funny children drawing

How do you handle the past?

A few months back my parents sold my childhood home, and this past Christmas break is the longest stretch I’ve had to reflect and refocus for quite some time. It got me thinking about the moving process, of what we gather throughout our lives and what we leave behind:

  • People: whether we want it to or not, big moves can cut ties with those we’ve known all our lives. You know the ones: you aren’t best friends anymore but you like knowing they live a block away and that on Sundays you’ll sit behind the same family in church. These people are your constants. They make up your life and help build your world. Moving provides a chance to choose who you keep in your life on your journey. Moving provides a chance to look back and appreciate, or move on, from the company you once kept.
  • Toys/ideas: seeing the old dolls I took to the pool on sunny days with grandma, and holding old books with pages worn, almost brought me back to how I felt then. The innocence and curiosity in the games I played and stories I read. The ginormous bubble of excitement that only a child can feel by spending a perfect day with people they love. The whole world was massive and exciting and somehow very, very simple.
  • Then there are connections between toys, people, and ideas. Such as this sticky frog that lived on our ceiling ever since Kindergarten. Taking that little thing down last year brought a wave of emotions as things I hadn’t thought about in a while flooded back. Like the idea of innocent first love. Of countless Mario Kart 64 races and chucking cherries at each other in the backyard. Of simplicity and hope and all the things you carry around as a child before the world takes them from you.

All of these ideas stretched before me like a timeline of my life. These memories and objects are proof that I existed at all.

Even though life is more confusing now, there was a time when it all made sense. And I know that there will be glimpses of that childlike excitement again. Maybe not the excitement of my first crush, but the excitement of having money to take care of myself and the excitement of finding another soul that understands mine wholly.

Isn’t that thrilling and terrifying, but mostly thrilling?

My processing of the past makes me wonder about all of you: do you try to recall memories or ignore them? I find I don’t realize when the past is holding me back, and I’d like to stretch you to think about how you handle memories: suppression or expression or… any other way?

How to Handle Seeing More Than One Museum in a Day

About a year ago, I was headed to Italy to embark on my abroad adventure. To those of you who followed me, thank you! And to those who just like to read about travel or are planning on taking their own trip, you are in the right spot! I’ve compiled below a collection of my finest abroad advice, along with some new tips on how to handle seeing more than one museum a day… because you know when you get there, you’re going to want to take it all in instead of slowing down like a sensible traveler.

So without further ado, How to Handle Seeing More Than One Museum in a Day:

  • You’re going to want to sit down for this. Literally, just rest your weary traveler’s feet and sit down for a hot minute. This serves a dual purpose: 1) it allows you to not run yourself thin after spending 3 hours in the Louvre and 2) it makes time for you to actually look at the things around you. I don’t mean the art, you’re going to see enough of that. I mean everything. There’s too much to take in, truly, but marching into museums and hoping to see and do everything will just leave you exhausted, overwhelmed, and irritated.
  • Don’t let anyone else craft your experience. Not the guy selling discount tickets on a sketchy street or your best friend who you normally aim to please. To capitalize on your time away, there’s no option but to follow your own instincts even if that means you want to stare at the same statue for 5 hours while your friends are checking out Mona Lisa and traipsing around the halls. Just don’t let the pressure of what other people want to do cloud your own desires.
  • This last point is obvious but if I’ve learned anything in college, it’s that repetition is sometimes the only way to make things really sink in: SOAK IT IN!Let the art move you. If it doesn’t, go buy a snack and people watch outside while other people look at art. No one’s making you go to these museums… but if you’re going to pay for admission, give it a try. Art has a way of sneaking up on us. It has a way of inspiring us. So let it.

Louvre statue

Also, prepare for your travels by catching up on these:

“It’s magical to do something when you think no one is going to care.”

The above is a quote from Daniel Handler (AKA Lemony Snicket, AKA a genius, AKA author of my favorite children’s series: A Series of Unfortunate Events) in an article from Stanford Daily.

I stumbled upon it because recently I’ve decided to start writing a middle-grade novel. Naturally, I wanted to seek out advice from the brilliant MG authors before me, and Lemony Snicket just happens to be one of the best. His quote reminded me of something I’ve been telling myself for a long while, which is to stop focusing on perfection and just focus on telling the story that I want to be told, to not worry about how it will be received or if anyone will pick it up for publication.

The real beauty of creating stories is that they’re your stories. Don’t take that magic away from yourself. If you love them and nurture them and go to bed at night knowing you did your best, that will bring more satisfaction than writing towards what you think everyone else wants to read.

It’s really hard to silence the pressures around us, but I’m going to read this quote when I’m going through one of those hard patches and remind myself to keep trucking along with what I think needs to be said.

university of minnesota in winter

Pass your finals! Take a deep breath!

“Why is snow so hard to capture in a picture? I should google it.”

“NO! I should study.”

“But I’ll be wondering about this the whole time and won’t be able to focus on anything until I know. Maybe I should buy a real camera instead of using my iPhone. How much would that cost?” *googles camera, googles iPhoneX, thinks about why the Xbox One X is named the way it is, thinks about how my brother bought me an Xbox…* “I love my family. I should call my parents and brother and grandma and cousins and track down that one family member who fell off the family tree awhile ago.” *pays for subscription to family tracking services* “Maybe I should just hire a private investigator. Oh! Maybe they could track my stolen wallet and phones too. Nah, my phones are probably being taken apart and sold.” *thinks about theft, thinks about child labor in foreign countries, thinks about how unfair the world is and how we all die no matter what our grades are or how much effort we put in* 

Does this sound like the conversation anyone else has with themselves during stressful periods? It makes me wanna stay in bed and avoid all of my responsibilities. What is it about having so much to do that makes a person unable move or start any of it?

I tried something today in the midst of an almost-meltdown: getting out of bed and going outside.

Revolutionary. I know.

It’s snowing today and I focused on watching a couple thick snowflakes on their journey to the ground where they inevitably got destroyed… it’s sad that they can’t help but fall to their death. Anyway, finding a medial thing to watch brought an odd relaxation.

(Something else I do regularly is listen to a couple hardcore songs like “Afterlife” by Avenged Sevenfold to get some anger out and then get back to it… but that might not be your thing.)

Hate the class? Trust me, it’s possible to fail and you’ll hate the class even more the second time. If you’re a chemist, you don’t wanna take English classes twice. If you’re a marketing student, you probably don’t wanna take managerial and financial accounting more than you have to… if you do, there’s something wrong with you or you’re in the wrong major.

Don’t focus on perfectly acing these damn tests, focus on passing them so you can spend your life doing things that actually excite you!!!

To the lost millennial

As a millennial myself, I feel quite lost in the nonstop pace of this world and the expectations coming from all sides. Are we part of the generation to make the world a better place or to destroy it with technology and overall liberal-ness? Well, I suppose that depends who you ask. (Disclaimer: this is not a political blog.)

If you ask me what I think about our generation, I’ll be honest: I have no fricken clue.

Everything is at our fingertips and most of us know how to use this to our advantage, but what disadvantage does this bring?

There’s so much to juggle with the increase of social media – (ya, ya ya, sure, people don’t have to get phones and they don’t have to fall into the Instagram craze, but don’t try to tell a young woman to give up her iPhone apps because she’d be giving up a lot of contact with other people) – I guess that’s a big disadvantage: now we have all these ways of connecting that there’s so much more to handle than when people would maybe see each other once a year in person. It’s a beautiful, horrible thing.

This blog post is starting to sound how I feel: disconnected. With all that’s available to us in this connected age, it is shockingly easy to feel disconnected. And what happens then, when you can reach everyone with the tap of a finger but find yourself alone, shivering in isolation and sadness? You wonder how it got this way.

Pay attention to the movement of your story

I’ve been contemplating pace in my stories. How the language of my work aids the flow. Words create momentum and momentum propels the story through time.

How does your work get from the beginning to the end?

 

Consider this passage I wrote:

My toes sink into lush red carpet. A boxy old TV sits like a lost dog in the center of the room, and flesh-colored couches sway and topple when used. The sound of parents comes from a nearby kitchen – clank, swish, crash – as they create a meal.

Wait, no, the smell emaciating the living room is something much sweeter.

“She’s always over here,” a voice says. Metal hits the counter.

“Yes, she’s always over here.”

*

I cough, unsettling dust from the TV stand in the middle. Years later, after everyone died, the poor thing still sat in denial. Denial that anything is different. Denial that the flesh-colored couches were replaced with brown leather ages ago. Denial that after the family cleared everything out, it’d been forgotten.

The outdatedness of the house is palpable, like I could reach out and touch wrinkles on the wall and inhale the scent of decay and neglect.

Dust settles on the beaten red carpet. Out of nowhere, the TV crashes to the floor to join the dust, giving up.

 

How did the flow of this effect the way you read it? Is there anything you’d change or adapt for your own work?

I encourage you to write a scene or take a look at some old ones. Really dig into what’s compelling to move your story along.

The Writing Life

Insightful and just what I needed to hear! I hope someone else finds encouragement and the strength to keep writing in these words.

Libby Sommer, Author

pen and cup of coffee on cafe table

It’s a tough gig being a writer. Lots of isolation, lots of intense concentration, lots of rejection from publishers and agents. Sitting in a cafe with coffee and fountain pen is one of the good bits.

Why do I write? It’s a good question to ask yourself.

  1.  Because I’m a fool.
  2.  Because I want to impress my old school friends.
  3.  So people will like me.
  4.  So my friends will hate me.
  5.  I’m no good at speaking up.
  6.  So I can invent a new way of looking at the world.
  7.  In order to write the great Australian novel and become famous.
  8.  Because I’m a nut case.
  9.  Because I’m an undiscovered literary genius.
  10.  Because I have something to tell.
  11.  Because I have nothing to tell.

Hemingway has said, ‘Not the why, but the what.’ It’s enough to know you want to write. Write.

One of my favourite books on the writing process…

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