Reflections on Virginia, and Life in General

Today my husband and I leave for Missouri (thank goodness for the option to schedule future posts!). As of writing this, I have two full days left in Virginia. Other than the first five or six years of my life, Virginia has always been home. I went to school here. I made lasting friendships with some beautiful, garbage people. I fell in love and found my forever person here. Despite being born in Maryland, Virginia will always be the best part of the D.C. metro area, and Maryland will always suck simply because it isn’t Virginia.

My excitement for the adventure my husband and I are about to embark on has far outweighed any nerves or sadness up until now. Maybe I was tucking all the fear and grief and anxiety into a box as easily as I packed our apartment. Cocooned in bubblewrap and triple-taped so it can’t burst free until I’m ready to unpack it all. Maybe it didn’t feel real, until I found myself surrounded by boxes and drinking water from a solo cup. Regardless, I’ve been able to avoid the harder feelings, but now that the move is here, so are they.

Don’t get me wrong; I am excited. A move like this, to a place that feels random, seems so right. It’s healthy. Adulting. From here, we could go anywhere. And now is the best time, before we are entrenched in careers and surrounded by babies.

But I keep thinking about my college graduation. In a way, this is similar. A huge life change, full of unknowns and fears that friendships will look different when we no longer all live within 5 minutes of each other. At a party just before graduation, one friend — who I met early on freshman year — took my hand and said “we’ve been friends for FOUR YEARS! That’s so long! I’ve known you longer than most of the people here!” It seemed so epic, and at that time in my life, it was. When I said goodbye to that same friend earlier this week, I felt that same teary nostalgia. I’ve known you longer than most of our friends.

It’s hard saying goodbye to that — in some ways, harder even than leaving my family. I know my mom will drop everything to talk to me whenever I call her, because she’s my mom and that’s what moms do. The dynamics of my family relationships won’t change so drastically. Friends have lives that take precedence. They’ll have babies and buy houses and get married, and my part in their immediate lives will diminish. It won’t be as simple as sending out a group text asking who’s around to hang out this weekend. We’ll have to plan time and take off work and buy plane tickets. Still, I know they’ll be there when I need them, just like I’ll be there for them.

I’ll also miss Virginia. I know on the trips I’ve taken to Missouri, I’ve thought it looks fairly similar, but I’ll miss walking along the Potomac River in Old Town Alexandria, or watching the planes take off and land from Gravelly Point, or easy “hikes” along Skyline Drive or Great Falls Park. It’s been nice to go back to JMU for Rocktown Beer and Music Festivals or for Homecoming or just to reminisce. Even though we rarely took advantage, having D.C. so close has always been a tantalizing option for food or sports or fun.

So even though I’m truly looking forward to the adventure of discovering a new place — even though I have dozens of things to do already listed — it’s hard leaving this beautiful state that’s been my home in every sense of the word for nearly my entire life.

Writing vs. Typing

I’ve made a commitment to myself to write 200 words or more each day. For the past two weeks, I’ve kept it. Most days, I’m able to write a lot more than 200 words, which is great. But on those days where I’m busy or exhausted or not feeling it for whatever reason, 200 is a pretty small number I can reach fairly quickly, even if I end up scrapping everything in a revision. It’s a way to hit a goal no matter how great or blah I’m feeling each day.

When I say I’ve done it every day, I should clarify that some days I hand-write and other days I type, so I don’t get an accurate count on the hand-written days. My husband and I share a computer and he has school work to do, so we have to take turns and the computer isn’t always available when I’m feeling most creative.

I used to hand-write everything for a first draft. I have entire novels in smudged ink and loose-leaf pages, packed away in boxes. I’m not sure if it’s laziness or efficiency that has shifted my preference toward typing. It saves time — I’m not writing essentially the same thing twice — and makes editing, tracking progress, and fitting together story bits so much easier.

But this week, being “forced” to return to handwriting parts of my story has reminded me of the art I fell in love with. There’s something beautiful about the connection between ink and paper, the power and vulnerability of a creator.

For the sake of time, especially when I have a long scene developing in my mind, I’ll choose typing into a computer, but when I have the time to let my mind — and pen — wander, I’ll indulge in the art form of my predecessors and carry the inkstains on my fingers for days.

Wildcards Vacation 2017: Colds and Charleston

This year my friends decided to switch up our normal Nagshead beach trip and travel an extra few hours south to Charleston, SC. It was a week-long adventure of discovering new places, seeing beautiful architecture, eating amazing food, and spreading germs between fourteen people and two apartments.

Our car — affectionately and not at all competitively referred to (by us) as the “best” car — carried four people and one massive cold virus. The trip began with an immediate stop for cough drops and ended with none of the other three passengers feeling sick, so we didn’t think too much of it beyond hoping our friend felt better.

Until another wildcard fell ill. Then another. Then another. Every day it seemed a new person woke up feeling crappy. Still, those of us from the best car didn’t feel it. We were invincible. We were immune to what became known — affectionately — as the Tyler Plague.

We went to the beach — both Folly and Sullivan’s Island. We went out to bars every night (even if a lot of those nights we still made it home before midnight and in bed shortly thereafter — when did we become grownups?). We wandered through neighborhoods of houses from the 16- and 1700s. My husband convinced almost everyone to try our favorite burrito spot (Minero) at least twice. (Side note: I’d previously had the best burrito of my life here. This trip, the catfish taco blew me away.) He also had avocado toast at a restaurant near our airbnb (Park Cafe) for the first time…and every day of our trip. By the last day, they knew him there.

Some wildcards went golfing. Some did stand-up paddle-boarding. Some did an escape room. Some went on a ghost tour that turned out to just be a walking history tour about brothels, murder, and conspiracy theories (which is way better in my — slightly terrified of ghosts — opinion). We played our usual drinking games without our usual, youthful enthusiasm, and spent a lot more time just hanging out and chatting.

It was a wonderful trip, even if I personally missed having a pool to lounge around beside. We reflected on how far we’ve come, how grown up we’ve all gotten, and looked forward to future trips and more changes as life spurs us onward.

The magic faded on the drive home. Two passengers were coughing instead of just the original one. We all insisted it was tickles in throats or residual from A/C and late nights and drinking and whatever else we could think of.

Then the Tyler Plague hit my home. My husband got it first, but I was (am) only about a day behind him. Now, we’re shuffling around the apartment, thankful that — due to our upcoming move I still have yet to blog about in detail — we no longer have work to suffer through or obligations that can’t be pushed back a day. Our coffee table is a mess of Dayquil and cough drop bags and tissue boxes. We’re drinking tea all day (echinacea and ginger and lemon and “cold 911” from David’s Teas on repeat). Our pantry is stocked with chicken soup. We’re going to crush this thing.

Our lack of complete immunity is a somewhat humbling blow. Still, it’s a worthwhile price to pay for a week with the Wildcards.

Rambling Review: Angelfall

angelfall

Full disclosure right up front: I bought Angelfall by Susan Ee in paperback and it’s been a little while since I’ve read it. However, it’s showing up free on Kindle for Prime members, so I feel justified reviewing it, because even if I might be a little hazy on all the details, I loved this book.

First off, I like the name. Titles are great in that way, aren’t they? This story is about a teenage girl — Penryn — who is trying to keep her family together in post-apocalyptic California. And I mean post-biblical-Apocalypse. Angels have taken over the earth as a battleground with demons, and humans are caught in the middle. Penryn teams up with the [dreamy] angel Raffe to try to save her little sister from the angel’s stronghold. Adventures ensue.

In a literary fantasy world filled with vampires and werewolves and witches, it was refreshing to find a story with similar themes, but with angels instead of the other more typical mythical creatures. The descriptions of the angels and explanations of the world Susan Ee created are well-done and believable. And that Raffe — gotta love a vulnerable, sexy angel with a vendetta and a great backstory. Both he and Penryn grow as characters throughout the book and the series. The other characters, like Penryn’s mom especially, are well-written, too.

The writing is a little choppy, at least in the beginning. Never enough to frustrate me, but I do remember thinking there were parts that weren’t very well-written. That being said, the story is phenomenal and well worth forgiving any awkward phrasing.

If you are not a Prime member, Angelfall is $4.00 on Kindle, $6.69 for paperback (and like $18 for the series). It’s well worth the price for either, in my opinion.

Let me know what you think in the comments if you decide to check it out!

Killing Me Softly

How is it that a song can so perfectly capture a complete stranger’s heart? Phantoms drift through a soul, nameless but achingly present, without words to explain the ache or hope or love burning holes through a chest. Then a song will come on and suddenly it all makes sense. Every single lyric is a word plucked from within my heart, every description a tale of my own life.

Lyrics put words to the feelings inside, and the melody spells out in the clearest language the nuances of those feelings, of aches and dreams and faith and fear.

Avalanche by Amasic (originally by Bring Me The Horizon) kills me softly every time. It’s like all of my neurosis and darker days are spelled out in the straightforward yet anguished strums of the guitar.

If I want to dwell on the tragic beauty of the human condition, I can dive into We Fall Apart by We As Human. If I’m in the mood for a darker reflection, I’ll turn to the haunting and desperate Still Alive by Breaking Through.

Nothing reminds me of joy and hope and sunshine like Suburban Legends’ Bright Spring Morning. This song is fun and adventure and a reminder that I can roll down my windows, crank up the radio, and fly away.

I’m not very picky in my music tastes. I’ll listen to anything as long as it moves me in some way — even if just with a really catchy beat. Music infects every part of my life. There’s almost always some song playing on repeat in the back of my mind. If my playlist won’t load, I’ll have an extremely hard time at the gym or driving anywhere. It isn’t a road trip until I’ve rapped along to Forgot About Dre, it isn’t a party until someone starts belting out Don’t Stop Believing, and it isn’t a good writing day unless I’ve started with Waiting in the Moment. I think better with music playing, I write better to a soundtrack, cooking, cleaning, anything is better against a backdrop of tunes.

What about you? Share some of your favorite songs in the comments — I’d love to check them out!

Rambling Reviews

A friend of mine had the great idea that I should include book reviews on my blog. Great as in, I love to read, I love to tell people about great books I’ve read, and I love the excuse to read more. I’m not so sure about the actual “review” part; writing carefully thought-out and constructive feedback has been a struggle for me as far back as my creative writing workshops in college. Either I fall into a story or I don’t. There are plenty of things that can pull me out of a story (not connecting to the characters enough, not interested in the plot enough, poor writing/bad mechanics), but a good story is so seamless all I’m left with at the end is impressions and adoration and all the beautiful, painful feelings art is meant to elicit.

She also asked if I’d read any of the Kindle books that are offered free, and if I thought they were any good. So here’s my plan: I’ve picked a few out that seem interesting, and I’ll write about what I think.

A few things to know about me (because what strikes me as fantastic — or not so much — is not necessarily guaranteed to knock your socks off — or ruin your day –just because it did for me):

I really like young adult fiction. YA is my favorite, because they deal with the struggles of finding your place in the world and growing up and making tough choices to find out who you really are. They’re more relatable (relateable? Why is spell check insisting this isn’t a word?) to me, even as a twenty-something.

Other genres I prefer are historical fiction (because I like learning history while I read) and mysteries/thrillers. I’m not as big on horror or sci fi/fantasy (except it seems a ton of YA fiction these days is somehow fantastical, and I haven’t hated it). I do not like non-fiction. Sorry about it. I prefer my lessons learned through fictional characters.

As a writer myself, I notice the mechanics of writing at the beginning. For some people, the writing itself isn’t as noticeable or important. For me, it can be distracting. If it’s a great story, I won’t notice anything but the characters and plot and setting after the first few pages. If halfway through the book I’m still mentally editing, it’s hard to stick with. I will say, I believe almost every book that’s started deserves the chance to be finished. I’ve only ever given up completely on two books, and only because the writing was so distracting.

OK, so if you’re looking for some reading suggestions and think my recommendations may be worth reading, stay tuned for my thoughts. I doubt I’ll be following any set “review template,” but I’ll try to include in each post why I chose the book, what my overall impression was before and after, and anything that really stuck out to me. I hope you enjoy!

Man’s Best Friend

My family experienced a terrible loss last summer: a vanquished king. My husband’s first (thus far only) dog–yes, El Rey Louis Dandy–passed away. A constant loving, grounding presence in most of my husband’s life, gone.

I started to write this not long after Rey passed, but it was too difficult.

The thing about dogs is their loss is always unexpected. No matter how you prepare, no matter how old and frail and sick, no matter the decisions a family makes out of love and sacrifice. Nothing prepares you for the shock of the loss. A dog spends such a short time on this earth — completely insignificant amount of time, in the grand scheme of things. If our lives equal a blink of an eye, a dog is the muscle twitch preceding the blink. Most of our life is consumed by everything and nothing; rarely do we give huge chunks of it to our pets. For them, though, we are everything. Every second of their short life is focused on their owner. Where is he? Does she want to play? Will she rub my belly? Can I get him to share his food?

If you’ve ever been around a dog, you know what love looks like. A dog is content to sit and stare at you. I imagine they think things like “look at him, he’s so beautiful.” or “She’s mine and I just love her so much.” You’ve seen their tail start to thump the ground if their owner casts them a brief glance, their ears twitch at the sound of his voice.

They don’t seem to register rejection, or annoyance, or anger. They’ll skulk away for a moment, sure, but then they realize they aren’t with the love of their stupidly-short life and come trotting back to let you shoo them away again. They stare out the window or at the solid front door, always waiting, yearning, hoping for you to return.

I’ve known a dog to smile — teeth bared, breath snorting, tail furiously wagging — when anyone she loves walks into the room. I’ve known one to leave his treat beside my pillow, a Valentine’s Day gift. I’ve known one to follow you around and drop a ball at your feet and stare, waiting as long as it took for you to toss it for him. And he’d follow you still, with his big, brown, love-filled eyes, even when you never threw the ball. When I was small, our German Shepherd would lay perfectly still so I could use her as a pillow or a seat.

Dogs are selfless and glorious and perfect. And as much as it hurts to lose them, it would be sadder still to never love one.