On Slowing Down and Growing Up

There used to be an infinity of time between June and August. Now the days are short and cramped–even more cramped than last summer, with 40-hr work weeks and only one day off every other week or so. My heart has been equal parts happy, cranky, tired, and content these last few months. I’m thankful for one last summer at home with my family, but I’m tired of the constant working and saving and feeling not-so-slightly lonely. I wonder if, perhaps, I haven’t let myself slow down at all this summer because I don’t want to be reminded of how much my life here in Virginia has changed. My closest high school friends have all either gotten married or moved away. Half of the artwork is gone from my bedroom walls and stored in a garage in Illinois. My sister and cousins also work most days, and we rarely can coordinate days off anymore. My boyfriend fluctuates being between 800 and 1,100 miles away.  In a lot of ways, I expected to come home and find nothing had changed when, in reality, home had changed right along with me this past year.

My dad likes to analogize feeling comfortable in a place with the way he feels in our house late at night. When we first moved into our house twelve years ago, it was difficult to get a cup of water from the kitchen in the dark. Without knowing our way around, we’d bump into things in a klutzy effort to maneuver an un-memorized mental map.

I think our minds have maps like that too. I have a map of my life in my Virginia etched in stone into my memory. And this summer, I’ve felt very disoriented finding my way through it. In the beginning of July, I made a one-week trip back to my school campus and felt the remaining lines of that map shatter. The moment I walked back into the places where I started re-learning who I am, it became almost impossible to re-find who I was. I felt very torn-up. And shreds of the paper me were still in Virginia, glued together to prove that I have a life there. Paths and memories and moments and plans. But other shreds had been left in Illinois and I found them scattered around the theater, lying in the grass, swept under the stairs. They were the pieces of me that had held together through hard things and yet were left unpacked at the end of the school year because there was no room for them back home.

These last two days, I’ve been cranky beyond reason. I think a part of that has to do with a need to NOT reconcile things. The need to convince myself that “This is a Phase” and “Things Will Go Back to Normal Soon” and “Just Wait it Out and See.” I want to keep believing that things haven’t changed and that the photos on my wall of eighteen-year-old me with thick brown glasses and chartreuse pants could have still been taken just yesterday.

But I know I’ll be twenty-one at the end of this summer. That’s a very, very adult age. I’ll be a very, very non-child person. I’ll never be eighteen again, or nineteen, or twenty and I’ll have to keep accumulating the new changes of each of those years as they pile on top of each other.

There are so many beautiful new lines etched into the map of home for me. There’s home in the arms of the truly wonderful man that I’m more in love with than I could have ever imagined. There’s home in the community of creative and raw people who have embraced me in the face of all of my bald spots. And there’s still home in the sometimes-comfy, sometimes-tense interactions within my own family, and the way they will always tell me Good Night and Good Morning and I Love You day in and day out.

Yes, the map still exists, it’s just changed. It’s just so, so changed. And I’m starting to realize that there is no time to re-learn or re-memorize. Because the moment I adjust, it changes again. And it’s awkward and uncomfortable that way, but it’s also wild.

-Rachel

 

The Sparrow

If any of you follow me on Instagram, you know that the last two months of my life have been almost solely dedicated to being in my theater’s production of The Sparrow. And you probably know that, as of last night, it’s officially over.

Well, we did it. We made a show. And I feel amazing and wrung-out and weepy and tired and magical. The curtain closed last night and I just sobbed. Heartbroken, ugly tears, lost-someone-I’ll-never-see-again kind of sobbed.

I think I can honestly say that this was my first ever show. The last time I acted on stage I was in fifth grade and it was a church theater production of the story of Esther. Acting for me then meant memorizing my lines and being loud. But these last few weeks have been hard work—possibly some of the hardest I’ve ever done. I’ve been in rehearsals for up to twenty-five hours a week, straining my imagination and voice and body. As an actor, I’ve been asked to do nearly impossible things and I’ve somehow simultaneously failed and succeeded. I’ve stepped into the story of someone else and shared it imperfectly. But even in all its faults, it was a sharing only I could do.

Creating this play has taught me something rich about the role of advocacy. Now that the play is over, I can start writing down the spoilers I wanted to keep from everyone else. Now everyone who is ever going to see it knows that Emily Book killed a busload of second graders and a still very young woman. I’ve stood condemned countless nights in a row, facing and refacing the judgement that falls upon Emily’s shoulders. I’ve experienced what it feels like to be accused—to stand emptyhanded under the weight of some tremendous last mistake. I still don’t know that I can fully imagine what it means to be Emily in that moment, but I’ve certainly stood in her shoes. Playing a girl with blood on her hands has taught me compassion. I’ve learned to release my own judgement. I’ve seen the fraility and fear and courage in Emily, and I’ve stood in those moments too. Night after night, for weeks now, I’ve stood on the stage and begged on her behalf. And if that hasn’t taught me about what it means to advocate for another person, I don’t know what ever will.

It’s an amazing and tender thought to know that every night, when the lights came up, I knew I was going to be spending the next two hours in a world of compassion, with fellow actors and audience members who cared about this story and worked to tell and understand it. The friends I worked with became colleagues as I witnessed them stretch and use their bodies to further this message of loss and grace. I remember one night at the talkback hearing my fellow actors share, one by one, what it meant for them to play these high schoolers and their parents, and what they learned about grace, community, loss, and self-reflection in the process.

I think the message of The Sparrow was deeply rooted in a sense of community. At the end of the play, when all is revealed and more lives are hurt by the truth of Emily’s past, there is no real avenue for forgiveness. There is only grace—a float defined by the simple act of seeing and moving with each other. Last night, as I stood behind the stage and watched my dear friends float together, I started to weep at what this process meant for us. Through these roles and through this work, we have learned to really see each other. It’s easy to think of theater as simply make-believe—a giant act of pretend. But I think we are sometimes made more honest through our character work. I learned things about myself through being Emily that I don’t know I ever would have discovered otherwise. And in the same way, I was able to really see and acknowlege the work of the others around me. We breathed together. For five weeks, in one black box, we created a world out of practically nothing and inhabited it side by side. We experienced laughter, great loss, and a breathtaking amount of magic.

One of the things I’ve written about before but still never ceases to amaze me is the ephemeral quality of theater. One of the reasons we love to study artists and writers is because we are overwhelmed by the legacies they leave behind—a lifetime’s worth of paintings, sculptures, poems, and thoughts. Theater doesn’t work that way. It is conceived, slaved over, brought together, worked through, put on, lasted, and then over. There is no physical object I could look at, touch, or read to bring me back to the exact moments of this production. This morning, if I walked over to the theater now, I would find only an empty black box again. Because that’s what theater does. It disappears.

The ephemeral quality of theater means that it is something that only lives on in our memories of each other. The photographs can’t bring it back. The recordings—if there are any—can’t help us to relive it. We are living conduits of theater in the way we carry our memories of each other. I may not ever be Emily again. But someone will remember me that way. Someone will remember the time I froze dodgeballs. The time I cried. The time I ran. The time I flew.

I’m thankful I have these new memories of my friends as colleagues. It changes the way I look at them, I know. I see them for who they are, but I also see them for who they were. We have this new shared experience—something we created and fought for together.

The world will go on and new plays will be born and live out their lives and then come to an end and be laid to rest. But we’ll keep catching new glimpses of each other, slowing filling out the images in our minds with moments of magic, wonder, beauty, and loss. We’re colored by these experiences, and, in that way, they’re never really over.

-Rachel

(Photos c/o Paul Vermeesch)

A Love Letter to Chicago

Dear Chicago,

Everyone called you the “Second City”. And, for a while, I believed them. I’d been to New York before. I wasn’t exactly a spring chicken, coming in with country girl eyes and ready to fall in love with every little part of you. Or maybe I was. Either way, I’m completely and utterly an admirer of you now, with all of your quirks and grittiness.

Thank you for being a city of artists. New York is beautiful, with all of its flashing lights and noise. But there’s something about Chicago that grips me. It shakes me by the shoulders and shouts “Look. At. This.” and “This. Is. Important.” Your art isn’t always meant to be beautiful. It’s not always meant to be awed over and breathed through and enjoyed. But I’ve always found it to be moving. I’ve cried in the back rows of theaters, in the corners of small galleries and once, by surprise, on the street. There’s something to catch every time you turn your head and, unlike New York, space is allowed to notice it.

Thank you for being a city of enthusiasm. I remember walking through Millennium Park in mid-October, when the Cubs still had a chance at the World Series, and seeing banners strewn from the upper windows of skyscrapers. Everyone was talking, cheering, laughing, hoping. On the metra, strangers taught me about the history of baseball and shared with me stories about seeing games as a child. I never felt so close to the mobs of faces around me, glints of their excitement bouncing off of them and onto me.

And thank you for being a city of imperfection. You’ve given me biting wind and frozen toes. You’ve opened my eyes to the hurt in the world, to the gangs and homeless shelters and gunshots only a few miles from my home. You’re a city of wonder and art and history, and also of violence and pain and oppression. Thank you for never trying to cover up your scars. I’m glad it pops up on my news feed every time a teenager on the south side dies in a drive by shooting. I’m thankful you don’t leave me sheltered, happy to believe that twenty-first century America means wealth and health and kindness. The aching in your city reminds me of what we’re all slowly moving toward, and the tears I’ve seen shed give me a different kind of longing for the day they’ll all be wiped away.

Living less than an hour away from such a powerful city for the past eight months has been a dizzying, wonderful, tremendous opportunity. I wouldn’t trade my current little spot in the universe for anything in the world, and even as this semester draws to a close I look forward to returning in a few months and spending more time in my favorite smog-filled haven.

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I know I haven’t been living in Chicago nearly long enough to give advice on where to go and what to do when you’re visiting, but here are a few spots that have become familiar and good to me this year. I know I’ll be back to each of them!

The Chagall “Four Seasons” mosaic on S. Dearborn St.

The historic Lookingglass Theatre

The Museum of Contemporary Art

The Italian Village

The Gene Siskel Film Center

The 20th Century floor of the Art Institute

Lou Mitchell’s

Music Box movie theater

The Lincoln Park Zoo

And that’s all for now!

-Rachel

Spoken to Me

i. you’re very comfortable to be around

ii. your hair looks pretty, rachel

iii. don’t forget to challenge yourself today

iv. could you bring your super glue?

v.  i think you should pay attention to that

vi. i love you more each day

 

there’s something so very special about being given these words to hold on to. thank you, friends.

-rachel

s-art-urdays

On Saturday, I pulled on some fleece-lined leggings and gloves and adventured into the city with my friends Jill and MacKenzie. We’re all community art students, in one way or another, and we wanted to make a trip to the Museum of Contemporary Art together. This blog isn’t about opinions or advice or essays. It’s about thoughts and memories and the tangled bits and images of days. So while I know I can’t do justice to the stories we made together on Saturday, this is the place where I can record some of those conversations and hold onto them for a bit as something precious.

Our college sits right next to a train station, so we bundled up after brunch and meet by the tracks just in time to catch the 10:57 train. It rolled in on time and we barely made it, climbing the steps to the higher seats and sitting above the heads of everyone else. It’s about a forty five minute ride from our campus to the heart of the city, and the only time I like to make the trip is when I have someone to sit and talk with. On this day I had two people on my right–Jill with her pale skin and pom pom sweater and MacKenzie with layered scarves and snow boots. We spent the train ride talking over and around each other. We took turns practicing listening. I think it’s important to have friends whose words you value.

Getting to the museum was a breeze, and they gave discounted $7 for students. To be honest, I didn’t know what it would be like to go to an art museum with artistic friends. I’d been to numerous art museums with other friends in the past and it was a blast. But I’d still always felt a little alone in the room, like everyone else was focusing on seeing and liking and I was focusing on seeing and being.

MacKenzie and Jill are both community art majors though, and they have a deep passion for feeling art in and with their bodies. Jill is a dancer–just over five feet tall with wide eyes and a constant desire to move. “I have this thing I like to do,” she said in the first room of the museum. We were standing in front of a huge canvas that towered over our heads. It was several inches thick with paint, blotted and spread and layered in a myriad of colors like the backside of a tapestry. “Sometimes, when I see a piece of art, I like to move in response to it.”

“Oh, I love that,” MacKenzie almost jumped in excitement. “Let’s approach each new work together and count to three, then we can all move in an immediate response to it. Okay?”

Someone counted to three and, with slow, unhurried limbs, we moved in response to the large canvas of layered paint. Then we took a few steps toward the next piece and did the same thing. Within the course of the next half hour, we’d covered the majority of the room with footsteps, spins, curls, and bends. Some pieces made us hurt, caving inward with hands gripping our stomachs and hearts. Framed works created out of colored pencils and crayons sparked our inner sense of play. A hanging mobile made us gently turn beneath it, imagining the object to be a bird suspended in flight. Something made us sad and we might stop. A few feet over, something might make us laugh. The gallery was full of us.

I had a thought in all of this. By physically reacting to art, are we, in some way, becoming art ourselves? 

I don’t think art is meant to be hung and examined in galleries. Don’t get me wrong–I love galleries. I love sharing a space with people who are fully experiencing enjoyment and pain and play. But I’ve found that what I enjoy even more than standing in a gallery is moving in a gallery. I enjoy touching things. I enjoy rawness. I enjoy being art.

Jill made a comment near the end of the day that made me laugh. I’d just been talking about how I go to art galleries to feel inspired to do something–to write or create in some way. “Yeah,” Jill said. “I like to leave an art gallery feeling like I’ve just eaten a meal. My belly is full, you know?”

We obviously don’t look to art to fill us. I realize that art can’t fix all the brokenness in the world or make us whole. But art can capture the wonder and play that we are too often scared to release. Recently I’ve been looking at photographs cave paintings in an art history class. One in particular strikes me as whimsical. It’s the smudged into stone portrait of a pregnant deer. There’s something breathlessly beautiful about that. When you look at a photograph of a cave wider than an IMAX theater, covered with bright paintings of red bulls somersaulting through the sky, you can’t help but be reminded of the physical nature of art.

Creations made in the image of a Creator are full of movement. They are full of play. And the moment you start to think of art as something sterile, something protected, something glass-covered–you’ve lost the ability to experience it.

Here’s to moving in the MCA Chicago. Maybe someday we’ll all go dancing in the Met.

-Rachel

Taking a Break

Our school gave us a four day break this weekend to rest between quads and take some time off. My guy left for a mini vacation in Colorado with friends and I felt a little overwhelmed at how hard it had become to be apart. determined not to play the part of the lonely girlfriend all weekend, I gathered up some girls and spent my days surrounded by creative, brave souls I’m growing to love.

On Saturday, I spent the morning wandering around my college town on my own, noticing the hum of my own breath and the importance of being still. There was no one to talk to, no one to consider. I was able to just walk and think and be alone. I found my way to the farmers market and sampled cinnamon soft pretzels. I admired the color orange. I stumbled upon a small art fair. It was a cool morning and I wore a cranberry red sweater and my hair was tangled and soft.

That afternoon, my friend Liv picked me up for dinner. we made salads at the whole foods store and bought dried fruit to eat as snacks. We remembered how great raisins are. When was the last time I had raisins? Liv’s mom brought us old quilts from home and we walked to the football field to watch my first ever football game. Our team won. 62 to 14.

On Sunday, Liv and I caught the 12:57 train into the city and spent the afternoon at the art institute. We pondered our preferences of scenic farmlands and post modern portraits. We found light in countless places–stairwells, hallways, stained glass windows. Afterwards, we wandered outside and walked along the waterfront. It was sixty five degrees and sunny, without a cloud in the sky. The water was green like jade and the sky was a very bright blue. We found a subpar sushi place and stuffed ourselves with raw fish. Our phones died on the train ride back and we talked about theater and birthdays and life.

Monday afternoon I met up with my friend Sarah and went on a long walk through the woods to the next town over. It was surprisingly warm and windy so we tied our jackets around our waists. I tried my first iced chai and Sarah ordered her standard pumpkin spice latte. We carried them around as we walked from store to store, looking at art books and considering buying our boyfriends ugly vintage ties. Our conversation was the warm but deep kind, about art and community and things the future held for both of us. We did that awkward standing in front of her apartment for five minutes thing when I dropped her off because we couldn’t stop talking. I love moments like that.

I feel rested and full after this weekend. There’s still the rogue paper or two to be hastily finished at the last minute, but I’m learning there’s time enough for that. There’s also time for slow walking and intentional words and human interaction.

It was far from a lonely weekend.

-Rachel

 

Entering a Third Decade

you’ve been around the sun twenty times. you’ve crossed poles, changed continents. done bad things in secret places, done good things in secret-er ones. you’ve asked stupid questions. you’ve raised your hand too often but at some point you learned to listen. you’ve bought “skinny jeans”, you’ve resorted to “fat” ones. you’ve called yourself every name imaginable.

in small moments, you’ve believed in your beauty.

you’re twenty years old this month, entering your third decade with bruises and chipped nail polish and last night’s mascara. not much has changed, but you’re a different woman than you were last year. older. less harsh. more kind. less sure. more curious.

stay soft, young woman. dream big. set fires, make sparks. outstretch your hand, give hugs. close your eyes, walk barefoot. wear lipstick, kiss first. write letters, send mail. rent movies, write poems. seek art, find beauty. take road trips, ride buses. skip class, ask questions. bake bread, eat cake. go dancing, walk home. take risk, note how you feel. keep it for yourself, give it away. hold it in both hands, but let it go. stay soft, young woman.

dream big.

this is twenty. what a hard, good time to be alive.

-Rachel

Cuties in Cudjoe

There’s something to be said about traveling while you’re young. I don’t know yet how it feels to be in a new place at sixty, or forty-five, or even thirty, but I do know that every trip feels like an adventure when you’re nineteen, and I hope it always feels that way. Travel should always be exciting. The world has so many treasures to offer to those who take the time to find them.

Hannah decided that when she graduated high school this spring, instead of a big party, she wanted a quiet trip down to the Florida Keys to visit our grandpa. So our amazing parents booked flights for Hannah and I, along with one of our best friends Lily, for a week-long trip in the Southernmost town. We didn’t bar-hop or party or mix drinks and oysters, but we did spend long nights under the stars, get lost beyond reason, and stuff our stomachs with tacos and pizza. We acted like kids quickly becoming adults, with all the awkwardness and giggles and wonder of three girls exploring on their own. Strangers were kind to us. Waiters were sentimental. Even our grandpa seemed joy-filled and choked-up to sing in the car with three out-of-tune young women who just couldn’t be happier in the sunshine.

We flooded everyone’s Instagram feeds with our little daily stories, but I couldn’t resist re-sharing the iPhone photos here, on my big public journal, as one last keepsake of our week in the islands.

-Rachel

 

The Filters We Put on Our Worlds

EVERYONE KNOWS I TAKE A MILLION PHOTOGRAPHS. My friends know this. My sisters know it. Even I find myself feeling sheepish sometimes when I whip out my phone or even camera and ask someone, “Hey, do you mind if I take a picture of you real quick?” Usually people love it, but sometimes it still feels a little awkward and I find myself asking, “Am I just doing this for Instagram? Or for Facebook? Do I only want this photo so I can write up something great about it later and get a ton of likes?”

I was having a conversation with my sister Hannah the other day and she made the comment, “It’s funny how all of us see the same world, but our Instagram feeds show you just how differently we all perceive it.”

That idea made me stop and think. IT’S SO TRUE, ISN’T IT? You have the VSCO-user version of the world, the fashion-blogger version of the world, the crappy-filters-yet-still-sometimes-cute-photos version of the world, and the versions entirely in Russian (or Spanish), that you can’t really understand but still think are really cool. We put so much effort into making our lives fit the version of the world we want to portray, that sometimes we really do find ourselves snapping photos just because they’ll look good on our feeds, or posting things just because we know people will “like” them.

I was walking with another friend the other night who made the comment that if you look at my Instagram feed, my life seems so perfect. It’s only when you read my blog that you realize it’s not. Once again, I stopped and frowned. Am I only taking pictures of beautiful things because I know it’s what will be likeable, not because it’s what will be real?

AM I FILTERING MY WORLD TO APPEAL TO THE MASSES, INSTEAD OF TELLING THE HARD, TRUE STORIES OF MY LIFE?

This morning, I was going through old SD cards of photos I’d never posted or shared anywhere, re-living memories and days and conversations. I found these pictures from a day I spent with my cousin Rena last week. She drove up to visit me from Virginia Beach and we rode into the city. It was warm and sunny and my cheeks and nose turned pink. We found a path in the woods that led to a bridge with kind graffiti scrawled everywhere and we walked across it and took pictures and felt like kids together again. We grew up side by side, and we have all the same memories. So there was something beautiful about being here, in this green place, making new memories together.

I DIDN’T TAKE A MILLION PHOTOS. Maybe just a dozen. And I didn’t go home and edit them all right away either. Most of them just sat there, waiting for the right time and the right filter to be seen.

But as I looked through them today, I wasn’t thinking about the editing style or the composition or the way I was presenting my life to the world through these pictures. Honestly, I didn’t care what anyone thought about their aestheticism. I looked at them and just saw me and Rena and the words she scribbled on the bridge and the poem we found hanging in the trees and the kid we passed running down the path. It was a good day, and now it won’t ever be forgotten. Little pieces of it have been scooped into pixels and preserved just for us, so that we can always look back and remember.

THE WORLD DOESN’T NEED FILTERS. I’m not saying that they’re bad, with their tints and colors and vintage appeal. But what this world needs even more than VSCO is honesty. It needs real, broken, honest stories. These photos aren’t important because they’re pretty. They’re important because they happened. And I think the real thing that makes everyone’s streams different is that, in spite of the fact we live in the same world and see the same things, we really do perceive it differently. We all have different scars and stories. We all feel a moment in a different way. And, at the end of the day, it’s the photos that reflect those differences that deserve the most “likes”. That deserve the most conversation. That deserve the moments that are slowed down and remembered and cherished.

Don’t just take pictures because they’re pretty.

CAPTURE MOMENTS BECAUSE THEY’RE IMPORTANT.

-Rachel

You Gave Me Q’s and I Gave You A’s

I’ve been too busy to blog lately but I felt really guilty about this last night and asked all of you via social media to send me some questions for a quick Q&A post. So thanks for helping me get something together!

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Do you prefer the cookie part of the Oreo? Or the cream?

The cream, the cream, always the cream. People who don’t lick the cream out first weird me out.

How did you meet your boyfriend?

Awww, I love talking about Tim! Hmm… Well I think I’ll just blog the whole story sometime and save a lot of the details for that, but I will tell you the bare details! We actually met two years ago when his mom hired me to take his senior pictures right before high school graduation. Crazy right? We had a mutual friend who recommended my business. So the first day I met him was kind of awkward because I was taking his pictures the whole time! I still have them. Wanna see one? (I remember thinking he was pretty cute but he apparently didn’t think twice about me)

What was the original inspiration for each of your novels?

Both were inspired by stuff that was going on in my life at the time. I started writing Interrupted shortly after my uncle passed away from a brain tumor and it held a lot of the emotions I was wading through at the time. And I got the idea for Chasing Jupiter after spending time with an autistic boy who went to my church. Both stories are obviously fictional and a lot of the material came from my imagination, but I definitely felt a personal connection to characters in both stories.

Do you have a favorite poet?

For the last few years it’s been Frank O’Hara. Especially this poem and this one. But I also really love Mary Oliver, Margaret Atwood, and so many other random poets I’ve stumbled across over the years. And I’ll always have a soft spot for Emily Dickinson, of course.

What are some important parts of developing characters in books/stories?

Remembering to keep your characters first is important. Don’t be so focused on the plot that you forget to really search and understand what your characters are going through. Also avoid cliches as much as possible. Don’t let all your characters be so predictable that people lose interest in them. I personally just try to write about real, quirky, interesting people who have honest struggles and victories. I hope that my readers get that from my stories!

How do you go about writing a book?

A chapter at a time? I know that sounds cliched, but that’s honestly the only way it can be done. It’s in the daily grind. The getting up and writing and adding more words each day and week and month. Eventually, if you keep it up, it becomes a book!

What would be your perfect meal? (appetizer, entree, and dessert)

My perfect meal is one that my boyfriend and I love so much we’ve gone and gotten it several times already. Go to Bonefish Grill, order an appetizer of Bang Bang Shrimp and a lobster grilled cheese sandwich (with soup and a little vinaigrette salad). Then go find free chocolate or ice cream from some parents or grandparents who always have a pantry and freezer full of dessert. Voila! The perfect meal!

Have you ever NOT been super cool + awesome?

I was homeschooled. Cool + awesome isn’t a level humanly possible for me to achieve. However, there was definitely a time when my uncoolness was at its optimum level and I leave the below photo for you as proof. (Actually, I leave this whole post as proof)

What do you not love?

I don’t love Sherlock or Doctor Who or Marvel or the Hobbit trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia or flip-flops or roller coasters or a million other things teenage girls are supposed to love. I just don’t get it. Any of it.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Nicole Krauss, Katherine Paterson, Ernest Hemingway, N. D. Wilson, Ann Voskamp, John Steinbeck, Ray Bradbury…. I have a lot of respect for Shannon Hale too and everything she’s doing to promote female writers. And there are several bloggers who I admire, such as Kristin Morris!

What are a few of your favorite Bible verses?

Galatians 6:14 is a verse I use to sign all my books: “But may it never be that I would boast, except through the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” It reminds me to never let people praise me for the stuff I’ve done, because all I have and all I am is Christ!

How do you create balances in your life/make time for everything in your schedule?

This is tricky. Right now I’m working two part-time jobs (at a French bakery and a Kate Spade outlet store), mentoring four writing students, writing free-lance for Local Wolves Magazine, processing photos and preparing for photographing two weddings, entering scholarship essay contests to help pay for school next year, and working on Book #3. At the same time. Sometimes I go to sleep around midnight exhausted and entirely worn-out and then wake up at 6:45 the next morning to head to work. It’s tough, honestly, but somehow it’s all getting done. I think the key is to focus each moment on what you are doing in that moment. If you’re writing, be entirely present with your writing. Don’t focus on anything else. If you’re photographing something, be intent on the details before you and not what you have to do when you get home. That’s part of what keeps me from going crazy. Also, my mom is always stressing the importance of having a schedule and while I am the most unorganized person I know, having a loose schedule helps a lot. And being really good about putting things on your calendar so that you don’t forget about them!

What’s your biggest fear?

Probably the dentist. Or that I’ll end up living in a small town all my life and never getting married.

Do you have any habitual things you do right before bed?

Usually I’ve been texting people so I tell them all that I’m going to bed (I go to bed before everyone else apparently). Sometimes I call my boyfriend or he calls me. Then I turn off my phone and usually try to read some poetry before going to sleep, but sometimes I’m so tired I just collapse!

Who were your favorite actors/actresses as a child?

Julie Andrews all the way. Did you know I have her autograph? (Oh wait, I’m suddenly cool now)

What is your favorite way to help your family out?

I feel so guilty answering this since I haven’t really been home much lately and people have been doing my chores, not the other way around! When I am home, I’m often so self-preoccupied that I forget to look to help others and focus instead on the tasks before me. But I think that having an awareness of the things that need to be done is helpful. I often just do the minimum amount of work necessary, and I’d love to get better at noticing what extra chores can be done and doing them without being asked! I’m sure that would make my mom so happy. I also try to cook dinner for her sometimes when I’m free or have an afternoon at home. Once again, I don’t do it often since I’m rarely home before 5, but that’s another thing that I know blesses her a lot!

Can we hear anything about Book #3?

This was the most popular question by far and unfortunately I can’t really answer it yet! I’m not going to give any concrete details about my third book until I sign a contract on it (still writing it right now), but I do have a Pinterest “sneak-peek inspiration” board I made for my readers so they can get a glimpse into the setting and themes! Check it out here!

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Thanks for sending me your questions! Sorry I haven’t been blogging as much lately but I promise I have some posts outlined already about Asia + writing + other things you guys have asked me about or I’ve been wanting to write about. Just give me time to actually write them!

-Rachel