The Best Things about the Columbia Publishing Course

This summer, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to complete the Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University in New York City. Being from Texas, this was quite an adventure, but it was an easy occasion to say yes to—I have always wanted to be in New York City (and the publishing industry).

I was nervous though, because I actually didn’t have that much insider knowledge about publishing, besides what I learned in my internship at D Magazine. To make things even more intimidating, I had never been involved in the Northeastern university/Ivy League discourse. The community surrounding schools is so much different than anywhere I’ve ever been. There is much more competition and ranking. It’s weird and intriguing.

Anyway, I just wanted to make a list about the greatest aspects of the Columbia Publishing Course, in my opinion.

  1. Shaye Areheart: Shaye Areheart is the director of the course. Shaye is our leader and our queen, but she isn’t a figurehead. She is our advocate. Shaye’s goal is to allow us to learn as much as we can about publishing, and then help us land a job that fits our goals and skill sets. Shaye is firm but loving, and when you come to her overwhelmed and unsure about life, she will comfort you and bring you hope. I know, because this happened to me.
  2. The speakers: The speakers at the course were phenomenal. This is thanks to Shaye (see number 1). We heard from professionals across book, magazine, and digital publishing. The speakers that resonated most with me were Wendy Lamb, Kate Lloyd, Christopher Cerf, Sadie Stein, and John Glusman.
  3. Sherry Hour: This is a Columbia Publishing Course tradition, and it’s not just exciting because of the free wine. Sherry Hour taught me the importance of networking, not just with professionals, but also with peers. The other graduates of the course are the people who I will be working with throughout my career. Sadie Stein mentioned this in her talk as well. As students of the course, we are all each other’s advocates, and we should foster relationships with one another.
  4. Learning that print isn’t dead: As much as it seems like this is the case, it’s not true. In fact, there has been a decline in e-book sales lately, especially when it comes to children’s books. Print is very much alive!
  5. Finding out publishing professionals are nice people: I don’t know about others in the course, but I came to the program apprehensive. I was pretty much afraid of publishing professionals as a whole. They seemed so far up the ladder, and frankly, I didn’t think they would be kind or interested in what I had to say. Overall, I’ve found quite the opposite to be true. The majority of the people I have met are kind and genuine—even humble about their vast success. That’s not to say that I haven’t heard horror stories of crazy bosses, but overall the industry is made up of smart, caring people.
  6. Learning that publishing is made up of all the friends you wish you always had. I don’t know about you, but through elementary school, middle school, high school, and even part of college, I felt like I was the only person who loved learning. The extra reading homework didn’t bother me, book reports were fun, and the shoebox diorama project in 4th grade was my jam. These things are true for almost everyone else in the course, and industry. It’s a wonderful, intellectual community.

So, if you are considering the Columbia Publishing Course, don’t hesitate. Apply now and give it all you have!

 

Let Them Eat Toast: Musings on my recent wheat-free life

toaster

A brave, but sad, little toaster. He can no longer have toast.

“Let them eat toast,” I imagine my mother saying to her twin toddlers who often requested the warm, crispy bread with a generous coating of butter (and possibly a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar). I like to think my childhood toast consumption was a combination of my fascination with The Brave Little Toaster and a genuine love of bread. I never stopped eating toast, and any and all forms of wheat-based carbohydrates.

That is until a few months ago, when my allergist discovered that I have a slight wheat allergy. I was floored. How was I going to consume copious amounts of bread and cupcakes and spaghetti carbonara? It was quite a sad realization that my diet would be drastically changing. I was skeptical, though. How could taking wheat out of my diet help me? After all, I had been eating bread since I was a toddler.

Since going wheat-free, I have seen positive changes. I have lost about 10 pounds, felt more energized than I have in years, and experienced mostly clear skin for the first time since I was 15. So, it’s been worth it. I have also suffered from IBS for many years, and my symptoms have almost fully subsided.

I’m not going to lie–it’s hard to not eat wheat products. Wheat is part of our culture and history. Wheat products make up the ingredients to birthday cakes and cookies and all of those special treats that define holidays and special occasions. I know for myself, that many desserts and foods that have wheat in them–my grandmother’s yeast rolls and pecan tarts, and the homemade birthday cakes she made for me–are nostalgic, and knowing that I’m not going to consume those anymore is a strange grief. In the end though, it’s just food, and comes down to doing what is best for your body and being thoughtful about your own health.

My allergy is not anaphylactic, and I’m not allergic to gluten, so I have more options and I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination. It’s actually been fun to explore new wheat-free options. I’ve found several baked goods, like Udis bread products (yay toast!) and Trader Joe’s gluten-free blueberry muffins, that are delicious. Udis also makes a pretty tasty gluten-free pizza.

Also, when it comes to restaurants, there are almost always gluten-free and wheat-free options. Go for the grilled meats and vegetable sides, but avoid many sauces, because sauces tend to have thickeners like flour. If you are unsure, ask your waiter. If you are wheat-free or a non-celiac gluten-free, don’t limit yourself to the gluten-free menu. It tends to exclude anything that could possibly have touched a wheat or gluten-containing product. Many items that are not gluten-free are actually wheat-free, like farro, barley, oats, and spelt (which is debated), so be open to the regular menu if you are wheat-free.

Being wheat free is a challenge, but it is completely possible and beneficial. If you find out you need to avoid wheat, don’t fret–just be ready to think outside of the box to do what is best for your body, and eat all of the [wheat-free] toast that you want to.

 

 

It’s Been a Week

 

 

I’m sitting here on my bed, in my room at Columbia University. It’s been a week at the Columbia Publishing Course, and tomorrow we begin week two.

I started out the week knowing no one, feeling a little anxious, and being quite overwhelmed. By the end of the week, I can say that I know quite a few people, and that every person in my class is incredibly smart and talented. There are 110 of us, and apparently this was the most competitive year of the program (three times more than usual applied), so I’m still not fully sure how I got in. We come from all over, too. I’ve met some who graduated from UT Austin (no A&M), Baylor, University of Minnesota, UCLA, Bard, Harvard, Wellesley, Vassar, Kenyon, University of Maryland, Smith, and many more.

So here’s what went down this past week:

I arrived in New York City with my parents the Friday before the course began. We took it easy in NYC–we’ve done all of the tourist stuff before. Also, we were quite tired from driving all the way to NYC from Texas. We explored the area around Columbia a bit, and on Saturday, saw the Broadway play Fully Committed, which stars Modern Family‘s Jesse Tyler Ferguson. The play was absolutely incredible and I recommend it to all! Mommy and I were fangirling hardcore.

On Sunday, it was time to move in. My dad had already flown home for work, so Mommy and I took an Uber full of ourselves and my belongings, and lugged all my stuff up to my new dorm room at Columbia. It’s strange living in a dorm again, but luckily, Hogan Hall at Columbia is spacious and clean. I met my four roommates, Charlotte, Taline, Jacqueline, and Maddy. They are all super cool, smart people. We all love English and books, and nerdishly geek out over literature. On Sunday night, our whole class took part in an NYC-style “barbecue” that was actually grilled chicken, hot dogs, and burgers. It wasn’t true barbecue, but it was good.

The course officially began on Monday with our keynote book speaker, John Glusman, VP and Editor-in-Chief of W.W. Norton. Mr. Glusman had loads of knowledge to impart on us, but I couldn’t get over the fact that he had been a research assistant, during his time at Columbia, for the late literary theorist Edward Said. Said’s work, Orientalism, has been one of the most influential works in literary theory. Said’s daughter, Najla Said, wrote the memoir Looking for Palestine, that has become one of my favorite books (Dr. Reddy, if you’re reading this, thank you!). We then heard from Barbara Clark of the Barbara Clark Agency and Bruce Tracy of Workman Publishing. Workman publishes “gift books,” such as Wreck This Journal and various coloring books.

On Tuesday, we had an exciting lecture from Wendy Lamb, editor at her own children’s book imprint, Wendy Lamb Books, which is part of the massive Penguin Random House mecca. Wendy Lamb told us that she loves editing children’s books because these books are so formative. When we are children, our brains are like sponges, and the words we read soak in and stick with us forever. That’s why it is important to make sure that state education boards are not limiting what children can read. I can’t wait to read one of the imprint’s most recently published books, The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock. We also heard from William Schwalbe of Macmillan, who is also the author of The End of Your Life Book Club, which he wrote about his experience reading books to his mother in her last days. That night, we heard from Scott Moyers, VP of Penguin Press, who graduated from CPC back in the 90’s and has worked with many authors, one being Chinua Achebe.

Wednesday was the longest day. We started off with a panel of literary agents, and got to hear a little bit about what it’s like to discover authors and work with them to get their books sold to publishers. We then heard from Michael Reynolds, of the indie press Europa Editions, who made us all want to be part of the close-knit environment of an independent press. After that talk, we had a social hour to get to know Mr. Reynolds and his staff better. We then heard from Morgan Entrekin, an owner of Grove Atlantic Publishers, who also graduated from CPC. Mr. Entrekin is a successful, interesting man, who has worked with many authors (Jack Kerouac is one), and was kind enough to buy us all a drink after his talk.

The next day we heard my personal favorite lecture, which featured the publicist Kate Lloyd of Scribner. Kate spoke about the ins and outs of publicizing a book, and surprisingly, this sounded like a job I would enjoy. This is the beauty of CPC–we are confronted with editors, publishers, agents, and other professionals, which allows us to see so many aspects about publishing that we wouldn’t have considered before. Next, we listened to a lecture on marketing and digital media. Thursday night ended with the gifted author Tayari Jones, who spoke to us about the struggle of an author, and encouraged us, as future publishing professionals, to be open to taking risks on books, and not to make it all about the money. Tayari read from her book, Silver Sparrow, and her words were beyond beautiful. I bought a copy and had her sign it. I couldn’t resist.

Friday morning we learned about contracts, which is one of the most integral and tedious aspects of the publishing process. We later heard from Fiona McCrae, of Graywolf Press, an independent, non-profit press in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Finally the weekend arrived, and I packed up my bag and hopped on the subway to meet my uncle at Penn Station. It was time to head to the beach. From Penn Station we boarded a train, connected to another train in Babylon, got on a shuttle to Sayville, and took a ferry to Fire Island, where my uncles have a beach house. The journey to the island was worth it, and it was nice to enjoy a relaxing weekend with family, on such an enchanting island. I literally felt like I was on the set of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom the whole weekend. I ate well, slept in, worked on some homework, read, and spent some time walking around. Now, I feel nicely relaxed and ready to begin week two at Columbia.

I’m thankful to be here at Columbia, and to be in such an incredible program, with such awesome people. I’m influenced by my classmates and the faculty of the program each day. Also, our program director, Shaye Areheart, may be the kindest, most thoughtful human I have ever met.

Okay, it’s bedtime. Check back next week for another post on my Columbia Publishing Course journey. Thanks for sticking with me through this long post!

Until next time,

Bethany

#bethaNYCaye 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m headed to the Ivy Leagues…

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m headed to the Ivy Leagues*.

I’m excited to announce that I have accepted an offer to attend the Columbia Publishing Course at Columbia University in New York City! This means that I will be moving to New York City for 6 or 7 weeks this summer and I am beyond excited! Anyone who knows me knows that New York City is my dream city, (and that a hobby of mine is indulging in NYC real estate). Most people also know that I love books and magazines–anything that involves written words. I am so, so thankful for this opportunity that combines two things I love.

I assume most people have never heard of the Columbia Publishing Course–I hadn’t  either until I was researching the field. The course was founded in 1947 as the Radcliffe Publishing Course, but has since become called the Columbia Publishing Course. Basically, CPC is a program for recent college grads who want to be in book, magazine, or digital publishing. They call it the “shortest graduate school in the country.” We will attend programs and lectures from industry professionals. Past speakers have been affiliated with New York Times, New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, Scholastic, and Harper Collins, among others.

I was so surprised to read the e-mail that confirmed my acceptance, and it didn’t really feel real until I paid the hefty non-refundable deposit last week. That was a little painful. My hope is that completion of this program will open up incredible opportunities in the publishing field, and allow me to figure out if I prefer book or magazine publishing. It will also be incredible just to attend Columbia University. I hadn’t even realized until researching after I got into the program that Columbia is actually an Ivy League school. It feels a little weird to say I’ll be attending an Ivy League school, but I’m hopeful that having Columbia on my resume will make way for some connections and opportunities.

So soon, on June 12, I will be living in a dorm at Columbia University, in a neighborhood on the lower west edge of Harlem called Morningside Heights. I will be living in my dream city, attending a university I never even dreamed I would attend, and learning a lot about  publishing. Thank you Jesus, my parents, and everyone else who has been so supportive and encouraging. I can’t wait for this new life chapter to begin!

 

 

*Yes, I know the plural of “Ivy League” would still be “Ivy League” with no “s” on the end. I’m just making a pun…as in “off to the big leagues.” lol

Thank you, D Magazine.

Welp. It’s been 3 months, and today was my last day at D Magazine.

Though I’m sad to be leaving, I can say this internship has exceeded my expectations.

At D Magazine, I was the online editorial intern for D’s arts and entertainment blog, FrontRow. I worked under online arts editor, Alex Macon.

My duties as an intern included entering, writing, and updating event listings for our online events database. This task was my least exciting task, but allowed me to practice writing short descriptions of events, for things like poetry readings, concerts, plays, and other performances.

My favorite task was having the opportunity to write for FrontRow. Coming into the internship, I knew I would get to write some, but the amount of writing I was allowed to do was more than I ever thought I would get. I loved writing about things that I had never heard of or knew nothing about; it gave me the opportunity to be flexible with my writing, research, and find out about really cool things in Dallas. I ended up having the opportunity to write 25 stories that have been (or soon will be) published on FrontRow. You can check out all of my stories here.

Instead of boring you with a play-by-play of my experience, I guess I just want to mention some of my favorite, most interesting moments from working at D Magazine, in no particular order:

  • Coming up with the idea to cover Dallas’ own rocker, Dalton Rapattoni, as he competed and made it to the final three on American Idol. I wrote a preview story with a mini bio of Rapattoni, a couple of updates,and my opinion on Dalton’s chances of winning. I talked about his smoky eye once.
  • When Dalton Rapattoni  tweeted out the first article I wrote about him. That was pretty neat to see.Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.59.27 PM
  • When Real Housewives of Dallas’ Tiffany Hendra blocked me on Twitter for replying to her tweet that called all D Magazine journalists “spawns of satan.” She was perturbed because of this story that my manager wrote about her Australian/rocker husband’s music. Tiffany could really use one of us to be her social media editor.
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    Photographic proof of said blocking.

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    Her original tweet.

    tiffanyhendra

    Her over-the-top reply to my retweet.

  • Eating lunch with my fellow interns and sometimes exploring nearby Dallas. We walked to Serj, and Klyde Warren Park a few times for lunch. Serj is an adorable coffee shop and cafe, plus they sell books. Klyde Warren has food trucks, and you can be entertained by the strangely fat pigeons who fight each other over dropped food.

    serjlunch

    My delish food at Serj

  • Getting to start my internship off by covering something I’m interested in, the present and growing literary scene of Dallas.
  • Writing about artist Rachel Lee Hovnanian’s “Perfect Baby Showroom.” It was  creepy, yet cool.
  • Getting to learn a little bit about the production side of D Magazine, by meeting with the production director.
  • Working in a really awesome office everyday. The views were stunning!

    view from d

    An office with a view.

  • Trying my hand at being a receptionist. It’s hard work, but D’s receptionist is incredible, and has a pet bird.
  • Getting to be surrounded by truly creative and smart individuals. Shout out to all my fellow interns, especially my sweet friends Elle Carnley, Jatsive Hernandez, and Alex Stewart for making this experience great. Also, shout out to my awesome managers, Alex Macon and Sarah Bennett, who could not have been better (and are both inspiring, talented, and creative people).

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    The four muskateers: me, Elle, Alex, Jatsive.

 

Thanks, D Magazine, for the wonderful, challenging experience, and for the connections made. Goodbye for now.  🙂

 

 

Remembering Harper Lee’s Legacy of Equality

I’ve always been a fan of Harper Lee, especially since reading To Kill a Mockingbird in my 9th grade high school English class. Having lived in a small town in Tennessee when I was the age of the novel’s child protagonist, Scout Finch, I could relate to the novel’s setting in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. To Kill a Mockingbird is known for its depiction of small-town life, told from the child-like perspective of Scout. Though I believe  the novel is perhaps most striking in its message of equality.

Lee is one to push back against racial inequality. The main crux of the novel happens when Scout’s lawyer-father Atticus Finch, much to the chagrin of the town, decides to represent and defend Tom, a black man accused of rape. Atticus sees the way the town is ganging up against Tom just because he is black, and is disgusted. It turns out, Tom is in fact innocent, but he is still convicted, revealing the truly corrupt court system, and the rampant, lingering presence of inequality.

In another message of equality, Lee centers on equality as it relates to  prejudgement of personality and mental illness, by focusing on Boo Radley, a reclusive neighbor of the Finches. Boo rarely absconds from his home, except when he leaves small gifts in the knot of a tree for Scout and her brother, Jem. Scout and Jem are afraid of Boo because of his mysterious, reclusive nature, but by the end of the novel, Boo saves Scout and Jem from an attack by Bob Ewell (the father of the woman who Tom was convicted of attacking). This instance can be related to the stigma surrounded all mental or developmental illnesses. Harper Lee makes a powerful, simple statement in her novel about equality, judgement, and love when she depicts Boo as the kind, thoughtful man he is.

In perhaps the most powerful, direct display of equality, Lee focuses on a situation involving addiction. Atticus requires Scout to go and read to a neighbor, Mrs. Dubose, who is a morphine addict. Scout doesn’t fully understand what is going on, and is frightened by Mrs. Dubose’s drool and generally sick appearance. Though Scout doesn’t realize, Mrs. Dubose has vowed to become sober before dying, and has stopped taking morphine. When Scout goes to Mrs. Dubose’s home, Mrs. Dubose is in a state of withdrawal–she is fighting her addiction. After Mrs. Dubose dies, Scout asks her father why he made her go and read to Mrs. Dubose. Atticus tells Scout,

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”

If that’s not powerful a powerful message of equality, and not judging a person based on past actions or circumstances, I don’t know what is. In fact, this statement is tear-worthy, touching, and one of the most beautiful messages I have ever heard. People are human and make mistakes, and that is what Harper Lee wants her readers to understand. True courage is not founded on violence or even winning, but by small goals and perseverance.

The common thread in all of Lee’s messages concerning equality is humanity. Harper Lee uses her first novel to reveal humanity in people whose circumstances may invite them to quickly be prejudged and dehumanized. Lee uses a convict, a man struggling with his mental health, and a drug addict, to spread the truth that we are all equal and worthy of love. Lee’s message is truly empowering, and that is why I will miss her. I still can’t believe Harper Lee passed away, but at least we have her powerfully written words, and her lasting legacy of equality, preserved forever.

P.S.: Harper Lee also wrote some pretty awesome non-fiction pieces. This is one of my favorites: “Love–In Other Words.

Creative Non-fiction Attempt: Catfish Capital of the World

I haven’t posted in quite some time, but I’m making this one quick. I have a longer post in the works though, don’t worry:)

This semester, I’m taking a creative non-fiction class. It’s definitely something I never thought I would do, and its a bit out of my comfort zone, but it is a growing experience. The first piece of writing we had to turn in was called a flash non-fiction piece (around 500 words) and I found it surprisingly difficult to contain my thoughts in such a small amount of space. But I tried and I think it worked! I have only written a first draft, but I thought I’d post it here since I haven’t posted anything in a while. Happy reading!

Catfish Capital of the World by Bethany Caye Radcliff (First [Rough] Draft) :

“The Catfish is a plenty good enough fish for everyone.” –Mark Twain

Catfish Capital of the World. I never knew if it was referring to the amount of catfish present in the surrounding river, the amount of catfish fried, or both. Either way, I read the sign every time I crossed the bridge over the Tennessee River to my hometown.

Savannah, Tennessee

Population 7,026

Catfish Capital of the World

I wonder who those 26 people are, hanging on the end of the other 7,000. Do they assign each member of the town a number? I would like to think so, but my better judgment tells me that’s not how it works. Seven thousand twenty-six is a good number. It’s smooth and round, not too short or too tall, with a nice southern ring to it. Seven thousand twenty-six. Maybe the extra 26 are the catfish that managed not to get fried.

I lived in Savannah for the five slowest years of my life. It wasn’t a dragging slow, but a slow like water running down a small creek or stream—peaceful and sustaining. Looking back it seems like the five quickest years, and the years I miss more than anything. They were the plenty good years that that shaped my childhood memories and molded my identity. Sometimes, as I’m going through life now, a feeling momentarily stops me—a melancholic memory of home floats through me like a ghost.

Flathead catfish have what scientist term a “home range,” where they return back to their home location, no matter where they are deposited in a river. Channel catfish are the opposite, migrating in undefined patterns up and down streams. I think I may be a Flathead catfish stuck in the body of a Channel catfish—a new hybrid breed. I may have moved away, but an instinctual longing for my small-town home haunts me.

The Fish Hut and Hagy’s Catfish Hotel are the two main catfish restaurants that we went to. Huts and hotels are both places of dwelling—homes of sorts. They are places to linger in, leave, and return to. I rarely, if ever ordered catfish, though—especially the whole catfish. The bones disgusted me. One day after church, I was dared to try the fried tail left on the end of a dismantled and picked catfish skeleton. I tried it. It was crunchy like a chip, but saltier with a new richness and texture I’d never known before. It provided a taste distinct to home—an edible homing device. Catfish are fried whole to preserve the flavor—a catfish without bones and a tail is a little less distinctly catfish. I eat catfish now to remember, but the only catfish I’ve ever found in Texas has been boneless, and I haven’t come across a tail yet.

When I left Savannah in early 2005, the population had recently dropped from 7,125 to 7,099. Twenty-six people left around the time my family did. Twenty-six Channel catfish must have migrated to new places, and the one hybrid fish followed.

my sweet friend, nostalgia

nostalgia-definition

Nostalgia. Nostalgia. Oh, nostalgia, my sweet friend.

Every year, through the holidays and well into the new year, my friend nostalgia hits me like a brick to the face.

Apparently nostalgia  has hit a lot of people this holiday season, and the entire year of 2014. According to Kory Stamper, an Associate Editor at Merriam-Webster, the word nostalgia had more than a 100 percent increase in searches in 2014, and was the second most looked up word in 2014.

Well, it’s good to know that I’m not alone.

Nostalgia has been a feeling that I have always felt the particular presence of, even as a child. When I was young, I was even nostalgic for pasts that were not my own. In a recent, well written and inspiring  Paris Review blog post,  Sadie Stein says that growing up, she saw the past as a place where she “belonged.” I felt that way too, growing up. I would imagine myself living in the past. I longed to be an actress in historical dramas, not for fame, but for a chance to pretend that I was living in another era. My favorite elementary school project was when I got to dress up as a pilgrim in a “living wax museum.” Parents and students would stand in front of me, and I would give a speech about my life and hardships as a pilgrim. I was also obsessed with family history and exploring my home and the home of my grandparents(and any distant relative), looking for relics of my ancestry. My deepest longing at the age of 8 was for a hoop skirt, and I regularly could be seen wearing bonnets (I had one in a pilgrim style, and one that was more of a Laura Ingalls-esque pioneer style).

Growing up, my family moved around a lot. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. When I was almost a year old, we moved to Knoxville, Tennessee and stayed until I was 5. Halfway through kindergarten, we moved to a small town in Tennessee called Savannah. Then halfway through 5th grade, when I was 10, we moved to Lufkin, Texas, and when I was about to start 8th grade, we moved to the Dallas/Forth Worth area.

Over the years, I have attributed my strong nostalgic feelings partially to the fact that I have moved around a lot, and from a young age, nearly my entire life, there have always been places and people from my past that I have longed for and missed. These feelings cause a lot of nostalgia, but I wouldn’t wish it any other way. These nostalgic feelings provide an interesting way for me to recount memories and fondly remember my past.

One reason my nostalgia intensified this holiday season was because my family and I went back to Tennessee for Christmas and New Years. Over the course of my life, I have spent many, many days  in Memphis, Tennessee with my grandparents. Every time I go there, the nostalgia hits. I love exploring my grandmother’s attic and her upstairs room that was basically the playroom for all of the grandkids. I love finding relics of my childhood, and exploring all of the vintage books and family heirlooms. I love that kind of nostalgia. We also got to visit Savannah, Tennessee, where I lived from the ages of 5 to 10. I love going back there, and, of course, I always feel nostalgic, as some of my critical growing up years took place in this small town. We drove past our old house, my favorite house I’ve ever lived in. It was nostalgic, and I missed it, but it was good.

These feelings of longing for the past, in my opinion, are good. They remind me of how far I’ve come and how much growing I’ve done. They remind me of the fact that I will be graduating college in less than a year(ahhh!), and that it is time to go out in the real world. Nostalgia makes me thankful for the experiences of my past, allowing me to see how different parts of my past have shaped my life.

A recent article, published by Relevant Magazine, discussed nostalgia and how it can meaningfully connect us to the past, and help us to appreciate past experiences. The article also asserted that nostalgia can be dangerous, allowing us to get hung up on the past, clouding and distancing the present.

The assertion of nostalgia as dangerous initially took me aback. The nostalgia that I have experienced and felt in my life has always been something that I am thankful for–something that I feel is a privilege. Not all people feel, recognize, or know how to cope with nostalgia. I understand where obsessing over the past and feeling regretful may not be healthy.  But, for the most part, I believe that nostalgia in itself is not something that is dangerous, or that needs to be controlled and resisted.

I am grateful for all of the nostalgic feelings I have had throughout my life because they have shaped who I am today. As a teenager and adult, I have developed a love for vintage things. I love trinkets and clothes and random items from the past. I love sewing, crocheting, embroidery, and other more established hobbies. I think my nostalgia and longings for the past have made me who I am today, and will continue to shape me in the future. Nostalgia has taught me to thank God for all He has done in my life–for the people and places He has put on my path. Nostalgia is strange friend, and oh, she is powerful. She is one to ponder over, to embrace, to laugh with, and to cry for.

A sort of movie and book review of ‘The Fault in Our Stars’

****SPOILER WARNING: MANY SPOILS AHEAD.DO NOT READ UNLESS YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IN  THE FAULT IN OUR STARS****

So I am sitting at my desk and I’m tired. I’m wearing my new pajamas that I got from Marshall’s today (on clearance if I might add!). The reason I am sitting at my desk at approximately 12:47 am on this Sunday morning is because I have had the urge to write. Why, might you ask? The reason is pretty simple. I just got back from watching the new movie, The Fault in Our Stars, and I need to pour out my emotions onto this clean, white page.

I guess this is a movie review…or maybe a book review. But mostly a movie review, because the book is so good it doesn’t even need a review. Read the book now. It won’t disappoint.

Let’s just call this a sort of review.

Truthfully, I don’t even know what I want to say or where to start, but here goes.

I have read John Green’s wonderful book precisely 2 times. The first time I read TFIOS was last summer, almost exactly a year ago. The second time was yesterday (or the day before, technically, because it is 50 minutes after midnight).

For some reason, I felt like I was reading a whole new book when I reread it yesterday. All the beautiful, simple, yet intricate details astounded me as I read. I was left melted, yet whole, broken, but pieced back together. The inspiring, sad book left me crying tears of sorrow, but at the same time laughing. And honestly, I don’t think I really have a word for that phenomenon. But, I can say that moments like that are why I love books and why I am utterly jealous of the authors who can magically place the most perfect words on a page and make me fall in love in little bits then all at once, to use a reference to TFIOS.

The movie did the same thing, but differently. I know that doesn’t really make sense, but truthfully that’s what happened. I went into the movie with soaring expectations, like any other book lover seeing an adapted version of one of their favorite books. As the movie began, I found myself falling in love with Augustus and the acting of Ansel Elgort. He was the perfect Augustus (though I had had some doubts before seeing the film). Augustus’ character is positive through trials and constantly joking about serious matters that should be the opposite of funny. He makes fun of his blind best friend—I felt bad for laughing! Elgort pulled this quirky personality off with flying colors—he seemed like a natural. I feel that if I went up to Elgort and started talking to him, his personality would be the same in real life as it was in his portrayal of Augustus! Shailene Woodley played Hazel Grace Lancaster. Woodley did an amazing job as Hazel. Her personality was spot on Hazel, and the chemistry between her and Elgort was remarkable. Having read the book, I knew that there were moments that could have been pretty awkward on the screen, but Elgort and Woodley pulled it off. To me, the only awkward scenes were sometimes between Hazel and her mother, who was played by actress Laura Dern. Truly, it was not really awkward, so much as it felt there was some need for more dialogue—too many pauses and not enough words.

Another thing—when I read the book, I cried a lot. I mean a lot. Like tears on the pages a lot. Like “let me pause and get up and go find a box of tissues” a lot. As I watched the movie, I was on a pretty good streak of no tears, until the eulogy scene. Just like in the book, Gus asked Hazel and his best friend Isaac to meet him at “the literal heart of Jesus”, the center of an episcopal church, with prepared eulogies, so that Gus could attend his own funeral. The crazy thing is that this movie did an amazing job of portraying such a paradox: Gus’ positive attitude and the happiness of a life well lived, coupled with the sadness of the fact that he is dying. Isaac, played by Nat Wolff, became one of my favorite characters as I watched the movie. He actually stuck out to me more in the movie than he did in the book. Anyway, when Isaac got up to say his eulogy I started crying, but at the same time I found myself laughing at the constant joking between Gus and Isaac. Then, Hazel got up to say her eulogy, and of course, it was all tears for me, but I noticed I was smiling. The camera cut between close-ups of Hazel speaking and Gus listening to her. Through tears, and amid the deepest sadness, both Gus and Hazel smiled, and it was beautiful. I think that scene is why I loved this movie so much and why it met my expectations. I (kind of) decided that scene is what the movie and book are all about: the struggle of a life with such difficult, painful circumstances brought on by a disease with no cure, and how to see joy and happiness in that sadness. As you can see, it’s hard—maybe not fully possible. But, at least there are those moments where you can be sad and happy at the same time—where you can smile and cry and laugh and feel like you are going to die all at once, but at least you smiled.

My favorite line from the book goes like this: “My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.” It reminds me that maybe there is no way to fully understand the difficult trials of life. Sometimes it does seem like some people may have it worse than others, and that some people only get to live 18 years or even less. That is what happens, and it is sickening and sad, but it is life. We have to find those little bits of happiness through the tears,through the faults in our stars that can’t yet form constellations, because there is a bigger plan in our lives. That “capital S something” that Augustus believes in is God and He does have a plan, even in the awful circumstances, even when we may not realize that the “Something” is God. He is the one that allows us to smile during the faults in our stars. So, all in all, I will give this movie a rating of an entire constellation, a constellation composed of 5 STARS (or 10 depending on your rating scale).  🙂

Shout out to John Green for writing his amazingly “okay” book.

Quite a day in the Big Apple

So I’ve been in New York City with my family for a few days. This is actually my third trip here, but every time I love it more! There are always new things to do. I just love it. Having been to the city a few times before, I had pretty much covered all of the tourist spots. So on this trip, I really wanted to do some new things. I really wanted to hit Brooklyn! So today, that’s where I went. I actually started the day in Times Square with my mom and sister for breakfast. Around noon, my dad and I took the subway from uptown, 14 stops down to Brooklyn. Specifically, the Fort Greene neighborhood. We trekked up the steps to the street, where we stepped out onto a scene much different than Manhattan. This was quaint and cute…like a classic American neighborhood. It was adorable! I wanted to go to the locally famous Brooklyn Flea to check out the vintage scene. So, we walked a few blocks to Lafayette avenue, where the Brooklyn Flea was being held. We both had a blast browsing the nearly one hundred (or maybe more) booths. I scored a $10 vintage skirt and a $10 ring made out of an old typewriter key. My dad got an art print for $15. We got good deals, but many of the vintage items seemed overpriced to me. We loved it so much though, that we stayed for over 2 hours. Part of the Brooklyn Flea is the artisan/craft food, which was amazing! We had gourmet grilled cheeses and craft soda! Unfortunately, we got caught in a 30 minute rainstorm while browsing. We took shelter under the tent of a family selling furniture. They were so nice and we ended up talking to them for quite a while. They told us we might like to check out the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn, so we decided to head there next. Off to the subway we went. Three stops later, we were in DUMBO, which stands for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. The neighborhood is actually between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. We walked around for a little bit, then decided to walk the Brooklyn Bridge! It was so much fun and made for some beautiful views! After a little over 1 mile, we had crossed back over to Manhattan, right next to the new World Trade Center museum. From there, we decide to head back to the hotel, in time for our broadway shows. My mom and I went to Les Misérables, while my dad and sister went to Phantom of the Opera. Les Mis was amazing, though sad and depressing…but the music was beautiful. By the time we were done, it was nearly midnight. We decided to eat at the classic Carnegie Deli. I had my first ever bowl of Matzah soup and it was delightful!
Needless to say, I had a wonderful day in the Big Apple!

On a side note, my dad bought me a fitbit activity tracker yesterday. Today I tracked my activity. In total, I walked 20,704 steps, which comes out to about 9 1/2 miles! I will sleep well tonight!

Here are some pictures from today’s events:

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Until next time,
Bethany