Thursday, December 31, 2015

Going Out on a Limb

Eight months ago I sat in a tree overlooking Walden Pond with my friend Maiel. It was a day of adventures––philosophical conversations in an empty field, going off the path, throwing rocks defiantly across railroad tracks, and daring society to force us to conform to unspecified societal norms. For those of you who read my post, "...will grow and prosper wherever planted", you'll recognize this as the adventure I went on with Maiel in April, on a journey to decide where I was going to college. After an affirmative "D" drawn in the sand, I could hear my heart voice pronounce its need to go to Denison University in Granville, Ohio. Eight months later, after my first semester at Denison, I've had another soul-fulfilling adventure with Maiel that wonderfully captured my last four months at college.

Our "Adventure Trees" (Mine: Left ; Maiel's: Right)

Above is just one of the many crafts we made. The inspiration for these trees come from Windy Sunset's Creations. Windy Sunset's Creations calls them gem trees. We call them Adventure Trees, reminiscent of the monumental adventure we had back in April. For me, that adventure marked the liberating risk of choosing an uncertain future. Granted, the future is inherently uncertain, but as I reflected in my April blog post, Denison was more uncertain than St. Olaf. I chose Denison because I knew there were parts of myself aside from English and Theatre that I had yet to discover. As I wrote in my April post, "I will bring my sweaters and stuffed animals and love of theatre to Denison, but I will also be given the space to grow in an environment where I'm not surrounded by my familiar tastes. I would bring my solid foundation to the unfamiliar soil, and allow new branches to grow. The result was much like my "Adventure Tree:" very unstable. 

I liken our trees to Banyan Trees. The Collins Dictionary of Biology defines a Banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) as, "an Indian tree best known for the production of large aerial roots that are let down from its larger branches and, in effect, form secondary trunks which give extra support and allow the tree to spread." Maiel's tree is the main trunk of the Banyan tree. With its well-balanced branches and neat, evenly spaced out roots, it reflects 18 years of a developed foundation: strong relationships with teachers and peers, invested in her high school's drama program, and a developing romance. I could be describing her foundation or mine (they're similar in these three areas), although it's not for me to describe her emotional attachment to it. I can say that my own emotional attachment to my main trunk was strong––stronger than I realized. 

I didn't realize how comfortable I was with my tight knit drama group and established relationships until I started branching out. I brought my stuffed animals and sweaters and love of theatre to Denison. However, despite my initial romanticization of spending every free moment in the theatre and late night walks up the hill from rehearsal, I opted out of the first show for fear of overcommitting myself like I did in high school. Without a cast or a character to immerse myself in, and without my familiar teachers, friends, and environment, I felt like I was dangling in the tree. Unlike the main trunk, the roots growing from the branches aren't neat and orderly, like Maiel's tree. They're like mine––tangled and desperate to cling to something familiar. (I think this is why my first friend was someone who carried a briefcase––he reminded me of my friend Alex.) 

What I sometimes forgot was that this new limb was part of an already built foundation. It's the line I drew between "pre-Denison Megan" and "Denison Megan" that left me feeling so disconnected. It felt like I was starting my life over. When I finally realized that this new limb was attached to my main trunk, and would ultimately strengthen my total foundation, I was able to relish in the uncertainty of the ungrounded roots. I can objectively say now that not diving into theatre was the best decision I could've made for myself this semester. If I had gotten right in with a cast, I likely would've followed one group of people, and lost out on the opportunity to let my roots explore new territory. It's through dangling that I found myself in the Communications department so often, and engaging in interfaith dialogue at the house for spiritual and religious life. I'm clarifying what it is I love about English and Theatre––how they help people communicate. Most importantly, recognizing that my "two selves" don't need to be as separate as I thought opened up the possibility of a multi-dimensional self––a Megan Lovely larger than the theatre-enthusiastic, academic-driven, and self-controlled individual, including parts I don't like. 

As I realized sitting in that tree at Walden Pond eight months ago, going out on a limb is liberating. What's most significant about the Banyan Tree is that it's the trunks that grow from these limbs that strengthen the core foundation of the tree, and allow it to spread. Before going to college, I was in the habit of saying, "I can't make a decision." The growth I experienced during my first semester at Denison–a school I chose–assures me that I can make decisions. It's affirmative of the power of not just choosing, but embracing uncertainty. These last four months have given me the confidence and strength to keep going out on a limb, and spreading out to unexplored soil.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Packing My Suitcase for the Future

After going almost nonstop since four o'clock this morning and turning in my English essay 15 minutes before it was due, I finally had the opportunity at five o'clock this evening to sit on the hill, drink Happy Belly tea, eat some of Mom's homemade cookies that arrived in the mail today, and read heartfelt quotes from Brian Andreas' book, Trusting Soul. The book is filled with rough sketches of people and quotes about uncertainty, change, growing up, and other ideas related to trust and the future. In the introduction to his book, he writes,

The future is what you bring with you & you get to choose. I think of the stories & drawings in this book as the things I have chosen, the suitcase I've packed for the future. It's only the essentials, because I know you'll bring stuff, too. I packed the lilt of a voice, the curve of a neck in laughter, the glance between people who have wrapped up in each other in the soft night. I've put memories of my grandparents & other made-up people because it seemed like they'd be fun to have around. I've thrown in more than enough packages of love & play & chocolate because the future can always use extra of those & I sneaked in a few unexpected gifts, simply because there is no greater joy than an unexpected gift to a trusting soul. (Andreas) 

The things I try to include on my blog are what I've chosen to pack for my future––pictures and quotes and musings and questions and stories and moments that fill me with inspiration and joy. I try to avoid rambling complaints or conclusions that end with bitter emotions, because these aren't what I want to bring along with me in the future. I'd rather leave them behind.

What's even more fun than packing the suitcase is opening it up and sharing it with others, which is why I get such joy out of posting. It's a space for the collective relish of big questions and small moments.

So for you, today, I'm sharing a picture of the autumn trees on campus and one of my favorite poems by Mary Oliver.


Salt shining behind its glass cylinder.
Milk in a blue bowl. The yellow linoleum.
The cat stretching her black body from the pillow.
The way she makes her curvaceous response to the small, kind gesture.
Then laps the bowl clean.
Then wants to go out into the world
where she leaps lightly and for no apparent reason across the lawn,
then sits, perfectly still, in the grass.
I watch her a little while, thinking:
what more could I do with wild words?
I stand in the cold kitchen, bowing down to her.
I stand in the cold kitchen, everything wonderful around me.


What will you pack in your suitcase?

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Dandelion Sponges, Brush Strokes, and Runny Eggs

If I painted with a white dandelion puff, I'd get a smattering of dots, a constellation of stars––sponged constellations on the page.

But I don't want to always sponge. Sometimes I want a paintbrush to make big, long, passionate brushstrokes. Sometimes life is a constellation of moments, but other times it's a passionate sweep.

I dreamt about this idea a few weeks ago. It has been a sampling semester for me in college. Although I came to Denison fully anticipating to dive right into theatre, I've found myself wading in, afraid of what I might miss above the surface if I'm underwater. There are so many things to do all the time, and I'm surrounded by so many different styles of living and hobbies and paths of life. Considering that all of my classes have touched somewhat upon the question, "What is the self?" my brain is spinning with existential questions like, "What is life?" and "Who am I?" I've dabbled in a lot of different areas this semester, between talking with a variety of people, trying out different clubs (I'm trying fencing this week!), and going to unique campus events, like a lecture on policing. I'm used to fully committing myself to a few areas that I'm passionate about, so not doing that has made me feel somewhat scattered. This, in conjunction with the dandelion puff I found at a park off campus a few weeks ago, is what I think led to my dandelion puff dream.

I returned to the park this morning. The river and the swings and the trees make it a nice getaway from campus. As I was running over the bridge, I noticed that the trees looked like painted dandelion puffs with their colored leaves. I so badly wanted to stand on the bridge, gather all my breath, and make a wish on the trees, seeing their leaves scatter in the wind.

I also expressed the desire in my dream, though, to paint with a paintbrush. I don't want to always sponge constellations. I want to paint cirrus clouds. I want to dive in.

These are cirrus uncinus clouds, taken from Wikimedia Commons, a public domain.
Somehow egg yolks also leaked into my dream. The only explanation I can think of is that sometimes I want to crack the "egg" and see where the yolk (paint) runs. (Although, I'm not usually one to just crack an egg.) 

The thing is, whether I sponge constellations, take bold brushstrokes, or let the paint run, it's all still a work of art. More importantly, it's the contrast of all these that makes for an interesting composition.

My first semester of college has not been what I expected so far. I'm starting to be more bold with my painting, but it's a process. I think I've repeated that phrase–"It's a process"–every day to myself since I've been here. There are some parts I wish I could paint over, but there are other parts that shimmer. When I step back and I look at the whole picture, I like what I see. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wildflowers in Bloom

"I'm an imperfect being, living in an uncertain world, and I embrace that."

This is a mantra someone told me recently, and it has been very helpful to meditate over. Denison has thrown me into a world full of uncertainty, and it has been scary. I'm surrounded by new people and new food and a new environment, away from the relationships I spent the last eighteen years of my life developing. I knew I was entering an uncertain environment when I chose to come to Denison. As I reflected back in my blog post from April, I recognized myself at St. Olaf. I didn't recognize myself at Denison, and that was (is) scary. Most of my life, I chose the certain option, the safe option. I chose what I knew would match the picture on the front of the flower seed packet. But when I chose to come to Denison, I didn't plant sunflowers or tulips. I planted wildflowers. And I'm growing.

Monday, August 31, 2015

The Yin and Yang

This rock I found on the beach is one of the little "you can do it"s that has been keeping me going throughout the college transition. At this phase in my life where everything seems new, I'm questioning myself more than ever. This rock reminds me that it's all about balance, and to find my center and embrace every part of me. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Life of One's Own

“Are you a writer?” a customer asked me at work. I was wearing my favorite T-shirt, one I got from the Reynold's Writer's Workshop two summers ago at Denison University. 

"I want to go into English and Theatre," I said.

She beamed, thrusting her hand forward to shake mine. "Best of luck to you! I'm a writer and my daughter wants to go into theatre. Congratulations!" I couldn't help beaming back. I could feel my body swelling with pride, being congratulated just for wanting to go into the field. 

It’s a daunting question that Mary Oliver asks. It sounds similar to the “slower and booming” clock that Lin-Manuel Miranda talked about in his commencement address at Wesleyan University this past spring. In her novel The Bell Jar (semi-autobiographical), Sylvia Plath analogizes all the different paths she could take to figs hanging on branches. As she contemplates which path to take, they begin to “wrinkle and go black,” and eventually drop to the ground because of her inability to choose one.

It’s a question that I myself often get overwhelmed with. After all, I can’t even choose how I want to fill a day, let alone a life of days. But this wouldn’t be my favorite T-shirt if I thought the question was demanding. (Considering the question literally sits right on my chest, I probably wouldn’t be able to wear it without my chest tightening up.) I wear it because it reminds me to be excited about the question, rather than daunted by it. Instead of a melodramatic take on it, I can be enlivened by it. I imagine it phrased like how a parent would ask a child in the candy store, “What do you want to buy?” and the child responding with wide-eyes and a million colors swirling through their heads. Of course, I’ve always been indecisive, so whenever anyone asks me what I want I usually take a really long time deciding. But I’m trying to learn to be excited by choices rather than overwhelmed by them, and to learn to make decisions without attaching so much life or death weight to them (unless, of course, it is a life or death matter, in which case the head in my hands overwhelmed position is acceptable).

I’m at a point in my life where I have so much ahead of me, and I so badly want to make the most of everything that comes my way––every painting I see, every interaction I have, every new place I visit, I want to get something out of it. It seems like a good mindset, except that I try too hard. In trying to figure out how to make the most out of life, I'm losing out on life. So even once I choose the "fig," it's dropping in front of me while I’m trying to figure out the best way to pick it.

My favorite question to ask people right now is, "What did you major in?" followed by, "What do you do for work?" which is sometimes followed by, "Is that what you see yourself doing long-term?" More often than not, the people I talk to aren't exactly where they want to be, nor does where they are directly correspond with what they went to college for. Their paths aren't linear, and that's what makes their lives interesting. We don't have to know exactly where we're going. All we have to do is look at what's right in front of us, and know that it's all a part of our overall experience. Not everything has to correlate, and things may correlate in ways we don't see right away, until we get to the end and finally everything seems to fit together so seemingly perfectly that it seems like it couldn't have happened any other way. It's like at the end of a mystery novel when you finally find out "who did it" and you flip back and wonder how you didn't see it coming, because everything seems to connect so perfectly. What I'm learning from talking to people is that there is no one "right way to do life." 

That energy I felt when that woman shook my hand embodies the excitement of Mary Oliver's question. I thought about how my math teacher gave me a hug at the end of the year. "Good luck, kiddo," he said. I thought about my classes for this semester, and how next month at this time I will be preparing to head off for Denison University. I thought about working in the scene shop, all the plays I will get to direct, spending long hours in the theatre, and all the people I'll meet. I get to make this life my own. And that's an empowering thing, one not to melodramatize, but to celebrate. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Salt Water Heals All

When I have a sore throat, my grandma tells me to gargle with warm water and salt. It's one of those things I've always done without questioning. I think part of it might be the mental game of, "This is going to make me feel better," like how I tell myself that eating mom's homemade chocolate chip cookies are going to make me feel better when I'm feeling lonely, or how my stepdad says that eating cinnamon sugar Pop-Tarts will ease his sour stomach. The Mayo Clinic confirms my grandma's remedy, though, recommending a solution of half a teaspoon of salt with a full glass of warm water for best results. After brushing my teeth and stretching, gargling with salt water was the first thing I did this morning to try and combat my sore throat.

I'm learning that salt water can also combat a sore attitude.

After a long first day at work today, I was left feeling more tired and very hungry. This poor combination heightens my typical indecision, making me unable to commit to anything, whether it be what to eat or what to do. There are times I'm able to shrug off my indecision––laugh at myself or roll my eyes––and others when I get frustrated with myself about my indecision, sending me into an extended and unproductive rut of self-irritation.

I spent the majority of dinner picking at the food on my plate, not feeling in the mood to eat even though I knew I was hungry. I was irritable and didn't talk much, and was mad at myself for being irritable. I knew I was being ridiculous, and I knew getting mad at myself wasn't making the situation any better, but there are times I'm good at getting myself out of the rut, and others when I'm not. I went to the beach after dinner with my family to check out the surf. As my stepdad observed the waves to the far right, I walked down to the water silently, anxious to feel the salt water on my skin. I took off my glasses, put them in my sweatshirt pocket, and scooped the water in my hands and splashed my face. My whole body instantly relaxed. I splashed my face again, wanting more than anything to submerge myself entirely in the water. 

We went back home, and I was tempted to go back to the beach to swim. I wanted the salt on my arms and legs. I wanted coarse and salty hair. The grainy water makes me feel raw, scrubbed clean, and refreshed. My mom and stepdad warned me against sharks, though––apparently they're more frequent at dawn and dusk. 

"I'll go for a dip with you," my mom said. I agreed, but then questioned whether I wanted to go alone, and then whether I wanted to go at all. I got in my swimsuit, told my mom I was going alone, and then froze at the door––classic "paralysis analysis." I collapsed on the steps in my tri-colored swimsuit, feeling deflated and frustrated at my continuing indecision.

"I'm taking you to the beach," my mom said, and I got in the driver's seat of our Ford Explorer. She came out moments later in a towel identical to the one I was wearing. I couldn't help but laugh. We drove to the beach, and I left my flip-flops in the car, wanting to feel the sand underneath my feet. I could already feel the calm setting over me. We dropped our towels on the life guard chair and ran in.

"Next wave, we dive," I said. We did without hesitation. I could feel my heart skip a beat as it plunged into the cold water. I felt my skin absorbing the salt water, like settling into a hot bath. I dipped again––and again. I laid on my back and floated, letting my hair fan out like a mermaid's, like I used to do in the bathtub. I laughed the kind of laugh I do when I'm really happy and feeling free.

"If you're feeling down, find salt water." That will be the remedy I tell my grandchildren. 

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

From Cairn to Cairn

One ________ at a time. I first learned it through open water swimming. One stroke at a time. There are days when the water is calm and warm, and the swim is easy. I can enjoy watching the hermit crabs scuttle on the sand below me, and allow my mind to drift. Then there are days when the waters are rough and jagged. I'm tossed side to side by the waves, I swallow salt water, and I battle the current the entire time. These are the days I must take the swim one stroke at a time. I look for the orange buoys ahead. If I make it to one, I can make it to the next.

I learned something similar from the mountains this past weekend. My uncle, who has lots of hiking experience, agreed to take me hiking along the Presidential Range. It was a challenging experience, mentally more than physically. I found that in the mountains, even more so than in the ocean, you never know what is going to get thrown your way.

Our first two days of hiking were beautiful. It was clear and sunny, but not hot. Hiking along the ridge on Saturday, we could see for miles. We stayed at the Lakes of the Clouds hut that night, and overnight the mountain quickly reminded us of its strength. With 60mph winds blowing against the hut all night, it sounded like a war zone outside. From my bottom bunk, I tried to tell myself that I liked the wind. I loved storms. But every time I listened to the wind, I felt a pit in my stomach as I thought about having to hike in that weather outside, over 5000ft in elevation, in just a few hours.

When I got up a few hours later, the weather hadn't gotten better. We put on all our rain gear, bundled up in layers (significantly lightening our packs) and stepped outside, where I was promptly nearly blown over. I felt like I did the first time I swam at Nauset Beach, with the big waves: frozen with fear. Except this felt scarier, because I wasn't in water. I was in open air, with nothing to catch my fall. On top of that, neither my uncle or I could see the trail because visibility was so poor. We went back inside, questioning whether we should continue. After a hut crew member pointed us in the direction of the trail, though, we figured as long as we could keep on the path, we could get down.

That's when we began our cairn to cairn trek. Cairns are piles of rocks that are used to help mark the trail above tree line. For two miles, we were exposed to the winds. There were moments when the wind was so strong, all I could do was stand my ground, grip hard on my uncle's hiking pole, close my eyes, and wait for the gust of wind to pass. Other times we had to hold hands through the wind and make it to the next big rock, where we could take shelter for a minute. The whole time, we just kept setting landmarks for ourselves. One cairn at a time. If we could make it to one cairn, we could make it to another. One step at a time.

I'm learning that's how I can get myself through my moments of anxiety. When my mind starts spinning, I need to slow it down by looking at what's immediately in front of me. I can't think about what I'm going to have for dinner or how tired I might be tomorrow or how I'm going to finish everything on my to-do list. I just need to take it one step at a time, put one foot in front of the other, and site the next cairn ahead.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Ticking Clock

Yesterday was my last day of high school classes. Next week at this time I'll be lining up for graduation, ready to turn the tassel and graduate. It feels anti-climactic. These last few weeks were so stressful. I was on auto-pilot, not quite aware of what I was doing until I got to the end and it was over.

I’ve been up and down all week. There are moments I’m desperate to cling to everything familiar. I just want to fall asleep next to Mom on the couch. I hug her goodbye when I leave for school in the morning, and then go back for another because I wasn't fully present with the first. I kiss my brother goodnight and take him out for ice cream probably more than he has the craving for. I steal every hug I can from my friend Connor. I want to make sure I touch base with all my senior friends. I plant myself down at their lunch table and will myself not to leave, for fear that I'll later regret I didn't spend enough time with them. I visit my grandparents next door often. I'm anxious to eat as much of home food as I can, from Mom's homemade cookies to my stepdad's oatmeal to Grandma's crepes. I'm scared about not getting enough of all those I love.

Then there are moments, sometimes only an hour later, when I'm anxious to throw it all away. I want to toss all my t-shirts from high school drama. I don't want my parents to talk to me. I'm determined to be independent. I don't want help or advice. I put on my Denison sweatshirt and browse their website, watch the campus tour and envision myself there in a few months. I just want to run away to Denison, away from familiar influences. I feel uninspired and stuck. I’m ready for a change of scenery and new voices. I feel uncultured and ready to move on.

I can just as quickly switch back, suddenly feeling overwhelmed about leaving, scared that I'm losing part of myself. I tear off my Denison sweatshirt, nauseous at the sight of anything red. I dig through my closet trying to find something to wear. Then somehow I decide that nothing I wear feels like me and everything is restrictive, and all I want is to be naked on the beach, where no fabric restricts my chest and I can just breath the salt air.

I get frustrated at myself for these fluctuating emotions. I don't eat and then I binge and then I get more frustrated with myself, unsure of what to eat or who to talk to or what will make me feel better. I didn’t know the direction in which this post was going, except that I just needed to write and get out all these emotions. As I wrote, I realized that what I’m scared of and very aware of is time. I'm conscious of time slipping by, and I'm paralyzed by everything I want to cling to and everything I want to do. I remembered that Lin-Manuel Miranda, who graduated from Wesleyan University in 2002, delivered the Wesleyan commencement address this year, and he mentioned something about a “ticking clock.” I re-watched the video and realized that Miranda was describing exactly how I was feeling, and, as he often does, he put me at ease.

(Before you read further, I recommend you listen to Miranda’s commencement address, beginning around 4:15. Although I will provide some context for my references throughout this post, they will be easier to follow if you watch/read the address. It’s also just a really good address.)

In describing how he felt upon graduation, Miranda said,

“Most of all, I remember the sound of two distinct clocks in my head. One is super fast, whirring. T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t. That’s the sound of your four years at Wesleyan. With one day to go, all the packing you still have to do, all the people with whom you are still trying to find a moment to say the right goodbye."

That "super fast, whirring "T-t-t-t-t-t-t-t" clock in my head is the sound of the last 18 years of my life.

Then there’s the second clock, “slower and booming.” “[T]hat’s the sound of the rest of your life,” Miranda says, “and what you’re going to do with it in the time you have on this earth. Some of you hear this clock constantly. You wake up in cold sweats at the thought of it. Some of you are utterly oblivious to it, God bless you. Guess what? It’s ticking whether you hear it or not.”

That “slower and booming” clock is the clock in my head that is so anxious to go off to Denison and start this next phase of my life. I want to immerse myself in the arts. I’m so ready to “sink my teeth” into them. But I feel like I keep delaying it, choosing an outdoor orientation instead of an arts one because I was afraid the art one might be too stimulating for transitioning into college, and I thought I might like a lower-key transition. But the thing is I’m hungry for inspiration and stimulation. These last few weeks have been so hard to stay motivated in school, and my lack of investment in my classes has been bothering me, because I’m usually someone who is very invested. So even though I know that I’m going to enjoy the outdoor orientation, the part of me that regrets my choice is the part that's very aware of the "slower and booming" clock and is anxious to start following her passions. 

I cried as I watched Miranda’s address. I just want to be where he’s at. So badly. I want to be so angsty with emotion and things to say that I crank out some project in three weeks. I want to be so invested that I forget to eat or sleep. (It's the romantic idealist in me.) I just want to do something, but I'm so overwhelmed with this desire to do something that I don't know what to do. And the clock ticks louder.

Miranda describes two characters in his new musical Hamilton: Vice President Aaron Burr and Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. He says that both Burr and Hamilton are aware of “the ticking clock of mortality,” and present two different ways of facing death: Hamilton charges forward, while Burr waits for the perfect opportunity. Neither approach guarantees success, and I think what Miranda is trying to say in his address is that sometimes we will wait for our shot, and sometimes we will charge forward. But whether we’re waiting or charging forward, we must “sink [our] teeth into this life” and not let go. We must cherish what we have now while always looking ahead, ready to take our shot.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Growing and Prospering

Senior year is wrapping up, college is getting closer, and every day my wildflowers grow taller and stronger. Keep on growing wildflowers. Keep on growing.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"...will grow and prosper wherever planted"

I’m going to college! After nearly a month of stressing about where I’m going to go next year, I am excited to announce that I am officially a member of Denison University Class of 2019. I think I knew where I wanted to go these past few weeks, but I had to come to the decision on my own terms in my own way––with thorough contemplation, heavy analysis, and lots of symbolism.

My college mascots: Clifford the Big Red Dog (Denison's mascot is "Big Red") with the ever-faithful Olaf the Snowman, donning a new Denison pin. The two of them remind me of Snoopy and Woodstock. 

Up until yesterday afternoon, I was torn between Denison University in Ohio and St. Olaf College in Minnesota. I had several moments when I nearly decided on Denison, but then I panicked at the thought of actually committing to one place. 

I always imagined myself at a place like St. Olaf. St. Olaf is me in a college––group conversations about favorite soup flavors, warm sweaters, cozy spots by the fireplace, an Olaf stuffed animal, homestyle meals, a dry campus, heavy on the arts, and not so big on sports. Looking on the Facebook page, nearly every student was into the arts in some way, and that was enticing and comforting.

I never imagined myself at a place like Denison. I only applied because I attended the Reynolds Writing Workshop there the summer before my junior year and it’s my stepdad’s family school. I figured if my other colleges didn’t work out, I could see myself being satisfied at Denison. Denison is opposite of who I’ve always defined myself to be––more into sports, the more “typical” college experience (I certainly didn’t have the “typical” high school experience going to a small, project-based charter school), Greek life, and more outward with their accomplishments (as evidenced by their active outreach and promotion). 

I recognized myself at St. Olaf. I didn’t recognize myself at Denison, and that was scary. By going to St. Olaf, I was more sure of what I was going to get, of who I would be. I couldn’t see that so clearly at Denison. From what I gathered, Denison was more diverse in student interests, and while I knew I would find some of "my people" (people into the arts) eventually, it wouldn't be as easy. By going to Denison, I feared that perhaps I was trying to be someone I wasn’t, trying to fit into a more university-style campus (although it has just over 2100 undergraduate students and is by no means a large school). 

Yet there was something exciting about Denison. Before I visited three weeks ago, I was really excited to go on the trip, and I couldn’t understand why. While there, I didn’t find “my people” right away and I was worried about being able to find my place. Yet I liked walking around campus. It was more sprawled out than St. Olaf was. I felt free. It felt like college. I remember feeling somewhat out of body at Denison, as if I was watching myself from afar. I sought out help at the IT office to fix my water-logged computer. I sang karaoke at the coffee house with a Denison student. I talked for almost two hours to another prospective student on the plane ride home, and didn’t even know his name until an hour and a half into the conversation. 

If you’re getting lost in my yo-yoing pros of St. Olaf versus Denison, then you understand a taste of what’s been spinning in my mind these past few weeks. Ultimately, I knew that I could be happy at either school, but that each school would offer me something slightly different. I was trying to figure out what I wanted. 

So let’s backtrack to Sunday, the first major step in my college decision. I woke up feeling deflated and helpless. My inability to make a decision was clouding my focus and making it difficult for me to be present or accomplish anything. I was anxious to get out of the house and get a change of scenery. I messaged my friend Maiel, who is always ready for an adventure, and asked her along for the journey. 

We originally planned on hiking Mt. Monadnock, but as the morning slipped away, that plan got downgraded to Mt. Wachusett and eventually Walden Pond in Concord, MA. We both still had our full hiking gear, complete with backpacks, plenty of water, a day’s worth of snacks, first aid supplies, sunscreen, bug spray, and hiking boots. We were both eager to get away from civilization, which was harder at Walden than if we were climbing to the top of a mountain. We ventured deep into the woods though, eventually finding a stream and following it into an open field by another pond. We sprinted across it, feeling full of life and also slightly rebellious. Ignoring the “No trespassing” sign, we wandered around the pond, and eventually just lay in the field debriefing about life, which naturally for me, involved talking about college.

“The way you’re talking sounds like you want to go to Denison,” Maiel said. 

“I don’t know, I can’t make a decision,” I said, and we soon started our trek back home. On our way, we came across railroad tracks.

Maiel, who also enjoys symbolism, took a poetic approach to them. “You know, railroad tracks are kind of romantic,” she said. “They represent the confinements of society. Society tells you to stay within their rigid path.” 

Continuing with my rebellious feeling, I plopped myself down in the middle of them. (I recognize that to most, my “rebellious” actions of the day may sound pathetic, but they were freeing for me.) Maiel sat down next to me, and we started throwing rocks at the tracks, first one by one, seeing if we could bounce them off the track, and then by the handful, letting them fall where they fell, every rock another decision that we weren’t going to give a damn about and just let happen. 

“Alright, now what you’re going to do is take this big rock, and throw it up into the air,” Maiel said, drawing a line with her foot in the tracks. “This side is Denison, and this side is St. Olaf. Wherever the rock lands, is where you’re going to go to college.” She hid behind the fence a good ten feet away so I wouldn’t impale her with the symbolism, and I threw the rock.

But the story doesn’t end here, because the rock fell on the St. Olaf side. (Besides, while I may have been feeling freer than usual, I’m not someone who can just let what could be a coincidence make my decision.) 

“How do you feel?” Maiel asked.

“I don’t know!” I exclaimed. “I could be happy at either place!” 

And I ran off the tracks and we continued our journey home, venturing off the trails some more, climbing trees, and trying to get as much outside ourselves as possible.

As we started making our way back to the car, I plopped myself down in the sand by the pond. “I don’t want to go home until I make a decision,” I said. “At home, there’s too much external influence. My mind is too cluttered.” 

I was absent-mindedly playing in the sand for awhile when–"Stop!" Maiel shouted.


“You just made a D in the sand,” she said.


“You were starting to make an O, and I was about to say, 'I wish D’s and O’s didn’t look so similar,' but then the O went away and you started to make a line and then you made the D.”

A slightly more defined version of what I drew. 
“I think it’s Denison,” I said, suddenly feeling sure.


“Yes. But I can’t go home, because I know I’ll start second-guessing myself. I need to stay out of my house.” 

We went back to her house and made dinner, and characteristic of me, over the course of the next few hours I started questioning my decision. It was 10:30 at night, and I was once again feeling stuck. 

“I’m not leaving your house until I can call my mom with a decision about where I’m going to college next year,” I said. 

“Do you need some wine? Do you need to get drunk to clear your head?” Maiel joked.

“No. I need fresh air,” I said. We went outside on her porch and I leaned over the railing, trying to imagine myself at each school and seeing how I felt, like what Mom used to make me do when I couldn’t figure out which stuffed animal I wanted to buy in the store.

“What’s your soul telling you?” Maiel asked after a few minutes.

“It’s telling me that St. Olaf is comfortable and is warm sweaters and my cousin Rachel and an Olaf stuffed animal. And Denison is scary and new and exciting.”

“And what do you want?” she prompted.




I left as quick as I could after that, anxious to call my mom before the doubt kicked back in. I called her in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot, not wanting to risk the doubt that might sink in when I got home. I told her my decision, my tone scared, confident and excited.

That night, I felt the lightest I’d felt in a long time. I found my Clifford the Big Red Dog stuffed animal in the attic (Denison’s mascot is “Big Red”), and threw on my Denison sweatshirt. I danced, skipped, and ran around my neighborhood twice, smiling so much it hurt and crying because it was the first time I could really see my future. I laid on the grass for awhile, looking at the stars, and slept a sound 10 hours that night.

And then I woke up in the morning, panicked. All day Monday I was mopey and unsure. I started reconsidering St. Olaf and was leaning more towards there, even though we had a “Denison celebratory dinner” with burgers (Ohio has lots of farms and therefore good, grass-fed beef) and fries and chocolate shakes. On Tuesday, I went for a run with my childhood friend Coltin around Walden Pond and then out to breakfast, and I talked both of our heads in circles about which school I wanted to go to. We went back to his dad’s house and he was fixing his car. There was part of me that said I should get back home to work on memorizing songs for the musical Rent, but there was part of me that just wanted to stay and watch him work on his car, because that was new and exciting. There wasn’t much for me to do though, so I ended up leaving.

On my way back, I passed a flower stand and decided I really wanted flowers. What I originally wanted was magnolia flowers, a la the line in Carrie Underwood’s song “Crazy Dreamer,” “Hello you wild magnolias, just waiting to bloom.” But magnolias grow on trees, and even if I had the space to plant a new tree, the flower stand didn’t have any magnolia seedlings. I realized what I really wanted to do was plant something, so I went to O’Connor’s Hardware Store and bought a packet of wildflower seeds.

It’s then I made my decision. I would go to Denison, where I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to get. I chose this particular packet of wildflower seeds for two reasons: one, because it didn’t specify the types of flowers that even could grow, and two, because of the line on the back of the packet,
"The large selection insures that many varieties will grow and prosper wherever planted and reseed themselves each year." 

I, too, will grow and prosper wherever I’m planted, and I like the idea that I’m not sure what I’ll look like in full bloom.

I bought the seeds and drove home blaring Taylor Swift’s song “22." Luckily no one was home. I ran upstairs to my room, grabbed my checkbook and Denison acceptance packet, looked up how to write a check, and got out of the house as fast as I could to drive to the post office to mail my $300 deposit before anyone could get home and see what I was doing.

When I got to the post office, I slowed down my brain enough to fully recognize what I was doing and accept that. I didn’t want to make a rash decision, although I was purposefully keeping myself moving forward to stop myself from going into another circle of indecision. I asked a nice man at the post office to look over my deposit check and make sure I signed it correctly, and he told me to add the two 0’s over the 100 after the words "Three hundred" to indicate that it was $300 even. After quadruple-checking the check and enrollment card, I sealed the envelope, and dropped it in the blue mailbox where I couldn’t reach in and change my mind.

Turning around, I saw a girl I used to sing in the choir with that I hadn’t seen in years. 

“I just mailed my deposit into college!” I said, eager to tell someone.

“Where are you going?” she asked. 

“Denison University!” I exclaimed. She was the first person I told.

“Congratulations! My friend’s a junior and he was just touring there today,” she said.

I drove to Bedford Farms ice cream to get sugar cones because we had chocolate coconut-milk ice cream and chocolate Jimmies at home, and I wanted a celebratory ice cream cone. The girl behind the counter gave me six cones for free, because she couldn’t find a button for “just cones” in the register. I gave her a nice tip, and then turned back at the door to say, “I just enrolled to college!” 

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“Denison University!” 

“My friend will be a freshman there this fall and will be playing baseball!” she said. I was ecstatic––two people within a half hour who knew someone either attending or looking to attend Denison.

I wanted to share the joy. I drove back past my house to Market Basket to get a gallon of chocolate ice cream, and then finally drove home. I nonchalantly put the ice cream and cones away, and asked my stepdad where I could plant some wildflowers. I planted my seeds, digging my hands in the dirt and getting it under my fingernails, usually not one to enjoy dirty hands but loving the fresh earth scent. When my mom finished with her client, I gathered my family in the living room and announced my decision, and we all had ice cream cones. Shortly after I went for a walk and called my dad to tell him, and as I was finishing my walk I passed my childhood friend Bella’s house. Eager to tell someone else, I knocked on her door but didn’t wait for her to let me in.

“I’m going to college!” I shouted. I stayed for dinner and we hung out for almost two hours, which we haven’t done in a long time.

I’m writing all of this today, the day after, because I needed the time to process it all for myself. I didn’t post my college decision on Facebook yesterday, or tell all my friends and family. I didn’t wear my Denison sweatshirt to bed or drink out of my Denison mug. It would’ve been too overwhelming. I actually avoided packing a lot of red for my New York trip this week. I had my initial excitement, and now I need to process it. It reminds me of how I felt after my first date freshman year. I had my initial giddy excitement when I was first asked on the date, and then afterwards I was more quiet but feeling very content and fulfilled. That’s how I feel now.

I had another moment of self-doubt last night, questioning whether I'm trying to be someone I’m not by going to Denison. I don’t know what I’m going to get at Denison, like I don’t know what’s going to grow in my wildflower garden. And I feel okay. I will bring my sweaters and stuffed animals and love of theatre to Denison, but I will also be given the space to grow in an environment where I'm not surrounded by my familiar tastes. 

I usually like being in control and knowing what's next, but I also like what happens when I’m out of control. I let myself be free and let what happens, happen. It’s how I fell in love this year with a boy two years my junior. It’s in those out of control moments that I surprise myself. I venture outside of who I’ve defined myself to be, and I grow. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

My Story

There are days when I can't wait to leave high school, to leave home, to go out into the world and start defining my life. Then there are days like today, those "Oh my God, high school is ending" days. Suddenly everything feels rushed. I don't feel like I have time. I have to move on and leave some of my friends behind, where they'll continue being in high school without me. And while I know that I don't want to stay in high school, the comfort of it can be appealing. So I want to capture all of high school but I don't feel like I possibly can, and my schoolwork seems so insignificant compared to the people I want to see, the things I still want to do. It all piles on and I'm left feeling really overwhelmed. 

I tried tangoing with friends to make sure I didn't isolate myself amidst my overwhelmingness. A run helped clear my head. Sex and the City and The Office were good mind-distractors. Chocolate frozen yogurt and peanut butter cups never hurt. But it always comes down to Lin-Manuel Miranda––composer, rapper, actor, lyricist, and playwright. Watching interviews with him and listening to his work never fails to remind me of the direction in which I'm headed.

Before I performed Miranda's Tony-award winning musical In the Heights my junior year of high school, I knew I wanted to study theatre in college. But studying Miranda's musical intensified that passion for me. While preparing for In the Heights, I watched every YouTube video imaginable about the show and Miranda. I soaked up every interview, every backstage tour, every promotional video. 
If I were to say who my idol is, it would be him. He, along with those he has brought with him in his artistic endeavors (Alex Lacamoire, Thomas Kail, Christopher Jackson) are spearheading this next generation of art. Miranda doesn't just create art––he creates timeless art, as evidenced by the stories he chooses to tell. (His new musical Hamilton, which I saw back in February at the Public Theatre, tells the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.) His art already spans generations. 

Tonight, watching videos of Hamilton was what relaxed me. I just want to soak up everything Miranda says. His genius of turning a 800+ page biography into a hip-hop musical astounds me. He said in an interview with CBS (warning about spoilers in the video) that by the time he had finished the second chapter, he was looking online, saying, "Someone's already made this into a musical. How could someone not make this into a musical?" That sureness, that clarity of vision, is the most incredible feeling. In my limited directing experience, the best way I can describe it is like wearing a different pair of glasses. Everything looks clearer. Unnecessary muck is blocked out of my sight. I see the stage, I see what's in front of me, and I start to construct my vision. 

The underlying message of Hamilton is, "Who lives, who dies, who tells your story." Miranda is telling the story of Alexander Hamilton. He is bringing Hamilton of the late 18th century into the 21st century, making sure he lives on. Art tells stories. It crosses bridges between social classes and generations, creates this universality. I want to tell stories. 

I still don't know where I want to go to college next year, but I know that I want to end up where Lin-Manuel Miranda is. I'm ending one chapter of my life and moving on to the next. I feel like I can see what I want five chapters from now to look like. Now it's just a matter of figuring out how I fill in the ones in between, what will best get me to that target chapter. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Trust in Yog(i)

"There is nothing more precious than self-trust."

There are some days when Yogi gets it just right, and this morning was one of those times. The quote on my Yogi Throat Care tea tag this morning made waking up with a sore throat a little more bearable. 

This weekend is one of those weekends I am ready to fly. Perhaps it's the shining sun and the melting snow, the rugs airing out on the car roofs, or my new haircut, but I feel like I've been holed up for awhile. I'm not just feeling claustrophobic from winter. It's high school. Yesterday I went for a fast run, threw on my Denison University sweatshirt (one of the schools I'm considering going to next year), and went over my friend Shelby's house to talk about the future. It's all I want to talk about. I'm at the point now where people ask me what year I am, and I can say I'm a senior. They ask me where I'm going next year, and I can give them an answer, which is that I'm not sure quite where, but I have ideas. They ask me what I want to study, and I can tell them, which is I want to double-major in English and Theatre with the hopes of directing.

It seems like so long ago that I submitted my college applications. I remember the day vividly. It was the last Saturday in October. I had rehearsal for Peter Pan in the morning, then came home instead of going to my friend's senior day for soccer (which I remember feeling guilty about) because I wanted to submit my applications. Around 6 o'clock I finally finished, and then I drove over my friend's house and we sang and watched the musical Rent. Now I've heard back from all my colleges. The waiting game is over. Now it's time to decide. The dilemma of decisions...

I think part of my characteristic indecision comes from my fear of “choosing wrong,” whatever “wrong” may be, whether it be what movie we watch, which cinnamon roll to choose, or what topic to study for a project. It’s much easier when someone else makes the decision, because then if it doesn’t turn out to be the “best” decision, well, I didn’t make it, so I don’t feel inclined to beat myself up over it. But this is my future, and the idea that I am getting to decide where I want to go next year excites me. I don't want anyone else to make the decision for me. 

For awhile, I was questioning whether I really did want to go far away for college, which was scary, because I mostly only applied far away. Visiting St. Olaf last month was like a trip into my future. The entire weekend was scary, exciting, and overwhelming. I had so much freedom...the freedom to skip lunch and sit in on an extra class, to share my passions with strangers, to sit in on a Lutheran chapel service. There were moments I felt confident, that I was ready for this next phase in my life, and others when I just wanted to crawl back into my bed at home. But I kept pushing through the weekend, telling myself that I was okay. My weekend at St. Olaf confirmed my decision that I do in fact want to go away. Everyone challenges themselves in different ways. My challenge is going away from home, where I don't have Mom to validate my every decision. 

"Are you going to be okay next year? I mean, without Mom?" my brother asked me a few weeks ago. It was a valid question, and I think the fact that even my younger brother picked up on my reliance on my Mom assured me it's important to start relying on myself more. I've always been okay on my own. I like my space. But I second-guess myself a lot. 

And this is where Yogi comes in. I need to start trusting myself and my own decisions. I need to be confident in myself, and accept my decisions. If I make the wrong decision, I need to own that and roll with it, rather than berate myself for “choosing wrong.” 

And I can't just trust myself because Yogi said it. It can't be trust in Yogi. It has to be trust in Yogi.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

When Their World Becomes My World

Me with Javier Muñoz (understudy for Alexander Hamilton) after the show.
I’m writing this post while sitting in Logan Airport. In less than one hour I will board a plane to Minneapolis. Exactly one month ago I received a letter from St. Olaf College announcing that I am a finalist for a theatre scholarship. Tomorrow I will take part in the Fine Arts Scholars weekend, during which I will meet with theatre professors, sit in on an Intermediate Directing class, tour the theatre facilities, chat with students, and stay overnight with a fine arts student. I will be among people who I might be working with on a daily basis next year at this time. I am going off to college for the weekend, but it seems like so much more.

This past week, I got a glimpse at my future. On Sunday, I saw the new off-Broadway musical Hamilton. Lin-Manuel Miranda, playwright of In the Heights, is the mastermind behind Hamilton. In addition to writing the musical, Miranda performs as the principal character, Alexander Hamilton. The musical tells the story of the founding father, Alexander Hamilton...through rap.

I became familiar with Miranda through my work on In the Heights last winter, in which I played Nina Rosario in my high school’s production of it. Since then, Miranda has been my idol, the figurehead I look at for where I want to be someday. After I met him at Lawrence Academy in October, I immediately pooled all my Christmas and birthday requests into tickets for Hamilton. With its catchy tunes, timeless themes, and stunning choreography, props and set, it was worth a lifetime of Christmas and birthday requests. 

The night went better than I could have imagined, especially considering the initial disappointment that Miranda wasn’t performing that night because he was taking notes in the audience.  Javier Muñoz understudied him, and after the first number, it didn't even matter that he wasn't Miranda––I immediately bought that he was Hamilton. Additionally, to my luck Miranda ended up sitting right in front of me, and I got to chat with him during intermission. I also met Robin de Jesús (who happened to be in the audience), who played Sonny in In the Heights. I ran into him in the lobby during intermission, and explained how his version of Nina’s song "Breathe" helped me find my voice with the character. Jesús brought a softer tone to the song, something that better matched my voice than Mandy Gonzalez's powerful belt. I also met several of the cast members, including Christopher Jackson, whom I’ve long admired from the countless YouTube videos I’ve watched of him.

What I explained to each of the people I talked to was how incredible it was to be in their presence. The playbill compared Miranda to Shakespeare. Shakespeare took common speech and communicated it through poetry; Miranda is taking common speech and communicating it through rap. Also like Shakespeare, I feel as though Miranda is creating his own theatre company. Miranda took several people from his In the Heights team, including Director Thomas Kail, Christopher Jackson (who played Benny in In the Heights and plays George Washington in Hamilton), and Javier Muñoz (who understudied Miranda as Usnavi in In the Heights and understudies him as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton). The work they are doing is revolutionary. They are taking the theatre and bringing it to this new generation, communicating themes about family and loyalty and storytelling through language of today. These are the people who I believe, ten years from now, everyone will be studying. They are on the brink of making it big––Hamilton is already scheduled to go to Broadway. To be able to talk with them when they are on this cusp, to be able to see their work while it’s still off-Broadway, is such an honor. 

On Sunday, I was a part of their world. This weekend, I will further dive into this theatre world. Every day when I’m working on my Senior Project (which is all about exploring what it means to be a director, and specifically, what it means for me to be a director), I’m going deeper into this world. And I can’t imagine living in a better one. 

Saturday, January 31, 2015


Does one hunger for air? Thirst for it? Whether it's a thirst or a hunger, I crave air. Specifically, cold air. I love the sting in my lungs on a winter run––it's why I always take off my neck warmer in the last 100m, to breath in the fresh air. Fresh air is why I like to wear tank tops when I ride a bike, to feel the air on my skin. I like everything that comes along with the cold. I like the goosebumps and the rosy cheeks, the tingling on my skin when I come back inside. I especially love it when I get fresh air before bed, when my cheeks are still cool as I lay down on my pillow.

Mostly, though, I love air because it gives me space. I get claustrophobic when I don't have enough room to breathe, to stretch. My friend told me that one of the hardest parts about college for her is the lack of space. She doesn't have room to stretch her limbs. She longs to just spread out her arms without hitting anything.

This past week, I had two beautiful open-air experiences. The first was on Sunday, before the big blizzard. My mom, stepdad and I ran around Walden Pond, lost in the snowy woods with the blue sky peaking through the trees. But the best part was the end of the run, when we emerged out from the woods onto the snow-covered lake, a great tundra in the middle of Concord, MA. So many times have I swam across that lake, but never have I run across it. And I just kept laughing, like I do when something is so great and somewhat unbelievable, the same kind of laugh I get in English class when my teacher or a classmate makes a particularly profound connection. There was just so much space on that lake. I felt like I do when I swim straight out at Skaket Beach on the Cape, into the horizon. This tundra is another place I will return to when I'm needing air.

And then there was Tuesday, the day of the blizzard. After a day spent inside, I was craving the air by 10:00pm. I went for a walk by myself around the neighborhood, trudging through the three feet of snow in my driveway. At some places, I couldn't even lift my feet. When I got to the end of the driveway, I had to practically climb over the pile of snow to get to the snowplowed street. Now on the plowed road, I skipped, ran, spun, and hummed at odd intervals. There was a driving ban because of the snow, and the snow had stopped falling awhile ago, so I didn't even have to worry about running into a plow. I threw my arms out and pranced in diagonals down the hill and then up it, my shadow lively in the streetlights. No one could see me. I had the world to myself. It was so remarkably freeing.