Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thoughts on Books: The Age of Miracles

Title: The Age of Miracles
Author: Karen Thompson Walker
Page Count: 269
Where I Read It: Car Ride to and from Port Sanilac
Summary: (Adapted from GoodReads)

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life--the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

Thoughts on Book:

This book is unique, but also totally ordinary. The plotline is a very typical bildungsroman or coming-of-age story. It’s a young girl dealing with ordinary youthful problems: friend drama, first crushes, bra shopping, arguing parents, and loss. It is the kind of story that anyone can relate to.

What makes the story profound is contrasting it against the backdrop to a pre-apocalyptic world. Around Julia people are descending into panic about the “slowing.” People are moving away, others hoarding food, others creating colonies for “real time.” Walker succeeds in the world building of this slightly altered reality. I couldn’t tell you if any of the science bits are correct, but in the end they are irrelevant. The way that people react is both fascinating and frightening. Walker makes it all seem so real in the human ramifications of the slowing.

The slowing has little consequence to the plot, except for maybe the ending. However, the contrast between the buildingsroman raises a lot of questions for the reader. How are ordinary lives as risk of falling in future disaster?  Are we like the narrator already too late to change our world? This is the kind of story that might have passed into a genre for younger readers, but instead this novel was published as “literary fiction” which for readers should be an indication that the author is doing something deeper with the story she is telling. Her memoir-istic writing and traumatic aspects definitely nestles it in the current trends in lit fic today.

The only thing that really bothered me was the use of technology in the book. I never felt like it was realistic to the way kids use technology today. The family seems to get all their news from the TV and newspaper, which maybe the occasional car radio. Which was weird, since the narrator has her own cellphone at age 12. It seemed as if texting, social media, and online news didn’t exist in their world. However at the end, she all of sudden mentions internet servers crashing, as well as giving a monologue about technology. I felt like this was the only aspect that kept the novel from being believable to me.

However, Walker’s writing style is both lyrical and whimsical, which help makes up for her technological failings. The book is subtle and gentle, only really emotional in the last few chapters.

Similar to: Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer, a YA novel with has a similar premise, but is much more of a “survival” story, whereas Walker’s novel is a coming-of-age novel above anything else.

Listen Along With:
Let’s Be Young – Evan McHugh// Youth- Troye Sivan// I Was Here- Roo Panes

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Post-Grad Literary Crisis

I didn’t write a blog last week. In fact, I didn’t do anything last week. I didn’t read or write. I didn’t exercise. I didn’t even watch Netflix. Graduation was exhausting. And cold. Somehow that combination that rendered me unable to do anything for the whole week. But as Friday arrived, I realized that in order to thrive in this weird post-graduate world, I would need to make some changes. In August, I’ll be moving to Ireland for my fellowship for next year, but until then I can’t just keep doing nothing.

So, I started putting things into motion- at least a little. I went to the zoo with my sister and her friends. I went to our family cottage for a picnic on Sunday. I got a yoga studio membership. I filled out some summer job apps. I finished writing a chapter of my next novel. I started planning a retreat day for myself for this coming Thursday. (Wow, look at all the things I can do when I’m not in school?) I also finally got around to doing the most mythical of endeavors- “reading-for-fun.”

I graduated- now what?
I randomly grabbed a book off my mom’s desk: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It was a book from my mom’s friend’s book club- literary fiction with a bildungsroman plot set in a pre-apocalyptic world. I read the whole book over the course of the weekend- indulgent that I actually had time to read the book in it’s entirely. (I’m not saying that I skimmed or, you know, partially read books for my English major… but then again I’m not going to say I didn’t). I finished reading it while sitting in the car on the way back from the cottage. I instantly launched into a full on monologue for my family- detailing the way it fit into the post-post-modern genre because of how it dealt with trauma and how it used a tradition plot structure to talk about something deeper, critiquing the author’s use of technology as outdated and unrealistic to youth technology use today, and reveling in the use of juxtaposition of ordinary plot with extraordinary setting. When I finished my book review monologue, I realized that no one was listening or cared my thoughts on this book.

While I’m outrageously happy to be free of papers, exams, and grades (and all the stress that comes with it), I’m realizing that my opportunities to discuss literature are dwindling. I’ve never been in this situation before. I’ve always been a literature course. However I’m realizing this will be the first year of my life that won’t involve doing anything bookish. I’ve been trained to read to analyze and argue about the books I read… and now nothing? As I’m hoping to teach English (or French), it’s so important to me to not lose these skills.

How do I articulate my reading experience in post-grad land?
So my solution for this is two part: 1) Starting a book club with my Notre Dame friends. Not only will this prevent me from losing contact (or keeling over because I miss them so terribly), but it will also give us all a place to discuss books. And 2) Discussing book on this blog as well. This is something I was planning on adding to this blog from the start, but I was unsure about when to roll it out. Long long ago (okay like 3 years ago) I used to run a book blog that I didn’t tell anyone about, mostly to get practice running a blog. I really liked the ability to share my thoughts on books I was reading and to interact with a community of people who had thoughts on books.

Come Living in the Light was a blog that was only about my faith life, which made sense, as it was part of my university’s Campus Ministry program. Faith is a huge part of my life. I search for God everywhere I go. It’s like breathing. But my life is also the books I read, the music I listen to, and the places I travel. I hope to be able to express those parts of my life on here as well. I plan on continuing to write some sort of reflection, usually faith related, each Tuesday- but I also plan to embellish this blog with book reviews, playlists, stories from my travels, and anything else I might think of.

So start keeping an eye out my thoughts on books (coming very very soon), as I see where these new wanderings take me.


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Guest Post: An Open Letter to my Daughter Megan as She Graduates from Notre Dame

I've only had this new blog for a week, but I already have my first ever guest blogger. I was so surprised (i.e I was sobbing) when my dad sent me this submission and I'm so happy to share it with your all. I am so lucky to have a dad (and a family) that has sacrificed so much for me and supported me so deeply through my time at Notre Dame. A million thanks will never enough- but thank you Dad (and Mom and Ruth) none the less. I love you!

Dear Megan:

It is cliché to say that I cannot believe that your four years at Notre Dame have gone by so quickly, but it is true.

Like the main character in the Notre Dame film, ‘Rudy’, this journey has been an uphill battle since day one.

It started with you being placed on the waitlist.

Many times I have told your story of perseverance and tenacity to make yourself standout over the other 1,000 kids on the waitlist. You made a video full of 18 years of summers spent at Notre Dame. You and your mom drove to South Bend to meet with the admissions officer to show him your video and let him know how much you wanted to go to Notre Dame. (A story I am sure he had must heard at least 10,000 times before.) You enlisted a ground swell of support from our church and your high school to contact ND on your behalf to let them know what a great addition you would make to Notre Dame. I often think that Notre Dame offered you the first available spot just to keep you from calling them again to check your status.

I remember the day you called me at work to say that you had been accepted at Notre Dame. You were so euphoric, you had finally got your dream. I was so proud of you. Did it hurt when you called Michigan, ‘A nice backup school?’ Yes. But, you had spent just about every summer on the Notre Dame campus with your mom since you were less than one year old. Notre Dame was in your DNA. (see below)

However, this was not something that your mother and I had any experience with. Neither one of us had gone away to school. We had both worked our way through college. I didn’t finish until I was 33 years old. But, your mother had gotten her masters degree from Notre Dame, over five summers, so there was a lot of familiarity there.

I also remember thinking to myself, how are we going to pay for this? The answer was no vacations for fours years, no new cars for four years, your mother going to work full-time, your mother taking on facilitating weekend religious retreats for the Capuchins to bring in an additional $100 that could be converted into Domer Dollars for laundry or snacks. For me, it was more days eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at my desk that I care to remember. Not to mention trying to save for your sister who goes to college in two years. The lowest point was looking at a bank balance of $816 and waiting for the next paycheck that was still two weeks away.

I remember freshman orientation, three days of non-stop Notre Dame. (It was all I could do not to slip on my Michigan cap.) We met instructors, councilors, department heads, and other students. All very nice people. I think the start of the turning point for me was the orientation session with Sister Mary in the McGlinn Hall chapel.  She told us that our daughters would be safe with her. There would be no monkey business under her watch. She would be monitoring every door, every window, and checking every room to make sure that nothing was going on that should not be going on. An iron fist inside of a velvet glove. She earned my instant respect.

Freshman Year: A year of turmoil and change. I watched you struggle, which was the hard. Struggle with roommates, struggle with grades, struggle with your breakup with your first real boyfriend, and struggle to feel that you were worthy of being at the college of your dreams. You made it through and I could already see the changes starting. You worked all summer to earn money to help offset the cost, which meant a lot to me.

Sophomore Year: A smother year, but it also featured your first solo visit out of the country. Exploring Paris on your own. (Scary stuff for parents.) Thankfully my company had an office in Paris and I could hook you up with a contact for emergencies. It helped that his daughter was your age and she graciously spent the day showing you around Paris. ‘The best day of your life’ I believe you said.

Junior Year: A year of separation. One of the main reasons you choose Notre Dame was the chance to study in France for a semester in the study abroad program. But once again, it was an uphill climb. You were waitlisted for the program in your sophomore year. Again, you made it off the waitlist into the program and you were selected to go to the big show: Paris. Then 48 hours after your arrival, terrorists attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine. I watched on CNN as masked gunmen shot people on the streets of Paris, I was frantic in my mission to find you and make sure you were safe. The museum you were visiting at the time did not have cell service and I could not make contact. I have never felt so helpless in my whole life. Thankfully you were safe, but it was an unsettling event that stuck with me until the day you arrived home. You left in January and returned in July, seven months without seeing you. That was very hard no matter how many evenings I saw you on Facetime.

Senior Year: Another year of big adjustment. You had just spent the last eight months on your own in Europe and Ireland only to be put back into a lowly dorm room and back into the regular school structure. It must have felt like a step backwards. But, you got back to work and once again excelled.

I must say that I have never been on the Notre Dame campus and not been impressed. I have been there on a Friday night and the campus is quiet and the students are walking with a purpose. It is a very serious place and I respect that. I have been there on football Saturday and even thought I was wearing my Michigan cap, people were still nice to me. The people who run the Financial Aid Office are first-class, they helped us find additional funds when we were running short.   

There is also a certain celebrity as a parent that comes with having your child go to Notre Dame. As if it validates our jobs as parents. If our child got into a college like Notre Dame, we must not have done a bad job as parents.

I am sorry that I had to say ‘no’ so many times over the last four years. Or, ‘We can’t afford that.’ I am sorry we did not have money for extra trips or things that may have made the experience richer.  

On thing I am glad I did not say ‘No’ to was the purchase of Notre Dame season football tickets for you. Your mother and I spent many Saturdays watching the games on TV looking for you in the student section. You even learned about football! (Which is thrilling to a father to two daughters.) They must have taught you something at ND because you had the good common sense not to call and gloat when ND beat Michigan. (Although Michigan is still ahead in the overall rivalry 24-17-1)

Was it worth it? The simple answer is a resounding YES. Notre Dame was absolutely the best place for you. I realized that very quickly. You thrived there. You flourished there. I know you said it was harder that than you ever thought it could be, but you pulled it off. You did it. You have grown into a responsible, educated woman. I am so proud that we were able to provide this for you. But all we did was provide the funds. You did the work. You took the risks and persevered in the face of loneliness and self-doubt. You deserve all the glory.

This is culmination of years of preparation and hard work.  We are proud of you. You are an impressive young woman and you have the whole world at your feet. Go out and shake up the world.

So, on May 15th I will proudly don my ‘ND Dad’ cap, in public, to watch you walk across that stage and accept your diploma. I am glad that the stage will be so far away from where we are sitting, because I am sure that I will get emotional when they call your name. This my little girl, who played with her Disney princess play sets and drove her mother crazy making her drive 50 miles to take riding lessons when we did not even own a horse, graduating from college.

My daughter will be a Notre Dame graduate. You will have your victory. It is fitting that the ceremony will be held in the football stadium. Instead of the vision of Rudy being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates to the chants of Rudy! Rudy! They should be hoisting you on their shoulders to the chant of Megan! Megan! Megan! Megan!

I love you Peanut. Happy Graduation.

Love, Dad

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Walking on the Grass

Don’t walk on the steps of the Main Building. Don’t walk on the grass on God Quad. These are probably the first rules that every freshman is taught at Notre Dame. While, I’ve never dared touch the steps of the Main Building (that is serious taboo), I’ve have never been good about staying off the grass.

To be technical, it all started the first week of freshman year when I accidentally tripped off path and made contact with the grass on God Quad. After that, I realized that I was likely cursed already so it didn’t matter anyway if I touched it again. Since that moment, I’ve never been afraid to walk on the grass. If I see a friend across the quad, I don’t mind dashing across the lawn to say hi to them. If walking on the grass means a better dome picture, you bet I’m there. Walking off the path isn’t something that’s intimidated me.

I love Notre Dame- but we do have a lot of well-worn paths

Notre Dame is made up of lots of paths. Not just the ones that crisscross quads- but ones that lead in distinct directions, lead to futures that are pre-made at Notre Dame. Year after year Notre Dame students follow the same steps, walk down the same path, to the same future. There is nothing wrong with sticking to these paths. There is safety and community that come following the crowd. At the end of the well-worn path awaits an award of a secure future.

As a freshman, a professor said to me, “Find out what everyone else is doing and do the opposite.” This phrase has guided me through a lot of my decisions at Notre Dame. It helped me find the courage to sign up for a brand new study abroad program in Paris, while the typical path for a French major led to Angers. While there were definitely trials being part of a new program, finding my way in a big city was one of the most rewarding experiences of my college career.

Living in Paris was one of my favorite unexpected paths
There were other times, several of them, where God veered me off the path I was on. On my old blog, I wrote in detail of the times I didn’t get the internship I dreamed about or was waitlisted for post-graduate programs I had my heart set on. These moments have been some of the hardest moments of college. I wanted to walk on the path with “everyone else.” I wanted to follow the well-worn path. But God had other plans. I have challenged myself to have complete trust in God, despite being uncertain what new path God has planned for me.
A few weeks back I was walking across God Quad on my way to Washington Hall for my last ever dance recital. As I walked, I watched as a large group of people streamed out of the Basilica and toward the dining hall. After a moment I put it together, it was new group of ACE teachers on their introduction retreat. I felt a weird feeling in my stomach. That had been the path I thought I was on for so long. The well-worn one that I thought I was following. Yet here I was, walking in a different direction.

This is a picture of a path that I took in Ireland- seems fitting?
The weird feeling in my stomach turned into warmth as I thought about the fact that my path was taking me somewhere so COOL. I was going back to Ireland, a country I loved. I was going to be doing work that fit me so perfectly. I was going to get a chance to travel, meet new people, and learn about new traditions. I was going to grow into myself in new ways. I felt no regrets in that moment, only exhilaration for future that awaited me down my own path. This path wasn’t the one I expected myself to be taking, but it felt so entirely right.

I’m quite sure that I’m still being called to teach and I’m looking forward to seeing how God will make that happen. But I also am now resigned to be open to whatever other paths God might have in store in for me. I’m excited for wherever I end up wandering. That is what this whole blog will be about- about not being afraid to walk on the grass. It’s about starting a new journey with my eyes wide open. It’s about taking advantage of every moment of my new adventures. It’s about wandering in wonder. Welcome.