permission (the story of a hat, then another, then another, and then fifteen more)

I’m writing this in a coffee shop about thirty minutes away from campus, in a room I’ve never been in before. A compromise on wanting to go to Chicago, but not wanting to pay for the train nor drive all the way downtown. Wanting to get away, really. So, writing. Something to do on a rainy-snowy mid-November midwest Saturday that is otherwise empty. Roommate practicing piano, then going on a date. Friend with sister, friend with visiting friends, friend in rehearsal, friend writing a paper, friend already home for Thanksgiving. Me, isolated. Me, falling in love with the cute stranger that was literally doing ballet while he waited for his latte. Me, bemoaning my tendency to fall in love with strangers and ideas and possibilities but not really real people, feeling a little lost in my weekend of no homework, no plans, no dates, no rehearsals. A loaf and a half of my first homemade bread at home on my kitchen table and my hands itching, itching to make something else, something new. This blog, untouched for quite a while.

And a red hat, hand-knit hat, on my head. And a story I’m remembering, piecing together, choosing to share.

Freshman year of college. Late October, or November maybe. Me, hardly eighteen, homesick, cold, self-conscious of hair, self-conscious of exclusion from college theater department. Me, on the brink of my first midwest winter, my first college student winter and noticing that if I walk outside with shower-wet hair on a thirty-degree morning my hair will freeze and my ears will hurt so bad that by the time I get to class I can hardly hear for thinking about how cold they are.

I had always thought that people with curly hair (me) could not wear hats. An arbitrary rule I had assigned to myself. A rule I broke, to wear a simple dark-red garter stitch beanie picked up a few months prior at an H&M sale, seemingly without reason due to aforementioned feelings re: hats. A providential purpose, really–the beanie becoming a constant companion in my first year of college, the folded brim resting on my forehead in nearly every candid photo.

Me, hardly eighteen, homesick, wearing heeled boots and a red hat because long-distance breakups are hard and midwestern winters are cold. Me shoving hands in coat pockets and casting longing looks at the theater building, me furrowing a brow underneath the red hat’s brim and bending over a first poetry explication paper. Me learning to be on my own. Me learning to give myself permission. It started, really, with a hat.

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july heart (summer in the hills, 1.3)

A few days ago I sat down to write a post, just an little update about July and me, that turned into a different sort of essay entirely, something that surprised me in its truth. That feels like something worth sharing. 

Hello friends! Everything is okay!!! Summer is unfolding faster than I thought it would, hot and hazy and full, and here I am in July with my computer and a cup of coffee and some French music in the background, with my heart beating loud and asking where are the hours going? Where are the weeks going? I am honestly, actually shocked to find myself a week into July, less than a month left before I go back to Wheaton. This is such an in-the-middle summer, a weird sort of almost-adulthood right before a last year of college, a last few months of knowing a little of what will come next, my heart still reeling from its new state of singleness, strange and unfamiliar. Lots to think about, lots to pray about, lots of new kinds of creativity spinning and filling my time. Lots to write about and almost none of it actually written down.

I have discovered this summer, this July, that it is near-impossible for me to write at home (except in the morning, at the kitchen table, with earl gray tea, when no one else is home–and as I work most mornings, this hardly ever happens enough to count).  Somehow the softness of my room distracts me, invites me to snuggle into the corner of my big pillowy bed with a knitting project and F.R.I.E.N.D.S, or a book and a cup of tea. In my moments of energy, my out-of-the-bursts of motivation, you can usually find me at my rotary cutting station (makeshift, messy, on the floor for lack of counter space) or my new sewing machine, puzzling my way through a quilt block, baffled by how hard it is to get seams straight, welcoming the new and gentle challenge. Writing is something I often about doing but rarely do until I find myself in some sort of perfect hour or two, with just the right light and just the right caffeinated beverage in front of me (as mentioned, generally earl gray tea or coffee from the French-music-playing cafe).

I’m not sure why this is. But I want to change it, I really do, and all of the sudden my July heart is all warmed up and running towards this kind of storytelling, beating and singing as loud as summer thunderstorms, WRITE ME DOWN! WRITE ME DOWN! And so I’m trying to commit to this space anew this month, to open up my heart to be witnessed, to write life down. I want to show up, and to keep showing up, over and over again, to write things that are true and honest and real even when I don’t know, not yet, how to make them well-crafted. I’m learning to trust, as my theater mentor has often told me, that the story (/text/Scripture/instinct) is true whether I feel it in the moment or not. Writing has a power outside of me, outside of all of us I think. Marie Howe called it midwifery, in the master class I took with her, writing poems like giving birth. I’m not quite sure what that means yet, but I’m trying not to be afraid of it, to show up to it, to let God move in me and use this gift he’s given me to show me actual things about myself.

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dog-ears, no. 1

I’ve never really been a bookmark person. I’ve always tried to be, I think. I always take the free bookmarks from museums, from libraries, from random Shakespeare in the Park fundraisers that I drive to on a whim at which I recite the Henry V prologue in front of strangers (you mean you don’t do this, too?) One of those bookmarks is actually sitting in my copy of Wuthering Heights right now, precariously marking my progress about one-third into the novel. We’ll see how long it remains in use.

But no, I’ve never really been a bookmark person. I’ve always preferred the more low-budget, low-stress, high-impact technique: the titular DOG-EAR, folding the top corner down, using the book itself to remember your place in it. It leaves a crease, and it looks sloppy if you’re not careful, I suppose, but I’ve always used it and probably always will. What likely started as simply seven-year-old me trying and failing to find a bookmark to mark her place in whichever number of the Boxcar Children she was rereading on a give afternoon has become, now, a habitual practice. Somehow I feel like I’m not supposed to dog-ear, like people who love books are supposed to care for them in a way that does not include dog-ears, but I sort of love the feeling of opening up a book I’ve reread over and over, maybe Bloomability by Sharon Creech or Theater Shoes by Noel Streatfeild, and seeing the places I’ve left off before. It gives the book a sort of history. We all love used books. Dog-ears create used books, people!!

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my salad days (summer in the hills 1.2)

I write this sitting beneath a quilt in my Pittsburgh bedroom, cross-legged at the end of the bed so I can be right in front of the open window. It’s been open all night, since around midnight or so when I gave up on an early night’s sleep and needed, suddenly, to see the sky. It looks different here, in Pittsburgh, than it does in Wheaton–here, stars are visible, trees are taller, and I could see last night’s little half-scoop of a moon just by sitting at the window.

I write this sitting in my bed on a Saturday morning. It’s just past nine right now, and I think what woke me up early enough to be able to write coherent prose at this hour was a phone call from my workplace, but I can’t be sure because I haven’t put the number in my phone yet, and if they told me yesterday I wasn’t needed this morning, and I didn’t know if that phone call was their number, and I was still sleeping when they called, it’s okay if they meant to call me in today and I neither answered nor showed up. Right? Of course right. I hope.Read More »

SUMMER IN THE HILLS 1.1: Not Doing Nothing!!!

Eleven drafts. I have ELEVEN DRAFTS saved right now, all incomplete, just a few with any chance of seeing the light of internet-day. Some ceased being relevant months ago, others are just waiting for me to make up my mind about if they are too personal/not personal enough/uninteresting/worth sharing/contain enough decent prose to publish. It’s harder than it looks, this blogging thing.

But today I am sitting down, at ten am in the Eastern Time morning, with two pieces of toast, coffee, a hard-boiled egg, and every intention to finish, edit, and share this little listy bit of writing that is the first in a series of what I am calling SUMMER IN THE HILLS, aka, the riveting chronicles of my daily life as a professional salad maker (stay tuned) and amateur everything else in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as I try to make some art and rest a little bit before returning to Wheaton to do a play and also my last year of college. Sounds like an exciting time for blogging!! Right? OF COURSE RIGHT.

(I really hope you read that in your best Fiddler on the Roof Yente impression.)

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my ultimate commute playlist (or, your guide to one way of special-in-the-ordinary)

This summer has been a summer of driving. I was an oddly reluctant teenage driver and didn’t get my license until about a month before I left for college, and so driving for me was until now really more of an occasional thing. It reminds me of nights that I would borrow my mom’s minivan for summer-after-graduation bonfires and of that disconcerting sensation you get during your first college breaks, the feeling of coming “home” but not really. Driving reminds me of sunsets over Lake Erie and the strawberry milkshake that a stranger bought for me at Sara’s the night before I left for Wheaton when I realized I had left my wallet at home. It brings back the wonderful clarity of a hot July evening last summer when I drove home from coffee with friends and realized the road I was on didn’t remind me of anything that hurt.

Driving reminds me of transitions, of the spaces between here and there and letting go and moving on, of (to name-drop myself) the life between breaths. And so it has never really been ordinary. Read More »

“it absolutely could be!” (some excitement-infused tony award thoughts)

It’s been just about 24 hours since the 70th annual Tony Awards aired and I am still thinking about them!!! Still tossing around the acceptance speeches and performances in my thoughts. Still thrilled by some really wonderful and well-deserved (and in some cases history-making!!!) wins. Still asking some questions about the way certain elements of the evening were handled. But overall still full of the special kind of pride and excitement that comes from watching a celebration of art that you know something about, of knowing that the theater that I love and create and crave is in a lot of ways the same theater that is honored on national television each June.

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