The Escalator Monster

“If you don’t get off fast enough, it’ll pull you in and eat you!”

My older sister doesn’t remember telling me this, but I sure do. In a two-floor mall in Virginia, a rare sight for our family, I saw my first escalator. When you tell your eight(ish)-year-old brother about a creature that lives under a mode of transportation, it’s a sure fire way to get him to fear it for the rest of his life.  Continue reading The Escalator Monster

To The Freshman I Used To Be…

September 28, 2015

Dear Freshman Elaina,

Look at you, all grown up and ready to take on college life! I’m so happy and proud you’ve come this far, and I’m excited for all that you’ll discover in the coming years. But before you get ahead of yourself, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I, the author of this letter, am you, now a junior at JMU, writing back in time to give you the advice and guidance you’ll so desperately need during freshman year. It won’t be able to change your path, but it may make freshman year a little easier on you.

First off, honey you’re an adult now – learn to dress like one. Go out and find some nice business casual clothes that look both cute and professional. I know you don’t like to splurge, but this is the one occasion you won’t regret having done so. Make an effort to look at least halfway decent for your classes, too.

Learn to let go babe. Make peace with the fact that sometimes friendships pass like the seasons. People will be in your life for a reason, but don’t count on them always staying there; where one friendship slowly withers another will blossom in its place. And this ties into …

Learn to recognize your own self-worth. If people don’t make time for you, then don’t make time for them. I understand that this bit of advice will feel especially impossible, but trust me, you will love yourself more for understanding you are worth people making time for.

Don’t shy away so much from meeting new people. Own your awkwardness. Wear it like a badge, girl. Just because you feel anxious as a spooked hedgehog in a room full of new people doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to meet others. Your inadvertent networking will pay off in time.

Call your parents, and especially your little sister. I know you’ve never been good at staying in touch with anyone, but your sister really needs you. Freshman year of high school for her will be just as hard as freshman year of college for you.

Take time to write and don’t be a perfectionist. You love jotting down random ideas that come into your head until you have oceans of sticky notes, but you never do anything with them. Write that story you’ve been visualizing, but are too afraid won’t be good enough. While you’re not good at reading people, that doesn’t mean you can’t write a convincing and entrancing story.

Just know that I made the journey too, and now I’m happier than I’ve ever been with some great friends, roommates, and coworkers by my side. You have a hard year ahead of you, but you will grow exponentially as a result of your freshman year experiences. Embrace the tears as equally as you do the laughs, and be strong. Have fun and just be yourself, and the rest will follow.

Love you girl,

Elaina (your future self)

Scholarly Sentiments of an Aging Child

Dear Freshman Nat,

First of all, your hair looks amazing. Don’t go getting all angsty and chopping it all off because you crave change but are too cheap for a tattoo.

Secondly, congratulations on keeping your grades up, you nerdy nerd, you! I know your insides secretly beam each time you crack open a text book full of new worlds and concepts. You try to act cool but deep down you are dumbfounded that a place like college exists where thinking and obsessive studying are valued.

I must admit, I wish I could be in your position. All that nerding out will result in graduating a semester early, forcing you into the real world where people don’t always hold doors open and sitting under trees reading Kant all afternoon isn’t always an option. Sorry. Try skipping a few classes and failing some finals so you can stay a bit longer.

All joking aside, you did a pretty swell job being a freshman. You didn’t wear a lanyard or excessive JMU gear. You probably should invest in some kind of JMU t-shirt or sweatshirt or something, though, because at this rate you still won’t have one even in your last semester.

Also, please go to football games. I know you have “cooler” plans, but for real, show a little school spirit every once in a while. You love this place and you know you will desperately hold on to every moment like it’s the last. Every leaf you crunch on the walk to ISAT, those goofy pictures with friends, shameless naivety and blooming sense of self all add up to the sum of one amazing first year at JMU.

Those cool older friends of yours are right: these four years will disappear before you even have a chance to streak the quad. Keep having ridiculous adventures and partaking in shenanigans and talking to strangers, young Nat. You won’t regret a single moment of your time as a freshman, except maybe the fact that you can’t live every second for an entire year. Please fall helplessly in love and go to those archery club interest meetings and hang out with those kids who would make your parents cringe. Listen to those psychedelic bands and try to get dreds and take night time walks around campus when you can’t sleep. This place is your mental and emotional playground, so don’t take it too seriously. Friends and feelings come and go but the sense of freedom echoes with each Wilson Hall bell toll, on the hour, reminding you to return to reality.

You’re doing great, kid. I know you worry about the future, which will probably always be a habit of yours. You have too big of a heart and sense of adventure not to do wonderful things—don’t forget that. You have a lot to learn about yourself but I’m sure you’ll be taking notes and calculating moments of inspiration as if they were going to be on a midterm.

Keep being awkward and don’t forget to call home every once in a while!

See you around,

Senior Nat

Wake Me Up When This Freshman Confessional Ends

(These reflective assignments are supposed to be good for you, right? Right. Okay. I’ll ignore the uprooted hair and pulled teeth and claim this all had value.)

Dear Freshman Scott,

You’re a mess, and that’s okay. Really. Take a minute and breathe and just think it over. You’re already overthinking this, but we’ll work through it together. Yeah, you might’ve cried on the phone homesick during 1787. You might be currently wasting your time on people who drain your life energy and you don’t know the most painless way to break up an accidental friendship. Spoiler alert: there isn’t one. You don’t even know how to clean a bathroom. Life skills that living in the woods never did bestow you pile up when your world grows exponentially.

Opportunities will open up for you that you’d never thought possible, and you’ve got to be prepared to slam open the door. It’s hard to fathom that you’ll be anything more than this asocial recluse you’ve self-labeled yourself. There will be change.

But, you’ve still got a long ways to go to get ready for it, and I’ve got a few solid pieces of advice for you. If just to make those first few months easier.  Continue reading Wake Me Up When This Freshman Confessional Ends

Dear first year Gabriel,

This is your future self writing to the current you. First things first, stop whatever you are doing and sell all of your Jordan, Lebron, and Kobe basketball sneakers. They will not maintain their fashion relevance through college and at best you will wear them once a week. If you are still dubious of this immediate call to action, just trust that your feet will thank you physically and your pockets will thank you fiscally. On a lighter note, congratulations on embarking on the finest years of your life. Spoiler Alert, it’s going to be legen…..wait for it…..dary! I would give you the answers on how to avoid making certain mistakes but you and I both agree that messing up is half of the learning process. Instead I’ll offer you some general advice, so that maybe you can achieve your “A-Ha moments” more quickly. Continue reading Dear first year Gabriel,

One Fortunate Cookie

I have three fortunes from fortune cookies taped above my bed at home. They are my dreamcatcher; a part of me truly believes that by keeping them just above my sleeping body, they will ward off  treacherous nightmares and instead fill my brain with serendipity.

The first one says, “The really great man is the man who makes everyone feel great.” I found this one my freshman year. I keep it above my head for two reasons: 1) because I felt that it was very true of my personality; I really feel best when I can help others around me feel happy too, and 2) to remind myself on those off days to treat others with the same unconditional love and respect that I crave.

The second one says, “You are about to embark on a most delightful journey!” I got this fortune the night before I left to study abroad in London during the spring semester of my sophomore year. Crazy right? I’ve never had a fortune necessarily come true (most can’t because they are vague and easily applicable; see above), but this one definitely did. Seeing this tiny piece of paper every morning throws my heart into an impenetrable whirlwind of happiness and nostalgia while simultaneously reminding me of all the delightful journeys yet to come that neither I nor that tiny piece of paper could possibly predict.

The third one says, “Nevermind tomorrow, TODAY is the day!” I got this one during my junior year, right after I moved off campus and into a house with my best friends. I keep this one to remind myself that the present day is one of the best times to be alive—and how lucky I am to see it each morning when I wake up (both the new day and the fortune!). I find this especially helpful when I am feeling so worried or anxious that I let myself forget how to start, instead succumbing to irrationality and putting off all that troubles me and even things that I love. I might not get a tomorrow, so I must remind myself to make the most of today.

A few weeks ago, I found another fortune, this time on the floor of my living room. It reads, “Fear can keep us up all night, but faith makes one fine pillow.” With this year having been the most emotionally trying of my college career, it felt a bit too real to ignore. There were nights when I lay wide awake despite the dark and following days I wanted to sleep away just to escape fear—a particular kind of fear that comes with leaving behind everything you know only to return what you have left behind (read: I’m moving back in with my parents). But, my fortune said it all: the one thing that kept me going was faith. Not a religious faith, not even necessarily a spiritual one—just a faith in myself and in the people (my roommates/best friends/fellow coven witches, boyfriend, family, cat, professors, writing team!) that love and support me.

All that I learned this year, and every other year of my college career, I learned with the help of a fortune cookie.

What I’ve Learned This Year, Through the Words of Tina Belcher

I like to think that no matter how eloquently I put something, Tina Belcher (from Bob’s Burgers) says it better. Therefore, the lessons I’ve learned this year can be summed up in a few carefully chosen Tina Belcher quotes. These lovely gems came from Buzz Feed’s article “22 Life Lessons From Tina Belcher.” While they may be silly, I think humor is one of the most important things to embody when times are tough—or just in general. So, please enjoy the following list of lessons:

  1. “I’m a smart, strong, sensual woman.” As hilarious as this is coming out of Tina Belcher’s mouth, it’s something I’ve learned this past year. I have learned to be intentional about loving myself, including the various identities and characteristics I inhabit by embracing my queerness, practicing body positivity, and allowing myself to indulge in Netflix binges when I needed recharging. I have found that it is incredibly easy to fall into destructive patterns of ignoring my own needs, or letting other people’s opinions about me affect my confidence. But as long as I stay in line with Tina’s sentiment, it always ends up ok.
  2. “Is it possible to be in love with 25 people at once?” Tina may be referring to a team of attractive baseball players, but for me this quote is all about spreading compassion and love. It took me a while to find my place here at JMU, but when I did, I was so warmly welcomed by so many organizations and groups of people (to whom I am forever indebted to). I try to live in such a way that I can be a warm and welcome presence in the lives of others as well. I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by incredibly smart and passionate people, such as my fellow TAD friends, the members of Campus Assault Response (CARE), and Madison Equality, and I can only hope to return the favor.
  3. “Dad, if you believe you’re beautiful, you will be. I did.” Positivity and determination are two skills I have worked particularly hard on perfecting this year. This has been both the hardest and most rewarding year of my life. Some days were extremely hard to stay positive during, but it all came back to my willingness to just keep working at everything I had going on. And as cliché as it is, I know I’m better for it.
  4. “Ugh, my heart just pooped its pants.” It’s not surprising that Tina said this, is it? I’m not sure exactly how to apply this quote to my personal life lessons; the possibilities seem endless. I think it ultimately takes me back to the importance of keeping a sense of humor and being flexible when things don’t work out. This year has taught me to be ok with things not going as planned. And as someone who is a little bit of a control freak, this has been huge.

I hope that some of my Tina Belcher lessons have been helpful to you too. If you’re ever feeling low, channel Tina and repeat the following quote in your head: “Time for the charm bomb to explode.” You’re fabulous!

The Heart and Soul of James Madison University


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