Resolutions

Hey self, it’s been obvious lately that I haven’t exactly been treating you right.

I’ve been staying up late. I’ve been having self-destructive thoughts. I’ve been stressed. I’ve been sick on and off since August. Over these last few months, I haven’t been doing much to impede these and other destructive habits. It’s been a rough time.

But 2015 is right around the corner. A new year — a new start — is just days away. Self, I have wronged you, and it’s time to make some changes.

Resolution One: Do things that make me happy.

Have “Claudia Time” every day, even if it’s just for an hour or so. Drink an iced coffee and scroll through social media at a coffee shop downtown. Listen to Hozier in my beautiful, nest-y, Christmas light-filled room. Actually take the time to read for pleasure. Take lots of naps. Watch an episode of some show on Netflix before I go to bed. Which leads me to my next resolution…

Resolution Two: Go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Okay, it’s college and I recognize that this will be difficult, but I’m constantly feeling worn down. I’ve also been getting sick a lot more than usual lately, which my lack of sleep may be playing a role in. On weeknights, I want to be in bed by midnight at the latest. I’ve always been a person who needs a lot of sleep and ever since I came to college, that need has been seriously neglected. The fact is, it’s not healthy to get so little sleep. (I also recognize the irony that I’m currently typing this, and most definitely not sleeping, after midnight on a Thursday).

Resolution Three: Be selfish.

I don’t need to inconvenience myself every time somebody asks me to do something. It’s okay to say no to people, especially when saying yes to something will put me through unnecessary stress. I need to start thinking of myself first and not put other people’s wellbeing before my own.

Resolution Four: Reduce negative self-talk.

I say a lot of mean things to myself. Whether it’s telling myself I can’t do something or that I did a bad job or that I’m a bad writer or that my new haircut looks like crap or that my outfit sucks, I’m very hard on myself. Unnecessarily hard. It’s probably impossible to have this negativity completely eliminated, especially within a year, but I can take steps to reduce my harmful thoughts.

Don’t be so hard on myself. Don’t turn little setbacks into huge crises. Stop comparing myself to others. Stop thinking I’m weak. Stop assuming I can’t do anything — I can do a lot. Self-worth is something I need to build on.

Resolution Five: Reach out.

I often feel isolated from others, separated from other people. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble” — I feel like I’m John Travolta, alone in my own little barrier of thought and emotion while others circle around me. Unlike me, these other people are out of their bubbles, free to interact and connect to one another with ease. I’m physically close to the others but there’s always that invisible barrier preventing me from forming close friendships, sharing real feelings and experiences, and allowing people to really know me.

In the upcoming year, I need to take steps to connect to my family and friends. Break free of the bubble. Open up. Don’t keep my thoughts and feelings bottled or pass them off as a joke. Trust others. Not everyone is out to get me. Also, find a decent therapist.

Resolution Six: When it’s 2 a.m. and I come home from a night out and I feel alone, do not text anybody. Do not call anybody. Do not interact with anybody who is not my roommate. Go to bed, dammit.

I present this as a joke, but in all seriousness I have a problem with being alone. When I go from being surrounded by a lot of people with a lot of energy to being alone back in my quiet apartment, I don’t take it well (as my floormates from last year probably know). Usually my nights end with me watching “BoJack Horseman” and crying until I fall asleep. I need to learn to be okay with being by myself and not wake up the next morning to regrettable text messages.

Resolution Seven: (Regarding some of my previous resolutions) stop presenting everything I feel as a joke.

I’ve used humor as a defense mechanism for as long as I can remember. I like to think that I have a good sense of humor, but there are times when I need to be serious. My feelings matter just as much as anybody else’s.

When I started going to therapy, I would nervous laugh and mutter “it’s not a big deal” under my breath every other sentence. But the things I was talking about were not funny and they were a big deal. Don’t downplay my feelings.

Resolution Eight: Distance myself from toxic people.

I know that some people I care a lot about use me. I know that some people I consider friends take advantage of me or only hang out with me because I will do anything they ask. I know that I shouldn’t keep hanging out with these people, but for some reason I continue to do so. Maybe it’s just that I want everybody to like me. But if I continuously surround myself with negative people, they’re just going to have a negative impact on me.

Resolution Nine: Stop predicting the worst possible outcome to every situation.

No, Claudia, I’m not going to fail out of college if I get a C on this test. I’m not going to be fired from my job if one of my writers turns in a bad story. I’m not going to lose all my money and have to live on the street if I buy this five dollar latte from Kaldi’s. Find ways to relax and practice them.

Here’s to 2015. I have a lot of things to work on, but I’m going to be fine. I’ll make it.

Priorities

It’s about time that I get my priorities in check.

This semester has been rough to say the least. I can’t remember a time within the last two months where I haven’t been stressed, worried, or anxious. I’ve been biting my nails more than usual until they bleed and ache for hours. I haven’t been sleeping well. I’ve been eating everything in sight, and none of it has been very healthy.

When one of my friends came up to me at a party a few weeks ago and asked how I was, I responded with “I’m so stressed out” followed by a rapid list of my problems. Problems that I’ve been allowing to rule my life since August.

Last month, I started seeing a therapist. With the exception of one or two therapy appointments my mother forced me to attend in the third grade, I have never sought any professional help for my anxiety and self-esteem problems I’ve been dealing with over the last few years. So far, it’s helped. I’ve left each appointment feeling better. Calmer.

During my last session, I was talking about how busy I am, how behind I am, how I’m not satisfied with my classes and grades and work performance at The Maneater. And my therapist used a somewhat cheesy metaphor:

There are different aspects of a life. No person is completely one thing. For example, there is Maneater Claudia, who works, edits, writes and manages a whole section of a weekly paper; there is School Claudia, who struggles to stay afloat with 15 credit hours and a particularly awful multimedia class; and then there is Claudia Claudia, who likes watching “BoJack Horseman” on Netflix, reading before bed and going to parties with friends on the weekends.

Now, picture all of these different aspects as balls. It can be difficult for one person to carry so many balls at once, so you have to put them in a basket. But the basket isn’t always stable, so you have to put the balls you never want to drop in the center.

“Which of these balls is the most important?” asked my therapist. “Which would you put in the center?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Maneater Claudia,” I said. “And, like, School Claudia.”

Truthfully, my answer and the speed of my response caught me off guard.

The Maneater is very important to me. Making sure I have stories pitched out is important, everything going smoothly for my writers is important, successfully planning and managing Long Reads is important. Similarly, treating classes like a job and getting good grades is important. But what is more important is my health.

Claudia Claudia is the ball that should be in the center of my basket. Claudia Claudia should be my top priority.

I started thinking about how I never do things just for me anymore. I haven’t read a book since summer vacation, I haven’t gone on walks simply to walk, I haven’t stayed in and watched a movie I’ve been meaning to see for ages. And I am deciding to change that.

I need to start taking better care of myself. I need to start doing things I enjoy again, without constantly worrying about deadlines and due dates.

Two nights ago, I spent a few hours walking around downtown. I bought coffee from Lakota. I browsed through the shelves in Yellow Dog Bookshop for a solid 45 minutes, buying two books on a whim (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson and “Cat’s Eye” by Margaret Atwood). I had girls night with my roommates and watched “One Day,” a movie I’ve wanted to see for the past three years (and it was kind of a letdown).

I didn’t think about planning future Long Reads. I didn’t think about the edits I’d have to make with writers the following day. I didn’t think about how I have a video project due in multimedia soon, even though I have no idea how to even turn on a video camera. I didn’t think about my Cross-Cultural final project and how I have no time to commit to it. I didn’t worry about the ungodly amount of chips and salsa I was eating, even though I’m fairly certain I’ve been gaining weight at an astonishingly unhealthy rate since returning to Columbia. I didn’t worry about updating my resume and making it non-ugly and applying for internships.

I need to have more of these nights. I need to start putting myself and my needs first and not let work, both school and Maneater duties, overwhelm my life.

Yes, Maneater Claudia and School Claudia are important. I love working at the paper and I love being in college. But I can’t lose sight of Claudia Claudia — the friend, the daughter, the sister, the person.

The Exciting and Inevitable Future

I often find myself feeling a bit down about my current situation in life — I’m totally freaked out by the profession I’ve chosen to go into, I’m away from the friends I’ve grown so close to for months at a time, I’ve never traveled anywhere notable, and there is absolutely nothing happening involving my love life.

There’s so much I want to do, so many places I want to go, so many experiences I want to have. And, often, I feel afraid that I’m falling behind — that I’m never going to get to spend a summer interning abroad in London or that I’m never going to go to Disney Land/World with a bunch of friends for vacation or that I’m never going to get that position at that publication that I have been vying for for months. I grow fearful that life is going to pass me by and I’m going to miss all of my opportunities to do the things I want.

But then I stop and think: I’m a 19 year-old girl who just ended her freshman year of college. I’m still a teenager. My life has barely begun.

And the thought of that is so exciting.

I have my whole life ahead of me. I have three whole years (possibly four, if I go to graduate school) to spend a summer or a semester studying abroad. I have all the time in the world to find people I can relate to and make new friends and fall in and out of love. I have years and years to work and take jobs and change jobs and work my way up. I have my whole life to travel the world.

The beauty of it is, it’s all inevitable.

Things are going to happen. Up until now my life has consisted of being a wannabe journalist in Missouri, but it won’t be this way forever. I’m going to have excitement and adventures and experiences that will make people want to read my autobiography (if I ever write one, which I doubt 100%). Life is just beginning, and it’s stretched out before me as this big, beautiful, ambiguous path with many lovely twists and turns and nooks and crannies.

The next time you’re feeling down, or that your life is “hella dull,” or that you’re not doing the things you want to be doing, take a deep breath: life will happen.

“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.” -Leo Tolstoy

“I feel infinite.”

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you because she says you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have.

Perks cover

I read Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” when I was 15, the summer before my sophomore year of high school. I skimmed through it in a couple of days, thought Charlie was “weird” for crying so much, gave it a three star rating on Goodreads, and moved on. As years passed, I noticed people would mention how much they loved the book, while I was too busy with my nose stuck in Richelle Mead’s “Vampire Academy” series and other YA supernatural romances (Team Edward or gtfo). I wondered what the big deal was about “Perks.” Sure, I had thought it was alright, but I didn’t see the book as anything too special.

Then, in 2012, it was made into a movie. I was excited to see it (after all, the perfect Emma Watson was starring as Sam) and I even volunteered to review it for my high school newspaper. I drove all the way to the giant AMC in Olathe (the only movie theater near me showing the indie flick) and saw it with my mom. By this point, I had pretty much forgotten everything about the book, so I came into the movie fairly oblivious.

Perks

I fell in love with the movie. I fell in love with Emma Watson’s Sam, with Ezra Miller’s Patrick, and, especially, with Logan Lerman’s Charlie. I was crying by the time it was over, and I saw it two more times in theaters with my friends. The story was beautiful and relatable and so damn truthful. It’s one of my favorite movies, only behind “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I bought the book shortly after seeing the film, but it wasn’t until this past week that I picked it back up.

Reading “Perks” as a 19-year-old college student is much different than reading it as a 15-year-old girl.

Everyone can relate to Charlie. Everyone, at one point or another, feels like a wallflower. We all think something is wrong with us but don’t know what, we all long for a place to belong, we all feel “both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

Like Charlie, I have often felt like a silent observer, standing in the corner watching everyone interact and wondering about their lives. Like Charlie, I have spent time completely without friends, and even when I was surrounded by friends I’ve felt apart from them. Different. Like an outsider.

When I read “Perks” the first time, I didn’t get it, you know? I was 15. I was still in high school, I hadn’t gone through any particularly life changing experiences. I hadn’t lost friends, I hadn’t made too many stupid decisions, I hadn’t had a boyfriend or even my first kiss. I was just a kid who spent all of her time at home reading and watching TV. I was innocent and oblivious and ignorant about the world.

At 19, I’ve lost friends. I’ve had relationships and had those relationships end. I’ve been completely out of my element. I’ve had to make all new friends and find my place to belong in college. I’ve watched my older friends leave for college before me, while I stayed behind to finish my last year of high school. I’ve had nights with my friends where I’ve felt infinite and alive and felt like I was really there. 

When I finished “Perks” today, I got it.

I have never, in all my years of devouring books, annotated. I don’t circle things, I don’t underline, I don’t write my own thoughts between the margins. But with “Perks,” there were lines I read over and over, and I just had to mark them.

When Bill warns Charlie, “Sometimes people use thought to not participate in life.”

When Charlie reminisces about past experiences, “Maybe it’s sad that these are now memories. And maybe it’s not so sad.”

When Charlie watches some kids sledding down a hill, completely elated, “I think it would be great if sledding was always enough, but it isn’t.”

When Bill tells Charlie, “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

When Charlie observes, “Things change. And friends leave. And life doesn’t stop for anybody.”

And, of course, the beautiful untitled poem that Charlie reads to his friends at the Christmas party, all about the loss of innocence. (which I, admittedly, read through multiple times and cried).

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” is honest. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and passionate. It’s a story about growing up and discovering love and sex and drugs and friendship and yourself. It’s universal and timeless and…everything. It’s about taking action and “participating” in life, and not just sitting on the sidelines. Charlie and his friends go through what we all go through as we grow up and figure out who we want to be. It’s about, as Charlie says in the novel’s closing pages, “It’s okay to feel things. And be who you are about them.” It’s about that one song, that one night, on that one drive, where you felt infinite.

Love Always,

Charlie

Continue reading ““I feel infinite.””

Finding the Courage to Speak

I wrote Why #YesAllWomen is the Most Powerful Hashtag I’ve Ever Seen on my iPhone.

I came across the trending hashtag Sunday evening and spent over an hour scrolling through the thousands of tweets from women all over the world. These brave women were tweeting about their personal experiences with harassment, gender relations, abuse, rape, and living in fear.

Reading through these tweets, I began thinking of the sexism I’ve witnessed firsthand. The cat-calling, the objectification, the sexist jokes, the unwanted groping and grinding frat parties. The more I thought about all the times my friends and I were randomly grabbed at parties and yelled to from cars as we walked down the street, the more frustrated I became. I wrote down these experiences and submitted it to Thought Catalog, where, hours later, it was published.

I was surprised, excited, and completely flattered. Somebody at Thought Catalog actually thought my little article was good enough to publish. I was thrilled. Every positive emotion you could think of was running through me (I may or may not have been dancing around my living room).

I was elated. That is, until I read the first comment.

My article hadn’t even been published for fifteen whole minutes before men began leaving anonymous comments, ripping not only into the article, but into me. Fifteen minutes and I was already being ridiculed for “blaming men for everything” and “stereotyping” and “man hating” and I was being called a “joke.” And it wasn’t just my article — men were responding to other women’s tweets, telling them that it’s their fault that they feel victimized, telling them that “you should be flattered that men give you attention” when women would talk about being groped and cat-called, telling them that they are being “too sensitive” and shaming them for turning the shooting massacre at Santa Barbara.

I got pissed.

The #YesAllWomen movement may have begun as a response to Elliot Rodger and those men who defended his actions, but it became something so much more. It was about raising awareness and creating a discussion about the reality women face every day, and how dare these men try to tear these women down over the internet.

I was fuming. Ultimately, these men who were belittling me so relentlessly on Thought Catalog motivated me to do something that terrified me — put the post on Facebook.

I am not a brave person. I second guess a lot of the things I do, especially when it comes to my writing (“what if people think it’s stupid or annoying or what if I have typos that I’m just not seeing oh my god I’m so stupid what have I done this is the worst thing ever and now it’s all over the internet and people are going to laugh at me ugh I’ve made a huge mistake”). But I typed up a status, copied and pasted the link, and had a lengthy internal debate (“ugh should I post this that means people I know will read it oh my god my super conservative family is going to see this I don’t want my dad to know some guy told me to bend over ugh I don’t know about this what should I do”). Finally, my finger clicked “post.”

Over the course of the day, I had friends “liking” and sharing and tweeting the link. I was grateful and flattered and, I must admit, completely embarrassed (“oh my god this is stupid that point about being romantically frustrated is the absolute most humiliating thing why did I include it”).

But despite the positive feedback I was receiving from friends, the anonymous attacks kept coming and before I knew it, I had over 100 comments of heated debating at the bottom of my article. People were making death threats to each other and debating issues I didn’t even mention in the article, like mental illness and gun control and female genital mutilation (really, where did that even come from?). When I read something I don’t agree with, I shrug, close the tab, and move on. But these people were throwing themselves into the debate, armed with sarcasm, foul language, and threats. 24 hours later, I had long stopped reading the comments and I just wanted to move on and forget it even happened.

But then there were those who read my article and saw it for what it is — simply a list of truths from the life of one person, similar to the tweets women were posting on Twitter. The things I mention are things that happen regularly, which is exactly why the #YesAllWomen movement is so important. Rob Fee was kind enough to mention me in his own article on the subject. As of now, my article has been shared 1.1k times on Facebook, received 1.2k “likes,” and has been tweeted nearly 200 times.

I am incredibly humbled that there were so many people who related to my article. I wrote it for myself, to vent my frustrations with what I’ve experienced, and the fact that so many women were retweeting it with kind words like “THIS!” and “In a nutshell!” is incredible.

I’ve come a long way this past year. If #YesAllWomen had happened a year ago, I would never have had the courage to even write the article, let alone post it on Facebook for everyone to see. I’m very proud of myself. I wrote about a difficult topic. I sparked a conversation. I contributed to a powerful Twitter campaign that means so much to so many. I’m proud that I was brave enough to do so. Having the courage to speak out and be heard is important, no matter how much opposition you face.

In the words of Kevin Gnapoor, “Don’t let the haters stop you from doin’ your thang.”

Feel like MOVEing — er, I mean, Campus Life-ing?

I remember being an overly-excited incoming freshman, anxiously anticipating my impending college life. I couldn’t wait to move into the dorms, meet new people and make new friends, and, above all, write for the student newspaper.

I’ve been writing for The Maneater since last May. I was scrolling through the “Mizzou Class of 2017” Facebook page when I saw a post from a girl named Heather, the current editor of MOVE Magazine, the arts and entertainment section of The Maneater. I Facebook stalked her relentlessly until I mustered up the courage to send her a painfully awkward message, asking if I could write for the paper. And thus, I had found my way into The Maneater world.

I fell in love. I fell in love with The Maneater — with the responsibility of a weekly beat to cover, with the freedom of having my own column, with being able to pick up as many pitches for MOVE as I wished, with meeting interesting and often inspirational people who were always so happy to be covered, and with the editors who have always been so nice and let me show up to their parties uninvited. I’ve loved being involved and finding my own little niche on campus.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been going through the process of applying for a position on the editor board — specifically, MOVE and Campus Life. After answering numerous questions, responding to hypothetical situations, trying desperately to figure out how to work Adobe InDesign, and interviewing with next year’s Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor, the positions were filled yesterday.

I am the new Campus Life editor for the 2014-15 school year.

Initially, I had (and still have) a lot of mixed emotions. On one hand, I am incredibly honored, humbled, and grateful that I was trusted with leading the section. On the other, my heart was broken because I failed to get the position I had my sights set on since I wrote my first story for the section — MOVE editor.

I’ve always loved all things A&E. I nerd out about movies and television and books and music and concerts and plays and art. I want nothing more than to move to a big city somewhere in the world and work at a big entertainment magazine, where I can cover film festivals and interview Grammy-winning musicians. MOVE reviews movies and previews concerts and profiles artists. MOVE was what I wanted.

In the hours following the news, I received various texts and tweets from friends and fellow Maneaters congratulating me on the position. I thanked everyone, congratulated the very deserving girl who will be the next MOVE editor, continued the two hour drive back to CoMo from home, went into my room, called my mom, and proceeded to have a panic attack.

I had ideas for MOVE. I was confident in my ability to edit MOVE and edit it well, with every bit of snark and creativity that Heather brought to the role this past year. I had already thought of potential story ideas to pitch out, I was eager to hire columnists, I had a few ideas for regular features and how to balance the print content with online-exclusive content, and I was excited to be a part of the mysterious MOVE editor traditions that Heather had mentioned to me.

I can’t say that I have the same confidence when it comes to Campus Life. This was the section’s first year, and as one of Campus Life’s only consistent writers I know firsthand that the section was never really defined. Campus Life covers student features, university research and produces bi-weekly Long Reads stories online. It’s broad, it’s vague, it’s somewhat ambiguous. As I was hyperventilating in my room yesterday and laying in bed, staring at the ceiling last night (I only managed to get a whopping three hours of sleep, partially thanks to someone pulling the fire alarm at 5 a.m.), I was terrified about the task I have in front of me — of shaping Campus Life into a more definitive section; of producing Long Reads stories, a feat I have never attempted to approach before; of coming up with story ideas that aren’t completely dull.

Then I started thinking of what a friend told me last night, “This was the section’s first year. The beauty of that is you could totally take Campus Life and make it whatever you want it to be.”

And she’s right. I have the control to turn Campus Life into whatever I want it to be. Sure, I might not have any idea how to do that right now, but I will eventually. I’ll learn what works and what doesn’t as time goes on. Long Reads won’t seem as daunting after I tackle the first few stories. I can fill Campus Life with student profiles and make it fun. I’ve written some great stories for the section this year — stories about student veterans, artists looking to spread love, and people overcoming hardships. These are the stories I want to fill Campus Life with next year.

I’m excited for next year. I’m excited to be the second Campus Life editor, to take new writers under my wing and become their friend, to create a great section. I have my anxieties, I’m disappointed that I didn’t get my first pick, but I got something, and for that I am beyond thankful.

This is an opportunity for me to grow and diversify as a journalist. And with the experience as Campus Life editor listed on my resume, I am one step closer to moving to that big city and working for that big entertainment magazine.

To the 2014-2015 school year, bring it on.

If You Want to be Happy…

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a pessimist. I blow small things out of proportion, I have anxiety attacks over nothing, I always expect the worst, I throw pity parties for myself on a daily basis.

Do I enjoy being in a constant state of negativity? No, not at all. So why am I? Why do I deny myself the simple pleasure of being happy? What’s so hard about looking on the bright side instead of worrying and overreacting?

I have a lot of positive aspects in my life which vastly outnumber the bad, but I’ve noticed that I tend to focus only on the minuscule problems I have instead of focusing on everything that is good.

Today is the second-annual International Happiness Day, a day established by the United Nations that recognizes happiness as a “fundamental human goal.”  Today is a day for kind words, positive vibes and free hugs. And in honor of today, I’m making a resolution: to be happy.

St. Patrick's Day with Hatch 5. One of many very happy days I've had at college.
A Hatch 5 St. Patrick’s Day celebration. One of many very happy days I’ve had during college.

I have a lot to be happy about.

I’m happy that I’m going to college at Mizzou, which is home to one of the best journalism schools in the country. I’m a beat writer and a columnist for The Maneater. There’s no other place I’d rather be, especially when it comes to preparing myself for my career in journalism.

I’m happy because I have the best friends that anybody could ever ask for — both at school and back home in Kansas City.

Hatch 5 geeking out at the midnight premiere of "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
Geeking out at the midnight premiere of “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” One of my favorite nights.

My Hatch 5 family at Mizzou has made Columbia a home away from home. It’s crazy to think that I’ve only known everyone for seven months. We’ve had many adventures since we all came together in August — an ill-fated trip to the Magic Tree, dodging creepy guys at frat parties, cosmic bowling, celebrating snow days, degenerate tailgates and being intoxicated at football games.

Outside the stadium before the Homecoming game. Even though we lost, it was still a great game and a very happy evening.
Outside the stadium before the Homecoming game. Even though we lost, it was still a great game and a very happy evening.

I’d be lost without my friends at home. It’s great to know that I have such a solid group to come home to when I’m not at school. I’m happy that I can be myself around all of these kids and that they, for some reason, still seem to love me.

One of many happy summer nights at the Drive-In back home.
One of many happy summer nights at the Drive-In back home.

I’m happy that I finally got my braces off, and that I can now enjoy eating without the fear of getting half of my food stuck between my brackets.

I’m happy that I’m in school, doing well, and have professors who inspire me, get me thinking, and genuinely care about the success of their students. (And I’m happy that I only had one class today).

With all of these beautiful things in my life, it doesn’t make any sense why I spend so much time obsessing over what I don’t have. Right now, I’m exactly where I need to be in life.

Today is a beautiful day. It’s the first day of spring, sunny, 68 degrees, breezy. The campus is alive with students playing soccer, walking their dogs and basking on the Quad. Take it all in. Make the 20 minute walk to Noodles and Company with your friends. Drive around town blasting Lady Gaga with your car’s top down. Be happy.

Happiness is a choice. If you want to be happy, make the decision to do so. You don’t have to have everything you want in life to be happy.

As Leo Tolstoy said, “If you want to be happy, be.”

To Build A Home

Everybody has songs that, to them, aren’t just songs. Those songs that are intertwined with memories — past experiences of friend hangouts, dates, and spontaneous adventures. Those songs that, upon hearing the opening notes, cause a sudden rush, instantly transporting you back in time.

When I hear “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons I’m back in 2011, in the passenger seat of an ugly golden Ford Taurus on Hook Road, driving back from a high school production of “The Wizard of Oz.” When I listen to Lana Del Rey’s “Off to the Races,” I’m in another car — this time with three of my best friends on our way to Town Center Plaza for a night of gelato, Barnes and Noble, and “Warm Bodies.” When “I Love The Rain” by The Real Tuesday Weld is playing, I think of running around a parking lot at J.C. Penny’s with my friend, looking for our lost car in the middle of a huge rainstorm.

But “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra is the one that I hold most fondly in my heart.

Spring 2012. A time of friends — of stargazing, “The Bachelor” (Ben, who unfortunately looked like Francine from “Arthur”), homemade cheesecake, endless movie nights of “X-Men,” buying season passes for Worlds of Fun, finding a sketchy Crime Scene Cleaners truck at a nature reserve, smashing pumpkins, eating hot dogs. It was here when my dear friend Ella showed us “To Build a Home,” her favorite stargazing song, which became my personal soundtrack of the season.

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This is how people stargaze, right?

I’m often the victim of nostalgia. I spend way too much time looking back instead of forward. The future is scary and unknown. The past I know, I love, and I frequently miss.

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I’m the one on top with the awkwardly pale legs.

Early 2012 was the time I was settling into being completely comfortable with my new group of friends. About a year prior, I had lost all of the friends I had been with every day since grade school. Forgetting them and starting over from scratch was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I couldn’t be happier that it happened. If I hadn’t broken ties with my previous friends, I would never have met Ella, Laura, Emily, Aubry, Nathaniel, Aaron, Kristin, Nathan, Schaafster, Mark, Zak…

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Voldemort pumpkin, pre-smashing (and by “smashing” I mean “stabbing with Asian swords in an empty lot”)

Maybe I’m being particularly nostalgic because I listened to “To Build A Home” earlier today. Or maybe it’s because a lot of these events happened over spring break, almost exactly two years ago, when Ella and I were juniors and everyone else was a senior.

This was before most of the group (which later went on to be dubbed “The Avengers”) graduated and, after spending one glorious summer together, each went to different colleges. They went to Creighton, Westminster, Missouri S&T, Nebraska, Notre Dame, and Pitt State while Ella and I were left behind in Lee’s Summit. Now all of us have different spring breaks — some are home now, some will be home next week, some (like myself) won’t be home for another two weeks. We’ll always have the summers, but spending spring break together will never happen again.

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Laura and Aubs being cuties as usual.

But that’s what’s so great about those songs aren’t just songs. You can relive all of the times tied into a song or an album or a band simply by turning on Spotify or searching YouTube.

Every time I listen to the opening piano chords, I’m reminded of those months before my friends left for college. I look forward to the next stargaze, the next movie night, the next adventure.

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“I climbed the tree to see the world,

when the gusts came around to blow me down,

held on as tightly as you held onto me.”

The Cinematic Orchestra, “To Build A Home”

The Struggle of Adult Braces

For the last one year and 51 weeks I have been enduring what most people endure during their middle-school awkward phase— braces.

I made the decision my junior year of high school to go through with braces. My parents were pushing for it, but ultimately the decision was mine to make. And, after a couple months of deliberation and asking my friends for their opinions, I went for it. Although I considered my teeth to be “not that bad” to begin with, the idea of having perfectly straight teeth seemed worth it to me.

And boy, did I come to regret that decision.

My day to day braces lifestyle consisted of getting half the food I ate stuck in my wires, icing my throbbing jaw after every trip to the orthodontist, and awkwardly trying to smile for pictures without showing off my metal brackets.

The struggle of adult braces is immense. Having people make comments like, “I remember when I had braces…” and “Why are did you get them so late?” was like getting slammed by a wave of humiliation. I’m not saying that people were being condescending or talking down on me for having braces five years after the normal age, but every time someone brought them up I was utterly embarrassed. I felt like my braces were the first thing everyone saw when they looked at me. It was especially distressing coming to college and trying to make a whole new group of friends (I’ve yet to run into a fellow brace face on campus. Not to mention, they made kissing very, very awkward).

On top of the awkward timing of having braces throughout my junior and senior year of high school and freshman year of college was the actual, physical pain. For a week after I first got them on, I couldn’t even chew french fries. The first day I got rubber bands I was sitting in my kitchen in tears because I was hungry but my jaw was too sore for anything I was offered. I had to get a tooth pulled so my bite would line up (I still don’t completely understand that). Months of your mouth hurting so much it gives you headaches, having your risk of getting cavities skyrocket, and having to get poked and prodded by an orthodontist gets really, really old.

“Straight teeth are not worth this,” I said more than once, usually followed by a rant on society’s ridiculous expectation for perfection.

But yesterday, a week shy of two full years, was the day my mouth was liberated from its metal chains. Yesterday my braces came off. No more getting bits of food stuck between my brackets. No more of my mouth aching from moving teeth. No more self-conciously covering my mouth with my hand when I smile.

My mouth looks pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. And I feel pretty damn good. My self-confidence has never been the strongest, but it’s gone through a major boost in the last 24 hours. I was wrong— all of the pain and embarrassment and discomfort I went through for two years was worth it. I’m looking forward to what life has to offer the new, braces-less me.

Oh, and here’s a picture:

Please pardon the awkward selfie
Please pardon the awkward selfie

February Jamz

I go through phases where I spend weeks listening to the same set of songs on repeat. Here’s a compilation of what I’ve currently been obsessing over for the past month:

“I Could Have Been Your Girl,” She & Him

“Drunk in Love,” Beyonce

“Absolutely Cuckoo,” The Magnetic Fields 

“Chloroform,” Phoenix

“Time to Pretend,” MGMT

“Ribs” Lorde

“Once Upon a Dream,” Lana Del Rey

“Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” She & Him