Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Ten Years Ago

I know! I know! I just wrote about how I wouldn't write to my teenaged self. And really there's not a lot I'd change. BUT I have been thinking about my 30th birthday and the decade that's past since I left my teens.

Ten years ago, I was an angsty child. I still have angst. But ten years ago, I had a t-shirt that said "I have issues" and I wore it with pride. I had little sense of where life would take. (And had I known it would go to Cincinnati, I would have laughed.)

Ten years ago, I was starting Hebrew III. I loved Hebrew. I loved hanging out with my study buddy, Leah. I started to love (being around) Speech and Debate. I was hanging out in the Communication prof's office. I was reading interesting books. I was fully embracing feminism (which is not a dirty word fyi). I learned about grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches. Yum...

Ten years ago, right about this time, I was talking to my Hebrew prof about taking Hebrew farther. He recommended that I apply to this fellowship program in Biocultural Anthropology sponsored by Notre Dame and the National Science Foundation. (Technically it was to get to Israel, but that was becoming politically unstable due to the eventual declaration of war on Iraq.) It would expose me to related fields of study alongside Israel.

But I was angsty and doubtful and unsure. I was pretty sure I wasn't good enough. But in sharing these insecurities with the Communication prof, she told me to stop doubting. The Hebrew prof thought I was good enough, the least I could do was apply.

And so I did.

And I got in.

And I went to Notre Dame that summer. I had the most eye-opening summer of my life. Scholarship as a vocation (heck an avocation) became the goal. It was hard. I live with some of the criticism ringing in my ears. (I'm still an angsty adult sometimes.) But it was good.

I learned about interdisciplinary studies. I learned about Byzantists (Note to my adult self: relearn Greek and become a Byzantist, you'd love it.) I learned about college life outside Concordia. I learned about JEPD. I saw machines that split DNA. I sifted through dirt on a dig.

And it all started only cold winter afternoon, ten years ago.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Past Script

This fortnight's topic for Via Scribendi is "A Letter to my Teenaged Self"--which is great, truly. I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the women I write with have to say if they could "turn back time." Many of them work with teens and pre-teens every day, and, I'm sure, have often reflected on what they would have done differently and what they'd like to tell today's teens from the long-term perspective.

I, however, have little to say to teenage me. She was academic, a late bloomer, and sometimes painfully annoying, but no more so than most teenagers. There was typical teenage angst, most centering around a cross-state move right before my senior year. More than anything, I wish I had handled that move with more maturity and grace, but you can't develop maturity and grace without painful moments like that year provided.

I'd tell myself to be more outgoing, but I'd rather appreciate the introvert that dug deeply into the topics which interested her--personality theory, neurology, biology. I remember and appreciate the friends I had through high school, and I don't especially miss the friendship opportunities I passed over.

I'd tell myself to take French I my freshman year, but it's just so I could discover my love of learning languages a year earlier. My college didn't offer French, and I'm awfully glad I went there so I didn't miss out on much. Hebrew, Greek, Akkadian, and Ugaritic didn't suffer from a lack of French grammar and vocabulary. (Actually, fluency might be helpful for the last two because the earliest grammars are written in French, but I'm still pretty sure one more year of high school French wouldn't have helped.)

I might tell myself to try out for cheerleading freshman year. I'm still not sure I would have been athletic enough to do all four years, but I would have had a better shot. And it sounds much cooler to have cheered in high school than to have cheered in grade school. But I wouldn't have played Field Hockey and that sounds pretty cool too. (I was horrible, but...)

I'm glad I didn't date. I have regrets from my first two boyfriends (which did occur in my teenage years--the college part of it), but I didn't screw myself up too badly, and I deeply adore my husband--a relationship product of my 20s. I wish I had been a little bit less concerned about dating, more interested in figuring out teenage boys as people. But that too is a maturity thing that I just can't ask my teenaged self to achieve.

I'd tell myself to whine less. But then my teenaged self would say "Pot, meet kettle!" And I'd say, "Oh, snap!"

The overall impression I get from my teenage years is anticipation--the gathering of experiences and growing up that would find fruition in college. I choose to remember my high school years as those of a late bloomer. The work that was being done under the surface--foundations for lifelong friendships, learning about my parents as people, life skills that I never seem to acquire enough of--all happened quietly with little intervention on my part whether of high school age or retrospective.

And while I can't claim that high school was the best time of my life, I can tell my (future) children that the teenage years happen and whether they are great or not, they're worthwhile.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Year of the Books

I will remember 2011 as the year of the books. First and foremost because I rang out the old year by finishing my 200th book of the year (Lutheranism 101 for those keeping track). But there are other reasons too. I started reading ebooks seriously. I reclaimed my serious love of adolescent literature. I kicked butt at Summer Reading. And I set a reading plan and (almost) finished it.

Last January, my library science class of choice was "Library Materials and Literature for Young Adults." Part of the course structure was to read and discussion 25 YA books. That's a lot in general, but then I'd learn about new books that didn't fit into my reading plan for class and squeeze those books in. Or I'd get tired of YA and need to read something else. By the end of the class in May, I had read 20 more books than I had at that time in 2010. I discovered some great books: The Book Thief, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, Feed to name a few.

Then there was my reading plan. It was my way of rebelling against being told what to read for 4 months. (Even though I liked many of the YA books, but I'm a fantasy/historical/sci-fi/dystopian/fairy-tale-retelling girl. Keep those realistic and non-fiction books to yourself.) I didn't really know what I was getting into when I decided to read everything Madeleine L'Engle ever published, but I knew I'd need James Bond and Harry Potter to balance it out--which turned out to be a good call. That it landed at the same time as the Summer Reading program was a bonus. I realized I didn't agree with everything L'Engle said, but that was okay. And I appreciated reading the series that produced so many tropes of secret agent fiction and enjoyed (rather than seethe at) the rampant chauvinism, racism, and colonialism. I really enjoyed Moonraker and cried at the end of On Her Majesty's Secret Service (the movie is nothing like the book). It was a great summer that ended with a Nook!

After such a dedicated burst of reading (in the midst of Library Science classes and working full-time), I was burned out. I caught up on magazines, read fluff, and tried not to be obsessed with reaching 200 books. But when you've reached your previous year total in July, it's hard not to think that just a little bit more could push you over. I returned to my Top 100 lists for some inspiration (BBC Reads, Times, Great Reads, and YA Books for the Feminist Reader).

And so I squeezed reading into every nook and cranny of my time. I rarely left the house without the book I was currently reading. Read before bed, during my dinner break at work, in the car when I was early to places. It was a year immersed in the written word. And now I'm going to be happy and done.

One of my library blogs noted the trend of the reading recap and proudly proclaimed she did not keep track of her books because she didn't want the pressure of competition. I get that. My type-A personality does pay attention to the numbers. But I like the record too much to stop making my lists. I'd like to do something radical like commit to only reading 12 books this year, but that wouldn't be fun. And reading should be fun. (Plus I already have 11 books on my library holds list--what a bummer if I couldn't read them.) However, I'd like to be content with not hitting a number. With reading as I can and what I enjoy. The Book of Concord is on my list this year. A couple YA series are in the works. My "To Be Read" shelf is near capacity. So those are my half-goals. Anything else is bonus.

This post is part of a writing adventure. See it at Via Scribendi.