Saturday, August 27, 2011

Books I Remember Liking.

This week, I wanted to stay away from the more somber tone the past couple of weeks have taken on. I want to write about something I love. Having recently finished reading The Help and finding myself enamored with it, I thought about writing a review of the novel. But then I started thinking more broadly, and thought about writing a post about multiple books I love. As I starting jotting down titles, it occurred to me that I don’t remember much about the contents of the books—merely the sensation of having once loved them. So with that, I present a brief history of my love affair with books. This list is by no means exclusive, nor am I guaranteeing that you’ll like these books too.

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown: My favorite book as a baby. My mom would lay on the floor with me and hold it over our heads to read. She says my legs would kick with delight and my eyes would grow wide with joy. By the time I could talk I had it memorized.

The Little House on the Prairie Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder: Laura Ingalls Wilder taught me how to read. My mom and I would spend whole days snuggling in the over-sized recliner, and she’d read to me the autobiographies of Laura and her family. One day, I asked her to use her finger to follow along with the words she was speaking. Words were a code, and I cracked it before entering kindergarten. Visiting the home of Laura and Almanzo in Mansfield, Missouri was like Mecca for me. My parents bought me a bonnet, and I wore it more often than was cool… that is, more than once.
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis: These books taught me lots of big words in early elementary school, like “centaur” and “vaguely”, which, I quickly learned, was not pronounced “va-joo-lee”. My second biggest regret in life is putting them down in the middle of the The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I got bored when the kid started turning into a dragon.

Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott: I attended fourth grade at Moore Elementary School in Franklin, Tennessee, and it heavily emphasized the Accelerated Reader program. By age 9, I had the reading level of a high school sophomore, and I began checking out the books with the highest number of possible points. Little Women was worth 42. The book moved me so much that I wistfully told my mom, “I wish I had a friend who I could talk to about books.”

Harry Potter books, by J.K. Rowling: I read the first book in fourth grade. I got the last book at midnight, the summer before I went to Jewell. I finished it by 4 pm the next day. I will always love these books.

To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee: I’d seen the movie a few times, and Boo Radley always scared the weewaddens out of me. I read the book in 7th grade, and it was the first time I recognized that I was Reading An Important Book. I can practically guarantee that at least one of my children will be named accordingly.

The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Someone once told me that Fitzgerald didn’t waste a single word in this whole novel, that not one word was unnecessary or out of place. I think he’s right.

Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen: When I was assigned this book for my AP Literature class as a senior, I was expecting a boring period drama with convoluted sentence structure and pages of descriptions of carpets and mantelpieces and four-poster beds. Instead, I found myself lost in a witty social commentary brought alive by keen character descriptions and delightful quick repartee between Elizabeth and the other characters. And, naturally, Mr. Darcy made me swoon.

The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy: Still one of my favorite books from college. It is beautiful, honest, haunting, and not for the faint of heart.

Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare: Here’s the obligatory Shakespeare entry. I’ve read roughly two-thirds of his plays, and this is my favorite—closely followed by Much Ado About Nothing. Julius Caesar, even while still on the page, kept me riveted, and I may have gasped aloud once or twice at certain revelations. I’d terribly like to see it performed.

Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis: Refreshing. Provocative. Made me wonder if 75% of Christians who “love” Lewis have read this.

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett: I had to include this because it revived a love I didn’t know I could feel again. After being completely burned out on literature, thanks to the past four years, I still read a lot this summer. But this is the first book in years that I couldn’t put down, that I found myself aching to get back to. I read almost 300 pages in the first sitting. Read. This. Book. Stockett’s command of dialect and dialogue is astounding. Even more impressive is the fact that she’s developed a controversial, necessary story without being flowery, over-earnest, or demanding.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Portrait of a Sister as a Freshman

On Thursday, my six-year-old sister moved into her dorm at Baylor University.

She’s actually eighteen, but I have her permanently freeze-framed in elementary school.

Somehow, she went off to college without me bestowing upon her all the wisdom I collected over the past four years. I am a despicable older sister.

I started thinking about what advice I’d give her, and I wondered what I wished I had known in August of 2007.  I remember my biggest fear was how I was going to make friends.  An older friend told me, “Look, everyone else is just as scared as you are, so for, like, the first six weeks, everyone is really receptive to being friends with everyone. They want to be friends with you.”  That certainly calmed my nerves, but I still wasn’t prepared for the emotional roller coaster that would inevitably come in the first semester, and I saw countless others who weren’t ready, either. The desperation to make friends and keep them drives a lot of people to a certain type of possessive insanity. You’ve found one person that you enjoy being around, and that person enjoys being around you, and suddenly, your identities are fused. We’ve all been there, to some extent, and if you went to college and are reading this, you’re immediately thinking of the pairs on your campus that demonstrated this creepy codependence. You’re probably also remembering when it happened to you, and you’re shaking your head a little bit, wondering what you were ever thinking.

So yes, Meagan, be receptive to making friends. The friends I made in the first few months of college are still some of my closest and dearest friends. But others of my closest and dearest friends arrived on the scene later, and I’m grateful I didn’t limit myself to only a few exclusive relationships.

College is a weird place. Never before and never again will you live in such close proximity with your friends and colleagues. Because of this, it’s a crucible for your own identity. I promise that in 2015, you will not be the same girl you are now. You’re going to find yourself in dozens of difficult situations that require difficult decisions, and those decisions are going to shape who you are. Yes, you’re going to make some silly mistakes. You will inevitably encounter drama, sleepless nights, bad grades, self-doubt, difficult people, and heretofore unknown temptations—sometimes all in one day.

With that, I arrive at the most important piece of advice I can give you: Be who you want to be. Don’t be confused—this isn’t a trite adage like Be true to yourself or Haterz gon’ hate.

The next four years are about figuring out the kind of woman you desire to be. You have no prior obligations to your high school self, and you don’t need to figure out what you want to do, where you want to live, or which specific person you want to marry. Develop a vision of the character you want to have, of the values you want to be known for, and use those to influence all of your decisions, from the academic to the social to the spiritual. Consider your time in college as a four-year investment in yourself—think about your gifts, talents, aptitudes, and preferences, and do everything you can to hone them. It’s not selfish—it’s responsible. By being intentional with your investment, I have every confidence that you’ll graduate as a self-assured, consistent, admirable young woman with the know-how to back it up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

For Now

I’ve seen that one clip from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade more than I’ve seen all of the movies combined. If you don’t know which one I’m talking about, drop in on any given youth group or Sunday School class in the nation and there’s approximately a 90% chance you can catch it. In it, Indy is standing on the edge of a cliff, in desperate need of a way to cross a seemingly bottomless chasm to get to the other side. Just when it seems hopeless, he holds his breath and takes a step. But instead of plummeting to his death, he discovers he’s found a cleverly disguised bridge connecting the edges of the canyon—and it can only be found by taking a leap of faith.

Let me tell you, that illustration couldn’t be less apt in my life right now. I’m certainly standing on the edge of a cliff, and on Sunday I’ll have been standing on it for exactly three months. The path I took to get here was pretty obvious and well-planned, but on May 14th, all that came to a halt. From here, I can’t even see what the other side of the chasm is, so even if I wanted to take a leap of faith, I wouldn’t know where to put my foot.

I’m in the state of For Now. Originally, “now” was going to just be the summer. I planned to work in Kansas City, and in the fall I would move on to the next awesome part in my life. Well, fall is practically here, and I still haven’t a clue of what to do next.

Even worse is that I don’t even know what I should be doing to get ready to do what I want to do. I still dream, and I regularly browse job websites and postings by companies and organizations I admire. Every now and then I come across an “entry-level” position with a job description that sounds like it was made for me. Inevitably, the requirements ask for a candidate with anywhere from 2-5 years of experience. Tell me, where am I supposed to be getting experience for an entry-level job? Isn’t that what a Bachelor’s degree from the Harvard of the Midwest is for?

I think the hardest part—the part that is both humbling and demoralizing me—is that I’ve never dealt with rejection before. I’ve always been a fairly large fish in a fairly small pond. I never worried about getting into college, or even about getting into Oxbridge. I know I’m a bright girl with good relational skills, but now I’m in an ocean of people with the same kinds of credentials and temperament. I’ve already had two rounds of rejection this summer, from programs that could have made all my dreams come true. I knew going into the application process that they were complete shots in the dark, but I still couldn’t keep my hopes from rising.

Here is where I’m finding hope, though—while it may feel like purgatory, it is still just For Now. There is an other side, so For Now I’m going to make a tidy little home on this cliff. I’ve found a place to live, I have a job that pays, I’ve joined a gym, and I’m surrounded by lots of people that I really like. And For Now, I’ll keep throwing pebbles across the chasm until I find a bridge.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Meggy & the Meerkat

Her mother had barely put the minivan in park before Meggy was unbuckling and clamoring to get out of the childlocked doors. It was Meggy’s birthday, and thus, the family’s annual trip to the zoo. But this year, the cake, presents, and balloons weren’t what had Meggy in a tizzy. This year, Meggy was prepared. As the family arrived, she had finished reading the last page of Doctor Dolittle.

As her parents paid for the tickets, Meggy hopped from one foot to another, waiting for the moment when she’d be set free to conduct her experiment. After what seemed like a-whole-nother year, the short gate swung open, and Meggy took off sprinting, her pigtails flapping wildly in the wind.

Meggy arrived at the giraffes on the shaded, wooden platform, panting for air. She saw a giraffe poking its head over the guardrail, eagerly accepting crackers and lettuce from a passel of small children.  “HEY!” she screamed, dashing to the group. “HEY YOU!” The children looked at her with wide eyes, paralyzed with terror. But Meggy wasn’t talking to them. She was talking to the giraffe. “TALK TO ME!” she yelled. The giraffe batted his long eyelashes and chewed his cud, mulling over the possibilities for handling this brazen imp. After a few seconds, he turned and plodded away.

Meggy was furious. This was supposed to work! She made a mental note to find John Dolittle and sue him for false advertising.

But Meggy was a tenacious little whippersnapper, and she ran from exhibit to exhibit, vehemently demanding that each animal engage in conversation with her.

By the time she got to the meerkats, she was exhausted, and she was livid. She pressed her nose to the plexiglass and pounded it with her fist. “TALK—TO—ME,” she bellowed, using her fist to emphasize each word. The meerkats paid her no attention whatsoever; they continued their designated activities.

Meggy had had enough. She plopped down on the sidewalk, banged her forehead against the plexiglass, and shrieked.


At that, all the meerkats stopped what they were doing and looked at her. A couple of the young pups darted into their holes. And suddenly, Meggy was making eye contact with a pudgy meerkat with his nose pressed against the plexiglass, staring at her.

“Would you please stop that infernal screeching?” he said quietly.

Meggy didn’t know what to say, so she merely stared back, her mouth hanging open.

“What on earth possessed you to reach that decibel and frequency?” he asked. Meggy was pretty sure he had his little paws on his hips. Was his foot tapping, too?

“I’m sorry,” she finally managed to say. “I just wanted to be able to talk to animals, like Dr. Dolittle.”

“Well,” the meerkat replied, “I don’t know who this Dr. Dolittle is, but his methods are highly ineffective. And I can assure you that the rest of the animals in this zoo won’t tolerate this behavior as diplomatically as we have.”

Meggy looked at the rest of the meerkats gathered behind him, and noted that they were all nodding their heads in agreement. “I’m sorry,” she said, standing up. “It won’t happen again.”

“I would certainly hope not,” the meerkat said, crossing his paws over his chest. “Good day.”

Dazed, Meggy wandered back to find her parents. She had been most unimpressed with her first conversation in the animal kingdom, and a vague sense of annoyance began to settle over her. She shrugged and kicked a rock. “Who cares what some stinky little rats have to say, anyways?” she muttered to no one in particular.