As yesterday was my wonderful mom's birthday, my recent reflections have centered around the influence of important women like her in my life. While it's perhaps cliché, my mom has made me into the person I am today, particularly in that she was the one who taught me a love for literature. I think when we consider those who've shaped us the most, we often neglect to consider those who did so from the pages of a novel - the women in our favorite novels. I am lucky enough to have the kind of mother who introduced me to them. And so today's post is dedicated to moms, both literary and otherwise.
“Be comforted, dear soul! There is always light behind the clouds.” - Marmee, Little Women
There is no character who fits the mold of the nurturing, compassionate, and idealized mother better than Marmee from Little Women. Like every young girl reading Alcott for the first time, I was mesmerized by her soft spoken, gentle nature coupled with deep inner strength. I longed to be like the lovably outspoken and passionately creative Jo, but I still recognized that the Jo's of this world could not exist without the guiding wisdom of a Marmee. The recent film adaption of the novel highlighted a quote from her that many of us Alcott enthusiasts had forgotten, "I am angry nearly every day of my life." When I saw the movie myself (for the first out of four times), I was helplessly enraptured by this line. How could Marmee possibly be characterized as deeply angry? And yet, it was Greta Gerwig's way of not-so-subtly reminding us of the innate imperfection of our beloved Marmee. Like the rest of us, she is only human. Even people who so closely embody authentic goodness are not without flaws, and just like us, they struggle with deep internal battles (they've just done a better job overcoming them). This lesson is no better applied than to moms.
"I love you as dear as my own flesh and blood and you've been my joy and comfort ever since you came to Green Gables." (37.21) - Marilla, Anne of Green Gables
Equally underrated are literary figures who embody the motherly role. Marilla can be prematurely interpreted as a caustic figure in the beginning of the novel, but her hardened exterior betrays her soft heart. Ultimately it is the wit, sincerity, and innocence of Anne that breaks down the walls she had surrounded herself with. In Marilla, we can all see parts of ourselves…the parts of our personality and life experiences that we hide deep within ourselves perhaps out of fear, shame, or grief. Often parental figures can seem to similarly hide a part of their identity and can come across as impersonal. It just takes an Anne to reveal deeper layers. As can be seen in the quote, it is often the most abrasive personalities that hide the strongest hearts, but like Anne, it can be easy for idealistic, expressive people to misunderstand and misinterpret who they are.
"Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world." - Anne, Anne of Green Gables
I am lucky enough that one of those kindred spirits happens to be my mother, and I am unendingly grateful for her alongside the many other women who have made me into the person I am. The romantic in me likes to think that a part of each of them exists inside me - the best books never quite end exactly for that reason.
Today I received news that was neither good nor bad, which presented me with a marvelous opportunity: a choice.
A choice to chose how to let this impact me, a choice to view the world in a positive or negative way, a choice to decide upon a perspective, a choice of how to think or even to feel about it.
What a marvelous place to be in.
From first glance, today was a disaster. My plans didn’t work out as intended, I let down some people who are important to me, and I experienced a crippling feeling of helpless frustration and melancholy most of the day.
And yet, it's 12 pm. I'm sitting on my couch with a smile on my face and a pen in my hand. It is a beautiful reminder that every day - good or bad - presents us with this choice to make something wonderful out of bad events.
Unfortunately I make the wrong choice most of the time. Like any other sensitive, overdramatic, motivated and yet paralyzingly overthinking teenage girl, sometimes I just like to dwell in what I call the vortex.
Sometimes it's just too easy!
I take a strange kind of cathartic pleasure from rewinding my mistakes, sorrows, general complaints and misfortunes. It validates the dissatisfaction I so often feel with myself, and sometimes it fuels small bursts of creative inspiration like this one. And so my mindset often has become less of a conscious choice, and more of an embarrassing habit of falling into self-deprecating tendencies.
My mental state at the end of today was not totally a choice, but I think rather a heavenly gift to me as a reminder that every day has a potential for good. Today's good was handed to me.
Tomorrow's may not be.
And yet tomorrow is a gift in and of itself, and always I have the gift to choose what to make of it.
This was a recent journal entry of mine, and ironically the day following it was one of the most challenging days of the past few months. In the midst of some of the greatest emotional rawness I've felt in a long time, I rediscovered the necessity of writing for my soul and for my life, and as this new year and more change approaches, I am recommitting myself to the vulnerability that grounds me to who I am.
Ever grateful to any soul that reads this,
The sweet sound of bubbling sparkling water breaks the surrounding stillness. Against the golden backdrop of a faded autumn sunset, the green tin glows brightly, cold to the touch and yet all too familiar. The taste of that first, heavenly sip never gets old, reminding me in its simplicity of all the good that is to be found in this big, beautiful world.
The resounding crack of a La Croix can being opened is an ordinary sound in my house, and yet also one that accompanies some of my favorite memories. One grateful drink of the bittersweet, lime flavor sends me back to long, eventful evenings in the library with sleep deprived classmates, to nights curled up on a friend’s couch surrounded by excited conversation, to long days by the lapping Lake Tahoe shores, to sunsets like these where I am accompanied only by my notebook and 2 lime essence La Croix.
While some would call my passion for sparkling water an addiction (which may have some merit), it is also something that grounds me to the present moment. Its refreshing taste makes difficult tasks like homework and studying much sweeter, and reminds me that there is something to appreciate and enjoy in every moment. For those like me who tend to spend too much time thinking about the future, we all need our own version of La Croix, something to connect us to what is happening presently.
La Croix just happens to taste wonderfully too. :)
My scattered thoughts dance amongst various mental to-do lists and projects, and yet it is the small things that still assail my vision. A fallen branch on the lawn. Two friends glancing my way in muted conversation, barely managing a hello. People sitting uncomfortably clumped together at tables, and yet distinctly separated from other groups. Freshmen rushing to classes ridiculously early, sophomore girls preening in front of library mirrors, juniors in messy buns and glasses exchanging books and flashcards, and seniors nowhere to be seen. In my ordinary morning walk through the paths of campus, I have become aware that although my mind forays in the clouds, this world is perceived very much in the details, and I am reminded of a note I wrote to myself a few months ago:
I did not teach my eyes to see, but I am still training them to look for the right things.
At any given moment, the sheer mass of stimuli threatens to overpower our senses, but our brains have evolved to only process the details deemed important. At any given moment we are subconsciously filtering what we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, what we think and thus what we comprehend from the world around us. Perhaps the eyes are the best example.
What are we looking for in each moment? From the infinity that surrounds us, what “finity” have we chosen to focus on? What kind of details have we deemed important enough? Are we finding reasons to be envious, to be lonely, or to be loved? Do we search for good or do we justify our own imperfection in the pursuit of negativity?
Amongst thousands of fleeting impressions, our memory chooses only a few to store. We are built upon a lifetime of these moments and yet we are so careless of what we absorb from our environment. Some would say you are what you eat, but in some ways we are what we see. Are we looking for the right things?
I have yet to unearth the perfect word to describe the kind of smile that comes helplessly, vulnerably, and delightfully to your lips when you least expect it. I love days joined by that sort of smile for it means it was a day well spent and well satisfying to my soul.
I think of myself as a relatively busy person, and so the gift of boredom during lazy summer days is well treasured. I find that the moments I have entirely and guiltlessly to myself are spent enjoying the best pursuits. It’s easy to be grateful for these summer experiences that prompt spontaneous smiling - perhaps that’s the best way to describe it. In dwelling on the approaching school year, I think I echo the sentiments of many in saying a dread of the approaching months has caused me to hold ever tighter to these last summer days.
And that is because I have unfortunately created a mindset that causes me to believe these sort of smilies to come less easily during the school year rather than acknowledging the root of the problem. I have attributed the best parts of my life to summer, contained it there in fact, rather than finding different but equal joys in the discovery of new experiences, people and knowledge or in the satisfaction that comes from solving a difficult problem or writing a challenging essay. And maybe when it is not so easy to delight in such things, I should be searching for gratitude for simpler things like seeing my friends every day and driving with my brother to school.
Summer was well needed, but I am looking forward to applying my rejuvenated soul to the task of finding joy in the ordinary business of school days. I know so many more delightfully spontaneous smiles are to come. :)
I am sitting aside a waterfall. It’s roaring does not deafen, but it is yet ever present. The high lilting of my sister’s voice travels even above the falls as the shadows of small creatures dance about my feet. The sharp flicks of fishing poles and antics of small children and shivers of aspen trees comprise only a small part of the complex web of movements surrounding me, and yet I am remarkably still. I cannot hear the gentle exhale of my breath, though I know it’s there.
In the green majesty that surrounds me, I am yet in wonder from such simple things as fingers and toes and the beautiful humans that stand just yards away. I am in awe of what it means to be alive and well and at peace.
- An excerpt from a recent journal entry while on vacation in beautiful Southern Colorado
I often giggle to myself reading my overdramatic, romantic fantasies that fill the pages of this small book that I apparently only write in when I am dwelling in emotional extremes, in this case, serenity. It is usually while I am doing something extraordinarily mundane like cleaning my room when I happen upon this book accidentally and the pages fall open to my eyes in a much different state of mind than when the pages themselves were written. I like to think it is an emotion akin to looking back at childhood pictures or remembering what your younger self found to be frightening. We look back at these younger or different versions of ourselves and laugh or perhaps cringe, but sometimes when I deeply think about it, journaling Claire has it right most of the time (though I certainly don’t know about childhood Claire).
While living in emotional extremes all the time certainly would not be healthy, why don’t we dwell in fleeting thoughts of serenity or joy or gratitude? I certainly spend way more time than I’d wish in murky feelings of regret or irritation, but how often am I stealing a few moments away to feel utterly at peace, devotedly content with myself and where I am? Not enough...
Summer is the most extraordinary time to dwell in serenity. I personally find the “Legends of the Fall” and other movie sound tracks (nerd alert, yes I’m aware) to be particularly serene and excellent background noise for contented thinking on a walk or simply sitting outside in my own backyard.
Serenity and joy and gratitude await you if only you take a few moments today to dwell in them... :)
My recent forays into poetry have quite distracted me from all other writing, and I am well aware that it has been quite some time since I have blogged regularly on this account. However, while this is perhaps a tad late (more like eight months late), I wanted to take the time to truly give you some background insight into my journey with Trust the Wind.
I have been a writer for what feels like most of my life. I wrote my first short story in second grade, just about a year after I finished my first chapter book, and I haven’t stopped writing since. For a while I was content with short stories, but the more I read, the more determined I became to write a novel of my own. I don’t think my fourth grade self would ever have imagined that novel to be Trust the Wind. My earliest attempts at novels were all historical fiction set in the pioneer days. I barely made it past a few chapters with these. When I was in sixth grade, my writing mentor gave me one of the best pieces of advice that I have ever received, “write what you know.” Following this, I made considerable progress on two separate projects which I had intended to become novels, but unfortunately my the lives of my protagonists were just as boring as the life of the twelve year old who was writing them. Disillusioned with this, I spent the end of middle school returning to short stories and dabbling with essay writing.
And following that, I experienced the most common of phenomena among creators: writing block. Halfway into my freshman year, I realized I was stuck and I had lost the part of myself that was the most valuable to me, my creative side. Trust the Wind was thus the result of a random inspiration on an otherwise quite normal Thursday evening in November. Of course I don’t remember the specifics, but I do seem to recall that my homework was rather neglected that evening.
I suppose you could say the rest is history. I finished the first draft over a year later, and quicker than I thought possible, I was holding the first copy of my novel in my hands. It wasn’t the bestselling novel or captivating story I had always thought I would write, but it was something. And more importantly, it was my very own. It reflected much of the interests and confusion and silly fantasies of my fourteen year old self. It’s no thriller, but I think (at least I hope) it brought a smile to the faces of at least a few and some moderate entertainment to others. And I am content with that...for now I suppose.
I will be quite honest with you here: it was disheartening for a while to hear the criticisms that of course followed after peers and friends and acquaintances of all ages read my book. Personally, it’s sometimes a little difficult for me to flip through its pages because I know I have grown so much as a writer and more importantly as a person since my fourteen year old self first sat down and wrote the first chapter of Trust the Wind.
But like any other passion, writing is both my greatest joy and my greatest challenge. The commentary I have received has only helped me grow and understand further what my purpose is through the pen. More than ever before, poetry has enabled me to grasp hold of elusive depth and complexity of emotion which I hope I will be able to bring to future fiction.
Novels, poetry, and even these blog posts are mildly terrifying to share because vulnerability is difficult no matter what the medium, and sharing my book with the world was no different. But I am so glad that I did, because now it has opened me up to so much more.
Her ink stands out on the pages of history.
Its colors and brilliance demand to be read.
But your pages will always be a mystery.
For you were too afraid to let your colors be anything but invisible.
I think we all like to imagine ourselves as the brilliant colors on the pages of history. At the least we aspire to reach this point. But the funny thing is that aspirations and dreams never made anybody stand out on the page. It takes the action of writing our stories painstakingly through trying new things and making mistakes and failing and attempting it all over again to be remembered.
I am not unlike everyone else in wishing to be the bold ink across the pages of history. But I am deathly afraid of failure. When I let this consume my actions, my ink becomes invisible. It blends in with the white, boring page of what everyone else is doing.
To be written on the pages of history, we have to write our own stories instead of letting society write our predictable endings. Dreams stay the fantasies of our imagination until we write them into action. We have to pick up our own pen and choose a different color, a different story of our lives, and take a chance on new things.
When we are afraid of failure, we become like everyone else, invisible in a way. Few people can say that they clearly stood out on the pages of history. And that wasn’t because they stood back and let their stories be written for them.
I have a love/hate relationship with social media. Instagram has simultaneously kept me in touch with cousins who live across the country and friends whom I otherwise may have never seen again, while also managing to deliver me the worst self esteem and self confidence I have ever experienced in my life. Snapchat helped me make the transition from a nerd in the corner with a book to a mildly social and modern American teen albeit still nerdy while also giving me way too much information about people’s lives and teaching me exactly why I don’t want to be a social and modern American teen.
You gotta love the 21st century.
Social media gave me one final thing that I absolutely did not need: comparison. When you open any social media app, you see perfectly smiling, edited, acne-less faces with beautiful friends or in beautiful settings. If you check Instagram/Facebook/snapchat accounts at night or by yourself on the couch as I do typically, you kind of start to despise those people as you scroll through their themed and excellently manicured feeds. You strongly dislike them, but at the same time they have the kind of power over you that no one needs to have in anybody else’s hands: the power of comparison. If you are as sensitive as I am, I can predict what thoughts go through your head: they are so pretty, their group of friends is so cute, how is she so photogenic, I can’t believe she goes on these amazing vacations all the time, they are smart and talented and beautiful all at the same time, why is their life so amazing, and finally here’s the real killer, why am I not more like them.
Why am I not more like them? It’s quite bluntly one of the worst questions you could ask yourself. Society always blabs at us “be unique”, “be different”, “be special”, but somehow we all seem to want the same things: to be attractive, seen as successful, surrounded by people we care about, and loved. And society tells us there are only a few ways to go about doing that. So we all try to reach for ultimately the same things and we love to share our success stories with the world. But our failures? They stay in that one drawer of clothes you never wear and never show to the world.
We’ve been told this thousands of times, so I’m just going to gloss over it, but comparing yourself to all of your friends success stories on social media is only going to make you feel worse about yourself. I’m perhaps one of the biggest hypocrites in the world because I am one of the worst “comparers” I know. It’s almost sickeningly addicting, looking at the perfected images of all the people in my life and the successes they have had or are currently living.
I have known for a long time that social media and comparing myself to the people I follow is ultimately bad for me. But I learned another lesson today (the hard way of course... how else are the best lessons learned?) that while it’s never healthy to compare, understanding the way other people live is important because it gives us perspective. I led a retreat today and had the opportunity to speak with a young middle school girl. For her own privacy, I won’t share the specific troubles she is facing, but I will say they are far beyond the kind of suffering any child should face at the age of 12.
This experience helped me to realize that we cannot completely ignore the rest of the world in attempts to prevent comparing ourselves to others because how else do we gain the understanding and perspective which broadens the way in which we are able to view the world? And yet, in this quest of understanding and being enlightened of the human condition, how do we ensure that we don’t lose ourselves along the way due to the insecurities of comparisons? It’s a question I quite honestly can’t answer, so I’ll leave it to your own musings... :)
To laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“To laugh often and much.” It’s one of my favorite lines in the entire quote. To pick up this blog series where I last left off, I wanted to change up the tone a bit with this lighthearted aspect of Emerson’s words.
I honestly think I have one of the most annoying laughs in the entire world. Sometimes it comes out as a cackle or a screech or a chuckle or any high or low pitched combination. Quite often when I see something funny, and I’m about to laugh, I become slightly curious as to what sound is going to escape my mouth in the form of a laugh. A common defense mechanism of those like me who don’t always love their laugh is to clap their hands over their mouth to muffle the sound. I am guilty of doing this all the time.
Now while this might seem rather hypocritical of me, we all need to laugh a lot more loudly and a lot more often. I’m working on it myself. I like to believe it’s true that the people who laugh the loudest and the most find much more joy in life. Whether we are laughing at I Love Lucy reruns (I know, I have the soul and the sense of humor of a middle aged woman), or the silly antics of a toddler, chuckles and giggles alike have been scientifically correlated to positive mental results.
I am a huge advocate of philosophy and deep conversations and dwelling on the important things, but I’m working on letting my laugh come a little easier. Because ultimately, do we want people to describe us as sullen and somber looking, or someone with laughter always on their lips?