All posts by Tatum Conner

TAD: Thankful for All the Days

Thanksgiving does bring that idea of thankfulness, as everyone probably has guessed from the name. Yet, no year has ever made me feel quite as thankful as my senior year here at JMU and at Technology & Design. At this point I’ve been at TAD for about three years, but when I first started, I was an awkward second semester sophomore who didn’t know anyone in the office except for the team lead at the time, Elaina. I would spend my office hours quietly behind a desktop computer, channeling Harry Potter and “making no noise and pretending that I don’t exist.” As junior year began with the craziness of training week and a whirlwind of laughing taddies who were quickly becoming some of my closest friends, I settled into my place on the Writing Team.

The Writing Team my junior year, was composed of mostly seniors who would be leaving TAD when they graduated, and I was given the opportunity to be the Writing Team lead for my senior year after the current team lead left. In addition to this amazing offer, I was also given the chance to stay in Harrisonburg and work at TAD throughout the summer. Full of hot days, and possibly reaching the limit of tea a human can drink, this past summer was full of amazing experiences; I was able to help Lindsey (the current Assistant Director of TAD) plan training week, write team handbooks, and even design a new webpage for TAD and our clients.

Even though this fantastic quilted collection of times makes me thankful for TAD and all the wonderful people it contains, nothing hit me harder than when all of my crazy Trello board organizing, calendar planning, and handbook obsessing came to head in my wonderful, productive, amazingly talented Writing Team. They inspire me every time I scroll through the list of things that they’ve accomplished just this semester on our editorial calendar. I have to confess, I obsessed over every single list, every card, and every comment on every board for the entire week before training to ensure that everything was ready for them at training week.

Right before Thanksgiving Break my senior year, I convinced a few taddies to put up the TAD Christmas tree, listen to a few carols, and spend a couple minutes decorating as a group. When I left for class in-between decorating, a few people created a tree topper star and an ornament for the tree with my face on them.

TAD's 2017 Christmas Tree
TAD’s 2017 Christmas Tree

Coming back into TAD and seeing my face splashed all over the tree, listening to my friends laughing and Christmas music playing, and sorting through past taddie ornaments to arrange carefully on the tree brought little pinpricks of tears to my eyes. I’ve had Christmases, birthdays, a summer, Valentines days, and everything in-between at TAD, and each one is full of happy memories and special topic monthly blogs.

TAD has become my home here at JMU. Each and every taddie has pushed, helped, and inspired me to become the best version of myself I can be at this point in my life, and I could not be more grateful for this crazy, quirky place. More than that, each person in this second-floor office has been my friend, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find a place quite like TAD ever again. So, thank you, TAD. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I know I joke a lot about living at TAD, but I hope the spirit of hard-work, team collaboration, and friendship lives in me (as cliché as it is) for the rest of my existence in this wild life and I couldn’t be more thankful for anything as I am for that. So, I know the rest of the seniors (new and old) and I will be cherishing every meeting, late night Slack, and missed Trello update until graduation.

 

Thanks for everything, TAD <3.

Things I used to be Afraid of or: Teen Wolf lied to me about what to expect with my public school experience with werewolves

I used to be terrified of the idea of things coming to life from my nightmares and walking around with me during the day. I would dress in my red, green, and black plaid jumper uniform, with a white button-down shirt and red snap-tie, and head into elementary school like everything was normal in the aftermath of a nightmare. In the watery sunshine of a Hampton morning, fog rolling in off the James River into the backyard, “older kids’ playground,” things seemed just a bit unreal every morning. It was just surreal enough to look like the opening to a fairy tale that nightmares seemed a plausible reality. Things would start to appear in the corner of my eye, the candles at mass seemed to jump and flicker just a bit more than usual when I walked by, and I kept thinking that someone was calling my name when no one was, keeping me in a perpetual half-turn. 

I have a vivid memory from when I was a kid about walking downstairs after a nightmare to get a glass of water. I walked into the kitchen after carefully walking across the creaky hardwood floor in front of the stairs, and just happened to look out the big floor-to-ceiling panel windows that looked out into the side-yard. There, perched in-between the softly swaying pines and bushy mint stalks, was a big, black, furry thing with glowing, red eyes, and what I’m sure were huge teeth. At this point my brain was screaming at me to FORGET THE WATER KID LET’S GO, but for some reason I stood there and stared at it until it lumbered off. Thus satisfied, I quickly walked-maybe ran-upstairs to bed and promptly fell back asleep.  

I had an active imagination as a kid. I read a lot of books that I probably should have waited until I was just a touch older to read. But, somewhere around sixth grade I had a revelation, and I’m not entirely sure but, I’m placing the blame squarely on Stephanie Meyer’s crappy writing shoulders with all the Twilight hype that was going on–all terrible middle school ideas should be her fault. Anyway, I had this idea that things only became nightmares because there was no one to love them wherever they were, you know, trapped in the liminal space between alive and somehow not, all alone in the dark only to interact with people in their nightmares.  

So, it became my little sixth grade mission to lucid dream in my nightmares and try to hug creepy demon-monster things, and then during the day try to put out enough “I am a happy and loving person who totally will be friends with anyone who needs one” out into the ether. I’m not sure if it worked or not, but I haven’t had many nightmares since then. I do sometimes catch myself skating my eyes over the corners of rooms, and almost turning to respond to someone saying my name.  

Harvest Orange  

“The soul, fortunately, has an interpreter-often unconscious but still a faithful interpreter-in the eye.” Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

The car is running softly underneath my right foot, and the brakes clench up under my slightly to vigorous press at the top of the hill. The street is pitch black except for the blue-edged glare of the IHOP sign reflecting across my windshield. The red of the stoplight seems to be more faded than usual and the parking lot of the movie theater is an empty black stretch down the gently, sloped road. Hanging above the muted steel-grey of the stoplight cross-bar is an orange crescent moon.

Warm, low, and shining with left-over sunlight, the moon seems to reach for her left over piece in the Earth. The almost harvest moon, skinny before the flushed glut of the October fullness, pushes an ache in my stomach to the surface. Drawn longing sudden and violent to my fingertips, and for just a moment, I press my hands to the cool of the smudged windshield and think what it would feel like to touch the sharp edge of the moon.

It would feel desperately cold, I think. I mean we know, empirically, that space is cold, and thus with no atmosphere the moon is also cold. The moon, the no name moon, has no heart inside her to bubble up to her surface with tender heat. Has nothing to keep her from the cold clutch of space, inky black and full of faraway stars. I think that’s why she keeps drifting down closer to Earth. Spiraling slowly closer orbit-by-orbit, year by year. She was supposed to be a piece of Earth, supposed to have grass and heat, supposed to be named.

This feeling of namelessness, of desperation to become full and claimed, is what autumn instills inside me at times. A blanket desire for a warm mug of something sweet to be held in empty palms, cupped, curved, and dry around a heat found not within one’s self, to be famished and bursting all at once, to feel chilled and yet warm gently by flame.

A season of disparate dichotomies and shared nostalgic memories, autumn comes bringing winds through the mountain-valley trees. After parking my car, I turned the lights off and settled into the silence of a past midnight neighborhood, the pinging and groaning noises of my old car cooling off my only company. And as I step outside to walk into the little copse of trees guarding the entrance to my stairwell, I can see the orange moon and she can see me and we both smile, a little sadly and part as friends do, softly and with great promise.

 

A genie grants me three tiny wishes. What are they?

Well, firstly I’d have to ask my genie what they were doing inside my electric kettle, as that’s the closest thing to a magic, golden lamp that I currently have in my college apartment. After hearing their tale of woe about how they were trapped inside my electric kettle by an evil kettle scale-r (see “limescaling” that gross white stuff that collects on the inside of your kettle for no apparent reason even though you washed it) a few years ago, I would then begin to think about my first wish.

Now I don’t want to brag, but I’m pretty up-to-date with my cautionary tale reading about magical beings. I know the rules about wish making: that you get punished for exhibiting the seven deadly sins, that you must have exact wording, and that you can’t wish anyone to fall in love with anyone else. So, with that in mind I would introduce my genie to the wonder of modern TV streaming capabilities, aka Netflix bingeing as I pondered my predicament.

The real struggle here is figuring out how good of a human I am. Is my first and only wish to set them free? Obviously my last wish will be to set them free, but is that enough to solidify my status as a Good Person? The point in mythology and literature is for the genie to tempt the character either into darkness or to reveal their internal light, as most fantasy creatures do in their various plot structures. And, it is so tempting.

I could wish for my family never to be sick again, and heal my dad and I, along with preventing anything happening to my mom and sisters in one fell swoop. But what if this means that everyone I ever love outside my family is constantly plagued with sickness and disease?

I could wish to be able to lose weight just by thinking about it, but I am always thinking about making myself thinner. So what if this one day just leads me to disappearing in a puff of flesh colored smoke never to be seen again?

I know better than to wish for money, no matter how much easier that would make my life, so I’m safe on that front. So the real question still is there, laying across the roadmap of my thoughts like guilty road kill: Do I set the genie free with my first or third wish? Do I continue on with the narrative of my life and form my own character arcs, twistsnd falls? Or do I chance fate and seize this apparent easy pass to my deepest flaws?

 

I set the genie free.

 

I have no wishes, only a smile in a shower of stars as the genie leaves my bedroom through my open window.

I of course, still hold those unspent wishes close to my heart, yearning for something to have a magical fix. But life, family, money, self-love – those things aren’t easy. They aren’t a gentle reward to moving across the “Pass Go, Collect $200” spot on the great monopoly board of life (get it, I put TWO board game references in one heartfelt metaphor), they are the ultimate goals of this humanly existence. There is a reason that all those famous fantasy novels (r.e. “The Lord of the Rings,” I’m looking at you Tolkien, a bazillion pages of walking, we get it) are based around long journeys. We need those long struggles to crack like geodes and reveal our truest and most beautiful inner character.

So set the genie free on the first wish, and maybe you’ll get a bit of extra luck here and there from your multi-dimensional mythological friend along your great tourist adventure of life.

Irish Revelations 

 

The Cliffs of Moher: Doolin, Ireland June 2016

We arrived in Doolin at 6:30 pm. The sun was still well above the misty far-off horizon line and my four friends and I decided to strap on some extra layers and hiking shoes, and walk to the Cliffs of Moher. We rounded the last hill where the  pavement ended at a fence bordering a pasture. We took careful steps around cow paddies and muddy puddles for a few yards, and then the sea opened up. The cliffs were only about 500 feet from the surface of the water and yet it felt like if you were to fall you would never hit the cold shock of the ocean.

This picture was the first photograph I took on the cliffs. In the blurry distance there are cliffs over a thousand feet high, the sunset trying to show itself between heavy clouds and a rainbow, ready to be refracted across the sea. This image of wildflowers clinging to the edge of a cliff-face hundreds of feet above the nothingness of empty air, and the memories that it evokes for me makes me think of survival, success, and the ability to thrive. Ireland changed a lot about how I see the world and my place in it. While I like to think that those changes in perspective are permanent, everyone needs a reminder every once and a while, and this picture does that for me.

A few days into our five weeks in Ireland, the entire study abroad group boarded a train (the first one I’d ever been on ever and let me tell you it is just as inspiring as all the movies make it seem) and rode to the town of Cobh. Cobh is a small town where the Titanic had its last port of call, set on the side of a blustery cliffs and a bustling fishing economy. Casting a stained glass shadow over the town is St. Colman’s Cathedral. A 19th century stone construction that towers over the coast line and holds the hill line under its flying buttresses. Curved around the side of the cathedral is a hidden Bible garden, where there is a fully functioning Abbey that tends to the garden.

Bible Garden at St. Colman’s Cathedral:Cobh, Ireland June 2016

It was here that I took the second photograph. The day that I was to leave for Ireland was when the daily news cycle of the Orlando shootings reached me. So I went into my summer travels with the reality of danger for the LGBTQ+ community weighing heavily in my thoughts and in my writing. But nestled at Mary’s feet in this small community bible garden was a candle inside a subtly decorated mason jar with the words “Orlando 2017” written across blue painter’s tape. Here in the heart of catholic puritanism, was a thought and a wish for prayer for a community not so easily accepted by the staunch and strict Catholics of the world. I was reduced to grateful tears in this lush green copse of trees and I hope to never forget that nothing can be as strong as a kindness when no one is looking, and love where no one expects it.

Narrative of Luck  

I think people get lucky in odd ways. In little ways, big ways, round-about and upside-down ways that have us thinking we aren’t that lucky after all. There’s luck here, in the small spaces that surround people. I count myself lucky to see the crow’s feet that line the edges of my mother’s eyes when she smiles at my father while she thinks no one is looking, or in the exact angle of how my best friend always tilts her head back to laugh.

To find this innate luck in the intrinsic connection of humanity may be cliche, but I find that when the week piles up and I can’t see my own hands for the amount of work and stress I’m buried in that it is the way I feel the most lucky. These are the glimmering gold coin gifts that seem to keep falling into my lap and kept in a pocket to pull out when a dash of luck seems most needed. My favorite kind of luck is something that happens to me rarely during the sprint to the end of the semester, but is welcomed with open arms when it arrives. Sometimes, if I sit in the quiet of my room, with the dusk falling over the mountains in soft pastel waves casting an easy light on my keyboard, I can just about hear the shape of a poem.

There might be the lower sounds of consonance beating rhythmic drums to push the narrative forward, and ever onward, or perhaps the softer sibilant softly gentle culmination of sounds. But eventually, resolutely, I will be lucky enough that the screen will be filled. The hated black-blinking cursor on a white Word document will be preceded by artfully disordered-order in which a story unfolds. And who are we all really but storytellers? I count among my luckiest of days those when I can capture the faint strains of something that feels necessary. Something that pushes, at least, my own idea of how I relate to the world around me and how that pushes my own narrative.

So luck, small or large, whether it be winning the lottery or writing a poem that may never leave the inside of my computer hard drive, is another thing for me to be grateful for.

What Does Fall Taste Like  

There is a certain kind of nostalgia that comes when the weather changes and the leaves drop like unevenly weighted balloons down to browning grass. There seems to be memories sparked by the smells of faraway snow and burning wood. The taste of apple cider sits along the back of my tongue and makes swallowing seem thicker than usual, like tears could be called up a little easier this time of year. When I write, I have a habit of putting my hand over my mouth to read back what I have written, and somehow my fingertips are always colder than the rest of me now that October has blended into November. It is a funny thing, nostalgia. I simultaneously feel that I am too young to have much of a life to look back on and think “those were the days,”  while often wishing I was a child again.

The Colonial Parkway is a road constructed by the National Park Service throughout the 26 years of pre-depression through post-World War Two America. Its 23-mile, stone roadway blends the harsh marsh into the sandy, crumbling edge of the York River, where on her best day she flows into the Chesapeake Bay and her worst she sits stagnant and mosquito filled. My thoughts turn to this road in Yorktown, Virginia when asked about November and nostalgia. Because along this stretch of two-way road is where the leaves change first in my town. Where the air turns lighter with the absence of humid river salt and the smoke from the wood fires at Jamestown float to mingle with the cloud cover at the mouth of the bay. When I was young, my family would bundle up into sweaters and swishy-fabric jackets and drive along the parkway to get to Colonial Williamsburg. I would always sit behind my mother on the passenger side, press my face up against the window and watch as the yellow-stone road blurred underneath the tires of my Father’s truck. The closer we got to Williamsburg, the more wilted the Yorktown Onion flowers got, the darker the horizon line of pine trees felt and the more orange the sky bled.

Williamsburg in the fall is where the ghosts of the colonies come to make the blacksmiths forgery ring out and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves a common sound. The rows of brick houses from 1600’s have modern style house paint adorning their front doors, and local garden club wreaths hanging prettily from brass knockers. We would walk our small group of four up and down the dusty streets and breathe in the new fall air and listen to the interpreters tell the tourists the stories of my hometown. We could always spot the tourists, wide-eyed and easily swayed by the claims of “George Washington spent the night here” and
“This is the original pot-pie recipe of the south,” always clutching onto children’s hands and bedecked with backpacks. However, as locals we knew that if you turned down a small light-brown dirt path after the Kings Head Inn but before the old Parliament house you would enter a sort of colonial speakeasy. This small structure housed the best hot cider you ever burnt your tongue on, and cookies that may have been the size of my head but tasted like the finest crafted morsel of dough and chocolate ever made.

Remembering Williamsburg and the parkway while a candle flickers on my window sill, feels very adult-ish of me, and it reminds me just how ready I am to go home. So when I take the turn (exit 235 off 64) to the Colonial Parkway in a few weeks, I’ll roll down my car window, motion to my little sister in the passenger seat and hope that my next breath tastes like wood ash and cinnamon.