Friday, December 20, 2013

Let's Be Proud of 2013

There's a lot of lists going around this time of year. Best TV shows of 2013. Most viral youtube videos of 2013. Top ten singles of 2013. Even Facebook and Tumblr have hopped on board; you can view your "Year in Review", your top moments of 2013.

Which would be great if I had had many top moments this year. But I didn't. Because I'm twenty-one and in college and pretty boring. So no thank you to my year in review; let's not linger on how mediocre I am.

But then I got around to thinking that a year - twelve whole months - have gone by and I'm not the same person I was in January. Not even close. So, inevitably some things have happened, even if they weren't spectacular and amazing. Here's my 2013 list:

Reasons why I'm proud of 2013:

  • I finished the novel I was working on and though I say this every time, it's my favorite thing I've done so far. No, really, it is.
  • Lots of people who know me know that I've struggled with my weight and self-image problems since I was young. Well, not anymore! Starting in January, I went on this wonderful and tortuous journey to getting fit which involved a lot of miles on the treadmill, a lot of blisters, and a lot of quinoa. And no pasta. But I'm glad I finally did it because it changed my perspective on life and taught me that the saying "confidence is beautiful" is a real thing.
  • Which means when I ran my third 5k race a couple weeks ago, I finished in under thirty minutes. Remember when I couldn't run a mile in high school? Yeah, let's all try to forget that. 
  • I continued volunteering at the Cantalician Center, a school for mentally and physically handicapped children (you can read the blog post about my work at the Center here), which has been the most transformative experience of my life . I wouldn't give up the those kids' smiles for anything.
  • Still continuing to write and research disability studies, an interest that I didn't know I had until a professor I had last semester set me on the path to it. It's still exciting to me to be passionate about something.
  • Pretty proud of the fact I added a history minor to my already full schedule. But I love history, I really do, and so I figured there's no time like the present. And then I laughed a little maniacally as I tacked more classes to my senior year schedule.
  • I got accepted into a study abroad program in Ireland, where I'll be living for six months. I know what you're thinking, I know. I couldn't believe I did it either. I'm still not sure what I've gotten myself into. Only that it's nothing I've ever done before and I'm both terrified and eager to start this new chapter of my life.
  • Even though I swore I would never ever write for a newspaper, I ended up writing weekly book reviews for my school newspaper, The Griffin. Which was fun but stressful. I like reading but a book a week on top of all my other work was…let's say I'm relieved I'm not doing it next semester. But I got the chance to read a lot of books I wouldn't normally read and also got better at writing reviews.
  • I learned how to do my nail polish a lot better. Like, a lot, a lot. Thanks to my two best friends who have some weird obsession with doing their nails. Pretty sure I learned how just from watching them. It was that or die from the fumes of the nail polish remover that's always around.
  • My cooking has gotten a great deal more edible. I mean, I'm still pretty bad at it, but I'm getting better. I've been cooking all my meals for myself for over a year and I'm still surprised (in a good way) when something comes out tasting reasonably good. But my roommates can vouch that I haven't killed anyone yet.
  • I bought a lot of new shoes.
  • And a lot of new books.
Okay, looking at those last two I think I better stop this list. Otherwise you're going to end up reading things like: "I'm proud of the fact that I can finish an entire season of Supernatural on Netflix in a week. Maybe less if it's a really good one."

Really though, 2013 was a great year. I climbed a few mountains (figuratively and literally!), slid down a few slippery slopes, but always found my way back to level ground in the end. It was a year surrounded by all the best family and friends I could ask for and frankly, I don't think I'd do it any other way.












    Saturday, November 9, 2013

    How I Think Love Could Fix the American Public School System

    There are a few things I feel that all people should experience in life.
    Everyone should be told at least once that they look beautiful when they first wake up in the morning.
    Wings from Buffalo, NY.
    To laugh so hard that you have a moment of clarity where you think, Yes, this is what I live for.
    Seasonal-scented candles. Apple Pumpkin. Frosted Mistletoe. Cherry Blossom. Ocean Breeze.

    And I believe that everyone should have to at least observe for a few hours at a school for disabled children.

    I attend a Jesuit college and if you had asked me during high school if I was going to go to a religious school - much less a Catholic one - the answer would have been a resounding are you stupid? As it was, I fell in love with the campus and the writing program and stepped into the collegiate life with the resolve that I would turn a blind eye toward campus ministry. But to my surprise, the Jesuits do not try to force religion down your throat. Going to mass isn't required - in fact, I've only gone a handful of times in three years. The only thing these kind-souled people ask is that you try to give back to the community at some point in your life. Maybe even during your academic career. So we have this thing called service learning where we, the students, go out into the community: to schools, to shelters, to hospitals, sometimes we just rake leaves or shovel snow for senior citizens. It isn't required to graduate but sometimes you stumble upon a class that makes it mandatory.

    I fell into one of those classes without knowing it: an English course during my first semester of sophomore year. Eight hours, I think, is the time we had to fulfill. For this particular class, we would be working with a local school for physically and mentally disabled children. Let's say I panicked a little bit. Shocker, isn't it? Me, the person who used to freak out if I had to order the pizza. Me, the girl who half the time doesn't have the nerve to ask a store employee for help.
    There's a reason I ruled out being a teacher years ago.
    But I liked the professor and the course and I had friends to go with so I sucked it up and went.

    Those eight hours changed my life.

    It sounds dramatic, I know. But it was like only seeing in black and white for the first twenty years of my life and then all of a sudden someone gave me these really cool glasses that allowed me to see color. The children I worked with the most were young, around eight years old, and they were absolutely precious. I came home every week with new treasures: a sweet boy sent me home with a drawing made especially for me, a quiet girl would sit beside me and color for a half hour and then present me with the pages with a shy smile. I grew up babysitting the neighborhood children; I know kids, I like kids. But there was something about the kids at this school that was just so pure and innocent. I began to see what the teachers and the aides and the other staff at the school were seeing: beautiful children with so much to offer this world. I left that school ten times the person I was when I walked in.

    Fast forward to junior year where I'm sitting in a Biomedical Ethics class surrounded by over-the-top-smart Pre-Med and Psychology majors. I'm only taking it as a requirement but these kids, this is what they live for. The syllabus says that we can either write four papers that are a million pages long or we can do twelve hours of service learning. A testimony to how much service learning had changed me last year is that I, queen of paper writing, chose the service learning. And to my delight, I could do it at the same exact school where I volunteered last year.
    Perfect.
    This time I work with a group of slightly older children who are pretty high-functioning. They can communicate and verbalize and generally don't need someone hanging over their shoulder every minute. The neat thing about volunteering at the same place a second time and through a different class, is that I'm starting to pick up on things I missed last year. And there's something I want to say.
    These teachers love these children. They bring them hand-me-down clothes and shoes if the kids can't afford them. They are soft and encouraging when the children need a little extra attention but they are the ultimate authority figure if a child gets out of line. They teach them how to ask the right questions and brush their teeth and make eye contact and how to tie their shoes. They teach them all these things and more, many times over and over and over again until the child grasps the concept. The teachers smile and laugh and are continuously delighted when one of the kids tells a joke or gets a question right.
    The affection is what astonishes me.
    So let's ask a question: when did public schools for non-disabled children become so cold? Where were my teachers who cared if did well on a project or if I made eye contact during a question? You might say, But Marie, you aren't disabled in any way. Why do you need extra attention?
    You're right. I didn't need someone to teach me how to brush my teeth or tie my shoes. But I sure could have used someone that I felt comfortable talking to instead of letting me think I was a waste of their time. Nerd alert: I liked school. I liked to learn. But I can count on one hand the number of teachers I've had that have treated me with dignity and respect and some sort of type of appreciation and every single one of them has gotten a long thank you note for changing my life.
    When did extra attention became synonymous with any type of attention? Teachers at the schools where I grew up couldn't touch me, couldn't pat me on the back for a job well done. I witnessed a teacher kick a classmate's desk repeatedly until he woke up and then apologized that she would have shaken him awake but she didn't want to get into trouble.
    Really? Did we have to go that far, America?
    It's time to get back to what really matters when it comes to education: the children. The desire to turn out members of this country with the knowledge we gave them everything we had. Let's make it not about the money, the contracts, the unions. Let's make it about empathy instead, about doing the right thing. Maybe we can learn something from the special education teachers, who clearly aren't doing it for themselves or for the money or for the government.
    It's amazing and overwhelming each time I step into that school. I'm not asking teachers around the country to become saints and start coddling students, but I am asking them to step up their game just a little bit. Let the students know that they matter, let them lean on you when life becomes staggering in the way it often does for young people. I think a lot you will be surprised at the result. I was when I witnessed it.

    My youth blinds me maybe, but I'll wear these blinkers forever if it means never losing sight of what I've learned this past year.

    Wednesday, October 16, 2013

    Adventures of a Bibliophile

    Fall break. Two blessed words that came none too soon into a busy semester. My plans to go home to Jersey were accompanied by great excitement and days of not eating in order to stuff myself with as much of my parents' food as possible. A couple weeks before I headed home, my mother and I talked about spending a day in New York City, one of our usual haunts when we get some spare time together throughout the year. But what should we do? At first, we thought we would see a show on Broadway but my favorite Shakespeare play is coming back in November so we decided to wait. All our regular museums and exhibits were offering nothing new. We were stuck.
    Then we had a conversation that went like this:

    Mom: I have an idea!
    Me: *sighs* Mom, I'm not biking. You already asked me that.
    Mom: I looked up 10 best bookstores in the city. We should go visit them!
    Me:
    Mom:
    Me: Are you an angel?

    One day I will write a blogpost (or two or ten) about how much of an influence my mother has been in my life. She is my greatest supporter, no matter what I choose to pursue. She listens patiently to my many obsessions with music, TV shows, and books and doesn't judge (I hope!) my immense love for fictional characters. She's the one who has accompanied me on countless book readings and author events and small out-of-the-way concerts of people she's never heard of. In the end, she's my best friend who I can tell anything to. So naturally, she knows me best. She decided we were going to spend a whole day going through bookstores in Manhattan just because I love them so much and would get a kick out the trip.
    Did I mention how much I love my mother?
    Anyway, we set out Saturday morning armed with bags to carry our purchases in and our handy-dandy booklist. First stop was in Chelsea: 192 Books. The store was smaller than we thought but well-lit and charming. I picked up a copy of The Circle by Dave Eggers, which I've heard good things about! Mom bought a few books as presents for the little people in her life.

    192 Books in Chelsea

    Next, we headed over to the most touristy bookstore by far: The Strand. You might have heard of this place; it's got three floors of books and it was crowded! We wormed our way through the bottom floor, picking up books that looked interesting or those that had been recommended to us by friends. But we really found our peace on the third floor, the rare book room. There were books dating back to practically the beginning of time. I didn't want to touch them for fear the pages would disintegrate between my fingertips. I don't know why more people didn't want to hang out up there but it was pure bliss. My favorite part of the rare book room? The smell. Someone has seriously gotta bottle that stuff.
    Mom got a good laugh when I ducked into a nook full of books and declared that it is exactly what my heaven will look like!

    Me in book heaven!

    Our next stop was a used book store further downtown called HousingWorks Bookstore. It's completely run on donations. Every book has come from someone else, most of them well-loved and all of them looking for their next reader! There's a cute cafe where we ate lunch and rested our sore feet! I gathered up a few books for Christmas presents then spent a while looking for books for my mom's classroom at school. The selection of children's books was great! The volunteer staff at the counter explained that all the money goes into housing for the homeless and relief for people with HIV/AIDS. We definitely need to donate some of the cajillion books in our house to HousingWorks!

    Outside HousingWorks!

    By the time we got to the fourth and last bookstore, McNally-Jackson, we were pooped! It was busy also and only a couple blocks from HousingWorks. We wandered amid the tourists who were loud and obnoxious but then caught sight of something interesting at the front of the store. McNally-Jackson boasts it's own printing press! My dad is in printing but it was neat seeing the press up close. If anyone is interested in seeing their work self-published, check out McNally-Jackson! They also have a large downstairs where we found peace and quiet and more importantly, a bench to sit on!

    I have my mother to thank for this wonderful day. The bookstores were amazing but getting to spend the day with her was just another memory I'll forever cherish.

    Mama and me!

    Friday, October 4, 2013

    Failures

    Part of me wanted to delete this entire blog and just start over so I didn't have all my failures staring at me every time I went to write a post. But then I started playing around with the settings and gave it a makeover. Not to mention all the good times I've had with this blog. Don't worry; I'm painfully aware of the struggles you, the reader, and I have been through on this blog. Like this trainwreck of a post. Or this one. And let's not forget the one that made no sense at all.
    I've grown in a lot of ways in the past year. As a writer. As a person in general. The way I view the world has changed and I'm more confused than ever. But that's life. One of the things I'm learning is that you can't predict it, can't even plan for it. 
    For those of you who haven't read my blog before, I'm Marie. I'm a college student who likes to read and write. Sometimes I talk about those things on this blog but sometimes I talk about other things too. I like dancing crazily in front of my mirror when my roommate's not home (and sometime's when she is) and making stupid videos with my cousins. Country music will always be part of who I am and I spend way too much time watching TV shows like Pretty Little Liars and Supernatural. I'm about as far from perfect as you can get. But I enjoy life. My life.
    I thought a good re-intro to this blog would be to tell you about how much of a failure I've been recently. You know, lay all my cards on the table. I won't even try to use my poker face.
    So let's talk about cooking.
    I'm terrible at it.
    But I didn't know how terrible I was at it until I started trying all these fall recipes. I admit I caught fall fever early. I'm excited for colder weather and heavy blankets and the leaves falling off the trees. Why not then, try some new recipes? How exciting this will be! How good everything will taste! Fall!
    I started with Pumpkin Sloppy Joes, which would have gone great if I hadn't been tricked by the man in Wegmans who sold me whole cloves and I dumped a whole bunch into the mix. Mistake. Do you guys know how awful cloves taste? God. I wasted an entire pound of beef, an entire can of pumpkin, and a good two hours to this dish that was now almost inedible. But good college kid I am; I suffered through the whole thing by picking out the cloves before I microwaved a serving. Lesson learned: no cloves, ever. And no more sloppy joes for a while either.
    Next I tried Pumpkin Soup. I've made soup before, guys. I'm not really that bad at it. I stocked up on the ingredients (inexpensive! healthy!) and set to work one weekend afternoon. It smelled great. My whole apartment was the scent of autumn and not a single candle was lit. Then I sat down to eat lunch and put a spoonful in my mouth. And almost spit it back out. Large chunks of onion, which I swear I diced, were swimming in my soup like little fishies. My roommate stared across the table as I forced down spoonful after spoonful. I made this soup, goddamnit, and I was gonna eat it. That dish would have been lost if not for my mother. I was complaining about my inadequacy to her on the phone next day and she said, "Well Marie, did you try putting it in the blender?"
    Uh. Um. No?
    It worked. Of course it worked. Thank you, Mother. After that, it was substantially more edible and I ate almost the whole tureen and did not taste one onion!
    Those are only two of my woeful attempts. I won't put you through the pumpkin cookies that went in the garbage. Or the pumpkin cupcakes that were supposed to be foolproof. Apparently, I'm a new kind of idiot. It's part of growing up, right? That's what I tell myself as I open another packet of pre-marinated chicken breast and throw it in a sauté pan and then toss it on some romaine leaves. I'm trying but this whole living on your own thing is hard. Someone send me back to sixth grade where all I had to do at night was decide which sweatshirt and jeans I wanted to wear to school the next day.

    Check back soon for more updates about me and my writing. And if you really like me, recommend my blog to your friends!