Women And Fiction: A Fangirl’s Promise

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Imagination is encouraged in children and I was lucky enough to be a little girl who had a good one.  Turning my backyard into a place where horses and cats could talk to each other and treasures could be found in flowers, became a way for me explore reality while opening my mind to greater possibilities.  When I was about ten years old, I found that I could put this imagination into a page of words.  Writing solidified and extended worlds for me, taking them from fantasy and making them more real.  I knew I was different then because the other kids told me I was weird to want to spend so much of my time writing stories.  Fiction writing is something that has always made me special and I cherish it for that reason.

But as I grew older, my imagination became a concern to me.  I read too many books about sad women who would go home by themselves and alone indulge in an Austen novel, passively wishing that the fantasy they read would become real.  Being a writer with a love of the imagination, I have feared that I will become one of these sad women who only have a fantasy to hold on to.  It becomes a worry when I spend more time with the characters I create then with my real friends.  I should have a job that doesn’t involve reckless creativity.  I need to pursue a professional career that will tie down my passion for words and things that are just “stories.”  For an adult woman, imagination is dangerous when we are supposed to excel towards being a man’s equal in fields like entrepreneurship, politics, sciences, and criminal justice.  I have grown to fear my ability to imagine just as much as I have grown to love it.

latestIn the past, it seems like women have always been criticized for being fanciful, for reading too many novels, and for having dreams in their heads.  Novels and fiction make women senseless.  They allow us too much indulgence into our emotions causing us to be unruly, rebellious; or worse, hysterical.  Women today are still captivated and obsessed with stories that we like – it is only a natural, human response that comes from having a brain.  We have become what are called “fans” with lists and lists of unreal things we shower with admiration.

However, with the advent of the Internet, our interests and passions have become more obvious because we have the ability to share them instantly with the world.  So the “fangirl” has been born – a woman who indulges in her imagination.  But if only that were the sole definition for “fangirl.”  She is not just someone who embraces the things that she likes.  Look at urbandictionary.com and you will see that, for having these feelings, a fangirl is less than human.  She is a “rabid breed of female.”  Which sounds kind of like a description of a dog to me.  She’s ugly and unattractive.  We are victims of an “epidemic” like we don’t choose for ourselves what moves us.  We are obsessed stalkers – emotionally unstable – who act like idiots.  And the whole of our interests are made up of objectifying men and making our favorite characters have sex with each other.  We are stuck in the belittlement of forever remaining a “girl” when there are plenty of us who are the age of respected adults.  This is how the world see us and this is the stereotype we have been assigned.

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Despite the negativity included in the fangirl stereotype, I believe that my own fear of my imagination, my fictions, my stories, and my fantasies is not unfounded.  If one becomes too consumed with fiction, we become detached from the real world that we explored as children, which I believe is harmful to women.  We become passive, hoping that our goals and dreams will come to us, instead of us reaching out to them.  We have unreal expectations for ourselves – waiting for a man who looks like Colin Firth in Pride & Prejudice – when the man sitting next to you in class, at work, or at the cafe is more handsome due to the fact that you can actually receive love and equality from him in a relationship.  Being overwhelmed with fatasy allows us to stop thinking for ourselves.  We let the fiction start to tell us what is right and wrong about who we are instead of own heads and hearts.  There really is damage that can be done by having too active of an imagination and by spending too much time with fantasy.  An imbalance of fiction and reality exists and an imbalance is rarely good.  There is truth in every stereoptype, and this is what scares me.

As a woman who writes fiction, who writes fan fiction for fun, and who considers herself to be a fangirl, how do I find that balance?  How do I maintain a level of imagination that expands my world of reality without losing myself with the fangirl stereotype?  How do I know when escapism has taken over?

How do I be a fan and a fiction writer in a way that is responsible and respectful to my identity as a woman?

In order to answer that question and maintain that responsibility/respect for my identity, I have decided to make some promise to myself.  This promise will hopefully give me peace of mind on the matter and also help to fight the negative stereotypes/truths of being a fangirl.

1) I promise to use fiction as not only a way of escaping from reality, but as a way of reflecting on my own reality.

Fiction is based in reality even if that fiction belongs in the science fiction or fantasy genre.  When I write fiction or fan fiction, I promise to think about what I’m writing about.  I will look for the reality within the fiction.  I will apply it to my own life and ask myself why it is significant to me.  I will use my own mind and my own heart to determine why I care about the things I admire and the things I write about.  I will ask myself:  How does this story change or contribute to how I see my own experiences?  Can I apply what I have learned from it to my future life?

2)  I promise to be respectful and responsible toward the identities of the individuals I Loki-Fangirls-loki-thor-2011-27649223-900-1371choose to admire and use that admiration to create something new for myself.

I believe that part of being a fangirl who respects her own identity, is showing respect for what I choose to admire.  I promise to think about why I am a fan of someone or something.  Do I have reasons beyond superficial appearance for admiring celebrities?  If I do like someone just for their looks, what specific things do I like about them?  How does this physical admiration empower, contain, or define my own sexuality?

Another thing that personally concerns me about being a part of the fangirl stereotype are the actions/reactions fangirls supposedly exhibit when in contact with the person they admire – being a stalker or excessively emotional.  I will think about what is the correct way to express my admirations.  I will ask myself: Are my actions as a fan related to my own self-affirmation/importance or am I using the experience interacting with a celebrity to genuinely compliment them?  Is the interaction respectful or annoying and intrusive?  Is the interaction based on who they are, what they have done, or your possible common interests?  When is it the right time to go bat s**t crazy because I’ve just met him?!

I promise not to alter or portray the sexual identity of the person I admire.  How would I feel if someone took my body image and against my will, put that image into sexual situations that do not describe me?  What if someone I never met took an image of me and made that image having sexual relations with someone I’ve never wanted to have sex with?   It is an assault of an individual’s sexual identity.  It doesn’t matter to me if the celebrity sees it that way or not.  It doesn’t matter if it never hurts their feelings or if they never see it/think about it.  As a woman, I would personally like to have my own body image respected, so I promise never to be disrespectful to the body/sexual image of anyone else.

3)  I promise not to fear my passions, but to embrace them in order to see what new reality they will lead me towards.

It is never wrong to feel, no matter what the emotion is or to what it is connected.  Having fantasies, dreaming, and spending time with fiction is completely normal.  I promise to never stop imagining new things.  I promise never to turn my back on that child who wanted to explore the world.  I promise to never fear what I have freely chosen as a passion.  I promise that writing fiction will not keep me from real happiness or success.

A Personal Reflection on Pusuing Graduate Studies in Creative Writing

Choosing to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing has been both an emotionally dizzying and somewhat chaotic experience.  There is no question that it has been a journey.   After graduating in 2011 with my BA in English, I decided not to apply to grad schools because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life and I was reluctant to make the mistake of spending money on more education that I didn’t need or want.  Honestly, I don’t really know now what I was thinking back then.  Upon receiving my college diploma, anything seemed possible to me.  My life seemed like it could go any direction.  The paths were wide, welcoming, and numerous.  I lived on a dream cloud kept afloat by my achievement of completing a college education. I would get some kind of professional-like job related to writing or books – at a library or an office or publisher.  I would start publishing more of my writing in magazines and other places.  At a time when jobs were in short supply and while living in rural Idaho and in rural Indiana?    It took me a year to find a job and that job ended up being at Target.  But there were still possibilities.  Target would just be a small job to make some money while I looked for something that paid better and related to my field of study.  I wouldn’t stay there long.

I worked at Target for a month and two years before I decided that things needed to change.  My job description at Target was fairly simple, but it was also safe.  Living with my parents, the job provided all the money that I needed.  I would tell myself that Target was okay.  I was just happy to have a job after spending so much time hoping and hoping for the perfect job and then not finding one at all.  At least I had a job.  Those possibilities I’d wanted earlier would come to me when it was time.  My aunt sent me a card with a quote by Gilda Radner on it: “Some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.  Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next.  Delicious ambiguity.”  This quote has given me comfort on many occasions.  It’s a very good quote.  However, the problem with ambiguity is that it’s ambiguous.  How long do you make the best of it?  The possibilities of life are wonderful, but in order to enjoy one, you have to make a decision.  You have to pick one and follow it, and not wait in a world of ambiguity. At Target I became too accustomed to living in that wonderful state of ignorance to what I was doing or not doing.  The possibilities were still there, I just didn’t care anymore.  I got bogged down in the comfort of working there and suddenly the idea of pursuing dreams became all the more frightening.  What would happen if I kept looking and looking for a better job and I wasn’t good enough to get one?  It was better to stay where I was.

It was a single moment of ridiculousness that inspired me to want to change my life.  You can laugh at me if you want, but it seems to me as I get older that most major changes in life are sparked by a small piece of ridiculousness.  One day I was at home before work watching a Youtube video of a celebrity that I admired.  This celebrity was being interviewed by the school where they got their post-grad training in theater.  They said that choosing to go to this particular school was an acknowledgement to themselves of what they wanted to devote their life to.  Up to that point, they hadn’t made that realization and they had been somewhat doubtful and indecisive about the whole situation.  They also expressed the fact that being successful at this school had better work for them because it was their dream and nothing else would have made them happy.  After that, I said, “Hey, perhaps the only thing that is keeping me from doing what I really want to do, is the fact that I have to decide to do it.”  And all my attitudes toward my current life changed.

Working in a creative field like acting or writing can be difficult because a successful career isn’t necessarily based on talent or hard work, but the fact that your talent and hard work is recognized.  You have to balance reality with the dream of becoming a financially successful writer or actor.  I want to shoot high and try to achieve whatever I can, yet I need to realize that writing might also just be something that I do at home after coming back from a full-time job.  But maybe, I thought, because this celebrity made success possible for themself coming from the same situation on deciding to go to school than I could maybe make myself successful as well.  I probably won’t be a celebrity, but I was able to see again a path that might lead me closer to doing what I wanted with my life.

I started out with a list of 80 possible graduate creative writing programs.  I narrowed that down to about 30, narrowed that down to about 15, and narrowed that down the 8 schools at which I’m applying.  Even at this reduced amount, the application process seems overwhelming.  I created a binder with a divided section for every school.  Then for each school, I’ve written down deadlines and made checklists for the individual requirements for admission.  Each school requires that you fill out an online application, send in transcripts, have 2-3 letters of recommendation, and a sample of writing that is about 20-25 pages long.  Some schools ask for a resumé, and also other essays on your background on writing.  Then there are the fellowships to apply for and financial aid.  All of this didn’t seem to bad to me, even though it is a lot.  The thing that is overwhelming is that every school is a little different.  For example, I just can’t ask my old writing professors to make 8 copies of the same letter of recommendation and mail one to each place.   For some schools you have to submit the letters electronically, some you can only send by mail, others only by email, and one had a form that both myself and my recommender have to fill out.  It is the same way with the essays and writing samples.  Each school has their own specific requirements for every aspect of the application process.  So, to help I’ve made spreadsheet for each requirement – letters of recommendation has its own spreadsheet, transcripts has its own spreadsheet, and writing sample has its own spreadsheet – with a column for the school and a column for what they are asking for.  I also made a more detailed checklist for every online application telling me exactly what information I need for each section of the application.  These organization methods have been helpful, but it seems like that’s all I’ve been able to get done.  The process seems like it is going slow without very many visible results.  However, I think it will go much faster after I have finished my first application.

So far I’ve figured out how to get my transcripts sent and have finished all the basic personal information on each application.  Today I’m emailing my old professors to ask them to recommend me.  This part has made me nervous due to the fact that it has been over three years since I’ve had classes with any of them.  Will they remember me?  Will they have time to do the recommendations for someone who is no longer their student?  It also helps to just get the doubts out of my head.  I’m sure it will all be okay.  Anyway, that’s how I stand on the school situation.  We’ll see how it goes.  And I send out my best thoughts for anyone else who might be going through the same process.  Just think that it will all be over soon and we will hear acceptance from our favorite schools.

Developing The Raven Cycle: Character Profiles (Part Two)

Key

Black Text = The Raven Boys

Green Text = The Dream Thieves

Red Text = Spoilers (see bottom of post if you want to read spoilers)

Blue Sargent

Appearance/Traits/Quirks:  She’s five feet tall and has short, black hair.  Her style is trashy chic.  She is vain about her appearance.  She is sensible for a teenager.  Blue is judgmental and prejudiced against raven boys or students that attend Aglionby Academy.  She is creative – her room is decorated in feathers, leaves and paper trees.  Most of her clothing is something she’s made herself or altered.  Blue also likes to help people.  We can see that in her many odd jobs some of which include being a waitress at the pizzeria, Nino’s, teaching penmanship to third graders, walking dogs, and helping elderly ladies with their gardens (57).

She has a short temper (11). 

Transportation: bicycle

Tarot Card:  Page of Cups – represents someone who is open to opportunities, new experiences, and new relationships.  She is ready to receive guidance and advice from others.  She is defined by togetherness and thoughtfulness.  This card is related to reaching out to someone and mending relationships.

Death:  To Blue death is part of a reverse fairy tale because of the prophecy that she will kill her love by kissing him.  She doesn’t put too much weight on the prophecy until she meets the living Gansey when he comes for a card reading at her house.  After seeing him alive, the consequences of killing Gansey seem more real.  Any romantic relationship that Blue may have will in some way be related to death.  She struggles to tell her prophecy to anyone she might be romantically interested in.  Telling her crushes about the prophecy also comes with the assumption that they are her true love.  This becomes a problem because she doesn’t love them.

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Privilege:  Blue and her family are most likely middle-class.  She is not as rich as Gansey, but she is probably richer than Adam.  She is prejudiced against the raven boys because of their wealth and assumes that they are all arrogant and self-centered.  She made two rules: “One, stay away from boys, because they were trouble.  And two, stay away from Aglionby boys, because they were bastards” (10).  This influences her relationships with Gansey, Ronan, Noah, and Adam.  When she first meets Gansey, he asks her to sit with the guys at a table at Nino’s.  He makes the mistake of offering to pay her to do it.  She responds appropriately, “I am not a prostitute” (62).  She does not accept charity from the condescending raven boys.

She starts to see privilege differently.  Privilege is instead an act of kindness and allowing someone into her life.  When Gansey comes to her house he is now a “privileged tourist” (98).  You can make someone privileged by giving them something special.  However, Blue also starts to see herself as separate from the raven boys because she is a girl.  She will never be able to share their experiences at Aglionby.  She wants the boys to treat her like an equal friend despite her gender.  She tells Adam, “Well, I don’t want to be just someone to kiss.  I want to be a real friend, too.  Not just someone who’s fun to have around because – because I have breasts!” (345). 

Family:  Blue has a very large family of female psychics.  She lives in a house with her mother, Maura, her mother’s two friends, Calla and Persephone, her half-aunt Neeve, her aunt Jimi, and cousin Orla.  There are probably more that are unnamed.  Her home is full of warmth and chaos.  Out of all the characters she has the most positive experiences with her family.  Blue often feels like her family uses her like a tool because of her ability to magnify psychic energy.  She feels like she has no talents that she can call her own and is always looking for what she calls her something more.  Blue doesn’t know much about her father except that his name is Artemus,  that he might have come out of Cabeswater, and that he disappeared.

Neeve has left a negative energy in her home.  Blue sees her family as whoever belongs inside of her house.  This now includes the raven boys.  “For Blue, there was family – which had never been about blood relation at 300 Fox Way – and then there was everyone else.  When the boys came to her house, they stopped being everyone else” (98).

Beliefs/Dreams:  Blue thinks that most people do not believe in psychics and so she has always felt that other people see her as being crazy.  She also thinks that it is better not to know the future.  She sees Cabeswater as a dream world.  Stiefvater writes, “She felt like she was a part of a dream this place was having, or it was part of a dream of hers” (225).  In Cabeswater, the friends find a hollow tree.  When they go inside of the tree, Gansey, Blue, and Adam each have their own dream or vision.  Blue’s vision shows her what it might be like to actual kiss Gansey.

Nature/Ley Line:  Blue’s favorite place is outside under the beech tree in her backyard.  The inside of her house is so busy that for her the outdoors is the only place she can have privacy.  There is a strong connection between nature and psychic energy.  Stiefvater uses images of nature when she describes Blue watching Neeve scrying (34-5).  Blue’s bedroom is also decorated like a forest.  The trees at Cabeswater knew what her name was.

Glendower:  Blue feels an attraction to Gansey’s journal about Glendower because it represents new possibilities to her.  She feels that finding Glendower is something that runs deeper than just getting the favor from him.  She has become involved in the search for Glendower because it was her fate.  She will find him because she is meant to find him.

Relationships with Others:  Blue thinks that her half-aunt is intense.  She is curious about Gansey at first, but then finds him to be “annoyingly impressive.”  She calls him President Cell Phone.  After a while she starts to see that Gansey has a mask that he takes on and off.  One Gansey is polite, formal, and condescending, the other Gansey doesn’t know very well, but wants to know more.  She also has nicknames for the other boys.  Noah is Smudgy Boy.  Ronan is Soldier Boy.  Adam is Elegant Boy.  She sees Adam as attractive and endearing – not at all like the other raven boys.  I think that most of her interest in Adam is because he is the first boy to show a romantic interest in her.

She realizes that she is physically attracted to Gansey, but still doesn’t love him (7).  She likes having the boys at her house because it gives her the upper hand since they don’t know much about psychicsSecret*2.

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Richard “Dick” Campbell Gansey III

Appearance/Traits/Quirks:  Gansey is clean and well dressed.  He wears very expensive clothes with ease and his school uniform looks perfect.  He is tan with tousled brown hair and hazel eyes.  He wears glasses when he doesn’t have his contacts in.  He is a leader and a control freak.  He is oblivious to how other people feel about his money and his attitude, but is trying to pay more attention to the reactions of others.  People say he is much older than he looks – an old soul.  Gansey has made scholarship into an art form.  He smells like mint because of all the mint leaves that he chews.  He also unconsciously rubs his bottom lip with his thumb.   He suffers from insomnia possibly because his mind is always busy with his obsession with Glendower.  Gansey is a member of the Aglionby rowing crew.

Gansey is persuasive (36).  We see more of the masks and this could be related to the fact that he has grown up in a family with politicians.  Gansey is very good at appealing to whomever he meets.  In order to do this he puts on the mask that will most suit the individual with whom he is speaking.  He quits the rowing crew. 

Transportation: A classic orange Camaro with two black stripes down the middle.  Gansey calls it The Pig.  The car is constantly breaking down.  Secret*3  The Pig is similar to Glendower in the way that is always dying and then being revived again.

A car is a wrapper for its contents, he thought, and if he looked on the inside like any of the cars in this [his rich father’s] garage looked on the outside, he couldn’t live with himself.  On the outside, he knew he looked a lot like his father.  On the inside, he sort of wished he looked more like the Camaro (295).

Tarot Card: Death – This card can represent someone in a state of change or transition.  They are closing one door and opening another.  They are going into the unknown from something familiar and shedding old attitudes.

Death: First of all, we know that Gansey will die because Blue saw his spirit on St.Mark’s Day.  In regards to Glendower, Gansey sees death as something that is not permanent.  He believes that Glendower is similar to King Arthur and will someday come back to life or wake up (45).  According to Gansey it is the fact that Glendower is buried on the ley line which keeps him from being entirely dead (215).  We also know that Gansey has died once already.  He is deathly allergic to bees.  When he was 10 years old, a swarm of hornets attacked him.  While he was dying he had a vision concerning Glendower – a message from the ley line.  Secret*4.   This experience makes Gansey like Glendower who has died and will come back to life.  His experiences can also explain his concern for Ronan who has attempted suicide.  Gansey has to remind himself that, “death isn’t as close as you think” (111).  He sees death as possibility – it is a look at what may happen.  This fascinates him and Ronan finds him staring at a bee in their apartment.  His second chance at life makes it more important that he do something meaningful like finding Glendower.

Privilege:  He was born into a family of millionaires. Gansey feels the need to take care of his friends’ financial burdens because he has the means to do so.  He is somewhat careless with material objects because he knows he can just go buy a new one.  Gansey believes that he owes it to the world to discover Glendower again because he has the time and the money to do research while others do not (24).  He does not always realize that while he sees giving away his money to people as kindness and love, others see it as condescending and insulting.  However, he becomes more aware of other people’s perspectives on his privilege after meeting Blue who is always angry with him for throwing around his money.  Gansey starts to worry that all people will see of him is his money.  He states, “I am only my money.  It is all that anyone sees, even Adam” (133).

Gansey begins to relate privilege to not only being rich in money, but rich in love.  He compares himself and Blue; who have had loving families, to Adam who has had to experience domestic abuse (362).  Gansey starts to see that he has been blessed in more ways than one.  He no longer tries to give Adam or Blue money.

Family:  His father is a congressman and his family lives in a mansion in Washington D.C.  He has a sister named Helen whom he gets along with.  They are equals through the fact that they both have the problem of sharing the same parents.  Gansey shares his father’s name and he hates it.  This is why he won’t allow anyone to call him Richard.  Visiting home causes him to compare himself to his family and he feels the weight of everything he hasn’t yet achieved.  His family reminds him that he is becoming more like the masks that he puts on rather than his true self.  His real family is his friends and anyone who is helping him to find Glendower.

His mother is also running for congress which means that Gansey has to appear a certain way so that his mother can appear a certain way to the public.  More masks.

Beliefs/Dreams: Gansey believes that in to make new discoveries, you must believe in what you are looking for.  He does not believe in coincidence.  Everything happens for a reason or it happens as a result of cause and effect.  Inside the hollow tree in Cabeswater, Gansey sees a vision of what Glendower will look like when/if they find him (289).

He believes that finding one impossible thing makes it easier to find more impossible things (187).

Nature/Ley Line:  Gansey is connected to nature by the fact that his near death experience was caused by an insect.

Gansey is disturbed by Cabeswater’s disappearance.

Glendower:  His obsession with Glendower is a painful longing.  He has documented his entire search inside a journal which has become part of his being.  He has put so much love and work into the journal that he feels imcomplete without it.  Glendower is the one thing that Gansey wants that does not come with a price tag.  He wants to find Glendower in order to prove that he is more than just his money. 

Relationships with Others: Gansey sees Ronan as trouble.  He is afraid that Ronan will learn to be nothing.  Gansey wants to find the Ronan that he was friends with before Ronan’s father died.  He believes that Adam works too hard and is concerned for Adam’s health.  It’s hard for Gansey to see Adam with injuries that Gansey knows Adam’s father gave him.  However, Gansey cannot offer Adam help without Adam feeling like Gansey is being condescending.  Gansey thinks that Adam is a genius who is too busy feeling sorry for himself.  He wants Adam to realize how great and fantastic Adam really is.  Gansey thinks Blue is evil, but yet he still wants her to like him because her approval will prove to himself that he is not just an arrogant Aglionby bastard.  He calls Blue “Jane.” (They are collectively now Dick and Jane).  In general, Gansey feels like his friends do not appreciate him in the same way that he cares for them.

In the end he was nobody to Adam, he was nobody to Ronan.  Adam spit his words back at him and Ronan squandered however many second chances he gave him.  Gansey was just a guy with a lot of stuff and a hole inside him that chewed away more of his heart every year.  They were always walking away from him.  But he never seemed able to walk away from them (351).

His opinion of Blue has improved.  He now sees her as fanciful, but sensible (77).  Blue becomes a representation of Henrietta for Gansey.  She is everything about the town that he has come to love.  When he wants to think about Henrietta he calls her instead of his other friends.  And she tells him what is happening at her house (288).  Gansey has a fight with Adam at Gansey’s house.  Afterwards Gansey is convinced that Adam hates him (287).

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Ronan Lynch (Greywaren)

Appearance/Traits/Quirks:  Ronan has a sharp nose, thin mouth, blue eyes, and buzzed hair.  He has tattoo on his back and neck.  He’s described as handsome.  He is of Irish origin.  Ronan likes to make other people feel uncomfortable by creating awkward silences and by staring at people for too long.  Ronan also tends to be insincere when he knows that everyone else is being serious.  He tells the blunt truth even if you don’t want to hear it.  Ronan is true to his word.  If he says he will do something, then he will do it.  He acts like he despises everyone.  He likes Latin, loud music, boxing, and swearing.  Ronan is a dare-devil and enjoys doing stunts.  He is very nurturing toward animals and his pet raven, Chainsaw.

He chews on his leather wrist bands.  Ronan despises cell phones and sufferes from insomnia.  However, unlike Gansey who can’t sleep because his mind is busy with Glendower, Ronan doesn’t sleep in order to avoid his dreams.  Ronan and Gansey have a lot of midnight gatherings with one another.

Transportation:  A black BMW which belonged to his father.  Secret*5

Tarot Card:  N/A  Ronan tries to stay away from tarot cards as much as he can because he sees Blue’s family as being involved in the occult or black magic.

Death: His father, Niall Lynch, was murdered and Ronan found the body in the driveway.  Had a near death experience in which he almost bled out.  Noah found his body and Gansey assumed the incident was attempted suicide.

The Orphan Girl from Ronan’s dreams tells him that she is a psychopomp (127).  A psychopomp is a creature or spiritual being which guides the souls of deceased from earth to the after life.  In some cultures, a raven is also a psychopomp.  Secret*6  When Ronan starts dreaming with Kavinsky, Kavinsky gives him a little green pill for which, “dying is a boring side effect” (312).  The pill throws them into sleep. 

Privilege:  Ronan’s money comes to him from the fact that his father died and he was given money in his father’s will.  This maybe the reason for Ronan’s bitterness towards his privilege.  He hates the stereotype of being condescending and self-centered that Blue assigns to him. The world expects him to be a certain way because he is rich, but Ronan refuses to meet these expectations.  However, he still doesn’t know what he wants for himself.  He tells Gansey, “I don’t know what I want.  I don’t know what the hell I am” (75).  The only way that Ronan meets the stereotype of being a privileged individual is in his love for the Latin language.  Latin is not a language that’s used for any practical function, so learning it fluently is something that someone with time and money might do.  Knowing Latin seems to me like something a snobby scholar would wave in the face of another scholar.

We learn that Ronan has actually inherited 3 million dollars from his father along with their family property.  However, he cannot access it until he is 18.  If Ronan ever returns to his home, the money will be forfeit (34).  Returning home also includes never seeing his mother again.  Unlike Gansey’s family home which is rich in an untouchable and intimidating way, Ronan’s family home is what he calls “shabby rich” (155).  Ronan’s family is rich not because they own shiny things, but because they can afford to buy every warm and comfortable thing you could imagine.  Instead of Gansey this time, Ronan secretly helps Adam with Adam’s rent.  This seems like part of a turing point for Ronan.  It perhaps means that he is becoming more comfortable with who is and who privilege has made him.  Instead of being stuck in confusion about his identity, he is now acting on it and maybe using Gansey as a guide for the person he wants to be.  Church is the one place where Ronan actually feels privileged to hate himself for the sins he’s committed.  “Ronan gave in to the brief privilege of hating himself, as he always did in church.  There was something satisfying about acknowledging this hatred, something relieving about this little present he allowed himself each Sunday” (91). 

Family: Ronan is the middle of three sons.  He has an older brother, Declan, and a younger brother, Matthew.  Declan controls Ronan’s funds until Ronan turns 18.  Ronan hates Declan.  Their mother stopped speaking after the death of their father.

Ronan’s family has lots of secrets.  Niall had a mysterious job for which he spent a lot of time traveling.  Like Ronan, Niall could bring objects into reality from his dreams.  Like Gansey shares his father’s name, being able to create dream objects gives Ronan the curse of being just like his father.  We learn that Ronan’s family farm is called The Barns because all of many barns on their property.   Ronan feels guilt at not discovering his father’s body in time to save his father (91).  He realizes that Gansey is more of a brother to him than his real brothers (154).  Declan is incapable of telling anyone the truth and Matthew is slow of mind, but everyone’s sweetheart including Ronan’s.  His mother is living in a type of fairy tale.  Like Glendower, she is in a state of sleep.  In order to wake up she must go back inside of a dream.  Or in other words, Ronan must take her into Cabeswater.

Beliefs/Dreams:  We learn that Chainsaw the raven is something that Ronan took out of his dreams.

Ronan is what is called the Greywaren.  It’s a title that Cabeswater gives him.  There a many people that can steal objects out of their dreams, but only Ronan can speak the language of dreams.  When Ronan dreams he enters Cabeswater where the Orphan Girl helps him take dream objects into reality.  The Orphan Girl wants Ronan to take her out of the dreams, but he doesn’t.  Some other dream objects include: keys to The Pig, a remote control air plane that runs without batteries, blue lilies, the translating puzzle box, and his night terrors which are creatures that I imagine to be part raven, part man, part demon.        He has repeated dreams about driving to the barns and multiple nightmares about bad things happening to Matthew.  Some other dreams include Gansey being attacked by hornets and Adam being overcome by a mask (the dream about Adam can symbolize how Adam feels about sacrificing himself to the ley line).  The dream beasts that Kavinsky and Ronan summon to fight each other reflect the characters’ self-hatred.  We find out that when a dreamer dies, all of their dream objects that are living fall into a sleep (The Barns seems to be under a sleeping spell since Niall died).  “Non mortem, somni fratrem” (146).  Not death, but his brother sleep.  Sounds like Glendower. 

Ronan is Catholic and believes in heaven and hell.  He believes that he once saw the devil talking to his father inside of a barn.

Nature/Ley Line:  He has a pet raven named Chainsaw.  Chainsaw reveals to us what Ronan might have been like before Niall died.  “Ronan’s smile cut his face, but he looked kinder than Blue had ever seen him, like the raven in his hand was his heart, finally laid bare” (304).  Ronan can speak in Latin to the trees of Cabeswater.

Taking things from his dreams is like the power nature has to produce new life.  Again we see Ronan’s true heart through the respect and love he has for animals.  We find out that creating dream objects sucks the energy out of the ley line.  Ronan’s and Kavinsky’s dreaming has been adding to the erratic behavior of the ley line with burst of energy followed by no energy at all.  Their dreaming contributed to Cabeswater disappearing.

Glendower:  Ronan wants to find Glendower because Gansey wants to find Glendower (21).  Ronan imagines that finding Glendower will be like dying in the sense that it will be similar to finally seeing God.

Relationships with Others:  It seems that Ronan enjoys spending time with Noah more than any other character does.  Secret*7

Ronan sees that Gansey is pretending that Adam did not disobey him by waking the ley line.  Gansey is just ignoring the fact that he’s mad at Adam because Adam decided to go his own way, stepping further away from Gansey.  Ronan also notices that Gansey is attracted to Blue when Gansey himself doesn’t know it yet (141).  Ronan loves when Gansey acts like a normal boy – Gansey’s opposite extreme from the masks Gansey wears.  His relationship with Gansey is a reminder of what Ronan wants to be.  He’s concerned about what Gansey may think about his actions.  Destroying The Pig is like destroying Gansey.  Ronan thinks that Adam doesn’t feel right if Adam’s life isn’t agony (71).  Ronan is digusted by Blue’s clothes.

Adam Parrish

Appearance/Traits/Quirks: Adam is self-conscious about his appearance.  He wears a second hand Aglionby uniform.  He is fine boned with blue eyes.  He looks fragile.  He is at the top of his class at Aglionby.  Adam is cynical and hard working.  He is a proud and a dreamer.  Adam enjoys fixing cars and works at an automotive mechanic’s shop.

He has prominent cheek bones and deep set eyes (8).  Adam is feels self-pity and he has lost hearing in his left ear.

Transportation: bicycle.  He gets a tri-colored, junky car from Helen, Gansey’s sister.

Tarot Card: The Magician – This card represents someone who does what needs to be done and carries out a plan.  The magician is totally committed to a cause.  He has the power to draw on a variety of forces and use them in creative ways.  He is magic because his achievements seem to be miracles.

Death: In the hollow tree inside Cabeswater, Adam has a vision of himself causing Gansey’s death.  This is part of what prompts him to make his sacrifice to the ley line.

Death is what makes everyone equal.  “Only death couldn’t be swiped away by a credit card” (65).  Adam starts to see ghosts.  The spirits are messages the ley line is trying to send him, but he understand what they are telling him.

Privilege: Adam is part of the lower-class and lives in a trailer.  He has to work three jobs in order to afford to pay tuition at Aglionby.  He fears that Gansey will in a way own him if Adam accepts Gansey’s charity.  This is a problem because, “success meant nothing to Adam if he hadn’t done it for himself” (132).  Privilege is something Adam has to earn on his own.  Adam experiences a fierce wanting for everything in his life (41).

Adam is convinced that it was Gansey who is responsible for lowering his rent (64).  This causes more arguments between them.  Adam is also convinced that the people at Gansey’s party will somehow know that he lives in a trailer – that his poverty is something people just know because of how he acts or looks.  Adam states that he will only help Gansey if they can help each other as equals (282).

Family: Adam’s father is an alcoholic and sometimes beats Adam.  They are proud family in the way that what happens in their family stays in their family.  Adam and his mother don’t want to talk about the behavior of their father/husband.  His family is a part of his strong wanting.  Adam desires to find a place where he belongs.

He was full of so many wants, too many to prioritize, and so they allfelt desperate.  To not have to work so many hours, to get into a good college, to look right in a tie, to not be hungry after eating the thin sandwich he’d brought to work, to drive the shiny Audi that Gansey had stopped to look at with him once after school, to go home, to have hit his father himself, to own an apartment with granite countertops and a television bigger than Gansey’s desk, to belong somewhere, to go home, to go home, to go home” (370).

Adam lives in an apartment above St.Agnes church rectory.  Like the other boys, Adam faces the challenge of not being like his father.  He has struggles to control his anger (66-7).

Beliefs/Dreams:  It is hard for Adam to believe in the supernatural.  He has too many worries about the reality he is living to think too much about magical possibilities.  Sometimes he feel that he is sleepwalking in the life he lives with Gansey.

Nature/Ley Line:  Adam sees images of nature when Gansey tells other people about Glendower.  He sacrifices his hands and eyes to the ley line in order to wake it up.  When this happens there is an earthquake.  Adam believed that waking the ley line would somehow make him equal to Gansey.

The ley line is messing with Adam’s senses, trying to send him a message.  He has an episode of what is called transient global amnesia (306).  He walks somewhere and he can’t remember why he’s going there or for what purpose.  He is aware that he can’t remember, but yet he can’t stop walking.  He now has the ability to detect the location of the ley line without using any electronic devices.  He learns with the help of Persephone that, because he made his sacrifice, it is now his job to maintain the ley line.  His task is compared to what a priestess might have done at Stonehenge – to take care of the ley line through rituals.  The earthquake that occurred after his sacrifice caused energy leaks along the ley line.  It is Adam’s job to find and fix the leaks so that Cabeswater will have enough energy to return.  He learns how to communicate with the ley line by using tarot cards.

Glendower: Adam wants to find Glendower in order to be granted the favor from the king.  This will grant him some of his wants.

Relationships with Others: Like Blue, Adam realizes that there are multiple versions of Gansey.  Adam thinks that Gansey should get out of Ronan’s business and let Ronan make his own decisions.  Gansey and Adam have a relationship in which Adam is trying to get away from Gansey and Gansey is always trying to draw nearer because he fears that Adam will leave him.  Adam is also bitter and envious of Ronan.  He’s envious of Ronan’s privilege and bitter because Ronan seems to be wasting it.

Adam is still attracted to Blue. “Blue Sargent was pretty in a way that was physically painful to him” (58).  We learn more about the history of the boys’ friendships.  Gansey met Ronan first before Ronan’s father died.  After the death of Niall, Ronan moved in with Gansey.  Sometime after that Adam stopped to help Gansey with the Camaro which had broken down on the side of the road.  Adam thought Gansey would be cruel to him and didn’t want to help at first, however, they became instant friends after they started talking.  Adam believes that Ronan is unable to express emotion with words so Ronan uses actions to express himself.  The sacrifice Adam made to the ley line sets him apart from his friends.  They will never be able to understand Adam’s new connection to the ley line.

maj01Noah Czerny

Appearance/Traits/Quirks: Noah is gray, rumpled and faded.  He is very observant and good at finding things.  He is quiet, mild, content, loyal, and easy-going.  He is good at producing unexpected humor.  His hands are restless and moving.

Transportation: Red Mustang

Tarot Card: N/A

Death: Secret*8

Discovered Ronan when Ronan was dying.

Privilege:  He was once a student at Aglionby Academy, but now privilege doesn’t apply to him.

Family:  He has a mother, father, and sister.

Beliefs/Dreams:  Starts going to mass with Ronan (89).

Nature/Ley LineSecret*9

Glendower: Noah is just along for the ride.  He is looking for Glendower because his friends are looking for Glendower and he wants to spend time with them.

Relationships with Others:  Noah seems to spend the most time with Ronan.  He has a fascination with Blue’s hair and is always petting her head.  It is other characters that make Noah what he is.  “Without Blue there to make him stronger, without Gansey there to make him human, without Ronan there to make him belong, Noah was a frightening thing” (371).

He tells Blue that he would ask her on a date if he were able.

Mustang-CopBlock

Spoilers

1.  In The Dream Thieves, Blue is able to have her first kiss with Noah because he is already dead (244).

2.  Blue realizes that she has a crush on Gansey and not Adam. (Thieves, 240).

3.  Ronan wrecks Gansey’s car and brings back an identical version of The Pig which Ronan has taken from his dreams.  Also in The Dream Thieves, the friends find a tire from The Pig in a man-made pond, but the tire is several hundred years old.

4.  We learn that Gansey was brought back to life in exchange for Noah’s life which was given as a sacrifice to the ley line.

5.  His father’s BMW is also a dream object that Ronan’s father created.

6.  Ronan did not attempt suicide, but was attacked in his dreams by his night terrors.  He allowed Gansey believe that he had tried to kill himself (135).

7.  Ronan seems to be the only person who went through a grieving process for Noah after they find out that Noah had been murdered (Raven, 285).

8.  Noah is a ghost.  He was murdered seven years ago and his death was a sacrifice to the ley line.  His death is what brought Gansey back to life after Gansey was attacked by hornets.  Noah is a shadow of what he used to be while alive.  Noah shows us that death is what we make of it because even though he is a ghost, to his friends he is not truly dead.

In The Dream Thieves, Noah disappears entirely.  He’s not even an invisible spirit.  Noah often re-enacts his own death without knowing it.  He doesn’t care about how his spiritual form exists or why.

9.  Noah is related to nature by the fact that his body is literally in the earth.  The presence of his spirit depends on the fact that his body is buried on the ley line.

Noah’s spirit vanishes like Cabeswater vanishes.  His presence also depends on how much energy is flowing through the ley line. (Thieves, 123)

Sources

Stiefvater, Maggie.  The Raven Boys.  New York: Scholastic, 2012.  Print.

Stiefvater, Maggie.  The Dream Thieves.  New York: Scholastic, 2013.  Print.

Developing The Raven Cycle: The Novels of Maggie Stiefvater (Part One)

imagesIt was one in the morning.  A Yankee candle burned on the table next to me, the scent of home filling the room, it flickered small in the darkness of empty space.  The night itself nor the time mattered since they fell beyond my bubble of light, which shone on the book in front of me.  I saw then in a deep part of my mind as I read the words in front of me,  that discovering a story that I loved was kind of like the cliché that when you kiss someone – and the kiss is really, really good – then the entire world disappears and it’s just you and the person you’re kissing.  With that realization, the emptiness of the world vanished and I was just someone sitting next to a candle with a book.  The book was called The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, the first novel in her series The Raven Cycle.

After much thought I’ve decided that the best way to describe Stiefvater’s books is by stating that they are a combination of the student camaraderie and youthful community of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter,  the mixing of European and American folklore of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, and the strong sense of place and the shared experiences of growing up surrounded by paranormal events in Stephen King’s It.  The story is about five teens who all live in Henrietta, Virginia.  Four of them; Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Noah, are students at the all boys private boarding school called Aglionby Academy.  The school is home to boys who come from extremely wealthy households – the sons of politicians, bankers, and possibly criminals.  Gansey, the leader of their friend group, harbors a leisure and money fueled obsession of finding the tomb of the Welsh king, Owen Glendower.  Whoever finds and awakens the king will be granted a favor.  Historical and supernatural theories have led Gansey and his search to Henrietta.  Gansey believes that Henrietta lies on what is called a ley line, or a pathway of spiritual energy running through the earth which connects locations of importance such as Stonehenge and Washington D.C. (Derry, Maine as well. :) ).  Each of the boys have their own reasons for finding Glendower which have entangled them together.

The fifth main character in the story is Blue Sargent.  All of the women in her family have psychic abilities and they all live in the same house.  From the time Blue was born, her family had assigned to her a prophecy that Blue would kill her true love if she kissed him.  Blue doesn’t put too much weight on her fortune until St. Mark’s Day.  On the night of St.Mark’s Day, Blue goes with her half-aunt, Neeve, to a ruined church where spirits arise and walk the ley line.  These are not the spirits of those who have died, but the ghosts of who will die within the year.   Blue’s family records the names of the spirits so that they can inform their clients of who will be dying.  Blue herself cannot see the apparitions.  Her only psychic talent is increasing the energy sensed by other psychics.  However, this year, Blue sees the ghost of a boy.  She asks the spirit what his name is and he tells her it is Gansey.  Neeve later explains to Blue that there are two reasons why she could see him: one, he’s Blue’s true love; or two, Blue will kill him.

After Gansey, Adam, and Ronan seek advice on the supernatural from the Sargent household, Blue is inevitably caught up in the boys’ quest to discover Glendower.

In my opinion, characters are the most interesting part of Stiefvater’s novels.  They are definitely not perfect people, but I love them anyway.  I don’t think I’ve read many young adult novels that feature relationships between characters that are as complex and deep as what I find in The Raven Cycle.  For this reason, I’ve been trying to come up with a way of posting information about each character in a way that shows connections between the characters and connections between the character and important ideas in the novels.  It has taken me forever to find the right way to do this.  Anyway, what I’ve done is created a profile for each of the five characters.  The categories I’ve included in the profile are important motifs from the books.

The categories on the profiles include: appearance/traits/quirks, transportation, tarot cards, death, privilege, family, beliefs/dreams, nature/ley line, Glendower, and relationships with others.  I’ll explain some of the categories to you and the reasons why I’ve picked them.   I’ve chosen to write about transportation because cars become an essential part in describing the people who own them.  The novels are about rich, teenage boys who can buy whatever car they want.  Therefore, they pick vehicles that tell us exactly what type of people they are. As for the tarot card category, some cards in the tarot deck, both the face cards and the major arcana, are used not only to represent ideas or actions, but can symbolize a literal person.  If you work with tarot cards at all, you may find that one card in particular represents yourself (mine is Temperance for example).  In the same way, Steifvater has assigned different cards which are used to represent the characters.  By “privilege” I’m referring to the fact that some of the characters were born with wealth and an extravagant lifestyle while other characters have to work in order to earn everything that they own.  Privilege is not something the characters ask for, but they are given it when they are born.  Therefore, each character has a relationship with and opinion of their own privilege.  Each character also reacts differently to the fact that other characters are more privileged than they are.  Privilege changes how they feel and interpret each others actions.   I’ve chosen to pair “nature” and “ley line” together because the two things seem to be strongly connected.  The ley line is essentially part of the earth.  Natural objects like rocks and streams seem to increase or define its energy.  The forest called Cabeswater is located at the most powerful point of the ley line and Cabeswater’s presence depends on the line’s energy.  No energy, no forest.  A character’s relationship with nature describes their relationship with the ley line.  The rest of the categories I think are more self-explanatory.

I’ve created these profiles for each of the five characters, but they also span the space of what is for now two books (The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves), the first two books of the series.  This will document the development or changes in the characters after they experience events in the novels.  Anything on the profiles that is in black text refers to The Raven Boys while any text in green refers to The Dream Thieves.  In addition, I wanted the profiles to be complete without revealing too many spoilers to those who haven’t read the books.  For that reason, I’ve marked certain things on the profiles as “secret” followed by a number.  The secrets are then listed at the bottom of each profile with their corresponding number.  That way you can choose to read the spoilers or not.  If you don’t read them, you will still know that there is some information in a category that I have left out.  I will have the profiles posted tomorrow before the release of the third novel on Tuesday.

As far as I know the Raven Cycle is projected to be a four book series.  The third book, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, will be released on Tuesday October 21, 2014.  I will be adding more to my profiles and re-posting them as more of the books become available.  Thanks for reading.  I hope you follow my progress with the character profiles.

Snow Flakes and Golf Balls From Heaven

Note:  This is a memoir that I published when I was still in college.  The ending has always given me trouble and I’ve revised a few things since it was printed.  It’s still not perfect, but I think it’s getting better.  Even though I say it’s a memoir, a few things are fictionalized.

I stood on the grassy ridge and looked down at the small hole in the ground marked by a granite stone.  Up until this burial my family had kept Grandma’s ashes in a tin coffee can inside our dining room china cabinet. I had cringed to see her can with the label torn off sitting there next to hand-blown glasses while I ate breakfast.

Behind the ridge, spindly roots of brown corn stalks thrust their fingers into the ground and beyond that the roof of Grandma’s childhood farmhouse rose above the withered husks.  The land beneath my feet, once covered by Lake Erie, is now the sacred burial ground of Ohio’s agricultural laborers.  Not too far away from my grandmother’s resting place, tombstones marked the locations of her sisters, her mother, her father, and her father’s fathers.

I felt my own mother grab hold of my hand and pull me toward her.  My aunt spoke to the gathering, thanking so-and-so for making it there all the way from Kansas.  Then my cousin started belting out a hymn on his tuba.  I had the lyrics on a piece of paper, but all I did was stare at them.  I could have been playing my saxophone that day, but I had turned my back on that whole music thing along with the high school career I had just finished.  College would be a completely unknown and different story.  I stood on a ridge between the past and my future and did not know how to step forward.

•••

The day Grandma died my dad pulled me out of high school marching band practice, right when I was all warmed up with the other woodwinds.  He strode right out onto the field, right to our warm-up circle, and waved me down.  I followed him back out to the parking lot with my red face watching the white yard lines going by beneath me.

“Grandma’s dead,” Dad said.  Of course he had to make this an emotionally awkward moment for a teenage girl.  There would not be an embrace.  I wouldn’t be getting, “she passed away quietly in her sleep.”  Just “Grandma’s dead.”  All I could do was stand.

“Pack up your stuff; we’re going to visit Grandpa.”

It took me awhile to thaw from my frozen stance.  When I could finally move, I turned around and just started running between cars, ignoring the side mirrors bumping into my hips and elbows.  I ran all the way to the band room until I grasped the cage of my instrument locker with gasps.  I hadn’t realized that for moments I forgot to breath.  Tears landed in golden beads on the bell of my horn as I placed it back in the case – the dew in the sunshine during morning band practices.

•••

I had just seen Grandma at the hospital two days before.  The arthritis in her knees kept her from gardening, so she had asked her doctor if she could have surgery to replace the cartilage.

Grandma had pulled me closer to her narrow bed, her fingers much like the roots of the corn stalks.  “Now, let me see the back of this sweater.”  She wanted to see my marching band hoodie.  Each year individual instrument sections designed their own sweatshirts to represent the show we would be performing at competitions.  My last name in white lettering was hidden under the blue hood, and beneath that it declared my affiliation with the exclusive alto saxophone instrument section.

“That’s really nice.”  She told me.

“Thanks, Grandma.”

She then turned to talk to my mom.  “The church pastor came to visit me earlier today and we talked for a long time.  We read through some of Job.  I always believed that God had a reason for everything, but when I think about all the horrible things some people go through, I’m not so sure.”

After that no one said a thing until five minutes later.  Mom got up to leave and we both said goodbye.  On our way back out of the hospital, I superglued my Grandma’s last statement to the wall of my brain because it was coming from the same mouth that had told me since age six that I was going to Hell.

These theological lessons came from Grandma when I least expected them and often left me in a state of shock.  She would tell me about Hell as we stood together in the driveway after capturing monarch butterflies in her garden.  Grandma wanted to take me to church on the Sundays my parents didn’t take me – every Sunday.  I imagined myself standing with eyes widened whenever I heard her say, “You know if you don’t go to church, you’re going to Hell.”

Now I understand that it was just Grandma’s strange way of saying, “I love you.”

On the same night I visited and showed her my hoodie, she rolled over in bed and her right femur snapped in half like a dry tree branch.  The doctors rushed into her room with lab coats unbuttoned to discover that my Grandma’s liver had bled into her abdominal cavity.  For years she had suffered from a disease called Lupus.  This meant that her immune system didn’t differentiate between invading viruses and healthy tissues.  Her body was gradually eating itself up.

In her medical files Grandma had requested not to be resuscitated, but the doctors continued trying to harvest life from her withered body.  My mom had to rush into the hospital room and tell them to stop trying to keep her alive.

•••

I managed to drag myself off to band practice for an entire week after Grandma’s death, but every day my saxophone seemed to pull me deeper into the ground with every double-timed step.  My last band practice was almost literally a living hell.  Volunteer firefighters had lit a nearby house on fire for a training session.  Hot ashes spewed down on the band field and stung everyone’s skin.  The clarinet player next to me kept saying I was a few inches behind in the formation, that my steps needed to be more even, and maybe I wasn’t counting right.  Somehow she managed to say these things in a high-pitched, cheerful voice.  And somehow the knuckles of my right hand finally introduced themselves to the bridge of the clarinetist’s nose.  This time there was no hesitation before the running.  Instrumented people flashed by before my watery eyes, each person vanishing with the sparkling twirls of the sequined flags.

•••

I went straight to bed right after I got home from that particular practice.  I had the strangest dream of my life.  I was getting off of a school bus at a marching band competition when an old man motioned for me to follow him to the corner of the parking lot.  As I got closer to him, I realized that it was the man who gave me private lessons when I first started learning the saxophone.  He pulled something white out of his pocket and placed it in my hand.  It was a golf ball.

“Your Grandma wanted me to give you this.  She knows that you are a great musician.  She doesn’t want you to give up because you miss her and you are angry with the doctors for disobeying her requests.  She wanted me to remind you of how strong you can be.”

“This is a golf ball,” I said, but he had already walked away.

When I woke up I went downstairs to let my cat outside.  I opened the back door and something in the flowerbed caught my eye.  The wet grass made my feet numb as I ran outside and reached into the mums to pick up something round and hard.  I sat down right there in my pajamas on the cold ground with a golf ball in my right hand.  For at least a day I never doubted there was a God who sent miracles to earth.

Then two days later, I looked out the window and saw the neighbor boys throwing golf balls at each other.

•••

My cousin at the burial, hugged by his tuba, ended the hymn.  At that moment a cold, wet maple leaf blew down from above and slapped me in the face.  I shook my head back forth to try to get the water off my cheek, but it just dripped down.  My mom stepped forward and started to read a poem that Grandma had written about her elementary school students.  Grandma explained that as the last bell rang each day she went home feeling like she had learned just as much from her students as they had from her.  For a moment I wondered if she felt the same way about the time she spent with me.

Around the same time Grandma started giving me lessons about Hell, we started taking afternoon naps together.  My five-year old body curled up next to her on the bed.  She pulled books of children’s poetry from the shelves and read them to me until she was sleeping.  I laid my head on the pillow next to her and watched her breathing.  My arms and legs twitched to go outside again, but every time I tried to wake her, my throat lost the courage to make any sound.

Winter was especially harsh the year I turned five, which did not make it any easier to get Grandma out of bed after naps.  Instead of going outside, we gazed out the windows at the settled snow.  The sun glowed down on top of it and I said the flakes looked like sugar.

“You should write a poem,” Grandma said.  Together we created my first metaphoric feat, although today I know it was more of Grandma’s words than my own.

•••

I watched the maple leaves blow from around my shoes and stumble across the graveyard towards the rest of my family.  The mascot of the college I would attend in the next month was a maple leaf.  It was a great mascot for someone who had no idea where the next wind would take her – someone who was just bumbling through life hoping not to run into anything.

“It wouldn’t hurt if you just tried out for the college jazz band, you know.  It’s probably different from high school and you might really like it,” Mom told me.

I tried to practice for the audition. I really did.  But when I picked up my instrument, all I could see were those stupid neighbor boys outside my window, beating each other with golf-club swords and golf-ball grenades.  I was haunted by the image that questioned my faith just like Grandma was haunted by the passage from Job.  Sorry, Grandma, but I was just not as strong in real life as you wanted me to be in the golf-ball dream.

Suddenly someone was saying my name and Mom nudged me forward.

“It’s your turn.”  Mom told me.

The words came out of my mouth like I had been born with them in the muscles of my tongue and lips.

“Someone spilled sugar on the ground. / We see it sparkle all around./Sugar here,/sugar there,/sparkle, sparkle everywhere.”

It was the poem I’d written with Grandma when I was five years old.

I forgot all about Hell, golf balls, and inconsiderate doctors as the words spilled out.  Perhaps I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.  Who does?  There are always going to be doubts.  Even Grandma wasn’t completely sure of her beliefs towards the end.  It’s okay, I thought.  Embrace the fact that you have questions about your life.  It’s normal.  Everything will be okay.