Posted in college, literature

Love at First Bite

Bildungsroman is a literary term for a coming-of-age story.

My first trip to Philadelphia was a sort of bildungsroman. It was spring break of 2014. I was a sophomore among seniors. It was a trip free of parents or grown-ups (actually, we were the grown-ups – which is the same as saying there were no grown-ups) – just a bunch of college kids borrowing a mom’s van and getting up at the crack of dawn to go north. We ate good food and had deep life talks and listened to trendy music and explored historical sights.

But the the most enlightening and memorable moment of that trip was the part where I tried goat cheese for the first time. We went to a pub for lunch after church on Sunday. I ordered from the cheaper end of the menu and ended up with a sheep salad, which seemed fairly non-life-changing. I read that goat cheese came on it and I thought nothing of it.

 And then my salad was in front of me. It was richly green with white dairy chunks on it. I said to someone near me, “what’s this?” and they said, “probably feta.” So no big deal. I took a bold bite.

Let me just say, this was no feta.

The best way I know how to describe the first taste of goat cheese is this: it was beautiful. It was a beautiful taste. I was awestruck. I was not prepared for it. It was creamy. It was lovely. It was magical – not like in a sparks-flying kind of way, but in a steady and calm “wow” kind of way. With every bite I wanted to close my eyes and say, “mmmmmm.” It was love at first bite.

Because I had ordered a small, cheap sheep salad, it was gone pretty quickly. My stomach was still hungry, but that seemed irrelevant, because I was so blown away by goat cheese. It sounds like the silliest thing, but it was such a happy, unexpected surprise that I just wanted to laugh and say, “thank you.”

I was so surprised by goat cheese. (CS Lewis wrote a book called Surprised by Joy – maybe mine would be Surprised by Goat Cheese. Haha.) I was a little perplexed – how could this have existed for longer than I had, yet I had never heard of or experience it? I had spent my whole life up until this one day eating cheddars and slices of American and Swisses and occasionally, when I was feeling a little zesty, some feta. But this changed the whole game. I was at a loss for words.

I felt thankful to this food for existing and I felt thankful to Philadelphia for introducing me (even though goat cheese does exist in Clemson, too, Philly is where I found it. Philly helped to culture me).

At the end of Anne of Green Gables (also a bildungsroman), Anne says, “I’m not a bit changed – not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out. The real me – back here – is just the same. It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.”

However, the Anne saying this is a changed Anne. She is a lady. She’s not the same twelve-year-old who smacked a slate across Gilbert’s head. Her hair has turned from orange to auburn – an outward sign of her maturity.

Walking out of the pub on that chilly Sunday in Philly, I felt like Anne at the end of the first book. I felt like maybe my hair had turned from orange to auburn. I felt dignified. I felt grown-up.

There’s probably a bit of blasphemy in proclaiming my own story as a bildungsroman (especially a story about cheese), but that’s what I’m doing. I came out of the experience thinking of life in terms of before and after.

Like a good cheese, I left the experience just a little bit more matured.

 

Love,

Lauralicious

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Posted in Camp, college, life, nostalgia

The Same Lake

Last summer, the July before we started our senior year at Clemson, one of my roommates and I got a Peppino’s margherita pizza and picnicked at the Botanical Gardens. We sat there and ate during dusk and we chased frogs (I held the pizza box while she chased frogs). Then we went to the rowing docks and sat and talked. The sun had set and we were sitting on the dock in the quiet, being occasionally rocked by waves from boats taking night rides. At one point she had to take a phone call, so I sat and thought, and in my thinking I realized that I have spent my whole life on Lake Hartwell.

No one admits to liking Hartwell. Keowee is preferred and Jocassee is ideal. Hartwell, in terms of Clemson area lakes, is like the Nickelback of lakes. But it’s the closest, and it’s the university’s lake, and it’s where the memories are.

All of my summers growing up were spent on Hartwell. I tagged along with friends whose parents owned lake houses and boats for afternoons and sleepovers and we had the most fun long, sunburn-y days. We had birthday parties jumping off of two-story docks. We sang Kelly Clarkson songs at the top of our lungs while holding on to tubes that my friends’ dads were trying to throw us off of. We made sand pies (like mud pies, but they don’t really stick together) and played pretend. We took evening boat rides and let the wind whip our hair dry. We took childhood and summer for granted, like kids are supposed to do.

Circa 2004-ish probably
When I wasn’t a kid anymore, I was a youth. I started youth group the summer before 7th grade. Everyone associated with the youth group gathered at the lake for a huge party: the Moving-Up Party. There was food; there were boats; there was that game where someone had to eat baby food. It was so youth group-y. It was new and exciting. It was pandemonium. It was grand.

All of my youth group years (especially summers) incorporated the lake. On Wednesday nights during the summers we met at people’s homes and everyone’s favorite were the homes that were on the lake. We swam, then got into small groups and prayed, then sat on the docks with our legs swinging in the water, in no rush to go home or get to the next thing. Those were peaceful evenings.

youth group at the Kriders’ lake house, 2009-ish

Starting my junior year of high school, I got to drive to school. It was liberating – and one of my favorite memories of independence from that time is spring of junior year, after AP exams, a bunch of us went to Y Beach and played volleyball and got our toes in the water. It was an ironic feeling: we felt like truants for being at the lake while our peers were at school, yet the reason we weren’t at school was because of advanced placement exams that those peers didn’t take. We felt like exceptions to the rules and it was exhilaratingly special.

Senior year none of us had full schedules and usually we used the spaces in our day to study or do homework together, but sometimes we would go to Supertaco (before it moved) and cross the highway to eat it on the boardwalk. These are grand memories.

post-AP exams celebration at Y Beach, junior year, May 2011

Camp is on Lake Hartwell, and I’ve spent now six summers swimming at lake play and riding the pontoon boat and fishing off the dock (never, in six years, have I caught one fish), tipping canoes, jumping on the water trampoline, etc. Once I had to swim a sailboat full of crying little Bowfins across the cove three times because I don’t actually know how to sail and the boat kept falling over.

(I still don’t know how to sail)
From my lofted bed in my dorm room freshman year at Clemson, I could see the whole stadium and beyond to the golf course and the lake. I didn’t even have to get out of bed to see it. On gamedays I slept in until as late as possible and then rolled over to see all of Clemson convening, cohesively dressed in orange, right below me. The people looked like orange ants, all moving toward the stadium. I felt such pride for my people and my town and my school – and they were all the same: Clemson. Home.
I felt like this view should be some kind of top secret. The view from the bed of my dorm was amazing and unfair – and in my favor.
College was full of spontaneity and adventure. We had picnics by the water, we had lake days, we took walks to the dikes, we ate milkshakes on the docks, we had talks in the sand, we went night-swimming, we got Atlas pizzas that we ate on the boardwalk, we studied at Y Beach, we ran to the lake and jumped in. It was a conduit of such adventure!
Dinner/Chick Fil A picnic with Freshman Five, fall 2012
(There really were five of us! The boys chose not to be documented)

And so this lake: this lead-filled, super green, oft-insulted/unappreciated lake ties together memories and activities from all of the twenty two years I’ve had on this earth. Each domain of my life has been impacted by Hartwell – silly Hartwell. And never, until I was so close to leaving, did I really even acknowledge and begin to appreciate it.

Moving Up Party at the Hubbards’ house, 2011

I’m a very sentimental person, and I know this about myself. So I know it’s trivial to be so attached to a lake – especially one that isn’t all that great. But Hartwell was never really attention-seeking. It just did its job, which was to sit there and hold water and let us take from it. It’s like the Giving Tree, but a lake. It’s a Giving Lake. Too far?

I’ve moved away, and coincidentally, I now work at Lake Carolina (I still have not located the actual lake, but I am assured that it is an actual lake somewhere), so Hartwell isn’t the only lake in my life anymore. But it was my first lake, and I’m thankful for it.

I unconditionally respect it and the times it has given me that have subsequently become a huge part of my Clemson memories.

I love this lake.
Love,
Lauralicious
Posted in college, life

I’m Still Running

You have brains in your head,

You have feet in your shoes…

You have brains in your shoes,

Your brains have shoes…

Yes?

feet

It’s not a story of muscles or athleticism or triumph. It’s a story of running – not to anything or from anything, but around my town, starting out by tying my shoelaces and then running straight out the door.

It’s a story of a lot of thinking and a lot of subsequent learning. It’s a story of commitment, routine, and unintended but highly appreciated stress management.

The story started one year ago this week. It was the end of spring break of my junior year of college and I was feeling a little funky about life. I felt very stationary. I saw people I had known for years and years doing great and big things with their lives and I kept hearing myself think, “I’m still in college.”

I was feeling a little rushed and a little stuck and a little like being still in college was keeping me from doing anything that mattered. I was comparing myself to others and I was listening to myself think, and I know better than to do either of those things, but there I was.

Coincidentally, around that same time, I started running. I didn’t do it with the intention of starting something new or making life more interesting; I had tried several times in my life to become a runner and it had never stuck – until this time. It turned out that being more physically active helped me to feel less mentally erratic and being more mobile with my feet helped me to feel less stationary with my life.

Then, when I felt like my life was sitting still, I went running. And right now, while life feels like it’s moving super fast and doesn’t really care whether or not I’m caught up, I’m still running.

A year isn’t really all that long, and I know that. Yet I’m excited about having run for a year now. I’ve found myself saying things I never thought I’d say, like this: I think I’m in love with running. It is not at all easy, but I look forward to when I get to go run. I miss it when I can’t. I tell people about how great I think it is all the time.

At first it was awful (I wrote about it here), but I kept going and I’m not quite sure why. I like it more now – not because I like sweating, but because I like thinking.

I like running because my feet are moving and so is my brain. Running helps me think, have theoretical conversations, calm down when I’m so nervous or angry, and have a more realistic perspective on everything I see. I’m thankful for that.

In addition to giving me a chance to think, running has also helped me to learn new and helpful things. I’ve learned to anticipate others’ actions. I run on the sidewalk and anytime I reach an intersection, I watch to see what the drivers near me will do. Are they going to turn? Are they going to keep going straight? Are they waving me on or are they dancing in their car? These are all important things to know.

I’ve learned how to make hydration happen. It’s highly necessary.

But the biggest thing I’ve learned is how to get through life. I’ve learned to pace myself, and I’ve learned that running is harder in practice than it is in theory, but that doing one hard thing a lot of times is better than doing no things at all ever.

I’ve learned that ideal runs are smooth but in real life, running means gravel and anthills and being passed by runners who are faster than me. I’ve learned that it’s not all endorphins and energy, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t healthy or productive or peaceful.

I’ve learned that it’s not me who is so great and so active. It’s not me who is keeping my feet moving. I am so often tempted to be so excited and proud of myself for running and moving. But who is moving my muscles? Who is lifting my feet off of the ground? Who is keeping me from falling? It isn’t me. I don’t have that power or that will. It’s the Father, the One who is able to keep me from falling, who is controlling each step.

I’ve learned to not overthink what’s next. I don’t know what’s around the corner, but I know and can see and can handle what’s right here in front of my feet, so that’s where I will run.

So, it’s a story of a lot of sweat. It’s a story that’s still starting. I think it’s a pretty good story.

Love,
Lauralicious

Posted in Camp, college, nostalgia

I Carry It In My Heart

On the first night of the second week of my third summer of Camp, I was a counselor in Bowfin, the littlest girls’ cabin. On Sunday night as we were tucking our girlies into their bunk beds, the tears came. Some of the girls had never spent the night away from home before. Some girls were just tired, which expressed itself through crying. And then when a thunderstorm started, so did the wailing.

It terrified all of the little girls and nobody could sleep. There were four counselors in Bowfin that week – three group counselors and one counselor-in-training, and we had eight campers, and each of us took care of calming down a bunk bed of girls.

That night was its own very specific kind of pandemonium: high school and college students rushing around a dark cabin in very hushed voices trying to get a bunch of little girls to peace and sleep. It was the kind of situation where I took a second and stopped and thought about what I was doing and smiled. I was surrounded by bawling baby girls, and I loved it. I was simply thrilled to be where I was in that one short moment.

One of our girls in Bowfin that week was a short, slightly chubby girl with blond hair. She was eight and a half, a little older than most of the other girls in our cabin. She was shy, but shy quickly dissipates at Camp when a group of eight girls and their four counselors do absolutely everything together and love each other so much. But it was only the first night, and her shyness was still there.

She was scared of the thunderstorm just like the other girls, but she wasn’t crying. I thought she was asleep because she wasn’t making any noise, but she asked me to come and just sit with her. She was scared and she was lonely.

And so once all of the other girls were settling down, when there were still sniffles but no more sobs, I went to sit with her. We whispered so quietly and she talked to me. She told me that her mom didn’t live with her family anymore, and she lived with her dad and her brother. She really loved them but she didn’t like being the only girl. Her brother was also at Camp that week and every time she saw him, she hugged him. He didn’t love it, but he let her do it, and I think he secretly did kind of love it. She asked me what my dad was like and I told her that he was goofy. She said her dad was too sometimes.

At the beginning of that week, we were very close. She called me Mama and I called her Baby. As the week went on, she needed me less – she bonded with the other girls and was silly and fun with them. Her shyness faded. But still sometimes, when we were walking somewhere, she would suddenly be next to me and holding my hand. It made me smile.

The week went by quickly – they all do. On Friday night, I was helping her pack up to go home. In one of her drawers I found a red plush velvet heart that said “Be mine.”

It wasn’t well-made, but it was soft and sweet. It was the kind of trinket that would have been just a trinket if she had not given it meaning.

She gave it to me. And I didn’t want to take it from her, but also I did. I tried to convince her to keep it, but she wanted me to have it. I kept it. Then the next day was Saturday and she went home. After she left that Saturday I worried about the heart – it was so small. I was afraid of losing it. At Camp, I live out of plastic purple trunks, and they’re filled with children’s books and socks and Reese’s wrappers and stationery and crafts that campers forgot and I wanted to keep to remember them by and pens and sunscreen and toenail polish bottles and beads. I knew my little heart would get mixed in with all of those things and I was afraid of it not appearing when I unpacked at the end of the summer.

But then it did appear! And once school started back that fall, I put the heart in my backpack, along with my jar of peanut butter, and carried those two things around with me everywhere I went.

Later that year I stumbled upon this e. e. cummings poem –

As I read it I thought of the heart that I physically carried around – the heart of that one little girl, and the other little girls that week, and the campers from that whole summer, and the campers from all of my years. I thought of how they each had my heart, like a horcrux, a soul split into a million pieces and spread all over the world in beautiful and sacred places. I thought about moments like the one from the first night of the second week of my third summer, where around me so many things were happening and there was really not time to pause and relish joy but I did because I was nothing but serenely delighted to be where I was, in happy-busy times, in times of running around but also times of singing and holding a hand or two.

The following fall semester, I had the opportunity to speak at a Sertoma Club meeting. I skipped a biology class to go with some other counselors to promote Camp to the Sertomans (Sertomen?). One of the questions I was asked was how Camp had impacted me long-term. I was nervous talking in front of all of those people, and even more so knowing that what I said could impact how they viewed Camp, but the thing that came out of my mouth was the little red plush heart given to me by a Bowfin who called me Mama. I told them that I kept the heart in my backpack with my peanut butter and that I thought of her and of all of my campers so many times every day, and that I felt that they were near when I carried her heart with me (in my heart).

Love,
Lauralicious

Posted in college, life, nostalgia

A Happy Middle and a Very Happy Start

To be a senior, one must first be a freshman; a person can’t be experienced without experience. I knew that. I just didn’t know that I wouldn’t be a forever freshman, and that one day I would actually be at the point where I (ready or not!) became a senior and had some life experience. And now, here I am. When I talked to seniors before I was one of them, they said it felt different than it looked. They were right: I feel less noble and graceful than what being a senior looked like. And yet, here I still am.

I am only a two weeks into senior year, but it’s the beginning of the end. Endings are sad and hard. I’ve been in school for sixteen years, and if I teach after this, who knows how many more years of school I’ll have. But this sixteenth consecutive year of school is my last consecutive year as a student.

Being a student, I have learned – about school, life, friendships, people, cars, kitchens, money, communication, coffee, and more and more and more. And when I think about this allotted time of learning – “college” – ending, and going to a new, yet to be determined place and making new friends and having a new house and a new bookstore and a new coffee shop, the space in my chest where I normally breathe becomes smaller, and my thoughts ricochet off the walls of my head so much more quickly and disorientedly than usual.

My college apartment kitchen on a clean day. Much learning (usually the hard way) has happened here.
New things are scary, and it isn’t even time yet for me to embrace or go do my new things, but it’s time to know that they are in my foreseeable future, and that one year from now, I will be doing something different than the things I’ve done before. It makes me feel a little itchy. I like old things and familiar things, but sticking to old and familiar things and growing up are mutually exclusive, and I know which one I’m going to choose, and it’s not the easier one.
The hardest and most important part of learning new things is remembering them. The scariest part of doing new things is forgetting the old ones.
I want to remember college and I want to remember this. I want to remember being eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. I want to remember my dorm room and my apartment. I want to remember my people – my friends, my roommates, my classmates, my professors, those random people I was friends with for like two days freshman year and then not anymore at all, and the people I’ve been running into but never actually spoken to for the past three-ish/four-ish years.
I want to remember the places I went and the things I did and all the times I jumped into the lake. I want to remember learning to cook and re-learning to ride a bike in DC over spring break sophomore year and learning who to call when I ran out of gas for the second time in a month. I want to remember the night when life felt like an episode of Friends. I want to remember watching just the Jim and Pam episodes of The Office on girls’ nights. I want to remember how much cookie dough I ate late at night when I should have eaten nothing at all, and how much I don’t even regret it.
People say, “this, too, shall pass,” during hard times, and it makes said hard times seem less permanent. During grand times and during youth and during college, however, people don’t say that. I think they should, because hard times are not the only times that shall pass. All time passes, and the speed at which it does so can’t be controlled.
A great (and scary-looking) man once said –

There are no happy endings,
Endings are the saddest part.
So just give me a happy middle
and a very happy start.

– Shel Silverstein

a great (and scary-looking) man
Even if things end well, they end sadly, because endings are fundamentally “the saddest part.” The ending of things, although necessary and sometimes a little overdue, is sad. The Head and the Heart says, “all things must end, darling,” and they must. If you love something, you should let it go, but that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt – maybe even a lot.
I had a “happy middle and a very happy start” to college. And (the beginning of) the end of college isn’t the end of life. It’s a necessary push, an “umph” to what’s next – new places, new roles, new patches of sky.
Love,

Lauralicious

Posted in college, nostalgia

One Day I’ll Have to be a Grown-Up (But Not Today)

Every Monday morning, I go to an elementary school in Seneca to observe a first grade class (and then a preschool special ed class!) and learn how to be a teacher. I love getting to actually be in a school for a little bit every week and I love getting to wear teacher clothes. I didn’t go last week because of spring break, so when I got back this week, the first grade teacher I help asked me what I did for break. I told her that I went to Pennsylvania to visit some people I love and then popped over to Washington, DC for a couple of hours on the way home. She got this kind of sad look on her face and told me to enjoy being young and free. She kept on repeating herself and telling me to take advantage of it and to make sure I love it. I could tell that she was majorly yearning for the things that I have now: my flexibility, my independence, my innocence. After this had gone on for a minute or so, I was a little annoyed.

I loved spring break. I loved getting to see my niece and I loved getting to spend time with friends without having the feeling of homework looming and dooming over my shoulder. I loved getting to be in Philly, because I’m definitely a small town mouse without much city experience. I was fascinated by all the goings-on of the city: playgrounds and fish stores, churches and compacting trash cans, train stations and big beautiful old majestic city halls, and so many people walking around. The city was exactly how my mind feels 88% of the time. It was engaging and busy and you had to know what you were doing in order to navigate at all.

Everything wasn’t completely cookies and sunshine the whole time though. I was tired a lot during the trip and I got grumpy at one point. We had to drive eleven hours to PA in a minivan with six people and I kept falling asleep with my mouth wide open and waking up a little embarrassed and with a really dry and funny-tasting mouth. And in the smack dab middle of our nation’s capital on the very first day of spring, I fell off of a bike (not because I’m hardcore but because I forgot how to ride it) twice, and that was significantly more embarrassing than sleeping with my mouth open. I also realized about five days in to the trip that I really missed fruit.

Overall, though, it was a great spring break. I loved most of the minutes of it. It was better than working (even if this teacher’s job is hanging out with first graders, which I think is awesome) and going home to a bunch of little people asking you to make them food every night.

I had initially wanted to (nicely) sass her after she kept telling me to enjoy being young. I wanted to say say, “Hey lady, you had your chance.” I wanted to remind her that she was young once and she should have enjoyed it because now she’s older and she gets to have nice things like a job and a disposable income and she is settled.

But it’s not nice to sass your elders, and she wasn’t trying to make me feel defensive when she told me to enjoy my youth. She was giving me some legitimately good advice for my future: to genuinely enjoy this time where I’m just floating around and riding trains like a Narnia character, because one day I’ll get to be a grown-up like her and I won’t get to go back.

I think that being a grown up is kind of like shaving your legs: once you start, you can’t stop. Or at least, you shouldn’t.

Love,
Lauralicious

Posted in college

Dear Future Students

Dear future students,

Hi. I love you.

My name is Laura, and it makes me feel weird that one day in the future, you’re going to know me as Ms. Dekle. You probably won’t be able to say my last name right, and that’s okay. Most people can’t (and if they can say it right, they can’t spell it right, but that’s okay).

One day, in a few years, I’m going to be your teacher. That’s really intimidating for me. I’ve spent my whole life planning on being a teacher when I grow up, and right now is the part where I am both growing up and learning how to be a teacher. I’m used to thinking about one day in the very far future when I’m a teacher…and it’s closer than I think. In less than five years I’ll be done with college and hopefully in less than five years I’ll be your teacher!

Here are some things I want to tell you:

You are awesome. I cannot wait to meet you. We are really going to have so much fun together. Sometimes when I’m in class I get really bored (as I very much hope you will never do in my class, but if you do it’s okay and I’ll still like you) and I just think about how I’m going to decorate my classroom and how I’m going to use peanut M&Ms to teach you about the structure of the earth and the books I’m going to read to you after lunchtime. It’s going to be great. Mostly because you are great.

I’ve spent my whole life watching grownups and thinking about their jobs, and if I would want to do their jobs. There are a few I would do, but what I’ve really always wanted to do is be a teacher. Always always have I thought about and dreamed about having a whole classroom of my own, with awesome kids to fill up the seats and put their backpacks in the cubbies and here’s the best part of it: you are those kids. You are the kids I’ve been thinking and wanting and hoping for.

I had always planned on being an elementary school teacher – I wanted fourth grade. And then I started working at the most wonderful camp for people who need special help with certain things but who are the happiest, sweetest, most sincere and lovely people I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with. I enjoyed my time with them so much that I rerouted my life dream of being a fourth grade teacher to being a teacher of beautiful wonderful people like you.

I’m in a bunch of really cool classes right now that are teaching me about your physical and emotional development and what’s going on in your brain and how to tell if you need special help when you’re a really little kid. I’m learning so much about you – all about you and how I can be the best teacher for you. I’m learning the best ways to give you the best education possible.

The thing about being a teacher is that it’s technically in my job title that I will do all of the teaching – the instruction, the assessments, the educating. But what isn’t said in the title of my job is that I’m also a learner, and you will be my teachers. You’re going to teach me how to love life, how to be a kid, how to be simply happy and to simply be. You’re definitely going to teach me a lot more than just those things, and I look very forward to all of it.

We are going to have so much fun together. I can’t wait to hear you laugh and help you learn to read and teach you my very favorite morning song. One of my life themes is: “adventure is out there!” because it’s true. It’s everywhere you go. We are going to have a lot of our life adventures together.

You’re going to be my students, and even if I sometimes very rarely get somewhat frustrated with how things are going in our classroom, I need you to know that there is nothing you can do to not be my students. Even if you change classes or schools, you’ll still be my students. That makes me so happy.

Until we meet (for the first time),

love,

Lauralicious