Monday Lists

Books I have on hold at the library:

A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway

Moon over Manifest – Clare Vanderpool

The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

Gilead – Marilynn Robinson

1984 – George Orwood

Collected Stories – Raymond Carver

Daring Greatly – Brene Brown

 

Most recent text I sent:

To my mom – “Taste buds don’t age. We are making Oreo layered brownies for dessert tonight.”

To Hannah – “We have no monies and no free time.”

To my best friend – “I think I have a girl crush on Brooke White.”

To my boyfriend – “Stop trying to text me while you’re doing your homework!”

 

Songs on my latest Spotify playlist:

I Melt With You – Modern English

Brandy – Looking Glass

Riptide – Vance Joy

Carolina on My Mind – James Taylor

The Ghost Who Walks – Karen Elson

 

Recipes I’ve Recently Tried:

Avocado and pesto stuffed sweet peppers

Roasted acorn squash with sage butter

Gluten/sugar free Reese’s Cups

Red roasted carrots

 

Things I promise to do this week:

Rest

Wear an oversized hoodie and read books under the covers

Take more photos with my camera, less with my phone

Remember that I own a journal and use it

Send letters

Be on time

Show love to my body

Send gushy, reckless texts telling my friends what they mean to me

Keep writing

 

-Rachel

When Faced With Your Insecurities

Recently I’ve been checking out book after book from the library. I can’t get enough. I’ve been writing again, every day, and as a result I’ve been reading again–devouring words like alphabet soup was my diet and I’d already missed two meals. It’s actually a bit of a feverish feeling. I don’t know if people who aren’t writers can understand what that’s like, but maybe it affects artists and speakers and dreamers the same way. You become consumed with people and stories and words that are all yours and you just crave the people and stories and words of others too.

One of the books I was loaned recently was a thin paperback volume of Hemingway quotes on writing. I’ve been reading a section a day, often stopping to re-read a quote three or four times. Soaking it in. Figuring out who I am as a writer and why these words matter.

After reading the book of Hemingway quotes, I decided to do some more research on Hemingway’s life and was shocked and scared by what I’d read. Hemingway is always portrayed in the same way. Moody. Passionate. Loud and always boasting. Craving attention. Always needing to take things one step further and climb one stair higher and accomplish something more. And yet all of these things were always summed up as side effects of simply being “a writer”. That’s what a writer is and that’s how writers apparently are.

I’m a writer. I know this. It’s in my bones, in the way I sit and think and stretch open my mouth to talk. I’m a writer in my thoughts and in the way I arrange events and memories into a string of interwoven scenes that make up my life. It echoes through everything I do and say and the way people perceive me and even in the way I want to be perceived. I may not be a great writer or even a good one, but that’s still what I am.

So something in me shook at the raw hunger I saw in Hemingway’s notes, in the portrayal of him in stories, and even in his own letters and books. There was this craving that never seemed to be satisfied. The need to tell but also the need to be listened to and told that his stories were great.

I closed the book and sat criss-cross on my bed for a while, blinking back tears. So do these things define me? Do I write out of a gut-clenching need to not only create but be loved? I know that I want to be a good writer one day. A great one. I’m not writing for purely self-sacrificial or beneficial reasons. I’m writing because I want a voice that shouts into the voids and echoes on the walls. I don’t want to be a whisperer.

So what if this need someday destroys me?

When I look at the stories of the great writers I admire, I don’t see lives I want to emulate. I see cold aching mornings with too much black coffee and everyone always kissing the wrong people and going home through the wrong doors and emptying their wallets in the wrong places. There’s so much genius and so much hurt that is it even possible to separate the two?

Hemingway shot himself in the head with a revolver. Fitzgerald was morbidly alcoholic since his college days. Both were great. Neither was happy.

I know this is a rambling post and I’m not trying to make much sense of it. I’m just exposing my insecurities for what they are and trusting that I’ll find grace that will not only cover, but heal them all.

I’m afraid everything great I’ll ever do is behind me. That I peaked at age sixteen and that life is a downward spiral from here.

Or maybe I’m afraid that I’ll never stop doing great things and that life will get bigger and bigger and that I’ll always demand more from it.

I’m afraid I’ll marry a writer. Or maybe I’m afraid I won’t marry a writer. I don’t know which would be worse.

Sometimes I’m afraid my children will be intimidated by my life. That they’ll feel they can’t reach the sun when they found their roots beneath my shadow.

Other times I fear I’ll be too consumed in my own work to want to share it with children at all.

I suppose I’m afraid the things I think are great will be sneered upon by others.

While at the same time it would be hard to hear people praise what I know I could do better.

I’m afraid I don’t know what my “One Big Dream” is.

Or maybe that I do know and I’m really just too afraid to spell it out.

I was talking to one of my best friends once about how many things I actually keep bottled up inside and how sometimes I feel corked. It’s so easy for me to write about things that are real, I explained. My hurts, my failings, my wounded ego. When something has happened, it helps for me to wrap it into words and spit it out. I need to know these things are real and that these things are okay.

What I can’t handle as well are the unknowns. These fears that are always changing and always there. “I just can’t tell you what I fear,” I remember saying, “Because putting words to them moves them to the realm of the real, and I’m not ready for that yet.”

“Say them,” he said. “Make them real and then deal with them.”

So that’s what I’m trying to do. If I can melt these fears with words and then watch them harden as I grow, I think it all becomes easier. I start to relax and find peace. These insecurities, no matter how dark and stretched they seem, mean nothing in the light of eternity. My fears and wants become less dire. I walk in grace and I grow in love.

I don’t ever want my sole purpose in life to be found in being a great writer. And I don’t want my biggest insecurities to be warped around anyone’s view of me, including my own. Why? Because I’m covered. Hidden in Christ. This voice that longs to echo into the void isn’t powered by my own lungs but by the Creator who made them. He’s given me words and He will give me the ability to use them. He’s given me an audience and He will give me the strength to ignore it. He’s allowed these fears but He will provide the way to overcome them.

I hope you don’t mind how brutally honest I’ve been with you today. Sometimes I feel silly for posts like these but this blog is my (very public) diary of sorts and I know I’m not shouting to myself here. I know that together we are broken, bruised, and imperfect people with hearts peeled back and hopes and fears strung out for the world to see. Because we don’t parade our flaws, we celebrate His victories. Victory over fear. Triumph over self-gain. And light over this ever-present darkness.

It doesn’t matter if I’m ever great. What matters is that I’m real. That’s what I strive for and that’s what I want to clutch every night until my life is spent and my words run dry.

-Rachel

In Which I Wear Fall-ish Clothes

Back when I was asking for blog topic ideas in the spring, I was genuinely surprised how many of you wanted fashion tips or posts with outfit ideas. Which is funny because I am NOT a fashion blogger. Most of the time I don’t even feel like I’m a stylish person. My sisters are always raising their eyebrows (or out-rightly voicing an objection) and all my inspiration comes from magazines from the 70′s or random photos I find of people in different cultures. It’s pretty quirky, to say the least.

But hey, I do wear clothes and sometimes I wear fall-ish clothes, which is super convenient since it’s fall. So if you want to know what my five staples for fall are (don’t I sound official), scroll down.

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A great pair of jeans

First you have to figure out what a great-fitting pair of jeans means to you. Because they do not come one-shape-fits-all. My sister Hannah, for instance, rarely wears anything but dark wash skinny jeans. Have you seen me in dark wash skinny jeans? It’s not pretty. I need something looser. Higher waisted. I’m the one who will go for boyfriend jeans or wide legged 70′s cuts. Don’t follow denim fads. Just try on pair after pair until you find something you can walk in, sit in, eat in (gosh that’s so important) and feel confident in!

Something vintage

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of vintage. But it’s funny because I’m really not a retro housewife-in-pearls kinda girl. But the great thing is that, with vintage, you can be whatever kind of girl you want. You can don a sundress and pearl necklace, or you can pick up a 90′s floral dress in a thrift store and just rock it. These clothes that are so rich with history and stories take on a whole new life in your hands. I love wearing vintage at any point in the year, but the phrase “everything begins again in the fall” really has a meaning here. Vintage clothes, no matter how old, become new again on you.

Bright scarves

I refuse to believe that scarves are just for the preppy. Because I own about twelve of them and wear them every other day in the colder months. I’m visually drawn to things with color and texture, so even though I sometimes wear head to toe black or neutrals, grabbing an embroidered, batik, or hand dipped scarf makes me feel like I’m still covering myself with beautiful things. Remember the Ayu scarves I told you about? They’re great examples of how you can take one stunning piece of fabric and wear it close to your face. People will look at your face, feel the happy vibes, and have their days brightened because of it. I’m not even lying.

Big sweaters

Remember when you were a kid and you used to pull your arms into your sweater and say something like, “Hey look! I was attacked by a shark in a freak accident that left me armless!” and no one would believe you? Yeah, me too. I was missing sweaters big enough to lose my arms in, so this year I just decided to start wearing them again. Thus began my thrift store hunt and you’d be amazed how many giant shapeless wool sweaters you can find in Goodwill. In rad colors too that make you feel like a 1970s Ivy League student.

A wear-everyday jacket

For Hannah, it’s a trench. I’m not quite that classy but I was in desperate need of a lightweight jacket to get me through the in-between months. I had a brief affair with a fabric/leather motorcyle jacket for a good bit, but didn’t work with everything. And then, on one of the last days of summer, I stumbled across the denim jacket of my second grade dreams in the Gap. So much yes. I wear it everyday.

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 Well now you know what I’m wearing this fall. What about you?

-Rachel

CONTEST – Be My Fan, Okay?

So many of you have been writing me to ask what I’ve been up to lately. Am I writing a third book? Yes. But can I share what it’s about? No, not yet. Am I planning to go to college next year? Yes, I think so. Do I know what college I’m going to? No, not yet. (Anyone want to offer me a full scholarship? Ha. Ha.)

I’ve been trying to stay hyped to keep writing because #1: I love the new story I’m working on. But also because #2: I love my fans and I want to give you guys something new to read soon!

So one way I’ve been trying to stay “in the mood” is by going through and reading all the old blog posts/reviews/comments everyone left on the internet when my first two books came out. I was blown away all over again reading through everyone’s thoughts and comments and general gushiness. You made me blush two years later. Yay.

Anyway, after being reminded again of what great readers I have, I decided to do a fun little contest (I’ve never done a contest before) for my fans so you guys can show your love for these characters and I can show my thankfulness for your support! 

Here’s what you can do:

ALL OF MY BLOG READERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO CREATE SOMETHING BASED ON ONE OF MY BOOKS. IT CAN BE A DRAWING OF ONE OF MY CHARACTERS, A POEM BASED ON YOUR FAVORITE SCENE, A PIECE OF FAN FICTION, A YOUTUBE VIDEO, A RECORDED SONG, A PIECE OF ART, A PHOTOGRAPH, A HANDMADE DRESS — ANYTHING! BE CREATIVE!

The only requirement is that it has to be based off of either Interrupted or Chasing Jupiter.

In return, I’ll choose three winners. Second and third place winners will both receive autographed sets of my books and a handwritten note from me.

And the first place winner will receive an autographed book set, handwritten note, AND $50 Barnes and Noble giftcard.

(WHAT?? I know, I want it too)

The contest starts today and will last until the end of the month. Then I’ll choose a few friends to help me choose the winners. To send in your entry, email me at rachelcokerwrites(at)hotmail(dot)com with the subject line “Contest”. Attach any photos, documents, or videos to your email and take a minute to explain what your entry is about. I’ll email you back to let you know when I’ve received it. If you would like to physically mail me your entry (which would be, like, so cool), then email and ask for my mailing address and I can give it to you.

Winners will be announced the first week of November. So dig back into those books, get inspired, and let the creative juices flow! I honestly can’t wait to see what you come up with.

{Contest open to all ages and all countries. Contest will end at 12:00 AM EST on November 1, 2014. Winners will be chosen based on creativity, talent, and relevancy to my stories. Winners’ first names and winning entries will be published on my blog.}

-Rachel

Lists and Lists

Things I do not care to wear:

Polo shirts

Skinny jeans

Low-waisted anything

Yoga pants

Zip up hoodies

The color brown

 

Places I do not care to be:

Department stores

Any stores on Black Friday actually

Crowded beaches

Front rows of roller coasters

 

Food I don’t prefer to eat:

Fruit salad

Instant mac and cheese

Ranch dressing

 

Things I should watch but haven’t found time for:

The first three seasons of American Horror Story

Anything from Shark Week

The rest of Sherlock (I’m only on season two)

 

Phrases I don’t understand:

Bae

What will happen will happen

I die

I can’t even

 

Books I don’t care to read again:

The Fault in Our Stars

Les Miserables

Plato’s Republic

A first draft of anything I wrote

 

Things I secretly love:

Mom jeans

Competitive cooking shows

Calling someone and having it go to voicemail

Denim jackets

Ginger scented anything

Publishing lists even if no one reads them

 

-Rachel

Meet the Girls From the Workshop

After the six girls who shared my home for the weekend had left, I sent out an email asking a few follow up questions from the workshop. How did they hear about it? What was their favorite meal? What did they want “more” of? And, most importantly, what was the best part of those three days?

The answers I got back were varied. Some loved the pasta, others liked the waffles. A few were long time blog readers and others had stumbled across my site after finding my book at their local library. They loved the adventures, the food, and the things they learned. But the answer that surprised me the most, that absolutely every girl gave, was that their hands-down favorite part of the workshop was being surrounded by like-minded young women for a long, wonderful weekend.

I remember being in high school and feeling like I was the only one of my kind I’d ever meet. I had few if any writer friends. I didn’t play sports or act in theater or study calculus like all my friends. I took pictures all the time and wrote constantly, and always felt alone doing it. It was a side of me that everyone knew about, but that rarely came up in conversations. I remember feeling like the oddball out a lot of the time, and telling myself that I’d just have to live with not having many shared interests with the people around me.

TURNS OUT, THAT’S HOW A LOT OF THESE GIRLS FELT TOO. They came from small towns or suburbs or rural farms or military bases, and they also often felt alone. It’s hard to find someone to gush over books and share ideas for stories and take photos with. Oftentimes, you’re off on your own living in your separate little world while your friends worry about work and college and sports.

Maybe that’s why this weekend was so special. Because, for the first time in many of their lives, these girls found a family of people just like them. Young women with hungry hearts and powerful voices. They never. stopped. talking. Their voices clashed and interwove and dissolved into each other. In car rides. Around the kitchen table. At twelve thirty in the morning on air mattresses in the spare room above my garage.

IT WAS THE SWEETEST TANGLE OF SOUND.

Each day I gave the girls a new writing assignment and we would gather in the evenings cross-legged in my living room to share and listen with each other. And on Saturday night, I had them all write their names on slips of torn notebook paper and drop it in a basket. Then they went around and each pulled out the name of another girl they had spent the weekend living with. Keeping the secret to themselves, they woke up early Sunday morning and scribbled in their notebooks or clicked away on their laptops. Writing. Telling the story of a life that intersected theirs so briefly, but so deeply. They’d only spent three days with these other young women, but it was amazing what they noticed and learned. Things that even I didn’t pick up on.

Sunday afternoon before leaving for the airport, we gathered together one last time over chili and cornbread and shared our stories with each other. I can’t describe it without the overly cliched words that come with something sentimental. Tears. Hugs. Blurry eyes and dimpled cheeks. The odd blending of smiles and gasps and wet drops from sleepy eyes that comes with a heartfelt goodbye after a cup runneth over kind of weekend.

I thought I’d introduce these storytellers to you, in their own words. See them the way we learned to see them. MY PHOTOS. THEIR WORDS.

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ABBEY // as told by Mary

Rachel told us to be able to describe someone in three words. That made me bite my lip with nervousness. What if I didn’t pick the right three?! To my delight three words,  quickly popped into my head about Abbey; and I know that even if they weren’t “perfect”, these three words are my chosen description of her.

Abbey  is

1) resilient,

2) a sunshine, and

3) hopeful

As I was listening to Abbey on the way to Carter Mountain, I thought, “Woah! This girl has been through more external hardships than I (concerning houses and bedrooms – or lack thereof). And she hasn’t let it make her bitter. No, I can see what has happened in her life has made her a better person.” She and her family have stuck together, trusted the Lord, and seen God provide in some really amazing ways! Whatever trials come along… she doesn’t let them keep her down. She always bounces back. She is a beautiful female human slinky. I can’t wait to tell her story to my children.

It’s moving to see and honestly rare these days to see someone, especially at the age of 14, NOT complaining even over the “BIG” stuff. She merely related her life through words. Abbey is mature and caring; her actions speak louder than words. She lives and says “let God”. She may be the youngest of our group, but we can all learn from her.

SAMANTHA // as told by Abbey

Samantha is beautiful, inside and out.

When I think of her, the first thing that comes to my mind, is her hair. The beautiful way her curls fall against her soft skin and compliment her eyes.

The next thing that comes to mind, is how quiet she is. She has such a calm and sweet spirit that I absolutely admire. She sees the world through the lens of her camera. She finds beauty in the great things as well as the small.

Samantha is an easy person to be around. Someone whose inner and outer beauty, everyone admires. Someone whose giggle makes you happy. Someone whose smile is contagious.

Someone who makes you hurt when you don’t get to be around them.

ZIPPORAH // as told by Sydney

I’ve always had an obsession with names–I love when they are unique and meaningful. A girl I met only a few short days ago possesses a name similar to many of the names I create for my characters, but I soon learned that there was something much more special about this girl than her name. Her smile and freckles brighten anyone’s day. She loves God and the beautiful details in his creation. She goes great lengths to snap a picture of the most infinitesimal detail, the things few others take time to notice; the dew on a a mountain apple, the pasty orange of an autumn pumpkin. People like Zipporah are the people we need most in the world, the ones who slowly bring back what matters most.

ABBY // as told by Samantha

Dear Abby,

The one thing that I first noticed about you was your extreme enthusiasm. A light in your eye as you talked about your stories, rushing over to someone to give a word of encouragement, and providing a listening ear when someone needed it seems to be your specialties. But what I couldn’t stop thinking about was how you see the world. You see the stories behind people, and you take special time to let people know that you care.

You see the weathered hands, and the dirty nails and you know they’ve had to work during their life. You see soft ringlets and smooth skin and think of life. You see watery eyes and shaking shoulders and you know when to speak and when to listen because you know that person has had a difficult time. I honestly can’t even describe and put into words how amazing it is to listen to you and see the world through your eyes. All I can say is words that you’ve said all week: “And I love that.” It has been such a crazy and inspiring weekend, and I’ve loved getting to know you.

SYDNEY // as told by Zipporah

Sydney is a young woman brimming with laughter, observant and lovely. All week long I have been around her, marveling at the way the sunlight streaks her flaxen hair with light, watching her describe hilarious incidents, shaking in uncontrollable giggles until my sides are just about to split apart. I’ve come to smile at her pink curlers, at her love for guinea pigs and soft bread.

This girls is beautiful. Her hands are elegant; the type that I could photograph all day. Blue, blue eyes, especially when she glances shyly up at the camera. Yet it’s not just what she looks like that makes me know that God created her a masterpiece.

It’s listening to her describe story ideas and struggles. It’s watching her stand on a wall in the middle of a Scotch fog, smiling sleepily at a tangle of eager girls. Or listening to her announce that she’s just memorized her new zip-code, seeing the bravery of moving half-way across the country.

Sydney is the only Sydney of her type. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for that.

So if you ever run across a girl with rippling, blonde hair who catches her face in her hands when she’s telling stories, tell her that you’re already glad to meet her. Because there is no way you could ever regret saying that.

She’s worth knowing.

MARY // as told by Abby

When I first met Mary; it was a smile that met me. I think I shall always think of soft piano music and early morning walks in polka-dot pajamas when I hear the name Mary. The girl who laughs with her heart and smiles from deep within her soul.

Her dark hair is often flipped over her shoulder or pulled back with a hair tie out of the way. It brought me such pleasure to see it floating in the wind as she lagged behind us noticing a flower not the size of a half dollar. It’s the little things Mary notices that I just walk past.

I will exit that front door today and I’ll probably look back frantically asking where is Mary? It will make me laugh, smile, and weep a little too. I will miss the woman with a heart for God and for life. As she faces the world may she always remember even on the hardest of paths to stop and smell the flowers.

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I’M GRATEFUL FOR THESE STORYTELLERS. Seeing the friendships that formed this past weekend was such a testimony to God’s divine arrangement of hearts and bodies and voices. So glad I could meet them and I pray these relationships continue to grow as the days and years go by.

-Rachel

Dream Factory Workshop Recap

IT SEEMED LIKE A CRAZY IDEA. Invite six strangers from five different states into my home for three days. Ask them to sleep in crowded quarters on airmattresses, sleeping bags, and couches. Pile them into our family’s minivan and drive them around the state. Cook chili and pasta and curry rice for the masses and feed them three square meals a day (plus snacks!). Share things from my heart about storytelling and writing and photography and ask them to share their hearts with each other too.

I figured half of us would go crazy. Including my mom and dad.

BUT WHAT HAPPENED WAS AMAZING. 

A few days ago, I didn’t know these people. I picked them up at the airport with their names written in blue Sharpie on blank sheets of construction paper or opened the door to find them standing on my porch with their parents. Bright eager faces and lumpy sleeping bags. But by Saturday night, we didn’t eat as strangers. We shared butter knifes and spilled salt and crunched croutons and rolled eyes as friends. Talented women with lusty voices who have realized their stories deserve to be told. And that goes so much further than blog posts and short stories and photo galleries.

WE ARE ADVENTURERS. We have stories in our bones and voices that get stuck in our throats when out of use for too long. This week, we’ve learned to see and notice and listen to each other. In long car rides, overly cramped sleeping spaces, kitchen tables brimming with apple peels—we’ve created new stories together.

The stories we’ll tell from this week will become more elaborate and rose tinged in time. We’ll get excited telling friends from home about the girls we met with their curly hair and sleepy morning eyes. We’ll forget the stressful moments and the exhausted ones. The thrills will stick with us. Snaking up a mountain wrapped in a white sheet of clouds and blinking at the headlights coming through the haze. Sitting on a picnic blanket in the misty Scotch fog with water droplets in our hair and plates of pasta salad. Rows of naked apples lined up on a table, bumpy with curves and ridges, and seven heads bent over them with all the intensity of a firing squad, shooting photos. Making memories.

We’ve stood on tiptoe in bookstores and sat on three hundred year old doorsteps. We’ve eaten an abundance of grilled cheese and pasta and waffles, and yet still worked to the point of hunger every day. In the evenings, we’ve sat cross legged in rocking chairs and wicker couches, quiet and listening to the words and the stories and the hearts of others.

AND IT’S BEEN A NEVER ENDING JOY.

My goal for this workshop was never to become bored with lectures, dos and don’ts, and rigorous assignments. It was just to notice. To enjoy. To become overfilled with life again, and pushed out of our boxes with a crippling need to create and remember.

The title for the Dream Factory Workshop came from a Ray Bradbury quote I found a few months prior to the idea hatching in my mind. “Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

That’s what we did this week. We were puddles, as Abby put it. Stuffed to the point of overflowing. So full of moments and notes and stories that we’re forced to shove it back out again.

WE TELL STORIES BECAUSE WE ARE FULL OF THEM. Because we are eye stuffers and heart fillers and life livers. And these stories will endure because we’ve captured them. Carved them out in ink. Scooped them into pixels. Let them hang in the air with words and pauses and meaning.

I hope you all continue noticing the stories that last beyond these three days. I hope you tell them. To me. To each other. To the world. And I hope you see the world for the harshly bright, achingly real and fantastic beauty it is. It’s so much better told from your lips than manufactured by others. And these are the stories that will last.

-Rachel

NOTE: Right now, I’m praying about the possibility of hosting another Dream Factory Workshop at my home this spring. I’ll make announcements when I’m ready, but talk to your parents if you’re interested in joining in on the next one!

Our State Fair is a Great State Fair

When I was in middle school, I think it was safe to say I had an unhealthy obsession with old fashioned movies of any sort. If it was filmed before 1970… If it contained twirly dresses and pinstriped suits… If it had music… Um, yes. I was watching it.

But my favorite musical, more than Grease or Oklahoma or even The Sound of Music, was a little unknown Rodgers and Hammerstein number from 1945. STATE FAIR. 

It was so magical. Filmed in the glorious Technicolor of the early 40’s, it filled my mind with larger-than-life expectations of fairs and ferris wheel lights and blue ribbon prizes and magic. I ACTUALLY IMAGINED THAT ALL STATE FAIRS WERE LIKE THIS. People wearing suits and frilly dresses, spontaneously bursting into song, while eating hot dogs and relish and award-winning mincemeat pie.

For years, my mom would roll her eyes at me. “I’ve been to the state fair. It’s nothing like that, I promise. It’s crowded and dirty and the rides aren’t nearly as great as Busch Gardens.”

But this year, I decided, was going to be the year I would finally go. When I made my resolution in January to start living this year, going to the state fair was one of the childhood dreams I’d always wanted to make happen. 2014 was going to be the year of kite flying and ferris wheel riding and even if it wasn’t as magical as the movies it was still going to be great. So, keeping my expectations low and my reality in check, I dragged my family with me to the Virginia State Fair this past week.

AND IT WAS MAGIC.

No, I’m not dramatizing! From the time I was twelve I’d dreamed about the blinking lights of the rides at night and the smell of fried pickles and the fluorescent animals hanging from brightly lit booths. I walked around and stuffed my eyes with wonder at the pinks and blues and kids on shoulders and cotton candy hanging upside down from windows.

Remember this, I thought to myself. Remember sitting at the top of a rickety ferris wheel as the sun sets, your mom and sisters beside you with their phones out, taking pictures at the Technicolor world of lights and movement beneath you. Remember laughing so hard your chest hurt on the roller coaster while your ears threatened to burst at the screams being let loose behind you. Don’t you ever forget the taste of deep fried Reese’s Cups—powdery sweet dough covering an already melted pool of chocolate and peanut butter. Hang on to the tangible memories of the hot air in the haunted house and the cool tickle of henna on your hand and the way your legs kicked the air on the swings. In that moment, you were happy. Happy with the world and its flashing signs and whirling rides and fresh hot cheesy fries.

It’s a gift to know that some things do live up to your expectations. IN FACT, SOME THINGS EXCEED THEM. As a person who is an optimist at heart, who treasures ideas and memories and dreams, it’s a treasure to know that this world is full of state fair experiences. That even on weeks when I cry and stress and feel like nothing will ever turn out the way it’s supposed to, some things will be even better.

I hope one day you find yourself standing in the middle of a crowded freeway, your tummy tickling from the neck jolting roller coaster and your mouth watering over the smell of hot corndogs, and realize that you’re just now unwrapping one of the many layers of this gift called life. So throw away the cellophane, thank God for another blessing, and ride the swings one more time.

NIGHTS LIKE THESE ARE WORTH IT.

 

 

 

-Rachel

The Strain

There’s a Frank O’Hara poem called “My Heart” that begins with the following lines:

I’m not going to cry all the time

Nor shall I laugh all the time

I don’t prefer one “strain” to another

This week has been a week of strains. (And it’s only Wednesday…funny how that works, right?) I had a complete and utter breakdown Monday morning when I backed my car into my dad’s truck. Just completely slammed into it, leaving his truck unharmed and my back bumper nearly detached. I rubbed at hot tears in my eyes and ran to my room, avoiding everyone’s questions, comments, and suggestions. Locked the door like a nine-year-old and curled up in bed. Not crying. Not yelling. Just lying in a sort of semi-frozen state of stress and never wanting to leave my room again.

At least not until November.

It wasn’t even October yet.

SOMETIMES I WONDER HOW LIFE CAN BE FILLED WITH SUCH UPS AND DOWNS. And maybe it’s because I’m an optimist or perhaps I just have a wonderful life, but I feel like I’m constantly marveling and enjoying and soaking things in. There’s so much good and so many laughs.

But sometimes I cry. No, a lot of the time I cry. Sometimes I can’t even force tears. I just squeeze my eyes shut and want to sleep, sleep, sleep instead of live, live, live.

MONDAY WAS ONE OF THOSE DAYS WHEN IT ALL COMPILED AND I WANTED TO JUST LOSE IT. My computer had crashed and was in the shop about fifty minutes from my home. I’d ruined the tail end of my car on my way to get it. I was stuck at home with no computer and no car stressing about the six girls who were coming in five days and the SATs I’d be taking the weekend after they left and all the grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning and planning I’d have to do in between. My mind was swimming laps without the aim of winning any medals. Just aimlessly paddling and paddling and not heading anywhere.

My boyfriend texted and asked if I was okay. My best friend seemed concerned and wanted to know what was up and why did my tone sound different. I’M JUST STRESSED, OKAY? Angry capital letters delivered on an iPhone screen somewhere, and I’m sure they were both a little taken aback. (I’m the optimist, remember?)

I told them I needed to write and just get it all out and that I’d be okay to talk and pray with them after I’d put words to some of my feelings. So I opened up my journal and made a list and just started scribbling.

THINGS THAT CAUSE ME STRESS

messed up cars

passive aggressive discussions with my dad

the feeling that I’m stretched out and

waiting

but I don’t know what for

scraping the bottom of my savings

giving up on a “want” to fix a “need”

broken computers fifty minutes away

grocery lists–the prospect of grocery shopping

six girls being here for three days

not being good enough

or smart enough or old enough

feeling like others see the things I lack

falling behind

algebra

actually, mainly geometry

not getting the future I want

not escaping

but also feeling like I need to escape

falling out of love

staying in love and having to maintain it

staying me

seeing fears written into lists

I took a deep breath and put the pen down. My fingers were actually cramping from my need to write so quickly into such little crooked letters. It looked like a foreign language and it stared back. Bold. Messy. Harsh.

And so I turned the page. And made another list.

BUT, AS ALWAYS, GIFTS

words and knowing I have words

money and knowing I do have money

the ability to make choices

others having confidence in me ($400 kind of confidence)

seeing things work out

knowing they always do

not needing a million friends because I’m never without any

food–always food. peanut butter + chocolate

three sisters sitting barefoot on the bed

not always needing to escape

sometimes, despite the urge, feeling okay to stay.

Part of the reason why I read poetry, like Frank O’Hara’s, is because seeing my feelings written in someone else’s words gives me the confidence to be able to say: okay. I will be fine, I will live through this like the millions of other people who have before me. I’m realizing that there is no preferring one strain to another. There will be days where I will laugh and laugh and fill my cup with sunshine and there will be days when I will want to cry but will only find cold beds and harsh stark words in my hands.

I’M HAPPY WITH THE BALANCE AND I DO LOVE THE TIP AND SWAY. Because it really does tip this way some days, but it will sway back with time.

-Rachel