Monday, October 22, 2012

Five Things That Should Be on Everyone's Bucket List

Five Things That Should Be on Everyone’s Bucket List
By: Jenny Riley

1)      Backpacking
As long as you are sleeping on and eating with the things in your backpack and not relying on any mode of transportation besides your own two feet, you are backpacking correctly. Backpacking at least once in your life gives you the kind of self-dependency which is essential in recognizing the novelties we take for granted today. Recognizing and for once not taking for granted the luxuries by which we live is important for understanding modern life as a whole.
2)      Sky diving (Obviously)
I won’t lie to you and say that I’m a wuss so that when I tell you that I’ve been skydiving before you can feel more at ease. I’m quite the opposite of that, in fact, and find that “adrenaline junkie” is a bit more appropriate for a title for me. But I must wholly condone that having taken the leap of faith this past July, I feel that I am a different person because of it. The people I met at the skydiving ranch really changed my perception on life. The way that my instructor talked about his job—about being able to see every day people that are at emotional highs in their lives, and how beautiful they all are in those states of mind—it really made me think about my current state in my own life, and made me wonder if this would be a state of mind I would always want to revert back to. It’s important to one day have the courage to sky dive, and possibly to reflect on what in your life has given you the courage to not be a wuss for once and just to enjoy, as my sky diving instructor referred to it, the exciting emotional high that sky diving seems to entail.
3)      Travelling across the U.S.
To all United States citizens, what is stopping you from seeing every corner of your beautifully diverse homeland? Absolutely nothing, as a matter of fact. As U.S. citizens we are allowed travel to anyone of the 48 continental states (and also to Alaska and Hawaii, if you so happen to have the money for flight fare). No matter by what mode of transportation you see the country (motorcycle, biking, car, walking, even) you will be open to experience a range of sites which citizens of no other countries are entitled to. So why not take this privilege to your advantage in your lifetime, and see the Alaskan Highlands, Old Faithful, Mount Rushmore, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, the Redwood Forest, or the White House?
4)      Learning to speak another language fluently
The best part about learning another country’s language is being able to make friends with people from those countries and, in turn, to be privy to their lifestyles. The best part about learning German could be actually getting to sit down at a German pub during Oktoberfest and having a merry time with people who don’t know a thing about your home country. Because let’s face it: going into another country and not knowing a word of their native tongue is not going to score you brownie points with potential local friends. Also, if becoming fluent in another language for the purpose of going to another country does not entice you, it might help to add that learning another language as fluently as I have has really opened up my vocabulary in English. There are all kinds of benefits in learning foreign languages.
5)      Going couch surfing
The beautiful thing about CouchSurfing is that you can couch surf with relatively anyone in any country who has agreed to the activity and, also like the learning to speak another language fluently, couch surfing opens you up to learning the customs of people of other countries, while also learning things about the countries you visit from people who live in those countries and know, for instance, the best places to get a coffee, or a maybe to take pictures and write about your experiences abroad. Also, these are the kinds of experiences that could change your perception on the way that you live and, ultimately, who you are as a person.

A Revolution in Today's Learning

A Revolution in Today’s Learning:
John and Hank Green’s Crash Course!

By: Jenny Riley

There is currently a revolution taking place in modern day learning. Online resources that have developed ever since the advent of computers now allow anyone with Internet access the ability to be his or her own teacher. Take for example the online channel Crash Course! created by siblings John and Hank Green of the famous YouTube community “Vlogbrothers”.

Crash Course! is an interactive non-profit YouTube channel which produces videos of brief and concise lectures on anything concerning biology and world history. (These topics of discussion are led onscreen by Hank and John respectively). Topics for discussion in the videos are selected often by the popularity shown from comments on previous videos, usually entailing the number of “thumbs up” for particular ideas submitted by viewers, which appear in the comment section under the video. Crash Course! has a team of specialized video editors who collaborate with Hank and John on graphics, often allowing for onscreen annotations by which the viewer is able to click on in order to be directed to previous parts or other sources if the information discussed is confusing for the viewer.

The information is never dull in Crash Course! videos—often Hank and John make jokes or relate new information on the topic to current events, or even comical events in their lives, for better viewer understanding of the topics. Normally the introduction leading into the theme tune of Crash Course! videos will end with one of the brothers making a joke about the topic, usually incorporating an evident stereotype of the topic being discussed in each video. These jokes serve as brilliant openers to the educational videos and provide viewers with a great starting point for understanding the rest of the informational topics. And if that is not enough to have viewers running back to their computers every week for the purpose of learning more about important worldly and scientific facts, then the amazing and colorful graphics and editing techniques which serve the teaching of the lectures onscreen should do the job.

A new video is released on YouTube’s channel Crash Course! biweekly, so its archive of information is always growing, along with the knowledge of these videos’ viewers. Utilizing modern technology to teach oneself online has never been so much fun.

Check out Crash Course!’s related channel, SciShow, in which Vlogbrother Hank Green talks about all things SCIENCE:

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"The Purple Midnight"

Last night I dreamed that the world was purple, and that I enjoyed it all the more. 
Last night I dreamed that the floor was floating, but that I wasn't and that I couldn't be.
Last night I dreamed that I knew for once and for that brief moment what it meant to be floating, to be floating in that purple haze of the world, so delicate yet so beyond me.
Beyond me and anything I'd ever been capable of.
Last night I dreamed that it was enough just to be, and to be with gravity.
The purple midnight suspended just beyond my reach,
there only to teach that I speak with utmost certainty
that I know who I am and what it means to travel deep.
Deep. Deep. Deep, it preached!
The purple midnight put me to sleep and in this dream
I knew what it meant to be, to really be in this world I see.
I saw that I dreamt that I knew what it meant to be oh so tragically misspent
in an unkempt world of color and creation and character.
Halt! That I must tell a tale of earth, wind, fire, water - so delicate all of it
that it might permit that the exorbitant mortal emotion might tear apart
the stark contrast of real and dream (color and purple) so that I cannot take the
time to speculate trance from reality before the haze may go away.
Last night I dreamed that the midnight touched my feet
and that I was glad for its sweet brevity.
To know from it that at some fateful moment I might float
in many colors - in color and creation and character and that I might
travel deeply when I can see it.
Deep. Deep. Deep, it said to me!
That I might carry upon my person travel to-morrow
and keep with me the secrets of travelling deeply.
Last night I dreamed that the world was purple, and that I enjoyed it all the more. 
Last night I dreamed that the floor was floating, but that I wasn't and that I couldn't be.
Last night I dreamed that I knew for once and for that brief moment what it meant to be floating, to be floating in that purple haze of the world, so delicate yet so beyond me.
Beyond me and anything I'd ever been capable of.
The purple midnight suspended just beyond my reach,
there only to teach that I speak with utmost certainty
that I know who I am and what it means to travel deep.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Every Word You Write

"Every word you write is not a waste of time." -Jen Creer, Creative Writing professor at Truman State University

"The Call After the Wedding"

The night was nearly as dreadful as Mitchell Keiren felt. The trees seemed to give up in the early fall breeze, limping in a way that allowed silent kisses to the streets bordering the half-lit bus stop.
            What Mitch would give to be able to erase the passing of time, to be able to have done something that would have prevented the news he just received on the cell phone dangling from his right hand - the dangling like a mimic of the sad trees.
            Nothing felt right anymore. Eight minutes had passed since the call, and nothing felt right in the world. His face - which appeared flawless and smooth an hour ago in the hotel mirror of his best friend's wedding venue - now somehow felt both scrunched up and frozen. His clothes felt itchy, which matched the feeling in the back of his throat.
            His movements toward the bus stop from the latter part of his trek on had become more and more mechanical. They remained the only thing in his life that hadn't changed since the call. Everything else was changing and moving around in his mind in a way that made him nauseous.
            His phone vibrated, but it was like a distant call that a child would make to their mother in a grocery store. So insignificant to himself that he wasn’t bothered by it and it was soon forgotten.
            Eventually, the too bright headlights and hissing exhaust of the city bus re-activated Mitch's auto-pilot; his obedient and uncannily unaffected legs propelled him through the motions of boarding the bus, even placing him in a suitably distant seat from the driver and a group of Chicagoans which proved to be his social accompaniment.
            The ride was painful, as the short trip made the changes that the call enacted more real and sooner-approaching. By way of subsiding the anxiety of reaching an empty home, Mitch redirected his attention to the Chicagoans in the front of the bus. Were they from Aurora like he was? Were they having a conversation that would be worth joining in on? Inevitably, Mitch's thoughts took on a different tone, as row upon row of houses began to signify that suburbia - and home - was quickly approaching. Do they know what real loss is? Or do their smiles and laughter entail that they have never felt what I feel now?
            Every unanswerable question pulled him deeper into loneliness.
            Mitchell Kieren departed the city bus in Aurora in the same stupefied trance with which dominated him whilst boarding. His phone in his front pocket provided a constant urging nudge, but he was unprepared for the questions that must be rolling in from the rest of his family, and answering it would make everything too painfully real. He probably had a few calls from his best friend Jonathan, as he had just been leaving Jon’s wedding when the world changed—No, by the looks of the people on the city bus, it was only his world that had changed. It felt to Mitch as though, in the instant that the call ended, the world didn’t make sense anymore. But there were other people in the world who didn’t know Adam, who Adam’s life was never able to touch.
            A single tear ran down Mitch’s cheek. Finally it seemed that his emotions were catching up with him. Instead of walking in his mechanical and dreamlike fit down the sidewalk toward his house at the end of the street his body finally woke up all at once. His legs buckled under his weight so that he appeared drunk, but he could hold himself up no longer. The homes around him went topsy-turvy, until he made his way to a bench and sat down with his head between his legs.
            He breathed in…and thought about Adam’s smile. He breathed in and thought about teaching him to ride a bike, to build a sandcastle, to read, and then how last week Adam asked him to teach him to impress his girlfriend with proper dining etiquette on their first dinner date.
            Just last week. Mitch’s stomach clenched and he let out a soft moan.
            Seven billion people on this earth and Adam had to die. Adam. Little Adam. Adam. His pride and joy. Adam.
            Adam. Adam. Adam…
            The feeling of nausea that Mitch had on the bus returned, even while his head was still planted firmly on his knees.
            It was as though Mitch had gone back in time, to a moment before Adam was born. Before Adam was born Mitch had no real responsibilities. He and his girlfriend Jane had decided to keep the baby months before high school graduation. By September of that year, when Mitch was handed his son for the first time, it was like his life goal was inevitably to see to it that Adam had the best life he could give him. That was only minutes after Jane had expelled her last breath.
            Adam was his responsibility, and just like that - at the same age Mitch was when he was given full responsibility of him - Adam’s life ceased to exist.
            In that same position on the bench Mitch cried. Once the fit of disbelief subsided a fit of uncontrollable sobbing followed. He was in physical pain. The feeling of losing half of your heart was a feeling like being kicked in the stomach with so much blunt force that he could only breathe in small huffs, yet it was too much for him and he threw up.
            He threw up violently between his legs and the pressure on his head, mixed with the shortage of oxygen to his brain, kept him from being able to move away from the puke. Besides, he didn’t even register the smell.
            For about an hour he stayed there on the bench. He cried silently and rocked back and forth, trying to get back in touch with his body and thanking God that no one was out in the neighborhood at this time of night. He was a block from home, a block from reality. A block from a home that no longer included Adam, a home that would no longer echo his laughter throughout it.
            At four a.m. Mitch finally picked up his cell phone with a trembling hand. His mother answered and asked him where on earth he was, deciding not to directly speak about Adam until they were in person, Mitch thought. His voice hitched a few times as he answered but he was able to tell her the truth, and asked her to please take care of his body until he could call again, and that he would make arrangements for the funeral when he felt better.
            Mitch felt like he was eighteen years old again. He felt the same as the day his mother told him he would need to take responsibility for a real, living human being. He wanted so badly to be able to go back to that day, to start everything over.
            “Adam,” he said to Jane’s pregnant belly one August evening, “Dear Adam, because of you I will grow up.”
            Mitchell Kieren stood up from the bench and walked home.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


This trip is no fairytale:
In her unlikely journey,
The last of her things packed,
It had been a long night when
Her mystery hitched a ride to Tomorrowland.

"They Also Enjoy Surfing"

Noticed amidst the thunderous clamor are the
Unique people who aren’t giving up swimming,
Just because they also enjoy surfing.

"He Prefers the Scene"

He prefers the scene where he laughs.
Now, gone are the days when he goes to sleep
And acknowledges nothing is good enough for her.
That’s understandable until “I love you” every night
Becomes cigarettes, smoking upset by some vow.

Monday, October 1, 2012

If Ever There was a Person to Idolize

Benny Lewis, a man from Ireland who has spent the past 8 years of his life globe-trotting and learning 10! different languages (including American sign language) is probably the biggest inspiration I have had in a while. I have never idolized someone as much as this guy. I mean honestly, traveling the world and learning the languages just to be able to learn the cultures and make connections with people so unlike yourself? That is an ideal life. To be able to travel without a penny saved, to have that kind of courage...what a cool guy!

Check out his website and TED speech:


Friday, September 28, 2012

Paradox of Choice

I am currently in my second year of college and and I have to say, sadly, that the reality of all the choice that has been inevitably thrust in my path has me feeling paralyzed.

Right now I cannot say where I will end up in the future. That's the damned scariest thing about wanting to write as a career. I'm sure this same feeling applies to many others seeking a degree in the Humanities. It's so objective.

However, last night I was reminded of the things that make me feel fulfilled, and I know there are others out there like myself who are willing to forge a path in the artistic world which may also provide them the means with which to sustain their lives. I was reminded of this as I browsed the Hiking pages on StumbleUpon. I found that a man in Australia has actually made a living taking people to the most exotic and beautifully mountainous areas of the continent to rock climb. He's also made an exceptional amount of money simply by writing about his experiences and taking amazing photographs, advertising all of it on his blog:

This is the kind of person I look up to, I've realized. Not some money-hungry man who made it into the Forbes 100 or a famous businessman from the big city. Yes, it would be great to have money constantly rolling in, but are these men and women enjoying their lives, and do they benefit emotionally from the work that they do? I don't want to make money at all costs, I want to make money in a way that benefits other people. I want to do work in my life that makes someone a Romantic - someone who, without seeing my work, wouldn't have been inspired to do with their life work that made them happy, just as I am currently doing (currently working on in school) for myself.

I'm not in school to become a doctor. I'm not in school to become a nurse, an accountant, or a chemist. A police officer, a pilot, or a construction worker. Students who are in school to become one of these things are taking the kinds of courses they know will land themselves in those very careers. I'm in school to receive an English degree, and as far as I know that means I'm in a paradox of choice, as Barry Schwartz puts it. I have so many paths in which my life can venture, and all the choices have me paralyzed and, yes, scared as hell.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Future Home

I think that with a garden and a library I'll be happy in whatever home the future brings me to.

Friday, September 21, 2012

"Brilliant But Lonely"

Pancake City at 9:30pm, Tuesday
            With the accents in this diner as heavy as they are, it seems as though I’ve just taken a long trip into the Deep South rather than the 5 minute drive it took to get here from campus.
            The smell of pancakes and coffee would be enough sensory detail to tell me where I am with my eyes closed—but if not the sound of clinking silverware on ceramic dishes would be the dead giveaway. The human sounds of lively conversation and laughing take away the sense of loneliness that usually accommodates small town diners like this one. The way that the lively conversations are so poorly juxtaposed with the black night outside the window to my right reminds me of going to football games at my old high school—when all the lights were shining on the stadium like an artificial sun, with such brilliance that the darkness surrounding the stadium was uncanny—the darkness enveloping the stadium forgotten until the game was over and it was time to go back out into the loneliness to find my car. As long as it’s night time, a place like this will always make me feel lonesome.
Since the weather is particularly chilly for this time in September, I cannot help but notice that the man at the bar is dressed in a way that is comically inappropriate. He’s middle-aged, and slender-looking under his combat shorts and short-sleeved spider silk Hawaiian shirt, which is complete with a lime green baseball cap. Earlier I caught him staring at me from across the room, where I sit at this faux-wooden booth, jotting down my descriptions of this diner in mad red ink. It’s funny how this ink should appear mad in my eyes right now, or that the darkness outside the windows of this diner should make this bright diner seem lonely by default.
There can be so much emotion and movement in the middle of so much darkness.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Adjusting to Fickle Places - Erasure Poems

My latest bit of homework for a Creative Writing class I am taking this semester involved having to take away parts of an informational text by crossing out bits to create a poem of the leftover words. Out of the 5 "Erasures" we were assigned I was most pleased with the results of a National Geographic magazine article. From the article "Outer Banks" issued last Thursday, on September 13, I created the following Erasure Poem:

To explain why I’ve been hit by a passion for walking down a
Dusty road after I’ve seen a lot and I’ve lived deeply,
Nothing seems sweeter for me than what is personal.
Even though I’m usually scattered around trees
I bought a house here.
Something about the capriciousness of the weather suddenly
Served as a reminder that at any moment the fickle will
Fling you into the sky.
I’m not going anywhere for a while because
When there’s no hurricane, life is at its best.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

"Chase That Happy"

Burn all your inhibitions!
What are you—18, 20 years old?
What is it you want most in this life?
Is it to be inadequate, or to just get by with a set amount of effort?
What gets your creative juices flowing?
Is it a hike in the park? Is it a jog at sunset following a difficult day at college? Is it biking across
campus when you’re almost late for class?
Why not use activities such as these to propel you to work towards what you want most in life?
What is nagging at you, constantly building in you that you have yet to unleash?
Is it a novel you’ve been working on? A screenplay? What about learning to play guitar, or
mastering the chords to that favorite song of yours that you want to impress on your girlfriend or boyfriend?
What in God’s name is keeping you from that?
Where have your dreams gone?
What hinders you from putting pen to paper, mouth to microphone, fingers to fret?
Don’t kid yourself: We all want something most keenly in this life.
Where is what you want?
What is it?
The world is your oyster and you cannot tell me it’s too late.
You have dreams, as silly as that must sound; we all do.
More than ever, we are a generation with more sources for exploration, more opportunities and
mediums through which to achieve our dreams.
In the words of Ze Frank we must, “Chase that happy!”
Why oh why do we dream so much? We’re like children that know no bounds—fantastically and
monetarily. Why can't you and I just be normal? Why can't we just stay happily (mentally and physically) at home when we have leisure time; get wasted, forget what happened the night before; get tattoos and show them off to everyone we know—use them to tell the exciting things about ourselves that we’re too afraid to voice? Or is it just that everyone else in our class is abnormal in their fantastical and wayfaring tendencies also, but they must keep it to themselves because they do not have a mutual friend with whom they can be comfortable enough to tell that they aren't alone in their weird tendencies?
We all have that itching tendency.
We aren't the only strange ones in our classes. I just know it. But I feel like it all the time. More
so now that college is so forthwith in accepting normals—“mundanes”. We are people, like those apparent mundanes. But I think that in the minds of those of you who hear me now, the ones that understand what I’m going on about, your souls are scattered in multiple places around the world, and we have to keep dreaming about those places which are around the world, because it is only there—traveling there and seeking our scattered souls in the process—that you and I may ever find peace.
If you may have a fantastic feeling about something important to you, but then life happens, it’s
impertinent that you chase that happy, no matter what they may entail for you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

"The Forest Burned, And I with It"

night I stepped
gingerly through a burned black forest.
Masses of tree trunks lay
in mounds below my feet—the scent

burning wood
overwhelmed my entire being,
seemingly dampening
every other unyielding sense.

the dead of
the forest the debris and ash mixed;
the dead remnants were small,
so that I was drowning in them.

Ash from the
burning trees overwhelmed intensely.
It was so strong that I
began to itch, to twitch, writhing

pain for so
long—Until my body was melting.
Organs liquid within—
                     my heart mixed with the ashen trees.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Gazing Upon Unrequited Love

I glance at you from the corner of my eye, waiting to see if the action is requited
You don't move an inch, and I suffice it to mean indifference
Could that really be it, though?
Or is what I'm looking for just too romantic for your taste?
Your lifestyle?
If it is so - if your lack of contact entails dispassion - then let it be known, so
that I shall no longer linger with this silly gaze.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Happiness at Home

Today it really hit me how fortunate my life is, and how my latest trip has allowed me to see beauty in every part of it. Not that I didn't notice it before, but somehow everything seemed to align in my life in one moment - the closeness I have with my family, the feelings of success in school and, well, a sheer happiness in general in my life. Lately, or ever since my latest overseas trip, the feeling of fulfillment in my life has been so great - enough to the point that I have felt its greatness every day. But this having happened only since my trip poses the question in my mind: Could this all actually be a result of my overseas trip?

Two posts prior to this one, I wrote about my trip through the British Isles and Paris, France. I think my current feelings of happiness stim from that post - what I wrote about perspective. I learned of the importance of stepping out of all that is native to you, literally, and even if you think it makes you uncomfortable. I mentioned that stepping out of Missouri in particular allowed me to learn which distinctive aspects of the state made it home to me. Having been home for a few weeks now, many of my favorite things about Missouri have begun to stand out, creating more meaning to me than ever. The exhilarating summer drives through the wine countries, the breathtakingly photogenic railroad paths that lay against scenes of agriculture and barn yards, the liveliness of the pond and river areas - the feelings of tranquility that I can experience now in my homeland are more apparent than ever, and they must add greatly to these feelings of my overall happiness; it correlates perfectly with what I want my life goal to be, which is to become as worldly a person as I can be in my lifetime.

But what is most happy-making (if I may quote Pretties, a book from a favorite author of mine, Scott Westerfeld) is the fact that I can find all the things I found beautiful in Europe in Missouri, a state where I have heard only bad things said about it in my whole lifetime. The miserable heat in the summer, the humidity, the unpredictable fluctuation of weather in general - it's enough to have some people in and out the state within a few years. But when we can look past that - the fact that, for some, humid heat sucks so much worse than dry heat - we can find beauty in this Midwest state that most people have not given it the chance to see. Now that I have given Missouri a chance with the new eyes Europe has allowed me to see home with, everything seems genuinely perfect.

I've found happiness and satisfaction from my home state, and though these new realizations of this native beauty are inspiring, I do not intend to quit travelling. It has just made me realize that there is beauty in every place, sometimes you just have to look hard enough to find it.

Or, in my case, you may just have to leave the country for a little while.


Friday, June 8, 2012

Thoughts on Future Communication

I never realized how dangerously distracting the Internet could be until I recently purchased my first smart phone - joining the current mainstream.

It feels as though I have the world at my fingertips. Within the first hour of purchasing my iPhone 4S, it was like I was in an unbreakable trance. Though the novelty of it has not yet warn off, I still question what all this much power could do if it was available to everyone. Would we still function? ...Would we need to? Though I do not think for a second that the smart phone in general will put us where the citizens of the distant future in "Wall-e" are, I do think that it will produce a dramatic change in the way we interact. Here I am, speaking like a real, ambiguous politician, stating that there will be dramatic change in the future. So to defend my speech, I've written about a few things that I found most distracting about having a smart phone and what current activity I think its features will easily substitute:

Also not a feature to lightly skim over in a topic such as this: the fact that Siri can actually KEEP YOU COMPANY. Yes, you can actually hold a conversation with your electronic portable telephone now. And if that feature may be a result of Apple, Inc.'s attempt to balance out the social blocks the new technology will allow, the answer currently will stay a mystery.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Perspective, the British Isles and Paris

Jumping around from country to country puts things into perspective in an extraordinary way. I haven't thought, exactly, how I felt about the city I've grown up in all my life until just recently, when I arrived home after my two week travel around northern Europe.

The biggest reality check I experienced did not take place when our plane landed in London. Nor did it when when we crossed, via ship, the beautifully greened expanses of land that made up the countryside of Wales, or the history-rich cities of Dublin and Belfast in Ireland, or even the amazing rocky shores and coastal mountains that made up Scotland's northern parts. The most moving prospect of the entire trip involved laying eyes on what I called home, after getting used to the brand-new, remarkable sights I experienced every day for two weeks in Great Britain, Ireland, and Paris, France. Seeing home, there in the middle of the United States, that was when everything became both eerily real and surreal.

Among the family members who were travelling with me - my mom, aunt, and grandfather - I think perspective, personally, hit me with the most force. I could tell when the ship first docked in Greenock, Scotland that, by the look on Mom's face, Scotland would be the place that moved her. The look on Grandpa's face when he saw the inside of O'Neil's Irish pub in Dublin (and had his first Guiness beer) told me how memorable those moments would be to him; and my aunt's face when she, well, found the first internet cafe where she could talk to her boyfriend at home spoke volumes. I knew straight away with how they reacted differently to all these things that they had found something in these unfamiliar places that gave the places weight and importance, despite the fact that they had never set foot on them before. (Except, of course, the case with my aunt, where her reaction at the internet cafe in London told me how being away from her boyfriend unveiled the magnitude of infatuation she had with him).

Though I loved every place equally (it was impossible to choose a favorite!) I eventually realized that the reaction that spoke volumes in me came within the moment on the way home when our plane crossed the Mississippi River. At that moment, looking down, I realized how different home was from the places I'd spent a fortnight through my camera's eye. The places that, in my mind, begged to be brought to life through curving and glittering words and stories. The places like Paris, where knowing that every week, millions of people had viewed the exact statues and buildings and landmarks that I had been currently viewing; Like London, where the city is so large yet so compact that history seemed to speak to me from every single corner; Like Wales, where year-long quenched-green hills battle with yellow daffodil hills and photogenic lighthouse coastlines, and sheep outnumber people four to one; Like Dublin, where the city itself almost smells like one big Guiness brewery; Like Belfast in Northen Ireland, where the artistry that has gone into the graffiti that line the city buildings is the only thing that establishes a difference in its mountainous landscape and Denver's; Like Greenock, Scotland, where your most stereotypical thoughts about Scotland are proven as you notice the abundance of kilts, bagpipes, goats versus people, and mossy/rocky hilltops; Like Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland, where street shows of locals playing folk music dot the entry ways of 15th century churches and castles (though Edinburgh proved to have the same thing, but with slightly warmer weather). After seeing all the places, the coming-home part of it all was what really struck me and made me think.

Anyone could see a thousand movies about Scotland, for instance, and never really feel how it's different from the United States. They could look at it in a two-dimensional sense, seeing the differences in the landscape, the way that people talk and interact differently, but not really feel what it's like to be there. The fresh moist air in your face, wafting off the northern coast; the temperature always predictably constant due to the warm air currents of the Caribbean; the sun always setting so late in the night on account of its high latitude. Physical perspective is where the merit is, where the beauty of an unfamiliar place is.

Because I had spent so long in unfamiliar lands, it came that I could see my own home land with new eyes when I came back this day one week ago. I was seeing St. Louis and all of the country over which the plane traversed with new eyes, realizing the differences between it and the countries I'd just visited. Though it held almost nothing when compared to northern Europe's history, America held its own kind of enchantment in that it inspired me to think of how different it really was. Where countries as old as Europe thrived in earlier times where sources of water and better chances of vegetation lay, I noticed that, since those times, European descendants have consensually agreed to stick with those particular lands and make the most of them (i.e. Glasgow, Dublin, London, Paris, Edinburgh, etc.). What makes America different is that we haven't stayed in one place long enough to establish such historically-sound cities as they have (though, granted, we haven't had as much time to). However, I don't think it's in our nature to. America is about newness and branching out - establishing a new city long enough to have made certain it would flourish on its own, and then moving on to another new portion of land (after all, this was mostly what our ancestors were all about). We need space because we always wanted for it, since the day Columbus set foot here. Just ask any American tourist in Europe. The difference is we don't like to speak a foot a way from other people; we don't like driving around in compact cars, on a road the width of one lane on an American highway; and we don't enjoy taking public transportation anywhere we go. We enjoy our space, our ability to drive anywhere, anytime (and without a compact-size car!)

I enjoyed my first trip across seas immeasurably, but mostly what I found most appealing was the new eyes I have allowed myself in stepping out of home for a while.   

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Have I mentioned I'm Nervous?

If I haven't already, well, you'll soon hear it enough.

So in exactly two days I will be on a plane, travelling the terrifyingly large expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Now I love heights, don't get me wrong - I plan to sky-dive in the near future - but oceans make me exceedingly anxious. Unlike my long list of "Things That Make Me Happy" I wrote in a previous blog post, I could only name a few things that inflict the opposite feelings; among these things are the mysteries of the ocean.

In my defense, I think everyone has some fear of the general "unknown". Not knowing what could happen, not knowing what a person thinks of you, not knowing what the future holds; it's all part of being human (Random footnote: "Being Human" - amazing show!) For me, I am terrified of what mysteries lie in the ocean. There are so many species we have yet to unveil in marine biology alone, and when the ocean takes up 71% of the world, I'm not taking my chances in swimming around in it. So knowing I will be in a plane - and that the chances that my plane will go down during those long hours across the ocean are minimal - my concern might seem irrational, but these are the kinds of thoughts that run through my head when fear stirs my anxiety into a frenzy. The enormous depth of it, the mysterious deadly giants which have yet to be documented - it's all too frightening a concept for dwelling. Have I mentioned I'm nervous?

Regardless, I have an amazing reward waiting for me at the end of that flight. But until then I intend to immerse myself in the beautiful fantasy world that Aprilynne Pike has created in her new book release of "Destined".

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Day in Indianapolis: Thoughts From Places

This past weekend truly was an adventure, comprised of an entire Sunday spent running around the great city of Indianapolis. My friend and I bought tickets in January on a whim, deciding in an instant that no distance was too far to go if the end point had us at a concert to see our favorite British artists, Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol.

The show truly was invigorating - I can't think of a better word for it. It had me thinking of a series of books I read a few years back by Justine Larbalestier called Magic or Madness. In the middle of the roaring crowd of people in the middle of the Egyptian Room in the city of Indianapolis, I felt an  energizing pull, much like that of the feeling Jay-Tee experienced when she was dancing in Magic or Madness. Larbalestier described the way Jay-Tee could use her magic to harness the energies the bodies around her put off while on the dance floor and in her close proximity. During the story, the crowd actually acted as a life force for her, giving her the energy she needed when her magic ran low and she was especially susceptible to going mad. In a way, Jay-Tee's experience had me relate to a lot of  events in that brilliant series. I realize only now how positive energies, much like magic in Larbalestier's series - or any literal magic in fantasy series, for that matter - are what give us the drive to live life fully. Magic is our inner fire.

Before all the fun of the concert, my friend, an artist, wanted to spend a few hours at the esteemed Indianapolis Museum of Art. Now because I am not an artist, nor am I familiar with the essentials of art history lesson, I did not understand or appreciate as well the fine intricacies or revolutions in art that the lot of the paintings in the museum offered. (As was noted aloud by my trustee friend as my quizzical looks provided answer to her many nerderific outbursts as we approached the most famous of the works of art). I did, however, take special interest in the sculptures. Like one sculpture, which was actually a glass floor being held up by generic plastic toy soldiers that took up the entire room. (Apparently - unfortunately - people are not supposed to photograph things on the sculpture floor, as the nice security man following us around eventually said).

Another exhibit on the sculpture floor was creepily enchanting. Someone had connected speakers around an entire room, ones that hung from the ceiling and whispered to you from all over. I couldn't imagine being in there alone at night, but of course the faux-ghostly presence that the speakers created forced my imagination to deceive me, even as my friend was standing, bless her, just a few feet away. This may just be a me thing, but I have come to find that, no matter the museum in question, I always seem to find something unsettling about artifacts - they evoke a certain cowardice in me, creating a sort of Shaggy from "Scooby-Doo"-like complex in me.

As we got home in time to go straight to school the next day, I realized how worth it the entire day-long trip was. Just like I wrote above, going to Indianapolis was an adventure. The feeling of being so far away from what was familiar, of being out of my comfort zone, was most gratifying. In a way, that was part of the invigoration, the excitement of the adventure.

I think it's important that everyone take an adventure and exercise their comfort zone, even when (and especially when) they feel least ready.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jolly Good Time, Indeed!

As the next month will include loads of British detail and British-influenced material - as I will be seeing Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol on Sunday and going to the British Isles in May! - I thought I should probably make a notification post (or disclaimer, however you see it).

So for the Anglophiles out there like myself - enjoy! It's about to get brilliant, quite right!

(Also note: still working on current British jargon.)

You're in for a jolly good time.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thinking in the Present Moment

When it comes to thinking in its chronological form, I am the "in-the-future" type. I think about what's going to happen next. Which is good, don't get me wrong (this is the kind of thinking that gives your conscience the reigns of decision-making, keeping you effectively out of trouble). But too much future thinking can also ruin the spontaneity that life gives you with present thinking.

Thinking in the present moment is most fun. I recently read a book by Malcolm Gladwell called Blink. The book took a scientific approach on split-second decisions, saying they gave the better result when compared to the outcome you would have gotten with a long, thought out hypothesis or plan made before taking action. It was definitely an eye-opener for me - especially since it spent so much time rebelling against what every parent tells their children to do (think ahead!) But I think from his book, I mainly found the importance of split-second decision-making in certain settings that could make them most memorable and fun.

Of course you want to plan ahead things that are meant to be long term, like moving or scheduled classes you will need before obtaining a degree, or budgeting before making an addition to your family; and trust me, being the future-thinker I am, these all have THEIR OWN FILE in my brain already. But once that is all set in place, the rest of your life should be devoted to spontaneity. If we have a stable job, a mode of transportation, good friends to call up when we need a night out, what is to stop us from keeping with the same schedule everyday? All is good in well with this uniform stability, so why go and shake it up? It is with this previously-thought-out state of mind that we fall into the abyss of normalcy, where our


I have heard this phrase spoken in long conversations with my friends many times. It's usually juxtaposed with conversations of boredom and forgetfulness. On the less frightening end of the spectrum, we will be talking about what happened the other day, and then one of us will say, "What day was that? I can't even remember - my days seem to be running into each other." On the other end, my friends could take on a depressed countenance, speaking in dragging tones of how completely boring school is and how they can't remember the last time we hung out together.

This is where we must seek help from spontaneity!

Even if we have no choice but to resume our normal life schedule - the whole darn thing that is keeping us down in the first place! - we must make time to think at the present time, for the sake of giving each and every day roundness. In giving our days shape, we will realize that we are gaining back our memory. With present, snap-decision-making, we can learn to truly have fun in the moment and remember what the heck happened the other day.

So even if the only time you have is driving home from work, think during this commute, all-at-once,"What do I want to do right now?"And don't think any more of it; just do it. If adopting a puppy comes to mind, by golly, do just that. That's probably the exact thing you've been wanting for so long, and probably the thing that will not just add excitement and memory for that particular day, but likely every day for as long as you have that new member of your family. If what you think of at that moment is how much you miss an old friend, go see them.

What got me to reading Malcolm Gladwell's book was the fact that I made this year's resolution (2012) to be as spontaneous as I could be. This led me - on a greater scale - to do crazy things like taking a 14-hour drive to Destin, Florida at the beginning of January, and also taking it upon myself to kiss a guy I'd liked for five months. (Though, in hind-sight, I suppose the latter is not a very good example for the benefits of split-second thinking). But I also realized how much learning I received in these experiences. And besides, let's be honest, had I just stayed here in Missouri over winter break I'd have probably just watched That '70s Show re-runs and read fairy books.

Anyway, the point is that thinking in the present moment is not juvenile thinking. Though it may result in doing seemingly crazy things, to not do them could lead to becoming crazy ourselves. This day-to-day living where we can't tell yesterday from today NEEDS to be interrupted with spontaneity if we want to be truly living.

Let your life be shaped with decisions made as quick as a blink.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Shameless Words

Recently - March 28th, to be exact - the New York City public schools banned 50 particular words from going onto future tests, no matter the subject. Most of the words were banned for being deemed "offensive", the rest for being too distracting.

In a FOX News radio report, specific reasons for each of three of the 50 words were given:

"Dinosaur": it might offend those who don't believe in evolution.
"Halloween": Possible support of Paganism, might be offensive to some.
"Birthday": it is a celebration not recognized by Jehovah's Witnesses.

But the list becomes more outlandish, with the banning of words like "computer", "dancing", "celebrities", and even "homes with swimming pools", which they deem to be a word.

My thoughts on this are the same as if I were to be asked to give my opinion on the banning of classic literature. Words and events in books that are largely banned from school curriculum are banned for causes that generally can be linked to human shame. Why should schools ban Huckleberry Finn from the curriculum just because the "N" word makes people uneasy? Or because the use of curse words in As I Lay Dying might influence students to speak likewise? If a student is reading these stories, they will find that the story would lack loads of meaning should the "offensive" dialogue be taken out of it. Mark Twain was clearly not racist in writing Huckleberry Finn - as the events and how they unravel would entail. Each of the 219 "nigger" words in the book were placed exactly in the book where Twain wanted to elicit strong emotion in the reader. He wanted the reader to feel for Jim every time they heard this "offensive" word, and with those feelings we get a better picture of what Jim went through and what the surrounding characters felt about him.

In As I Lay Dying, we start to realize the differences in Jewel and figure out the mystery of him through the strong dialogue he provides. Without this explicit language, author William Faulkner would not have such a deep way of communicating to readers of the language that sets Jewel apart from the rest of his family.

With these two largely controversial banned books, we can see that the author's placement of the words and choice of words are what add to the dynamic of the books. To say that students cannot read a book because of explicit language is to rob them of books that have been made classic literature for a reason.

Who is to say that curse words, let alone the shameless words with which New York public schools have banned from tests, take away from our understanding of works and daily life? Words are words, and unless they are written for work that is meant for insightful purpose, they should be taken at face value.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

College and Fashion Sense

A rant for all the perpetual in-class hoodie-, sweatpants-, and pajama-wearers:

When did not caring about what we wear in school become the social norm? What I have noticed more than anything (albeit in my complete fashion illiteracy) is the gargantuan transition from caring what people see you wearing in public in high school to the degree that, in college, students do not care at all what they wear in public. It's a growing epidemic, it seems, which effects most of the students at universities I have been to. For some reason, kids start to wear their comfort clothes on a daily basis as the semester goes on, then those comfort clothes turn into pajamas, then pretty soon people are lost in this limbo world between baggy comfy clothes and things-that-you-wouldn't-let-your-own-mother-shop-in-Walmart-with clothes. It's totally serious.

During the "Love" unit of my Psychology class, I learned that in first impressions other people will judge you in aesthetics first, sizing you up on physical appearance in just the first 10 seconds of seeing you. Most likely that 10 seconds will in part encompass the vibe they receive from seeing your choice of dress. I cannot say on behalf of other people, but I would have to say by default that if I saw someone come in to class in all sweats I might wonder at first why they could be wearing these comfort clothes; are they wearing them for athletics or were they running behind on laundry? However, if both these inquiries are proved wrong at their continued arrival to the class in sweats, I would automatically assume the person is just lazy.

What I have to say about our precious college times is that we should be enjoying these last few years of complete freedom of personal expression in our clothing taste and choices. We should be wearing what makes us feel good about ourselves - what we feel makes us look the best. Because pretty soon, after college graduation, we're all going to have to wear lame business suits, or at least some kind of conservative uniform that characterizes us as a part of someone else's company image. We must make our own image while we still can.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

On The Hunger Games

As this weekend marked the beginning of the "Hunger Games" movie series, I thought I'd take some time to review my favorite parts of the book and movie adaptation together.

The Hunger Games (speaking of the first book in the trilogy by Suzanne Collins) is as close to the real psychology that goes into "life and death" scenarios as it gets in written Young Adult fiction books. In reading the books a couple years ago, and then just recently, I came to find how necessary every single part in the books came to be. It was as if every sentence had a special piece that fit in the puzzle that created this beautiful, vivid story.

I think this is why, while watching the first movie adaptation as it premiered last Friday, the movie was so close to the entire story I'd pictured while reading. Whereas other popular best-sellers of this immense fan-base that had been adapted in the cinema had been altered in some points to completely drain the realness of that the book , Suzanne Collins's best-seller in The Hunger Games was different in that the movie adaptation very close an encapsulation of the book. The movements that pulled along the famous Hunger Games story were written - I felt - like a play-by-play. Given this perfectly crafted plan, there was no way the filmmakers could have gotten the film wrong. And for the most part they did not disappoint.

That said, the film adaptation did leave out a lot of important parts (i.e. Peeta's slow recovery, the sleeping medicine, the conversion of Katniss's "on-camera" feelings into a real love for Peeta) but the impossibility that all the book could be revived was real once you found out it was already 2 and a half hours long! Unless they were on some sort of mission of surpassing the length of the 2005 version of King Kong, The Hunger Games movie could not possibly have included every dynamic that made the book so great.

As an avid reader, of all the books I've read I can say that this is the character I have felt most attached to. Suzanne Collins did a flawless job at putting me in Katniss Everdeen's shoes. I never felt apart from her in the feelings she had and the realness of the consequences of her actions. Katniss is such a strong person physically and mentally that she makes the reader want to be a stronger person. I think this shows the marks of a great writer and a great story when we can relate to their characters' actions so closely - so much so that we even come to idolize them.

I preferred only to go into a broad sense of what it felt like to read The Hunger Games and compare it to the movie because I do not believe in spoilers (even if there is a disclaimer written in the article or blog, or said in the video or news clip beforehand).

Read the book, see the movie! The Hunger Games is a story that will lastingly enrich your life.