Courage

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I spent a lot of my childhood wishing I were braver.

I spent an entire summer afraid — and vocally so — of sliding down the pole on my next door neighbor’s swing set. It wasn’t high off the ground; I could have easily jumped the distance. But something about that short breach between the wood of the tower and the metal pole terrified me. Would my legs cling tightly enough? Would my hands be shredded as they slid, or would they burn on the sun-heated metal? When I finally conquered the pole, it was not when my dad stood below and told me that if I started to fall, he’d catch me. It was not when my friends stood behind me and alternated between cheering and threatening to push me. It was when nobody was looking; it was my own triumph. And it was so easy that I immediately knew I had wasted an entire summer being afraid.

Once, my mom had to pick me up from Girl Scout camp shortly after we arrived because I realized “open air cabins” meant fragile wooden structures with no doors or windows. Anything or anyone could saunter in and snatch me! My friends waited with me in a troop leader’s car in the parking lot and hugged me when my mom pulled up. My mom never mentioned the incident again, nor did my friends.

When I was old enough, my mom would try to send me to run short errands alone. Here’s some money, buy a carton of milk at the grocery store, she would say, waiting in the parking lot. (Did my whole life revolve around waiting in a parking lot? Did everyone’s? Oh the heavy stillness of the black top, dampening in the sun!) I would tremble and often cry, refusing to go until she insisted. I imagined that everyone was staring at me. My sister Amy came with, sometimes, which helped. She’s two and a half years younger than me, and would have been noticeably smaller, but she would easily step forth and hand over the neat ones to the cashier, the fistful of coins. She would collect the change as I kept my head down so no one could see the tear streaks.

At my grandfather’s funeral, when I was seventeen, the minister offered us a quality of my grandfather’s. Ask God to grant it to you, he said, as if God could absorb character from one fading being and bestow it upon another. Maybe he could. Maybe he can. I wasn’t doubtful at the time. In my head, I cried out for courage.

I saw Wonder Woman last week, and unexpectedly, I began to cry halfway through. It meant so much to see a female superhero onscreen, a strong woman who was fighting for what was right without seeking permission or stopping to consult. Without even stopping to wonder if she could do it, or whether she would come out unscathed. If it was the right thing, she would do it.

Watching her brought back my old wish for courage.

I’m still afraid of the same things as I was. Do we change? Sometimes I think so, and sometimes I think not at all. Adulthood has not, contrary to expectations, consisted of a shedding of fears. Instead, they have clung, they have adapted to their new environment like so many wise creatures.

This is my list: being caught in the dark. Taking physical risks. Awkwardness, including: parties where I don’t know very many people, conferences where I have to network with strangers, unpleasant confrontations, any kind of confrontation.

But I think, now, that I could be brave. I have been the girl who finally crossed the breach when no one was looking, and even now, they’re not looking. So now I will cross some more, as many as I can. And perhaps someday, someone will ask for my courage. Perhaps someday, I’ll have some to spare.

Summer Reading 2017

I haven’t quite figured out how to reckon with that last post. I want to reckon with it, and I will reckon with it, but I don’t know how yet. I will keep you posted.

In the meantime, let’s talk about something we can always talk about, in dark days or light.

Let’s talk about books.

Since the semester ended, I have dived headfirst into the glories of the deserted campus library fiction section. Have you ever crept through a campus library after school is out and the undergrads have gone home? Every. book. is. there. It is its own kind of well-stocked miracle.

I also learned, and I tell you this in case you didn’t know either, that there is something at libraries called the “overflow section.” This is where books are temporarily shelved after they are returned, but before they are nestled back into their official places on the main shelves. Things are often slightly out-of-order in the overflow section, but you can find diamonds if you look carefully. Or rather, if you have seen in the catalogue that Lincoln in the Bardo is checked in, and then do not see it in its place, you might find it in the overflow section. You might do a  small, but triumphant dance as you clutch it in your arms, holding it up as if it were Simba and the worn carpet were a cliff.

I hope this information is useful to you someday.

Here’s my summer reading:

  1. Read: George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo (2017)

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Run, don’t walk, to your library’s overflow section to find this book. It’s gotten a lot of attention lately, so to be honest, you may have to buy it. Buy it. Borrow it. Don’t steal it, but maybe sit in Barnes & Noble for a few hours until you finish it, and then buy a magazine or a coffee to make it up to Barnes & Noble. It is like nothing I have ever read, and it is so tender and poetic and yet imaginative and at times hilarious that I couldn’t put it down until I had finished. It is about the death of Abraham Lincoln’s son, Willie, and Willie’s subsequent venture into the “bardo,” or the middle place between earth and the beyond. It is fiction, but it make me want to be a better historian. You’ll see why. When you’re done reading, I recommend doing as I am and listening to the audiobook.

  2. Reading: Jeannette Walls, The Glass Castle (2005)

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Add this to the list of books I’m late to. Do you remember the buzz about this book back in 2005? Me too. It took the release of its movie trailer, however, to get me to read it. Don’t be like me. The Glass Castle is a memoir. It can be difficult to read, although it’s clearly, honestly written. Maybe it’s tough to read because it’s so honestly written. It is about Ms. Walls’ childhood, her family’s nomadic life and their dreams. I haven’t finished yet, but I sense a big cry is coming.

  3. To read: Elena Ferrante, My Brilliant Friend (2011)

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  4. To read: Aziz Ansari, Modern Romance (2015)

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  5. To read: Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: the Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (2013)

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  6. To read: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (2016)

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  7. To read: Manuel Gonzales, The Regional Office is Under Attack (2016)

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  8. To read: Paul Beatty, The Sellout (2015)

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What are you reading this summer?

Here are some more ideas, if you need them:

My Book Recommendations Page

Summer Reading 2016

Summer Reading 2015

Spring 2016 Reading

 If You Liked This, Read That

Some of My Favorites from my 100 Book Challenge

Failing

To be honest, I don’t want to write this post. I really, really don’t want to publish this post. But the thing is, I look back at my posts about applying to Master’s programs, and I realize that they’re drastically different from my experience applying to PhD programs. Both in applying and in hearing back. I think it’s only fair to let you know that the PhD story, unlike the MA story, hasn’t been all sunshine and roses.

(That last bit sounded like a Lifetime movie tagline, didn’t it? I’d call it Geraniums and Graduate School; I hear The Graduate is taken.)

I applied to six MA programs, mostly top-25 programs for Early American history. I got into every single program. I don’t say this to boast (although I am proud! Honesty, remember?). I say this to explain that when it came to applying to PhD programs, I thought the results would be similar. I was humble when talking to people, of course. I was a little worried, deep down, of course. But if I’m honest – and I’m trying to be – I assumed I would get into lots of schools. I assumed that right now, I’d be choosing between great programs.

But instead, I’ve been turned down by six schools, many of which I assumed I would get into. I am waitlisted at one school. I’m still waiting to hear from one.

This is not a disaster, I tell myself daily.

PhD programs are small, they’re sought after by people of all ages, and thus, they’re intensely competitive. Applications are under extreme scrutiny, and beyond that, there are factors outside my control: who is reading applications, which professors cannot take any more advisees, how many other people applied to do similar work, which interest gaps the program is seeking to fill with new graduate students.

But if I’m honest, this feels like a disaster. I feel like a failure, in a way I’m not accustomed to. I’ve failed before, of course. There was that time when I tried out for the high school musical and got cut from the chorus. Almost no one got cut from the chorus. I was that terrible. There was that time when I tried to go off script at a high school speech meet before I was ready. I choked halfway through and had to walk – in front of the judges and my competitors – back to my desk to retrieve my script. There was an Intro to Statistics class in undergrad, which I didn’t fail, but did more poorly in than I ever had in a class, despite having a roommate who was a statistics major and repeatedly tried to help me. There were the eight months after I graduated from college, which I spent applying to and being rejected for job after job.

I’ve failed. But not in a way, until now, that threatened to derail my future plans on a massive scale.

With an immense sinking feeling, this failure creeps in and whispers: maybe you’re not good enough. Maybe you’re not smart enough, or a good enough writer. Maybe you’re not meant to do this.

 Things about myself I’ve always taken for granted – yes, I can do that, yes, I’m good at that – I’m suddenly questioning. Wondering if I’ve succeeded in the past because I grew up, went to high school, went to college in small communities. Or if I was never as good as I thought I was.

Days are filled with grim waiting for news. I find myself wanting to be alone more than usual. Calling my family less. Of course I know there are more deeply tragic things going on in the world than this. But this is my life, my future, the vision I’ve constructed in those blissful moments before I fall asleep, and it feels like it’s crumbling.

And so, tonight I have no advice to offer you. I have no excuses or apologies for the defeatist tone of this post. That is, I hope someday I will see it as a defeatist tone. I hope it will be like those old, dramatic Facebook statuses that seem so paltry now, but that you remember feeling deeply at the time.

For now, I just wanted to be honest with you, you who have witnessed the rises and falls in this grand old life of mine.

For now, I’m making the best of the semester I’ve got.

I have You’ve Got Mail on DVD; want to join me?

Friday

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Hello! How are you this bright Friday? Here in Tidewater Virginia we’ve been having 70 degree days for almost the entire month of February. At first I resisted (because Spring. Ugh.), but now I’m resigned, and dare I say, delighted about the weather. Playing ultimate frisbee with your entire cohort, while a breeze blows and your feet are bare and your bottles of Corona glisten and warm in the sun, will do that to a person.

Here are some things I’ve been thinking about lately:

A podcast episode. In my Material Culture class on Monday, we briefly discussed the repatriation of objects and human remains, and the workings of NAGPRA. After class, I commented to a friend that I needed to learn more about these things. She suggested I listen to an episode of the podcast Undone, called “The Ancient One.” It’s a fairly brief episode, but a fascinating introduction to repatriation via the debates surrounding Kennewick Man. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.

P.S. As of two weeks ago, Kennewick Man’s body has finally been put to rest.

Have you been watching the live feed of April the giraffe? She’s heavily pregnant and could give birth any day. I spent a good deal of last weekend with April on in the background while I studied. April is charming — and my god, what a champ to be pregnant for so long — but she can’t hold a candle to my dearly departed Bao Bao.

Graciousness and the Oscars. You know I was watching on Sunday night when La La Land was mistakenly announced as the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Since then, much has been made of the grace with which the cast and crew of La La Land gave up their stage space to the real winner, Moonlight. But is it grace when it’s really just the right thing to do and when the fact is, Moonlight won fair and square?

P.S. I’m hurrying to see the rest of the Best Picture nominees while they’re still in theaters. Hidden Figures this weekend, hopefully.

I went to the library yesterday with the express purpose of finding fiction books to read for my own enjoyment. I had previously decided that I don’t have time for such luxuries, but quickly discovered that I don’t feel like myself unless I read a few pages of a novel every night. I’m currently reading Sweetbitter, and like it a lot. Next up is The Regional Office is Under Attack! How can you go wrong with such a title?

It has to be said. My eyebrows currently look fantastically big and dark. My gentleman caller has taken to commenting on them because he knows how much I love bushy eyebrows: “hey, your eyebrows look huge today!” I ask for no higher praise than that. Credit to Glossier.

Listening to: Bob Dylan’s “Shelter From the Storm,” Jake Bugg’s “Lightning Bolt,” and yes, “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana. Over and over and over.

Following the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team has been one of the highlights of my winter. I was determined this year to follow the team from the beginning of the season, instead of waiting until March Madness to start watching games. This team has seen low lows and high highs, and play with an encouraging amount of heart. Not to mention, shocking my parents with my newfound sports knowledge has been a lot of fun.

My Spring Break is officially commenced. Which means I’ll be … staying in town and studying as usual next week. I’m digging my heels into my major research paper for the semester, and it’s a joy, as always, to work with primary sources. My advisor once described herself as “an archives rat.” I think I’m one, too.

What are you up to this weekend?

A Question

I have a question for you today:

If you could have any original piece of art hanging in your home, what would you choose?

I would pick Andrew Wyeth’s Wind From the Sea. It’s always reminded me of summers in Washburn, Wisconsin, where wind would blow up from Lake Superior and freshen everything.

P.S. An adventure to the National Gallery of Art, including the most (forgive me) badass portrait I’ve ever seen.

When I Grow Up

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You’ve Got Mail is my comfort movie. It’s the movie I watch when everything in my life seems to be closing in and the only remedy, really, is to dive under my covers and watch something that assures me, for approximately two hours, that everything will be all right.

And so, thinking about this today, and about a few things that are going badly right now, I’ve decided: I want to be Kathleen Kelly when I grow up.

She’s not perfect, of course. She’s the Elizabeth Bennet of 1990s New York City, one might say. She’s prejudiced, smug, and even cruel at times. But she’s also well read, wears neutral sweater sets and turtlenecks better than we ever thought possible, strides through the city with self-assurance, lives in the loveliest apartment, and has a close — and quirky — circle of friends. In the words of Patricia, “she has flawless taste. She’s famous for it.”

Most importantly, though, Kathleen Kelly flounders:

Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void. 

This, this is what I truly want to be when I grow up: able to flounder, if not with grace, then with honesty and unshakeable hope.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th Birthday

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One of my favorite pictures of Laura (right), because how fierce is that side eye?

It’s Laura Ingalls Wilder’s 150th birthday today. She and I don’t see eye to eye on everything (notably: she didn’t believe that the government should help out struggling folks during the Great Depression, as HER family didn’t have “handouts” available when she was growing up. Argh.), but the fact is, she defined my childhood. Her books were my childhood. Well, her books and the elaborate prairie-themed soap operas I put my American Girl dolls through.

I think my favorite of the series is By the Shores of Silver Lake, mostly because of the glorious train ride and the Surveyors’ House where the Ingalls family lived during their first winter in the yet-to-be-built De Smet. Her description of the surveyors’ well-stocked pantry is perfectly thrilling. If you’ve read it I know you’ll agree: perfectly thrilling.

Related:

My favorite LHOTP supplemental reads: Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Bibliography, A Little House Sampler, and the newly-released Selected Letters of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Another blog post I wrote about the Ingalls’ fabled run-in with “The Bloody Benders.”

“Finding America, Both Red and Blue, in the ‘Little House’ Books,” The New York Times

“Little Squatter on the Osage Diminished Reserve: Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Kansas Indians,” The Great Plains Quarterly

“Laura Ingalls Wilder,” Library of Congress Blog

“Laura Ingalls Wilder,” Stuff You Missed in History Class (podcast)

What’s your favorite LHOTP book? Any supplemental reading/listening to add?

What’s Going On

I’m always a little ashamed of these posts, because of course they mean that I haven’t blogged in a long time. They also mean, however, that I’m back with a vengeance. So, hello! I’m back. Cue the traditional theme music:

My second (and final) semester of my history Master’s program has just begun. And guess what? I love it so much that I applied to PhD programs last month. I should be hearing back from schools in the middle of February. I’m trying not to worry about that, though, and am instead focusing on where I’m at now. And where I’m at is getting back into the routine of reading, writing, and talking history after a month of break. I’m also in the brainstorming stage for this semester’s big paper. Since I applied to MA programs, my scholarly focus has shifted from the vague “colonial America and women and maybe Jamestown somehow?” to mid-18th century, the trans-Appalachian frontier, and perceptions of nature. I hardly feel like the same person who first walked — a little breathlessly, and probably with that eager puppy look — into the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress and announced to a reference librarian that I wanted to research James Fort. I still carry a pencil case around, though. So there’s that.

On Saturday I attended the Virginia Consortium of Early Americanists‘ annual meeting in Richmond. I networked! I asked questions! I learned things! I broke out my boss lady purse! And only had to briefly retreat to the bathroom for a breather.

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I walked into a meeting today and the two people I was meeting with asked me how I was. “Wonderful!” I replied, exhilarated from my brisk, sunny walk across campus, “It’s so beautiful outside!” They looked at me with such confusion that I actually wondered if I had just left the same outdoors as they. “It’s cold!” they told me. It’s 50 degrees, people. In January. You can take the girl out of Minnesota

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The most snow I’ve ever seen in Virginia, from the beginning of January. Naturally, we took to the playground.

I saw a white squirrel on campus today. Is that good luck? Or bad luck, since I have a lifetime loathing of squirrels? I’m particularly sensitive about this right now because Pottermore recently informed me that my patronus is a grey squirrel. Ugh. (Also: Ravenclaw, Thunderbird, cypress/phoenix core/14.5 inches/unyielding. Cool.)

Academy Awards season is officially upon us, and naturally, I’ve been working on my picks for about a month now. Of the major nominees, I’ve seen La La Land and Manchester by the Sea. I liked La La Land (it’s not difficult to get me on board for a musical), but Manchester by the Sea blew me away. And not just because I used up my emotional stores for the year sobbing in the theater. And in the car. And at home. And while my gentleman caller made me tea and then backed away slowly. (Don’t let this deter you, please; it’s a magnificent film. Just know it will hurt to watch.) I’m hoping to also see JackieFences, and Moonlight before the Oscars air.

I had great ambitions to read a lot of fiction over the holidays, but despite lovely book gifts and a stack I bought myself at Garrison Keillor’s shop, I hardly read at all. I think I needed a break. Have you read any of these?

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I went to the Women’s March on Washington. And it was the most powerful thing I’ve ever done. Even when the crowd was overwhelming and there was someone pressing up against my back and my front and both sides, everyone was smiling and supportive and excited to be there. We marched to the White House, chanting, and lay our signs down. But we didn’t stop there. We still haven’t stopped. I hope you haven’t, either.

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I took myself on a self date this evening. It was accidental, to be honest; I was hungry, the cupboards are bare at home, and I couldn’t coerce any friends into grabbing a quick dinner with me. And so, I grabbed a quick dinner by myself. I walked around Merchants Square (which abuts Colonial Williamsburg), resisted spending my life savings in Barnes and Noble and instead purchased a half price Georgia O’Keeffe calendar, went into Williams Sonoma just because, bought a sandwich and THE BEST lemon bar from The Cheese Shop, and found a bench outside for my picnic. But then it grew too cold for a picnic, and my root beer bottle was open, so I did a shady-looking public manuever wherein I poured root beer into my water bottle so I could cart it around. Swell, indeed. On my walk back to the library (self dates have time limits when you’re in grad school), I saw the sunset, which was pink and orange streaks, and I was happy.

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What’s going on with you?

November 2016 in Retrospect

Oh, friends, what can I say about 2016?

Last year, I wrote that the world changed in 2015. Now, I think that if the world changed in 2015, it imploded in 2016. Nothing is the same now. Nothing will be the same again. Coming out of the “shock” phase of the post-election, I see that this is a good thing. The world was always imploding. It didn’t happen suddenly on November 8th. It happened slowly, for years, among people we thought about often, disparagingly, and people we never thought about. It happened through our actions as much as through theirs.

And now, we’re thinking about them. We’re thinking about why they voted the way they did. We’re thinking about how they had to feel, what they had to suffer, the fear they had to have, in order to vote that way. We’re thinking about what kind of country we’ve built that stockpiles educated ignorance until we can’t see the suffering on the other side. We’re thinking about how we can reach out, to those who will be hurt by the aftershocks of this election and to those who voted for Trump. How can we listen? How can we help? How can we protect?

I still plan to write up my usual month-by-month nostalgic replay of the dying year, but first, I want to write about November 2016. Because election day fell just before my MA program’s finals stress began and so I never found the time to blog about it. I am not so delusional as to think that I will say something here that has not yet been said. I have been reading powerful accounts of the election across the Internet for months. But I need, well, not closure, but to set down my own account here. A retelling of what’s happened from my perspective, along with my promise for the future. I need to do this because I never want to forget November 2016. It is the part of my year that I want to reverberate the longest, not only into 2017, but throughout the rest of my life.

Along these lines, I feel lucky to be in graduate school right now. Historians have never been more vital. I dislike that old adage, “history repeats itself,” because it doesn’t. The same thing never happens twice in the same way; we are changing every instant. You, already, are a different person from the one who read the previous sentence. A better adage, perhaps, is “history never ends.” The past is powerful; it is intimately connected to our present. We can trace threads of politics, economics, culture, backwards and forwards in time. We can unearth rich examples to live by, we can preach the danger of old mistakes, we can find humor and wisdom and oh so much humanity in history. This work–writing stories, drawing connections, thinking of the present as part of the past–this is the work I want to do for the rest of my life. I am more sure of this than ever.

But back to November: in the wee hours of election night, after my friends had gone home and the remnants of what was supposed to be a triumphant party had been cleaned up, I wrote something down. It’s not much, but it’s my account:

It’s difficult to explain something I hardly understand myself. I don’t know how to react, how to comfort, how to write. What I do know is that at 3 a.m., Anna, sitting in the middle of my couch with Jon on one side and me on the other, grabbed our hands. It had just been announced that Hillary Clinton called Donald Trump to concede the election. CBS was flashing the news that Donald Trump was the projected 45th president of the United States of America. “I don’t feel safe anymore,” Anna told us, squeezing our hands and pulling her knees to her chest, “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” All I could tell her is that we’re still here. We’ll still be here tomorrow, and the next day. There are good people here, and out there, and we will not concede the truths that we know. But no words felt brave enough, compassionate enough. Even to myself, I cannot find the words. I cannot justify this with what I know of my country. I cannot justify this with what I’ve always believed about human goodness, about our essential desire to do right by others. When Jon and Anna left, the minute I turned the deadbolt behind them, I burst into tears. There, among wine bottles with labels like “The Velvet Devil,” which I had picked out at Trader Joe’s because I thought themed wine would be a delightfully ironic way to watch Trump lose. There, among scattered chairs where my friends had sat for hours with me, growing quieter and quieter. There, in a safe place that suddenly felt as if it were crouching against a roiling world. 

Future humans, do not make light of our shock, our terror, as we are sometimes wont to do with the past. Do not look back on this election and say, “That’s hilarious! Those stupid Americans actually elected Donald Trump in 2016!” Instead, try to understand how this happened. Understand this election as the end of something hopeful, the beginning of something much darker. Do not make light of what happened here tonight. Do not make light of a candidate whose platform was built on hatred, suspicion, racism, misogyny, fear. Do not make light of the millions who elected him. They have pain, too. They have fear, or they would not have voted for him. Do not let this continue. Do not let this happen again.

And then the next day:

Today, I alternate between tears and rage. It’s as if someone has died, and I forget for a few minutes at a time, drifting into the normalcy of schoolwork or sleep or even laughing with friends. And then I remember, suddenly, the weight against my heart, the terrible wrong that has been done. Everyone’s eyes look red. On campus, I see a history PhD candidate I don’t know well, and there are tears on her cheeks. We can barely greet each other, and my own face is wet as I watch her walk away. A student stands outside of the Sadler Center holding a sign that says “free hugs,” with a Hillary “H.” I see another student practically run into his arms. I consider it myself. I’m grateful, today, to be on this campus. It’s not perfect here. Not everyone voted the same way. Already some harassment has begun, bullies made bolder by a bully being affirmed. But the people who surround me – my cohort, my professors – are mostly like-minded. We have Historian’s Craft at 9:30 a.m. this morning, and can hardly talk about the subaltern. We cannot even talk about the obvious connections between Spivak’s essay and what has just happened. We can only stare hollowly at each other, and the professor dismisses us early. Her face looks even worse than ours. Everything is dark, still.

And the next:

A professor has called for a gathering of American Studies and History students, mostly graduate students. We huddle together in the library of the creaky old American Studies building. We hold plates of pizza and cookies on our laps. We don’t look at each other at first; we don’t know how to begin. And then, we talk about what has happened. We talk about the tragedy of it. But mostly, we talk about the shame of it. The shame of not suspecting this could happen, of being so entrenched in our own rightness that we didn’t reach out to those whose pain and fear was so great that they were tempted by such a candidate. They elected him because they thought he could protect them. Because he gave them a voice they didn’t have, a voice that we, each in our small way, contributed to silencing. I’m ashamed of that. I have been blinded by arrogance toward those I perceived to be ignorant. That is not the person I want to be. That is not the historian I want to be. In my work I strive to listen to those who have not yet been listened to, but how can I do this if I cannot practice it in my own life? Nearly everyone is crying as the weight of this settles. The professor begins to talk. He says something I’ll never forget: that the most we can do is to love honestly. To do so comes with a great deal of risk, but it’s a vital risk, a worthwhile one. He says that we’ll be okay, because we’ll protect each other. He reminds us of when Dumbledore said, “I am not worried. I am with you.” At that, some sob audibly. We touch each other’s shoulders, offer hugs, pass Kleenex. The professor hands a handkerchief to a particularly distraught student. On Monday, we begin the work of deciding what to do. Tonight, we keep each other close and let ourselves mourn.

These are the most important parts of 2016 for me. And I want, more than anything, for the most important parts of 2017 to be related. But I don’t want to talk about this anymore. I want to do the work. I want to be part of the change that this country desperately needs. I can give what I have. I can take up my torch, as I trust you will take up yours. We can change this country.

2017 is for us, not for him.

I want to leave you with a song. It’s been my anthem for the past few months, and is a hopeful, resolved, frenzied reminder that we WILL make it through this year. And the next, and the next.

I’ll see you in 2017.

10 Things I Learned at 25

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At twelve, ready for those beautiful teenage years to begin. Sorry Amy, you didn’t deserve this.

Another year in my grand old life has passed, and, a month out from my birthday, I’m burrowed into 26.

It’s strange, this 26. It’s the oldest I’ve ever been of course, but it feels like the oldest I’ve ever been. It feels notably different, somehow. And for the first time, I’ve started to think: maybe I should start acting like an adult now? Not that I’m horrifically immature, but should I stop being such a goofball? Should I set up all my bills to automatically withdraw from my checking account? Should I try not to trip as much? Should I smile benevolently at teenagers? I don’t plan on overhauling who I am, but some of the things I’ve been throughout my life don’t seem to fit anymore. I’m thinking about those things, and also thinking about who I want to be as an adult. Elbow patches, books with notes in the margins, moderately tamed hair, devastating puns, impressive movie trivia, and a Subaru, I’ve always thought. And a career I love. And people I love around me. Some of these things I already have. As for the rest, we’ll see what 26 brings.

In the meantime, here are some things I learned in a year of being 25:

  1. I can do hard things. The thing is, I’ve never thought of myself as particularly brave. When I was offered a job across the country on a Thursday and had to start on Monday, I did what I needed to do to pack, find a place to stay, and transition my life. I’ve always felt that taking that job was the best choice, and I simply made it. But applying to graduate school, and actually getting myself here, I’m proud of that. I did that. I didn’t have to; I had a job already. But I desperately wanted to, and I managed it. It was hard, but I managed it. I think I need to learn to give myself some credit.
  2. I get by with a little help from my friends. Look, I’m an introvert. It’s often my reflex, especially after a long or trying day, to curl up on my bed and read or Netflix by myself. When I’m stressed out, I don’t want to talk about it; I want to internalize until I drive myself crazy. But you know what I’ve learned this year? I need other people. I need to talk to other people about things, and I need to laugh with other people, and I need other people to survive things like Winter Storm Jonas.
  3. People are exactly who they say they are, and who they show you they are. Exactly. They can change, of course, but don’t wait around; they likely will not be changing anytime soon, despite your kindly offers to help.
  4. There’s not much more satisfying than spending a snowy afternoon making homemade bread. Even if it doesn’t rise properly. See “hard things” above.
  5. Enjoy your life. Enjoy every minute. Cherish even the hard minutes, the embarrassing ones, even the worrisome, painful, tragic minutes. People (and Pinterest) will tell you this a lot, but that doesn’t make it less true: this is it. This is your life. Welcome, you’re here. What are you making today? Who do you love? Which songs make up your Spotify playlist? Cling to the miracle that is being here, all of us, together, living. And when in doubt, remember that baby pandas exist.
  6. Life is change.
  7. Dancing is only awkward if you believe it’s awkward. If you’re unselfconscious and having fun, no one will look twice at you. Even if you’re doing your signature, bewildering, karate-chop-the-air move. (I can teach you that sometime.)
  8. When the entire world is telling you to watch a certain show, watch it. Don’t try to be hipster, don’t fight the mainstream. Watch the damn show. It’ll be as good as they promised.
  9. Ask them out. It’ll be awkward, it’ll be nerve-wracking, it might not go the way you hoped. But you’ll be glad you did. And if possible: DO NOT corner them in an elevator to do this. (I can tell you that story sometime.)
  10. That thing you lie in bed and think about before you go to sleep? That thing you preface with “I wish I could” or, “wouldn’t it be great if?” That thing you make time for even when you don’t have time? That’s the thing you should be doing with your life. Go do it.

And now, a brief Game of Thrones spinoff series:

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