What brings you life?

A good friend of mine has a job at an after-school program teaching coping mechanisms to teens with depression and anxiety.  When I asked her more about what she does, she replied, “We have them set goals every week.  These goals fall into two categories: Do things that make you feel accomplished and do things that bring you life.”  She then looked at me and asked, “Amelia, what brings you life?”

It’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since.

The first category is simple.  I feel accomplished by doing things that are practical–by making a list and checking off all the items.  (Yes, in my Meyers-Briggs I’m a strong J).  I feel accomplished by doing a job well, by striving for excellence, by working hard.  Schoolwork is good for this, even though at this stage in my life I’d rather be doing other things.

Life-bringing activities are harder to pin down.

You see, there are lots of things that don’t bring me life.  Trudging through the bitter cold is upsetting, though as a hardy Minnesotan I hardly complain.  People bustling around disturbs my thoughts.  Trying to cook dinner at the same time as two of my other roommates tests my patience.  Overly pretentious classmates annoy me.  Having the super-bright fluorescent ceiling lights in the apartment on after dark makes my skin crawl.

What, though?  What fills me up when the world sucks me dry?

Reading for pleasure.  There’s nothing more special than curling up in bed and reading by candlelight, than getting lost in a world that exists within your own mind, than falling in love and friendship with people who don’t exist.

Deep conversations with good friends.  Most of the time, these take place over the phone.  You see, I don’t let a lot of people close (typical trait for an INFJ), so the time I have with those I deeply care about is extremely special.

Encouraging others spiritually.  I love leading Bible studies and praying for people.  I love when I can speak truth into the lives of others and help them draw closer to God.  This brings me so much life that it’s what I want to do every day until I die.

Spending time alone.  Granted, too much alone time makes me go crazy.  (Another typical INFJ trait).  But there’s something incredibly calming about being in a room with no one around and only my thoughts to keep me company.

Tonight, I took advantage of the fact that my roommate was out and spent some time doing things that bring me life.  I turned all the lights off except the desk lamp, pulled up a movie on Netflix, and broke out my watercolors.  Being a college student is a lot of work, and every once in a while, it’s important to take time to do what fills you up.

So, readers.  You now know all about me.  What brings you life?

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Tis the Season Day 3: Victorian Ghost Stories

We have reached day three of Tis the Season and today I will be tying Christmastime with academia.

I had the pleasure of spending the past semester in a Victorian Lit and Culture class.  When you think about it, the Victorians are really the ones responsible for Christmas as we know it today.  They began traditions like singing carols and waiting for Saint Nicholas.  Prince Albert is responsible for bringing the practice of bringing evergreen trees into homes, a tradition he carried over from Germany when he married Queen Victoria.  One tradition, however, did not continue into the twenty-first century: Christmas Eve ghost stories.

Why ghost stories on Christmas?  According to a KnowledgeNuts article, they are a remnant from pre-Christmas pagan practices.  You see, the Christmas was strategically placed on December 25 because various festivals, rites, and rituals were already associated with the Winter solstice. Due to these practices, “the solstice was also considered the most haunted day of the year due to its association with the death of light. The barrier between the world of the living and the realm of the dead was supposedly lowered on this day.”

Superstition was aided by technological advances.  Modern gas lamps provided eerily dim light, leaving room for the imagination.  In a creaky old house filled with flickering shadows, ghosts were easily believable.

Dickens, of course, was a firm supporter of the Christmas Eve ghost story tradition.  What first comes to mind, of course, is A Christmas Carol, a story so deeply ingrained in our culture that we all know the story.  (I admit, I haven’t read it.  But I hope to someday!)  We all know of the hard-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge who is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.  Always big on enforcing strong moral messages, Dickens nails Scrooge’s story with a lesson on appreciating life and showing kindness to those less fortunate.

A lover of drama, Dickens took immense pleasure in doing readings of his work.  Last Fall, when I toured the Charles Dickens Museum, I actually got to stand in the room of his house where he used to present read to his family and friends.  They still have the podium he used.  He would stand there on Christmas Eve and read off his latest ghost story for his loved ones, thrilling them with dramatic voices and pauses.  It was really a treat getting to see into the famous author’s world.

I stumbled upon many fascinating and fun articles while researching for this post, and my favorite was probably one from The Guardian by Kira Cochrane.  If this post has piqued your interest, I highly recommend checking her article out!

What do you think about the Victorians and their ghost stories?  Do you wish this tradition was still around today?  Why or why not?

Reenacting Dracula (and why I’m never going to be an actor)

Yesterday in Victorian Lit, my classmates and I became actors.  In order to stress the important elements in a certain scene in Dracula, my professor (Brad) assembled a hand-picked cast and, after giving a few directions, let us work our magic.

I was given the role of Arthur Holmwood, the super-manly fiance of the now-vampire Lucy Westenra.  One of my classmates, Drewe, was cast as Lucy.  My roommate played Van Helsing and a couple of classmates took the roles of Quincy Morris and John Seward.

Here is the material we had to work with:

“Go on,” said Arthur hoarsely. “Tell me what I am to do.”

“Take this stake in your left hand, ready to place to the point over the heart, and the hammer in your right. Then when we begin our prayer for the dead, I shall read him, I have here the book, and the others shall follow, strike in God’s name, that so all may be well with the dead that we love and that the UnDead pass away.”

Arthur took the stake and the hammer, and when once his mind was set on action his hands never trembled nor even quivered. Van Helsing opened his missal and began to read, and Quincey and I followed as well as we could.

Arthur placed the point over the heart, and as I looked I could see its dint in the white flesh. Then he struck with all his might.

The thing in the coffin writhed, and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions. The sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it. His face was set, and high duty seemed to shine through it. The sight of it gave us courage so that our voices seemed to ring through the little vault.

And then the writhing and quivering of the body became less, and the teeth seemed to champ, and the face to quiver. Finally it lay still. The terrible task was over.

(Bram Stoker.  Dracula.  Chapter 16)

First of all, isn’t the passage absolutely fantastic?

Brad read the text in a dramatic voice as we played the scene.

Drewe, as my undead fiance, was sprawled out on the table at the front of the classroom.  I towered over her, holding up my imaginary stake and hammer.  Van Helsing and company (my roommate and peers) stood next to me reading out of an imaginary prayer-book.  As Brad’s voice spelled out the portion about not trembling or quivering, I did my best to contort my face into an expression of boldness.  I don’t think I was very successful.  It was incredibly hard not to laugh.

Then, I drove the imaginary stake into Drewe’s heart.  She thrashed.  She flailed.  She wriggled all over the table.  I struggled to keep a straight face, trying to be as impressive and powerful as the Norse god Stoker compared Arthur to.  (Again, I don’t think I was very successful.)  I pounded and pounded on the stake.  The deeper it was pounded, the more Drewe’s writhing increased.

Then, she stopped.

And I got to go back to my seat.

It was a fun and entertaining experience, that’s for sure.  But if I learned one thing, it would be this: it’s a good thing I didn’t major in Theater, because I’m a terrible actor.

Sublimity, films, and Friday nights

Most college students spend their Friday nights relieving the week’s stress by piling into strangers’ crowded houses and drinking themselves silly.

Me?  After a surprise birthday party for my roommate at a local restaurant, I’m spending my Friday night unwinding in the apartment.  The cold wind is howling outside, but I’m stretched out on the couch with a cup of cocoa and  my sketchbook.  My roommates are all out, our Christmas lights are on, and I’ve popped in one of my all time favorite films.

The first time I saw Midnight in Paris, I nearly died of English major perfection.  It’s a film about nostalgia and literature, one that you cannot watch without aching for times gone by and longing to wander the streets of Paris.  The movie takes the deep musings of my soul and puts them into tangible words and images.  It’s absolutely sublime.

What’s your favorite way to spend a Friday night?

In the essay-writing zone.

It’s the time of the semester where Amelia enters full-out English Major mode and locks herself in the basement of the library for hours on end writing essays.

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6-8 pages on Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell due by Friday.  I spent most of yesterday afternoon and this morning outlining and am finally getting into drafting.  I’m currently on page 4, over half way through my argument, but there’s a LOT of polishing to do.

It’s not all bad, though.  I’ve got my classical music playlist keeping me going.  Swan Lake is my essay-writing power jam.

I promise I’ll get back to substantial posts once Midterms are over.

In the meantime, what music do you listen to when you study?

Back to the books

Much to our chagrin, classes have resumed at UMM!

Before delving into academic talk… I got new glasses!  It was about time.  The old ones called my face home for almost four years and were falling apart.

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All right, enough selfies.  Now to business.

Here’s what I’ve got lined up this semester:

Intro to Public Speaking:  Although I have extensive experience in the area (four years on the Speech team, competing at the state tournament, and giving chapel talks all summer), my communication minor requires I take Public Speaking.  Thankfully, I enjoy the subject and it’s only for the first half of the semester!

Visual Journalism: Again, this is for my communication minor.  In this class, we will be learning about communicating messages visually.  The first half of the semester will be focused on still images and photography, the second through video.  I have little to no experience in media production, so this class should be enlightening and will give me some useful skills.

Grammar and Language: This is the ultimate English major class where our natural inclination to correct people’s grammar becomes refined and sharpened.  The first half of the course focuses on grammar–sentence diagramming and understanding not only how the English language is constructed, but how it changes.  The second focuses more on history.  We will be learning the complete history of our language, which includes giving recitations in Old, Middle, and Early Modern English.  Basically, come December, we will all be fully inducted members of the Grammar Police.

Victorian Literature and Culture: Ever since I set foot on this campus four years ago, I have been dying to take this class.  I don’t need it for any requirements, but am taking it purely for fun.  We will be reading a handful of novels from England’s Victorian period of literature and learning about the culture of the people.  This semester, the professor is teaching the course from the angle of criminology and punishment.  We’ll be looking at how the rapidly changing world that the Victorians inhabited shaped what crime is and how it was punished.

Most of these are upper-level courses, so they’ll be challenging, but definitely intellectually stimulating.  I can’t wait for all the things I get to learn!

 

Friday Favorites III

My computer monitor informs me that I have twenty one minutes till midnight… so time for a last-minute Friday Favorites!

This food:

That’s right… almonds.  This one is a bit weird for me.  I’ve never liked eating nuts.  Never.  But one of my coworkers at camp shared a bunch and, after giving them a shot, I discovered that they are, in fact, delicious.  My dad will be so proud.

This book:

 

 

I ordered this book on Amazon AGES ago and have been longing for its release ever since.  When I returned home from camp today, I was overjoyed to find my newly released copy sitting on my bed.  I don’t even have words for how excited this book makes me.  I mean, it’s two of my favorite things combined!  Tolkien and Arthurian legend!  How much more epic can you get?  Yes, the poem itself is unfinished (can you blame the man for wanting to finish writing The Hobbit?).  Yes, most of the book is made up of essays.  But it’s Tolkien.  And it’s Arthurian legend.  And it’s going to be beautiful.

Graduation

This evening, I got to see my little brother graduate  high school.  He’s a great kid, and I’m excited to see where life brings him next!  It was strange being in that building again–I haven’t stepped foot inside in around three years.  After the ceremony, I got to see several friends that I haven’t seen or spoken to in several years (some since my own graduation, actually).  I also saw a few former classmates that made me want to run and hide.  Nevertheless, I’ve always been one for nostalgia, so when the opening bars of “Pomp and Circumstance” began, I momentarily forgot about how uncomfortable it was to be packed in the high school gym like sardines.  Part of my heart stirred, longing for times gone by–of lockers, band class, and hanging out with friends between bells.  And then some students behind me talked the entire ceremony, reminding me exactly why I was so happy to leave high school behind.  After everything was over

This place:

This is the St. Croix River at the Osceola boat landing, about five minutes from my house.  This photo was taken a few years ago, but my best friend and I have a tradition of coming here in the summer.  After graduation, we went to Dairy Queen and brought our ice cream to the park on the island in the middle of the beautiful river.  The sun had already set, and as we sat at the point watching the water flow away from us, we talked about life, school, God, and all sorts of best friend topics.  It’s been a few months since we’ve seen each other, and due to the fact that I’m at camp and Erin is headed for Africa next week, our paths won’t cross much this summer.  Talking to her was wonderful, and even though it was dark, the St. Croix was as beautiful as ever.

This song:

Just before the semester ended, Cloud Cult came to my university.  Even though it was cold and a bit wet, I curled up under a blanket with one of my roommates eating day old movie theater popcorn as they played a two hour acoustic set on the mall in the center of campus.  Ever since, I’ve been absolutely obsessed with their new acoustic album.  I listened to this song at least three consequtive times on my drive from camp to home this afternoon.

On the East Coast

There’s something incredibly empowering about learning to travel alone.  Stepping on an airplane bound for the other side of the country by yourself is so liberating.  Traveling is a love my parents instilled in me at a very young age, and learning to do it on my own is such a grand adventure.

I’ve gotten to spend the past week exploring Boston, MA.  I flew out last week, navigated the transportation system, and found my way to the MIT campus.  My old roommate, Alli, is at grad school there, you see, and offered free lodging and good company.  Despite valiantly striving towards the completion of her thesis (which she submitted the day I left), she was kind enough to be my guide and traveling companion!

Boston has been on my list for a long time.  I was drawn by the call of American history, of Revolution, of massacres and meeting halls and tea parties.  And it did not disappoint!  We spent a whole day following the Freedom Trail from the State House o the U.S.S. Constitution.  Along the way we passed the location of the Boston Massacre, various meeting halls, Old North Church (a la Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride), and the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill.  We treated ourselves to cannolis on the North Side, and I may or may not have dropped a tea bag in the Harbor.

Some of the time was spent on my own.  I found my way to the art museums, where I spent a day wandering through galleries.  I went to the MFA and Gardner respectively.  Although very nice, they weren’t anything to write home about.  I highly suspect that my time in Europe has spoiled art museums for me.  Ah well.

One afternoon, Alli and I explored Harvard University.  Let me tell you, Harvard lives up to its expectations!  There’s a certain gradure to all the red brick buildings arranged around large grassy malls with flowering trees.  We didn’t go in any of the buildings, content to wander the campus.

The highlight of the trip was our day trip to Concord.  We took the commuter train in the morning and spent the day walking around the New England town.  The sun was out and the lilacs in bloom, rendering the atmosphere idyllic.  Throughout the day we saw the homes (and graves) of famous literary figures such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott.  We actually toured Orchard House, which belonged to the Alcotts, and is where Louisa wrote Little Women.  We also walked to Walden Pond, where Thoreau lived by the labor of his own hands for two years.  We saw the location of his cabin and had a picnic by the water’s edge.  On a more historical note, we visited the Old North Bridge, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired.  Throughout the day, we crossed paths with several of the locals, who treated us to free lectures on lesser known historical figures and poetry recitations.

I could go on about my trip for pages and pages.  In fact, I could easily write up a post for every little thing I saw, explaining their historical significance and general awesomeness, but really… I don’t have time for that.  So this, my friends, is all you guys will get.  It’s funny, the more you travel, the more your wanderlust grows.  I’m so thankful to have gotten to take a week to dig deeper into history, art, and literature.  Who knows where I’ll go next?

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Alli and I on our Concord day trip

A literary breakup

Dear Virginia Woolf,

It’s been a long haul this semester.  We’ve been through a lot together, you and I.  But I think it’s time that we go our separate ways.  It’s not you.  It’s me.  Okay, that’s not true.  It’s totally you.  I think it’s time we break up.

Our first meeting, way back in my Brit Lit II survey course, went exceptionally well.  You sure do know how to make a good first impression.  Thus, I was optimistic.  But then our relationship turned out to be rockier than I expected.  Your short fiction had me stumbling about like a silly lady trying to figure out what was going on.  But I attributed that to your innovativeness, and that I just had to get used to it.  Then there was Jacob’s Room.  Ugh.

It wasn’t all thistles and thorns, though.  We had some good times, Virginia.  We really did.  We were reading Mrs. Dalloway on February 14th and you were my Valentine.  That book took my breath away.  It had me singing stupid love songs, declaring my passion to the skies.

But then To the Lighthouse happened over Spring Break.  Although I appreciated what you were doing there, Virginia, it was a bit of a slog to get through.  I ended up writing my fourteen page final essay on that book.  Mr. Ramsay is a piece of work, so props to you for creating a character that made me feel like I was suffocating while reading his thoughts.  All in all, your rendering of visual perception is fascinating, but kind of took away my will to live.  (In a scholarly sense, that is.)

For a while, Virginia, I thought there was no hope.  I thought we were doomed to fail, you and I.  But then Orlando came along.  I sat there thinking, “I didn’t know Woolf could be funny!”  And you were!  You were downright hilarious!  If you could go back, I encourage you to do more work like Orlando.  It’ll bring more joy to the world.

Ultimately, though, you slaughtered me with The Waves.  What on earth were you thinking?  Why was that a good idea?  I didn’t understand a single bit of it.  And oh my goodness, my professor’s lectures on it only made it worse.  Was it your goal to make a book that’s absolutely impossible to comprehend?  Because if so, you definitely succeeded.  What is the price of your success?  My happiness.  My hope.  My joy.  My dreams.  My will to continue our relationship.  You sacrificed those things by choosing to write The Waves.

So, Virginia, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster.  And, frankly, I think it’s time we take a break from each other.  Some time and distance will help strengthen our relationship.  You wrote some things that were pretty miserable to read and I don’t know if I’m ready to forgive you.  Don’t worry, though, I’ll come back to you someday.  I still remember the way my heart raced as Mrs. Dalloway exclaimed “What a lark!  What a plunge!”  There is good to be found, Virginia.  So take heart.  I’ll be seeing you eventually.  Until then… I think I’ll spend next semester hanging out with the Victorians.  Charles Dickens and I have some catching up to do.

Happy summer,

Amelia

450 Years

On this day, four hundred and fifty years ago, one of the greatest writers to pen in the English language came into the world.  That’s right… I’m talking about Shakespeare.

There’s a lot I can say about my experience with Shakespeare.  I could tell you about reading Romeo & Juliet in ninth grade and the five quizzes per act my teacher forced upon us.  I could tell you about the first time I saw one of his plays live–a production of Macbeth at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis five years ago.  I could tell you about the time I lived in England and got to see a show at the Globe.  Or when I visited Stratford-Upon-Avon, toured his birth home, and cried a river of nerdy English major tears over his grave.

But, instead, I’m going to let the man speak for himself.  Here’s a passage from Hamlet–my favorite Shakespeare play thus far.  It comes from Act 2. Scene II where the title character talks to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  When I stood in the room the Bard was born in, there was an actor sitting in the rafter reciting these words.  It was so beautiful, so poignant, I was rendered motionless, standing stupidly, unknown emotions pouring through my poor English major heart.  These words, on the surface, don’t appear to be anything special.  They’re not “to be or not to be”, or Macbeth’s “Out, out brief candle”… but in that moment, they were special.  So here they are.

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late–but
wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me…

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Here’s me standing in front of Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-Upon-Avon!