Same Difference

View from my BalconyIt’s the mundane views that strike me the most. The view from my balcony just as the sun has fallen below Table Mountain, the purples and reds over the mountains, the water, the city. The courtyard where a bird plays in the fountain and children played with their parents just moments earlier. The hockey field, where teams are practicing constantly. The kid in the building across from mine on his balcony, smoking.

You see, its from views like this I learn the most. Sure, everyone in South Africa has a funny accent sometimes difficult to understand, especially over the phone, and people drive on the wrong side of the road, and play cricket. And there may be some more substantial differences; they may think about race, class, gender, history, politics and the world differently. But boys still smoke cigarettes here and back home, there’s traffic on all highways right after work gets out, and hockey teams practice at all hours of the day at home too. 

I mean really, we may be different, but we can’t be too different. We are all human after all.

The Only Thing That Bothers Me About “The Fault in Our Stars”

I have had limited internet for the past two weeks. The following was written on July 8 in Heathrow Airport in London.

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In one twelve-hour layover, I read all of “The Fault in Our Stars.” Since I am writing this only fifteen minutes after finishing the book, I am unsure how well I have processed the book; it’s still too new to me to speak intelligently about. 

I can however speak emotionally about it. The book is too popular to not have known the ending before reading it; too many people were talking about it for me not to hear that Gus died. A mark of a good book though, knowing the ending didn’t ruin the story. There were enough twists and turns along the way to keep my interest.

One thing I didn’t like was that Gus hid his illness from Hazel. I understand Green did this to teach Hazel a lesson; it was silly for her to push those away from her simply to prevent them pain. Those who love her are going to love her no matter what. But Green hates that cancer books are always about sick people teaching the healthy important life lessons, so why is it okay for sick people to teach other sick people lessons? When two people people, especially two people with feelings for each other, have sex, that creates a bond. Keeping such a huge secret from Hazel cheapens that bond to me, makes less of something that was otherwise described as being something so sweet.

Traveling with Knots in My Stomach

In high school, I was a verifiable walking stress machine. I was on-edge constantly, jumpy and quite literally had a knot in my stomach. It wasn’t until after high school and a stress-free summer did I realize I ever had a stomach ache; it was so constant I just thought that’s how stomachs feel.

Since then though, I’ve mostly avoided putting myself in stressful situations. Sometimes during finals week I’ll have a knot in stomach (the tell-tale sign I’m stressing out), but never have I been that stressed out for more than two or three days in a row.

Until now.

I’m studying abroad to South Africa in 11 days, and I’m panicking. The trip itself will be fine I think, but until I am in Cape Town, in my room and unpacked, I know I will have this knot in my stomach.

I am working until the end of the week, ten hours a day, spending most of it running around trying to tie up loose ends and ensure everything is ready for the intern who is replacing me. During this time I am also trying to iron out financial aid details (my school is not making it easy) and packing up to move out of my apartment. Of course, since I will be out of Boston and away from my friends until January, I am trying to see everyone I can at least one more time to say goodbye.

As the trip gets closer, I think of a million more things I forgot to do and need to get done before I leave. I thought I was well-prepared; I even had a list. But of course the list was incomplete, and truthfully trash and I’m actually a mess and keep putting stuff off and when it comes time for my plane to take off, I won’t be ready.

In high school when I had knots in stomach, I was constantly on the verge of a panic attack. Full-on tears, the inability to breath, hiding in the corner. And it happened two or three times.

But I’ve learned since then! Focus on the task at hand, not what you have to do next. Don’t think about things you can’t effect. Keep your workload manageable. Sleep, and get exercise.

I am sure I will learn a lot on this trip, and I am excited to go. But the most important thing I learn might not be on the trip, but instead beforehand. If I can get through all the prep work for this trip without a panic attack, that will be a major milestone. This trip is going to be a blast, and being able to say I was able to manage my stress and anxiety while preparing for it will only make it all the better.

 

An Abundance of Katherines

abundance

Roaming through the library, I stumbled upon “An Abundance of Katherines,” by John Green and decided to pick it up. It is a fantastic book, one that I really resonated with and within a two days I had finished it.

Colin, the main character, is a child prodigy but he feels like everyone is catching up with him, that he is no longer significant. More than anything else he wants to matter, both in terms of being famous and of being loved. After graduating high school, he has yet to accomplish anything extraordinary that would make him famous, and his girlfriend had just broken up with him. In order to shake him out of his misery, Hassan, his best friend, takes him on a road trip. Ending up in the middle of nowhere, Tennessee, the two get a job interview people with new friend Lindsay about the history of the town. Throughout the course of the summer, like any good coming of age story, the three friends change and grow, overcoming their insecurities to come a little more mature and a bit wiser.

Lindsay is a social chameleon, changing to suit those around here, Hassan is afraid to do much of anything in fear of failing, and Colin is obsessed with fame and matter to others to the point that when he fails at that he becomes physically sick. It is him I relate to most, the child prodigy concerned almost exclusively by living up to his potential and becoming an adult genius. He wants more than anything to invent, discover, or create something, anything,to get him recognition. He wants to be in the history books, otherwise he feels he will have wasted his potential.

While no where near as smart as Colin, who at some point mentions his IQ is around 200, I was always smart as a child. Teachers would tell my parents I was special in the way that is a compliment (not a euphemism), questioning, and heading towards success. By the end of high school especially, I stressed about living up to my potential. The average Disney star, I reasoned, was my age or younger. If they had already achieved fame and significance, why couldn’t I when I, I was sure, was much smarter.

This I think is an issue many  my age struggle with. Zuckerberg was in college when he created Facebook, Veronica Roth wrote Divergent when she was twenty-one, and Malala Yousafzai is only sixteen and has already been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In comparison, I am old, wasted potential; a failure.

That is of course, a self-defeating attitude; as soon as you decide you are failure you become one. There is a popular meme of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler hosting an award show with “They didn’t have it all figured out when they were twenty either” written over it. Fewer words have been so comforting. Recently I read “Things a Little Bird Told Me,” by Biz Stone. He spent most of his life in debt and was in his thirties before he created Twitter.  Success takes hard work, and doesn’t always come at the age of the twenty.

Colin, throughout the novel, learns it is more important to matter to himself than it is to matter to others. Only as he becomes more confident in his abilities and in his future that he starts achieving his goals. He creates a formula that calculates the length of his relationships with each Katherine based on a number of variables, he moves on from his last break-up, and he falls in love with Lindsay. Instead of trying to prove he is a genius, he tries to become a better person.

That is an important lesson for all of us to learn: panicking about being successful young prevents being successful young or at all. Work towards your goals, but also accept the ambiguity of being in your teens or early twenties. You don’t have to to have everything figured out, and trust yourself enough to know you will eventually get where you are supposed to be.

My Trampoline

Growing up we had a huge trampoline in my backyard. We had to get rid of it a few years ago, but when I was twelve I practically lived on that thing. My siblings and I were allowed very little screen time and were told constantly to go outside (we led a tough life) so the trampoline became our favorite hangout. It was in the shad, was large enough to fit four or five of us on it, and it bounced.

The summer I was twelve, I had a superpower: I could jump higher than anyone else. Sure, my brother could do a flip and my sister was the champion of popcorn, but I could jump higher than the shed roof. I was very proud of this. In fact, I distinctly remember challenging all of our neighbors and friends to contests to see who could jump the highest. I always won.

We didn’t only jump though. When it was 90F out, we would lie on it eating popsicles. We’d play hand games, we’d plan adventures, we’d talk and laugh and hang out.

My favorite part of the trampoline though, was reading on it. Like a mattress, the springs allowed it bend to your body and it was cool in shade. Hidden in the back of my yard, there was no better place to read. On that trampoline I read every single Harry Potter book multiple times, I reread and reread and reread The Secret Garden, I read about girls in boarding schools kissing princes, girls in different times and places, I read some of my first “grown-up” books on that trampoline-John Grisham books from my parent’s shelves, and countless other books.

When we had to get rid of the trampoline, I remember having trouble reading. No other place have ever felt so comfortable and years later after a long day I still miss reading there. The summer I was twelve was a good one.

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This post was inspired by day 11 of the Writing 101 Challenge.

 

My Bucket List

Fifteen things I want to do before I die:

1. Read the entire BBC Big Read List. Currently I’ve read 30 out of the 100 books, most recently the The Handmaiden‘s Tale, and I just checked Great Expectations out to the library.

2. TRAVEL THE WORLD!! Next month I’ll be going to Cape Town, South Africa, and a few other places I’d like to go are:

  • Istanbul
  • Prague
  • London 
  • Hong Kong
  • Tokyo
  • Beijing
  • Moscow
  • Rio de Janeiro
  • Buenos Aires
  • Bermuda
  • Savannah, Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Iceland

3. Sky-Dive. There are few places on the Cape to go, and I guess some people do it in Cape Town, so I could do it there too. A few of my friends have gone, and they’ve said it’s awesome; the view and the adrenaline rush must be wicked.

4. Go on a Road Trip. Maybe down to Savannah, Georgia? It’s supposed to be beautiful there, really historic.

5. Go snorkeling. Hopefully in Bermuda but really, I’m not picky about the location.

6. Go skiing in the Alps. It’ll be awe-inspiring. I’m excited just thinking about it.

7. Visit a castle. I’d like to imagine the beautiful balls that must have taken place there, and the courts and such.

8. Watch the sunrise over an ocean. I’ve no excuse for not doing this yet. I should’ve done this years ago.

9. Publish a book. Even better, have that book be a New York Bestseller. I think I would cry if that happened.

10. Buy a drink for someone. Not in a trying-to-pick-them-up way, but in a random-act-of-kindness way.Like cover the latte for the person behind you in Starbucks.

11. See a solar eclipse. It’d just be really cool.

12. Get a pet. I’d love a cat, but a dog or any other pet would do. Being responsible for taking car of another life is an awesome responsibility.

13. Fly first class. Just once, to spoil myself. I’ve heard it’s really cool.

14. Go on a service trip. I went on one the summer going into high school, and I’d like to do one again. Taking time out of your life to help others really puts things into perspective. No matter how bad I think I’ve got it, my life is cushion-y compared to others, and 

15. Finally, I want to be a vegetarian for a month. I’m curious if I could do it, how would it effect me. I’ve tried it before, but can last longer than a week.

 

So what about you? Do you have a bucket list? What’s on it?