude, then you can really make the most of it.

6. Passion can bring anyone together.

Our class was completely diverse, with writers from all over the country with different majors and interests.  But, as I learned at Wroxton last semester, you can find common ground with just about anyone.  And when you share a common passion, it’s even better.  I got to know people who I never would have met if it weren’t for our mutual love of writing.  It was so empowering to be surrounded by people who shared my passion and who were willing to support me in pursuing it.  Especially since we were almost all young adults, I noted how driven our generation really is.  Give young people a common purpose, and they’re ready to take over the world.

7. Give yourself some credit.

Nearly every writer wants validation; it just comes with the territory.  But I often forget to give myself credit for my talents and achievements.  I went into this workshop thinking that I was a mediocre writer and that I had lost my passion for writing.  But all it took was someone to remind me that I’m good at what I do and that I’m only going to get better for me to have the confidence to keep doing what I love to do.

8. Fear sucks.  Do it anyway.

I was so scared to go to Skidmore (What if no one likes me?  What if my writing is terrible?  What if I wasted all this time and money on an experience I’m going to hate?) that I was thisclose to emailing the heads of the Institute saying I couldn’t come anymore.  I dreaded the day when I would leave for New York because I was afraid I wasn’t good enough and that I would come out of the experience knowing that I didn’t want to be a writer anymore.  But surprise, surprise, I don’t suck at everything!  I got to know some of the most passionate and extraordinary people I’ve ever met, and I have a renewed love of writing that can only grow.  Where would I be if I had sent that email?  Probably miserable and watching Netflix all day.  Instead, I’m ready to make some magic.

Have you ever gone to a writing workshop?  What did you think of it?  What kind of communities are you a part of?  Let me know in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading.

 

Cheers, England | Some Lessons from a Semester Abroad

Hi, there!

So it’s been a while, as usual, but I’ve found that I feel the most comfortable blogging when I feel like I have something pretty valuable to say.  And this time I think I do.

One week ago, I returned home after three and a half months studying abroad in England.  It was the experience of a lifetime, but there are no words to express how happy I am to be home with my family and friends.  But instead of talking about the places I saw or the things I did (You really just have to see for yourself), I want to share some things I learned.  After all, that is the whole point of this blog anyway.  So here are a few things I learned while studying abroad:

1. Flexibility and structure are not mutually exclusive.

When I first arrived at the college where I would be studying in England, I was really concerned by the lack of routine I would have there; class schedules varied week to week depending on student trips.  For the first couple weeks I wondered helplessly if I could handle that lack of structure.  I’ve always loved routine–thrived on it, really– and up until this point, it had been essential to getting all of my work done on time.  But the funny thing is, I didn’t have much control over the changing schedule, so once I learned to accept that, I was able to feel myself gain some flexibility.  I learned to feel comfortable with not knowing exactly what is happening and when.  It turns out, you can be flexible and organized at the same time, and it’s way less stressful to live that way.

2. If you go the wrong way, just turn around and try a different route.

It really is that simple.  Without access to data or wifi, there were a lot of confused moments in cities I’d never been to before when someone asked, “Wait, are we going the right direction?”  I used to be filled with panic when asking that question, but sometimes when you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll stumble upon a cool place you never planned to go.

3. Every place you go to has something different to offer.

I want to apply this to places near my hometown, too.  Even the smallest of places can have spectacular sights, whimsical shops, or striking landmarks.  A little research and wandering goes a long way.

4. With travel comes trial.

Despite the fancy Instagram photos that people post when they’re abroad, not everything is always sunshine and roses when you travel.  Anything can go wrong, from sickness to lost belongings to nasty encounters on the street.  Some days, you’re so tired and your body aches so much from walking that you just don’t know if you can get out of bed.  Sometimes places don’t live up to your expectations.  But these are all just part of the bargain that comes with travelling.  No matter where you go, something is bound to go wrong, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it to begin with.

5. You can find common ground with just about any person you meet.

I studied abroad with just over 50 other students from my university, many of whom I never would have met or spoken to if it weren’t for studying abroad.  Our group had such a wide variety of people– athletes, members of Greek organizations, artists, jokesters, you name it– and I feel as though I could have a decent conversation with every one of them.  I used to be really hesitant to talk to people who I perceived as very different from me, but I’ve realized that no matter who I’m talking to, we can find something in common or at least something to talk about.  Chances are, if you’re kind and throw in some humor, you’ll have a new friend, or at the very least, a pleasant conversation.

6. Gossip just really isn’t cool anymore.

I’m no saint, but this semester I really came to understand how hurtful gossip really is.  When you’re living and going to class in the same building with only fifty or so people every day, word travels fast.  The easiest and best way to go is to try to be kind to people’s faces and behind their backs.  And this is something I have to work on every day.  Because really, gossiping and spreading rumors doesn’t make anyone happy, and it only serves to ruin reputations–those of the people you talk about and your own.

7. Missing people is powerful.

This past semester, I missed people in a way I never had before.  I’ve missed relatives who have died, experiences I once had, friends who I wasn’t with but could visit if I wanted to.  I’ve never felt the ache of an ocean between me and the ones I love before.  I missed my friends and family so much this semester that sometimes I could feel the ache in my chest, my body heavy.  At the beginning, I was so homesick.  I felt like I could never adjust to living in a new country, and I missed the familiarity of the U.S. and of my loved ones.  But after a couple weeks, I started to really like it there, which made it just a little easier to cope with missing home.  But the real beauty of missing people is that you feel how much you love each other. Because when someone tells you they miss you when you are thousands of miles away from them, you know that they mean it.  Because you, too, feel how they feel.  It is so sad but also so beautiful to know that someone out there has a hole in their life that only you can fill and vice versa.  It’s hard to explain, but missing people this semester has made me cry as many tears of happiness as it has of sadness.

8. A sense of belonging is all you need to feel comfortable anywhere.

For the first time in a few years, I felt like I really belonged in a community.  I felt that if any person in our group, including myself, hadn’t been there, our experience studying abroad wouldn’t have been the same.  When you let your guard down and let people see you for who you are, all you can hope is that they accept you.  And when they do, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.  Feeling like I belonged made saying goodbye that much harder, but it also made my experience much more meaningful.  It meant that I had a new home, one that I’ll carry with me from now on.

Have you traveled abroad?  What did you learn from it?  Where do you want to go next?  Let me know in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading.

Love Conquers Hate and Writing the Sonnet Yourself | A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

A tale of time travel has never hit so close to home.

FullSizeRender (8)Last week, I finished reading Madeleine L’Engle’s classic children’s science fantasy novel, A Wrinkle in Time.  It was first published in 1963, won a Newberry Medal, and is the first book in the Time Quintet.  I’d wanted to read it since I saw previews for the TV movie version as a kid and was given it as a Christmas gift in recent years.  Even though I’m no longer a child, I found the book engaging and containing pertinent messages that apply to our world right now, especially in relation to current events.

A Wrinkle in Time follows the journey of misfit Meg Murray, her genius little brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin O’Keefe as they try to rescue Mr. Murray from another dimension.  With the help of three mysterious witches–Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which–the kids leave the rest of their families behind for places they couldn’t even dream of and an evil force that no one can seem to defeat.

Fair warning: a few spoilers are to follow!

Despite being in the “and up” part of the age-range for this book, I recognized many merits to L’Engle’s story that apply to more than just children.  First, L’Engle presents a strong female protagonist–and we’re not talking the “strong female protagonist” of much of commercial fiction today that portrays young women in unrealistic and simplistic ways under the guise of “empowerment.”  Meg is a real character reminiscent of Meggie in Cornelia Funke’s classic, Inkheart.  She has both strengths and flaws; she is a loving sister to her brothers, especially Charles Wallace, but she is also impatient about the disappearance of her father.  She cries often but has a fierce temper, which the witches insist is one of her strengths.  She is a math wizard, though also a poor student and misjudged as unintelligent by her peers.  And despite her fear, she is the only one who can save her little brother from a life of hypnotized meaninglessness.

L’Engle also presents lessons that even adults still need to learn.  When Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace finally find Mr. Murray on the mind-numbing planet of Camazotz, Meg realizes that all along, this has been her only goal.  Find her father, and he will know what to do.  Find him, and he will save everyone and take them back home.  But upon discovering him, she learns that he,too, has no idea how to get back to Earth.  He has made the mistake of thinking he was knowledgeable enough about tesseracts (the mathematical concept that allows for time travel) to attempt it on his own.  But he cannot save them, which infuriates Meg and also causes her to lose some of her innocence.  She now understands that adults don’t always have all the answers.

Though at first this creates distance between her father and her, Meg eventually finds the resolve to save her brother from the horrible ruler of Camazotz, IT, which she discovers is a pulsing brain that dictates all of the thoughts and actions of the people of Camazotz.  By flattering Charles Wallace’s intelligence, IT takes over his mind, and Meg has to be the one to pull him from IT’s control while also resisting its hypnosis on herself.  Camazotz can be read as a symbol of communism or totalitarianism and is reminiscent of a 1984-esque society.  Conformity and blind acceptance is IT’s goal, but Meg knows that living in that kind of security is not living because it allows for no difference.  And in difference, she tells Charles Wallace, we find beauty.

The main lesson that L’Engle presents in A Wrinkle in Time could not be more applicable to life in the U.S. right now: the triumph of love over evil and hatred.  In the multi-verse where the kids are searching for Mr. Murray, an evil being called the Darkness, or the Black Thing, has been conquering different planets.  There is a dark shadow over the earth that threatens to control it, and many planets have already succumbed to its power.  The Darkness can be understood as evil or hatred taking over the lives of people and their societies.  Heroic beings across the galaxies have been fighting it, including Mrs. Whatsit, who once gave up her life as a star to fight it.  Light is the only thing that can conquer Darkness.  Love is the only thing that can conquer Hate.

What pulls Charles Wallace from his spell on Camazotz is Meg’s love for him.  Once she realizes that IT has anger, fear, and hatred but not love, she pronounces her love for her brother until he is finally free of IT’s control and back in his own mind with his own thoughts.  She realizes on her own that love conquers all and that evil cannot be fought with mere pride or ambition.

This couldn’t be a truer lesson in light of the violent events that have shaken the United States in recent weeks, from the Orlando shooting to the unjust killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and five Dallas police officers.  In a world that is wrought with anger, fear, and gun violence, I hear L’Engle’s message loud and clear: that love, above all else, is the only thing that can create unity and peace.

L’Engle’s beliefs were an apparent contradiction to many.  She was a faithful Episcopalian who believed in universal salvation while also an advocate for modern science.  Elements of both are strongly present in A Wrinkle in Time, and her views cause some to view her work as too religious, while others view it as too secular.  Still, she recognizes that belief in God and belief in science are not mutually exclusive.  Similarly, The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah rightly claims that “You can be pro-cop and pro-black, which is what we should all be.”  Like L’Engle’s belief in religion and science, Noah points out that supporting those whose job it is to protect American citizens and supporting the victims of their systemic problems, especially African Americans, are also not mutually exclusive actions.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge a scene in the last chapter of A Wrinkle in Time that reveals another important lesson.  Meg is about to go back to Camazotz to save Charles Wallace from IT, and Mrs. Whatsit explains the beauty of choosing who we are and not having our lives planned out for us.  She says that a sonnet has fourteen lines with strict rhyme and iambic pentameter.  She tells Meg,

You’re given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you say is completely up to you.

We as people are given only a certain amount of time on Earth, and we get to choose what we do with it (a lesson I learned from Marina Keegan’s The Opposite of Loneliness)  We can stand idly by while the world turns and injustice occurs and discoveries are made, or we can be active participants in fighting for our beliefs, for ourselves, and for those who are oppressed.  We have to write the sonnets ourselves.

Have you read A Wrinkle in Time?  What did you think of it?  What other books have lessons that relate to issues we face today?

Thanks for reading!

The Power of a Woman’s Story | Waitress: A New Musical

Harmonies.  Laughter.  Pie.  What more could you ask for in a musical?

The weekend before last, I went to a Saturday matinee of the new Broadway musical, Waitress, at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City for my friend’s birthday.  I’ve been following the show since the announcement that the music and lyrics would be written by one of my favorite musicians of all time, Sara Bareilles.

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Last November, Sara Bareilles released an album called What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress, a selection of songs from the musical (though not in its completed stages) sung by Bareilles herself.  I immediately fell in love with the album; it’s the perfect blend of two of my favorite things: Sara Bareilles and show tunes.

I was eager to see the show right from the get-go, and my excitement increased with each performance I saw from it: Jessie Mueller singing the heart-wrenching anthem, She Used to Be Mine for Broadway.com, the medley of opening and closing numbers on Good Morning America, and the cast’s performance at the 70th annual Tony Awards, featuring Sara Bareilles, as well.  From what I could tell, the musical was going to blow me away.

And it did.

The show began with a sweet yet sassy recorded audio introduction by Sara Bareilles; to the tune of her song “Cassiopeia,” she sang about how not turning off your cell phone during the performance will basically make everybody there hate you.  I laughed at her cleverness but also agreed with her point.  Classic Sara move.

Oh, and did I mention that the theater smells like pie when you walk in, and you can buy little pies in a jar from the ushers?  We’ll get to that.

After the musical introduction, the show began.  Based on the 2007 film starring Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion, the story follows the life of waitress and expert pie-maker Jenna Hunterson, played by the inimitable Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony for her performance as Carole King in Beautiful in 2014.  Jenna is trapped in an unhappy marriage with an abusive husband and now is expecting a baby with him.  Her fellow waitresses, shy Dawn (Orange Is the New Black‘s Kimiko Glenn) and loud-mouthed Becky (the powerhouse Keala Settle) help Jenna throughout her pregnancy, while also battling their own romantic problems.  The three of them are a force to be reckoned with, a diverse version of the Andrews Sisters.  Or a Southern-diner-fied Destiny’s Child.

Jenna really gets into trouble when her new gynecologist turns out to be the attractive yet endearingly awkward Dr. Pomatter, played by the hilarious and talented Drew Gehling.  Their relationship quickly becomes romantic and… complicated.  As they sing to each other in “Bad Idea” (hands-down one of the best songs in the show), “You have a wife / You have a husband / You’re my doctor / You’ve got a baby coming / It’s a bad idea, me and you.”

Throughout the show, as new and strange things happen in Jenna’s life, the spotlight switches to her as she instantly thinks of a new pie recipe; think: the manual voice-overs and spotlights on Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  The pie motif reappears at defining moments in the show, especially in the lyrics “Sugar, butter, flour.”

I wish I could make this blog post an in-depth analysis of each of the delightful and beautiful songs from Waitress, but it would be 10,000 words long.  So I’ll keep it a bit shorter: each song is full of melodic and rhythmic twists, characteristic of Bareilles’ music.  The opening number, “Opening Up” is the perfect wake-up-in-the-morning-and-ring-in-the-new-day-song, and the harmonies fill you up like a warm cup of coffee.  The three waitresses shine in the funny-but-not-really “The Negative” about finally taking that pregnancy test and the gentle lullaby-esque “A Soft Place to Land”, while a different trio–this time of pregnant women–welcomes Jenna to the gynecologist’s office in “Club Knocked Up.”  Dawn and Becky both get their time in the spotlight; Dawn’s endearing and sincere “When He Sees Me” about being afraid of men and falling in love might be one of my favorite Broadway songs ever (I’ll have to update my list from last summer); and Becky sings her heart out about the struggles of decision-making in relationships in “I Didn’t Plan It.”

The men in the show shine, too; Dr. Pomatter wiggles his way into Jenna’s heart in the lighthearted “It Only Takes a Taste,” while Jenna’s wretched husband Earl keeps her heart for ransom in the rock-style”You Will Still Be Mine.”  The owner of the diner where Jenna works, played by Dakin Matthews (also known as Headmaster Charleston from Gilmore Girls) even has his own sweet song of advice to Jenna, “Take It From an Old Man”.  Not to mention Dawn’s new love interest, Ogie, belts out his love for her in the hysterical “Never Ever Getting Rid of Me” and “I Love You Like a Table,” which got Christopher Fitzgerald nominated for a Tony award this year.

What really made the show incredible for me was the second act.  Jenna and Dr. Pomatter sing a song called “You Matter to Me,” which is one of the most beautiful love songs I’ve ever heard, not only for it’s lyricism but also in the way it’s not made up of simple harmonies, but rather two unique melodies that flow together seamlessly.  From the first chord, I was crying already.

And when Jessie Mueller sang, “She Used to Be Mine,” a desperate plea to her past self and an apology to her not-yet-born baby, I was a complete mess.  Mueller does a perfect job of capturing that part of each audience member’s heart that knows the strains of loneliness and the pain of helplessness.

But not to worry, the musical has a happy ending, which left me in just as much a state of emotional disarray as the saddest parts.  Want to feel inspired?  Listen to “Everything Changes.”  It might spoil a bit of the plot, but trust me, it’s worth it.  You kind of know it’s coming anyway.

Overall, the music is phenomenal; the script is poignant, serious, and funny all rolled into one; and the actors– the actors!!!  All are fantastic singers and capture their characters fully and realistically.  I even saw the understudy for Cal, the owner of the diner (Thay Floyd), and he was just as funny and honest as every other cast member.  I saw Dakin Matthews and Kimiko Glenn after the show at the stage door, and they were positively delightful.

I think the main thing I left Waitress with was an understanding of the power of telling a woman’s story.  Waitress is the first Broadway musical to have an all-female creative team: choreographer Lorin Lattaro, book writer Jessie Nelson, director Diane Paulus, and of course, composer Sara Bareilles.  These women came together to tell a story about women–about what they struggle with behind the scenes, the complications of relationships (marital or otherwise), and the strength that comes with becoming a mother.  It’s a story only women could tell, and it comes across as touching and truthful.  The success of Waitress has shown me the power women can find in creating things and the beautiful and amazing results of women working together.

If you ever get the chance to see Waitress, do it.  Or listen to the cast album.  Or Sara Bareilles’ album.  Because I truly think that had the revolutionary Hamilton: An American Musical not been considered in this Broadway season, Waitress would have taken home the Tony for Best Musical.  The Founding Fathers can rap, but these women sure can tell a good story.

Have you seen Waitress?  What did you think of it?  What other good musicals have you seen?  Let me know in the comments!

As always, thanks for reading!

Time Is of the Essence and Nothing Makes Sense | The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

FullSizeRender (4)I recently finished reading the collection of essays and stories, The Opposite of Loneliness by the late Marina Keegan.  It was one of those books that just came into my life at the right time.  About a year ago, I picked it up in Barnes & Noble–just literally picked it up–and thought about buying it, but for some reason I didn’t.  Later, I read headlines of glowing reviews about it and felt like an idiot for not getting it.  But the first time wasn’t the right time for me to read it.  When I bought it a couple weeks ago, I felt as though I needed to read it this time.  And I was right.

The essays and stories in The Opposite of Loneliness were written by Keegan from the ages of about seventeen through twenty-two.  Five days after her graduation from Yale, she died in a car crash on the way to Cape Cod.  The book was published posthumously.

What matters, though, is not the traumatic circumstances but the perspective.  Because of Keegan’s sudden death, the book carries with it two perspectives: one of the vibrant, passionate, intellectual student, and one provided by the audience who knows that the author is no longer alive due to what seems to be a glitch in the flow of the universe.

The first half of the book is a collection of short stories.  After reading each one, I found myself angry.  But a good kind of angry.  Angry because I hadn’t written what she did, angry because at twenty-two, she could write better than I probably ever will.  Each story is so complex, so real.  They engage with the quiet struggles of dysfunctional families, the twisted emotions of romance, the panic and the aftermath of death.

The first story, “Cold Pastoral,” sucked me in like a vortex.  It focuses on the impact of the death of a college student, while following a girl who knew him, who was in the all-too-common romantic place of having a “thing” with him.  She wasn’t his girlfriend, yet feels like she’s expected to fill that role.  The ending left my mind stuttering, reeling.  Keegan made me think, which I think is the goal that all literary writers hope to achieve.  The rest of the stories followed suit, each with a unique twist at the end that ignited surprise and frustration fueled by my own egotism.

The second half of the book is a series of essays– stories and observations from Keegan’s own life.  The second essay, “Why We Care About Whales,” recounts the story of fifty pilot whales that became stranded on the beach next to her Cape Cod summer home.  She wonders why we spend so much money to save a whale, yet eat fish all the time.  She says, “I worry sometimes that humans are afraid of helping humans” (153).  She says that the reason the whales get stuck there and die is not through any fault of their own; rather, the culprit is the moon that pulls the tide in and out.

The day I read that essay I found out that I had lost a cousin, suddenly, without warning.  A relatively young person.  One who lived far away, but was nonetheless family.  To me, it made no sense.  It still doesn’t.  And it probably never will.

I couldn’t help but draw the connection to the book I was reading, one written by a girl who died in a car accident.  Two lives cut short.  Two women no longer physically present in our reality.  It all connects.

Over the next couple days, I finished reading Keegan’s essays.  I noticed how often death came up not only in her stories but in her essays as well.  Especially in the short “Putting the ‘Fun’ Back in Eschatology,” Keegan talks about the Big Death– the death of the human race.  She begins, “If you didn’t already know this, the sun is going to die” (169).  She mentions the same thing in her poem, “Bygones,” which I found on YouTube when I wanted to know what her voice sounded like.  She says in a way what Robert Frost says: “Nothing gold can stay.”  Yet she does so without demeaning the merit of the gold we create every day.

Her thoughts on life and ambition and gluten allergies and bug-killing humor are filled with a keen urgency.  Despite the fact that she had no way of knowing she was going to die at twenty-two, she knew the value of time.  And she did not intend to waste it.

And now there is a published book with her name on it.

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The Opposite of Loneliness opens with the title essay which was published in the graduation issue of the Yale Daily News.  In it, Keegan writes:

There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious […] that it is somehow too late.  That others are somehow ahead […] That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement[…] What we have to remember is that we can still do anything[…] We’re so young.  We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have” (2-3).

What I learned from Marina Keegan is that time is of the essence.  Ambition is worthwhile.  Nothing is ever going to make sense, and I will never know everything there is to know about anything.  The sun is going to die one day, but we’re here now.  We’re here.  Now.

Let me know if you have any thoughts on The Opposite of Loneliness or this blog post in the comments, and as always, thanks for reading!

Third Book of the Summer | Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

FullSizeRender (2)Yesterday I finished reading my third book of the summer, the classic pirate’s tale, Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, the 19th century author also famous for writing Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  Treasure Island was first published in novel form in 1883, so it’s an oldie but a goodie.

I’d never read Treasure Island the whole way through before (I tried to get into it a few times but never had the time to give it my full attention), but I’ve always had a thing for a good pirate story (I grew up with the Disney movie version of Peter Pan, and I remember being captivated by an elementary school teacher reading my class The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle).  I was familiar with the futuristic Disney version, Treasure Planet (starring Joseph Gordon Levitt, Emma Thompson, and more).  I’d call Treasure Planet one of the most underrated animated Disney movies.  I mean, come on.  It’s PIRATES!  IN SPACE! AND MARTIN SHORT IS A CRAZY ROBOT!  COME ON!!!

Treasure Island is actually remarkably similar to Treasure Planet (not that much, but similarities were definitely recognizable), but the book is a distinct Victorian Era adventure story.  I have to admit that I had to push through it at points; the antiquated language and myriad of sailing terms weren’t familiar to me, so I often used contextual clues to discern the meaning of and imagine certain situations presented in the book.  Still, though it was a book that required a lot of focus for me, it was still very enjoyable.

What I found most incredible about Stevenson’s story was that in a lot of ways, it was the first of its kind.  When I flipped through the section at the end of the book entitled, “Inspired by Treasure Island,” I learned that Stevenson was the first to create the classic image of the pirate that we have today: peg-legged with a screechy parrot, often saying “Shiver me timbers” and singing “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”  Though there were a few pirate stories before his, no other image of a pirate has stuck around as firmly as Stevenson’s, which is modeled by the character Long John Silver.  J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan , was supposedly inspired almost exclusively by Long John Silver when creating the notorious Captain Hook.

(If you haven’t read Treasure Island yet and plan to, there are a few spoilers to follow!)

I think that Stevenson’s greatest triumph in the story isn’t the final suspense (though I did gasp aloud) or the vibrant cast of characters, but the complexity of the villain himself.  While Barrie presents Captain Hook as a wholly evil character from the start and later reveals his personal insecurities that lead to his horrific deeds and hatred for the little boy who won’t grow up, Stevenson presents Long John Silver at first as a rough and friendly sea cook but quickly reveals his mutinous intentions aboard the ship, the Hispaniola.  

Throughout the book, Long John Silver never comes across as wholly evil.  From the start, he takes a liking to Jim Hawkins–the teenage protagonist who joins the voyage to find Treasure Island by a mysterious happenstance at his parents’ inn–and vice versa.  No matter what kind of greedy, evil deeds Long John commits (killing people, for a start), Jim never quite loses his trust in him.  And likewise, when Jim confesses to Long John that he was the one who discovered the mutiny and told the “good guys” (i.e., the captain, the doctor, the squire, and the squire’s assistants) about the pirates’ plan, Long John sees Jim less as a traitor and more as an equal.  Even though Jim is fully aware that Long John can go from laughing heartily at his noisy parrot to shooting a fellow pirate, Jim still would trust him with his life.  Stevenson frequently repeats that Long John is “the best man” among all the pirates.

Because of his more complex nature, Long John Silver doesn’t get the bitter villain’s end, either; when he finds out that the treasure has been dug up already by a marooner named Ben Gunn (the equivalent of Martin Short’s kooky robot), he and Jim solidify their deal that, because Long John saved Jim from being killed by the pirates when he confessed, Jim would testify in his favor when brought to court to be hanged for piracy.  Not only does the hero not kill the villain, but Long John escapes from the good guys with just a portion of the treasure, presumably to avoid punishment for his crimes.  Still, there seems to be no revenge involved, and the villain simply fades away from the tale.

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Map of Treasure Island

I found this to be an agreeable ending and made what would otherwise be the foundation of many a clichéd story into something much deeper than that.  Though the blurb on the back of the book focuses on Jim’s transformation into adulthood, I found that to be secondary to the exploration of Long John Silver’s character.  Jim grows up mostly due to his learned ability to harness his cleverness and fear in order to get what he wants.  The book is told from the supposed point of view of an older, wiser Jim Hawkins, who laments his rash decisions often driven by pride and zeal for adventure, but who also glows in the memory that despite everything, it turned out okay.  I admire Stevenson’s ability to weave a coming-of-age story with that of a complex, evil, yet also likable character.  He reminds me that villains are just people who choose a different route to getting what they want.

My only complaint is that I wish there were more female (or anything other than European dude) characters besides Jim’s perseverant yet frequently fainting mother who leaves the story after the first couple of chapters and certainly does not join in on the epic sea voyage.  Though the Disney film has a female captain of the ship (Yeah, Emma Thompson!!), the book is much less revolutionary.  Victorian Era adventure stories were very much a boy’s genre featuring almost exclusively male characters, so it isn’t surprising that Mrs. Hawkins is the only woman you meet in 227 pages.  (The only other one you hear about is Long John Silver’s poor, poor wife.)  Definitely doesn’t pass the Bechdel Test.

Overall, the book was a delightful and whimsical tale of adventure.  It’s a classic for a reason, and it should be on everybody’s “I’ve been saying I’d read these forever, and now I finally will” lists.  There’s nothing like a good pirate story to start off your summer!

Have you read Treasure Island?  What did you think of it?  What are your favorite literary classics?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

 

First Concert of the Summer | The 1975’s 2016 World Tour

Last Sunday night, I had the pleasure of seeing the band, The 1975, perform at the Mann Center’s Skyline Stage in Philadelphia on a stop of their 2016 World Tour for their new album, I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it.  One of my best friends is a massive fan of them, and she needed someone to tag along to the concert with her.  Before I planned on going to the concert, I knew only a couple of songs by them (You might know “Chocolate” or “Girls”.), but I studied up on their two albums so that I could know some of the music before the concert.

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The 1975 performing “UGH!”

The band, who originally hails from Cheshire, England, is made up of four members:  lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Matty Healy, lead guitarist Adam Hann, bassist Ross MacDonald, and drummer George Daniel, who unfortunately couldn’t play due to a broken shoulder.  Their genre is a bit hard to pinpoint– surely it’s alternative, but it’s also a kind of ethereal blend of pop, rock, jazz, and funk.  Especially on the newest album, they blend a lot of different influences together, with sugary sweet synth, a booming gospel choir, and a smooth jazz saxophone.

The concert started off… chilly.  It was drizzling and cold (especially for mid-May in Philadelphia), and some people were dressed according to the weather, while others weren’t.  It was fun to see all of the funky outfits people were wearing; my friend and I spotted plenty of bright hair colors and even a pair of white gogo boots.  We joked about the cultural phenomenon that manifests itself at a concert like The 1975’s: everybody tries to look different, but then everybody ends up looking kind of the same (but in a cooler way I guess?).

The first opener, The Japanese House, played kind of sleepy, synthy music– not exactly the best band to pump up an audience.  The second opener was Wolf Alice, who played a bit more upbeat music, but still not super dance-y stuff.  We were yearning for some of that as we shivered sitting on a blanket toward the back.

Finally, the stage lights lit up, and an incredibly long vamp left us all hanging until The 1975 came out playing “Love Me,” a funky song on their second album that reminds me a lot of Walk The Moon’s cover of the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing.”  It got the crowd dancing and excited, which was the mood for a lot of the concert.  The only time the audience was taken out of the realm of the show was when Healy had to stop abruptly at the beginning of “Heart Out” (which is a total jam) because some people in the mosh pit had gotten squeezed too far forward and fell.  But he very calmly asked everybody to take a few steps back and cheerily told us all in a thick British accent, “If somebody falls, just pick ’em back up, give ’em a kiss, and make sure they’re alright.  We gotta be here for each other.”

Once we got that out of the way, the audience just lived during the whole show.  It was a bit of a roller coaster, going from upbeat pop-y songs like “She’s American” and “UGH!” (which is so funky, I dare you not to dance when you’re listening to it) to quieter, slower songs like “A Change of Heart” and “Me.”  Still, because so many of the melodies are similar and there is always an element of the electronic in the background, the music all flowed together pretty cohesively, despite the tones of the songs varying from snarky disapproval to deep sadness.

The highlights for me, aside from one of the songs I knew best–“Girls”– were the ’80s ballad-esque “Robbers,” the following song, “You” that has a really stirring beat and melody, and the entire encore.  When The 1975 came back onstage after “Girls,” they started their encore with the powerful and pleading “If I Believe You,” that definitely has some gospel influences to highlight the religious undertones of the song.  (“This song is about Jesus,” Healy said when he introduced it.)

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The 1975 performing “Chocolate”

But they didn’t let us sway and gospel two-step for long; the following song was the effervescent and flamboyant “Chocolate,” their best-known song, followed by two of my favorite songs by them: “The Sound” and “Sex.”  “The Sound” has the same dance-y keyboard vibes that I love about Jess Glynne’s “Hold My Hand”, and when they started playing it, the whole crowd was just jumping and dancing, and it felt so genuinely joyful.  They finished the concert with “Sex,” which sounds like an ’80s pop-rock version of a Jimmy Eat World song, like a song they play in an old teen movie when all the kids are driving too fast on the highway.  It was an epic way to end a concert, and I think it left everyone feeling joyously dazed (though for a lot of people, it might have just been the weed they were smoking).

All in all, even though I don’t know the band super well, the concert was a really fun way to start my summer break from school and a great way to be among a group of people I’m not usually around.  I got to witness so many people who were seeing their favorite band ever perform, and it’s just so entertaining and heartening to watch that kind of excitement.  The 1975 put on a great show, and I’d definitely go to see them again.

Have you seen The 1975 perform?  What did you think?  What other concerts have you enjoyed/are you looking forward to?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

First Book of the Summer | Drinking With Men by Rosie Schaap

I’m back! (Yet again…)

So after a year of on-again, off-again blogging, I’ve discerned that I just can’t find the time to blog while I’m at college.  BUT, I still love blogging, and I love having breaks from school so that I can get back to it.

It’s been a rough/tough semester/year, and I’ve found myself in a much different place (not location-wise, but mentally/emotionally/life-y) than where I was at the end of my freshman year of college.  For the time being, I’m just decompressing from an emotional roller coaster of a year.  I’ve only been home for two and a half days, but I’ve already recognized that something that really grounds me and makes me feel good about myself is reading.

So, here’s to my first book of the summer, Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap!

FullSizeRender (7)During my fall semester of sophomore year, I took a creative writing class called “The Personal Essay,” in which I learned how to write about myself in the form of an essay (a collection of which could be considered a memoir).  The creative writing department at my college brought in Rosie Schaap to do a reading from her memoir and have a Q & A with the students.  After the reading (which was super entertaining), I bought a copy of her memoir and got to talk to her for a few seconds.  She was totally cool and intimidating, and definitely had a free-spirited aura about her, which having read the book now, makes a whole lot of sense.

Drinking with Men is a collection of ten personal essays written by Schaap about her many, many experiences with bars throughout her life.  Each chapter revolves around one particular bar, which serves as the frame for her stories about her remarkable life.  Before she came for the reading, my personal essay class was assigned to read the first essay from the memoir, entitled “Bar Car Prophecy,” which details Schaap’s experience as a wayward, teenage stoner who discovers that she has a knack for performing tarot card readings in the bar car of the train that takes her to and from her shrink’s office weekly.  If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, I don’t know what will.

The following essays follow Schaap through bars she discovered while following around the Grateful Dead, near her college in Vermont, abroad in Ireland, in Montreal while visiting for a friend’s wedding, and in her hometown of New York City.  And with each bar, the reader learns a little bit more about the crazy life of Rosie Schaap.

I took a risk when buying this book.  Though I have discovered the wonderful appeal of memoir as a genre, Rosie Schaap couldn’t be further from me personally, other than the fact that we’re two white ladies.  As her bio says on the back of her book, “Rosie Schaap has been a bartender, a fortune-teller, a librarian at a paranormal society, an English teacher, an editor, a preacher, a community organizer, and a manager of homeless shelters.”  That’s quite the résumé.  Schaap has lived the crazy, rebellious life as a teenager (involving alcohol, pot, and not always knowing where she was going to sleep the next night), the high-falutin scholar life in college (involving lots of poetry and deep conversations with intelligent people), and the very stressful adult life (involving finding something resembling faith, her father’s death, and the 9/11 attacks).  She has seen it all and more.  And she has been drinking all the while.

Her life is so vastly different from mine, that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to identify with her memoir at all.  I’m a pretty straight-edge, reserved nineteen-year-old.  Fear drives a lot of what I do and don’t do (and trying to make that not the case can be anywhere from frustrating to agonizing), and the phrase “trying new things” has often been cause for anxiety rather than excitement for me.  Though I do like doing “new things” and have found going out of my comfort zone more and more appealing as I’ve gotten older, I find a sense of security, comfort, and peace with routine.  I do the right thing not always because I want to, but because I feel like I have to.

But what surprised me most about Drinking with Men was how much I identified with Rosie Schaap’s journey.  Of course, I’m not married, my parents are both alive and still married, and I’ve only had two real jobs in my life.  But I did identify with the emotions present in Schaap’s memoir.  She often mentions her need to feel needed and a sense of belonging, which couldn’t be more applicable to my life as a young adult right now.  She just searches for that feeling in bars, and I don’t.  She discusses grief over the passing of friends and of her father, which is a feeling I have become all too familiar with, and I’ve even written about on this blog before.  And toward the end of the memoir, she discusses the yearning to be really “doing something” with her life, the feeling that the world has so much to offer, and falling into complacency with the little you do know can be considered a failure.  I have often felt this feeling before, as I’m sure so many have.

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“To Annie– Here’s a toast to your health, your happiness, and your writing.  Cheers, Rosie Schaap”

The greatest lesson I learned from Drinking with Men is that no matter how different you are from someone on the surface, there will still be innate, human things that you share.  There is a certain level of universality that comes with being a person that will always allow you to find some way to connect with someone else, and your different choices don’t make you better or worse than anyone else.  Though Rosie Schaap sought connection through her extroverted personality in bars across the western world, I seek connection, too, just in different, more introverted ways.  We may be completely different people, but we are still just two people.  And in our humanness, there is similarity and understanding.  And in this similarity, I can see the possibility for me to lose some of my fear and take some chances.  Rosie Schaap and I aren’t that different, after all.

Have you read Drinking with Men?  What did you think about it?  Have you read any other memoirs that had an impact on you?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

The Start of Something New: Ten Years of High School Musical

Ten years is a long time.  A decade.  The difference between being ten and twenty, between twenty and thirty.  Heck, most people can’t even make it to the Tenth Day of Christmas when singing the old Christmas carol.  It takes a while to get to ten.

It’s been ten years since I first watched High School Musical, and last night I watched the 10th Anniversary special (along with the movie) on Disney Channel.  It was a rollercoaster (not unlike the one in “What Time Is It?” from High School Musical 2).

I think the first time I watched HSM I was by myself.  Nobody knew it was going to be such a huge hit, but I had gotten excited about it as soon as I had seen the promo with the big, Broadway lettering spelling out the title.

I was nine years old when I first watched HSM on January 20th, 2006.  I, too, had been in a musical before: Tom Sawyer the Musical (Yes, it exists) in the third grade.  I was in the chorus because I just couldn’t bring myself to sing alone in an audition.  Still, I had seen my brother perform in two musicals, and I wanted to get in on the fun.

The year HSM premiered, though, I was in the fourth grade and had around that time auditioned to be in The Pirates of Penzance at my grade school.  All the younger kids had to be policemen, and the ones who sang the best got to be on the stage instead of the floor in front of the stage.  The only role for a younger kid (3rd through 5th grade) was the Sergeant, the chief of police.

I had decided at this point that I wanted to audition for the “stage police”; I thought I could do it, and it was one step down from the Sergeant.  No big deal.  But what I didn’t know was that when you auditioned for the stage police, you were also auditioning for the role of the Sergeant.

One day, I walked from the bus stop to my house and in through my front door.

“How was school?” my mom asked.

I looked at her, bewildered.  “I’m the Sergeant.”

And thus began my lifelong love for musical theater.

Looking back, the first performance of The Pirates of Penzance came just months after the premiere of High School Musical.  It’s curious how these events coincided; I got to watch my new heroes audition for a musical, just like I had auditioned for mine.  If only I could have had some of their outfits…

This musical connection drew me right into the world of HSM.  Troy was the dreamy jock who would never in a million years audition for one of my school shows, and I pretended I was Gabriella while singing “When There Was You and Me” in my bedroom mirror.  I was known as the smart kid at school, too, and I treasured the fact that I could “be both” the smart kid and a theater kid, like Gabriella.

I remember when High School Musical first came out, everyone was talking about it at school, but not in the way that I expected it.  I was gushing about it, of course.  I mean, how could people not love the best Disney Channel Original Movie ever created?  But I remember a lot of girls acting like they were too grown up for Disney Channel and High School Musical.  I distinctly remember someone asking me with a nasty look, “You like High School Musical?”  I replied, “Yeah…?”  like it was a no-brainer.  A lot of girls acted like they were too cool for HSM, but I knew that they all secretly liked it.  I’m sure all of them today would be able to sing all the words to “Breaking Free.”

But in fourth grade, they had missed the point of the movie.  It wasn’t about being cool and dancing and singing about togetherness.  It was about knowing that you want to do something, that you enjoy doing something, and then having the courage to do it.  So often in life we cut ourselves off from what we really want to do, and for a myriad of reasons: because our friends would judge us, because it isn’t practical, because it would change how people thought of us.  But High School Musical said, “Forget that.  Do what you love.  Your real friends will be your biggest supporters, even if they’re a little confused at first.”

I’ve carried that lesson with me throughout my whole life.  When almost all of the kids my age had stopped performing in school musicals because it “wasn’t cool” anymore, I still did it.  Because I liked doing it.  When people ask me, “Oh… what are you going to do with that?” when I tell them that I’m a creative writing major, I have to focus on the fact that I’m pursuing what I love to do.  Other people’s expectations are not important when you’re deciding your own path.

So not only was I filled with memories while watching the movie, but the whole reunion aspect was so deeply moving.  Following all of the HSM cast on social media and watching the reunion special filled me with so much joy because, like I said in relation to Girl/Boy Meets World, the cast wants to remember and enjoy the memories as much as the fans do.  Though I was sad Zac Efron couldn’t be there in person (*cries single tear*), seeing the other cast members reunite and laugh about old stories and audition tapes was just so lovely.  There’s a video that Lucas Grabeel took of Monique Coleman giving Corbin Bleu his East High class ring back from the final movie (He had lost his and was devastated), and seeing Corbin well up with tears made me want to cry for the rest of eternity.

They have all become so successful at what they do.  Zac is an incredibly popular actor, Vanessa and Corbin have both been on Broadway, Ashley and Lucas have enjoyed success on both sides of the television screen, and Monique has done some majorly awesome charity work.  It’s absolutely crazy to think that I, along with all of the fans of HSM have been rooting for these people for ten years now.  I’m so proud of everything they’ve done, and I can tell that they’re truly grateful for everything.

And the fact that they aired the reunion on Disney Channel was so important.  I can imagine some younger kids, about my age when I first watched it, seeing it for the first time, as well.  Laughing at the old phones and 2000s fashions, but also seeing for the first time the beauty of the story that captured all of our hearts.  With the next generation, it’s the start of something new.

I owe High School Musical a lot.  I’ve enjoyed many a sleepover with friends watching all three of the movies and danced/sang along to all three soundtracks a thousand times over.  I grew up with this movie, and I never really grew out of it.  Seriously, put “Bet On It” on, and I will transform into someone you have never seen before in your life.

In short, I will always love High School Musical.  I will be watching that movie in my rocking chair when I am eighty-three years old.  I won’t remember what I had for breakfast, but I will remember all the moves to “We’re All in This Together.”

I can’t wait for the 20-year reunion.  Once a wildcat, always a wildcat.

WHAT TEAM?!

(Hint: WILDCATS!)

Do you have a favorite memory with High School Musical?  What about another movie from your childhood?  Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading!!