April 2014 archive

A Favorite Author — Barbara O’Neal

There are some authors we find that make our lives better. They make us yearn to read more and more, not just all of their books but books that are similar. We even read books that are completely different from our favorites on the quest of finding another that can kindle this love within us. Reading another book of our favorite author feels like coming home, and the last page is always the saddest regardless of the plot because it means our time together is coming to a close. Goodbye characters that I have now become attached to; goodbye story that sparked something within me. Until we meet again, I will spread the news of your worth to all my loved ones.

One of my favorite authors is Barbara O’Neal. She just released another book entitled The All You Can Dream Buffet, and I finished this in two days. It struck a chord with me as all her books do. It was about blogging, cooking, driving, friendship, love, and finding one’s self—all topics that interest me and most that I have even blogged about at some point. The characters were well developed and seemed to live outside the pages on which they were written. No matter the age of the character (and they did range in age), I found myself empathizing with them all and seeing a reflection of myself in each one. Each character’s story was riveting by itself, but as all the stories converged, it became perfection on a page.

After reading O’Neal’s new book, I desired to reread all her previous books even though I have over 350 books on my must-read list. These books include the following: How to Bake a Perfect Life, The Secret of Everything, The Garden of Happy Endings, and The Lost Recipe for Happiness. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read The Garden of Happy Endings because my mom is rereading it for the second time. I enjoyed the other three on my second reading as much as I enjoyed them the first time. They lifted my spirits and made me happy. I hardly ever reread a book, but these were well worth the second reading!

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April Resolutions Update

If you recall from a previous post entitled “Welcome 2014,” I made three resolutions for this year. I resolved to publish this blog every week, to read 80 books by the end of the year, and to create a piece of art or a craft project each month. To keep me honest to these resolutions, I’ll be posting my progress each month on this blog. Here we go!

You can tell by my previous posts that I have kept up with posting at least once each week if not more.

For April, I’ve read the following books, which brings the number of books for 2014 up to 41:

  1. Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  2. Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Glass Elevator.
  3. Dahl, Roald. James and the Giant Peach.
  4. Dahl, Roald. Matilda.
  5. Dahl, Roald. The Witches.
  6. Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God.
  7. O’Neal, Barbara. The All You Can Dream Buffet.
  8. O’Neal, Barbara. How to Bake a Perfect Life.
  9. O’Neal, Barbara. The Lost Recipe of Happiness.
  10. O’Neal, Barbara. The Secret of Everything.
  11. Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia.

Here are some pictures of the craft projects I did this month.

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Finding the Root of Passion (For Books, That Is!)

Literature. Reading. That great pastime that doesn’t require agility or brawn but rather a willing and open mind. I’ve always been a reader. My mom is a reader, my grandparents were readers, my aunts are readers. It just followed that I would be a reader; we tend to practice what we see, and I saw avid reading and experienced trips to the library. I enjoyed silly series like The Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley High, Goosebumps, and The American Girls when I was in elementary and middle school. During summer vacations, I would read three, four, five books a week. It was something I enjoyed and something I was good at unlike most sports. Reading was right up there with television and movies. It was a great activity to stave off boredom.

I would say I had a passion for reading and literature at a very young age, even before middle school. It was something I enjoyed, and all my family knew for Christmas and birthdays, books were the gift for me. I didn’t know the beauty of literature, though. I read books on the surface. There was no delving into the text. This may have been because of the types of books I was reading or perhaps how literature was presented in the classroom, but I remember what books smashed the door down for me, forever fueling me with the passion within.

In middle school, I read The Giver by Lois Lowry and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle for class. They were impressive, they were unique, and there was a greater message and theme within these than in other books we had read. I saw a glimpse of what literature could be. In high school, I was introduced to Charles Dickens, an author I absolutely despised at first. What was this horrid Great Expectations? It was dry, it was long, and it was boring. When my literature teacher said we’d be reading Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, I cringed. Not Dickens again! But this experience was different. My teacher, the lovely Mrs. Wildes, taught how literature was fluid, a moving entity that ebbed and flowed with the reader. The print was immobile on the page, but the words were not. The book wouldn’t come alive until we put meaning to it. An author can only go so far; it takes a reader to complete the process. My former approach to literature had not been this way. The reader either knew the correct answers about what the author’s intent and the theme was or you didn’t. There was no breathing life into the story as the reader; you only had right and wrong answers. Because I now had this new way of looking at literature (including those once-dry canonical texts), I began to appreciate Dickens as I read. At the end of the book, I found I wanted more, sparking my further reading of French Revolution texts and histories. Mrs. Wildes assigned Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo next, and this book further kindled that blaze I now had for literature. I knew I would never carry a purse or a bag without a book in it somewhere because my passion for reading now defined who I was, forever embedding itself within me.

It’s funny how most people remember that book or that author that sparked their love of reading. My husband found it while reading J. R. R. Tolkien, as well as our friend Ben. Ben’s girlfriend Shawna found it while reading John Donne, specifically “Death, be not proud”. Our friend Jaimi found it while reading Morgan Llywelyn. My brother fell in love with the books of George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, and Matthew Reilly. For our friend Kevin he found a passion for literature while reading C. S. Lewis and Ambrose Bierce, and his girlfriend Kristie found it when reading Laura Ingles Wilder, as did my mother-in-law and my friend Alicia. Travis found it while reading Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. My cousin Chris found this spark when reading Edgar Allen Poe, and my cousin Jackie found it while reading Zoe Daniels, Poe, and Lovecraft. My friend from high school Jordan found it while reading Roald Dahl, and a friend from college found it while reading John Sandford. Numerous authors can spark this fire for reading within us, and there’s no right answer for who will kindle this interest since we’re all so unique. If you haven’t found your passion, your spark for literature yet, perhaps you haven’t found that author with the matches. Take a look at the authors above if you haven’t yet, and perhaps one of these authors will be able to make a lifelong reader out of you.

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An Ant Hill

I am a tube of toothpaste that you squeeze for that last little bit. I have a sensei doing karate in my “garage”. OK, maybe not, though my cramps are making me feel that way. Plus I feel like I’m on the verge of a migraine. I’ve been confusing words and mispronouncing things for days now. Add to that my foot that still isn’t healed since my surgery on January 16th. Sometimes I can walk with minimal pain, and other times I can barely walk, having to grab onto something for support. I desire to exercise like I was before this foot debacle, but I’m stuck with only the exercise bike. Cue the crying baby. I want to stay in this puddle of whine and complain some more.

But then I watch The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I’ve seen this movie before and have read the book twice. Perhaps I made the choice to watch this movie on purpose, my subconscious telling me to gain some perspective. For those of you not familiar with this book and movie, it is about Jean-Dominique Bauby, a man who has locked-in syndrome (as described on Wikipedia as “a condition in which a patient is aware and awake but cannot move or communicate verbally due to complete paralysis of nearly all voluntary muscles in the body except for the eyes”). Bauby suffered a massive stroke at the age of 43, and when he awoke from his coma, he could move only one of his eyes. Despite this catastrophic, devastating life event, this former editor of Elle magazine decided to write a book. He could communicate through blinking his eye—one blink for “yes,” two blinks for “no”. He could communicate in words and sentences by someone saying the alphabet to him with Bauby blinking when the letter he wanted was spoken. This was an arduous process, but with a patient person, it was easier. This patient person was Claude Mendibil, a woman who would take Bauby’s dictation and write down the sentences he had memorized the night before her visit. Thus, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir to Life in Death was created. The diving bell represented the prison of his body; the butterfly represented his imagination.

There are so many reasons for Bauby to have given up, but he chose to focus on other things. He chose to find humor where he could, to explain his situation with imagery, and to appreciate the people around him. He traveled to different places within his mind, letting his imagination roam the plains of the world like a glistening antelope in the African heat. He found bittersweet solace in his memories and used the butterfly to escape his diving bell.

Bauby’s story put things into perspective for me. Yes, I may have issues I’m dealing with and annoyances around me, but there are others suffering or who have suffered much worse. My issues are mere sand gnats buzzing around my ear. This isn’t to say that if your situation isn’t as bad as locked-in syndrome you need to stop whining. Some whining and complaining is cathartic at times (though maybe not always on Facebook). It’s human nature, and it’s good to let your loved ones know what’s going on with you. Every person will have to deal with something in one’s lifetime, and no matter the severity of this something, it will consume you for a time. After all, an ant hill is still an ant hill no matter how big or how small when you’re the one standing in it. But it’s always healthy to gain perspective and may even help you deal with the problem better.

“Whereupon a strange euphoria came over me. Not only was I exiled, paralyzed, mute, half deaf, deprived of all pleasures, and reduced to the existence of a jellyfish, but I was also horrible to behold. There comes a time when the heaping up of calamities brings on uncontrollable nervous laughter – when, after a final blow from fate, we decide to treat it all as a joke.” – Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death

“Once, I was a master at recycling leftovers. Now I cultivate the art of simmering memories.” – Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death

“I need to feel strongly, to love and admire, just as desperately as I need to breathe.” – Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: A Memoir of Life in Death

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My Spiritual Journey

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about religion, especially as this past Sunday was Easter. I was born into a Christian family. My mother prayed with my brother and me every night, she explained our religion and gave us children’s Bibles, we prayed before every meal, and we celebrated Christmas and Easter with gusto. We did not go to church on a weekly basis, though. We moved almost every summer as my dad was in the Army (I went to nine different schools from kindergarten to twelfth grade), so finding churches where we were comfortable was difficult. Add to the fact that my father, though a pronounced Presbyterian, did not feel an obligation to attend church. He said we can worship anywhere, and although this is true, my mother always felt awkward attending church without her husband. Although my mother has always been an excellent teacher, the fundamentals behind the Christian faith were always a bit muddy and questions would arise in my mind that didn’t always have an easy answer. I even lost my little-girl faith for over a year when I was told the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus were not real. If they weren’t real, then how could someone as powerful and magical as Christ be real?

I gained my “faith” back, however, and prayed whenever things didn’t go my way or I desperately wanted an outcome. It wasn’t until I moved to Atlanta in 2007, met a great friend who introduced me to a mega-church around the Buckhead area, and started attending and building relationships at the church that I got the meaning and foundation needed to support such a grand idea of Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. My questions were getting answered through a one-on-one class I took with a woman who worked at the church. I joined a great Bible study group to explore the Bible more fully, and they found my ignorance of most of the Bible charming as it allowed them to see the stories through fresh eyes. I found a great group of friends despite the fact that the church had numerous cliques. I was hungry, so I was consuming everything they fed me.

Things were going great with only a few minor hiccups in my faith and love of the church. That is until I met Hans at a friend’s house to watch a Nazi zombie movie and realized life was about to change. Hans and I started chatting via Facebook, went to another group event to see Zombieland (thank goodness we shared a love of zombies!), and we started to date. We were open books to one another about our pasts and our beliefs. We had a similar vision of what we wanted our future to look like. Needless to say, I was hooked. The only caveat was that Hans was an atheist (for various reasons that are part of his own story). I was troubled by this as I was told constantly that Christians should only marry like-minded Christians. However, I felt this pull to Hans that I had never experienced with another man. We clicked in a way that I began to feel he was my other half, the half that cared for others more deeply and could help make me a better person. We were two halves of one whole, and I felt God working within our relationship even if Hans did not.

I confided in my Bible study group that I had been dating an atheist, and silence filled the room. The tension was so thick it was impossible for my friends to see me clearly. I knew the ladies were not pleased, and some began to see me in a different way after that night. I talked to my “believer” friends about the relationship. Some were supportive and prayed for it; others thought it was a big mistake and began distancing themselves from me. I decided to keep pursuing the relationship and to actively seek God’s wisdom within it. I was worried I was getting carried away with the feeling of falling in love, so I made lists of what was right and what was wrong with this relationship. The only wrong turned out to be our differing beliefs. Throughout this searching, I confided in Hans, and he was patient and supportive. He went to church with me whenever I wanted, he prayed with me before each meal, he listened to me when I talked about what my faith meant to me, and he was respectful and was not judgmental of my religious views. We got engaged, and he even agreed to pre-marital counseling with the church. I asked around about whom to talk to about counseling and was given the name of the counselor. I emailed him, explaining the situation while being positive about how open my fiancé was. I got a prompt response. The counselor said he could counsel us if I really wanted to go through with this marriage but could really offer no hope for our marriage.

I was crushed. I was getting judgment from one of the leaders of the church. I felt shame. I was confused even more. I didn’t know what to do. Church was no longer a safe place for me. I started to see the holes in the scaffolding that once held this church so prominently in my mind. Hans was still attending church with me every Sunday and on Wednesday occasionally. We both started to get uncomfortable, though, as we began to see how political the church was. Republican Party candidates would be guest preachers occasionally, and Wednesday night prayer was full of prayers against President Obama. Regardless of what one’s political views are, I believe politics should be left out of the church. I believe we should pray for our president so that God may grant him wisdom in his decisions no matter if you agree with him or not. What better way to seek wisdom for the President and to help change things than through prayer? Prayers against anyone, however, lost the very definition of what a prayer was supposed to be. I then found out how the church was openly against homosexuality, even having programs to help homosexuals either squelch their desires and/or turn them into heterosexuals. Things were stacking up that I did not condone, and my broken heart over being ostracized by some of the church members was continuing to weep.

I lost my faith through all this. Not my faith in Christ, though there were questions. I lost my faith in the church and in the leaders of churches. I gained a cloak of reality, made partly of cynicism and intelligence to question things around oneself, and I used this cloak to cover my heart. I prayed constantly, looking for answers. Hans supported me in everything, but this experience with that church did nothing to kindle any spark of faith in my atheist fiancé. Instead of feeling welcomed by the church, Hans felt rejected. How could followers of Christ stray so far from His own teachings? He saw the church as a place of hypocrisy and associated this with the religion as a whole.

We made it through that difficult time, and I am thankful for it. I am happy to say that Hans and I will celebrate our fourth anniversary in July, and I’ve never doubted my decision to marry this wonderful man. Through this experience, Christ was teaching me to be strong when affronted with questions. He was teaching me to cling to Him when I was confused and hurt. He was showing me that faith is stronger when it is questioned, looked at under a microscope, and inspected thoroughly. Hans and I tried other churches, but after the burn I got from the first church I called home, I was too wary to trust any church. My faith persists, however, and my relationship with Christ is strong. I embrace science as a means to explain a lot of the world. I encourage questions about my faith and encourage different ways of looking at things and challenges to how I view my faith. These make me stronger as a spiritual Christian. I may never feel at home in a church again, but I know others do. There is nothing wrong with many churches, and perhaps once my wound is only an old scar I can call a church my home once again. Until then, I shall listen to various sermons on podcast, I will continue to commune with Christ, and I shall accept those around me. Tolerance is not the answer; acceptance is the key. I shall look for this in a future church to call my own.

“Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” Romans 14: 1-4.

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Luke 6: 42.

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Read the blog post entitled “Easter Sunday” that got me thinking about my own religion at Fundamentally Speaking.

Little Worlds on Big Shelves

I love bookstores. They are one of my top five places to be. These are either well-organized places with all the books having their spot and plenty of space or a completely helter-skelter, hole-in-the-wall shop where treasures are buried throughout the shop but there’s no rhyme or reason. I love bookstores that sell new books filled with crisp, clean pages and perfect spines and with the smell of coffee from the connecting shop wafting through the air. The books are just waiting for the readers’ eyes to lovingly caress their pages and cradle their spines in their insatiable hands. I love used bookstores, as well. The smell of once-loved books with broken spines from numerous readings envelops you as you walk in, and you’re filled with the hope of getting a good deal or finding a rare beauty. These books have lived in the cherry blossom haze knowing what it is to be loved. They long for a new reader who will treat them to the love they once experienced. In bookstores I sometimes look for old friends who I can reminisce with about the stories we have shared, but more often than not, I find new acquaintances that are sure to become friends the longer I have them opened, delving into their unique stories.

I have over 145 books on my list of books that I own but have yet to read; however, I have over 220 books that I need to buy or borrow as these are on my “Must-Read Books That I Do Not Own” list. I cannot go into a bookstore without buying at least one book. It just seems sacrilegious to the sanctuary of the books. My hands won’t allow me to walk through a bookstore without a book in at least one of them, and my heart breaks for any book that has been constantly passed over and not wanted. I must rescue these books from their current obscurity to the waiting shelves at home to be prominently displayed. I may own four and a half bookshelves. I may have a list of books to read that will take years to get through. I may even have an obsession, but this is an obsession that has seen me through the good times and the bad.

To me, bookstores are places of expectation, of possibly, of mystery, and of finding that new world. What books will I find that I never even knew existed? What genres will call out to me today? What place will this book take me? How much of a distraction will this book be? Will it enrapture me within its pages to the point that I cannot quit it, staying up throughout the night with a hunger to finish? Will the end leave me wanting me more, completely insatiable, or will it whet my appetite and satisfy completely?

Bookstores draw me in because they are full of little worlds living on big bookshelves. The promise of a new adventure is too enticing to turn my back. The love we will share—the words and I—calls to me, and I will gladly answer that siren call.

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Love Is…

Love is…
Watching gaming documentaries because you know he loves it
Cleaning the house to help with pollen allergies
Carrying someone up the stairs when they can’t walk
Admiring even the extra pounds
Whispered “You’re so beautiful” in the middle of the night
Saying goodbye and hello with a kiss and embrace
Listening to someone talk ceaselessly about nothing at all
Flirty texts just for the hell of it
Saying something lusty simply for the look on his face
Silly sayings known only to each other
Confidence when both are off separately with friends
Confessing about his surprise party since he hates surprises
Hearing a song that ties you together
Knowing the subject of every love song because it’s always the same person
Being held as tears stain his shirt
Listening to incomprehensible rants
Finding the perfection in all the imperfections
Staying in pajamas all day
Holding back hair when a migraine messes with the stomach
Differing opinions that bring us closer together
The smell of French toast in the morning
Laughing at mistakes so they don’t seem so big
Patience during my road-rage driving
Jumping on the bed after I say what a bad bed-maker he is
Dancing like you have a wedgie you’re trying to get out
Buried pains unearthed and shared
Cuddling to watch a romantic comedy I picked
Laughing at South Park
Feeling like kids while watching Adventure Time
Singing the My Little Pony theme song with me
Pausing The Daily Show to give me time to rant
Exploring new places and trying different things
Sharing new things we’ve learned with each other
Reading the same book so we can discuss it
Drying the dishes as I wash
Cleaning the bathrooms since you know I hate it
Killing icky house centipedes without a moment’s delay
Marveling at the world around us
A touch to calm frazzled nerves
A look that conveys the world
Saying nothing but meaning everything

Love 2

A Demonstration in Kindness

I was in Trader Joe’s the other day picking up coffee and a chocolate bar (you know, the necessities), and something happened that got me thinking. It was crazy in the grocery store because I had ventured there on a Saturday, and inconsiderate people set on getting their organic, yummy food were abundant. I just walked in for coffee, but getting to the coffee was another story. It was like an obstacle course of the bourgeois. I finally managed to make it to the front with my coffee in hand to be greeted by long lines and impatient people. “No worries,” I thought, especially since I had a number of chocolate options from which to choose. The lady in front of me, with a shopping cart heaped with food, looked back at me, smiled, and told me to go in front of her since I had just two items. She insisted when I said I was fine waiting, and since I was paying with cash, the transaction took little time. Before leaving, I again thanked her and wished her a great day. I know this was such a small thing, but it brightened my day. Kindness in our hectic world. I got that same feeling when you’re in line at a fast food restaurant, and the person in front of you decides to pay for your meal, too. It’s not a necessity, those people don’t know me from Eve, yet they still decide to bless my day with small acts of kindness.

The thing that got me thinking is how that lady was kind while the world around her was, at best, chaotic neutral. Is kindness an innate attribute that we’re all born with, and some will use it while others lose it? Or is kindness something we learn as we’re growing up and continue to learn throughout life? I’m not necessarily asking whether we’re born good or bad since those are such arbitrary ideas, but I do wonder if there are some characteristics that are inherent. Perhaps the question I’m getting at is whether kindness is nature vs. nurture, genetics vs. environment.

I tend to think kindness is a learned trait. When I first got our dog Bella at nine weeks old, she had a tendency to nibble and bite. Yes, she was a puppy, and this behavior was an instinct. We had to teach her to be gentle instead of biting. Whenever she bit me or would try to bite me, I would do my imitation of a puppy shriek, as if to say, “That hurt.” I only had to do this twice for her to learn and only have to reinforce it maybe once a year (like when she tries to use her teeth while playing with my hand or thinks my finger is part of a treat). Was she an already caring and smart dog to pick up so quickly? Probably. However, without the proper training she would have continued biting, not knowing that this was not acceptable. I know humans are not dogs, but I feel this anecdote points out a few key things. One, some of us are more likely to turn towards kindness in certain situations rather than reaching for meanness. Two, if we have never experienced kindness, no matter our innate dispositions, we will not know how to show and give this to others. Three, it takes someone to show us the true meaning of kindness and to see demonstrations of this often so that we can be continual practitioners of kindness. Regardless of what kindness is, it is a trait we must constantly practice to perfect it. We must use it so as not to lose it, and/or we must learn from our surroundings in order to become teachers ourselves.

After thinking through this, I began to examine my own life and areas in which I lack kindness. I tend to be judgmental and harsh when I see weakness in others, and instead of treating them with kindness and openness, I try to push these people away from me. Instead of giving things a positive spin, I tend to see the negative, which makes me forget all about the kindness I need to show other people and to better react to certain situations. I need to take that small act of kindness I experienced in the grocery store and apply this balm to the rest of my life. I need to practice kindness as much as possible rather than falling back on my own egotism and sharpness. Here’s to a new resolution I’m adding to my list. :)

“It has always seemed strange to me… the things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” -John Steinbeck

“For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only the words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.” -Audrey Hepburn

 “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” -Lao Tzu

Kindness

The Road From Savannah to Atlanta

This past weekend I went to visit family in the Savannah, GA, area. My husband was sick with a cold but insisted that I still took the scheduled trip without him. I didn’t like the thought of leaving him, especially since he was sick, but I desperately wanted to see my family. I got in my car, powered up on Starbucks, and embarked for Savannah from the Atlanta area. Unfortunately my car only has an old factory CD player, and the CD player no longer works. It’s quite annoying, but at least the radio still works. The radio usually isn’t a problem until I get further south; then there are only country, Christian, and Spanish stations from which to pick (not a great selection for my tastes). Eventually I gave up and just turned the radio off. This gave me time to think as the drive is four hours total.

I saw exits along the drive that reminded me of times past and went past towns that held memories. Each place stirred something in my heart and my belly. I reflected how each of these places had molded me into the person I am today and how a person or people had an effect in my life. To further this line of thinking, I visited a friend from my high school days on Sunday (a much-needed visit that was a long-time coming). Not only did she awake memories I didn’t know I had, but the town in which we lived while I was in high school held quite a bit of the past for me. Not all my memories were great in that small town. It wasn’t easy moving there in the middle of eighth grade or being a military brat in a pool of peers that had lived in the same houses all their lives. I had trouble adjusting, though this may have had more to do with teenage angst, and my home life wasn’t the best in high school with two parents that could never see eye to eye or find the strength to walk in the other’s shoes. I was shy around others (a trait picked up after being bullied in fifth grade by a hateful teacher), and I was more than a little anxious about how my body was never like what I saw on television or in my magazines. I was labeled as the smart girl almost immediately and had a difficult time living up to that title when I knew I was so much more than the nerdy girl label which I had been given. I even struggled with imposter syndrome, feeling like a fraud as “the smart girl” and doubting my own intelligence. Through these minor obstacles, though, I found a place in that quintessential, small, Georgia town, and that town still holds a place in my heart.

As I continued in this nostalgic haze, I rode by the house we lived in during my high school years and then the house my mother lived in after my parents’ divorce. I drove on the same tired streets I used to drive on every day. I saw the same restaurants still going strong after eleven years, and to be completely honest, everything looked the same. I can go to Statesboro, where I went to college at Georgia Southern, and be amazed at how much everything is changing. However, I visit the small, sleepy, rural town in which I lived during high school, and nothing has changed. It is the town that time forgot, and there’s something beautiful in that.

Driving back to Atlanta from Savannah, the same places and exits had an effect on me. I realized that we leave pieces of our heart in certain places and within other people, and from time to time, we just need to visit and touch base with these pieces. Even if we can’t physically visit these heart pieces, we stay in touch via social media, and just a quick message through a computer can work to warm our hearts for the week. These pieces know parts of our history and quietly keep these safe for when we need to be reminded again. They cherish these pieces of ourselves and look after them until the next time we see them or reach out to them, and they nourish our spirits throughout our lives.

My friend Crystal and me at a pageant in high school.

My friend Crystal and me at a pageant in high school.

The Personality Quiz: Friend or Foe?

Willow

I’ve noticed this new trend on Facebook lately – countless personality quizzes. (Though my husband has just informed me that it isn’t a new thing for the internet since these have been out there for years; guess I’ve just missed this for awhile or posting them is the new fad.) Which Buffy: the Vampire Slayer character am I? Which Muppet character would I most likely be if I suddenly became “muppetized” like the actors on Glee? Which Disney princess am I based on my Jung Typology Test results? Am I Sam, Dean, Castiel, Kevin, or just a blood-seeking demon from Supernatural? I see a new quiz from Zimbio, Buzzfeed, or a similar site every day in my Facebook feed, and I’m perplexed on what makes these so attractive. I admit that I have succumbed to this new fad and that these quizzes remind me of those quizzes in Seventeen magazine that I faithfully filled out in each month’s edition as a pre-teen and teenager. There’s something addictive about this impassive interface that seems to know exactly who I am. I even learn things about myself because surely these algorithms can’t be wrong.

What makes these quizzes so addicting? This may have something to do with our constant need to define who we are and our constant search for the self. It’s too difficult to be introspective, so I’ll just take what this programmed quiz tells me as truth. We also have this need for others to see our true self. “Hey, I’ll post this quiz so others will know how cultural, confident, and smart I am.” Another possibility is the suspense. “Who will I get? What character should I be? I can’t wait for the surprise!” Perhaps it all comes down to boredom. “I’m so bored right now. Wait, she got Marshmallow from Frozen. Really? I wonder who I will be.” I’m thinking it’s a combination of all these things.

But are the quizzes really beneficial? Yes, they help pass the time and even act of a means of communicating who we are to each other via social media. But what are these quizzes not telling us? The whole truth. The nitty-gritty details of who we are, especially those bits that we don’t want others to know about. I’m strong-willed, sharp-tongued, overly ambitious, and see the beauty in others. Translation: I’m stubborn as a mule after breakfast, I don’t always control the vicious things I say to others, I’m competitive to a fault, and, like the beauty in others, I quickly see their flaws and pass judgment. “Yikes! That will never get people hooked on these new-fangled quizzes. Quick, change those negatives and spin them into positives!” But without the negative, we only have a one-sided, shallow view of ourselves. I know we’re not taking these quizzes and believing them to be 100% accurate. I know these aren’t the only ways we discover who we truly are. But do we only need to focus on how smart, polished, and strong we are? Isn’t it equally important to have our negative aspects revealed to us so that we can work on these?

I know another appeal of these quizzes is that they’re a confidence boost, and who doesn’t need some self-esteem points? It’s true that self-esteem is something that all of us probably need more of, especially in our media-driven, advertisement-saturated society. If a quiz can give us even a tiny bit of more self-esteem, let’s take it. However, I find that my self-esteem is increased by spending time with others, by writing, by painting, by crafting. I am creating rather than just consuming, and I feel my self-esteem cache increasing. This may not be what makes you feel more confident, but I’m sure there’s something out there that does so more than personality quizzes online.

All this being said, am I going to give up the quiz? Will my friends no longer see my own results proudly plastered on my Facebook wall? Yeah, right. I will still be roped in by this oh-so-clever fad, but I will also now know what’s working behind it. I know my motivation by participating in this, and with everything I do, I like to analyze why I do it. After all, I do have “a nagging tendency to overthink things.”

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