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“And I might get to help her organize bird nests in the summer.” “Oh look at you, you’re just unstoppable now!” “I had two presentations yesterday, one in math and the other in English, and in English I talked for five whole minutes, and my throat was sore at the end, cuz maybe I talk for five minutes in a day?” “Wow, that is cool. And isn't it getting easier?” “It is.” “You're going nonstop. Your mom’s gonna be like, ‘what happened? I thought you were my quiet child!’ You just keep up your talking you little chatty thing you.”
The English reading was a bigger moment than I realized. Speaking into the quiet microphone, I wasn’t listening to myself or even the words -- I was concentrating on talking, which takes a lot of effort as is. Last semester in English there were times my mind blanked out from nerves; I couldn’t have spoken even if I wanted to. At the beginning of this semester I didn’t blank out as much, but my face felt so hot every time I spoke. And now, at the very end of the semester, I was normal temperatured, speaking into a microphone of all things, and could do it for five consecutive minutes.
Students who had never spoken up before in Mythology contributed their opinions why it is a positive or negative thing for stories to change. One said it depends on if the author wishes to preserve either the original facts or the message of the story. One pointed out that changing up stories maintains the reader’s interest and therefore will be more likely to buy the media the story appears in. Someone observed how Greek heroes possessed superhuman qualities from the time they were born, whereas modern heroes are normal and grow into their greatness. The teacher said that the main point of stories is to teach us about us.
“I’m a little worried about the math final though.” “Why math? I liked math! You know different people have different thing flyin’ around their heads all the time. I always have numbers flyin’ around mine.” I hadn’t thought of this before. I remember hearing how musicians have melodies floating between their ears, inventors picture bizarre contraptions while eating breakfast, and artists see images in ordinary objects. I took the math final this morning, and my open-book notes were no help. Flipping through the pages of tiny numbers, it was gibberish. Numbers don’t mean anything to me. Words float through my mind.
Cruising in her black Mazda with stickers taped inside, windows down, pop radio in the background as we chat about summer plans. Second time ever riding shotgun in a friend’s car. I feel more content than wowed. Swinging at the playground. Hers goes up while mine goes down. Yet brief seconds in parallel before going different ways. “I never knew someone else loves swinging as much as I do.” “I never knew there was someone my age who still loves swinging.” Goodbyes in the parking lot. Four solid months. Promise to plan for fall. She holds out her arms first. Solid.
“Are you on your way to a test?” “No, I finished it.” “Oh. How many are left?” “None.” *Gasp* “You’re done?!” “I’m done!” My mom and I docey-doe around her living room. I grin so hard my mouth hurts. ~ “Thank you for cheerleading; you helped me get through my first year.” “Aw.” My friend looks down at me with affinity. I beam up at her. “Well you help me get through mine!” I stand on tiptoes for a goodbye hug. ~ Sitting on a bench outside of SweetFrog, my dad and I toast our styrofoam bowls in cheers.
From the other swing my friend says, “It could be that you’re just really good at hiding it, but I think you’ve handled the transition well. You seem balanced to me.” I was thinking of her words as I played a tricky level on an iPhone game. Every time since, whenever I play that level, her words echo in my head. Other people believe in me more than I believe in myself. I secretly hope to never get past the level in the game. That way her words of encouragement will continue playing back.
Why do people automatically assume you are going to become a teacher when you say that your intended major is English? Teachers do teach other subjects. Or is it because grammar is becoming more important to learn now that the media is full of texting short cuts? Maybe I should be specific and say my intended major is creative writing. That would direct people to my expected career: writing. Although in a way being an author is like being a teacher. Authors give subtle messages through writing. I do want to teach readers about issues. Perhaps an English major will make me a teacher after all.
At a book sale at the library, I picked out four children’s chapter books. At the checkout counter the lady looked at the covers. “Are any of these adult....” “They’re all kids’ books,” I explained. “A dollar,” she said firmly with a shrug. Then my mom laid down her adult chapter book. “Fifty cents,” the checkout lady said. Why are kid books considered less valuable than adult books? They are no less important! A famous author once said that writing picture books is the hardest thing ever because every word has to be simple enough for a kid to understand, crucial in order to keep the story short, and get a meaning across.
Why did American society turn out as it did? Why do people feel they have a right to claim ownership over land, animals, humans? Why are people expected to marry someone of the opposite sex? Why does culture revolve around money? Why are people expected to work hard all the time? Why do we conform what the masses do? Why are people who are different shunned? Why are their taboo subjects people aren’t supposed to talk about? Why not teach love and acceptance instead of fear and hatred? Why not question culture before agreeing to follow it? Why?
I tied a cooked strand of my spaghetti into a knot. My sister criticized from the opposite side of the table, “Did you learn anything in preschool? They scolded us for making our Teddy Grahams dance!” “This is a sad culture if kids are reprimanded for making Teddy Grahams dance.” My dad piped up, “It may be a pain for a kid to get messy hands while playing with their food and the parent has to clean them up, but for someone who’s almost twenty--” he gestured to me, “--then it’s ok because I don’t have to clean it up.” My sister added, “But she’s almost twenty. That’s the problem right there.” Why is having fun with food an issue?
“And this is for you,” I lay a handmade card with an origami rose next to a produce scale. My adult friend lifts it up. “Awww.” “Plants definitely count. For kids. Because they can be demanding,” I say, even though she’s never needed an explanation before for receiving a Mothers’ Day card despite being childless. “Yes, they certainly can be. They don’t talk back though.” I agree with her perspective on kids. I read somewhere another line, ‘Why spend years raising a being who is just going to resent you the rest of their life?’ Right on.
Society gets blamed for many things that go wrong. “It’s a corrupt society.” “Society’s going to the dogs.” It’s an us-verses-them way of thinking. Yet who is society? It’s all of us individuals. Every one of us. Society has power when many individuals agree to do the same thing; this is when society becomes the collective influence. Since everyone is an individual, everyone has the power to change the world. Once you start a behavior, people who see your action may agree with it and start acting that way themselves. Lead by example, and you can change society.
Why am I able to publish homemade stop-motion videos on Facebook, yet can’t bring myself to share written work? I think it’s because I have read the works of so many epic writers. In comparison, what I come up with is pathetic. I have read loads of writing manuals. Instead of leaving me confident, they have scared me away. There are so many rules. Maybe this is why I feel I can successfully write only nonfiction from my own life; no one else can write from my life so I’m the only one who can’t screw the story up.
“The band was playing some eighty’s music, and we danced to that, and it was so much fun.” My mom chirps on and on about her date with her boyfriend. If I were a friend, I’d encourage her with “that’s awesome!” and “aw, how fun”. But I’m her daughter. I listen and nod while fighting to keep a light expression. It bugs me when she unexpectedly gushes about her boyfriend. Perhaps it’s a sign that I haven’t moved on from the divorce, even though my parents have since they both have new dates.
While I was eating lunch with my one friend from college, a student came up to us and started chatting with my friend about panic attacks. “I’ve had three so far today,” she announced. My friend offered, “Well let’s hope there isn’t a number four!” The other student saw me there on the couch, but didn’t seem to mind. Having grown up in a culture where anything abnormal is considered taboo, I was surprised by the student’s openness. Do college kids not care who overhears them, or do they need sympathy and support that they just don’t care?
“That’s an intense book. Was it an adult book?” my dad asks as he walks away from the garage. I answer, “It’s a teen book.” We were listening to Rumble by Ellen Hopkins in the car. It’s about a 12th grade boy who has a lot of social shit to deal with. His younger brother was bullied into suicide for being gay, his parents are getting a divorce, his dad has a girlfriend. The story is fiction, but it could very well be similar to real teens’ lives. Maybe kids these days have more shit to deal with, or maybe today’s authors aren’t afraid of showing reality to a younger audience.
Notes written on scrap paper on my desk: Snail mail: Whisper, JGG, Dove. M-Day Card: K, M. Click beetle. Now I know ____ exists. Would you ___? Made of stars. It’s a sad culture we live in if it’s considered impolite to play w/ food. 1:05. 1:06. My 2nd homemade stop-motion movie: Magic Practice. Hide plants from Tues’ spray. 10 Years, Miscellania. Tapping shoulders releases endorphines. Triggerfish animation studios: crazy sheep feet in air. “Hey, I noticed ____. Can we talk about it?” Picture books by Petra Mathers. Blow out the Moon by Libby Koponen.
I’m stuck. I want to make another stop-motion animation, and I have so many tiny ideas/themes, but not a whole story. I think I’m going about it the wrong way. I’m used to written stories having a beginning-middle-end, characters, etc. But animation doesn’t always follow these conventions. They can show ideas, such as toy CAT tractors carrying leaves and driving up and down tree roots to show how powerful ants are. Animations also don’t have to use dialogue. They use body language and expressions, which I think are more powerful ways to convey messages.
While it’s awesome to have my first long break from schoolwork since elementary school, I’m really missing hanging with people. I miss how my science teacher greeted everyone by name with a chipper “good morning.” I miss having weekly Thursday lunches with a student who has similar bizarre interests as me. I miss the easy chatting of English students. I don’t miss the half hour drive to school, sitting still for an hour and fifteen minutes, homework, being lonely on campus, the pressure to complete everything as best as I can and submit it on time.
“Well you have a good summer. It’s always nice to see you,” she says from the driver’s seat. I step down from her high van. “You too,” I smile up at her. The words feel phony and robotic and dull orange in my mouth. It seems like everyone easily dolls out well-wishes and all I can say is, “You too.” I appreciate the gesture of the well-wishes, but I don’t quite understand them. Since everyone from friends to staff at checkout counters wish everyone a good day, the phrase is repeated so often it’s becoming meaningless in my mind. Perhaps I have a hard time giving well-wishes back because they are overused.
I’m growing concerned about the state American society might be in when the next decade rolls around. Apps for household chores, finding parking lots, and searching for single people to date will make people forget how to do these tasks on their own. Soon Scrabble will be accepting slang words in its dictionary. My little cousin had a tough time learning to spell because of all the incorrect shortcuts he saw written on TV. What is going to happen to common sense? Would the human race survive if global warming engendered a ginormous natural catastrophe that wiped out electricity?
swing swang swung, ding dang dung, one none, grove glade, pesto presto, squiggle wiggle giggle, frenzy fuzzy fizzy, arm charm alarm, aw awful awesome awe -- why does the word “aw” have a positive or negative connotation depending on subtext and tone of voice used? It can be “aw no fair” and “aw that’s wonderful!” It can have that same positive and negative intention when grouped with other letters: awesome, awful, awkward, awestruck. No wonder English is the hardest language to learn if you aren’t a native speaker (and even native speakers find it hard). The words have too many changing meanings.
“Would you send the black and white version to me?” my mom asks, handing back my phone. I tap a button to text her a picture of a dandelion against a mailbox. Through the closeup you can see the dandelion’s spiral pattern. It takes several tries for the large picture to reach my mom’s basic phone. “Yes, it’s here!” my mom exclaims. She immediately changes her phone’s screen saver from a picture of her boyfriend sitting on her couch to my dandelion. “Now I have a professional photograph by you,” she announces, pleased. I’m glad my picture replaces her boyfriend’s profile.
When I agreed to work at the farmers’ market, I knew what I was getting in to. I’d been a customer since it opened, knew one of the venders really well, and my relatives would visit my stand. With all these safety people, I felt confident that I could handle the job. Now today will be my first day volunteering at a place I haven’t been to as often, and the one staff person I remember seeing from middle school visits has moved. I’ll be in an unfamiliar building in an unfamiliar part of town with unfamiliar people. But I can do it.
Maybe it isn’t such a good thing to have brilliant days, because they make all the normal days seem depressing. Once you grow accustomed to the occasional good day, it’s hard to go back to your normal, less fun state of life. If you never have the good day, then you don’t know what you’re missing out on and think that your normal life is grand. Can’t miss what you never had. Although as much as it’s hard bouncing around from one routine to another, being stuck in the same script makes life feel monotonous.
I’ve made three batches of pesto over the past week. I love how you can’t go wrong with pesto. Following recipes is not my strong suit. And the ingredients use up extra greens you have on hand. Instead of mounds of oil, I’m substituting a bit of apple cider vinegar. I prefer vinegar’s tang to the slimeyness of excessive oil. Last week I made a gigantic cookie pie out of chickpeas. I gave two slices to a vender at the market in exchange for greens. He tried the cookie and said it was particularly awesome, beans and all.
The compost pile is the perfect seed-starter. A few weeks after tossing squash rinds, the seeds sprout dark green shoots, easily visible against the dark brown dirt. I’ve dug up twelve plants and placed them in pots on the porch to keep a better eye on them. Other than squash shoots, I have no idea what kind of vegetable they will grow into. Two years ago I grew a pattypan squash vine this way. It’s a fun surprise when the vine finally supports a squash so you can identify what you have been tending to all this time. Goes to show it's the process and not the result that counts.
“Have you ever held a Madagascar hissing cockroach?” she asked when it was time to feed these critters. I shook my head. “Do you want to?” she asked with a playful lilt. Is that even a question? Of course!! In a back room she lifted the aquarium cage lid and stuck her arm in to carefully pick up a three inch black and brown bug. “Ready?” she asked, still with that disbelief/playful tone, as if she expected me to freak out all of a sudden. I held my hands underneath hers, and she prodded the cockroach onto my left hand.
I held out my hand for her to mist with a spray bottle of water. We traded positions: she jumped down from two tables and I hopped onto them to reach the aquarium cage. I reached down and picked up a black salamander with yellow dots. It felt like wet cold clay. Easily malleable and fragile. Its bright yellow dots looked as if someone had painted them on with the tip of a Q-tip. I jumped down and walked over to a cricket container to catch a jumping one for the salamander’s meal.
She’s walking up the grassy mound to get her car. I hop onto the grass and walk toward her. We make eye contact behind our prescription sunglasses. Our smiles are the special kind, reserved for people you have a history with. Walking feels too long, so I dash the last two yards. She doesn’t say the usual, ‘Heading out now?’ We’ve been in this routine so long the words aren’t needed. I hold on for a second longer in the goodbye hug, overjoyed that despite all the new people jumping into my life, I still have someone I’ve known for years.
The Tip Jar